Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass- it is about learning to dance in the rain.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Three important events coming up: July 14, 15, 16 our friends from Nicaragua, the Quinto family will be in Elgin. We'll have evening services in Spanish those days involving friends from several Hispanic churches in the Elgin area. Pastor Quinto will be preaching, his sons will be helping with music for those services. It will be a great time!!

Also, July 15 we're having a one-day Kids Bible Club (an abbreviated Vacation Bible School) beginning at 9 a.m. Certification of completion will be awarded on Sunday morning when the children's choir from the Bible Club will be singing. Classes for children from 3 to 13.

Then. . . August 11, 12, 13 we'll be having a Heritage weekend...a celebration of 25 years with the church in Elgin. If you, or anyone you know is a former member of the church here, please email me with your current address and/or email address. We'll be sending out information as soon as I get back to Elgin. We're looking forward to a great reunion weekend.


Right now, I'm at my sister's in St. Louis, visiting family. We went south to see my Dad today. Interesting how that works. Being in places where one used to live brings up long forgotten (or supressed) emotions and memories. Isn't it great that God is not limited by time? He can reach down and heal old wounds as easily as he can new ones.

Thankfully, I'm reminded once again that God has brought me from a very long way. I'm grateful for his Love and care. When I get back home I may write more about returning to old paths with new vision.

For now, my sister and I are celebrating her birthday, renewing ties with relatives and building memories with her girls and grandsons. Since she's a Cardinals fan, we bought her tickets to the game tomorrow...look for us on the third base line! (I have no clue who's who or what's what. I do know the rules of the game...just not the players!!) So I shall enjoy the sun, laugh at the antics of my greatnephews, eat a hotdog or two and thank God for family and hope I don't get hit in the head with a baseball!!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Some things are hard to describe, like the rainbow pictured above that the girls and I saw the other day. "Look Grandma. There's a rainbow. It's God's promise to us!" The picture doesn't do it justice. Light infused the sky with intense color and reflected those unusual hues to everything in sight, not just the rainbow. That light, those colors are not captured by my lens, not properly reproduced on this page.

Service this morning had a quality like that. (oops, my granddaughter arrived...finish later...back to the keyboard. She's taking a nap.)

This morning, worship time was good, not spectacular, just good. Meaningful worship. For those of us there Tuesday night (or readers of my blog), we were a bit disappointed that our new believers were not there. Pastor Bob then called for prayer for some special needs: a former member critical with Parkinson Disease in Paducah, Kentucky and then for Tom, who had recommitted his life to Christ. Prior to this prayer, I related to the congregation what had happened during Tuesday's service. Wesley was to lead in prayer.

Wes stepped to the pulpit, gave a quick word of encouragement to intercessors and began to pray. His voice choked with tears, he managed to say, "Oh, God." and a Holy hush came over the congregation. In that space of time, Tom and some friends stepped into the Narthex. I saw what was happening because I was on the platform with the singers and have this habit of praying with my eyes wide open.

As Tom was seated in the back, where no one else even noticed, the Spirit of God began to move. A few moments into this Holy atmosphere, Laura began interceeding aloud; Wes remained praying, but wordlessly. Afterward Pastor Bob gave a call for those who needed healing.

But as Tom stepped through the door, my mind's eye could see a phalanx of angels accompaning him. Ministering angels who had been with him this week, and now spread out and began ministering to the congregation.

Okay. Tell me it's my imagination. But I was just reading from Cure for the Common Life by Max Lucado. He relates the following story:

"Consider a wacky example of this truth. I jogged through my neighborhood the other day under a cloud. Not a cloud of rain, but a cloud of self-doubt. The challenges of life seemed to outnumber the resources, and I questioned my ability. And, quite frankly, I questioned God's wisdom. Are you sure I'm the right man for this job? was the theme of my prayer.

"Apparently God really wanted to give me an answer, because I heard one. From on high. From a deep, booming voice. "You're doing a good job!" I stopped dead in my Reeboks and looked up. Seeing nothing in the clouds, I shifted my attention to the roof of a house. There he waved at me--a painter dressed in white and leaning against a dormer. I waved back. And I wondered and almost asked "How did you know I needed to hear that?"

