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 have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
II Timothy 4:7-8 , John 17:21

A LION OF THE FAITH HAS FINISHED THE COURSE
This week Christianity lost one of its most eloquent and influential voices today with the death of Charles W. “Chuck” Colson. The Prison Fellowship and Colson Center for Christian Worldview founder died Saturday afternoon from complications resulting from a brain hemorrhage. Colson was 80. I admired Chuck Colson very much and have written a rather long D-mail here about him because I think he was one of the greatest Christian apologists and servants of God we have had in our generation. Don’t give up reading because there are 6 pages! Break it up into several sittings, but do read it.

Focus on the Family president, Jim Daly, said about Colson,
“America has lost a gentleman and a statesman of the highest integrity and character. I’ve lost a dear friend and mentor who, most importantly, modeled for me how to stand for God’s truth with Christ’s heart. Chuck was an endlessly selfless man, whose love for and ministry to those in prison made him one of the great modern-day lions of the faith.”

While many descriptors apply to Colson - evangelical leader, cultural commentator, prolific author, and Prison Fellowship founder - he was once fearfully known as President Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” or “evil genius” as Slate magazine writer David Plotz once described him. But while Colson was facing arrest for his involvement in the Watergate scandal in 1973, a friend gave him a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, which led to his dramatic conversion. He published the memoir Born Again in 1975 - two years after becoming a born-again Christian. The memoir was made into a film in 1978 carrying the same title. Since his faith conversion, Colson has dedicated his life to helping prisoners experience the radical transformation possible in Christ through his non-profit Prison Fellowship. For over 30 years, Colson kept the tradition of ministering to prisoners in jail every Easter Sunday. This year was the first time in 34 years that Colson did not spend Easter Sunday ministering in prison due to his hospitalization for the blood clot.

“Whatever good I may have done is because God saw fit to reach into the depths of Watergate and convert a broken sinner,” said Colson in a statement in 2008 in response to receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal from President George W. Bush. “Everything that has been accomplished these past 35 years has been by God’s grace and sovereign design.” President George W. Bush awarded Colson the Presidential Citizens Medal - the second highest honor to a private citizen - for his Christian-based outreach to prisoners, ex-convicts, crime victims and their families. The award was created by President Richard Nixon to recognize citizens “who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens.
“Through his (Colson) strong faith and leadership, he has helped courageous men and women from around the world make successful transitions back into society,” the White House stated in the recipient citations. “The United States honors Chuck Colson for his good heart and his compassionate efforts to renew a spirit of purpose in the lives of countless individuals.”
“His demonization in the 1970s has been replaced by lionizations in the 2000s-at least among the nation’s 65 million evangelical Christians,” Jonathan Aitken wrote in his 2005 biography. Aitken portrayed Colson as an important but flawed figure in evangelicalism, “America’s best-known Christian leader after Billy Graham.”

