I’m a One-Talent Gal

From my 2007 Journal. There’s a parable in Luke 19 that has always bothered me. A man goes on a journey and entrusts five talents to one of his servants and expects him to double the gift. He gives two talents to another and expects him to double that, and one talent to the third, “each according to his ability.” Of course the punchline of the parable has to do with the one-talent guy burying his money instead of investing it. But my mind goes to the amount of the gift given in the first place. It seems unfair somehow. I personally don’t want the responsibility of doing the work to multiply five talents, but I’d like to receive the reward for doing so! But you can’t have the one without the other.

I have this feeling that I’m one of the one-talent recipients and I better make the most of it. Yet somehow I equate value or worth with the fact that I’ve only been given one. Why?

AwardI think it goes back to boarding school, Grade 9. I don’t recall anymore what all the qualifications were, but the most coveted award for the end of the school year was “Best, All-round Girl/Boy Award.” I’m sitting on pins and needles waiting for the names to be called out. I want it so bad I can taste it. But when I’m given the award, I have mixed emotions. My pride (God forgive me) steps up to the plate and says I deserve it.

On the other hand, I see the shock and disapproval on someone’s face and I feel like a fake—apparently she didn’t think I deserved the award. I knew I was NOT the most talented, nor was I the most gracious. I was stuck up and prideful. I felt like I had hoodwinked the staff who had voted for me, but my peers knew better. That award belonged to someone else who was more talented than I and who certainly had a better attitude. I felt exposed, naked, ashamed. But I held my head up high and marched to the front of the auditorium to receive that precious little piece of metal.

I have long since repented of my pride, and God has covered me with His righteousness, but I still have to address the thought that I may have only been given one talent. Am I willing to accept God’s gift, no matter how small or how large and be faithful to serve Him with it? Today my answer is YES!

How many talents do you believe God has given you and why? And is it prideful to admit you have more than one?

Bless Her Heart

Scott and I just returned from a visit to Vancouver, BC, for his 50th high school graduation reunion. It was here that he lived, off and on, throughout his childhood with his spinster aunt and grandmother (may they rest in peace). Scott’s Aunt Eileen stories are legendary in our family. I recorded this one at the end of a visit in September, 2007.

DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve done pretty well, I think, here with Eileen, but there’s no pleasing her unless you do it her way, step by step. She controls your every move—imperiously. I wonder what her past holds that keeps her so tightly wound up all the time?

There’s a union strike in the city here that has shut down garbage removal, parks, golf courses, and the library. So every scrap of paper, every piece of garbage has to be carefully and deliberately disposed of. She has a system for everything: five different places to store five different kinds of plastic bags—each for a different size and purpose. And woe betide the person who reaches for the wrong bag and uses it for a different purpose than her intention! And one is expected to keep the information all straight after the first instruction—which can change at times, by the way!

Bless her heart (to use a Southern catch-all phrase), she recognizes that she’s crotchety but doesn’t know how to change. [At a later visit, she admitted her regret that she was being so difficult.] Since we’ve been here, we’ve been told what to do and then instructed how in the following areas:

  • Make my bed (how to align the stripes, when to wash the sheets)
  • When to open the blinds in my bedroom (right after making the bed)
  • How to wash the dishes (fill the sink, use the drainer)
  • Prune the flowers, rake the garden (for this one I actually did need instructions)
  • Where to drive, where to park (poor Scott)
  • When to sightsee and where
  • How to feed the cats and when
  • How to polish the silver (which cloth, what direction, how wet, how much)
  • Do a crossword puzzle (which one, when)
  • Eat (what time, how much [i.e. minuscule] – again, poor Scott)
  • How to dress (scarf worn a certain way, belt cinched just so)
  • What books to read from her shelf (sorry, not my taste)
  • Water the lawn (let out the hose inch by inch until it suits her)
  • Prepare the corn on the cob (shuck top down, all at once, boil exactly 6 minutes)
  • Eat corn on the cob (from left to right in rows. Seriously!)

sewing-needle-thread-mend-eye-of-needle-39548Yesterday she asked me to sew a button on a coat that she’d altered (she was most proud of her sewing prowess). We almost came to blows over how to perform this simple task. I started to sew it on with double thread so as to save a knot on the underside, but she insisted it must be a single thread and never mind if it had a knot. (Scott says this is the closest he’s seen me to losing it!)

