Mom’s Favorite Tree

cardinalsrobin and nest 

chinese willow tree

 

Spring is in the air! I feel it in my bones and in my spirits. My bones are less achy and my spirits feel lighter. I see and hear and smell and feel the signs of Spring everywhere: Birds chirping in the bushes outside my shower room, melting snow dripping off my porch roof, the smell of skunk  in the air (It is February after all and no flowers yet, but the smell of skunk is one of the first smells that tell me Spring is on the way), the brilliance of the sun’s rays reflecting off the snow and warming my face, and Spring Training is in full swing (no pun intended) with pre-season baseball games being televised daily.  I am getting excited for the new baseball season which is fast approaching. It’s fun to see Don and Jerry back calling the RED SOX games on NESN. They are the most entertaining baseball announcer/color analyst combo in baseball, in my humble opinion. When I watch other baseball games, the announcer/analyst team almost lull me to sleep. This Spring, I will have the added enjoyment of watching two weeks of the World Baseball Classic on the MLB Network, starting March 1st.

Anyway, back to the signs of Spring: This morning, February 26, 2013, a male and female cardinal were outside my living room picture window, partaking of the bird seed in the make-shift feeder which once was a bird bath. This was such a blessing from the Lord to me. Cardinals are so beautiful (the birds, not the baseball team). Their red color is almost luminescent against the pure white snow. The cardinals reminded me of how much my mom enjoyed watching the birds (and “Ed” the chipmunk) eat from the bird feeder. (I have not seen robins yet, but some of my friends have.)

During another February, in 2010, about a month after my mom’s passing, a strong winter storm blew through our area. The aftermath resulted in fallen and broken trees spewed all over yards, streets, and even on top of cars and houses. When the storm was over, I looked out my living room picture window and discovered my mom’s favorite tree was literally torn in two. Half of it was gone, dispersed all over the front yard. Amazingly, my sister’s little RED sports car, parked in back of the tree, did not get hit.

The Chinese cherry tree looked exactly how I felt at that time.  Half of me was gone, because my dear mother was gone. I could say that I was her favorite; that is, her favorite “firstborn” child. She did everything for me. She took me to physical therapy. She made sure I received an education. She made my favorite meals. She was happy when I was happy. She knew I could do anything I wanted to do; just like the other kids, only better.  She believed in me. Now that she was gone, I was no anyone’s “favorite” anymore. That’s how I felt anyway, as a single adult.

When my mom’s eyesight was still good enough to see, she loved looking at that tree in the middle of our yard. She especially enjoyed Springtime when the tree would explode in radiant pink blossoms. I wondered if there would be the same “explosion” that Spring, with only half a tree left. I also wondered about having a robin’s nest again. Every Spring, robins would build a nest in my mom’s favorite tree. Would it have enough protective covering for the robins to deem the tree nest worthy?

During the months of March, April, and May, I kept an eye on that tree. Not much was happening in March. I still wondered what would happen to the half tree in my front yard. April came and I thought I saw little “rumblings” on the branches that were spared from the storm. A few weeks later, it happened; almost overnight. KABAM and KAPOWIE! The great explosion of SPRING COLOR came to life on the remaing branches of what before looked like a very sorry-looking tree! One question answered, one more to go. Will there be a robin’s nest?

It was very hard to see between the brilliant pink blossoms and bright young green leaves but, every now and then I saw robins flying in and out the now beautiful Chinese cherry tree. When the blossoms had blown away and there were only leaves for my farsightedness to contend with, I did see a robin carrying twigs, pieces of plastic bag, twine, and other “nest-building” material into the tree. On May 7th, my nephew Noel and I ventured over to the tree to get a closer look. Under it’s half-canopy, we looked up and saw the miracle of life beginning again. There it was…A ROBIN’S NEST!

My mom would not give up on that little tree. When she learned that her son-in-law was thinking of cutting it down, she talked him out of it. Because my mom did not give up on that “broken” little tree, I did not want to give up on it either. It was an example of how my mom did not give up on me. Her firstborn, who came into her world when she was an unexperienced mother, came into it “broken“ with cerebral palsy. Instead of  “putting me away,“ as some advised her to do, she dedicated her life to love me and help me blossom and grow and be full of life. That is what a mother’s sacrificial love is all about.

The beautiful tree in my front yard reminded me of my mom, the many things she has done for me and the many cherished memories she has given me. What comforts me the most is knowing that Jesus has taken my mom Home to spend eternity with Him, enjoying the beauty of Spring and the eternal life He freely gives to all who believe in His Name. My mom is now basking in the radiant love of the Son.

In October of 2011, there was another terrible snow storm. Because the trees still had their leaves, many trees around the area were destroyed, power lines were down, and houses, cars and other property were damaged. This time, the Chinese Cherry tree did not make it and only a stump remains. BUT, that did not stop the robins from making their Spring home in my yard. I had thought that without the tree in the middle of the yard and only a small Chinese Willow tree in the corner of the yard, near a busy street,  it would be the end of having a robin’s nest in my yard each Spring, or so I thought. This October, 2013, after all the leaves had fallen off the trees, my sister and I spotted a nest resting on one of the corners where branches intersect, in the Willow tree. So, that’s why we saw the robins in our yard! We thought they were confused about the tree that was gone. Instead, they were busy building a nest inside the leafy branches of the little willow tree. Who would have thunk it?!

“Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are NEW every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore, I will wait for Him” (Lamentations 3:22-24 [N.I.V.]).

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a NEW thing! Now it SPRINGS up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19 [N.I.V.]).

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I [God] comfort you…” (Isaiah 66:13a).

“For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him [Jesus] will not be disappointed’” (Romans 10:11 [N.A.S.V.]).

“However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him’” (I Corinthians 2:9 [N.I.V.]) .

“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He Who was seated on the throne [Jesus] said, ‘I am making all things NEW!’” (Revelation 21:3b-5a [N.I.V.]).

The anticipation of the arrival of Spring is an exciting time. No matter how cold and snowy the Winter is, we can always count on Spring coming again. Likewise, no matter how heavy our burdens are in this life, we can always count on Jesus to carry us through the storms of life and bring us comfort, strength, and grace, for He is always faithful! He will always give us the encouragement we need through family, friends, and the signs of nature which remind us of His great love for us. God demonstrates His love for us through a visit from two cardinals at breakfast time, a robin’s nest where one least expects to find one, a loving mother who dedicates her life to care for her children, and, most of all, the sacrifice of His one and only Son to pay for the sins of the world (my sin). During this time of Lent, when Christians meditate on Christ and all that He has done for us, through His sacrificial deathdeath on the cross,and all He continues to do for us, through the power of His resurrection, let us also remenber another act of love He will do for us. Just as Spring comes after Winter, we can also count on Jesus coming again and making all things NEW!

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 [N.I.V.])

“After His suffering, He [Jesus] showed Himself to these men and gave many confincing proofs that He was ALIVE…He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority…After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dresed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven'” (Acts 1:3a, 7, 10-11 [N.I.V.])

“Then the angel showed me [john] a river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [Jesus] down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the TREE OF LIFE, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him. They will see His Face, and His Name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:1-5 [N.I.V.]).

“Now to Him Who is able to do immeasurably more that all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21 [N.I.V.]).

HAPPY (ALMOST) SPRING!

Lydia

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How Do You Put On Your Socks and Shoes? (Uncut)

I wrote about this topic a few months ago, but now I have more information from my sister Jane, who is younger and her memory is better than mine.  She remembers watching “All in the Family,” a ground-breaking situational comedy in the ‘70s about prejudice in America. Jane reminded me, in more detail, of the one particular episode when Mike (a.k.a., “Meathead”) was sitting on the living room couch,  putting on his socks and shoes. When Archie noticed how Mike put one sock and one shoe on one foot, and then put one sock and one shoe on his other foot, Archie totally freaked out. Archie said something this: “What do you think you’re doing? You can’t do that! You have to put both your socks on before you put on your shoes! That’s how everybody does it Meathead! What is the matter with you?!” Mike just couldn’t understand why Archie was making such a big deal about such a non-consequential matter as how to put on socks and shoes. Mike answered something like this: “I always put on my socks and shoes this way. Think about it. If there was a fire and we had run get out of the house quickly and it was raining outside, I would be able to hop on one foot and my feet would stay dry. Your feet wouldn’t.“ Archie was disgusted by Mike’s logic and retorted (and this is the part I must of suppressed from my memory): “Only a dumb ‘Polock’ would put his shoes and socks on that way!”

How do you put on your socks and shoes? Would you be willing to put them on a different way from how you usually put them on or would it totally freak you out and you wouldn’t be able to go through with it? My newly found friend, Mary Anne Evans (a.k.a. George Elliot), once said, “It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.” I must admit that the rigidity in how Archie put on his socks and shoes is a humorous case of narrow-mindedness and obsessive-compulsive behavior, but we all know people who act that way. Sadly, I must admit, I have the tendency to be rigid in certain areas of my life. I have to do some things a certain way or my whole day is ruined. I know that Jesus is helping me with those areas in my life to let go of habits and routines that do not matter in the grand scheme of things.  Believe it or not, my cerebral palsy helps me to be more “creative” in the ways I do things. For example, I cannot take off my coat one sleeve at a time because it is too difficult for me to do it that way, so I just pull my coat over my head. I can’t pour hot coffee very well (and I just can’t wait for someone to come and do it for me and they would not want me to), so I have my coffee maker by the sink and I pour my coffee in a travel mug that I place in the sink, in case I spill a little when I pour, and then I put the lid on the travel mug with a straw and travel to the livingroom to watch ESPN. This is the way I can pour my coffee and drink it to. I‘m a “happy camper.” Some have asked me how I can drink hot coffee through a straw. My answer is, “VERY CAREFULLY and with practice. That way, I get my coffee and nobody gets hurt. Now, getting back to feet:

Isaiah prophesied about “feet” that are totally foot-loose and fancy-free from all the man-made ritualistic “chains“ that bind: “How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes” (Isaiah 52:7-8). Paul expands on this idea of feet that are set free to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel: “As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in Him [Jesus] will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard. And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ (Romans 10:11-15).

