A New Year’s Prayer

A prayer that still comes to mind all these years later . . .
YEARS ago, when I was an undergraduate at Mississippi State University, I sporadically attended a local church–usually due to the promptings of my roommate. One Sunday during the Christmas season, an older lady came to me and handed me a small bundle of goodies–something they regularly did for college students. One of the items was a booklet that told the Christmas story. On the back page was this prayer. I copied it into a notebook, and since then it has moved with me to different states and traveled with me around the world. Several lines were particularly powerful to me at the time and have come to my mind numerous times over the years.

Dear Lord, Please Give Me…

 A few friends who understand me and yet remain my friends,

A work to do which has real value, without which the world would feel poorer…

A mind unafraid of travel, even though the trail be not blazed,

An understanding heart,

A sense of humor,

Time for quiet, silent meditation,

A feeling of the presence of God.

And the patience to wait for the coming of these things,

with the wisdom to know them when they come.

–W.R. Hunt

originally published Jan 2013

Something Out of Nothing

In the beginning there was nothing.

Nothing to hear. Nothing to feel. Nothing to see.

Only emptiness. And darkness. And…nothing but nothing.

But God was there. And God had a wonderful Plan.

“I’ll take this emptiness,” God said, ” and I’ll fill it up! Out of the darkness, I’m going to make light! And out of nothing, I’m going to make EVERYTHING!”

So begins The Storybook Bible. And last night as I read this to my two daughters, I realized this picture reveals so much about the character of God, about Jesus.

There was nothing. Nothing to hear, or feel, or see. Only emptiness. Only darkness. But God had a plan–to fill up the emptiness, brighten the darkness. And as I sat there with two little girls clambering to sit in my lap, eager to hear me read from their new books, I thought about my own life and the life of some of my friends. And I thought about Jesus.

Here, in the creation story, where we meet the Creator God and where we learn His first attribute, he revealed to me another aspect of his character. He is not only the Creator; he is also the filler of all things empty, the brightener of all things dark, and the voice in all solitude.

Isn’t this what Jesus does?

He takes our emptiness and fills it. Later in the story, we learn that what God creates to fill up the emptiness is good. And that’s also what Jesus does. He fills our emptiness with what is good. That is all he can give–good. He says in John 14:27  that he doesn’t give like the world gives. Meaning that what he gives won’t decay, won’t wither away, won’t diminish. It will remain.

And doesn’t Jesus brighten the darkness, too? He is called The Bright and Morning Star, the Day Star–a star seen before sunrise, an indication of the coming light. All of that darkness slowly turns to gray and eventually reveals the colors of day and life and hope–all with a little light. Hopeless places in our lives can turn hopeful when The Bright and Morning Star climbs through the darkness. A star–the evidence that even in darkness and during the times when we feel most alone in the world there is a presence; there is a light.

When we look around and see nothing but Nothing, remember: He makes something out of the nothing, and He calls it good.

Capture

The Withering

It’s a different sort of death. There’s no sudden jarring–the reality that life is forever changed and that she will no longer be sitting in her chair working on her “puzzles” or watching Jeopardy, or Matlock, or Murder She Wrote. There is no cathartic service filled with music chosen by the family. No terrible funeral flowers. There is nothing to mark the day or the moment that life suddenly changed. It is a different sort of death. It eats away at you daily as you watch and worry and wonder. It takes years, and you can’t really remember when it all changed because it’s all been changing for a long time. And there is no date on the calendar where memories stop–at least the memories you want to remember. Like when she tried to teach you how to knit, and your fingers turned stiff and inept. Or when on the way to go fishing at the river, she’d count the semi-trailers–marveling at how, over the course of a few months, there were so many more trucks on the road than before. Or the time when, on one of those fishing trips, you set the hook so hard the fish flew out of the water and hit her in the face, and we laughed. Oh how we laughed. And we laughed about it for years. And thinking about it all makes you feel like a little girl–helpless to do anything. There is no gravestone to visit. Just a face that doesn’t recall any part of your childhood, a mind that does strange things. And you can’t make any sense out of it because there is no sense in it. It’s all just gritty sand running through your fingers. So you wonder, how can I make any more memories? And you think, I don’t want these memories. Memories of this slow withering. So we tell her we love her, remind her we love her, always…remind her we love her. Over and over and over again. Love Never Fails.

 

For some background, read: Chalk Dust

Part 3: Yard Sale Blessings

It looked like we were about to move to Singapore! Time to start doing something with all of our stuff. (from the last post)

And so what  do you do with 10 years of accumulated possessions plus the various belongings of three small children?