Colson’s closest aide at Prison fellowship, William Nance, said,
“As I reflect, I am so thankful that I had the honor and privilege of becoming friends with this truly remarkable individual. Like no one else, Chuck had an amazing ability to spend the morning with the very least of these - prisoners rejected by their families and outcast by society, and then spend the afternoon with the president all the while feeling completely comfortable with both. I often watched in amazement as Chuck would walk into the darkest of prisons and greet a group of inmates. It was not uncommon to see a prisoner, hardened by a life of violence and depravity, dissolve into tears thanking Chuck for sending Christmas gifts to his children through Angel Tree and expressing his new found faith in Jesus. On a trip to Ecuador visiting a dilapidated, disease infested prison, Chuck dismissed the warden’s warning of immanent danger and marched into the yard to give the Good News to the crowd. Over 100 inmates, covered with open sores and filth, all huddled around Chuck and listened to every word. He stayed to shake every last hand. The last time I saw Chuck was about a year ago when he and Patty (Mrs. Colson) had lunch with my wife, Penny and I. We recounted funny stories of trips to Greece and Scotland and prison visits in Russia. To no surprise, with no retirement in sight, Chuck was focused like a laser on advancing the Kingdom through yet another worthy project. News in 1973 of convicted Watergate figure Chuck Colson’s profession of faith in Jesus Christ was met with skepticism and ridicule by many in media. But nearly four decades later - with his death today at the age of 80 - Colson’s legacy as a historic evangelical leader with a distinct prophetic voice that has shaped culture and influenced countless lives is firmly established.”
Chuck Colson was one of our greatest contemporary Christian apologists, engaging the culture with the truths informed by faith. He was also one of the greatest defenders of the fundamental right to life and of marriage and the family and society founded upon it. Finally, he was an apostle of Christian unity who took the prayer of Jesus to heart, “May they be one” (John 17:21).
Colson devoted energy to bringing Christians from all denominations, both Catholic and Protestant, together. His friend Deacon Keith Fournier, a devout Catholic, spoke about the relationship he and Colson had with Alexander Solzhenitsyn,
“Chuck and I shared an admiration for him (Solzhenitsyn). The renowned Russian spoke these words to the US Congress in 1975: `Very soon only too soon, your country will stand in need of not just exceptional men but of great men. Find them in your souls. Find them in your hearts; find them in depths of your country.’ Chuck Colson was one of those great men; a man of true Christian courage. He spoke truth to lies without any fear. He faced down the enemies of authentic freedom and refused to be intimidated. He had the ability of explaining the ancient faith in our contemporary age in a way that made it relevant to the culture. That was Chuck Colson’s greatest gift.”

Evangelist Billy Graham acknowledged Colson’s “tremendous ministry reaching into prisons and jails with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ” for three and a half decades. “When I get to Heaven and see Chuck again, I believe I will also see many, many people there whose lives have been transformed because of the message he shared with them,” Graham said in a statement, adding, “I count it a privilege to have called him friend.”
“Chuck Colson was a foremost Christian thinker for our generation,” says Lon Allison, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. “In some ways, he has been to us what C.S. Lewis has been. He spoke and wrote with evangelistic passion and razor-like acuity.”

The Institute for Prison Ministries (IPM), a department of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, was formed in 1984 as a result of the shared vision of Colson and Wheaton College trustee Kenneth Wessner. IPM is a center for correctional ministry that works through networks, collaborations and strategic partnerships to provide leadership and training to those engaged in correctional ministries for the advancement of the gospel.

In 1988, IPM established The Charles W. Colson Scholarship, which provides former prisoners with a college education and life formation program that develops them as Christian leaders. To date, 48 Colson Scholars have graduated from Wheaton’s undergraduate, graduate, or correctional ministries programs.

IPM director Karen Swanson says Colson maintained connections with the Colson Scholarship program throughout the years. “Chuck would always make time to meet with the Colson Scholars when he came to Chicago,” she says. “He took his time when talking with them and was genuinely interested in them.”

“Mr. Colson is a role model for countless women and men who have been or are behind bars,” adds Colson Scholar Christopher Yuan, who graduated from Wheaton’s Master of Arts in Biblical Exegesis program in 2007. “He weathered the storms of his critics questioning his conversion, and remained true as a witness of a forgiving God of second chances. As a fellow ex-offender who has been transformed by hard time, I echo his words, ‘I thank God for prison.’”

In a 2000 address at the Graduate School commencement, Colson spoke about the influence Christian colleges can have in culture.

“While living in a world that exalts the momentary and temporal, Christians must always keep in mind the eternal and permanent,” Colson said. As servants of the Lord in society, the Christian academy is uniquely equipped to raise up men and women passionately committed to living for God in the light of his truth in every field of endeavor, passionately committed to the development of personal character and conscience that are pleasing to him.”

Colson’s cultural and political commentary reached millions of readers and listeners. His books, including his 1976 autobiography Born Again, have sold more than 25 million copies. His radio show BreakPoint reaches more than 1,200 outlets, and his Wilberforce Forum promotes Christian worldview thinking and teaching. In 1993, Colson won the Templeton Prize of $1 million for progress in religion. His award money, speaking fees, and royalties went to Prison Fellowship.

“He allowed a humbling period to define him and his whole posture to the culture,” said Eric Metaxas, who has written biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Wilberforce and took over for Colson on BreakPoint’s radio show after Colson fell ill. “One of the important things about Chuck is his commitment to worshipping God with our minds. Incredibly serious about theology and evangelism, Chuck brought those things into the public sphere.”