I’m reminded of Joyce Landorf’s books entitled Irregular People (1982) and Balcony People (1989). Balcony People are in the “balcony” of your life, cheering you on, energizing you with their affirmation. Irregular People are in your “basement” doing exactly the opposite—crushing your spirit with their emotional abuse.

[I must interject here that, in spite of Aunt Eileen’s “basement” responses, she was also legendary for her generosity, her extremely high IQ (she did the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzles in record time), and her ability to encourage her proteges on to excellence. She was an author and internationally-renowned social worker with blind children. The methods she developed many years ago are still in practice today.]

After that little altercation with the sewing, I determined to back off . . . to not be so bold in standing up to her. It’s just not worth it. Not for my sake, mind you. I would have no trouble standing up to her if I didn’t care about her. But why cause her undue stress or distress at this elderly stage in her life? She’s never going to change.

Bless my heart!

Who is your Irregular Person and how do you handle the situation?

Chosen

He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Worm

Journal 2018. Like many of you, I grew up singing the old familiar hymns and I still love them, but there are two songs that contain lyrics that I just could not identify with as a five-year-old child: “Amazing grace . . . that saved a wretch like me” and “Alas! and did my Savior bleed . . . For such a worm as I.” Mom told me that God loved me and I believed her. I sure didn’t feel like a wretch or a worm! I felt special.

I was unaware of the forces around me as a five-year-old when I chose Jesus to be my Savior. I was like an orphan, and God chose me out of the orphanage to be His royal child. Why? He’s the one who created me in the first place. But why didn’t He choose Susie or Billy or John? Why did I get to be raised in a Christian home by loving parents? Why am I so privileged today to live in a land of abundance, with ample food on the table? It makes me grateful and I feel special. But what about all the little children who are chosen to live in paganism or poverty? How do I / should I feel about them?

And I hear Jesus’ answer to His disciples: that’s none of your business! (Karen’s paraphrase). Am I willing to let God take care of my questions? Let God be God?

Where is the balance of truth between believing “I’m worthless, a worm, a sinful creature” and “I’ve been adopted into royalty”? Just because I got picked out of a lineup, does that make me special? On what basis did He choose me? Gideon’s 300 men were chosen, supposedly, because they were alert and watchful. They passed a simple test of raising water to their lips. But they didn’t even know they were being tested!

There is a balance between predestination and freewill that seems to trip us up. I think the invitation is for everyone: whosoever will may come. All are invited. To those who step out of the lineup and take a step of faith toward Him, these He chooses. He called, I answered, and He gave me my assignment. Not out of any merit of my own did I diligently seek God, however. I deserve nothing, but I would have been a fool to reject or renounce my royal invitation. I’m glad I accepted. But there is no pride permitted there. He is the One who wooed me and loved me and won my heart. When I choose to diligently seek Him, I believe He rewards that choice.

I suspect that the lyricists John Newton and Isaac Watts were feeling bad about themselves and their life choices and therefore believed they were wretched and worthless, but that’s not how God saw them. The truth set them free. And He can do the same for you and me.

On Clothing

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From my 2007 Journal. I dreamt* last night that I couldn’t decide what to wear. One thing was too hot, another too cold, and another was out of date. Agony! If I choose the wrong one, I’ll suffer. Too hot, too cold, uncomfortable, self-conscious.

I loathe clothes shopping. I have a hard time finding something that fits, and even when I do, I can’t seem to make up my mind if I really want it or need it. More often than not, I’ll just walk out of the store empty-handed. That’s why I invite a daughter or a friend to come with me and give their expert opinion. But even then, I may return an item after trying it on at home.