"Did I have a brush with an angel? Did I see an angel with a brush? Was the worker sunstruck? This much I know. A painter spots a middle-aged guy with a bald spot puffing through the streets and thinks, The guy could use a good word. So he gives it. "You're doing a good job!"

Am I stretching theology a bit when I suggest that God put the man there, at least in part, for me? Long before time had time, God saw each moment in time, including that one. He saw a minister in need of a word. He saw a fellow with a skill for painting and a heart for encouragement. He put one on the street and the other on the roof so the second could encourage the first. Multiply that tiny event by billions, and behold the way God sustains his world." (Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life, p33-34, W Publishing Group, 2005) "God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies" -Philippians 4:9 MSG

This morning we were in harmony. Like the runner that day. Like the girls spotting the rainbow. Moments when divinity meets humanity, heaven intervenes in earthly matters, God communes with man. Those moments are difficult to describe and harder to comprehend. But at those moments we know, just know, that we have experienced a Holy hush, a precious moment of harmony with God Almighty.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tuesdays are Terrific! It's amazing the way God works. He pulls elements and people from here and there, puts us all together in one place and, zap, we can only say, "That was a God thing." I suspect he does it more often, but frequently we're too dense to recognize his hand in things. Last Tuesday was too obvious to miss! It had to be God!

In the early 1970's (ancient history again), Bob and I were assisting George Taylor here at the church we pastor now. Bob was Associate Pastor and Spanish Pastor, I was Youth Director. At the apartment complex where we lived and Bob worked, we became acquainted with a couple of young teenage boys, brothers. They would help Bob around the apartments and at times one or both would watch our two young sons for a hour or two to free me for ministry or errands. We began bringing them to Youth Service and then to Church services with us. Soon both were baptized and Holy Spirit filled. At one point, we offered to take them into our home to live with us, due to some circumstances at the time. It did not become necessary, but they remained close to us until we left for a mission in Ecuador, South America.

In the intervening years, both young men went astray, but never forgot the touch of God on their lives. Since we've returned to Elgin, we've seen one of the brothers several times. He's come to services now and then. The other we saw only once, at a funeral and had little time to talk.

This summer, a new neighbor moved in next door to the church. Over the last few weeks, we discovered that one of the brothers is frequently at their house. We've talked a few times, talked about the way God works, invited him and the neighbor to church. Then Monday, Bob wanted to talk to the other brother, the one we had not seen, to invite him to Tuesdays are Terrific. Bob said he felt it ordained of God that Tom come to service Tuesday. We hadn't seen Tommy for several years. He called his brother and asked how to contact Tommy. The reply was, "talk to your neighbor. He usually knows where Tommy is at."

Determined to make contact, Bob headed next door and asked, "Do you know how I can reach Tommy?"

The neighbor directed his comments to a man seated with his back to Bob, "Hey, Tom, Pastor Bob wants to talk to you."

And Tommy turned around, gave Bob a huge bear hug and began to cry. He then proceeded to tell the above story to the astonished neighbor.

Tommy came to church on Tuesday (two days ago) when Michael Cole, Jr. from Dixon, IL came to speak. Pastor Mike has a prophetic ministry. He knew nothing of this story when he came. Pastor Mike spoke from Psalm 23 "He restoreth my soul." Tommy and his friend sat toward the back of the sanctuary until the call came for "restoration" and Tom came forward. With no carnal knowledge of the man or his situation, Pastor Mike talked to him and prayed with him about "these people who have loved you for years," "God doesn't care where you've been or what you've done, he welcomes you back." and more specific pieces of Tom's history. Possibly some that apply much more than I know.

For a restored Christian of two days, Tom's doing well. He says people at work are looking at him differently. He hasn't lost his temper; he hasn't "cussed out" anyone; he hasn't been drinking. He's reading the Bible Bob gave him and listening to the Larnellle Harris CD's Bob gave him. His smile says he's a new man.

It was such a God thing. There's much of the story I don't even know. I know Tom's been in some really bad places in these intervening years, but there is no place so bad or so dark that God's light cannot penetrate.

What happens now is largely human choice, a matter of man's choosing to follow God, choosing to grow, choosing to pray. It's a matter of Prayer Warriors choosing to intercede, of Christians choosing to reach out, to befriend. But God has moved heaven and earth to bring together those elements for a fresh touch, for a true restoration. Look around and see the wonders that God is working in your life. To penetrate the darkness, you need only THE LIGHT!

