I said that to myself with both amusement and poignancy as I pressed my face into the towel. The shower water, just turned off, dripped next to me.
One day before, I’d paused over an ad for “Godwink Christmas.” Hallmark Channel is premiering a new film in that series, and my judgment at that moment was that we tend to try to familiarize and humanize God so much that His immeasurable majesty is underplayed, incorrectly so. “The man upstairs,” etc.
However, as the words “How beautiful the feet that bring the sound of good news” reached my ears from my phone over on the vanity, I just had to half laugh, to almost cry, and to be blessed. I’d just experienced one of those subtle, coincidental messages God does send to His children – what some refer to as “God’s sense of humor” and what best-selling author Squire Rushnell has termed a Godwink.
The slippers I wore to bed last night, knitted by myself, are fairly impressive as knitting goes – at least on my level. I recently posted to the Addicted to Knitting Facebook group this caption with their picture: “Let’s face it… some feet just aren’t pretty. So I’m glad I have various knitted slippers that are!”
Literally just hours and moments before my shower, my thoughts had been on a very recent speaking engagement where I debuted a pamphlet titled The Gospel Message (a. k.a. the “good news” about salvation through Jesus). And, immediately before turning the water off, I’d reminded myself to ask for special help with calluses while in the pedicurist’s chair that very morning.
You’re with me, right? Physically, my feet definitely are not beautiful. Nowhere near beautiful. Metaphorically, however… well, you get the Godwink. And I got it, too. Like the proverbial ton of bricks I got it!
If I am bold enough to claim the term some readers have applied to me, “wordsmith,” I have no option but to be a wordsmith for the Soulsmith. May my feet, no matter how they look or feel, bring good news.
Thank you, dear Redeemer, for the wink. I needed it. (But, You knew that.)
The selection I read for spiritual and poetic nourishment today is number 251 in The Broadman Hymnal: “Praise to God, Immortal Praise”, words by Anna L. Barbauld. It is brief, just three stanzas in a half-page-length song.
Contemplation of a hymn text daily: a valuable and edifying discipline
When I plunge into this Daily Hymn exercise, I try to examine every phrase. Doing so opens many channels of contemplation. The praise referenced in today’s hymn is from people’s mouths (and, first, from their hearts/minds), yet it is called “immortal.” Does that mean it transcends our present mortal state? Does it mean that the praises rise and become something permanent in the heavenly realm we cannot see or grasp yet? Does it convey additionally that the praises (though not the ones praising) are undying? Everlasting words. This gets back to the idea of permanence just noted. All of this can be extracted from one brief phrase in the first stanza of Ms. Barbauld’s text penned in 1772.
What’s “basic” isn’t automatically not noteworthy
We may tend to use the word basic in the sense of average; vanilla; meh; not special when judged against a stack of similar items. On the contrary, the word really means foundational and essential! We wouldn’t ever think of basic necessities like food, air, and shelter as unimportant. Accordingly, notevertoundervalue such a lofty text or its (former?) use in corporate worship, I would describe “Praise to God, Immortal Praise” as a basic worship hymn message that covers these topics:
God’s provision of love and joy to us His people
thankfulness for life-sustaining produce harvested from field and from gardens
prosperity and the stewardship of it that we rightly owe
being kind as a response that proves our gratitude for God’s mercies to us
Below are the three stanzas. See if you approve my breakdown shown above.
Praise to God, immortal praise, For the love that crowns our days; Bounteous Source of every joy; Let Thy praise our tongues employ.
For the blessings of the field, For the stores the gardens yield,
For the joy which harvests bring, Grateful praises now we sing.
As Thy prospering hand hath blest, May we give Thee of our best; And by deeds of kindly love For Thy mercies grateful prove.
This article says the poet was seen at one point as “a moralising writer for children” (she was English). The literary movers and shakers whose opinions mattered then did not intend that description to convey admiration for her body of work. But I say, “Bravo!” She has my applause for apparently being true to some measure of personal conviction in order to make a particular impact that cannot be underestimated in its potential effect! Producing wise instruction for minds most susceptible to both impression and improvement is highly admirable.
Popularity is different from enduring value
The world much more often than not fails to comprehend – and to apply – the value of the best works, thoughts, products, contributions of its brightest members. In current language, getting so many “likes” and “shares” is a marker that may make or break careers and business enterprises, yet those very numbers are by nature highly fickle and fleeting. The sheer volume of available choices in what to view, read, like and share causes much worthy content of enduring value to be dismissed (or missed altogether) and causes plenty of popular works ranging from books and film to cute memes and unimportant videos to be grossly overvalued.
