I’ll say it right up front: this writing is not about the philosophical or biblical arguments for or against the celebration of Halloween. I’m not going to address that issue at all. But it was in reading several different folks’ thoughtful writings on that topic that my thoughts took a turn toward Halloween past. And I’m not referring here to the origins of the celebration of Halloween. As the Ghost of Christmas past said to Ebenezer Scrooge, “Not long past – your past.” Only in this case, of course, it’s my past.
I grew up attending a little church in the foothills of the Catskill mountains of Upstate New York. (And yes, “Upstate” is supposed to be capitalized!) Our church was small, only reaching three digits during VBS week. But we knew how to have fun. And my church had a Halloween party. I don’t think there was any concept of “redeeming” Halloween in anyone’s mind at that time. I’m not sure whether they thought of it as a church outreach, or just wanted the local kids to have a safe place to come that night, but they always had a party. How we looked forward to it! It had everything that could possibly be called “good” at such a gathering, and truth to tell nothing that I can recall of the bad. No ghoulish outfits were allowed, and no one wore them. I wore my dad’s WW2 Army uniform one year, with my hair stuffed up under the cap, and some mascared sideburns. My friend Cathy Hardman showed up one year wearing a striped baseball uniform, and when she smiled, she had a blacked out front tooth. Cool! There were hobos and scarecrows aplenty, and even the grown ups got involved.
We had bobbing for apples and relay races. Howard Schrumpf, one of the church men, could always be counted on to come up with some really fun games. And he did gospel magic, too, with ropes and things. He was really good! Some years we had hayrides, and there was always hot cider and donuts in the back room of the church.
My favorite Halloween memory is the time my dad decided to go as an old hag. A new string mop served as his hair, and I have no idea where he got the very generously sized clothes. What fun we had stuffing his chest and his backside with pillows! We had to stop and rest a couple of times, like when his “bottom” pillow fell out of his skirt, and we were too weak with laughter for a moment to help him put it back. He won the “Hardest to Guess” costume award that night – no one figured out who he was. (It helped that he had remained silent the whole evening, using sign language for whatever he wanted.) My wonderful daddy left me with many precious memories, and his night as an old hag definitely ranks right up there with the best. All these years later, it still brings a chuckle.
Yes, Halloween past – my Halloween past. It wasn’t a bad place to be!
When I was in Australia I learned that when you order ‘takeout’ or ‘to go’ food, you call it takeaway. I like this – it seems like I am taking it away to enjoy rather than having my meal ‘to go’ which (in my mind) implies something hurried. Anyway, I have been looking for ‘takeaways’ in other aspects of life. It could be from a sermon in church or a song I listen to or a conversation with a friend. I want to carry something with me (albeit in my mind) to savor. I want to marvel, rejoice, skip a little or do a happy dance no one can see except me and God.
My takeaway from last Sunday’s message is this. You are not the only one praying. And a good thing it is for I fear I am no champion pray-er.
I am sure that at times there are other people praying for me. Surely there is a group of old fashioned ‘prayer warriors’ with my name on their list. I am reasonably certain they bring me before the ‘throne of God’ faithfully. And I think my kids ask God to help Mom and Dad on a somewhat regular basis. And maybe my sisters and brothers pray for me now and then.
I am talking about someone praying 24-7. ALL THE TIME. When I’m up. When I’m down. When I can hardly survive the pain of life and when all is good and I am happy.
My dear husband and I spoke about this just yesterday, both of us with tears in our eyes. It is a comfort that helped him find peace when our daughter died and it is a truth we both count on. And it is this- Jesus, our high priest, prays for us! He never gets tired. He never stops. As the Bible says, He always lives to make intercession for us.
I say it to myself, Jesus prays for me. It is overwhelming. It is humbling and reassuring and truly divine.
So that is my unspeakably wonderful, heavenly takeaway from last Sunday. It has encouraged me all week.
I sat at a table a while ago with several friends, included among them CS Lewis (via his book of, course, though it seemed like he was there in the flesh). We were reading through the Screwtape Letters, a discipline I had neglected until this time.
And I have been rudely awakened from a stupor I vaguely knew I was in. Here it is. In chapter 1, Lewis mentions the distractions of this life. He talks about the ‘daily press, radio, television and other such weapons’ used to keep people from thinking too much. (Distraction, thy name is media.) Oh, CS, I think, how ahead of your time you were. But really, daily news? Now it is news almost before it happens, and often wrongly reported in the haste to be the first to get the story out. And ‘other such weapons’…….. We are inundated with all types of media fighting for the attention of our minds! Look here, read that, watch this.