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,  which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all  kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for the saints” (Ephesians 6:13-18).

Many people outside the Christian faith think of Christianity as very restrictive and Christians as being narrow-minded and rigid, unable to tolerate other points of view. In some cases, based on their limited exposure to Christianity and Christians, they have a very valid point. However, when I look at Jesus I see nothing but freedom, unconditional love, and grace. Jesus is constantly challenging me to broaden my point of view and He is expanding my way of thinking about things.  I need only look as far as the “Sermon on the Mount” (“the Beatitudes“).  In Matthew 5:3-12, He tells me who are the ones who are truly “blessed” or “happy” or, I might even say, “fulfilled.” Jesus says, it’s not the ones who are richly self-righteous and full of self-assurance that will see His kingdom, but “the poor in spirit”; it’s not those who haven’t got a clue how much they are missing out on the eternal by wanting the immediate pleasures of this life, but “those who mourn” over their sinfulness – they “will be comforted“; it’s not the bold and immodest, but the “meek” who “will inherit the earth“; it’s not those who believe they know IT all, but “those who hunger and thirst” to know God more intimately – “they will be filled“; it’s not those who seek revenge and get revenge, but the “merciful” who “will be shown mercy“; it’s not the sophisticated and worldly, but “the pure in heart” who “will see God“; it’s not the war mongers, but “the peacemakers“ who “will be called sons of God.”  And, if that is not mind-blowing enough, Jesus tells me that I am “blessed” (‘happy” and even fulfilled) when I’m being insulted and persecuted and harassed, because when it is for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of Gospel, I will be greatly  “rewarded in Heaven.” Instead of modeling my life after “success stories,”  I will be “blessed and happy” (and fulfilled and victorious) when I follow the examples of the prophets and martyrs of the faith.

Jesus does not stop there. Jesus also challenges His first disciples and us to think differently from the popular belief system in biblical times and also in our times (As Ecclesiastes 1:9b says, “…there is nothing new under the sun”) : “You have heard that it said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).

Jesus tells me that if I am angry at a brother or sister in Christ, it is just the same as if I committed murder in His eyes. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we must not stay angry with each other, but we must forgive each other for Christ’s sake and for the sake of His Gospel.  In the teaching of the two men who owed money, in Luke7:40-43, Jesus was teaching Simon about the benefits of realizing one’s own sinfulness. He was talking to Simon about this at the same time a “sinful” woman was washing His feet (Luke 7:36-50). Simon recognized that the man who “had the bigger debt canceled” would love the man who canceled his debt more than the one who only owed him a little money (v. 43).  In the same way,  Jesus said, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has forgiven little, loves little” (v. 47).

The truth of the matter is I am a sinful person and Jesus has canceled my humongous debt and has forgiven me of my many sins. When I realize how much I have been forgiven, how can I not love Jesus enough to forgive others in the same way? Romans 12:17-18 teaches, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you [Lydia], live at peace with everyone.” Ephesians 4:29-32 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Jesus tells me, “Do not stay angry, but forgive your brother or sister. Do not get even, but encourage your brother or sister in the Lord. Do not hold a grudge, but forgive and forget as I have forgiven you [Lydia] and you can count on this – I will never bring up your sin ever again.” “…He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:10-14).

Jesus does not only want us to forgive our brothers and sisters in the Lord: “You have heard that it was said, ’Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you…You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get” (Matthew 5:38-43a).

If we can’t love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, how can we show the love of Christ to our neighbors and even to those who oppose everything that has to do with Christianity. The Scriptures verses above, as I read them, are talking about sacrificial love. In loving others, our brothers and sisters in Christ and also those outside the faith, it requires the giving up of our rights for the sake of the Gospel. This is such a foreign concept to today’s world. We are so into making sure our rights are not taken away from us. However, if we fight for the rights of others who cannot fight for themselves and go to battle to make sure that all human beings have the same human rights, this is a very good thing. Jesus and the Gospel are all about human equality and justice for all. In Matthew 7:12 Jesus gives us the “Golden Rule”: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus talks about “The Sheep and the Goats.” Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, giving water to those who are thirsty, welcoming the stranger, giving clothing to those who need something to wear, visiting the sick and those who are in prison. And in two of the most radical statements in all of Scripture, in my humble opinion, Jesus says that The King replies to the Sheep, “…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me,” and to the Goats, He says, “…I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me” (Matthew 25:40, 45).

If we cannot love our brothers and sisters in Christ in our churches and forgive each other and move on, how can our feet be “fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15)? And if we cannot love each other, how can we love God? I John 4:19-21 reads, “We love because He first love us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Many churches in New England have been going through extremely difficult times. Disagreements over theological minutia and semantics have resulted in many hurt, angry and/or confused feelings within the churches. As a result, pastors have left or have been asked to leave, churches have split or people have stopped going to church all together.  What is happening is very confusing and very mind-boggling. How in the world did this happen?