Well, the first thing I did was make a master list of everything that needed to happen in order to prepare for departure. The list included things like pack kitchen, sell washer and dryer, sort clothes, clean out kid closets, etc. I had a few items on the list for each room in the house. Then I color coded each item to match with the date I wanted it to be accomplished. Beside this list I posted a calendar with each week color coded to match my To Do list.

It worked quite well, and I tried to make myself stick to the list and complete each task on time. Of course, we were still up late for a few nights, but we got it done.

One of the things on my list was to have a yard sale. Now, I’ve had yard sales before, and they were massive failures. The last one I had only profited me $80 bucks. And I live on a major highway! It was ugly. But I figured I’d do it again. I asked my mom and sister-in-law if they wanted to help and/or donate any items. The yard sale was to serve two purposes. It was 1) going to help me get rid of lots of my unwanted things, and 2) it was going to make me some cash.

I began piling things around the house. Almost every room had a yard sale bag of some sort. I wanted this yard sale to be big! And let me say that if you ever want to figure out how much you like/need/want anything you own, ask yourself “would I take this to the other side of the world?” The important things rise to the surface pretty quickly.

For this sale,we borrowed a string a flags (think “car lot”) and hung them at the end of our drive way for all passers-by to see. We then borrowed tables and filled up my double carport with oodles of stuff. We had furniture, 9 long tables FULL of things, plus hanging clothes, shoes, books, jewelry, toys and more.

Now, I not only needed to get rid of things, but the money issue was important. In order for us to apply with the Singaporean government for our work visas, we had to turn in our transcripts. Well, we had an unresolved debt at one of the universities and could not receive the transcripts until that was paid. It was about a thousand dollars. It may as well have been a million. But I was determined and hopeful and prayerful that people WOULD stop and that they WOULD buy everything!

We started our sale on Thursday. That morning, my mom came over, and we began setting out things. There were no signs, no flags hanging yet, just some tables and two ladies working in a carport. Before noon, people started to stop. We were not prepared! I still had bags and boxes of things to set out! But they shopped!  And we let them! And over the course of the day we were able to unpack and display most of our things. That was Thursday. We made over $200 on Thursday. WHOOP!

Friday morning came, and I headed outside to greet any early shoppers, and soon people began to arrive. There was a steady flow of shoppers throughout the day and many moments when my long driveway was full to capacity. It was definitely a Field of Dreams moment–all weekend! By the end of the day, we had to block our carport and turn people away because we had quit for the day. So when Saturday morning rolled around, I was expecting a massive turnout. After all, most yard sales in our area are on Saturday mornings.

It was our slowest time yet.

I worried that no one would show up.

Every now and then, a car would stop, but we didn’t have near the traffic that we’d had Thursday and Friday. Most yard sales also end around noon on Saturday, too. As noon approached, we considered packing it all up and donating the rest to Goodwill. Then a strange thing happened. Every time we’d start to pack up, someone would pull in my driveway. This happened over and over again. And at one point, my driveway filled up with shoppers again . By this time it was late in the day. We were shocked! We’d never seen a yard sale go this late in the day (late afternoon/early evening). Finally, as evening approached, we did pack up what items we had left; however, people were still stopping. Out of the nine long tables we had, which were completely full when we started, we managed to fit what was left on 1 table.  Most of it had sold!

We retired to the house and sat down to do a final count of our money. It had been an exhausting three days, but we had met neighbors, talked to friends, and watched interesting characters as they shopped. We hoped it had been worth it.

The final count revealed that we had made close to a thousand dollars!

Say What!?!?!?!?!!

Yes, you read correctly. We couldn’t believe it!

God had provided yet again! We were rid of unwanted stuff, and we had enough money to take the next step!

Part 2: More Green Lights

From the last post:

“But finally we received an answer. And after a few conversations via Skype, we were offered the positions (Green Light #6). Now, there was one thing upon which this whole thing was hinged: Finances. We had bills to pay, and we had been struggling greatly for at least two years to keep our noses above water. It had been a horrible two years. I have nothing nice to say about them. However, I did learn an abundance regarding a particular aspect of God’s character: The Lord Provider. Although we were struggling, he continued to provide for us; it had been reassuring during those times to see that God had not let go of us.”

