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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: Psalm 5:3, Mark 11:24, Hebrews 11:6

CHANCE OF SNOW

I heard on the radio today that there is a chance of snow for tomorrow and Wednesday. Now a “chance of snow” during a normal Wisconsin winter wouldn’t register so much as a blip on the radar of my brain, but this is definitely not a normal winter in Wisconsin. It has snowed less than a half a dozen times so far and it’s nearly March! I sure hope it snows.

When my children were young, one of the most exciting dramas in our house unfolded when the weather man on the evening news said those magic words, “Chance of snow”. How much? When? Would it be enough to call off school in the morning? Unlike many places where a few inches of snow is enough to shut down business as usual, it takes a LOT of snowfall to close the schools in northern Wisconsin. Like the proverbial U.S. mail service, neither rain nor snow, nor sleet nor hail will stop our trusty school busses from their daily rounds. Nevertheless, “chance of flurries” was all my children needed to hear. At the top of the bedtime prayer list was, “Jesus, please make it snow lots tonight!” Flurries are barely snow at all, let alone “lots”, but apparently the mention of them was enough fuel for hope. And faith. Especially faith.

In the dark morning, there they would be, standing in their jammies with noses pressed to the window, staring out at a day that was just plain old gray. Maybe a little white. Then suddenly, there they were. Big, fat flakes, falling faster and faster! They would run down the stairs shouting, “Thank You, Jesus! Thank You, Jesus! You made it snow!”

Yes, He did. And often appreciably more than the weatherman forecast and sometimes enough to cancel school. I must admit that I found a “snow day” just as exciting as they did, but seldom did I have the faith to expect one. Not only did Jesus answer my little childrens’ prayers, but those little children showed me what faith looks like. Asking God for what only He can do, then expecting Him to do it and watching expectantly for the answer to come. That’s faith.

David said, “O Lord, You hear my voice…I lay my requests before You” - now here’s the faith part - “and wait in expectation” Psalm 5:3

Oh, I regularly “lay my request before” Him. But how often do I “go to the window,” expecting Him to answer? Faith walks into the Throne Room of God, all bent over with the heavy burden we’re carrying in. Then it walks out standing tall, burden gone, left at His Throne. If I’m still weighed down after I’ve prayed about that burden, then I’ve talked to Him about it, but I haven’t trusted Him with it. God forgive me, I do that all the time!

Sure, the “snow” doesn’t always come. Or come on my schedule. But I’ve got a Father who loves me and only says no if He’s working on something that’s much better for me (did you catch that? He only says no when He has something much better for me).

I wonder, though, how many times the answer didn’t come because I didn’t really believe Him for it? After all, my Savior said, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” Mark 11:24 . After all, “without faith, it is impossible to please Him” Hebrews 11:6
I want to be the little child at the window.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your promise to answer our prayers. Increase our faith to believe as a trusting child at the window. Amen

Scripture: Ephesians 5:2-3 “Live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or any kind of impurity or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

Hitch Yourselves to the Same Wagon

Our scripture this week gives us the standard for Christian relationships. That standard obviously is Christ’s love; love that is unselfish, love that seeks your best over mine. It is willing to sacrifice and it’s pure. So what is messing up four out of every ten relationships between men and women? A sexual agenda. It basically trains men and women to think of each other as romantic catches or physical conquests. And four out of ten matches made by that machine break. They end in divorce. Something’s wrong with the machine. Something’s wrong with what we’re looking for in our relationship with the opposite sex. There must be a better way to make matches.

Have you watched the TV commercials for the various online dating services? I’ve wondered if eHarmony.com was really better than the other “non-Christian” services. They say they match men and women from many aspects of their personalities and moral beliefs. I hope they do because I believe that Christian love, unselfish and pure, grows best when a man and woman start with a friendship, not a series of nights in the sack. It’s hard to make a “romance” based on physicality and lust into a friendship. That’s why many people end up married to a stranger and then unmarried to that stranger. But it’s a beautiful thing when a friendship grows naturally into a romance. And I think Christian men and women can model a better way to make matches. We don’t have to go for the lies and the broken things in our culture. Relationships with no physical agenda where both men and women can relax and not have to play that physical cat and mouse game, “How far are we going to go?” are much more likely to make strong marriages. Where they can be natural with each other-be real, to help each other be more like Jesus. Marriage isn’t the ultimate sexual conquest, it’s the ultimate friendship.

