I have a great family and I had a wonderful childhood, shared with lots of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. But, sometimes you get lucky enough, like I did, to have an extra family member or two, who are not blood-related that influence your growing up. Mine was Aunt Maudie. She lived behind us, on the next street over from the house I grew up in, in a tiny town in southern Indiana.
Aunt Maudie was petite in size, reserved and soft-spoken. Her hair was the color of sunshine, pin-curled and sprayed just so, and her skin was always tanned even in the wintertime in Indiana. I thought she looked like Doris Day. Aunt Maudie's clothes were Laura Petrie classic, and she had this pair of sandals with plastic fruit on them that must've come from Blocks or L.S. Ayres in Indianapolis.
Aunt Maudie had two sons who were older than me. One son wanted to be a hairdresser, and he was always cutting my dolls' hair for practice. The other son, for real, I think joined the circus or the carnival. Aunt Maudie's husband was a professional photographer, which I thought was pretty cool, so artsy (I had no idea back then you could actually get paid to take pictures). Every church directory, high school graduation, and wedding picture in our entire town was taken by Aunt Maudie's husband.
All day long during the summers, my dog, JoJo, and I would run, like Dorothy and Toto, back and forth between Aunt Maudie's house and ours. There was a field between the houses, probably only the size of a subdivision lot, but to me it was this expansive green horizon, covered in clover and bumblebees that would sting my bare feet when I stepped on them.
Aunt Maudie's house was plain, but in a sleek and sophisticated way like the one on the Dick Van Dyke Show. It was classic Mid-Mod with everything in nice, predictable 90-degree angles, from the shape of the understuffed sofa to the cut quarry stone on the fireplace. Everything was orderly and simple, and that felt good to me. I figured Aunt Maudie's family must be rich. They had 2 bathrooms (one with the coolest foil wallpaper I'd ever seen), a console TV and, in the basement, a pool table and extra refrigerator with pop and beer in it. There were always Rodgers and Hammerstein soundtrack LPs playing on the living room stereo.
Aunt Maudie knew I loved LaChoy Chicken Chow Mein - the kind in the double-decker can, with the little can of meat on top and the bottom one had the Chinese vegetables. She made it for me every time I came over. She would serve me at a white wrought iron table in her breakfast room (I didn't know people had rooms just for breakfast) on glass dishes, with real silverware and cloth napkins. I felt so cultured and "international".
I got to stay with Aunt Maudie a whole week once when I had the chicken pox and my mom had to work. The best thing I remember about that week was creating a play kitchen out of empty boxes in the middle of Aunt Maudie's living room.
I held a yard sale pretty much every week in the summertime when I was growing up. I would carry all my stuff out of my bedroom and set it up for sale out in front of my house. Aunt Maudie always came to my yard sale and bought something she had no earthly use for.
On May Day, I left flowers (pulled from Aunt Maudie's garden) at her front door, rang the doorbell, and ran away. She acted so surprised and pretended she didn't know they were from me (and from her garden).
You know, here's the thing. Aunt Maudie never lavished me with expensive gifts, or gave me any profound advice, that I can recall. She just made me feel "interesting". Valuable. Worth her time. She seemed to just enjoy watching me being me. How cool is that?
Did you have an Aunt Maudie in your life? Better yet, are you an Aunt Maudie to some kid right now?
I am not a big fan of New Year's Resolutions, myself. I like to think that I don't need a "date" to take care of business, make a change, whatever needs to be done. Yet, I know that, for a lot of people, New Year's Resolutions are at least, traditional, and sometimes even helpful.
With my hesitancy in mind, I would like to offer my one, and only, personal New Year's Resolution:
February the 3rd.
And April the 9th. July the 7th. October the 19th.
Lord, help me to be as enthused about making positive changes in my life throughout this year, long after New Year's Day has faded away, as I am today. I pray that I can maintain my commitment to You and all the things - the good and even the ugly - that you want me to do this year. I just don't want to "Drop the Ball" (sorry).
Well, I guess, since this is a Christian blog, I really should have a "Christmas" post. After all, Christmas is kind of a big deal when it comes to our faith. And I totally get that - God sending his Son to earth to be our Savior, all of that. I get it, and to say I'm grateful is an understatement. Yet, in full disclosure, I have to tell you that, personally, Easter gives me the biggest bang for my buck as a Christ follower. Jesus defeated death! Booyah! The Christian Super Bowl!
