Monday, August 13, 2018

God's Wonder



God’s Wonder

     The book Wonder was written in 2011, and the author, R. J.  Palacio was awarded the Newbery Award for it in 2012. Because of the sensitive nature of the content – and my own emotional state at the time, I delayed reading the book. Finally, in 2017, I was talking to a fellow educator who was reading Wonder for consideration as a part of her school’s curriculum.  As a result, I read it, too. I’m glad I took the plunge.

      For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Wonder is a work of fiction, but it has a powerful message. It’s the story of 10-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with a craniofacial malformation. To protect him from the bullying they feared he would encounter due to his less than normal appearance, despite repeated surgeries, his parents chose to home school him. As he approached fifth grade, they feared that his academic needs would exceed their capabilities and so they enrolled him in a nearby charter school. The head of school placed him in the care of three students. Unfortunately, his differences proved to be more than challenging for them, and so the feared bullying occurred. Yet, Auggie eventually rose to the occasion and proved himself to be truly a wonder.

     Palacio was asked how she came to write such a story and reported that it was born out of an encounter she and children had with a child who had a facial deformity, and rather than using it as teachable moment, she rushed her children from the scene.  Realizing she had missed an opportunity, she began writing the story that evening (https://www.npr.org/2013/09/12/221005752/how-one-unkind-moment-gave-way-to-wonder). It appears that title of the book is closely connected with a song by Natalie Merchant (http://www.nataliemerchant.com/wonder/); the lyrics may be found here (https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/nataliemerchant/wonder.html).

It is here that Wonder becomes closely associated with my life. I was born with a neurological disorder (Von Recklinghausen’s NF!). It brought some physical challenges and some unusual physical appearances – one boy called me “the girl with the stretched head” when I was in elementary school. I did have coordination issues and wore a back brace for several years, and I often felt like “damaged goods.” In my young adult years, I began to be beset with severe pain, primarily headaches and balance issues. It seemed that the hydrocephalus that had been discovered in childhood was now causing more severe problems.  My parents had opted not to go for the shunt when I was a child because of the risks involved, but now the need for it was inevitable. So we had the necessary surgery.  As I lay in the bed recovering, a doctor on call stopped by to check on me. Incidentally, he was the one who had seen me when I was a child and had wanted to implant a shunt. Bear in mind that I was now over 30.
    He turned to my mother and began discussing my medical history. When he learned that he was the doctor who had initially suspected hydrocephalus, he asked my mother. “Well has she had a normal life?”
  
        Mom answered him, “Well, yes, she just completed her second Master’s Degree.”

        He replied, “Wow, I wish I had done the surgery when she was a kid. Everyone would have been amazed at what I had done with this kid who might have been disabled.”

        I remained silent, but as soon as he was gone, I turned to my mom and said, “That turkey!  Does he think he can take credit for what God did?”

       That’s where my connection to the book Wonder comes to play. When I read the book, it immediately resonated with me. One of the principles on which I hang my life is that I was made by God for His glory. Psalm 139:14 states, “I will praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 states, “… most gladly will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”  As I mentioned earlier,  Palacio notes that the title of her book was taken in part from song by Natalie Merchant:
                      “Doctors have come from distant cities, just to see me
                       Standing over my bed disbelieving what they’re seeing
                     They say I must be one of the wonders of God’s own creation …” [1]

    As I read this book, I was reminded that I was God’s wonder, created for His glory. There have been days filled with pain and frustration  at what I can’t do when I questioned the purpose and validity of my birth, and thought just maybe I should have been aborted. Auggie’s story and the truth of God’s Word, turned these doubts and questions to praise that my parents chose to give me life. On days, that I sense discouragement and frustration because of my pain and limitations, I will give praise that I have been chosen to be one of God’s Wonders. May He be “glorified in me at my expense.”[2]




[1] (https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/nataliemerchant/wonder.html)
[2] Erwin Lutzer, Running to Win, March 2018.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Benchmarks of Belief





