Monday, May 30, 2005

THE LESSON OF THE POPPY

The Lesson of the Poppy
by Janice Price

It was Buddy Poppy time again, a time when the VFW sells poppies made by disabled veterans to help raise money to assist local veterans. For the second time, I was privileged to be one of those who spend two days standing or sitting outside in the weather accepting donations for the poppies. I am falling-on-my-face exhausted and sunburned, but excited about what I learned from this experience.

I have found the response is better if I stand with a bouquet of poppies in my hand than if I sit in a chair and hold a basket of them. From a distance many folks see me holding the familiar Poppies and by the time they reach me their decision has already been made. Some are eager to support our veterans and they arrive with money already in hand or they are digging in a pocket or purse to find some change or a dollar bill. Some avert their eyes and rush past without acknowledging my presence. A few scowl and appear angry.

I try to give everyone a cheery greeting and ask, “Would you like a poppy?” The responses are varied.

“No.”

“I bought one yesterday.” Or, “I just bought one at (another location).”

Quite a number reply, “I don’t have any cash on me. I’ll catch you on my way out.”

“Of course, I want one. I’m a veteran myself.” Or the person’s father, son or husband is a veteran.

“No. They never did anything for me!”

On the way into the store, a few would shake their heads, but as they exited the store, they would exhibit a change of heart. “I think I will take one,” each would say with a smile.

One woman responded to, “Would you like a poppy?” with “Yes, I believe I would.” I handed her one. She smiled sweetly, said, “Thank you,” and walked away. Although most Americans are familiar with Buddy Poppies, I realized this woman wasn’t familiar with their purpose. Rather than embarrass her in front of others, I moved on to the next donor, who was unaware the lady in front of her hadn’t contributed to our vets.

One mother and young daughter walked by me without a word and when they came out of the store, the mother was stony faced, avoiding my eyes. But as she walked past, the little girl stopped and quietly said, “I’d like one, please.” She followed her mother to the car, happily clutching her free poppy.

Some children handed me a coin or two, as did some who were obviously on fixed incomes. They reminded me of the story of the widow’s mite, every bit as valuable as the larger donations. More than one person handed me an overflowing handful of mixed coins, whatever change they had on them. Some gave a dollar, some more than a dollar and a few gave a larger donation.

Some would give a donation and hand the poppy back, telling me to resell it to make more money for the vets.

There were those who would say, “I bought one yesterday, but I forgot to wear it today.” Others would proudly point to a poppy in their buttonhole or wrapped around a purse strap.

As I watched the sea of faces passing, I realized people respond to the gospel in much the same way.

Some decline. “What did God ever do for me?” “I don’t believe in God.” “The Bible is a group of stories, obviously exaggerated or untrue.” “I’m just not interested.” Or, “Faith is for weaklings, people who can’t make it in their own strength and need a crutch.”

There are other responses. “I don’t need to hear it.” “Daddy preached it.” “Granny was saved.” “Mama sent me to Sunday school when I was small.” “I’ve walked down the aisle and answered the call eight times already.”

Some avert their eyes and close their ears as they rush through their lives, trying to avoid it altogether.

Some say, “Yes,” without a clue as to what the gospel is or why it is preached. Some respond negatively at first but then have a change of heart. Some embrace it with joy, while others react with anger, and others prefer to avoid making a commitment one way or the other.

Some hear the gospel and freely offer everything they are to God. Others offer a pittance of themselves. Some respond immediately and some use the excuse they need to sow their oats, become financially secure, finish their education, acquire a mate and 3.2 children, or finish whatever it is that stands between them and God.

I couldn’t accurately predict which ones would buy a Buddy Poppy or how generous each would be if they donated because I can’t read minds or hearts. God can. He knows how diverse our individual personalities are and that we are not all ready to respond positively at the same time and in the same manner.

God doesn’t sell the gospel. Jesus already paid the price for all of us. It’s free to anyone who will hear, believe and keep His commandments.

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

FORGETTING TO REMEMBER

Forgetting to Remember
by Janice Price

"I don’t mind helping but don’t ask me to cook anything". That’s my usual reply when asked to participate in any meal preparation. My cooking skills have not been improving with age but they are growing more creative.

A few months ago I tried to bake innovative pies. It didn’t surprise me that the mixture didn’t fill the pie plates. So many products today have higher prices and shrinking measurements. But I was surprised when I began to put away the baking supplies. I didn’t remember buying an extra, large can of pumpkin. The pies were tasty, although the main ingredient was added to hot, spiced milk in crusts.

