Monday, January 31, 2005

PEACE IN THE ICE


Tree coated with ice



Bushes bend under weight of ice

Peace in the Ice
by Janice Price


Saturday morning I was greeted with an incredibly beautiful sight. Everything was encased in ice and icicles dangled from just about everything. The ice would melt a little and a cold drizzle would freeze to form more ice.

The electric blinked, crashed, came back to life, and when I finally thought it safe to turn on the computer and go online, it sent the UPS into a tizzy, trying to shut everything down without the battery being sufficiently recharged.

There was little to do. There wasn’t enough light in the house to read or to write a story longhand. I called some friends, took some photographs, walked two very disgruntled dogs around the yard, crunching ice beneath my feet, and talked with some neighbors.

When the lights came back on in mid-afternoon, they blinked, winked and died within seconds. I called the electric department and learned that just as soon as the lines in my area were repaired a transformer blew. It was hard to hear the woman over the other voices at the department.

A short time later I heard a frightening boom that sent the cats scattering for safety. A branch from a neighbor’s tree fell from some height, caught on the electric line, and bent the pole where the line is attached over my roof. This time I could not get through to the electric department for a while because they were also without electricity by then and only one phone would ring. I reported the hanging branch and the damage to the electric line, wondering if I would have electricity when it was restored to the neighborhood.

All day I was thinking about those who had electric heat instead of gas heat. Before their daughter arrived with food for them, I fixed a thermos of hot tea for my elderly neighbors. Their stove was also electric. The young couple on the other side built a fire in their fireplace for warmth. Everyone made do as best they could. The sidewalks were clear, so I debated whether to take the dogs for our usual walk past the mill, but the route is lined with tall trees which were dropping ice and branches onto the ground. We stayed close to home instead.

I heated soup for an early dinner, washed dishes in the fading light, and settled into a swivel rocker with a blanket for warmth and a puppy and a cat for company. It’s been a while since I’ve had such a peaceful day. Yes, it was peaceful, despite the disruption to my routine. I’m not by nature a calm person, so as I rocked, I considered the source of the peace.

All day I was thankful for what I did have: for knowing my mother was warm and safe in her home, for having gas heat, for emergency workers who were on the job and for unexpected time to spend with God.

There was nothing I could do to fix the electrical problem. I left everything in the capable hands of the professionals, knowing that somewhere and somehow the problem was being resolved. I couldn’t see the trained personnel working to fix the local power outages, but I trusted they were on the job, working their way from area to area, one problem at a time. This wasn’t about me, it was about the community, and it would be worked out for everyone’s good.

Too often I have worried and fretted over something I can’t fix or control. It goes against my nature (and the nature of so many others) to release a problem fully to God and allow him to work it out for the good of everyone involved. Once I pry my fingers loose, I can find peace, even though God might not reveal the solution for some time.

I couldn’t see what God was doing, but I enjoyed the day, entrusting it to him, and without conscious thought, following 1 Peter 5:7, Casting all your care upon him, for he cares for you.

It grew late and as I became sleepy, I thought, The electricity won’t be back on tonight. I might as well go to bed. It’s too dangerous to work in this weather in the dark. Then, I was wide awake as the desk lamp suddenly blazed. It was quarter to eight. Life was again full of the wonders of modern technology, until an hour later the phone went dead.

Still, it was a peaceful day.

© 2005 Janice Price
mercyandpercy@yahoo.com
www.mercyandpercy.com

Sunday, January 23, 2005

REMEMBER TO THANK GOD

Remember to Thank God
by Janice Price

Thanking God has been the theme of my day. Sometimes God needs to remind me of who I am, where I have been, and what an ungrateful person I can be. On occasion he really brings me up short, with memories I try to bury and forget.

Life isn’t always easy but contentment and happiness don’t come from our circumstances. They come from above, as we learn to be content with where we are and what God has given us in this life. It’s too easy to concentrate on the negatives.

God wants us to concentrate on the positives, but I have a problem with the sticky, sweet, I’ll-smile-if-it-kills-me-because-it-proves-I’m-a-Christian type of Christianity. I believe we should smile because God gives us peace and contentment in our circumstances, despite our circumstances, not because we feel we have to force ourselves to do it.

I didn’t reach this conclusion overnight. It has taken many years of enduring trials, making mistakes and existing rather than living. The road to living has been arduous, steep and circuitous. It still is but I am leaning less on my own strength and stamina and more on Christ as I travel the road.

I enjoy volunteer work, but a paycheck would do wonders for my self-esteem. God reminds me of all those years when I wasn’t able to attend church, let alone hold a full time job. I worked temporary jobs as frequently as possible. Those were difficult years, each day filled with the what-if fear. Yet, I saw God provide in surprising ways. And volunteering wasn’t even a remote possibility.