Benchmarks of Belief
Ephesians 6:17 bids the believer to “take the helmet of salvation.” Obviously, a helmet is a piece of clothing that protects the head. Zodiates says of Salvation, “it is the spiritual and eternal [possession] granted immediately to those who place their faith in Christ” (Key Word Study Bible, 1760). Thus, one of the functions of the helmet of Salvation is the protection of the believer from the attacks of Satan in regard to his or her assurance of Salvation (McArthur Study Bible). Satan longs to defeat each believer, thereby limiting his or her effectiveness in the Lord’s service. He may entice the believer into fleshly pursuits resulting in sin and the loss of testimony. He may simply plant the seeds of doubt regarding one’s standing before the Father, thereby rendering the believer powerless with regard to service. For whom Satan cannot disqualify by misconduct, he will seek to debilitate through doubt. I know, because I have experienced this tactic firsthand.
I John has often been regarded as the "Epistle of Assurance." Tucked within this letter to churches in Asia Minor are ten benchmarks of belief by which one may measure the genuiness of his or her salvation. A benchmark is simply “a standard by which something can be measured or judged” (www.dictionary.com). These benchmarks are provided to help the believer realize his or her assurance of salvation by noting the fruits of salvation that are present within his or her life. They may also serve to convict the one who merely has an empty profession of salvation. I challenge you to check yourself against these benchmarks of belief by asking yourself the following questions.
Benchmark 1: Am I walking in obedience, striving to keep God's commandments? (I John 2:3)
Benchmark 2: Do I love the members of the family of God? (I John2:10, 3:19, 4:7-8)
Benchmark 3: Am I growing in Christ likeness? (I John 2:6)
Benchmark 4: Am I drawn to those things that please God rather than those that satisfy the desires of my old nature? (I John 2:15-17)
Benchmark 5: Do I desire that God’s will be accomplished in and through me? (I John 2:17)
Benchmark 6: Do I practice righteousness? (I John 3:6-7. 5:2)
Benchmark 7: Am I growing in victory over sin? (I John 4:4, 5:4)
Benchmark 8: Am I experiencing answered prayer/ (I John 5:14-15)
Benchmark 9: Do I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? (I John 2:22)
Benchmark 10: Is there a time when I truly trusted Jesus Christ the Son of God as my Savior? Is my hope of salvation in Christ ALONE? (I John 5:11-13)
How do you measure up to these benchmarks, especially #10?
Please contact me with any questions.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

At Last ... Christ Alone


At Last … Christ Alone

As I mentioned in previous posts, I was born into a family of God-fearing God-lovers. I realize that my description sounds like an oxymoron, but that is the best description I can give of them – they loved the Lord unabashedly and sought ways to please Him in the milieu of life. Although we seldom had family devotions, our lives were permeated with Biblical truth.  I mentioned earlier that as a preschooler, I prayed a salvation prayer and was baptized not long afterward.  The problem was that I got entangled in the notion that I had to do something to prove to God that I was worth saving, when he had already declared me worth it, when I trusted Jesus for Salvation.

I was like a person who given a mansion free of charge with lifetime rights to live there. Not only that, but utilities and food were providedfor that same time.  Additionally, she had vehicle service and clothes throughout her lifetime.  All her needs were met and many of wishes were granted. It was the life that many only dream of, and it was hers free and simple. Yet each month, she dutifully wrote out a $10 check to her benefactor to “help” with expenses.  How insulting, and yet that is how my relationship (or lack thereof) with God went. I tried to do everything I thought He would want to reimburse Him for my Salvation and hope it was enough. Therefore, around the age of ten, I began to have serious doubts about my salvation. Yet, I kept my struggles a secret, because good children did not doubt their salvation.

At age fourteen, I began to earnestly pray for assurance of salvation and then to talk about my doubts, but to no avail.  Everyone pointed to my goodness, and I became a self-righteous snob but still wondered if I could ever do enough to merit God’s favor. I kept praying for assurance and kept insisting that I be baptized but was dogged by doubts.  It was in 1986, while I was reading the Bible that I realized that Christ had died the death that I deserved to die, and I believed.  As I have grown in understanding – I realize that Jesus lived the perfect life I could never live (even though I tried) and that He died the death I deserved to die.  When I trusted Him, this was credited to my account. I am saved.  So, when was I saved?  I think this most likely occurred in childhood, but for some reason, I never grasped the meaning of grace. It took many years of struggle, but my God is wonderfully patient.