So many of us parents - even us Christian parents- have had children who live together with their girlfriends or boyfriends before marriage. Their rationale is most often that they want to test their relationship before getting into that “legal bind” they call marriage. “Why do we need a piece of paper to stay together?” is another rationale. Sometimes living together is simply a matter of greed. They can get sex more often and more conveniently if they’re under the same roof. When one of my children decided to go this route in order to test the relationship, it forced me to make a decision as to how I would react, how I would treat this child. First of all, you should know that this child was raised in the church and knew where the Bible, as well as my husband and I, stood on the subject. That didn’t cut any ice as the hormones thickened. We also decided that we would not shun this child and the lover because then we were cutting off any possibility of speaking, reasoning, or loving our child come what may. (and I’m very glad we did it that way because we never lost the relationship with our child, who went on to have a happy marriage with a different person).

I did decide, while keeping communication open, that I would have to come up with practical reasons for not living together that my child might understand. I came up with the following “hitch yourselves to the same wagon” analogy, which I would like to share with you (just in case you could use it).

Dear Child,
You are in love. I don’t doubt that. You feel that this person may be “the one” and you want to test it out. Some say that a trial living together period works. As you know, I disagree. Instead, I think that the sexual relationship that living together promotes gets in the way of really learning to know each other. A trial co-habitation with no strings attached (supposedly) is kind of like going into a relationship with parachutes on your backs. As soon as the plane hits some turbulence or loses altitude, you can bail out. That’s no way to build a life together. You will always be wondering what it will take to make the other one bail. There’s no loyalty or trust.
Your father and I have been married long enough for me to speak on this subject with some authority. I am choosing to use an analogy here of two oxen yoked to a wagon. Bear with me while I sketch it out for you. Picture a Conestoga wagon heading west into the unknown. Two oxen are pulling it, yoked side by side. Now, you may believe that the two of you are like that, pulling your wagon together in the same direction, but actually, you are pulling two wagons side by side. What’s the difference? Well, let’s say you are both pulling your wagons of life along the road of life OK when one day, a wheel falls off of his or her wagons. The other hardly notices the bump because it’s not his/her wagon. How long will the one with good wheels sit and wait for the other to fix their wheel? How long before the good wagon wants to move on? Or, let’s say, little by little, things begin to pile on to one of your wagons and soon it begins to strain under the weight. The other wagon remains pretty easy to pull along. How can you “stay on schedule” in life with a heavy wagon dragging you down? How long is the unencumbered wagon willing to lag behind while the other wagon is getting “fixed”? Here’s another thing to consider. When there’s something or someone new to bring on the journey, it must go in one wagon or the other. It’s unlikely that new thing can be split in two so that its weight can be shared by both wagons. What if an unexpected baby comes along, for instance? By necessity, it ends up in her wagon and slows it way down. Her wagon may have to change direction or even turn back. When it comes right down to it, your stakes in life are packed in the wagon you are hitched to.
Marriage is hitching yourselves to the same wagon. When a wheel falls off, you both feel the bumps, but there are two to fix it and both have to alter their life schedule equally. When life’s troubles weigh down the wagon, one can spell the other for awhile until the first one’s strength returns without leaving a wagon behind. You can count on each other to be in the harness, since both have equal stakes in getting that wagon to the destination you’ve dreamed about together. Harnessed together, the wagon sways less; you begin to think and move in harmony, his steps balancing her differing ones, her eyes spotting a rut or a rock one direction and his, another. And when “life” happens, as it inevitably does, - illness, debt, job loss, depression, different friends, success, moving to a new place, babies, etc., then, as a harnessed team, you can call “Whoa!” Your wagon stops to pile this new thing on and shift the weight around to accommodate it for as long as that takes. Then you both get back on the road again, proceeding on the same schedule. You both have stakes in the same wagon. When children come along, there’s only one wagon for them to ride in - safe and secure.
Oh yes, I know about all the thousands of wagons you see along your journey, tipped over in the ditches along the road. I realize that lots of them, when finally righted, go on with only one in the harness pulling. Those single wagons are everywhere. They stay on the road, but it would be so much easier with two in the harness to share the load. I also know about all the children who are leaping from wagon to wagon on weekends and holidays. I’ve witnessed the broken ones who could not make the leap. I’ve seen way too many wagon collisions- tongues and wheels twisted and broken, lives spilled out on the highway.
Nevertheless, I still say, hitch yourselves to the same wagon! However, do your best to see that you are equally yoked before the journey begins. Your father and I knew each other as fast and best friends before we married. Now we pull the same (perhaps a little weather-beaten) wagon. On the road every day, wagons experience a lot of wear and tearso once a week we tighten the bolts and wash the dust off with a night out away from the highway. Also, wagons need a new coat of paint and the axles greased every few years. We’ve taken “second honeymoons” every few years as the budget allowed. And if despite the best intentions, a wagon gets bogged down in the mud or blown into the ditch, you can call for help. There’s a “AAA office” to fit everyone’s needs. I am not ashamed to say that Dad and I have gotten pulled out of the ditch from time to time through counseling and marriage retreats.
Start your journey with a friendship, not a romance. A friendship that naturally grows into a romance makes for a sturdier wagon. Marriage is not the ultimate sexual conquest; it is the ultimate friendship. People use the expression, “going all the way” to describe moving ahead sexually to actual intercourse. When two people have sex that isn’t based on a deep, intimate friendship and commitment, they don’t go “all the way”. They don’t even go one-eighth of the way, because they don’t have a lifetime of knowing each other that they’re expressing with this awesome sexual language of love. When your father and I speak against sex before marriage, it’s not because we’re being spoil sports. After all, sex is great! But ironically, when you take sex out of marriage, it actually slows down or even eliminates the “knowing” process. It keeps you from getting to know a person, because the physical just takes over. The relationship becomes more self-centered. Couples stop talking, and often they end up marrying a stranger, because they’ve never really had a friend of the opposite sex. It’s not knowing, it’s using. The result is lonely relationships and even lonely marriages; people who have never had a friendship with the opposite sex and maybe never will.
I hope you understood what I was trying to show with the wagon analogy. Maybe not, but please think about the validity of what I’ve said. I don’t just want you to be happy and secure for as long as your lover finds pleasure in having you around. I want you to have it for a lifetime.
Love, Mom