I believe God wants His best for His body of Christ in New England.  I do not know what God is going to do with all this mess. I only know that He is in control and He will finish the work He has started in the churches in New England . It is His work and not anyone else’s. We are His instruments; His disciples; His feet to carry His Gospel. What He wants from me and all of us is to forgive each other, love each other, and love and trust Him. He also wants all of us to learn from our mistakes. This will involve sacrificing how we may want things done. It will involve dying to self, and enduring a little pain and suffering (“little” compared to the suffering of missionaries outside of the U.S.) along the way. Many of us are hurting because we have seen beloved pastors leave. We will miss them. Many of us are hurting because we have seen our brothers and sisters leave our fellowships, many of whom we have known for years. It is painful and it really hurts to lose relationships with people we love and respect and hold so dear and consider as family. It has broken my heart to see my “family members” leave the church I have attended for thirty-eight years. Now, I am asking myself, do I leave too or is it worth it to stay and ride out the tumultuous “storm” my church is going throuh? Is it worth it for the Gospel? My answer is  “Yes.” At the same time, I cannot judge those who have left.

It is not a very popular verse now-a-days, but Jesus did say, in Matthew 16:24-25 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Jesus said this to His 1st Century disciples and He is saying the same thing to us, His 21st Century disciples. Jesus calls His disciples to be unselfish and ready to suffer for Him; for the sake of the Gospel. Anne Evans (a.k.a. George Eliot) said this about selfishness: “Selfish – a subject readily passed by those who have never tested their own power of sacrifice.” And she said this about pain and compassion: “For pain must enter into its glorified life of memory before it can turn into compassion.”

I believe God will use the struggles and pain we are experiencing in our churches to make our love for Him stronger and our compassion for each other and the world around us deeper and devoid of finding fault.  My prayer is for the roots of my church to be like the roots of a grapevine. Using my limited knowledge of viticulture, I can tell you that vines that “have it made in the shade” and have the right amount of sun, soil nutrients and water produce a lot of grapes that make lousy wine. But, the vines that have to struggle to find the nutrients and water they need to stay alive, dig deep into the ground with their roots until they find what they need. The grapevines with deep roots produce fewer grapes, but the grapes are bursting with juice filled with sugar. Even though these grapevines look half-dead to the person who doesn’t know better,  these grapes produce the best wine.

When I think of my church, I think of strong roots that had to dig deep into the soil to find nourishment in Christ and His Word. I think of all the struggles we have gone through, and yet God keeps us standing and growing and producing fruit. Like the skillful hand of the vintner, God prunes us, not to harm us, but to make us stronger and better. Not only does the grapevine have to struggle to produce juicy succulent grapes, the older the vine the better wine it makes from its grapes. When I think of the history of my church, I think of the elderly Pastor and how he bathed the church with prayer. I think of the man with learning limitations, also an older man whose love for the Lord had no limits. He faithfully attended Sunday School and Church. Even when he needed to live in a nursing home, no illness would stop him from attending Chapel Services. This elderly saint left money in his will for the church to purchase a new sound system. I also think of a woman who was so filled with enthusiasm and love for the Lord and how she greeted me so warmly during my first visit to Vespers. I think of all the godly women and men of my church who were such examples to me of what it meant to live for Jesus, who are now in nursing homes or have gone Home to be with the Lord. All these elderly saints played such an important part in the nurture and growth of my church. I also know there were a few “bad apples (or grapes)” in our history, but they cannot overshadow the “Gold Medal Vintages” that God so richly blessed us with, through His grace. (The best way to stomp grapes to make wine is with the feet.)

In his sermon, a visiting Pastor said two things that have stuck in my brain. He said,  “Suffering is not a philosophical problem to be solved by God (We do that.), but an instrument God uses to vanquish evil.” That was such a good word for me to hear. I do not have to understand and explain everything about my suffering. All I have to do is wait and watch how the Lord will use my suffering to vanquish the very evil that wants to eat me for lunch. The other thing he said that somehow stuck in my “Rubbermaid-colander” brain is this: He talked about a “hope and faith which animates one’s life.” I never heard it put that way, but his words painted a picture in my mind. My hope and faith in Jesus Christ is to be the adrenalin-producing energy which animates my life; makes me come alive and filled with enthusiasm. Jesus is the one who keeps me going, gives me energy and the excitement that get’s me up in the morning to see what He is going to do next.