Today I am so glad that I have chosen to walk in grace and that my trust for my eternity and present relationship with God is in Christ alone.  I can put my head on my pillow at night and know that I am His and my eternity is secure. The past few years have been challenging, but this I know I never walk alone. My heart is fixed … my hope is sure… my eyes are on my Savior and my Lord.  What more can I ask? 

Are you sure?  If not, I would be happy to point you to my Savior.

Monday, January 1, 2018

On the Banks of Tar Branch


This is a few days late. In memory of what would have been my Daddy's 88th Birthday, I offer a few memories  -- many of them humorous.



On the Banks of Tar Branch

Many years ago, in West Salem in North Carolina, a baby was born.  After much debate, his parents named him James Edward.  His mother had wanted to call him William after his father, but his father gave a resounding, “No,” for fear that he would be forever called “Junior,” a nickname he despised.  Regardless of his father’s wishes, his mother resolved to call him “Bill” or “Little Bill” and the name stuck. So, as he grew into adulthood, people were never sure what to call him, and he answered to both names.
He was born just after the Stock Market Crash of 1929. His parents tried to take good care of him and make him happy even though times were hard. Bill loved animals. One time as a surprise his dad brought him a baby alligator from Florida when he had travelled there on business. Bill was so excited he picked the alligator up by the tail and took it into the living room where his mother was entertaining guests.
 When she saw that alligator, she screamed “Bill, come here!” 
Bill’s, dad whose name also happened to be Bill, came running into the room, and that was the end of that alligator.
Bill’s disappointment at losing his pet didn’t last long, because he was given a nanny goat that would pull him around in a cart. Unfortunately, Bill got the not so bright idea of bringing the goat into the house when his parents were not home. The goat headed straight for his mother’s bedroom, jumped up on his mother’s brand-new mattress relieved herself. That was the end of the goat. She was sent to live with Bill’s cousins on a farm in Virginia.
Bill enjoyed the company of elderly people.  He would visit every house on Marshall Street. If he happened to be there at dinner time, he would just stop and eat.  One day he noticed that his mother had baked two pies. He picked one up and took it to the neighbor across the street.  When he got home, his mother was angry.  “Why be selfish? We had two,” was what Bill thought.”
Bill’s parents didn’t go to church, but every Sunday, they paid twenty-five cents to take him l to Sunday school at the big Home Moravian Church on the hill.  It was money well spent.  He learned about Jesus, and he might never had heard this till he was much older. Those Moravians were good at Sunday school and teaching their children
As he walked to church he wondered what life used to be like a hundred years ago.  Not that he wanted to live then.   He also walked that way to school every day.  His school was a big building at the end of Old Salem.  It had been built as the community was changing.
He passed by lots of old trees and wondered what stories they could tell.  The elderly people he visited told him lots of stories of when it was just Salem. He looked at their old furniture and began his lifelong love of old things.  Some of them even remembered stories their grandma told about when the Bishop Spangenberg started the Salem village. Now nothing looked the same. No one remembered, and Bill was sad.
One day, Bill’s parents surprised with a new pet a Chihuahua puppy.  Bill was so excited.  He named the dog Tiny, because of its diminutive size.  The two were inseparable.  The dog even slept with him at night. 
About the same time, Bill received his puppy a new building began to go up in Old Salem. A new company was coming to town.  They were calling themselves the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Factory.  Bill had an incurable sweet tooth.  He was there they laid the first brick and checked on the progress of the building daily …” Maybe not all progress is bad especially if it brings doughnuts to town”, he told, Tiny.
Bill was outside of the new Krispy Kreme Doughnut Factory the day they opened for business --- Sweet circles fried in grease.  Two doughnuts sold for .05.  He could hardly believe it!  He quickly bought two.  He took a bite of his pastry and offered Tiny a bite as they looked over Salem Square.
Christmas also made Bill very happy. His dad surprised him with an electric train. It was running around the tree on Christmas morning. Bill had never seen anything like it. Neither had Tiny, who barked and barked at it.
Bill’s favorite time of the year was summer.  He and Tiny would walk to Old Salem and go to Mr. Welfare’s drugstore for ice cream.  He would take a lick of the cone and give his dog a lick.  He made sure his parents never caught him!
One of Bill’s favorite places was Tar Branch the little Creek that ran along the (street that used to be Old Salem By Pass). One hot summer day he and friend were wading, but Bill had forgotten something … to take off his shoes.  They were ruined, and shoes during the depression were expensive.   His father came down to the creek, found him joyfully wading and spanked right there on the spot because of the ruined shoes. 
He then instructed him carefully, “Son, Next time, just take off your shoes. I won’t spank you if you will just take off your shoes. “
Bill waited until November.  It was cold, but he thought it was a good day for a wade.   He carefully removed his shoes and socks and placed them on a rock.  Once again, he was joyfully wading in the creek when who should appear but his father and did he look and angry!  Bill knew there was going to be trouble.
  “Son, you don’t swim in November. It’s just wrong!”  And he was getting ready to spank him again! 
 “But wait, Daddy! You said, if I took off my shoes you wouldn’t spank me!” 
His father conceded that he was right even if it was November.  So, there was no spanking … this time.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmases Past