Close friend and fellow in ministry along with her father, Ginny Dent Brandt wrote,
“The trumpets will be sounding on the other side for Charles W. Colson-not only for what he achieved as a Christian leader but for how much his character changed. His life story is one of the outstanding and best known examples in modern times of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. During the time he spent in jail, Colson had to learn many lessons in humility and penitence. Blows rained in on him. He failed to gain the presidential pardon that he had been expecting after the clemency granted to Nixon. He was disbarred from practicing law. His father died. His son was arrested for narcotics possession. But Colson gradually began surrendering to God’s will. He immersed himself in Bible reading, started a prayer group with fellow prisoners, and completed the Design for Discipleship course published by the Navigators.

Yet his spiritual steps forward seemed to be accompanied by practical reverses. What he found particularly hard to bear was having his parole application denied after other Watergate prisoners, notably John Dean and Jeb Magruder, were freed. But Colson prayed on and was unexpectedly given parole in July 1975 after serving seven months of his sentence.
Born Again sold three million copies worldwide and catapulted Colson into the stratosphere of being a celebrity Christian. But by now he was sufficiently steeped in his faith to know that the label was a dangerous oxymoron, contradicting the humility that should lie at the heart of Godly witness. Colson was also blessed by spiritually wise friends who kept his feet on the ground. One of them, his young research aide Michael Cromartie, guided him towards eminent theologians who satisfied both his intellectual and spiritual hunger for the knowledge that would nourish the roots of his faith.

These theologians initially included Nicholas Wolterstoff, R.C. Sproul, Carl Henry, Francis Schaeffer, and Richard Lovelace. Their importance in Colson’s life was that they broadened his spiritual horizons. Narrow evangelicalism, he discovered, was not enough. He did his share of one-on-one ministry in the prisons, but he knew he must also participate in the public arena of action and debate. Inspired by the example of William Wilberforce, Colson came to believe that he must strive to understand and implement a comprehensive Christian worldview regarding life and society. As for Chuck Colson, his life sentence has now been commuted to eternal rest by a loving, forgiving God. What a joy to hear those words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” For herein lies the significance of a man-not walking in the halls of power, but serving his omnipotent Creator. ”
Colson’s profile stretched into many areas above and beyond the prison walls. He continued to be a notable author publishing over 20 books since Born Again. His most successful titles include Loving God, How Now Shall We Live, and Kingdom in Conflict. He was a columnist for Christianity Today from 1985 until his death.

Michelle Vu, of the Christian Post, wrote,
“The quest for a Christian worldview shaped the direction of the fast growing ministry of Prison Fellowship. With his formidable energy, Colson led it to extraordinary achievements. With no small assistance from trusted associates like Gordon Loux, Tom Pratt, Ron Nikkel, Mark Earley, and Michael Timmis, the ministry expanded globally into Prison Fellowship International, flourishing today in over 150 countries. Within the United States, PF launched programs like Justice Fellowship (which pioneered the Restorative Justice movement); Angel Tree (which organizes 300,000 Christmas gifts a year to the children of prisoners); and the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (which has spawned at least 15 Christian-run prisons or prison units around the world; studies have indicated such facilities have significantly lower reoffending rates than secular penal institutions). These Colson initiatives completely changed the face of prison ministry. It used to be an unfashionable, underrated, and largely localized Christian activity with no national or international leadership. It is still too far down the pecking order of most churches’ priorities. But Colson gave it a profile and a passion worthy of the exhortation in Hebrews 13:3 “Remember your fellow prisoners as if you were in prison.”
Prison Fellowship currently has programs in some 1,300 correctional facilities in all 50 states in the United States. The ministry partners with some 7,700 churches and has some 14,000 volunteers nationwide. Globally, Prison Fellowship’s programs reach prisoners and their families in 110 countries.

Jonathan Aitken, Colson’s biographer, wrote,
“In recent years he has dedicated much of his time to the Centurion educational program. It raises up 100 church leaders a year through an intensive teaching course which he led.
On October 26, 2003, the lead story on the front page of The New York Times carried the headline “Evangelicals Sway White House on Human Rights Issues Abroad.” The first name mentioned in the article was Charles W. Colson. It was reported that he and others had persuaded the White House to take political initiatives towards ending the war in the Sudan, halting sex trafficking, and preventing the global spread of AIDS.