How did you put on your socks and shoes this morning. It really doesn’t matter how you did it, or even the kind of socks (mine are usually red) and shoes you wear, as long you (and I)  are getting our feet ready to share the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As long as I’m on the subject of socks and shoes and feet, there is a famous American Indian saying about moccasins. It goes something like this: “Before you pass judgment on someone, you need to walk two miles in his/her moccasins.” Jesus says it this way, in Matthew 7:1-4: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother,  ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there are no easy answers to why churches get into the messes they get into. Why do disagreements arise? Why, before you know it, pastors and elders and church members have irreconcilable differences that make them leave and cause splits? The answers do not come from finding fault or from our anger or from our judging others. The answers come from God when we are able to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us. The answers come from God when we love each other as Christ loves us. The answers come from God when we accept each other’s differences and uniqueness as God-given gifts that will enrich our church body. The answers come from God when we no longer think there is only one way to do things – “My-Way-or-the-Highway” type thinking. The answers come from God when we embrace each other’s differences and become one body in Christ.

“Finally, brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if  anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

Peace,

Lydia

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Time to Smell the Rosin (Along with the Roses)

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It’s almost that time: Spring Training started in full force on February 15th  – the first Spring Training game with Boston College is on February 21st – the first game verses a MLB team (T.B. Rays) is on February 23rd – The World Baseball Classic begins on March 1st OPENING DAY is on April 1st – RED SOX VS. Yankees and OPENING DAY at FENWAY PARK is on April 8th – Orioles vs. RED SOX. BASEBALL IS ALMOST HERE! It’s almost time to…

Take Time to Smell the Rosin

     Birds chirping and bats cracking, bees buzzing and bullpens humming, gardens growing and the fragrance of rosin blowing in the gentle breeze; summer and baseball are almost here!  After a long cold winter, with only the Patriots, Bruins and Celtics to fill the empty void inside (and  it does take three sports to fill that void felt without baseball being played), the hot summer nights and sizzling baseball rivalries will soon be back to warm our bones and engage our passions like no other sport.

My love (obsession) with America’s Summer Game started when I was a little girl. Childhood is not all its cracked up to be sometimes. Dealing with disappointments, experiencing the cruelty of other children, feeling lonely and alone, facing limitations of any kind, and just being different in any way can make growing up very difficult and seem like an endlessly long painful process.  In order to cope with it all, some of you may have had teddy bears, some had imaginary friends, and others  had your “blankies.” I had baseball.

As a child with a disability in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I did not attend  public school, but had a “home tutor” until junior high school. As a result of not being in the mainstream school system, and having speech difficulties and mobility “issues” I did not have friends, except for my siblings.  However, my brother and sisters  had school friends, which left me with a lot of  time on my hands.  They tried their best to include me in their activities, but it’s  a normal part of childhood to want to be with other children, and sometimes without your sister tagging along.

When my youngest sister started school, it happened… I started watching baseball on TV. Next, I read a book on the rules of baseball, then biographies on Sandy Kofax and Satchel Page. Before I knew it, I was watching every Red Sox game on TV. When the games weren’t televised (NESN and ESPN didn’t exist  back then), I listened  on the radio.  I made so many new friends with my new found “love of the game.”  Ken Coleman, Ned Martin, Johnny Pesky (sports announcers) were my friends, as were Yaz, Tony, Reggie, Rico, and all the other Red Sox players. Baseball was my best friend; my way of escaping the harshness of childhood into the fascinating and safe world of baseball, where I was the keen eyed critic and not the one being criticized and ridiculed.

Then, it happened (something I thought never would)…I grew up somewhere between the mid 70s and early 80s.  I became an adult and actually had a life of my own, with things to do, places to go, and people to see.  College studies and my new found faith in Christ took up most of my time. Baseball took a back seat and I became a casual observer of the game.  Somehow, baseball became a casualty of adulthood and lost the magic of watching it through the eyes of a child. As most adults tend to do, I began taking things too seriously. The Red Sox not winning the World Series year after year and having a broken heart time and time again took a toll, but I still watched now and then.

Then, it happened… the sixth game of the1986 World Series. I was surrounded by Mets fans, because I was living in New York State at the time, and had invited some friends over to watch the game. It hurts too much to go into any more detail, only to say it was the last straw.  I swore off watching or listening or reading about baseball for the rest of my life. The Red Sox were never going to break my heart ever again. The next fifteen years were my “Blackout Years” as far as baseball was concerned, and the baseball strike in the ’90s only strengthened my resolve to live a baseball-free lifestyle.

Then, it happened…right out of the blue, before I knew what hit me. The “baseball fan” I had buried deep down in the recesses of my soul started to stir within me.  It all started in 2002, when my friend, whose first name is Fran , came to help with my Dad’s 80th birthday party and asked if I was able to get “the game” on TV.  At first, I tried to resist by asking, “What game?”. But, it was no use. It didn’t take very much coaxing for me to turn on the kitchen TV to NESN.  I was ready to end my “Baseball Blackout” for the love of  the game that never really left. I gave the Red Sox another chance (and still another and another) and in 2004 they made my dream come true! The Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, by beating “the best team in baseball,“ under “the Blood Moon,” with the help of the “Bloody Sock,” after defeating “the Evil Empire,” in a historic come-from-behind  seven-game victory! What more could the little girl inside me ask for?mound and rosin bag

BASEBALL IS LIFE IS BASEBALL!