Christmases  Past

      There are times when I attend gatherings where we share our most memorable Christmases. There is not one in particular, but there are several.  I think those that stand out in my memory are there because there is a tinge of sadness associated with them.  ‘The first is when I was seven.  My paternal grandfather was in the hospital with internal bleeding (or that’s how I remember it). He had always been a somewhat heavy man – when I was a toddler and preschooler, he was my elephant and would get down on all fours and give me a ride to the front door when it was time to go home. We were worried, but he did recover. He even saw that I received an AM transistor radio. While in the hospital, our pastor visited him and he made a profession of faith, i.e. “prayed the prayer,” but there was little if any growth in the ensuing years. How thankful I am that God sees and knows the heart.
      The next memorable Christmas came when I was 11.  That year it was my maternal grandfather who was hospitalized.  (There is an earlier blogpost about it – Christmas Redeemed).  He had severe diverticulitis, requiting surgery and a colostomy, which would later be reversed. There were many anxious days, but this scenario was different.  Both grandma and grandpas had a strong faith in Christ, and though these days were not easy, in fact many were sad and difficult, the presence of Jesus was real.
      The next memorable Christmas would occur in 1979, my senior year in college.  That, in itself, is not significant. However, the events that occurred leading up to that Christmas made it so. In October of that year, my paternal grandfather passed away after a four-year battle with cancer – first colon cancer and then leukemia. Then in early December, my mom,  my maternal grandmother, and I were on our way to a church event.  We were discussing the state the scarf that I wore around my neck when suddenly my grandmother’s speech became garbled.  I shouted, “Grandma” and she replied in garbled speech, “Oh go on where you’re going… I’m all riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.” Of course, we didn’t listen to her. Mom, being a health care professional, immediately turned the car around and headed for the emergency room at the hospital. A doctor she knew was standing nearby. Mom jumped out of the car and ran to him with the words, “Dr. Storey, I think Mother has had a stroke.”  Grandma was given immediate medical attention, but she was largely unresponsive.  On Christmas day, Mom, Dad, my paternal grandmother and I were all gathered around the table for Christmas dinner.  Dad returned thanks and he praised the Lord that He was in control of all the events of our lives.  Grandma would live a few more weeks there in the hospital, but was called to Heaven before the family had to make the difficult decision of a long-term care facility. Truly the Lord was in control; His mercies abounded.

      These are a few of the many where God’s glory shone brightly into the darkness of our circumstances. I have learned that life does not always go as we planned, but Our God is there. He will not fail, and His love that never gives up, never runs out will engulf those who trust Him.  I am so thankful I have placed my trust in Him. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Stand by Me