I'm thankful!! Tuesdays are Terrific!!

It's all a matter of perspective. I was reading a book recently by Shaunti Feldhahn -- one of her novels, The Lights of Tenth Street, I think it was. (I highly recommend her books -- For Women Only, For Men Only and both novels). The omniscient viewpoint of the book reminded me that God sees things so differently from his perspective. I'm in the middle of the action, sometimes confused, sometimes can't see the forest for the trees. But God views things from the vista of eternity and knows the why, knows how things will connect, knows the ending as well as the beginning.

These aerial photo of Mexico City emphasize that difference. From the air one sees the entire area; on the ground perpective is limited by the surrounding environmental details.

I'm writing this as I'm preparing to go for my final checkup after the liver donation. Exactly four months since Victor's death, almost six months after the surgery, I'm going for the doctors to give the final analysis that everything has grown back normally and functioning properly.

God, let me yield to your direction, your guidance remembering that you have the omniscient perspective. Let me not be distracted by the here and now, the details, the pain, the messiness of life. With the psalmist, I sing, "I will lift my eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help. My help comes from the Lord."

Friday, June 16, 2006

(This is Bob at a restaurant on the beach. The internet cafe was actually a building!)

I´m sitting in a little internet cafe a couple of blocks from the beach. This slower pace has been great for me. I love sitting on the terrace at the hotel watching the waves roll in. Something about the ocean calms me and, at the same time, lifts my spirits. The consistency of the waves, yet with a uniqueness of the rhythm, reminds me of God´s power. Sometimes the waves come in quickly, close together, making little ripples on the sand as they dissipate and return seaward. At other times, there is a time of silence, then a larger wave comes roaring in, breaking into white foam on the rocks and sand below. But no matter the time between the waves, another will come. It is as inevitable as the sun rising tomorrow morning. It just isn´t alway timed the same.

God´s timing in our lives is like that. Sometimes waves of blessing seem to roll in, leaving a peaceful sense of God´s presence. At other times, there seems to be a interminable space of time between those power surges. But I can rest assured that it will come. As sure as the next wave, God´s power will roll in. As I watch children collecting shells or clams on the beach, they will sometimes be so engrossed in their task, they lose track of the waves. One comes unexpected, lifts them a few feet and deposits them on the sand again. The children don´t mind. They laugh; they´re accustomed to the ocean and it´s rhythms.

My prayer today is: God, give me the grace to relax and enjoy the moment, the things you are currently doing in my life. While I want the next surge, the next big wave, help me to concentrate on the task at hand, to do those things you have set in front of me. Even as I wait for the inevitable surge of power that I feel coming! Steadfastness. Keep me steadfast in You.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

The year ended well. This group of students were easy to be with, thoughtful (for the most part), well-behaved (as much as can be expected from 13-14 year olds) and a lot of fun -- as can be expected from 13-14 year olds! At the Cougar's game, they actually joined the Ozzie parade. At Navy Pier they listened (mostly) to the the historical and architectural information. On our walk through historical Elgin, they snapped pictures, took notes and wrote a personal version of the history of Elgin. Congratulations to the Ellis Class of 2006! You're a great group of kids!
There's something terribly sad about an empty classroom. Or, is it just that I'm reluctant to let go of one year, one more batch of students headed for high school and the big adventures of life? I like getting prepared for the new set of students in the fall, but I do have trouble ending the year. It usually takes me several days to clean up the classroom, stash all the books, clear all the bulletin boards, dump all the inevitable papers left behind, evidence that learning took place here. I finished the classroom on Wednesday. The cleaning crew was right down the hall. Three classroom North, all the desks were in the hallway, the tables stacked high and various files sitting around gathering hallway dust as the crews prepared to strip and wax floors. By now probably my precious memorabilia from this year is set in piles decorating the hallway with all the rest. I won't know. I won't go see it again until August.

So it's off for a few days of R & R. Grab some warm sun. Read a book or two. Recharge my batteries to start anew. One more rotation on this merry-go-round called life.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Enough with the ancient history!! Tuesdays are Terrific starts today. 7 PM it begins with a praise and worship time, then a devotional from a guest speaker. I'm excited. For the summer small groups are on sabbatical and Tuesdays will be our midweek get-together. I love worship. It will be great to have the extra time together. Each Tuesday night is something different...oops I don't have the church webpage updated yet. Gotta get on it.

