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As a writer, needle artist and photographer, I invite you to share my pursuits with me on this site. Among other things, there is a weekly post called “D-mail” that examines the spiritual meaning in current stories, both personal and news events.  I invite your comments at  cathycongerblog@gmail.com

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.”  N. Platt

Scripture: I Corinthians 12: 1-31

A Rabbit On The Swim Team

Once upon a time, the animals decided they should do something meaningful to meet the problems of the new world. So they organized a school. They adopted an activity curriculum of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer this curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming; in fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying, and was very poor in running. Since he was so slow in running, he had to drop swimming and stay after school to practice running. This caused his webbed feet to be badly worn, so that he became only average in swimming. But average was quite acceptable, so nobody worried about that - except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of his class in running, but because he fell behind in swimming and had so much make-up work, he developed a nervous twitch in his leg muscles, which affected his running.
The squirrel was excellent in climbing, but he encountered constant frustration in flying class because his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the treetops down. He developed “charley horses” from overexertion, and so only ended up with a C in climbing and a D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was shunned for being a non-conformist. In climbing classes, he beat all the others to the top of the tree, but insisted on using his own way to get there… (This story was published in a Springfield, Oregon, Public Schools Newsletter in the early 1980’s and re-used by Pastor Chuck Swindoll in his book Devotions for growing Strong in the Seasons of Life)

The obvious moral of this story is simple. God created each creature with its own special capabilities in which it will naturally excel. But when it is expected or forced (or expects itself) to fill a mold it doesn’t fit, then frustration, discouragement and guilt bring overall mediocrity or complete failure. A duck has been created a duck. It is built to swim, not to run or fly, and certainly not to climb. A squirrel is a squirrel. To move him away from his forte, climbing, and then to expect it to swim or fly, will drive the poor creature - well, nuts! Eagles are beautiful creatures in the air but not in a foot race. The rabbit will win every time (unless, of course, the eagle gets hungry).

What is true for these animals is true within our families and in the family of God. God never intended us to be the same. He designed every distinct difference for a reason. When we expect all of our children to be good at the same thing, we shouldn’t be surprised when they rebel. Did you ever have the experience in school of being compared to your older sibling who passed through your teacher’s classroom before you did? Talk about unfair! In the body of Christ we have the same trouble. In fact, God was so concerned about it that he had Paul write thirty one verses in I Corinthians 12 to make it clear. God has gifted us differently, both naturally and spiritually. Each of our unique mixtures fits us perfectly. Each mixture is significant and useful for God’s plan in the Body.

Have you ever been made aware of a need in the Body and been made to feel that you should fill that need? Maybe nobody else has come forward, so you jump in out of guilt? What happens? I suppose that it might work out just fine if you just happen to have the gifts and calling to fill the position. However, most of the time you feel stressed, inadequate, and maybe somewhat of a phony. You can’t understand why your attitude isn’t better. Eventually you begin to pray that God brings a replacement along for you ASAP. You end up feeling like a failure. Dear saint, you aren’t a failure! You are just a duck in a foot race or a rabbit trying to climb a tree or an eagle in a pond!

For years I fell into this pitfall. As a new Christian, I was so anxious to serve in the kingdom that I volunteered for a little bit of everything. I was successful at some things, but they gave me no joy. Consequently, I decided that service was meant to be sacrificial, not joyful. I found other activities to be so stressful that I hoped I would come down with something so that I could quit while saving face! It never occurred to me that I didn’t have to volunteer in the first place. My philosophy was that the do-ers do while the watchers watch and I was a do-er! Then one Sunday the text for the sermon was I Corinthians chapter 12. That began a time of introspection. I knew what I was good at - those talents I had developed through school and practice, but which gifts had God given me? Not long after that sermon, a class was offered at church on “discovering your gifts”. In that class I discovered that my special mixture of gifts and talents fit a unique calling. I didn’t have to be like any of those Christians whose service I so admired. God would call me to do something He had uniquely equipped me to do. What a relief! Shortly thereafter, I joined a ministry that fit me like a glove. I knew that I knew that I knew I was just where God wanted me to be. I was good at it and it gave me joy. I think that I was able to successfully affect the lives of others as a result. This rabbit quit the swim team and never felt guilty about it again (well, OK, maybe I volunteered mistakenly a few more times, but not many).