Words that last forever
This brings us full circle to the point about our mouths emitting “immortal praise” to our God and Creator. From the best to the better to the faltering but sincere, the vast majority of created poems, novels, and essays will be undervalued. Praises to God, never so! What is produced for eliciting “likes” from earth’s eyes, minds, and wallets will perish. What rises to heaven now from humble and grateful hearts will endure and will never cease to matter.
In the coming year I’ll be facing my 60th birthday if the Lord wills. (Note: I am not shown anywhere in the stock photo above, source Kaboompics.com.) What a great rundown of privileges I can list that I’ve known during these six decades.
The family I was given was medium-sized, led by two parents married to each other. I grew up with one sibling of each gender. In spite of squabbles and pecking-order issues, I very much count the sibling experience as a positive: we found ways to have fun together and to help one another deal with parents, with growing pains, and with life. Not to mention, being third in line to have some of my siblings’ teachers in high school was helpful in a specific way a time or two. #OldTestsATeacherUsedAgain
My mother gave each of us three children coins with the image of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on them because he held office when all of us were born, between 1957 and 1960. John F. Kennedy was elected a couple of months after I was born. The television coverage of his tragic assassination and his funeral in 1963 I remember very faintly. We were at my grandmother’s house in High Point, North Carolina, for Thanksgiving.
A lot of folks build long-term childhood memories as they grow up in one house, in one town. Others, like me, experience frequent moves. Being a frequent mover may mean you were either a military kid or a preacher’s kid. I was the latter. I had no control over the fact that either moving or rezoning placed me in five different elementary schools for six years of schooling, but it was what it was. There were drawbacks to my social experience related to that frequent uprooting, but there were pluses, too. I have acquaintances and roots in a number of different communities:
Reidsville, NC, in Rockingham County (south of Danville, VA)
Finley, ND, where my father served for approximately two years in “pioneer” Baptist church work near the Finley Air Force Base that’s no longer in operation
Gretna, VA, where my fondest memories of “simple” childhood were made
Elizabeth City, NC, a “pretty far piece” outside the city limits, in yet another small church within a farming community
When I entered college in 1978, academic scholarships, BEOG, SEOG, a $50-per-semester “minister’s child discount” and work-study earnings added up to my ultimately obtaining a four-year degree from a private school and walking across the stage debt-free. #SoThankful
I have experienced the technological revolution from BASIC and FORTRAN and MS-DOS to Windows and Intel and iPhone. My father wrapped TV antenna “rabbit ears” with aluminum foil to improve reception, and my children are “cutting the cord” to get the best entertainment value from a combination of wireless providers.
Speaking of technology, my dad probably used that aluminum foil in 1969 to try to get the best possible picture of the first walk on the moon. He also used whatever type of camera we owned then to snap inferior-quality pictures of the television screen during that historic occasion.
As for me and my husband, we still live somewhere between rabbit ears and cutting the cord. Years ago we mastered the VCR, taping episode after episode of shows like M*A*S*H and Gomer Pyle, USMC; also football games and many a television movie, many of those being MGM musicals – normally, three two-hour flicks per tape. We bought and assembled two – TWO! – Sauder brand particle-board cabinets with fold-out doors (much like the one pictured below) to hold our impressive library of recorded and purchased VHS tapes! We made our first home movies with a monstrously large cam-corder when I was expecting our first child and was dressed in a very comfortable but hideous maternity dress made of two gray sweatshirts, the lower one neckless and sleeveless and stitched to the bottom edge of the upper one. And I was sitting in a Bentwood rocker. We no longer own the media cabinets, the “sweat dress,” the rocker, or the cam-corder. And we’re glad about that. #StuffComesAndGoes
The movies of our girls’ dance team practices, camps, performances and competitions were filmed with a much sleeker camera model using High-8 tapes. Not counting the home movies, our house is almost entirely free now of magnetic tape resources. But, as you know, clever marketing reaches out…generously and disinterestedly (not)…to us Baby Boomers, bringing back into vogue the vintage stuff that helps us to relive those fond old times. Thanks in part to a very amazing and generous aunt with great taste in music, we own and enjoy a small but enviable collection of vinyl LPs ranging from Henry Mancini and Jackie Gleason to 101 Strings. And we have a pretty good machine to play these platters on.
With my family of origin and with the family of which I am the wife and mom, I have been on vacations hither, thither, and yon. I’ve slept in canvas-cot bunks in a sheet aluminum truck bed camper my father built himself, and I’ve stayed in luxurious hotels when accompanying my husband on business trips. In longer-term situations like home, dorm, and apartment, I’ve been thankful for a range of accommodations from twin beds in shared rooms sparsely furnished to queen beds in adequately-furnished houses.