What a distracted life I have been living. Often I breakfast with facebook, lunch with youtube and have dinner with the Drudge report.
Or if I am tired of the computer I pick up a book. Nothing heavy, nothing that means anything because I am tired and I ‘need’ to veg.
Thus I have wasted way too much time NOT thinking because, I tell myself, thinking is too painful or too much of an effort and I need to relax.
Really? Is it? Do I?
Clearheaded plain old fashioned thinking is a good thing. Remember when people talked about their daily quiet time and what they meant was a time set aside to read the Bible, think , and pray? Maybe it sounds outdated. Often worthwhile things do.
So yesterday when I was running and thinking about these things a song I have not heard in years popped into my mind. Perhaps God had something to do with that. I tried to remember the tune and all the words. First comes one line – sung thrice. Be still and know that I am God.
I kept thinking- now what is the fourth line of this verse? I sang it over quite a few times trying in vain to remember. And then the tune and the words found their way from a dim memory into a clear (though somewhat off key) song. I sang it quietly.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am God.
The third line is sung with a decisive ending- the tune itself lets you know this is the end of the verse.
Be still and know that I AM GOD.
What relief and rest for this weary and way too distracted soul. Our part is to be still and know – His part is to be God. Distractions, begone. I am pushing you aside to your rightful place. Today I will purposely face my worries and pain and concerns. Then I’ll just be still – and know and trust He who is God.
by Karen E. Case
It’s hard to believe it’s less than two weeks now until my daughter turns into a vision of loveliness, I do my best not to let my makeup run, and my husband has to answer that fateful question, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”
This woman? Who is “this woman?” That’s our little girl he’s talking about. The one who weighed five and a half pounds at birth. Definitely a member of the “small but mighty” brigade. The memories flow by. The toddler who would fix a fierce eye on a mommy eager to give a helping hand, and gruffly exclaim, “Do it meZULF!!!” Singing rounds and learning harmony at bedtime, until her daddy’s voice would call from the living room, “Aren’t you done singing yet? That child needs to go to sleep!” The “daddy dates” she looked forward to so eagerly.
How hard it was not to be too proud of her cute performance in a Christmas play as a 5th grader, and how much harder it was not to be too proud of her command performance at the age of 16, before 3,000 people at James Madison University. And the trip to Texas the next year, all expenses paid, so she could perform at a Christmas banquet. And then on to college and and all its chances to bask in her reflected glory. (Reflected glory is a natural side of effect of having an actor as a child.)
This woman? Still “small but mighty,” still with a bit of a spunky, independent spirit, still dramatic in more ways than one. And one other thing has remained. At about seven, she once brought us a glass of cold water while we were working in the yard, overjoyed to be able to do something that Jesus had commanded. She still has the desire to do what Jesus says. And happily – wonderfully – her fiance James has that same desire. And because of that, tears notwithstanding, we peacefully and joyfully give this woman.
By Viv Walden
Oh, the things people say. Like this one – Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away. In truth, life is measured in breaths. We have only so many.
I think the ordinary, predictable, humdrum, regular- breathing parts of life are great. Dad coming home, supper at six, gather around the table, bedtime story and now I lay me down to sleep, church on Sunday, Christmas program every year, and long boring summers with dandelions and daisies. That makes for a happy childhood.
So I like ordinary. I think it’s great.
There are people in the world whose ordinary isn’t great at all. It is predictable that they will suffer slavery or disease or death. They can’t count on tomorrow being blessedly humdrum in the way that we can. Hunger and thirst is commonplace. Parents worry their children will die. They are happy when there is a next breath. From our places of plenty it is hard to remember that a third of the world does not have enough to eat, or good access to health care or education.
So maybe we should add a few new things to the proverbial ‘take my breath away’ thrill seeking bucket list. Between ‘See the Eiffel tower’ and ‘Ride an elephant’, we can pencil in ‘Help a homeless person’. Or ‘Help provide a well for a village in Africa.’ Or ‘Sponsor a child.’ There are so many opportunities out there, so many ways to help. Let’s give some of our ‘ordinary’ away. It is the right thing to do and much more fulfilling than a trip to Vegas or a bungee jump in New Zealand.
And perhaps we should change that quote to something like this, ‘Life is measured by the breaths we take. Let’s make them count.