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   Today, February 11, 2013, pitchers and catchers report to SPRING TRAINING!. So, you see, Spring is just around the corner, in spite of the 12+ inches of snow we see out our windows. In Fact, for New England Baseball Fans who make up RED SOX NATION, Spring has already sprung on February 5th, TRUCK DAY, when the equipment truck left FENWAY “PAUK” and headed for Fort Myers, Florida. Baseball is my “first love,” then comes football, hockey, and basketball. Baseball is very special to me, because it reminds me of life and life reminds me of baseball. To take it one step further, baseball reminds me of both my own personal journey with God and the Christian Church as a whole. In all three I see God’s grace demonstrated, and for that I am eternally grateful! I invite you to enter Lyd’s Look on Life, through the eyes of a follower of Christ and baseball fan and discover how Baseball is Life is Baseball (This would make a cool T-shirt). Enter at your own risk. See how many of these characteristics of the Baseball World ring true in your own Christian experience or your own life in general. In order to understand how I see it, you need to read in between the lines.

Baseball, Life, and the Christian journey all have the same kind of conglomeration of similarities and differences that somehow work together in the grand scheme of things. In one way or another baseball and the Christian Church (two perfect institutions that are both God‘s ideas, in my humble opinion) remain alive and well, even though both are made up of imperfect human beings. One of my friends describes it well, “Life [including baseball and the Church] would be perfect, if it weren’t for the people.” Here goes:

“PLAY BALL!” AND POSTPONEMENTS

STRIKEOUTS AND HOMERUNS

BUNTS AND BOMBS

BLOOP HITS AND LONG BALLS

BLOW-OUTS AND NO-HITTERS

FASTBALLS, CURVEBALLS, KNUCKLBALLS,  CHANGE-UPS, SPLITTERS AND SLIDERS

GROUNDOUTS AND SEEING-EYE SINGLES

WALKS AND RUNS

CATASTROPHIC ERRORS AND SPECTACULAR PLAYS

DOUBLEPLAYS AND DOUBLE-BAGGERS

STEROIDS, STEALS, AND SACRIFICES

SCANDALS, PLAYERS’ STRIKES, AND THE GAME THAT HEALS AND UNITES

(during WWII and after 9/11)

GAME-ENDING FLY BALLS AND WALK-OFF HOMERUNS

CURSES AND MIRACLES

SUPERSTITIONS, ROUTINES, REHAB, WARM-UPS AND PREPERATION

ABNER DOUBLEDAY AND THE MIGHTY CASEY AT THE BAT

MUDVILLE AND COOPERSTOWN

COOPERSTOWN, NY AND PITTSFIELD, MASS

S. WILLIAMSPORT, PA. AND LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES, FIELDS OF DREAMS

INFIELD DIRT AND BASEBALL DIAMONDS

BASE BAGS AND HOME PLATES

FOUL POLES AND FAIR BALLS

TOBACCO-SPIT-STAINED DUGOUTS AND PRESTINELY MANICURED OUTFIELDS

BASEBALL CATHEDRALS AND AMERICA’S MOST BELOVED BALLPARK

MOMUMENT PARK, GREEN MONSTAH AND IVY-COVERED WALLS

PINSTRIPES, RED SOCKS, AND PAJAMA UNIFORMS

THE NATIONAL ANTHEM, GOD BLESS AMERICA, TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME, SWEET CAROLINE, AND I LOVE THAT DIRTY WATER

KATE SMITH AND DROP KICK MURPHYS

BLEACHER BUMS AND LUXURY SUITE BUSINESSMEN

RALLY CAPS, RALLY MONKEYS, WAVING FLAGS, AND SILENT PRAYERS

HOME PLATE UMPIRES, EVIL EMPIRES AND RED SOX NATION (AND THE CUBS)

PERENNIAL FAVORITES AND LOVABLE LOSERS

FEARCE RIVALRIES AND CLOSE COMRADERIES

WORTHY ADVERSARIES AND A TIGHT BROTHERHOOD

BABE RUTH AND JOSH GIBSON

(Negro League Homerun King)

SATCHEL PAIGE, YOGI BERRA, CASEY STENGEL, BILL “SPACEMAN” LEE

(Baseball “Philosophers”)

TY COBB AND JACKIE ROBINSON

(Ty Cobb was a great player for the Detroit Tigers and a quick-tempered racist. Jackie Robinson was a great player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and a temper-controlled champion for racial equality.)

BARRY BONDS AND HANK AARON

TOMMY JON SURGERY AND CY YOUNG AWARD

ROGER CLEMONS AND JON LESTER

(Clemons was a great veteran pitcher and accused steroid user. Lester is a very good young pitcher and cancer survivor. Clemons played for the RED SOX early in his career. Lester is now pitching for the SOX.)