Such achievements represented an ironic full circle in the Colson life story. As a young aide to the 37th President, Colson in the 1970s steered the White House towards activities that were the antithesis of Christian morality. Yet by the early 2000s the older Colson was having a considerable influence in a wholly Christian direction on several of the decisions and policies of the 43rd President. These examples of Colson’s legacy on politics, culture, the church, and Christian ministry have only been possible because amidst the earthquake of Watergate he heard the still small voice of God’s call. He obeyed it and stayed faithful to it. As a result he has become a shining example of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and the redemptive blessings of God’s grace. As many of his fellow Christians will say about him, God changed Charles Colson and used him for good. (Jonathan Aitken is the author of Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed.)

The Evangelical Elder statesman made his last public appearance in Virginia at a conference called “Breaking the Spiral of Silence,” which exemplified his life’s work. Part of a series he established known as Wilberforce Weekends - named for the 19th century British abolitionist he revered - the event focused on religious liberty, the sanctity of life and the institution of marriage.
In a Feb. 3 video message, he saw the larger issue of the threat to religious liberty. He said,

“We have come to the point - I say this very soberly - when if there isn’t a dramatic change in circumstances, we as Christians may well be called upon to stand in civil disobedience against the actions of our own government,” “That would break my heart as a former Marine captain, loving my country. But I love my God more. I will stand for the Lord, regardless of what my state tells me.”

As we all feel his loss and the tremendous hole that is left in our lives, let us remember his words - “Remain at your posts and do your duty - for the glory of God and His kingdom”–and honor him, striving to live up to his charge.

“I’ll tell you one of the most wonderful things about being a Christian is that I don’t ever get up in the morning and wonder I’m not doing anything today or if what I do matters. I live everyday to the fullest because I can live it through Christ and I know no matter what I do today, and it may just be in my prayer time, I’m going to do something to advance the Kingdom of God. Now does that make you fulfilled? You bet it does! And it gives you joy about living.” Chuck Colson

Prayer: Lord, we rejoice that your child, Chuck Colson, is resting at your feet. We are in awe of how you turned this sinner’s life around and changed the world through him. We thank you for his integrity, faithfulness, humility, wisdom, boldness, and unfailing Christian witness. We thank you for the ministries he founded that we must carry on. We pray that you will raise up other Christian statesmen to carry the message to our corrupt generation. Amen

I am so pleased that a poem and a short story I submitted to Red Cedar Review have been published in their most recent magazine!  As promised, here they are.

LUST AT THE LAUNDROMAT

by Cathy Conger  copyright 2012

Our clothes roll around in moist heat,
yours bumping against mine
in a thousand quick kisses,
then drawing apart for a gasp of air.

Wrapped as skin-tight as lovers aroused,
they cling for one moment of ecstasy
in a world spinning out of control
until a crackle of static dooms them
to another thousand farewells.

As shirts tumble around unbuttoning,
their sleeves meet and embrace B
and it doesn’t simply end there.

Silk stockings, like tendrils, entwine your long johns.
My lacy things throw themselves at your blue jeans.
Lost in passion they toss, tumble, and tango.
Not a cool breath passes between them
in this heated affair.

But then, that’s how I feel,
like anything is possible
when all our zippers are undone.