I long for the day when I have an income of my own and don’t have to depend on the generosity and kindness of others to make it through the month. God reminds me that whatever I have is from him, no matter whose hands are extended to offer it. He doesn’t give anything to me because I deserve it or because he owes it to me. Rather, I owe everything to him.

I am driving an old car with the most uncomfortable driver’s seat anyone could imagine. The car needs repairs. God reminds me that it was only five years ago I was walking, pulling heavy loads up and down these hills in a small cart. The car was given to me by my brother after he entered the hospital for the last time.

I can’t wear pretty, feminine shoes any more. God reminds me that there was a time I had no winter coat, the heater in the car didn’t work, and my winter shoes were sandals with spaghetti straps. They were the only shoes my size in the drugstore when my old shoes fell apart and I needed a new pair on a Sunday night to wear to work the next day. Then one day, out of the blue, a package arrived from Mother with a lined, hooded winter jacket and enough money to shop for a pair of proper shoes.

Mother needs my physical help today. Hauling supplies up and down all those steps is heavy work. It has been hard for her to adjust to the reversal of roles and we are still working on creating a peaceable relationship. God reminds me of the years I needed physical help, but I didn’t have anyone to depend on and could barely take care of my own needs. I pray for a servant’s heart and the stamina to be there for her.

My breathing becomes labored, my muscles spasm, and my pain level rises in this cold weather. The same is true in hot weather, humid weather or rainy weather. God reminds me of those years of debilitating, unrelenting pain and sleep deprivation. The memories of those years are still raw, but that period helped to shape me into the person I am today. I should have more compassion now for others who are hurting.

I used to consider my glass to be just a drop or two short of empty. Now I see it as closer to being topped off. I still have fibromyalgia – and, supposedly, asthma. My energy level still plummets into the sewer. But I am alive and growing. I’m growing rounder physically, but I hope I’m growing up spiritually.

Life has changed in the past few years. I type on a computer instead of a typewriter and I write stories to uplift and encourage others. I have stepped so far out of my comfort zone it scares me, yet I believe God is leading me to stretch my boundaries. I imagine there are even greater changes to come.

God is teaching me to see life through different eyes - spiritual eyes. And as my perspective on life changes, my perspective on God changes, too.

He has been faithful. He has provided for me, sent help in various ways, and he never gave up on me, not even in those desperate times when I wanted to give up on life. It didn’t seem possible my circumstances could ever change.

Take a moment to reflect on who God is and what he has done in your life. Then remember to thank him.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

© 2005 Janice Price
mercyandpercy@yahoo.com
www.mercyandpercy.com

Friday, January 14, 2005

GOD’S ANONYMOUS WORKERS

God's Anonymous Workers
by Janice Price

We are familiar with evangelists, leaders of large ministries or congregations, famous writers and speakers who are doing religious work in the public eye. They often receive public praise and are occasionally idolized by faithful followers, some of whom give great sums of money to help support that particular work. Their successes are reported in national newspapers, magazines, on radio, and on the daily news and talk shows. They receive cards, letters, telephone calls, visits, invitations and even personal gifts in recognition of their service.

We also recognize the local workers who do the accounting, typing, scheduling, cleaning, and the myriad of less prominent but no less important works that keep the congregations running smoothly and the public leadership at the right place at the right time. Some of these people are multi-talented and can juggle many balls at the same time. We might envy their productivity and resourcefulness.

Then there are the folks such as my mother. She’s elderly, forgetful, has very limited mobility, can’t read the Bible because she can barely see, can’t hear well enough to listen to sermons on tapes or follow most conversations, and she has been housebound for several years, so she’s become pretty much cut off from society and Christian fellowship.

How does someone like my mother fit into “show me your faith by your works?”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Mother and James 2: 26: For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Mother isn’t dead, physically, and she isn’t spiritually dead either. God hasn’t thrown her away because she’s become slow-moving, disabled and reclusive with age. Unless we can view her through God’s eyes, we can’t imagine how she could be useful to anyone, especially to God’s work.

She can’t write letters or make calls of encouragement to those who are in the spotlight because of her physical limitations. She can’t visit the lonely or give physical aid to anyone in need. She might help further God’s work by contributing financially to a church or ministry, if she has the funds and God leads her to do this. But what if she can’t give financially either? Is she beyond hope?

Most definitely she is not! The most important work her faith can lead her to do at this stage of her life is to pray – honestly, fervently and “without ceasing.”

This would make Mother one of God’s anonymous workers, unrecognized by the world and unheralded in public. She isn’t known to any but her immediate family and a few others. She has never written a book or preached a sermon. She has always avoided the spotlight, content to stay in the background and support others.

God uses many anonymous workers. It‘s probably refreshing to use people who are content to serve without publicity or a public pat on the back.