It happened like this. I woke up early and went running in the cathedral of the outdoors. The sky was so blue above and underneath my feet was grass and dirt, so heavenly and earthy at the same time. In this church there are no walls. The sun shone, a chill was in the air, and birds were singing. A few bursts of color were here and there- a dandelion, a purple weed, a red flower. (It is, after all, winter so the full range of color was muted.) It seemed like the earth sang with the joy of worship. My mind flew into the heavens.
And I found I was not by myself. I thought of all those worshiping before the throne of God in heaven, that great multitude of believers who have gone on ahead. I saw Moses and Abraham. David and Job and Ruth. Luther and CS Lewis and Corrie Ten Boom. Mom and Dad. Mick and Lynn and Ralph J and Ruth T. And so many children, among them Olivia and Rejoice and Marian. Some faces I recognized and more I did not – it was, after all, a great multitude, a cloud of witnesses.
I listened to the words of my friend, Libby, on my ipod reminding me that life is only partly lived here – that there is so much more to come. Our loved ones who have gone on ahead are even now enjoying heaven and the presence of God in a way we can only look forward to. And in the here and now, we can worship with them – in faith. In a sense we praise God together.
I came home from my ‘church in the open’ encouraged and lighthearted. Life is good, God is amazing and I look to all of the future with anticipation and joy.
Yes, the last birthday is here. And it has come upon me unaware. It’s odd how the seasons of life ebb and flow. When my babies were small, they went through so many changes so quickly that life seemed to have a rapid, breathless rhythm. Then we came to what I think of as “the middle years.” Everybody could now walk, and talk, and feed themselves, and go to the bathroom alone. And the changes were more gradual – an inch added to someone’s stature, the advent of a pimple or two, the deepening of my guys’ voices.
And then the avalanche hit. Well, what did I expect? When you have four kids in five years, they’re going to be leaving the nest in just as close succession. And I am caught in a sort of maternal schizophrenia. I love the young adults that my kids have become. They’re the most fascinating people I’ve ever known. I revel in their company, in their humor, in their insights and achievements. I just plain like them! But at the same time, sometimes I am achingly homesick for those little people who used to live in my house . . .
The first of these was Katrina Jeannette Case, born 24 years ago today. I have to use her full name here because this was her last birthday. On August 3rd, her name will change forever, and another woman will be celebrating this day next year. And that brings it all home to me. In mid-August, Danny leaves for a year of teaching English in China. On February 7th, 2014, Steven will marry Sandra, the love of his life. Joey will be in his second year of college.
Sometimes I feel as if the Tardis has snatched me up and dropped me down in another time. I feel disoriented. The world – my world – is changing so fast. Is it jetlag? “Timelag?” Or do moms have growing pains, too? I want so much to clasp my fingers tightly, and keep my babies all together for just a little longer. But it’s too late. The last birthday is here. And they were never really mine, anyway. I just had the incredible privilege of being their mom. As I open my fingers to let them go, I remember the scripture,”underneath are the everlasting arms.”
It was a Saturday morning in April, and Katrina and I were going to attend an event called “Brides Against Breast Cancer.” This was our first attempt to find a gown, as Katrina had been totally swamped with finishing her master’s degree. For this charity event, shops donate gowns, and brides can buy them at reduced rates, all proceeds going to cancer research. I was a bit nervous about driving the 1 1/2 hours to Charlotte, since I am ridiculously directions-challenged, and Katrina has unfortunately inherited that particular gene from me.
Happenstance #1 – It was raining lightly that morning, so the outside work my Steven had planned was called off. He surprised us by volunteering to drive us. Yay! He has the directional thing going pretty well. And, you know, the father of the bride doesn’t get to be involved much in the whole wedding planning process. We were so pleased he would be a part of the dress adventure. And after we had been on the road for about an hour, the rain suddenly cleared up, and we had a lovely spring day to enjoy.
The drive went quickly, and we found the Marriott easily. The ballroom was huge, and had been separated into smaller areas with drapes. It reminded me of the Dior fitting rooms in “Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris.” There were tall mirrors here and there throughout the room. Katrina tried on about a dozen gowns. They were so lovely! Each time, she would go out and show her father, where he was seated in the waiting area telling the story of Katrina’s life to an attentive worker. About half the gowns were tried on again, and then four again, then three, then down to the last two. Agony and suspense! Finally, bells rang, music played, and a voice announced “A bride has found her gown!” (They did this every time a gown was chosen.) A photographer took a few shots of her in the gown. The gown was boxed up and we went to pay for it, and then things got exciting for a few minutes.