When two people join themselves together physically, it’s designed to be the ultimate “knowing” of two people. The Hebrew word is “yadah.” It speaks of an intimacy of two people who know each other as they really are; a deep, personal, intimate, experiential knowledge of another person. That’s why God designed sex for a lifetime commitment. He put a fence around sex called marriage. And when the physical starts to be strong in a relationship, it will often mask the weaknesses in that relationship. Many people have married the wrong person because their passion blinded them. They were kept from really ever knowing the other person, and they made a life-long mistake. But when the standard is Christ’s unconditional love for us, we approach relationships with an edge on the world. Following God’s plan for sex after marriage insures God’s blessing on the relationship and isn’t that what we all want?

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being a model of marital love with your unselfish love toward us. Help us to pass on the reasons for keeping ourselves pure before marriage to those seeking love relationships. Most of all, Lord, I thank you for my forty years of marriage and for all the times that you helped us “fix our wagon” and go on in the same direction with your blessing. Amen

AFTER THE ICE STORM

Treetops tinkling in the wind
like Waterford chandeliers,
snowdrifts sparkling like
sugar-dusted frosting,
the wintry world, dressed in glass,
appears through the hole I melt
in the frosted windowpane
this dazzling, sunny morning
after the ice storm.

WALTZING WITH SNOWFLAKES

Snowflakes fall like pearls on white velvet
as she makes her way through fresh powder
to the skating pond by the grove of tall pines.
The pure air passing her lips
tastes as if it has never been breathed before.

Alone in the early morning,
she laces her skates and pushes off,
gliding through silence so immense
she can hear the earth’s heartbeat.
Secluded in her private ballroom,
she twirls and spins in an imaginary gown,
waltzing with snowflakes.

JANUARY THAW

He stops by late while I’m taking out the trash.

Asks me to go for a walk.

My face has “It’s midnight!” written all over it,

but he offers to help drag the trash to the curb.

No earmuffs, no mittens, no scarf.
The wind is still, the ice in puddles, the air practically balmy.
A January Thaw,” he announces
like he was National Geographic.
“The eye of winter’s hurricane
and the hibernating public everywhere is missing it!”

Except for me.

I’m standing on the wet curb,  next to my garbage,
in my blue, flannel jammies, a wool pea coat and leather boots.

He takes my hands and says,
in the best I-kid-you-not Bogey imitation ever,
Good night for a stroll. What do you say, doll?”