Maybe I can grab a picture or two tonight.

Monday, June 05, 2006

1960 Pontiac
(A well-preserved model, not the original mentioned in the story)
(Part 3)
God used camp to demonstrate his miraculous power. We were returning from camp in cars: one driven by the Pastor, one by the youth leader, and one by a responsible high school senior. I rode in this last car -- a 1960 Pontiac, and a gas guzzler if ever there was one. At 9 PM we became separated from the others in traffic leaving camp and didn't have a map because we expected to follow the Pastor's car home.
Traveling to our home town from camp required a three-hour journey with many twists and turns, all on unmarked secondary roads through the hills of northern Missouri. At midnight, I realized we were nowhere close to home. In fact, we were nowhere that I recognized at all. Quietly, from the back seat, I asked the driver if he knew where we were, hoping not to wake the three other girls in the car.
"No," he replied. "I keep thinking I'll find a station or a store that's open, but so far, nothing. Do you recognize anything?"
"I think we may be driving in circles. I'm pretty sure I've seen that house before," I replied, nodding toward a farmhouse set back off the road.
About then a couple of other girls awakened, "Are we lost?"
"What will we do," one girl began to cry.
Buddy and I tried to reassure them. Eventually, the car was calm again.
This was the 1960's and we were teenagers. There would have been no warm welcome if we had awakened some hill farmer who probably had no phone anyway, and most assuredly had a loaded shotgun in working order. We kept driving hoping eventually to arrive at some spot we recognized: a town with a name, or a police station, a lake, a state park, anything that would give a point of reference.
About 2 AM, I noticed another problem brewing. Buddy's gas gauge was sitting firmly on "E". Over the next three hours, I watched the needle as it lay solidly past the empty indicator moving not at all. Silently I prayed, "Oh, God. Get us home safely before we run out of gas."
Soon a warm glow of light on the Eastern horizon served as a compass to guide us home. With the dawning light on our left, we were able to head South. A couple of hours later, the old Pontiac topped the hill above our hometown. Never was the panorama of that little town so beautiful to my eyes.
With a well-lit gas station in sight, I asked Buddy, "How accurate is your gas gauge?"
"Right on," he replied. "When it says empty, it stops running."
"Did you know the needle has been on "E" for the last three hours?" I asked.
"Sure did," he answered, "Were you praying as hard as I was?"
"Fervently," I responded. "But I didn't want to scare the other girls so I kept quiet, hoping they wouldn't notice."
"We must have had an angel pushing us along," he responded. "This car won't move an inch once the needle hits "E"."
With that miracle God clearly showed me he has my well-being in mind. What dangers lurked in those dark hills and deserted roads that night, I'll never know. I have learned that I can't always discern God's motives. Whether he simply wanted to demonstrate His miraculous power, wanted to spare us from some situation, or had another motive entirely is irrelevant. I learned that God is able. He is powerful. His miracles are not reserved for those with fancy robes, fabulous oratorical abilities, learned titles, or world-wide ministries. He sometimes chooses to demonstrate his power to the weak and helpless, even a lost carload of teenagers.

Bertha Lee (Blunt) Dunlap preaching at Morgan Corner Church, Butler County, Missouri