You see, our credit card was refused, and we were told that a fraud alert had been activated on it. As we stood there dumfounded, Steven’s cell phone rang. It was Danny, calling from home. “Daddy, do you have your credit card? The company called to say someone might have stolen it.” Well, it turns out that the “Brides Against Breast Cancer” charity operates out of a Florida office. We had left our residence that morning (in South Carolina,) and shortly before reaching Charlotte, had stopped and bought gas and some snacks (in North Carolina) so when the credit card company saw a Florida purchase coming through, the alarms went off. We were delighted at their vigilance, but here we were, all ready to “say yes to the dress!”
Happenstance #2 – The week before, I had gone to a home jewelry party, and had brought my checkbook along. I don’t usually use the checkbook, and when I do, try to put it back in its customary drawer immediately, but this time I had forgotten, and oh, hallelujah! there it was in my purse. And the charity was willing to accept a check. So, we had successfully found and purchased the dress – at less than a quarter of its original price – on our very first dress shopping trip. And we had the father of the bride along to enjoy the day with us.
Our dress adventure is one I’ll always remember – and after August 3rd, I’ll be happy to add a picture of the bride on her day!
After losing Olivia, I found myself conflicted about prayer. Why pray? God will do what He will do. I spent quite a few months praying with half a heart, going through the motions, moving my lips to words my heart was not saying.
I too had been taught the ACTS acronym about prayer. I had been at a Bible study where we were instructed to evaluate how we were doing in each of the ‘acts’. Am I spending enough time adoring? How about confessing?Thanksgiving? Too much time on the supplication part? My prayer at this time in my life was one word. Help.
It came to me one day, God-sent, if you will, that maybe I was looking at this prayer thing wrong. And where better to learn how to pray again than from the Master. So I began praying the Lord’s Prayer. I often pray this way on my morning run. I remember hearing my mother sing the Lord’s Prayer. I am not a great singer but I sing quietly as I run along.
Our Father, who art in heaven…. Literally, Abba. Dad. He is not far away; He’s close. He is my loving, just, kind, all powerful good Dad.
Hallowed be thy name….Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty. Early in the morning my song shall rise to thee.
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Not that I would grit my teeth and pray for your will, but that I will welcome your will and see it as good.
Give us this day our daily bread. Please provide what I need today.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. I am thinking any grudges I have held or hurt feelings I have had are out of here. Letting go.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. I know only you can keep me safe in this world.
For THINE is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever…. Here as I run, I raise my face to the sky and my arms go up of their own volition. I smile and sometimes a tear finds its way down my face. I let my worn out voice sing out. The majesty. The power. The glory. The everything. It is all his and for all time.
Prayer is so much more organic than a list of requests or a four word formula. I am talking to my father and my God and I am refreshed and encouraged. It has taken time but He has comforted me in my sorrow and turned my confusion into confidence in him and his word.
Thank you, dear God.
By Viv Walden
As we set off for Fort Stewart, Georgia, to meet Steven’s battalion returning from his second deployment, I couldn’t help thinking of how it all began. My son was ten years old when he heard his dad reminiscing about the rigors of Army basic training. “Some parts of it were really tough, but I was just glad I never joined the Rangers. Those guys had it the toughest of all!” My son’s response? “Cool!” From that day on, he wanted to join the Army. And so, one month after high school graduation, we took him down to the recruiting station, hugged him goodbye – and he was gone! The world never seemed so big, nor my son so young as at that moment. I found myself worrying not only about his physical safety, but about what four years of the Army might do to his faith. My friend Dagmar was one of those who had committed to hold Steven up in prayer. Dagmar has her own distinctive way of expressing things. She was specifically praying that Steven would return from deployment “with everything that he left with.” I had to agree with that!
Steven had wanted to see if he “had what it took.” So, after Basic Training (in the 120-degree Georgia heat) came Advanced Infantry Training, Jump School, and finally Ranger Assessment & Selection (RASP.) And yes, he had what it took. And thanks no doubt to the prayers of Dagmar and company, he came through it all unscathed. He had decided right at the start to be up front about his faith. He paid the price many times, and in more ways than we have yet been told of. The net result? He’s become pretty fearless. He’ll talk about anything to anybody.
We arrive at the fort, and what a day it was! The Army band playing. Family members of all ages eagerly waiting. And oh, it was so wonderful to hold my boy in my arms again, safe and sound on the soil of the good ol’ U. S. of A. It’s probably Dagmar’s fault, at least in part, that he didn’t get all the combat experience he had expected. But praise the Lord, he did come back with everything that he left with!