When God looks down on a religious leader with a successful ministry, he sees the whole picture including the army of workers behind the scenes, not a solitary person succeeding on his own. Mother and all of those unknown and unseen prayer workers are not really anonymous, after all. God knows each one, each worker, by name.

© 2005 Janice Price
mercyandpercy@yahoo.com
www.mercyandpercy.com

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

WHEAT OR WEED?


Buddy wearing his chew toy.


Wheat or Weed
by Janice Price

I had to look a second time to believe what I was seeing. There was a peculiar face among the cats watching me move kitchen cabinets.

My brother’s puppy, Buddy, has been staying here since the weekend before Christmas. He’s become one of the family, so much so that he has taken to sleeping in the chair/bed I fashioned for Jenny, the oldest cat. Jenny is blind. She climbs onto a round scratching post, onto her chair/bed, up the back of the chair to the washing machine, and walks over to the dryer, where the dry cat food bowl rests, safely out of reach of my dog and Doug’s puppy.

Seeing Buddy among the cats wasn’t a surprise, but seeing him sitting so proudly with them on top of the washing machine was.

He was glaringly different and easy to spot. He was the ten-pound, brown-nosed, floppy-eared misfit, trying to blend in with the group.

While I have no problem spotting the puppy among the cats, I can’t spot false Christians from among the flock as easily. They don’t stand out as different because they blend in so well with how we think a Christian ought to live. They can attend every church service, serve on committees, help feed the hungry, visit the elderly, pray eloquently and quote Scripture. They speak the right words, do the right deeds, dispense hospitality, and often others look at them and exclaim, "I want to be like Joe and Jane, with a solid marriage and well-behaved children brought up in the faith." We can’t, however, see what is in their hearts or in their minds.

Some of these examples we seek to follow are legitimate, but such a life can be a sham, a public persona that might fool us but never fools God. He knows which are his children and which are imposters.

In Matthew 13, verses 24-30, we find the parable of the wheat and the weeds, where the enemy sowed weeds among the owner’s good wheat seed, so that they sprouted and grew together. The owner was aware of this and told his servants not to pull up the weeds because they might uproot some of the wheat.

The enemy is cunning but he won’t prevail. When harvest time comes and God separates the wheat from the weeds, we will undoubtedly find many surprises. Some of the "perfect Christians" might be missing and instead we might find some of the folks we looked down on in this life. Since God looks on the penitent and humble heart, not on education, social status or outward appearance, we can rejoice in the hope of salvation, no matter how lowly our station in this life.

I know my cats, so I knew Buddy was not one of them. He was an imposter, pretending to be a cat, with the intention of reaching the bowl of food on the dryer.

God is aware of those who don’t belong to him, no matter how well-camouflaged they are in any group. He also knows his own.

© 2005 Janice Price
mercyandpercy@yahoo.com
www.mercyandpercy.com

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

RECOGNIZING RANDY

Recognizing Randy
by Janice Price

“Do you know who this is?” Lamar asks his wife Iris as she approaches him and a stranger standing in a hallway of the funeral home. “This is Randy.”

I overhear this and look around the room for the familiar face but don’t see him. Then the corners of the stranger’s mouth begin to curl upward and his face breaks into a grin. I walk across the room, peering intently at his features.

He spreads his arms wide and laughs. “I clean up nicely, don’t I?”

I still don’t recognize the man.

He cups a hand across his forehead below the hairline to simulate wearing a hat. Now I can see that this stranger is actually Randy.

Dell comes down the hallway, laughing. “I had no idea of who he was without his hat either.”

I’m embarrassed. “Randy, I was so sure I would know you anywhere.”

Randy is our mailman. We all see him frequently, walking or driving his route and delivering our mail, or shopping in the grocery store after work. He is friendly, helpful and conscientious. We all like him and we all thought we knew him, but none of us could recognize him out of uniform, wearing everyday clothes and without his trademark hat.

There is no guarantee any of us will recognize Randy the next time we see him without his hat, but he is good-natured and we all have a laugh.

This incident starts me wondering about whether we know God well enough to recognize him when he speaks to us. Job thought he knew God, but when God spoke to him, he learned otherwise. He then said, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5)

To know God well, we need to spend more quality time with him. Life has become so hectic and noisy, we need to occasionally turn off the television, radio, cell phone, or whatever might distract us from hearing his voice. Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10) Be still, because God won’t yell above the din.

We often think we know God well enough to recognize his voice. Yet so often we fail to listen, or to act upon his leading, or to distinguish his voice from our own desires or temptations.

Jesus said that he and the Father are one, and that he knows his sheep, his sheep know him, and they listen to his voice. (John 10:30,14,16)

As far as I know, God doesn’t wear a hat, but if we know Jesus, we know the Father and can recognize his voice.

© 2005 Janice Price
mercyandpercy@yahoo.com
www.mercyandpercy.com