Circa, 1955

(Part 2)
For the next several years, my spiritual journey continued. I began teaching pre-schoolers in Sunday School when I was eleven. I occasionally played piano for service -- under the tutelage of my Mother. I viewed these acts of service as important steps toward spiritual maturity. In those days, action counted for everything. Not much attention was given to more intrinsic aspects of spiritual life.
Then one December night my life changed forever. We awoke at 2 AM with the house afire. As flames closed in, all four of us escaped the building by jumping from a small second story window to subzero temperatures outside. We were barefooted clothed only in pajamas. My little sister spent months recovering from her burns and subsequent skin grafts. My Dad broke his heel from landing on the solidly frozen ground. I suffered burns and an appendicitis attack a week later. But my Mom died two weeks later from third-degree burns over 75% of her body.
With my Mother gone, my spiritual journey kicked into high gear through sheer necessity. The realization that God listened to me personally occurred that summer following my Mother's death.
We spent the summer at my Grandmother's house in town. The church there sent kids to Youth Camp for a one-week intensive spiritual enrichment program. I desired t oattend with the desperate thirst of a desert traveler for water. However due to the losses from the fire, we didn't have th emoney for the week's tuition. Several people volunteered to pay for me, but my Dad wasn't "accepting no charity."
As departure date approached, I became fully convinced that I would be able to attend. My Dad noted my cheery positive attitude and warned me repeatedly, "I'm not changing my mind about accepting charity."
With a confidence born from my mother's and grandmother's faith, I responded, "That's okay. God has called me. He'll provide."
My Dad, an unbeliever, would shake his head and mutter something unintelligible to me.
The bus to camp was to leave Sunday after morning service. Friday night I went to bed depressed, afraid that my Dad could really prevent my going. In my mind the only hope was for him to change his mind. But by Friday night, my faith was weak since my Dad's resolve remained staunch, unbendable.
Lying in bed, I was crying softly when suddenly a sense of peace spread through me. I can't say I heard an audible voice, but the voice in my head was clear, "I will provide." My faith response was immediate. I relaxed and fell happily to sleep.
Early next morning, I packed my suitcase. At breakfast my Dad reminded me yet again, "If you think I'm changing my mind about accepting charity, you have another think coming."
"I just know that God told me he'd provide," I replied confidently.
He just shook his head.
Just then the mail arrived.
A few minutes later my Dad walked into the kitchen with a dumbfounded look on his face, an envelope in one hand and a small piece of paper in the other. "Well," he said slowly. "You must have the faith of your mother. Here's a check for your tuition."
I didn't look up from washing dishes.
"This is from the County Watershed Committee," he continued. "They've paid me this month's stipend even though I didn't make the meeting. Get Linda Lou to take you to cash this." he handed me the check. "It's all yours."
The money covered tuition and an extra $5 (unheard of riches to me) for spending money. Somehow this confirmed God's care for me. I became totally convinced of His reliability, even his understanding of human resistance. I was amazed that God would use a method of provision which would be acceptable to my Dad: it was a legitimate "paycheck," not a donation.
That week at camp was an epiphany for me. For the next several years, an annual visit to camp provided a spiritual oasis that I desperately needed in those dark times following my mother's death. I would return from camp with faith and energy to face the rigors of the next twelve months. Thus the watershed stipend became a spiritual watershed for my life.
Circa, 1906. Grandma Maude is the young lady standing on the steps.


(Part 1)

For as long as I can remember, I understood the concept of being called of God. I knew my mother was called to preach. I understood my maternal Grandfather had been called to travel and start churches. My maternal Grandmother (pictured above) received the Holy Spirit at Azusa Street in 1906 and subsequently received a call to evangelize.

The first personal calling I remember was the urge to be baptized. It was June, and we had an evangelist at our little country church. On Sunday afternoon we were going to the river after morning service for baptisms. I wanted to be baptized too.

My Mom pulled me aside one afternoon. "Phylis, I want to be sure you're doing this for the right reasons, not just because some of the older girls are being baptized."

I stumbled over the concept of sin and repentance, but I knew about The Call. "Mom, I just feel this pull toward serving God. I know I want to follow Jesus always. I know I want to minister, and this is the next step."

She took the time to explain repentance and remission of sins. Most of it I didn't get for several years, but my mother gave her consent for my baptism. I still remember the feeling that day.

There was a cool breeze blowing, riffling through those 50's hairdos as we gathered on the banks of Beaver Dam Creek singing familiar hymns. Old oak trees provided ample shade and protection from the midday sun as one by one we stepped into the briskly flowing water. Little clouds of silt drifted over my feet as I waded into waist deep water. Pensively waiting my turn to be lowered into the water, my heart pounded because I knew I didn't understand exactly what was happening. I just knew that within me my spirit was responding to a Higher Call. As I came back up out of the water, my spirit soared with a lightness and joy that I little understood. No dove appeared; no voice from heaven spoke as at the baptism of Jesus. But for me the sun shined brighter. The water flowed more purely, and the breeze refreshed my body as His spirit refreshed my soul. And His Call was heard in my eleven-year-old heart.

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