Today, I baked Mother some corn muffins. I mixed self-rising flour, egg, milk, oil, and sugar. I spooned the mixture into a greased muffin pan, popped it into a hot oven and started to put away the baking supplies. Oops.

I have noticed various omissions occur most often when I am rushed or distracted. I sometimes email the neighborhood watch president, “Here are the meeting minutes”, but forget to attach them.

I write things down so I don’t forget why I am going into the kitchen or what I need at the store, but I still sometimes have to drive home to pick up my shopping list.

Today I neglected to follow an important physical dress code - always wear matching shoes. I wonder whether anyone noticed a shopper wearing one brown shoe and one black sneaker.

I’m not alone in dealing with embarrassing or comical lapses of memory, but bloopers are minor faults, which affect my pride and can usually be corrected with a little ingenuity or a change of shoes.

Major faults affect others and can do irreparable damage to a relationship. For example, when I forget to remember the standard Jesus set and raise my voice in anger, using words I can’t erase. When I am rude, pushy or abrasive to others. When I am impatient and don’t take the time to listen to someone who is lonely or to slow my step to another’s pace. When I focus on another’s imperfections and am blind to my own. When I forget to remember that a smile or a word of praise can make a difference in another’s day.

Today I sprinkled a little corn meal on top of the muffins and stirred each with the tip of a spoon handle. The muffins tasted fine, though different. But a sprinkle of corn meal on the open wound of someone I have offended won’t relieve the pain.

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

IN TANDEM WITH JESUS

In Tandem with Jesus
by Janice Price

“Would you be interested in reading my story, about how I went from a circus trapeze artist to a quadriplegic?” Vickie asked in an E-mail.

My curiosity was piqued and I ordered both of her books. They were added to the reading material pile where they gathered dust for nearly three years.

Recently, I came across them for the umpteenth time. I opened one autographed copy and read, “Janice, Choose joy!” After reading Vickie’s story, I understand this wasn’t an offhand comment. Joy was attained only after she came to terms – God’s terms – with her life after quadriplegia.

Vickie and her husband Gary were practicing a new two-and-a-half-somersaults feat when she lost her sense of direction and plummeted head-first into the net below, breaking her neck and ending a career she loved. After three years and three suicide attempts, she was admitted to a psychiatric ward for eight and a half weeks. While there, she came to accept that her paralysis was permanent and that she needed help in order to cope with life. She asked God for that help and Jesus became her new “Ringmaster”.

Gary left her on the fourth anniversary of the accident. Yet, despite her paralysis, Vickie was able to live on her own, with assistance from caring neighbors and part time home health aides. She returned to school to get a degree in social work in order to help others with disabilities. Her physical life was an ongoing battle against pain and respiratory problems, but she still maintained a full and active life, as well as a sense of humor.

Vickie was skydiving before she learned to perform on a trapeze. Her performing days ended but the thrill of skydiving would take a new twist. Tandem skydiving was relatively new at the time she first tried it, but with an experienced instructor wearing a harness with an oversized parachute pack, Vickie could participate.

“In tandem” means to have one (or more) after or behind another. They need to be going in the same direction for the same purpose, as in riding a tandem bicycle or jumping tandem from an airplane.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 (NIV).

Once Vickie turned her life over to God, she “walked” in tandem with (followed) Jesus until she died in October of 2003.

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

SITTING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TABLE

Sitting in the Middle of the Table
by Janice Price


It began as a small group of church members from one particular church. It is still a small group but the group leader, or group facilitator as she prefers to be called, has opened her arms to neighbors and relatives of members. A friend and neighbor of the facilitator, one member, and one member’s mother who attended before she moved out of state have died in the last year or so. Several have moved away and one “snowbird” (winter visitor) will return next winter. Each person added something unique to the group and each is missed.

We meet one evening each month for a home Bible study, after 9 p.m. in the winter months and after 10 p.m. during daylight savings time. The last Bible study and fellowship ended at midnight.

There is something unusual about my membership in this group and it isn’t just the late hour of the meetings. Although I was not a member of the small group when I lived in Arizona, the group facilitator and original members were from the church I attended when I lived in that state. Now I live much “closer” - only two thousand miles and two time zones from the meeting place - and attend regularly, thanks to the generosity and perseverance of the facilitator and the marvels of modern technology.