So let me encourage you to spend some time figuring out how God has gifted you. He will confirm it when you are right. Then relax and just be you. You’ll find that you are so much happier and effective in any area of service you attempt.

Prayer
Lord, I thank you that you have shown me what my unique gifts, talents and callings are.
I pray that you will speak to others who have been trying to meet unrealistic expectations as they serve and work only to feel frustrated, stressed and empty of joy. Lead them in their search for how you have designed them and confirm what they discover. For those of us who find ourselves out there trying to recruit others to fill a need, help us not to put pressure on people who seem reluctant. Remind us that maybe you have not gifted, equipped, or called them for this need. Amen

The following poem was published in the fall Wisconsin Fellowship of Poet’s Museletter.  The challenge was to write a poem in a different voice than your own.  I chose the voice of a Yankee mother during the Civil War.

Yankee Mother’s Petition

Take a hard look, my son,

at the glories of war,

starvation, the maimed,

the maggots, the gore,

the smoldering ruins,

the spy and the whore.

******************************

Look into my eyes,

Tell me, what was it for?

To fight for the Union?

Was that what they swore

as brother felled brother

and watched the blood pour?

*********************************

Ask the widows who mourn

for what was before.

Ask the mothers who wail

and storm heaven’s door,

pleading, “Lord, may these dresses of black

be no more!”

**********************************

Son, be you tempted

to even the score,

to rub salt in a wound,

to march off with the corps,

stop and feel the earth shake,

hear the cursed cannons roar

then, by God, boy, for my sake,

don’t walk out that door.

by Cathy Conger

copyright August 2011

Scripture: II Corinthians 12:9, Hebrews 4:16

STEP BY STEP

This week America came together to remember the tragedies that occurred on September 11, 2001. Ten years doesn’t seem like a long time in the grand scheme of things, but for the thousands of families who lost loved ones that day and in the two wars we’ve been fighting since, it has been a long time. It struck me how this last decade has aged those who were in the news so often back then. In this week’s Time magazine, photos of President Bush, Rudy Guiliani, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Vice-President Cheney, General Petraeus, the firemen who survived, and Tom Brokaw, show how the war on terror and the fallout of stress has taken its toll on them. Children of parents lost on 9/11 are grown up now and some widows are remarried. It’s all as it should be with the passage of time, I suppose, but it didn’t happen overnight. Almost without exception, when asked in interviews how they managed to get through it all, those who survived the tragedy said that they took each day one at a time - and continue to do so. It’s the only way people can break down a huge task or event or blow to their psyche and body into manageable pieces. That’s how God’s grace usually comes -gradually and in manageable pieces.