If I want to, I can apply for any sort of job or enroll in any kind of educational class or training…because I live in a great, free country. While working in the field that chose me (so to speak), I earned salary, had medical benefits, and built a retirement account. Speaking of retirement, not quite a year ago I opted to end the life stage of full-time employment even while being a few years shy of what may be the average retirement age range (62-65).
And that just about brings us full-circle. This article was in the works, partly in my head and partly on my iPad, on the morning of December 13 as I ventured into my city’s senior adult center for the first time to join an exercise class there. The class was not meeting that particular Friday, but in place of the opportunity to exercise I received a guided tour of the senior center and very helpful information on all of the groups, activities, and amenities connected therewith – from a complimentary computer lab to art lessons to ballroom dancing! I would absolutely love to learn ballroom dancing. But, the honest truth is they had me at “computer lab.” #AQuietPlaceToWrite
Speaking of writing, during my tour conducted by facility manager Dana Henson, I had the chance to tell her I have two novels in print. She promptly offered to connect me with the leader of the center’s book group.
I can do this.
I can step proudly and eagerly into this next phase, identifying as a senior adult. I already have the gray hair, the leg and hip pain, and the backing off of buying any shoes that look better than they feel. It’s about time I started experiencing more of the happier aspects!
Called-Out Life E-devotional
In keeping with this blog’s purpose, to provide Christian encouragement, I conclude with some thoughts along that line. A number of ministers with name recognition – as well as a host of other authors – have written books of advice for retirees and for almost-retirees. Here I mention only a couple of those:
Charles Swindoll has several books that speak to seasons of life. And here is some online wisdom of his.
But don’t go out and buy any or every book about retirement without reading reviews. I love the review pictured below. Talk about a helpful “executive summary”!
Campers on Mission came to mind very quickly, a throwback not only to my Baptist background but to my personal experience, aforementioned, as a kid in a family that camped more often than we stayed in motels or hotels. The thing is, I’ll be navigating retirement with a hubby who loves to quip, “Booking a room at Hampton Inn is how I camp out!” So, scratch Campers on Mission. Has anybody started a group called Hotel Dwellers on Mission? How about Barbecue Restaurant Frequenters on Mission?
The book of Job offers a great reminder about one particular aspect of aging. Notice how it totally debunks the idea that older folks have the monopoly on wisdom and all younger folks should shut up and listen! It’s God’s Spirit in a person, no matter what age that person is, that gives understanding.
We seniors may have been around the block a few more times, but we need to keep learning and we need to keep listening. Listening politely. Don’t miss that in verses 11-12. There’s a really important reminder there – for people of all ages:
be patient while someone else speaks
give your full attention to the speaker!
Job 32:6-12 So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said: “I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. 7 I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’ 8 But it is the spirit[b] in a person, the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding. 9 It is not only the old[c] who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. 10 “Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know. 11 I waited while you spoke, I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, 12 I gave you my full attention.
As I wielded an emery board over the residue of some “strong adhesion base coat” that a hasty job with nail polish remover the night before had missed, my mind turned toward a simplistic case of paradox that has intrigued me now and again: why is it that a rough, gritty surface is what we use to make fingernails or wood or some other surface smooth?
How can something rough and scratchy leave things smooth? That seems illogical. Wouldn’t something rough and scratchy scratch, leaving the surface rubbed with it rough and scratchy also?
Apparently not, since for years and years sandpaper (when used properly) has worked to smooth wood, not to roughen it. I reconcile the paradox this way: sure, it might seem as though smoothing should be done with something smooth: a soft, cotton cloth, perhaps, applied with gentle strokes. This picture evokes “soft” words like padding and protecting (as if we were talking about a piece of furniture in a moving van). Hold on, though. That’s just the thing. Gentle strokes with a soft cloth might feel good to an oak dresser in a woodworker’s shop, if that oak dresser could feel. But those soft touches with non-abrasive materials would not provide strength and pressure sufficient to remove rough places and splinters.
Similarly, we hear about “tough love,” an expression I know for certain evokes specific, sad memories for those who have faced particular family situations. On a more universal level, we could talk about the basic and God-given institution of authority – the need for rules and for order. And for discipline (which normally should feel rough to both the wise giver and the errant recipient). It would be nice if parenting and supervision could be done in a smooth and soft way, and still result in a child’s or an employee’s improved understanding and more mature behavior.