Stand by Me

The African -American Pastor Charles A. Tindley wrote the gospel song “Stand By Me” for a congregation who knew what it was to suffer. Many of them had been born and raised in atmosphere of slavery, and Tindley wanted to point them to the one who could alleviate their pain.  Here are the lyrics to his song:
When the storm of life is raging / Stand by me / When the storm of life is raging
 Stand by me / When the world is tossing me / Like a ship upon the sea Thou                      who rulest wind and water / Stand by me
In the midst of tribulation / Stand by me / In the midst of tribulation / Stand by       me / When the hosts of hell assail / And my strength begins to fail / Thou who never lost a battle / Stand by me
In the midst of faults and failures / Stand by me / In the midst of faults and    failures / Stand by me / When I do the best I can / And my friends misunderstand / Thou who knowest all about
me / Stand by me
When I'm growing old and feeble / Stand by me / When I'm growing old and     feeble / Stand by me / When my life becomes a burden / And I'm nearing chilly Jordan / O Thou "Lily of the Valley" / Stand by me. (https://www.negrospirituals.com/songs/stand_by_me.htm)
I can honestly say that I have never known suffering to the magnitude that many of his parishioners faced.  Neither have I known the pain and inconvenience that many believers face worldwide because they own the name of Christ.  Yet, by God’s design I have walked and walking my own valley of pain and loneliness. These past two days have been no exception. Due to the nature of this post, I focus on the events of today.  
I had a dental crisis that necessitated the extraction of a tooth.  I have only had teeth extracted twice in my life.  The last time was for my wisdom teeth at age 15 and I was out cold. The oral surgeon knew it was the only way. The other time was when I was nine and my mother was there to hold my hand throughout the procedure.  I shared those two times with the dental assistant/nurse.  As I was really missing my mother, I realized that there was One who is even nearer to me than mother was that day. Jesus, my Savior was there to stand by me and as the procedure began, I had enough awareness to cry out and say, in my heart, “Stand by me, Lord Jesus.”  I had no visualization of His physical presence, but I knew He was there.
I know that the coming years will bring increased pain and physical weakness.  I am grateful that I have a Savior who will stand by me. I am grateful that the Body of Christ is coming alongside me and that the Lord is giving me the grace to say, “Yes, I do need assistance in this area.”

In these years of life … I know I have One who will stand by me.  Selah and Amen! 

Monday, July 31, 2017

My Mother...My Hero



My Mother … My Hero
On July 31, 1935, Miriam Chatmon (nee Alspaugh) was born. She was one of ten, but the unique thing about her birth was that she had two sisters who were born on the same day, Mary who was 6 years older and Rebekah was 12 years older.  Miriam grew up during the latter years of the great depression. She was frequently referred to as “Daddy’s boy” since she helped him with chickens and especially with the weekly cleaning of the coops. The family attended the small Alliance Church in the city, and Miriam came to full assurance of her salvation at Youth for Christ rally.  She intended to become a missionary nurse with her denomination, and began to pursue that path.  When she had, the physical required to become a nurse, the attending physician scoffed, “Your heart is too damaged … too enlarged. You will never meet the rigors of nursing.”  Yet, she did.  As for becoming a missionary, the Lord had other plans.  As she was finishing her training and beginning her career, two things happened. First, her older brother’s health began to deteriorate from advanced Crohns and other issues, and she was needed at home. Second, a young single man appeared on the scene and ultimately, they started dating. This dating/courtship led to marriage … his proposal was simple and direct, “Do you love me enough to marry me?”  She said, “Yes.” Questions and eyebrows were raised in the wake of this development, but it demonstrates a simple truth—Never question the leading of God in a person’s life who is committed to following Him.”
Mom and Dad continued following Jesus and pursuing God’s plan for their lives. They attended the small church where Mom had grown up.  I might add for clarification that Daddy had come to faith in Christ at a different Youth for Christ meeting, several years before Mom did.  Their passion was to serve those in ministry and to reach children who did not know Jesus. It was in this environment that I was reared.  Missionaries and other ministry leaders were constantly in our home, and my life is richer for it.  Amid this service mindset, mom’s body continued to weaken. Yet she loved her Savior, her family, her church and her friends. When her heart condition claimed her life or as I prefer to think of it released her to Heaven, my own heart was shattered.  Yet there are take aways from her life that have become my legacy. First, God oversees when we leave planet earth, not the doctors, not disease – but God.  Her life testifies to this as she had many times of critical illness when we knew the end had come, but God was in charge. Second, pain and limitations do not define us. If we have trusted Christ as Savior, then our identity is firmly in his care and control. Mom lived and worked with pain and exhaustion, but it was for God’s glory and in his strength.  Third, Mom loved completely and unselfishly. My goal and desire is to be half the woman of God that she was.  Fourth, I am more grateful then ever for the home of Heaven. Until then, I pursue life in Jesus and the knowledge of the Father and His will.  God is truly good all the time.