Somewhere there’s a balance between the outward trappings of style, comfort, available resources, and cultural sensitivity versus inner beauty. Does it please God more to spend huge amounts of time on the outward appearance or to ignore it altogether? To dress so as not to draw attention to oneself or to dress with flair and self-expression? Some have more fashion sense than others (sadly I’m not one of them). It just isn’t that important to me—that is, until someone makes a negative comment. I enjoy seeing someone all dressed up, but I don’t want to be that person. I prefer sweatpants and t-shirt comfort.

Here’s my order of priority: #1 Modesty #2 Comfort #3 Budget #4 Appropriate for the occasion. #5 Fashion. Don’t judge me, girls; it is what it is, and it’s harder to change the older I get.

It’s interesting to me how others reverse these values. I’d love to do a study on this. What order we rank these items, I suppose, depends on personality or temperament, cultural norms, giftedness, spirituality, budget, woundedness, and our value system. Any other factors you can think of?

What’s your order and why?

*Note: My spellcheck didn’t acknowledge the word dreamt, and so I had to look it up. The TCK syndrome strikes again. Apparently that’s the preferred British spelling with which I grew up. You learn something new every day!

 

Moving Day

By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take (Nehemiah 9:12).

May 2018. Packing and frequent transitions were a normal part of my life as an MK (Missionary Kid), but it’s different now that I’m an adult. Just the thought of moving makes me tired. I have two daughters in transition right now. I don’t envy them. Moving is disruptive, time-consuming, and unsettling to one’s little routines.

So I try to imagine being an Israelite housewife wandering in the desert. When the cloud or the fire moves, I have to pack up everything I own and get back on the trek. When it stays put, I get to stay a little longer in my tent. The pillar can move at any time and I have to trust God for His perfect timing. And maybe I have little kids who need routine and naps and bedtimes on schedule, and maybe I’m about to give birth to Number Six. But God says I must be flexible enough to pack up all my possessions at a moment’s notice and move on. You almost don’t want to unpack because you may only be at this location for 24 hours . . . or 24 days. You just don’t know. At least my daughters know their destinations and plan to stay there for a while.

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Scott and I recently visited Solomon’s Pillars and copper mines in the desert at Timnah Park, Israel

I, personally, would have found this situation most unsettling! I wonder how long it took for the entire camp to start moving? After marching all day, could the Levites set up the tabernacle in just a few hours—with circus-tent efficiency? Up one day, down the next. What a life!

DSCN3203 Tabernacle

We visited a full-size replica of the wilderness tabernacle in Timna Park

But they knew that there was a goal at the end of their trek—a land ahead, promised for them, a good land, flowing with milk and honey.

I can’t wait for the day when I reach Canaan Land—when I have a permanent residence in heaven. No more packing and unpacking, no more moving, no more good-byes. No more temporary storing of worldly goods or worrying about breakage because things didn’t get packed securely enough for the moving truck. No more decisions about what to keep and what to throw or give away. I get to leave the worldly stuff all behind because I won’t need it anymore. Everything I need—all my real treasures—will already be there, waiting for me.

How do YOU feel about moving?

Grumbling and Complaining

 

 

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Wadi Qilt in the Judean Wilderness

And the people grumbled and deplored their hardships, which was evil in the ears of the Lord (Numbers 10:37).

May, 2018. When I first heard this verse as a little girl, I piously thought that if I’d been an Israelite, I would never have complained about my lot. Indeed, I determined then and there to stop grumbling when I didn’t get my way. (I may have kept that vow for a whole day.)

Scott and I recently came back from a trip to the Israeli and Jordanian wilderness. After experiencing miles and miles of unrelenting drought and rocky mountains and heat, I have a new appreciation for why the Israelites complained. Of course my observation comes from the cushioned seat of an air-conditioned bus, but still . . . .