The simple truth, however, is this: that’s not the world we live in. For most of us, difficulties, injuries, hurt feelings, punishments and disappointments tend to be what have made us more aware, more careful, and more measured in our decisions. In some cases those types of experiences also have shaped us into better, kinder, more understanding people. And, yes, into more obedient people – as odd as that may sound to us once we’ve become adults.
Furthermore, if we have found ourselves the recipients of effective comfort throughout our hurtful experiences, so much the better in terms of our helpfulness to others: “God…comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 (NIV)
Some have called the process of being shaped by difficulty “going through the school of hard knocks.” Shall we bristle up, then, and knock back? That’s our natural impulse, isn’t it? It feels assuaging to exercise our rights, to try – by arguing our point – to “make” another person see reason and just stop acting so unfairly and selfishly. When we exercise our right to argue, we may feel justified in doing so. We’re just standing up for ourselves, right? Yes…somewhat. But to act or to react without real self-control is what breeds conflict in those situations. Jesus commanded a different approach:
“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” Matthew 5:39-41 (NIV)
The apostle Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18 (NIV)
May you get and may you endure the sandpaper when you need it applied to your rough edges, resulting in at least these three things:
a closer walk with your Creator and Authority
more confident, peaceful dealings with other people
patience, self-control, and peace of mind
And, when you ought to apply the sandpaper to another’s rough edges, may you do so with love, with an honest understanding of your authority’s scope, and with a helpful explanation to the “sandee.”
I didn’t know them well, except by reputation. His wife was a tallish, thin, somewhat frail-looking woman with gray hair and the usual degree of wrinkles for her age. He, too, was taller than average, but not so much as he once had been. All the time I went to church with them, he was noticeably stoop-shouldered. If my memory serves me correctly, either they were from North Carolina or they had grown children and grandchildren who lived there.
He got cancer, which ultimately took him. One of our mutual friends present during the final hours reported that some of the dying man’s last words were these: “I haven’t done enough.”
On the surface of it, this reads like an account of a servant who may have lacked confidence that he had rightly interpreted and fulfilled his Master’s instructions. Or, of more concern, like an account of a Christian who was relying on “enough” good works to satisfy a Master who had pen and ledger in hand and a measuring eye, rather than relying on the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus. However, I believe the following is a more likely explanation.
Joe Heilig served as chairman of the deacons. He participated faithfully in the Gideons International ministry to place copies of the Bible in as many hands as possible. He was a friend and a mentor to many. My impression of Joe and of his wife Nancy is that they were some of the most faithful, active, serving believers a congregation – and the kingdom of God – is ever blessed to have, and that they always did what they did for the sake of Christ in a quiet manner with kind, humble, hospitable spirits. They had loving hearts, smiling faces, and helping hands.
Mr. Heilig having uttered on his deathbed “I haven’t done enough” draws a picture, for me, not of regret or of uncertainty, but of an unquenchable thirst.
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” Psalm 42:1-2 NIV
The Psalmist has created a vivid image of those who, like Mr. Heilig, find that every experience of Christian service, every next stretch of the faith road, leaves them yearning for more of the same – and not just for more, but for better. Deeper. Fuller. Clearer. Closer. All of the concepts that characterize the gravitation of our spirits “upward” toward the final, permanent home where our Lord awaits with a yearning that I believe scripture repeatedly suggests is even greater than ours for Him.*
If there was regret in Mr. Heilig’s heart over how much or how little he had done as a Christian during the earthly years granted him, I suspect it was because his daily service brought him a deeply meaningful joy that he grasped for continually – not because it seemed a burdensome, overwhelming task.
I’d just made my way to the kitchen after a sluggish exit from the bed. Guess what day it was. You got it: Monday. I heated water for some oatmeal, being mentally awake enough at least to remember that, as of Sunday night, I was planning to counteract having eaten homemade cinnamon rolls for the last three breakfasts straight.
“Hey, (Granddog)!” My voice reflected a busy weekend and really didn’t carry the exclamation mark that, deep in my heart, I knew that sweet pup deserved from me no matter how tired I was.
I emptied my daughter’s early coffee grounds so I could brew my “half caf” in the same pot (she was already out the door to her job as a dental assistant). Then, because my eyes fell on them in the same cabinet where we keep the coffee, I sorted the last of some fancy, salted mixed nuts left over from a bridal shower, tossing the bits and pieces of everything except the pecans into my bowl of oatmeal to salten up the unknown amount of brown sugar already shaken unceremoniously thereinto, meanwhile assessing what dishes were still in the sink because they wouldn’t fit into the dishwasher on Sunday night. [And, if you please, let’s not even go down the rabbit path of “Is oatmeal with brown sugar and mixed, salted nut pieces really any better for me than a homemade cinnamon roll?”]