Rags

by Cathy Conger   copyright 2012

When school starts this fall, Rags’ house will be gone.  That’s what it says in the Daily Tribune.  Of course, few people will notice.  As it is you can barely make out his saggy, old house behind all those thick pines and tangled weeds.  Funny, too, because it sits right in the center of town and not twenty five feet from the front doors of the junior high school.  Hundreds of students walk by Rags’ place every day and lots of parents park in that block after school to pick up their kids.  I’1l bet nobody knows Rags is in there.
That’s not to say that no one has ever seen old Rags.  I expect that if you asked around town, most folks would tell you they’d seen him lots of times.  But it would be hard to find more than a couple who’d actually ever talked to him.  Rags is forever coming or going on this old, blue Schwinn bike with balloon tires and a rusty basket.  He’s real bony- looking and always wears raggedy, basketball sneakers, an old, brown cardigan sweater and Bermuda shorts.  What makes most people stare is his hair and that beard.  Did you ever see those cartoons of a man who’d been locked in chains in a dungeon, forgotten for years until his beard was grown to his toes and his bones stuck out through his skin?  Well, that’s just what Rags looks like.  He wears an old  knit cap now and then, but his long white hair and beard still flow in the wind as he pedals along.
I see him at the public library now and again myself.  He seems to like mysteries a whole lot, judging by the number of detective books he checks out.  One time he balanced so many books in his bicycle basket that I followed him for six blocks just to see how he did it.  It was amazing.  Not a single wobble.  I was so impressed by it that I mentioned it that night at supper.  Daddy scolded me for treating the man like a freak.  He said his name was not really Rags and that I should know better.
Naturally, I know nobody would actually be named Rags.  My best friend, Mike, and I made it up after we studied To Kill a Mockingbird in school.  In the book there was this strange character named Boo Radley who lived in a spooky house and never talked to people, just like our Rags.  We thought he ought to have a peculiar name too, so we came up with Rags.  Even Mama says he’s a curiosity.
My daddy is a doctor in the emergency room of our hospital and he has seen Rags there from time to time I guess.  But it wasn’t until the terrible cold snap last January that anybody paid him any mind.  The thermometer hadn’t risen above -30̊ for ten days in a row.  Schools were closed and cars that wouldn’t start were abandoned in odd places all over town.  A person could honestly get frostbite just going out to the mailbox.  I mean serious cold!  Well, it seems that Rags’ neighbor, Ralph Polk, became concerned, which he admitted only happened once in a great while.  But seeing no sign of life next door, and this being such dangerous cold weather, he bundled up to go check on Rags.  He trudged up the unshoveled walk to Rags’ rickety porch and banged on the broken screen door.  No answer.  He hollered and banged some more.  Still nothing.  Seeing as how it was too blasted cold for proper manners, he decided to go on inside anyway.
The door opened fairly easily, considering the ice around the jamb, but stopped halfway, butting up against something.  Mr. Polk eased himself through sideways and adjusted his eyes to the dim light.  “Unbelievable” was what he told my daddy it was.  “Unbelievable!”  There were stacks of newspapers and magazines floor to ceiling in every square foot of the first floor.

A narrow path had been left clear to get to the kitchen.  Mr. Polk told my daddy it smelled like something had died in there and he was steeling himself to come across Rags’ corpse any minute.
When Mr. Polk kicked aside all the empty soup and tuna fish cans in the kitchen doorway, there was Rags.  He appeared to be half dead, stretched out on the kitchen table- obviously the only open space in the house to lay down.  One leg was wrapped in an old dishtowel.  A burned down candle and a half- eaten can of baked beans sat next to his hand on the table.  He was sort of bluish, but still breathing.  There was no heat and no electricity.  Mr. Polk said it must have been that way for years and Rags had apparently made out OK until this severe cold snap.  Mr. Polk couldn’t rouse him, but he unwrapped the towel from Rags’ leg.  “Nearly lost my breakfast, Doc” he told my daddy. “The leg was totally black and rotted.” There should have been plenty of bugs and creatures around because of the filth, but there weren’t.  Mr. Polk said it was probably too cold.
That’s where my daddy comes into the picture.  Mr. Polk dashed home and called the ambulance.  They say it took two extra policemen to move enough magazines to clear a path wide enough for the stretcher.  My daddy was on duty in the emergency room when Rags arrived and he said it didn’t look good.  Rags’ temperature was nearly at the bottom of the thermometer!  But they warmed him up and bathed him properly and cleaned out the rotten leg.  Daddy saved Rags and even most of his leg.  Nobody seemed to know if he had friends or family and Mr. Polk sort of felt he’d done all he was up to doing, so Daddy called the social worker.  After a time in the hospital, Rags was taken to an old folks home and seemed happy enough to go I guess.  We wanted to go see the inside of that house but Mama said “disgusting” and forbid it.
When the cold wave passed and we went back to school, we saw yellow police tape all around Rags’ property.  By summer there was a “condemned” sign out front.  Not too long ago, I asked my daddy what causes a man to stop living in the world.  He said he didn’t know but that hard times make even the nicest of folks do strange things and that we should be glad that Mr. Wheeler has a nice place to stay and people to care for him now.
Here in the paper is something interesting, though.  Next to the “Notice of Demolition” is a picture of Rags taken a long time ago.  The caption says his name is Francis Garrison Wheeler and he was an actuary for fifty years, whatever that is.  I keep staring at that picture trying to add a beard and wild hair to it to make it look like Rags, but I can’t do it.  The Francis Garrison Wheeler in this picture has a college professor look about him and I wonder. When did Francis become Rags?
Anyway, they’re going to tear down old Rags’ house.  It’s a shame really.  Maybe we could’ve gone in and cleaned it up nice and Rags - I mean Mr. Wheeler - could’ve moved back in.  That corner will never be the same, which is OK I guess, because all the mystery has gone out of it anyway.