The Israelites were fed up. They were sick and tired of manna sandwiches, manna soup, and manna salads, and they lusted after their flavorful Egyptian dishes. They declared, “Now our soul (our strength) is dried up.” And no wonder! With only six inches of rain a year, where is there enough water in a desert for a million or more people? And so they wept and they complained to Moses. I can picture the little kids whining, “Are we there yet? I’m so tired, hot, and thirsty. My feet hurt.” And the moms, carrying their extra loads, not knowing how far they’d have to walk each day, worried about dehydration (they didn’t have ice-cold, bottled water provided by the bus driver).

The result? God’s fire burned the edges of the camp.

The people’s reaction? They cried out to Moses.

Moses’ response? He cried out to God. “Why? Why? Why? Where? I can’t. I’m not able. Kill me. The burden is too heavy.”

So what’s the difference between the words of the Israelites and the words of Moses? The difference is to whom they complained. Moses directed his words to God. The words were melodramatic, to be sure, but honest. His was not an attitude of lust and rejection of God’s provision. His were words of despair because he was carrying too heavy a burden and his knees were starting to buckle.

God’s response: He came to Moses’ aid. He had him choose 70 men to help carry the load.

And the fire in the camp subsided, and they named the place Kibroth-hattaava (the graves of sensuous desire) because they buried there the people who lusted and whose physical appetite caused them to sin.

Buried in the desert? I used to picture the Sinai Peninsula as gently rolling hills of silty, Sahara-like sand. But as we had to carefully watch our footing over rocky ground, I wondered aloud how the wanderers accomplished this feat. I still don’t have an answer.

Anyway, I came away with two thoughts: I have no right to judge another person’s struggles until I have walked 40 years in their dusty sandals. And second, what can I do when I find myself in the desert? Talk to God instead of whining to other people.

The Journey Not to Home Part II

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Dad and Mom in 1970

Continued from last week’s blog . . .

For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God, and thus receive and carry away what is promised (Hebrews 10:36).

Journal June 5, 2007 I’ve decided to extend my stay another 5 days with my parents in Sebring. Mom is emotionally spent. She’s finally moving from the anger stage to the grieving stage. Slowly she’s learning her way around the house and adjusting to a new kitchen—a major hurdle with her macular degeneration. She’s getting help with handling the finances, and the nurses are assisting with Dad’s baths and other needs. The final challenge is learning how to shop in a new grocery store.

Each day gets a little better, but each day puts me closer to leaving. I played my last Scrabble game with Mom as her eyesight is too poor to continue. It’s not a matter of unpacking physically for my parents, though that’s important, but it’s a matter of unpacking emotionally.

My sleep schedule is off as they keep the house so warm it’s hard to sleep. My mind is racing all the time like a giant switchboard, and all the lights and rings are happening at once. Is this how Mom feels? I can step backwards, out of the switchboard room in my mind, but I still feel the responsibility of having to reenter it. I know there’s beauty behind me, but I’m still facing the room. I can’t seem to turn around. Who will take care of the switchboard if I turn my back on it? How can I turn my back on responsibility?

Like my mother, I can sit on a chair for a while and rest.

June 10. My last day in Sebring, I was awoken by Mom yelling for me. Dad had fallen while trying to reach for his hearing aids, and he cut a two-inch gash in his head. We rushed him to the hospital where I had to leave them in the ER in order to get to my plane on time. I stopped by their house to pack, racing around to get the rooms in order as best I could, including soaking sheets, towels and Dad’s shirt that were all covered in blood.

Planes in Orlando were grounded for a huge storm, and I arrived in Miami just half an hour before my flight to Nashville was due to take off. My connecting gate was on the opposite end of the terminal and no shuttle available. I ran till I thought I would pass out and boarded just as they were closing the doors. I did not want to spend the night in the Miami airport! I arrived home at midnight (my body’s time) and of course my luggage was not on the plane.

This was not the way I wanted to leave my parents . . .