It definitely was a groggy-headed, bleary-eyed start to a new week. Fast-forward now to an additional “hashtag Monday morning” element in all of this: I eventually dashed out the door later than I’ve ever left for a 9:00 report time to my part-time job, still managing to arrive on time but immediately learning I wasn’t scheduled to be there until 11! With a laugh that carried only the merest degree of embarrassment, I came back home to play with my granddog and to finish writing this article. But, back to the main story:
“Hey, (Granddog)! Sweet boy.” [random additional, unintelligible early-morning, dog-appropriate word/noises] “Grandma’s just doing what grandmas…” Strike grandmas – not universal enough. “Just doing what older women…” Strike older women – too uninteresting a term at the moment. “Grandma’s just doing what mature women do.”
Note: Granddog has lived here long enough to realize – as the rest of the family realizes – that rambling out loud is a daily part of what this grandma does!
Yes, coffee. Yes, dishes. Yes, starting a new day tired. But that totally is not where I was going with “explaining” myself to the dog just then. “They try to support people in prayer, they try to be less selfish than they were yesterday, they try to love their Lord, and they try to produce something to leave behind.” I got choked up voicing some of those unrehearsed thoughts. It had been a busy weekend, during which I had pondered at length over some very weighty theological matters. (Read on.)
So, after spending a number of hours Sunday afternoon and evening working on a blog post that not only had been brewing and stewing for the several days prior, but also brought in some timely subject matter voiced from the pulpit that very morning, I set that tempestuous post-in-progress on a back burner and devoted myself to writing this one instead.
This one was inspired in a flash; the other one has been laboriously brooded and languished over in terms of vocabulary, scope, and “Should I even say these things about which I feel so strongly?”. This one is less volatile, less lengthy, and less preachy. It has passed through my hands quickly. The other post is maybe going to stay forever where it now is – in my journal.
Most of this post’s recommendations could be somewhat easy to put into action without stirring up any disagreement.
Whether the “mature woman” – or man – be age 58.5 like me, or age 72 or 16 or 31, this list of priorities may be a useful centering tool until a more useful one comes along:
Support people in prayer – and don’t omit yourself!
Be less selfish than you were yesterday
Love the Lord – with a love that produces obedience of Psalm 119:1-7 seriousness*
Produce something to leave behind
*Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord.
2 Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
3 they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
4 You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
5 Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
6 Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
Happy birthday to my country! Long may our “stars and stripes” wave and withstand every foe without and within.
I thank God for this homeland which so many have sacrificed to establish, to build, and to defend. I join those who hurt when some of our nation’s citizens refuse to love the USA and choose not to support her (whether that be through voting, through paying taxes, or through their words). I am proud of her symbols: the flag, the eagle insignia, the coinage reading “In God We Trust.”
At Sunday morning worship on June 30, Minister to Adults Jim Gifford at Dawson said in his opening prayer, “Our souls are free to praise God.” Perish the thought, but, supposing the more obvious freedoms and rights to be forcibly taken from us – freedom to speak openly, to assemble openly, to worship openly, to choose paths of education, association, and employment – the inextricable freedom of our souls to praise God would remain.
A similar reminder is that, while we cannot always choose or control our circumstances, we can choose our attitude. I smile upon remembering how the staff at Camp Mundo Vista in North Carolina’s Uwharrie Mountains gave a specific version of this advice to campers who developed (or arrived with!) such dire homesickness that they begged to have their parents pick them up. In other words, they wanted to bail on their paid, planned Monday through Friday of living in a cabin with strangers.
The counselors (of which I was one) and the directors naturally desired that every girl should have a wonderful camp experience, so to have one leave before camp adjourned was the last thing they wanted, not to mention basically a professional failure. Their goal was to help such an attendee succeed in overcoming her homesickness so she would be able to reflect later, with satisfaction, that she had been able to “push through” to a better place mentally and emotionally. To that end, the beginning point of homesickness counsel was always, “You have two choices.” The camper may have expected that the two choices about to be offered were to stay at camp or to go home; but, no. “You can stay and be unhappy, or you can stay and decide to be glad you’re here.”
Max Lucado’s You’ll Get Through This advises, in the context of temporary trial or testing, “Rather than ask God to change your circumstances, ask Him to use your circumstances to change you.” (Maybe we could have used the author as Camp Pastor to the Homesick that summer of 1981!)
Today I honor my country and my God. And I thank my God for the privilege of living in a place where the above memories were made possible – because of our freedoms.