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

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.”

.

Today is a sad day for me.  After a week with my whole family here, flour and colored sugar all over the kitchen, pop and fancy beer chilling in the garage, every bed, floor mattress and towel taken, toys and socks and shoes from basement to bedrooms, fires in the fireplace, piles of books, CDs, videos, computer toys, sweaters, jewelry, board games under the tree, and laughter, hugs, and constant chatter, the ten of them are gone.  I have to admit I am exhausted from all the chaos, staying up too late (and grandchildren jumping on me at the crack of dawn to wake me up), cooking and endless dishwashing (although I had help with these).  But would I do it all again?  You bet!  Just when I thought we had a crazy Christmas, I received a photo from the mother of our youth pastor.  His wife is one of 12 grown children.  Their clan celebrated Christmas at their folk’s home in Kansas City.  All I have to say is “HOLY COW!!!!”  As soon as I download my Christmas photos from my camera, I’ll publish the photo of my clan.

My daughter Rachel and her husband, Mike, were able to take a “working” trip to Oslo Norway this fall.  Looks like they were having fun!

This is my son, Michael, his wife,Kim, and my 2 little sweeties, Katie and Andy

Scripture: Psalm 34:18, Proverbs 13:12, Psalm 13:1-4

SUICIDE: THE TRAGIC END OF GIVING UP ALL HOPE

Last week I shared the topic of “hope” with you. Ironically, yesterday I received news about a friend of our family who had given up all hope. After years of struggling with alcoholism and depression, he lost his job, his health, and his marriage. I suppose he could see no way out of his pain, even when friends and family tried everything to help him. When he found a time alone at home, he took his own life.
It was such a shock. His family’s feelings are running the gamut from heart-wrenching sadness to guilt to anger. Why did he do it? Why didn’t he let us help him? Where was God in this? How could he do this to us? What else could I have done to stop him?
What makes a person give up hope, even in God?

Proverbs 13:12 says, Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

That sickness may be such deep depression that the person can no longer hear the voice of love and hope for healing the soul, especially when alcohol or mental imbalance has blinded him. Even King David, who was God’s delight, experienced deep despair. He wrote,

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts (of doubt, fear, isolation, shame, despair) and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, `I have overcome him’, and my foes will rejoice when I fall. Psalm 13: 1-4
David did not take his own life because he trusted in his God. For lots of others, God has been far away or they have never had the chance to know God at all so there was no hope.

And what about those who loved the one who died this way? I know from what I have read that a loved one’s suicide can trigger intense emotions. Shock. Disbelief and emotional numbness may set in. They may think that their loved one’s suicide couldn’t possibly be real. Anger. They may be angry with their loved one for abandoning them or leaving them with a legacy of grief - or they may be angry with themselves or others for missing clues about suicidal intentions. They may be angry with God for not intervening or angry with their loved one for not taking the lifeline held out for them. Guilt. They may replay “what if” and “if only” scenarios in your mind, blaming themselves for the suicide. Despair. They may be gripped by sadness, depression and a sense of defeat or hopelessness. They may have a physical collapse or even consider suicide themselves.

