Archive | July 2011

A Sister is a Forever Friend

Today is my sister Cheree’s birthday.  I am the eldest of five siblings, and she comes after me—two and a half years younger than I.  God has blessed me with three sisters actually, and a sweet sister-in-law who has been like a sister to us ever since she married our brother.  Each of them is very special to me and I love them each dearly, but there has always been a special bond between Cheree and me.  After all, we were closer in age and grew up together.  I was ten and then twelve when Carleen and Corinne came along and by the time they grew up enough that we could have more of a relationship I was long-gone, married and with children of my own.

Cheree and I shared a room and a bed until I moved out to get married.  It was a four-poster bed most of those years.  I remember pretending it was a magic flying stagecoach as we giggled and played when we were supposed to be going to sleep.  I also remember cracking the cross bar that went between the two posts at the foot of the bed when we were swinging on it.  Oops!  And Cheree leaping from the doorway to the bed in an effort to avoid whatever monsters were lurking under the bed ready to grab her by the ankles.  It was a mighty long leap for a short little girl, but I guess fear put a spring into her legs!

I read a quote recently that said, “Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life.”  Hey!  I object!  As the eldest I often picked on Cheree and my brother Craig, but I was also their staunchest defender and protector.  I punched a bully (a boy bigger and older than I) in the nose once for picking on Cheree, and I did the same for Craig later when he was being bullied.  Craig puts it this way now (and never lets me forget it), “Yeah, we were your personal punching bags—no one else could pick on us but you!”  He  exaggerates, of course!

Growing up, Cheree and I had different interests and different friends.  She was more of a social butterfly and I was the bookworm and loner.  We went off to  camp together and to various youth activities as teenagers.  I admit—there was some sibling rivalry and little sparks of jealousy now and then.  She was petite and pretty and popular, and I felt like a big galute next to her.  I felt jealous at times of her friends who seemed to be more important to her than I.  I think it was not until we grew up that we realized there was a bond as sisters that friends could never replace.

Cheree still has many friends—many of them those same friends from her childhood and teen years!  But I am the one who knows her deepest secrets and heartbreaks—and she knows mine.  We work together as a well-oiled team whenever projects come our
way.  We laugh together (usually at ourselves); grouse together; sympathize with one another; stand ready to help in a pinch; share the burdens, the memories and our most ridiculous moments.  We have been co-conspirators and partners-in-crime (not real crime, of course.  More like Lucy and Ethel escapades!)  Someone has said, “It’s hard to be responsible, adult and sensible all the time. How good it is to have a sister whose heart is as young as your own.”  That would be Cheree and me.  Someone else said (probably in agreeting card), “Sister to sister we will always be, A couple of nuts off the family tree!”  That is Cheree and me, as well.

How blessed I am to have Cheree for my sister, and Carleen and Corinne, as well!  As they grew up, age became unimportant and we
became not just sisters by blood, but friends by love.   I thank God for the earthly family in which He put me – loving Christian parents and siblings who would be my friends forever.  He planned the family, knowing we each need the support and encouragement, love and acceptance to make it through our journey here on earth.  Families are not always perfect, and sadly some
people do not receive those things or have the kind of relationships that God intended, but when we do, how blessed we are!

Our relationship within the church, the Bible tells us, is likened to family, as well.  We are not merely members of a body, but brothers and sisters and are to treat one another with love.  Romans 12, the great chapter on relationships within the church, says, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.”  II Peter 1:5-7 tells us, “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.”
Hebrews 13:1 says, “Let brotherly love continue.”  God is so good in blessing us with not only our earthly family, but a our spiritual family, as well!  We do not stand alone in this world, but He gives us brothers and sisters to help us along the way.

“A perfect sister I am not, but thankful for the ones I’ve got!”

A Little Hug, A Little Whisper in the Ear

Have you ever had some small experience that just felt like an extra little hug from God?  We know how much He loves us, first of all, by the gift of His son Jesus for our salvation, and also through His daily provision and protection, but sometimes He just surprises us with some little, extra-special blessing that says, “I know the desires of your heart, My child, no matter how big or small, and you are special to me, so here—enjoy this little treat!”

That happened to me yesterday.  My sister-in-law Dolores called and said, “Your 60th birthday is this year and Craig and I want to do something special for you in honor of that.  Next Saturday we are taking Mom up to Leah’s (their daughter) to see the new baby and we wondered if you would like to go along.  If you do, we want to take you out to lunch, as well, and to the Wade Center Museum at Wheaton College to see Tolkein’s desk!”