MITCHELL REPORT AND HALL OF FAME BALLOTS

OFFICIAL BASEBALL MANUAL, “GENTLEMEN’S AGREEMENT” AND UNSPOKEN PLAYER RULES OF RETALIATION

PREMADONAS AND DIRT DOGS

(Players who love the lime light and demand special treatment and players who love to play the game  and work hard at it)

DL AND MVP

(Disabled List and Most Valuable Player)

STARTERS, RELIEVERS, AND CLOSERS

LINE-UPS AND ROTATIONS

EVERYDAY PLAYERS, UTILITY MEN, AND BENCH WARMERS

COACHES, MANAGERS, TRAINERS, VETERANS AND ROOKIES

SENT DOWN TO THE MINORS AND CALLED UP TO THE BIGS

NEXT YEAR AND OCTOBER BASEBALL

SPRING TRAINING AND POST-SEASON PLAY

THE BIG INNING AND THE 7TH INNING STRETCH

HOT DOGS AND BEER, POPCORN, PEANUTS, AND CRACKERJACKS,

CHAMPAGNE SHOWERS AND CLUBHOUSE CELEBRATIONS

RAIN DELAYS AND RAIN-OUTS OR “I CAN’T BELIEVE WHAT I JUST SAW” AND “THE RED SOX ARE THE WORLD CHAMPIONS! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?! J

FAIR-WEATHER FANS AND DIE-HARD FANATICS

AGENTS, FREE AGENTS, PLAYERS COMING AND GOING, BROKEN HEARTS

THE BUSINESS OF BASEBALL AND THE GAME OF BASEBALL

These are some of the ways baseball mirrors life and life mirrors baseball, and especially the Christian life. The Christian life consists of many struggles and triumphs, sorrows and joys, failures and  successes, frailties and moments of greatness, times of want and times of plenty, two steps back and three steps forward, succumbing to the old nature and living the new life in Christ. The Christian Church is made up of many different types of people who have not always represented Christ perfectly to the world. They belong to more denominations than there are baseball teams and are from different backgrounds including, dare I say it, more than one political party. However, just as the game of baseball, in its purest form, belonging to the family of God is the greatest life ever lived by imperfect human beings. Despite our many faults, God is God and Jesus is the Savior of  the world made up of imperfect people who call themselves Christians. As the body of Christ, we are a conglomeration (“a mixed coherent mass“) chosen by God to be His messengers of joy, hope, and love. With this in mind, let’s dig deep in the batter’s box, make sure we follow through and hit that ball right on the sweet spot of the bat and way out of the “pauk.” The end result will be being called “safe at Home” and hearing the words we long to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

A passionate follower of Christ and “wicked big Sox fan,”

Lydia

P.S. Did you know that SPEED slows down the game of baseball. When a base runner known for his speed makes it to first base, the pitcher and catcher on the apposing team are preoccupied with keeping him from stealing second base. As a result, more pitches are thrown to first base than to the batter standing at home plate, resulting in a very long time at bat for that one batter. How many times do we slow down blessings and stifle our spiritual growth by trying to SPEEP UP things for God, instead of waiting for His perfect timing?J   (I got this analogy by watching the MLB Network.) Did you also know, even though the game does have an end, baseball has no time clock. It is not ruled by the tyranny of time, but ends when one team is ahead and the last out is made, after nine innings or however many innings it takes. Looking at our own lives, we do not know when our time on earth will come to an end. Only God knows when that will be. Whenever it comes, it’s so good to know that we are on the winning team J

P.P.S. I wrote “BASEBALL IS LIFE IS BASEBALL” several years ago and a dear brother in the Lord and his wife had a T-shirt made for me with “BASEBALL IS LIFE IS BASEBALL” on the front and all the  words above on the back. They also had a baseball cap made for me with “BASEBALL IS LIFE IS BASEBALL” on the front. Both T-shirt and cap have a baseball diamond in the background. That was such a wonderful surprise! Their kindness mad me cry. I may never write a book, BUT my words are on a T-shirt and baseball cap!

Let’s Get Spiritual! SPIRITUAL!

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People who are physically limited in mobility because of disability and/or the aging process are oftentimes marginalized by society. It is sad to say it, but even the Christian Church may view the disabled and senior saints as less important and weaker than their able bodied brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Preachers preach about not being afraid to “get physical” or to “give it your all” in worshiping God by singing out loud, raising your hands, and “dancing for joy” to the Lord. All these things are great for all those who are physically able to do all these outward expressions of worship.  But what if you can‘t?

What if you have arthritis in your shoulders? What if you use a wheelchair and can’t “dance all around and jump up and down”? What if, when you try singing, your breathing patterns hinder you from keeping up with everyone else? Does that make your worship of God any less pleasing to God?  I say, “NO WAY!” In fact, I believe God is extremely pleased with our quiet, contemplative style of worshiping Him. We can’t “get physical” in our worship, but we do “get spiritual” just as much as our “active” brothers and sisters in Christ and have  just as much of a deep connection with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As Christians with physical limitations (and mobility), The Holy Spirit has blessed us with Spiritual Gifts which know no bounds and have no limits. For instance, God has blessed me with the gift of encourragement, which I use in my writing. Although my physical body is slowing down and I am less able to get around as I used to, God is still using me to encourage others through my blog and is increasing by desire to pray more.  II Corinthians 4:16-18 says this:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, BUT [one of my favorite words in the Bible] what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, BUT what is unseen is eternal.”