A few years ago, the local newspaper picked this small group to photograph for an article it was doing on the church. It was exciting to see the news photo of the smiling group sitting around the dining table. I was easy to spot. I was the one wearing pajamas, but no one seemed to notice since I looked more like a telephone sitting in the middle of the table. Oh, right, I was the telephone sitting in the middle of the table.

Yes, I attend these meetings by telephone, a speakerphone to be exact. The facilitator places the telephone in the middle of the table, hits the speaker button, and dials my number. When I answer, everyone speaks at once and I try to discern voices and guess who is present. Every so often they add a new voice to confuse me. Occasionally, I think of how it must rattle a newcomer to be asked to, “speak at the telephone so Jan can hear you.”

At first, it was hard to feel like part of the group. In truth, a cold telephone receiver can’t offer the same sense of camaraderie and fellowship as live people eating, drinking and flipping Bible pages together at the same table. And it was hard to hold the telephone receiver to my ear for one to two hours at a stretch and look up Bible verses when it was my turn to read them.. My neck would spasm. Now I have a speakerphone with a plug-in headset and the time passes too quickly.

Mother, who lives down the street from me, was startled the first time she received a card from the group with individual greetings, including one that read, “Mother, Wish you were here, Jan.” The group always asks about Mother and often prays specifically for her. Their concern for her is sweet and genuine.

I have not met all of the members that have come and gone over the years, but my mind has a mental image to go with each voice I can’t actually put a face to. Although the discussions can sometimes become animated, we laugh a lot and enjoy spending time together.

It can be easy to become lost in a large group, but a person can not hide within a small group. Members get to know each other’s needs, pray for one another, uplift one another, and the fellowship can be fun. It would be more fun if my group would occasionally pass some of the chocolate pudding cake and cherry vanilla ice cream my way, but even without the sugary incentives, this small group has encouraged my spiritual walk in Christ and has been a support during some rough times.

I highly recommend a small Bible study group, preferably a local one, to enrich your spiritual walk. But for someone - a disabled or housebound person, for example - who is unable to attend a group in person, there is always the option of a telephone sitting in the middle of the table.

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

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

ANGER

Anger
by Janice Price

The face in the rear view mirror was so distorted it was impossible to tell whether the driver in the vehicle behind me was a man or a woman. Both fists were waving wildly and the mouth was contorted as the lips formed angry words. It was not a pleasant view and my ears burned with what was undoubtedly being screamed at me.

What did I do to initiate this? I stopped to make a left turn and waited for the oncoming traffic to pass before making the turn. The car behind me speeded up instead of slowing down. At the last moment, the tires squealed and the car swerved hard to the right. And suddenly it was almost touching my bumper – deliberately almost hitting my car so that I might have a closer look at the temper tantrum being thrown at my expense.

“Angry drivers!” was the way I greeted my brother as I pulled into his yard.

“Was your turn signal working?” he asked.

We checked the turn signals and brake lights. All the lights were working. Road rage seemed to be the only explanation for what had just occurred.

Thankfully, the patient people on the road today compensate for the short-tempered people such as the angry driver I “ran into.”. Whenever that image comes into my mind, I try to offset it with a reminder of the kind people who rescued me when I was walking during a thunderstorm or offered to give me a lift when I would be walking home burdened with purchases.

There was a time when strangers stopped to help someone stranded along the road or to offer someone a ride. Today it can be dangerous to do either. That’s one nice thing about having moved to a small town. When I was without transportation in a big city, people would watch me struggle to carry or cart groceries home. When I moved here, neighbors sometimes would stop and offer to help. In the big city, everyone was a stranger. In this smaller city, it’s easier to spot familiar faces.

I can remember the face of the angry driver but I can’t remember the faces of the young couple who pulled off the main road to help me after I stepped on a curb that wasn’t there. Tall grass caused the curb to appear to extend farther out than it actually did. They were driving on the main highway and noticed me sitting in a side street with my feet propped on bags of Mother’s laundry, unable to get back on my feet without help and waiting to be rescued. They turned around to check on whether I was injured. (I was, or I wouldn’t have been sitting in the street.)

Anger is an unpleasant experience, whether it’s our own anger being vented or someone else’s. When I dream, I don’t want it to be a nightmare about someone waving both fists at me. I want to dream about the hope, love and laughter of life. If nothing else, I can dream about the laugh I imagine the young couple shared after they helped me to my feet and watched me pick up the bags of laundry and limp to my car.

I wish for the angry driver one of life’s embarrassing memories to laugh about and a sound night’s sleep. And I pray for that he or she might find “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding,” (Philippians 4:7a).

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