At this point you may be thinking, “Huh?  Tolkein’s desk?  What’s that?”

Let me explain…  JRR Tolkein wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as several other great works of literature.  He has been my favorite author since I was sixteen—almost forty-four years ago.  I have read his books over and over again—at least thirty times, I would say, since for decades I read them once a year.  I consider him a genius and have often said if I could write just one-tenth as well as Tolkein I would feel like I could really write.  Last year when my brother Craig told me they had seen, and even touched, the desk where he wrote The Hobbit and much of The Lord of the Rings, I was in awe.

Now they were offering to take me to see it, as well.  Tears came to my eyes, and as I was telling Bob about the invitation after I hung up, I got all choked up.

“Why are you so excited?” he asked.  “It’s just a desk.”

“Well,” I tried to explain in terms my wannabe cowboy would relate to, “if you were able to see and touch John Wayne’s cowboy hat and boots, wouldn’t you think that was pretty cool?”

Actually my feelings ran much deeper than that.  First of all, I was very deeply touched that Craig and Dee would even think of doing such a nice thing like that for me.  That in itself was enough to make me cry.  Secondly, it was Tolkein—as a writer and as a fan, my literary hero!  And third, it felt like a warm embrace from my Heavenly Father.

The timing of this invitation was incredible and I knew without a doubt that the Lord had especially planned this for me as just a little token of His personal love for me.  Just the night before, we had been entertaining guests, missionaries to Spain.  As we sat around the table they were telling us of a trip to England where they had seen John, Charles and Susannah Wesley’s home, church and graves, and Charles Spurgeon’s pulpit.  As they were talking, the thought of Tolkein’s desk and how much I would love to see that suddenly entered my mind.  I almost said something about it aloud but I didn’t, thinking they might think it strange that I would put the desk of a writer of fiction on the same level as the pulpit of a great preacher like Spurgeon.  But still, for several minutes the thought lingered in my mind about how much I would love to see Tolkein’s desk.

Now, barely eighteen hours later, out of the clear blue sky, came this little desire granted!  It gave me goose bumps!  I felt like the Lord’s arms were wrapped around me, and He was whispering in my ear, “You see?  I know even the smallest desires of your heart and I care about them.  Enjoy this little blessing as a love-gift from Me!”

Our Father’s love is so personal.  It is not just that “God so loved the world…” but God loves me as an individual.  Out of all the billions of people on this earth, all the desperate needs and urgent prayers coming before His throne, that He gave thought to this little inconsequential desire of mine blows me away.  It felt like a hug and a kiss and a reassuring whisper in my ear.

JRR Tolkien was just an ordinary man, albeit with a brilliant mind.  He was a Christian by all accounts, and his writings are amazing and entertaining, but on a spiritual level they certainly don’t rank up there with Scripture or even books about Scripture.  If I am this excited about seeing his desk, I cannot imagine how thrilled I would be to walk where Jesus or His apostles walked, touch the things that they touched, see the views that they saw.  I doubt that I will ever go to Israel in this life or follow Paul’s journeys through the Mediterranean, but I can look forward to  actually seeing and talking to and being with Him and the great heroes of the faith themselves throughout eternity.

The Bible tells us that every good gift comes from our Father.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”  (James 1:17)  He loves us and delights in giving gifts to us.  “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”  (Matthew 7:11)  What a blessing to be His child and to have a real, personal relationship with Him!

Rootin’-Tootin’ Cowboys

I get so tickled at Matthew.  He got a new pair of “Woody” pajamas from the Disney store.  You remember Woody, from Toy Story, don’t you?  Matthew’s been wearing his Woody pajamas around the house along with his cowboy boots and an old cowboy hat I dug out.  I get so hot just looking at him because they’re long-sleeved, long-legged and snug and, even with air-conditioning, I don’t know how he can run and play in them—but he looks mighty cute!  Whenever you tell him how handsome he looks or call him “Woody” he gets this big, shy grin on his face and those dimples flash—and your heart just melts!

Bob decided to surprise Matthew yesterday.  He went downstairs and changed into his cowboy duds—fancy western shirt and bolo tie, beautiful boots and hat, big belt buckle…  He looked like a real dude!  You should have seen Matthew’s face when his grandpa came back upstairs!  His eyes got big, his jaw dropped and he took a step backwards!  Grandpa was…was…Cowboy Bob!