I've reflected a bit on what really strikes me, spiritually, about Christmas. And it is this ---
The virgin birth. The fact that a woman, hand-picked by God, was impregnated without having been with a man. That totally makes no sense. Scientifically impossible. Unbelievable. Certainly, the virgin birth lends to the purity of Jesus, as God could have just as easily chosen an already married woman to bring the Savior into the world. But, I think there's an even deeper insight here.
As I see it, God made the virgin birth of Jesus purposely unbelievable because our entire faith is, pretty much, unbelievable. Let's see.....
Well, first of all, God sent and sacrificed his SON. His child. I don't know about you, but I'm not sacrificing my child for anybody or anything. Unthinkable.
When God forgives our sin, He forgets it. For. gets. it. Gone. Like it never happened. Unfathomable.
The God of the universe takes the time to even care at all about us unworthy bunch of whiners. Preposterous.
Jesus lived, suffered, and died for people who treated him like crap. Irrational.
We can communicate directly with the God of the universe through prayer in Jesus' name. Unimaginable.
Suddenly, the virgin birth doesn't seem all that far-fetched. I kind of see Jesus' birth as God's way of saying, "Hang on, I'm fixin' to blow your mind".
Sometimes questions just pop into my head.
Just a brief background. If you were raised in 'old school' church, you are quite familiar with singing assigned hymns out of the hymnal during song service. Most of these hymns come with 4 verses (often referred to as "stanzas" if you're really old school).
Yet, invariably, we were always assigned to sing Verses 1, 2, and 4. Skip verse 3. Pretty much every time.
Why is that?
Do Verses 3 have something in them that is existentially 'questionable'? Something in them we don't need to know?
Has there been a study that determined that singing Verse 3 in a hymn adds nothing to the altar call response rate?
Do we skip Verse 3 in order to save time? How much more time would it really add to sing just one more verse?
I think the next time I feel ignored or excluded, I'm going to say "I'm feeling like a Verse 3".
Let me start by saying that this is not a 'ghost story'. As a Christian, I don't have any interest (or business) in ghost-hunting. But, I do think there are a couple of life 'nuggets' here. I can explain at the end.....here's the story:
My mom was a dear, sweet lady. Loving, yet quiet and reserved – a lot like me (yeah, right). She held deep religious beliefs and lived by those her whole life. My mom always encouraged me and let me know that she valued and loved me. That’s not to say that we didn’t have some awful times – ah, the teenage years – but I always knew my mom loved me and I loved her.
My mom was not much of a disciplinarian; that was left to my dad and, actually, to my grandmother who cared for me as my mom was one of the few moms working outside the home back in the 60’s (at least, in our little Midwest town, she was). On those occasions when I behaved badly, which usually involved my ‘mouth’ opposed to my fists, my mom always seemed hurt and disappointed in my behavior, rather than angry with me. She had a quiet way of scolding me in a manner that let me know she was not pleased, but also included a reminder of how “pretty” (physically? spiritually? regardless, I loved it) I was to her. She would say, “You’re too pretty to act that way”, when I had my little ‘attitude’ for not getting what I wanted. Or, she would say, “You’re too pretty to talk like that”, when I used ‘un-ladylike language’ (I never heard my mom say a cuss word in her whole life). She said this phrase with such regularity, it kind of became a joke between us. “I know, I know, mom, I’m too pretty to do that”, I’d say before she could, when I knew I had transgressed.
I miss my mom. She passed away 15 years ago from Alzheimer’s disease.
A few years ago, I was in the hospital for what I guess would be considered a pretty serious illness. Sparing all the gory details, let’s just say I was hospitalized for 6 days, tube down my throat, major surgery, lots of fun. I can remember lying in that hospital bed on about day 4 thinking, "Man, I really must be sick". My husband was a rock star, rarely left my bedside the entire time. My family members all came to see me in the hospital (my sister, upon seeing me, making a comment that I looked like !@#$ - true to our lovingly competitive relationship).
One of those hospital nights, my husband had stepped out of the room, at my encouragement, to get a bite to eat in the hospital cafeteria (yum). It was one of the first times since my admission through the ER that I was in a hospital room by myself. I lay rather lifeless and flat on my back, as I had done for many days. I didn’t have the strength to sit or stand - it would have been nearly impossible anyway, with all the tubes and wires tethering me down. Even though I was somewhat apprehensive about being alone in this now not-so-strange environment of the hospital, I felt relaxed and peaceful in my dark room with only the glow of monitors for light, and the distant and newly familiar sound of nurses and patients out in the hallway.