This morning in church we sang a worship song that included the phrase, “and step by step You’ll lead me”.   9/11 survivors and those who suffer from its fallout would have to find that uplifting. I know I do. In 1986, I was stricken with a viral disease that attacked my nervous system and paralyzed me from the diaphragm down. No diagnosis was found so there was no assurance that I would survive. I was in a lot of pain and could not even suck from a straw. I was terrified. When they decided that I probably wasn’t going to die, they sent me home from the hospital and said we would see what happened. I had five children between the ages of two and nine. How was I going to survive? At that time, a doctor friend of ours came to visit me. She said something that changed my outlook and probably my life. She quoted II Corinthians 12:9. Only six little words, but oh how powerful! “My grace is sufficient for you.” At first God gave me grace to get through five minutes at a time, then five hours, then five days, then five minutes again and so forth. I hung on to that promise and God never let me down. His grace was sufficient for me. In another Time magazine 9/11 interview, a female soldier who was piloting a helicopter in Iraq when it was shot down, lost an arm and both legs. At Walter Reed Hospital she endured months of intractable pain. In her interview in Time, she said that the only way she could stand it was to survive 60 seconds at a time. She would count “one thousand one, one thousand two”, etc. up to 60 and then think, “OK. I made it 60 seconds.” Then she would start over again. God’s grace. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Often we want immediate release from our trial or the mountain we are trying to climb, but God rarely works that way. Instead He works by the step- by- step method. It reminds me of the riddle, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time.” Perhaps God knows that if our trial fell away all at once, we might heal out of order, so to speak. Each step lays the foundation for the next one. With each step we learn something new that builds on past experience. My daughter, Laura, is an archeologist (seriously, she really is!). Right now she is working on a dig in Merv, Turkmenistan. It’s as “desert” there as a desert can be. She is working with a team from UCLA and University College of London in partnership with the Turkmen government at a site where there was a great city back in the 900’s A.D. Digging has been going on at this site for ten years! She was there last year as well so it will be interesting to see how things have changed. Anyway, there may not be a better example of the importance of the step-by step process than an archeological dig. Laura carries a tool belt at the site, which contains special trowels and instruments that remind me of dental tools. The team removes ground, layer by tiny layer, sifting through each trowelful for anything that will tell them more about the culture that lived in this city so long ago. It is tedious work.  (It’s also dirty, dusty, extremely hot work and yes, there are scorpions!) An archeologist is trained to be patient and vigilant because any moment he or she might uncover a treasure. They dig inches at a time, step by step. Digging faster might cause them to miss something or damage something extremely valuable. And they can’t just put it back! What they learn from one layer gives them guidance for the next layer. Uncovering a certain metal (Laura’s specialty) tells her that beneath that may be a blacksmith shop or early armory of sorts and that she should be alert for certain tools or vessels.

Like the 9/11 survivors and mourners and like the archeologists, God reveals himself to us through grace one step at a time. If you are facing an elephant to eat, I pray that you will memorize II Corinthians 12:9 and remember the ways of the Lord. He will never leave you nor forsake you, but He won’t be rushed.

Prayer: Lord God, your grace is truly sufficient to help us in time of need and we thank you for that promise. I pray for those who right now are faced with an insurmountable burden of pain or danger. I pray that like you did for me, you will give them the grace they need to hang in there, even if it is in 60 second doses. I pray for those who are looking at an elephant-sized task. Show them where to take a bite first and next and so on until it’s eaten. I pray you will send help to those who are reeling from hurricane damage and don’t know how they will ever get back to normal. I pray for our servicemen and women who are facing danger in war-torn lands this very minute. Give them protection and grace to help in time of need. And I pray for all those whose wounds from 9/11 were brought fresh to the surface again with this decade memorial. May they be comforted by friends and support and especially by Your love. Amen

It ain’t what they call you: it’s what you answer to.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Don’t be pushed by your problems; be led by your dreams.

To the world you may be only one person, but to one person you may be the world.

Happy Labor Day!

Scripture: Exodus 14: 10-12, Exodus 16: 2-3, Exodus 17: 3
Numbers 11:4-5 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost-also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
John chapters 14, 15, 16
Revelation 21:5
“And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.”

Change Your Underwear

There’s an old joke about a small platoon of World War I soldiers who have been stuck in a wet, muddy trench for weeks. Wet, smelly, and miserable, they come to attention when their lieutenant comes to the trench for inspection. Seeing the condition of the men, the lieutenant suggests to the sergeant that at least a change of underwear be arranged for the men. “Aye, aye, sir,” the sergeant responds. “I’ll see to it right away, sir!”
After the lieutenant has left, the sergeant calls the men to attention.
“Men, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the lieutenant wants you all to have a change of underwear.”
The men cheered! Then one of the men said, “Sarge, that’s great news! But if I may ask sir, what’s the bad news?”
“The bad news is - Smitty, you change with Crocker. Adams, you change with Donnelly. Jones, you change with Benson ….”