Matthew had stars in his eyes as he and Grandpa proudly posed for pictures of Cowboy Bob and Cowboy Matt together.  So cute!!!  We’re planning to enlarge one of them and frame it so that Matthew can have a picture of himself and Grandpa to hang in his bedroom when they go back to Ecuador.

We are so easily impressed and sometimes fooled with outward trappings, aren’t we?  Of course Matthew is impressed with Grandpa just because he’s Grandpa and a really fun, great guy!  But yesterday Grandpa was transformed in his eyes and put on a pedestal, not because of his fine character or for some heroic deed he’d done, but simply for the way he looked and the fantasy identity he’d assumed.  In his eyes, Grandpa was suddenly larger than life—a real cowboy!

Now I admit, Bob would love to be a cowboy!  I even heard him tell Matthew, “Yes, I really am a cowboy at heart!”  He loves to watch westerns; he loves cowboy music and western-style clothes, but he’s never lived on a ranch or even a farm; he’s rarely ridden horses; never branded a cow or mended a fence, rounded up a herd or lassoed a steer.  The dream is there and I have no doubt he has all the true grit it would take to really be a cowboy if his life’s path had taken him there, but the reality is he’s a rhinestone (in other words, a fake!) cowboy, at best—an illusion to impress his little grandson!  (Sorry, Honey!)

This world is full of synthetic Christians, as well.  I am so tired of hearing so-and-so referred to as a “Christian” when you know by their lifestyle and world-view and lack of morality and respect for God’s Word that they cannot possibly be a true born-again Christian.  These days, if you are not a Jew, a Buddhist, an atheist, a Moslem, a Hindu or whatever, you must be a Christian.  If your parents took you to a so-called Christian church, or you were brought up in the Bible-belt you must be a Christian.  We even hear it said, “Oh, she’s such a wonderful person, she does so much good for others—she must be a Christian!”

Religion doesn’t make one a Christian.  Good deeds do not make one a Christian.  A certain church, or where you live or how you were brought up cannot make you a Christian.  A mere profession of God and intellectual assent do not mean there has been an actual repentance and regeneration of the heart.  Even the demons “believe” and tremble, the Bible tells us.  It is a relationship that makes one a Christian—a genuine, heart-felt repentance and trust in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin, and the desire to make Him Lord and Master of one’s life.

I cannot judge another man’s heart to know if he is truly born-again.  Even those who do not appear to be saved may have accepted Christ earlier in life—although the Bible tells us we will know our fellow believers by their fruit (Matthew 7.)  It is God, however, who looks on the heart.  “…for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)  There are signs, though, that the Word of God teaches indicate true, authentic Christianity.

When we accept Christ as Savior we become new creatures with new minds—that is, new intellects, new will and new emotions.  Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”  (II Corinthians 5:17)  That new intellect no longer relies on the wisdom of this world, but walks by faith.  That new will is no longer all about what I want or about living in the old sinful ways of my prior life, but it is about obedience to His will and righteous living.   The new emotions mean we have new affections—a new, sacrificial love for God and for His people.

“Pretend” is fine for little boys and for grandpas who want to please those little boys.  Dress-up is fun.  Even dreams about what “might have been” are pleasurable.  But when it comes to our relationship with Jesus Christ, let’s make sure we’re keeping it real—an authentic faith, genuine obedience, and true love for Him.  We may fool others; we may even fool ourselves; but when it comes to standing before the throne of God someday, you may be sure HE will know what is real.

It’s a Squirrely Day!

How fun!  We have little kids, big kids, teenagers and a baby in the house again!  Life certainly isn’t dull around here these days!  I was highly amused at Katie (7) and Matthew (4) yesterday.

They were standing at the window on the sun porch watching the squirrels out front.  It started with just one squirrel in the tree in our yard, and then Katie spotted two more in a tree across the street.  She was fascinated as she watched the branches rustle and the critters jump from branch to branch and even tree to tree.  “Come, watch!” she called to her little brother.  “They’re attacking each other!”

“No, they’re just playing,” I explained.  “They love to play with each other—especially Tag, You’re It!” 

They were hooked—and the Lord gave them quite a show!  I think He whispered in the little varmints’ ears, “You’ve got an audience!  Ham it up for those two children at the window!”  We have a lot of squirrels in our neighborhood, but I’ve never seen more than two or three at a time together.  Suddenly there were eight or ten squirrels out in front entertaining Matthew and Katie with their antics!