My husband returned to my room after only a few minutes away, apologizing for not bringing me back anything to eat (nervous humor). “You doing OK? Have any of the nurses been in to check on you while I was gone?”, he asked, leaning down to kiss me on the forehead. “No, but the lady in the bed next to mine stepped over and spoke to me” I told him, gesturing toward the curtain beside my bed that divided my hospital room into two. My husband paused, with a perplexed look on his face. “There’s nobody in the other bed. There hasn’t been another patient over there”, he informed me. “Yeah there is”, I said. “It’s an older lady with white hair. She was wearing a nightgown and she stood at the foot of my bed and spoke to me”. Thinking maybe I was mistaking one of the nurses who had come in to check on me while he was gone, my husband asked, “Well, what did the woman say?” I paused for a moment, re-envisioning my visitor, with her comforting presence and kind words. I then answered, “She said to me, You’re too pretty to be this sick”.
Was it Imagination...Hallucination...Medication? I don't know, and it doesn't matter. I learned a couple of things here:
First, we never know what we might say to someone in our life that sticks with them forever. We need to make sure what comes out of our mouth is valuable and edifying.
Secondly, I think (hope) that God does allow specific moments in our life when we can receive direct encouragement from someone we love who has left this planet ahead of us. It's not a ghost thing, but it is spiritual.
We hear a lot about the value of "quality time" spent with kids (and grandkids). And this concept fits nicely with the chaos of modern life, for sure. But, I'm thinking "quantity time" is a tad bit underrated, and here's why.
Some of the most meaningful and memorable moments I've ever had with my kids and grands have not been at an amusement park or a spectacle on ice, but in the car ride home from school when I give my advice on how to handle a bully. While sitting on the sofa watching a God-awful kids' movie and answering a million "why" questions. Or, just holding the head of a puking kid in the middle of the night.
If it weren't for "quantity time", I would've missed all this.
While channel surfing last night (or, as I like to call it, walking through a mine field), I came across a scene in a TV series show where a self-identified "agnostic" is explaining why she is not really interested in seeking any additional insight, pro or con, into the 'God thing': "I don't need to know all the answers", she says, "because what would I do when I found them?"
Hmmm.... Well, if I were in this conversation, I would have to respond:
I didn't come to God looking for answers. I came looking for a Savior. And I found Him. His name is Jesus.
The proverbial Slippery Slope seems to be the lesson in this letter. The dangers in subtlety, and how we can land in the middle of a spiritual wreck without even knowing how we got there. And, clearly, the demons understand this better than anybody.
The dude in the story has, not completely unexpectedly, reached a level of 'adequacy' in his spiritual walk. Ok, sure, he has some stuff left to get with God about, and he feels kinda bad about that. But, he still goes to church (when he can). He still reads his Bible (OK, well, it's somewhere in the house). He wrote a check to a charity last month. It's all good (enough). And, like Screwtape says, as long as we maintain the "habits of a Christian", we will think we are one.
So, the demons' plan at this point is to just let the guy slowly slide away from God, totally on his own, just a little at a time. They're going to stay pretty much hands-off at this point - kinda like those videos from 'up North' (Southern terminology) you see on the Weather Channel when a car is sliding on the icy road and the driver takes his (her) hands off the wheel and just lets the car end up wherever it ends up. And it's usually not someplace good.
We all slide, and it's not like we don't know we're 'sliding'. In the car, we'll just ride it out. (I'm not going that fast. And I am wearing my seatbelt. I'll be OK.) Same thing spiritually: As Screwtape says, any "dim uneasiness" (aka 'sliding') we sense in our relationship with God we just deem "temporary and revocable". So, no need to over-react here. "This too shall pass" which, BTW, is not a scripture of the Bible.
And, with all this slippin' and slidin', here's what can happen next: Guilt. Not the kind that makes us fall on our face and ask the Father for forgiveness and mercy. But, the kind that compels us to trade substance for superficial (so we don't have to really deal). The kind of guilt that drives us to sort our sins into 'tall, grande, or venti' in order to make ourselves feel better. Essentially, we end up doing a whole bunch of nothing. And nothing separates us farther from God, than Nothing. And that's true whether you're from Up North or Down South.
Lord, help me to pump my brakes and get a handle on any sliding I'm doing right now. Amen.