This experience is new for me, at least at this personal a level so I wanted to understand it better. How could I help? I read what many others have written about it. One article I found was on the Mayo Clinic online newsletter about how to help the survivors of suicide. It said,

“The thoughts, feelings, and emotions of a person contemplating suicide are difficult to understand. So many different circumstances can be involved. Many people with suicidal thoughts are struggling with despair, hopelessness, and depression, and they reach the point where the struggle becomes too unbearable. With others, something has altered their normal thought patterns. Perhaps a chemical imbalance progresses into emotional and mental instability. Or the mind is altered by alcohol or drugs, which could result in an ‘impulse’ act of suicide. It is not out of the question that perhaps a combination of these circumstances exists. And sadly, even those who are very close to someone with suicidal thoughts may never know that person’s thoughts and feelings.

When a loved one dies, your grief may be profound, but when a loved one commits suicide, your reaction may be more complicated. Overwhelming emotions may leave you reeling - and you may be consumed by guilt, wondering if you could have done something to prevent your loved one’s death. As you face life after a loved one’s suicide, remember that you don’t have to go through it alone. You may continue to experience intense reactions during the weeks and months after your loved one’s suicide - including nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty concentrating, social withdrawal and loss of interest in usual activities - especially if you witnessed or discovered the suicide. ”

Suicide is a topic rarely discussed in polite society, or in the church, for that matter. While it is a subject whispered behind cupped hands or alluded to in the form of a prayer request, “we need to pray for that family because of the circumstances of his death,” suicide is rarely confronted openly.
I read that loved ones of the suicide victim desperately need the opportunity to talk openly about the complex emotions they are experiencing. Suicide literally explodes into a person’s life like an earthquake registering off the Richter scale. Life changes in an instant for suicide survivors.. As with the survivors of an actual earthquake, suicide families are in shock, simply existing in the wake of the destruction.
As if the death of a loved one were not enough to handle, suicide survivors must deal with the shame of the social stigma attached to suicide. In general, people do not know how to react to or comfort suicide families. A shadow is cast across the entire family as if something must be wrong with them all. As with any death, people often feel talking about it will upset the family so they avoid the subject. What they don’t understand is the survivors need very much to talk about what has happened. Healing will never take place if the gaping wound of suicide pain is covered over without being allowed to heal from the inside out.
Suppose an earthquake seriously damages the foundation of a home, yet the house appears otherwise intact. There are obvious cracks, but instead of making the necessary inspection and repairs, the owner opts for stuccoing over the damaged foundation. From the exterior, the repairs seem complete. However, one day an aftershock trembles the already insecure foundation and the whole house comes crashing down.
Waiting to address the damage done by suicide only postpones the inevitable. Talking about what has happened is a vital part of the healing process. Huge chunks of unreconciled pain lay scattered in the path of recovery for suicide survivors. While picking through the rubble, the ordinary things of life must go on. Amid the chaos of second-guessing and “what if’s,” survivors must deal with the mundane issues of the funeral, finances, paperwork, probate, and insurance claims.

Many Christians do not know how to respond to suicide, and in their ignorance, often do more harm than good. A lot of what I read written by Christians was about whether the sin of suicide was unforgivable or not. Some felt compelled to pass judgment on the circumstances of the death and speculate about whether the victim is in heaven or hell. God is the only Righteous Judge and the status of the soul of the deceased is in His hands. Many a survivor has turned his back on the church and God following a judgmental statement by an overly pious pastor who preaches that the deceased has gone to hell. When people don’t know what to say, but feel they are expected to say something, their comments can sometimes be hurtful. Instead we should be showing compassion at a time like this.

The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

Here is some good advice I read for friends and family who wish to comfort the survivors. You can be the most helpful to the survivors by being available and listening. Don’t feel you have to inform or justify. Because suicide is an awkward, uncomfortable subject, people are tempted to avoid the truth. Hiding from the truth only makes grief recovery more difficult. Simply be there to listen and comfort with your presence. In listening, you should be prepared to hear and accept a wide range of emotions. You may be uncomfortable with the intensity of expression of these emotions. However, it is important for survivors to express themselves without being silenced. Don’t try to calm survivors down or cut short their expression of emotion. The freedom to work through anger and grief in an individual way will hasten the healing process.