I had to come back into the house to take care of Robbie but I could hear the kids.  The squeals and laughter and excitement coming from our front porch were so cute, and I smiled at the innocence of the children as they delighted in this little slice of “Nature,” as Katie called it.  She came back in for a minute finally, but soon Matthew was running through the house in his Spiderman underwear yelling, “Katie Connie!  Katie Connie!  Come back!  Look what they’re doing now!”

He was showing his grandpa the display of critter cuteness when suddenly I heard his little voice pipe up, “It’s a squirrely day!”  I laughed.  Yes, it certainly has been “squirrely days” since they arrived!

The house is quiet now.  The eight Naranjos left for Alabama yesterday to visit Julie and her family for a week.  So I have my house back, the bathroom back, my peace and quiet and privacy back—and it’s a let-down feeling.  I was so happy for all of them that they were able to go right away to see the Sanchez family, but at the same time, I have to admit, my heart sunk a bit when I heard the news that they were going.  I wasn’t quite ready to let go after having them here for only ten days.

They’ll be back.  In the meantime, I am sure I will enjoy the quiet and emptiness for a few days until suddenly we have a full house again.  Then the chaos and craziness will start anew and we will be back to squirrely days. J

Does any mother really get used to being an empty-nester?  Well, I suppose we get used to it, but what joy when our kids come home again—and especially when they come bringing our precious treasures, our grandchildren, with them!  I remember what it felt like to face the empty nest for the first time.    I started crying a year before Laurie, my oldest, ever left home!  It is hard to face our kids growing up and leaving home when we love being mothers so much and the future looming before us looks empty.  Of course, our nest will not be truly empty as long as we have Robbie, but I’ve discovered our grown-up kids need us just as much now as they did when they were little—only in different ways.  And of course we want them to grow up to be independent, self-supporting, contributing adults, but we moms still secretly hope they need their mamas, too, at least a little!  And they will.  No matter how old they are, they still need to know that we are standing behind them with encouragement, support, and especially prayer. 

We have a ministry to our grandchildren, as well—to teach and lead by example, to support their parents’ authority, to encourage them and uplift them in prayer.   Yes, grandchildren are a reward, but they are also a responsibility.  Psalm 145:4 says, “One generation shall praise Thy works to another, And shall declare Thy mighty acts.”  Proverbs 13:22 goes on to say, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.”  We will not have much to leave in the way of wealth to our grandchildren—maybe a few items of sentimental value—but I pray the spiritual heritage we leave behind will be rich and abundant and of far more value than earthly riches. 

We will leave them with memories, as well.  Memories of a grandma and grandpa who played with them and took a special interest in each one of them.  Memories of a grandpa who was young at heart and roughhoused with them no matter how tired he was, and took them on special little outings and brought them little treats.  Memories of a grandma who did her best for them and poured her heart and soul into writing stories that would not only entertain, but inspire and influence them for Jesus.  Memories of grandma and grandpa’s old house on Madison Avenue and the squirrely days we enjoyed together there.

Back in the USA

What a wild week we’ve had!  Fernando, Laura, Sara, Gabi, Melissa, Katie, Matthew and Amanda arrived from Ecuador on Wednesday and life as we know it is changed for the next six or seven months!  Yes, somehow we all—all eleven of us—fit into the old house on Madison Avenue!  It is, shall we say—cozy—to say the least.  We have the bedroom space, but actual living space is at a premium with only a living and dining room in which to congregate—and Robbie’s bed and chair take up a good third of the living room.  For the first couple days we were stubbing toes and tripping over suitcases, toys and each other, but as they got unpacked and the novelty of Robbie’s toys wore off (and two-thirds of them got banished to the basement) we gradually began to see the floor again.  It was a bit stressful at first, but I kept reminding myself that once they were settled in and we got into a routine it would be easier—and already that is true.

Bathroom time continues to be an issue.  No one except Bob seems to want to use the bathroom downstairs, so the line is long for the one up here.  I have gotten to where if I see the door open I make a dash for it—whether I really have to go or not!  In the evenings when people are taking showers and getting ready for bed I have waited as long as three hours for my turn!  Kudos to Bob—the new water heater he installed and all the pipes and plumbing and faucets he changed before they came really paid off!