Have you ever expected a welcome change and then had it turn out to be anything but? Change can be good or bad depending on what we are expecting. Let’s face it, good or bad, change can be just plain hard period. I am not a person who deals well with change (although if I had been one of those soldiers in the trench, I would’ve had no problem getting a change of clean underwear!) I get used to things the way they are. I’m comfortable. Nobody asked me if I wanted a new cell phone when I had finally just mastered all the buttons on the one I had. Four of the doctors I have been seeing for over 30 years have gone and had the nerve to retire! I haven’t liked finding four different doctors. I liked having my grandchildren within driving distance. Why did they have to move 1,000 miles away just because their father wanted to get a PhD? And the older I get, the more the little changes bug me. The insurance company suddenly decided they will no longer pay for the little blue pill I have taken at bedtime for years. I have to switch to a generic now, which is a little white pill that looks just like the aspirin tablet I also take at bedtime. I keep getting them confused. Why did I have to change from taking the blue one?

Psychologists have composed a list of major changes a person may go through in life that cause great stress. They say that if a person has to go through more than one of these in the same year, the chance of damaging, stress-related symptoms increases dramatically. Some of the life-changing events on this list include moving to a new place, the death of a loved one, going through a divorce, enduring a major illness, having a baby, and having to change jobs. Psychologists say that even pleasant changes, if they are major enough, can be hazardous to your mental health if you don’t cut yourself some slack while getting used to the change.

The Israelites certainly wanted a change from slavery, but they complained about all the changes it required for them to get out of Egypt (see scripture above from Exodus and Numbers). The disciples were upset when Jesus said he was going to leave them. They wanted things to stay just as they had been the previous three years. This Holy Spirit Jesus talked about sending in his place sounded to them like much too much change. (see John chapters 14,15, 16) Can you imagine how stressed out they were holed up in that room after Jesus left them? Putting up with the “known” is often better than facing the “unknown”. Last week my granddaughter, Katie, joined the ranks of children going off to school. It was all she could talk about all summer. But when the time came to let go of mommy’s hand and walk into the classroom, she was full of little fears and “what ifs”. Going to a new grade with a new teacher or worse, going to a new school with all new classmates and routines, is stressful change for most kids. I remember waving to Katie’s father, my oldest son, as we left him at his new college campus (yikes! was that really 18 years ago?). After being king of the hill in high school, he suddenly looked so vulnerable standing there in front of his freshman dorm that I sobbed all the way home. Was college a good change? Of course, but hard nonetheless (for me at least). My husband and I have begun to talk about our upcoming retirement. It’s going to be a big change. Our income will change, the way we spend our day will change, how we pay for our health care will change, perhaps our place of residence will change, not to mention having him home with me all day, every day!! I’m excited and apprehensive all at the same time. Nevertheless, it is time for this new season in our lives.

Change shouldn’t surprise us. After all, our God is a God of change. He created the changing seasons we are seeing evidence of once more now that September is upon us. He causes things to grow and wither so that new things can grow again. In the concordance in the back of my Bible, I counted 38 times that God used the word “new”! He says, “Behold, I make all things new.” Would we really want it any other way? He did not look down upon you and I and say, “Well, she’s used to her sinful life. I don’t want to change that and rock her boat.” No, God wants to change our hearts. He wants to wipe away the sin and replace it with a new thing, his righteousness. Then once we are Christians, Jesus doesn’t want us to keep feeding on spiritual “baby’s milk”. He wants us to move on to the “meat” of his word. He wants us to change more and more into his likeness. And our Lord doesn’t want us to get too used to this earth. We’re just passing through. The biggest change of all is ahead as we shed our earthly body and go to heaven to live for eternity. So as much as you and I wriggle and complain about change, we might as well smile and “get with the program” because God is moving us on to bigger and better things.

Prayer: Lord, I am afraid of change sometimes, even if I was unhappy before it came. Help me to accept the changes in my life and trust you to keep me in your care while I go through them. Thank you that you did not leave me in my sin, but offered the sacrifice of your son in order to change my heart. Amen