Suddenly it’s a 1940s movie.
The sound of our steps on the wet street
echoes through the damp January night,
the only sound save the dripping of icicles
and a dog’s muffled bark down by the river.
We get drunk just breathing the air,
pulling its moist elixir
through our winter-shriveled lungs,
letting it wash over us
like a summer’s dash through a sprinkler.

A debonair Moon wears a white silk scarf
tossed about his neck.
Sexy starlets gathered around him,
through his nightclub’s milky haze,
he winks as if to say,
“Here’s to you, kid.”

.

An old Cherokee told his grandson,

“My son, there is a battle between the two wolves inside us all.  One is Evil.  It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego.  The other is Good.  It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.”

The boy thought about it and asked,

“Grandfather, which wolf wins?”

The old man quietly replied,

“The one you feed.”

Scripture: Isaiah 1:5-6 , Psalm 51, Matthew 11: 28-30

Guilt

I picked up the local newspaper, glanced at the front page, and moved on to the births, deaths, and police reports. I gasped as I saw the photo of an old friend in the obituaries. It was Bill! The paper said that he had passed away after a long battle with cancer. Suddenly I felt sick to my stomach. We had been friends with Bill and Jan for many years. We spent weekends sailing and swimming with all of our kids. We celebrated birthdays together. We went to Great America together. We even celebrated one Thanksgiving together. How could I not have known he was battling cancer? They just live across the creek from us. They are our age. Now Be was gone and I had to go visit Jan and the girls at the funeral home. What could I say to them? “Sorry I didn’t know”? “Sorry I wasn’t there for you”? “Sorry I let our friendship lag”? How did it happen?

The truth is that I felt an overwhelming sadness for what I had allowed to happen. I felt guilt for not doing what I should have and for neglecting a precious relationship. With a heavy heart, I went to the funeral home. I hugged Jan and the girls and met the grandchildren I hadn’t known she and Bill had. I apologized through tears for allowing our relationship to fade away over the years, but there truly is no way to return those years we had lost together.

Guilt is a powerful thing. It is a “shoulda” emotion that can affect our peace of mind, our conscience, even our physical health. Unresolved guilt can lead to depression, even suicide. Webster’s dictionary defines guilt as: the fact of being responsible for an offense or wrongdoing ; remorseful awareness of having done something wrong or having failed to do something required or expected.
The Bible has countless references to guilt, being guilty of crime, the punishment for guilt, and the payment for sin. Isaiah 1:5-6 describes what guilt does to a person.

Why should you be beaten anymore?
Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
your whole heart afflicted.
From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
there is no soundness-
only wounds and welts
and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged

or soothed with olive oil.

My guilt for not investing in keeping a friendship alive is serious enough, but not as serious as if I let my relationship with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, weaken or die. I have had times when I’ve gotten away from the God who made me, and the God I was made for. And there’s no peace there. When that happens to us, our soul is missing the only One who can remove the things that keep that sea in our soul so turbulent; our guilt over the mistakes we’ve made, our regrets over things we never should have done, the restless searching for what will give life real meaning, the uneasiness about what’s going to happen to us when we die. In Psalm 51 we read about David’s struggle with guilt and his desire to restore his relationship with God.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

Christianity has an unfortunate reputation for burdening people with moral guilt and long lists of rules and laws to follow. But this couldn’t be further from the truth: as Jesus himself says in Matthew 11, taking up the “burden” of Christ is much simpler and easier than struggling under the weight of sin and worldly concerns. Jesus’ invitation could not be simpler or more comforting: he calls the weary and the broken to come to him and find rest.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matt 11: 28-30
That day at the funeral home, Jan sincerely forgave me. “Life is like that,” she said. Her words made me feel better, but it doesn’t condone what I let happen. The lesson is that just as I was too busy to tend my relationship with dear friends, many of us are moving at such a fast pace that we become oblivious to what the Son of God did for us on the cross. Don’t be found at the time of death as I was at the funeral home with Bill and Jan, guilty of letting your relationship with Jesus Christ fade away.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive me for straying far from you. Thank you for being our friend and help me to maintain that precious friendship. Bring to mind relationships with others that I have let slide because of busyness or distance and show me the way to restore those relationships. Thank you for forgiving my sin and wiping away my guilt so that I can be as white as snow and find rest for my soul. Amen