And so what happened?
Well, prior to being offered positions to move to the other side of the world, we sat down and listed out the essentials. We knew what it would take to pay rent, the electric bill, internet, phone, transportation, and groceries PLUS all of the other bills that we were responsible for here in the States. That tallied up to a rather large amount. But I was pretty set on the idea that if those basic needs could not be met easily then I wasn’t going. Why sell or store most of our belongings and relocate my entire family to a small tropical island if it were going to be just as difficult to live there as it was to live here and now? I wasn’t going for it if that were the case. So we had our number; I’ll call it $A; it was the bare minimum we needed.

As we talked to the Director in Singapore, he gave us a rough number as to what our compensation would be. Whew…it was too close for comfort. $A was our bare minimum; this offer was $A.5–barely enough. And I knew that moving to a foreign country, especially one of the most expensive on earth, would NOT be cheap. I was uneasy. Yellow Light #1.

The following day, we received our “official” offer. After comparing it to our budget and double checking our $A, we couldn’t believe it. It was significantly more than what we had hoped for.  Green Light #7. It would actually allow us to pay off our debt. Praise the Lord!

But that was just the beginning.

During a talk with my future “boss”, he mentioned a family that was going to be moving out of country and was in the process of trying to find someone to rent their apartment. We got their name and contact information. Now, are you ready for the list of how God organized this and all of the awesome things He gave us?

1)The family that owns the apartment is a family from the school where we would be working. They really wanted to rent it to someone at the school or working with the school.

2) It’s 1/2 mile from the school. 2 bus stops or a quick walk.

3) It’s a 3 bedroom/2 bath/large kitchen on the 1st floor–with a walk-out patio that opens into a grassy common area with a little gazebo. UNHEARD OF in Singapore.

4) It’s located literally across the street from one beautiful park and only 1 block away from another one that has a massive playground (and a McDonald’s).

5) It’s furnished.

6) It has a piano.

7) The condominium has a pool.

8) We would NOT have to pay deposits for the internet/phone/electricity, and we would not have to pay a realtor fee (which can run 2 months rent; in Singapore that can mean $6,000+)

9) Our rent is their support to live as missionaries in a foreign country. (wow)

So, what’s that? 9 more Green Lights!??!! It was truly amazing.

It looked like we were about to move to Singapore!

Time to start doing something with all of our stuff.

Part 3

Part 1: Catching All the Green Lights

The Hand of Providence

(If you’re wondering what we’ve been doing the past few months, I hope this begins to explain why we’ve been missing in action.)

It all started back in February when, late one night, my husband stumbled up an international school in Singapore. He was researching Seminary degrees and through a series of connections ended up in Singapore. Which led him to click on the tab labeled “work with us”. Being the dreamer that he is, he sent me the link, and the next morning I awoke to an email that read “humor me”. All it contained was a link. So, being the dreamer’s wife that I am, I clicked the link, filled out an application, and clicked submit. Honestly, I had no idea what I was applying for…I was doing what he asked. I was humoring him.

When my dear husband returned from work, we started doing a bit more research. It turns out that the parent organization to this Singapore school was located just 1.5 hours away from our home. (Green Light #1)  The Network of International Christian Schools. How could it be that I had lived my whole life and NEVER have heard of this seemingly amazing organization?

Just a few days after we filled out the initial form, we received an e-mail inviting us to fill out a more in depth questionnaire which contained interview-type questions. We were excited to have made it to round two. (Green Light #2)

Our research uncovered the fact that they were hosting an annual job fair just 2 weeks later. We secured babysitting and planned to go. Green Light #3.

On the drive down, we looked at each other and both agreed that if these people were crazy, we’d get up and leave. No harm done. We had a list of schools that were located all around the world. Nineteen or so schools—all the way from China to Boliva and everywhere in between. As we arrived we were greeted by friendly staff members who pointed us to a auditorium where we joined at least a hundred other interested people. So far, so good.

Throughout the morning, each school director shared a brief inside look into his/her respective school. By the second or third presentation we were in tears. Everything appeared legitimate. The people we met were honest and upright and radiated God’s love and joy. Green Light #3.

During a break, I grabbed a donut and decided to meet someone new instead of stand alone. So I made my way to a table with three older women. We made introductions and started to small talk. The first woman introduced herself. She was the wife of the NICS founder. The second woman explained that she was a former guidance counsellor in Singapore for seven years. The last woman was on the board of directors for NICS. Could I have picked a better table of women to join? Green Light #4.

Later in the day, we signed up to interview with one school only. Singapore. Out of all of the schools available, it was the only one that had perfect positions open for BOTH of us. Facilities Manager and English teacher. What are the odds?  Green Light #5.