June 14, 2007. As I settle back into a routine at home, all the switchboard lights come on at once. I find I’m still needed—by my husband, by my kids, by my friends, by my parents, by those to whom I minister. It’s nice to be needed—I think. But what if I don’t want the role? Then what!? Have I created that dependency on me, or is it my God-driven, God-given role? I gladly give to those in need, but we all have to take turns. The past two weeks were Mom and Dad’s turn.

People’s neediness manifests in various ways. Physically, my parents needed me to help them get settled into their new home. Emotionally, they needed even more, but only God can take away their pain. What I can do is create an atmosphere by my words and deeds that provide the support whereby a person can be drawn to God.

But what if a person is “unloveable”? What is impossible with man is possible with God.

My prayer today is for a deeper love for people—especially the needy ones in my life. I may be repulsed by people’s attitudes and sin, but I am to love them anyway. Did Jesus love the Pharisees? By His words of rebuke, you’d wonder! He was awfully hard on them. Yet He died for them—His actions proved it.

When is it hard for you to love someone?

The Journey Not to Home Part I

How should we respond to another person’s struggles? When is it appropriate to confront people? Is it ever right to judge them for their actions? How can I forgive if their actions or attitude affect me? Is it a matter of simply waiting for their heart to change? When do we put up with, when do we confront? How do we love them through it?

Journal from May, 2007. Moving my 88-year-old parents and Betty, a single missionary lady, from California to Florida was traumatic for all of us. It began yesterday at 6 a.m. with a 2-hour drive to the airport, arriving 2 hours and 40 minutes before takeoff. The flight was 4 ½ hours long, and it felt like an eternity. I was in charge of Mom while Paul [my brother] had to assist my incontinent Dad in navigating the tiny lavatory on board.

When we landed in Orlando, between us all we had 2 wheelchairs, 1 dog, and 12 pieces of luggage. In the flurry of getting everyone settled into the rental van, I forgot to pick up Dad’s walker. I hope we can retrieve it later from the airport.

The two-hour drive to Sebring was the hardest part of the journey. We pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot for dinner, and I entered the restaurant to place our order, thinking we’d all remain in the car to eat. But Dad decided at the last minute that he needed to make a pit stop. Without his walker, he had to hold onto Paul to walk to the building. In the process, Dad’s pants fell to his ankles in the parking lot! I was coming out the door at that moment, laden with all the sandwiches and drinks when I noticed the debacle. “Look at Dad’s pants!” I yelled at Paul.

Betty grabbed the food, I grabbed Dad’s left side, and Paul held on tight while bending down to pull up the pants. Somehow we made it through supper inside and got everyone back into the van. By this time, Dad was near exhaustion.

We arrived at their new home, and Mom put Dad to bed immediately. She had to struggle with changing his soiled Depends and finding a plastic sheet for the bed. And then she collapsed, weeping with great heaving sobs of relieve that the ordeal was over. I think we were all awake most of the night, too tense and exhausted to fall asleep.

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Day 5. After unpacking all their worldly goods, hanging photos on the wall, hooking up the TV, etc., I had a little time to explore the retirement complex and greet several missionaries I ran into, including Evie Lohnes.

My dear mother, so strong, so nurturing, so full of life to me growing up, is hurting so much. She carries a lot of anger, disappointment, grief and pain inside, and it continues to leak out in outbursts of irritation and tears over her losses. It was not her choice to make this move across the country, leaving behind her beloved daughter and grandchildren. And I think she feels the weight of caring for Dad as she has done all of her life.

In contrast, I listened to Evie, a recent widow, who spends her days in prayer and praise and a positive spirit with sweetness and encouragement. I asked her how she got to be this way, and she answered in a partial way:  “My husband was the most wounded man I know . . .” and then proceeded to tell me all the good he’d done in his lifetime. I could only read between the lines—that she was driven to her Savior for comfort and help. [I have pondered this statement many times throughout the years as I face whatever trials I go through or meet with difficult people.]