And mealtimes?  We have a full table!  There are nine of us gathered around, and often Robbie in his wheelchair and Amanda in her car seat join us, as well.  At first I was overwhelmed.  I had big plans for the meals I was going to make the first day they got here but we ended up having Taco Bell for lunch and Pizza Hut for supper!  I felt rather bad about that.  Fernando’s mother would have had a big five or six course meal on the table for them the minute they walked in the door.  They did get the fresh strawberry pies I had made, and over the next couple days some of the other things they had been longing for—cannolis, biscuits and gravy, corn on the cob…  I have become lazy in my old age, though, and I do not cook like Fernando’s mother and sister.  Simple one or two course meals are about all I can handle or afford, and I have to confess, we have used paper plates for every single meal, so far, to cut down on the dishes (I don’t have a dishwasher.)  We will be using real plates today, though, for Sunday dinner—whoo-hoo!  And what fun it is to see all those young, precious faces around our table enjoying Grandma’s cooking!

Today’s dinner will include rice—something that is a daily staple for them in Ecuador.  I suddenly realized yesterday we had not had rice yet since they’d been here and Fernando and some of the kids must surely be missing it.  I told him that anytime he wanted to cook Ecuadorian he was welcome to do so.  (He loves to cook.) 

The lifestyle here will be different for them.  Laurie was getting Matthew ready for bed last night around 8:15 and he was objecting.  “But Mom,” he said as he pulled back the curtain and pointed out the window, “it’s still morning!”  They live so close to the equator that the sun goes down around 6:30 every night all year long and since it was still light outside here, surely it couldn’t be time for bed yet!  Going to Wal-Mart here has been a big treat to them and they cannot get over the “cheap” prices for clothes and shoes, food and other goods for which they pay two, three or even four times more down there.  Laurie said even the highway seemed wonderful to her as they drove home from the airport.  Best of all, she said, was the sense of freedom and relief she felt as she got off the plane just to be back in the USA again.

Poor thing.  It is understandable why she felt that way.  A few hours earlier as she had tried to check in for their flight from Ecuador they had stopped her and said she was not in the computer system and therefore she must be in the country illegally and she would not be allowed to leave!  That was upsetting enough, but she was even afraid they were going to try to put her in jail!  They had spent the month before and hundreds of dollars flying back and forth to Quito dealing with countless hassles with bureaucrats trying to get their paperwork in order, but somehow Laurie’s ID number had been lost in the system and now here at the last minute she was being detained.  They eventually let her go, but now they have to try to get it “fixed” one more time before she goes back.

The red tape, power-mad officials, and bureaucracy they deal with down there really get to them.  It took a full week and five trips, standing in line for hours at a time in different offices just to get their license plate renewed on their car.  Within 24 hours of arriving here this week, Fernando had the emissions test done, the new plates for their van and his driver’s license renewed.  That seemed like a miracle to him!

Don’t get me wrong.  There are many wonderful things about Ecuador.  For a third world country it is far better than most in many ways.  I loved being in Ecuador.  It is beautiful and the people are warm and gracious.  I would not compare it with the USA, for they are very different, but I can understand the appreciation for freedom that one senses upon returning to America.  As we celebrate our freedom this weekend, it is especially poignant for our family.  It is wonderful to have the Naranjos home in time to party with us!  This is Fernando’s first time to celebrate the Fourth of July here as a US citizen, so it will be especially meaningful.  I know his homeland has first place in his heart, but he appreciates the freedom and good things about his adopted land, as well.

The United States is an exceptional nation.  The fact that it was founded on biblical principles, acknowledging God as Creator and Sovereign is perhaps why God has chosen to bless her so abundantly.  The fact that the US has defended the Jews and supported Israel is why God has continued to bless her, despite the way our country has begun to turn from His ways and even belief in Him.  Whether or not our exceptionalism and the blessing of God upon our nation will continue remains to be seen. 

We prize our freedom as Americans.  It was bought with the blood, sweat and tears of our young men and women through the last two hundred and thirty-five years.  We as Christians prize a greater freedom even more.  It was bought with the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  (John 8:31-32)   We are bought from the slavery of sin.  Jesus went on to say, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin…If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:34, 36)  The price was high and we owe Him everything because of it—our lives, our time, our love, our service.  “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”  (I Corinthians 6:20)

Tomorrow we will be celebrating at a big family party.  From what I hear, it sounds like it will be the biggest Fourth of July celebration yet for our clan.  We will be mindful and appreciative of our freedoms as Americans, and I know I will be thankful and praising God for my freedom in Christ