After our interview, we left feeling good about how the day went. Now we just had to wait.

And wait we did. For four weeks we sat at home and wondered if they would offer us the jobs. I went through times of great confidence—knowing without a doubt that we would be offered the positions, and  times of sure self-defeat—there was no way they’d hire us. Wave after wave, week after week, we rode an emotional rollercoaster wondering how we’d get our whole family to the other side of the world. What would we do with the furniture? Could we sell our van? How would our children react? What would our families think?

But finally we received an answer. And after a few conversations via Skype, we were offered the positions (Green Light #6). Now, there was one thing upon which this whole thing was hinged: Finances. We had bills to pay, and we had been struggling greatly for at least two years to keep our noses above water. It had been a horrible two years. I have nothing nice to say about them. However, I did learn an abundance regarding a particular aspect of God’s character: The Lord Provider. Although we were struggling, he continued to provide for us; it had been reassuring during those times to see that God had not let go of us.

To Be Continued…

Chalk Dust

Today, my grandmother forgot my name.

I wasn’t there to hear her forget it, but my Mom was. After returning from vacation, my Mom went to visit my grandmother. They live beside each other and share a drive way. Grandmama was sitting at the dining room table where I’d started a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle. It was a killer puzzle of snow covered mountains that transitioned to steep hills covered in yellowing fall trees which opened into a gently rolling green valley. It was beautiful.

My mom asked her how the puzzle was going. Grandmama and I had joked that this puzzle would make you go crazy. It was SO hard. I had done most of the work, finishing the mountain range over the course of two weeks while she sat beside me and pondered over each little piece, wondering why a particular green piece didn’t fit with the other green piece. “I’m just fooling with it a little bit,” she said. “Just thought I’d see what I could do.” My mom asked her if she had done the mountain range, knowing I had been the one to work on that section. “No,” Grandmamma said. She stopped, perplexed, trying to find the words, trying to find the name of the person who had completed the puzzle. “Ohhhhh, she comes to help me…” she clumsily said, while gesturing with her hand. “Jenny?” my Mom offered. Relieved, Grandmama said “Yes, Jenny.”

My Grandmama was an intelligent woman. For decades, she did the accounting for my grandfather’s farm. She worked at the bank when her two sons were young. She read voraciously. She knew how to crochet and knit. She was an amazing cook. She worked all of those ridiculously difficult number puzzles. She had books of them. And I’m sure her abilities stretched far beyond what I know of her.

But I do know she loved me. She thought I was great. She was immensely proud of me. I could do no wrong. As I child, she always welcomed me at her dinner table. She and my granddaddy donated towards the purchase of my piano when I was eleven. They gave me money to move overseas after college. They bought my wedding dress. And she loved my husband—“even though” he was from Iowa.

For the last few months I have been housecleaning for her. She is 87. Recently, the family realized that someone needed to be with her more during the day. So I started staying longer, making her lunch, washing her clothes, dusting, making light conversation. She is always happy to see me, always gives me a hug, and when I leave, she’s so glad I came. But I know the instant I pull my van out of her drive way, out of her line of vision, that I was never there, that she has been alone all day, that she wonders why no one visits. She has Alzheimer’s. We don’t really like to say that, but that’s what it is.

Imagine a chalkboard. A huge chalkboard filled with every memory you have of your life. In fine white chalk you can clearly read the memory of you and your brothers riding bikes on a summer night. You can see the white letters rise up and tell you about the first time you kissed a boy. All of those memories covering the dark green background, and you can slowly move your eyes across the board and effortlessly travel through time. But for my Grandmama, something has erased those memories, starting with the most recent ones and moving through the past with silent strokes. One swipe leaves a little hint of the memory. Another stroke and there’s no trace of the writing once there. Her memories of my life were wiped away months and months ago. She has no memories of cooking. Now, only the oldest memories remain. Childhood stories, childhood homes, her mother’s movements through the house. But even those are beginning to fade. Sometimes the five or six stories she does remember start to take on an element of fiction, or they blend together with another story from another time and suddenly the years are all mixed up and people aren’t in the right place—someone has scribbled chalk through what memories she does have. But I can sense that even those are starting to fade as if rubbed away by the eraser.

So as each day comes and goes, I remind her that she’s had lunch. I remind her of my children’s names. I remind her of exactly where in Texas my brother lives. Each day I tell her “I just thought I’d come visit you for a while.” And each day she’s happy about it. But I know that one day my face will no longer be Jenny. I too will fade like her chalk memories, and I’ll become “the girl who helps her”.