So many people ask the question, “Why?”. I have asked that question many times: “Why was I born with cerebral palsy?” “Why did I have to stop being able to walk in my fifties?” Why was 2012 the most horrendous year of my life?” Why is my church of thirty-nine years going through very difficult times and people I love are leaving it?” On and on it goes. I do not know all of the reasons why. I would go crazy trying to find all the answers to “WHY?” Only God knows all the answers. I only know what Jesus says in John 9:3, concerning the man who was born blind: “…BUT this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in His life.” I believe Jesus is saying the same thing to me. I also know that the “works of God” does not always mean physical healing, looking at my own experience and by what Paul testifies in II Corinthians 12:8-10: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me [whatever “IT” was, “IT” wasn’t good]. But He said to me, ’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions,  in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

For all people, disabled and able-bodied, young and old, whoever they may be, “…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). One of God’s purposes for those who love Him is to get rid of judgmental attitudes and give each of us an “Attitude of Gratitude” to be able to share His compassion and comfort with others: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).

As I already mentioned, my church family is going through a very difficult time, as well as many other churches in my area of New England. Many pastors have left or have been asked to leave due to “irreconcilable differences.” As a result, churches are splitting. It is an extremely heart wrenching time to see dear friends, whom I have known for decades, leaving the church. As a result of this “bad” time, I have found myself praying more, asking the Lord to show me how He sees what is happening in my church and in churches all over New England. I am asking the Lord to use this “bad” time for His glory and for our good; to make the churches stronger beacons of light in a very dark place. To be able to see the “unseen”, through the eyes of faith, while also experiencing the tumult happening all around will take a lot of prayer. I am not able to attend all the church meetings, as I used to, BUT GOD is using my inability to go to increase my ability to stay and pray, not only for my church but for all the churches in New England.

I believe God wants to use all of us to pray for our churches, BUT especially those of us with limited mobility outwardly, to grow inwardly by earnestly praying for the movement of The Holy Spirit to revive His Church in New England again, as in the days of Jonathan Edwards and Dwight L. Moody.  I believe that God will do great things because His people who intimately “know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sufferings” (Philippians 3:10) pray. Will you join me in praying for our churches daily?

Your sister in Christ,

Lydia

I Surrender

A Testimony by Lydia

Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to me. He is my Forever Friend, Sustaining Savior, and Loving Lord. I hope and pray that He is the best thing that has happened to you.

“Help!” There is a familiar saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” For me, one word can create a thousand pictures in my mind. As long as I can remember, I have never wanted to be known as someone who needed help. I have always wanted to be known as Lydia, a person who is able to help.

Also, as long as I can remember, I knew about God. But my ideas about Him were somewhat distorted. I saw Him as a supernatural being who kept a score card, was always waiting to rebuke me, and whose love I had to earn somehow. As a result, I tried to be perfect. Now, being perfect and having cerebral palsy just doesn’t mix. The trick I learned, to fake perfection, was to play it safe and not attempt to do anything I couldn’t do perfectly (in my own estimation).

The first half of my life was spent being very religious and extremely studious. On the outside, I was a strictly obedient child and a profoundly diligent student. On the inside, I was painfully lonely and afraid. I never felt good enough. “No one would ever want to be my friend or want my friendship in return, would they?” I never talked to anyone for fear of being laughed at, because of my slurred speech, or rejected, because of my “jerky” movements.

The turning point came when my only friend in high school became a Christian and asked me to go to a youth group meeting at a local church, not my own. This time loneliness won over fear and I went with my friend. It was through the youth group ministry that I met Jesus and grew to know who God really is: my Forever Friend who loves me yesterday, today, and forever; my Sustaining Savior who died for my sins, is faithful and just to forgive me when I fail Him, and helps me up when I fall; and my Loving Lord who gently guides me in His perfect way.

Before being someone who was able to help, I needed to ask Jesus to help me. So, that was my one-word prayer: “Help!” And Jesus saw all the pictures that word meant to me. I needed help with my sorrow in having a disability. I needed help with my fear of opening up to people and being rejected by them. I needed help to admitting to my failures and asking for forgiveness. Even before I finished my one-word cry for help, Jesus took all my broken images to the cross for me. I have been a Christian for over thirty-nine years, and Jesus continues to take my simple-worded prayers and answers them with other profoundly simple words of His own: “Forgiven,” “Accepted,” “Valued,” “Free.”

I am still not perfect, as many of my family and friends know. I still start sinking low whenever I take my focus off Jesus and put it back on me. However, Jesus tirelessly continues to grab me, before I sink too low, and pulls me back to where I can see Him again. “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice; my cry came before Him, into His ears” (Psalm 18:6).

Because Jesus has helped me, I can be a help to you. Do you know Jesus? Jesus is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I hope and pray that He is the best thing that has happened to you.

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