In church today the soloist sang “My Anchor Holds,” and the tears came unbidden. When Evie prayed for me and my parents, I wept openly. And now at 3 a.m. I lie awake and continue crying. For whom do I weep? For myself? For my mother’s sadness?

How much does Daddy feel? Sometimes he’s so out of it; other times he’s quite lucid and worried over details. I think he must feel what Mom is feeling. How can her mood not affect him? But he is totally dependent on her. She has become his mother.

The air in this house is thick, heavy, sad, oppressive. Negativity in the atmosphere can be toxic. At Evie’s, the light is bright and a cool refreshing breeze is blowing.

Lord, I don’t want to become a bitter, cantankerous, angry old woman in my old age. I want to find beauty in ashes, joy in sorry, light in the darkness. Lord, teach me.

Day 14. I just finished up a hard two weeks of listening to my mother struggle with anger, disappointment, grief and feelings of betrayal over their forced move to Florida. If we’re not related to a person or living with them, it’s easy to shrug off their negativity. But living with daily bitterness is wearing on one’s soul. I found myself reacting back in anger and irritation.

Jesus minced no words of condemnation for those whose hearts were blinded by self-importance. But those who had a repentant heart, He freely forgave and comforted. What if a person blatantly holds pride and sin inside? What if he/she is simply protecting pain? I cannot see inside another person’s heart, but I do know that what comes out of the mouth often reveals what’s inside.

I cannot judge my mother’s heart, but I can give God my own self-protection for the sorrow I feel. I choose to release my own anger to Him to carry.

To be continued next week . . .

I Have Everything I Need–Really?

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (II Peter 1:3 NIV).

In this verse Peter is not talking about having all our material needs met—such as food, clothing, and shelter. He’s referring to everything we need in order to live a godly life. So if this verse is true (and I believe it is), why do we struggle so? Why can’t we just lay everything at the feet of Jesus and quit worrying? Why don’t we always make godly choices?

Money

Is there one area you’ve struggled with all of your life? For most of my married years, it was money. I deliberately chose to be a stay-at-home mom to my three girls at a time when many of my peers were starting their careers. If something had happened to Scott, our family’s bread-winner, I would have had no skills with which to support myself and my little family. I kept laying my worry on the altar and it kept jumping off again! But one day as I was trying to process my emotions, I heard the Lord say, “Karen, I am the husband of widows. I will take care of you.” From that moment on, my heart was at rest.

How did that happen? I had known in my head all the platitudes about trusting God and believing His word and His promises. I had knowledge of God’s character. But I didn’t know it in my heart until the day I agreed to feel and face my fear. Once I laid down my self-protection, my self-preservation, and my worry, God was able to speak truth to my heart that brought me to peace. And there’s my life theme again—In the Pursuit of Peace.

How may I help you today to find God’s peace?

On Burnout

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength
(Isaiah 30:15).

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Journal entry from April 19, 2007. I’m tired, so very tired. And it’s my own doing. I control my own schedule, so why did I do this to myself? I’m neglecting my own needs for the sake of others, and I’m neglecting my family’s needs for my own. I’m tired physically and emotionally and can feel depression creeping in. It’s time to say no to everyone today and spend time with God. Just for now. For one hour, I’m going to focus on Jesus. Shut out the needs and screams of others demanding my attention.

You take care of them, Lord. I give the whole package up to you: my schedule, the people in my life, my day, my accomplishments. Today is Your day. I will take it at Your pace, one thing at a time, one step at a time. I pray that You will screen my interruptions today. Guide my every thought. Amen.

April 20. Yesterday was rejuvenating to me. I took the whole day just for me. I deep-cleaned the house, balanced the checkbook, sorted stuff out, made cookies, went shopping for groceries. The one thing I didn’t do was answer the 25 phone calls that rang! It felt awful doing so, but I was beyond caring. I knew I had to take care of myself before I could take care of others. It felt so good to get my house in order. Now I’m ready to serve again.

Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Lift up your voice to God.
Praise with the spirit and with understanding,
O magnify the Lord.