Remember this: The most difficult period for the family is probably still weeks away. During the initial period of shock, the survivors are not feeling many of the emotions they will feel later. You may meet the greatest need six to eight weeks following the death and again as the one-year anniversary of the suicide approaches. Survivors need to know that you care and they need to discuss their feelings and frustrations. Your support and encouragement can make a huge difference.

How Can You Help?
• Don’t be afraid to discuss the subject of suicide with survivors, but temper your comments. Grieving survivors need to be acknowledged, not ignored.
• Let the person know you care. As the well-known saying goes, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Sharing your concern for survivors helps them know they are not alone in there pain.
• Be a good listener. Allow a survivor to talk about what he is feeling. It is important for you to listen closely to anything the person says. Much talking on your part will not be very effective because the person is in a state of mind that will not allow him to listen or absorb all you are saying. Do everything you can to let the person know you are there for them and willing to listen without judging or challenging.
• After the shock has passed, you might encourage counseling or support group attendance. If they agree, you could help by making some calls for the person to locate a counselor, clergy, or a Survivors of Suicide support group Maybe offer to drive your friend to and from the appointment or meeting.
• Be practical. What can you do for the person right now? Can you provide childcare, meals, or transportation? Be specific about what you are willing to do.
• Be available. In Hope for the Troubled Heart, Billy Graham writes, “Being available is difficult, because it takes time, but being sensitive to the small amounts of time we can give could reap large rewards in someone’s life. It doesn’t really matter what we say to comfort people during a time of suffering, it’s our concern and availability that count.”
Prayer: O Lord, my heart is sick with grief over this tragedy. Only you know what our friend’s last thoughts were. We feel so sad that he listened to the lie in his head that told him death was the only way out. I pray for his family and close friends as they try to make some sense of this death. I pray that those who are not Christian believers will be drawn by the Holy Spirit to trust in you with their lives. Comfort the widow and the children. I pray for those who this day have lost all hope and want to end their lives. May someone intervene and speak hope and healing into their souls through Jesus Christ our Lord who desires life for us, not death. 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: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him”. 1 John 5:14-15

ASAP

Do you often find yourself too busy to stop and say a prayer when you are having a rough day? Do you think of doing everything else to improve matters before you turn to the One who can solve problems in the blink of an eye? Me too! Back in the days when I was a practicing R.N. in a busy ICU out in Virginia, I found myself facing many urgent crises. In the world of medicine, when we need something pretty darned fast, we ask for it STAT. I decided to look it up and discovered, after all these years, that STAT comes from the Latin word “statim”, which means “immediately”. Even though I didn’t know what it was derived from, I knew positively that it meant to put that need at the top of the priority list! I no longer practice nursing in a hospital, but in my everyday life, I still encounter more crises than I’d like. In this life everything seems like it has to be accomplished STAT or ASAP, which stands for “As Soon As Possible”. Because we commonly react with panic or run to “fix” the problem as fast as we can, we skip right over the most important response we have at our disposal, speaking about it in prayer to God.
The book of James says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
JAMES 5:16

More powerful and more effective than anything else on this Earth, even when we must react  “As Soon As Possible.”. Generally we think of ASAP in terms of even more hurry and stress in our lives. Perhaps if we thought of this abbreviation in a different manner, we would begin to find a new way to deal with those rough days along the way. Here’s a little poem to help us remember.

ASAP
So when…….
there’s lots to do;
you’ve got no time to spare,
as you hurry and you scurry-
ASAP - ALWAYS SAY A PRAYER.

In the midst of family chaos,
“quality time” is rare.
Do your best; let God do the rest-
ASAP - ALWAYS SAY A PRAYER.

It may seem like your worries
are more than you can bear.
Slow down and take a breather-
ASAP - ALWAYS SAY A PRAYER.

God knows how stressful life is;
He wants to ease our cares,
He’ll respond to all your needs.
A.S.A.P. - ALWAYS SAY A PRAYER.

Prayer
Lord, please remind me when we haven’t spoken in awhile. Help me to learn to react to stress with prayer. In all circumstances, may prayer become our automatic plan of action.
Amen