Saying Goodbye to America’s Evangelist

 

For the last week or so America and the world have been saying goodbye to Billy Graham. And I have been praising and thanking God for the life of this remarkable man. What a faithful servant of the Lord he was. I’ve watched a couple of television specials on his life and also wept through his beautiful memorial ceremony. I have been impressed again by his boldness and humility. And the legacy of his children! What powerful tributes to the man they called “Daddy,” and how faithful they are to take on his mantle. However, I do not believe I will ever see another man like Billy Graham in my lifetime.

He was America’s prophet and preacher. Our Isaiah, our Elijah. His message was simple and consistent. We are all sinners; God loves us and made a way for us through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. We must accept Him as our Savior, and turn from our sins, and we must allow Him to be Lord of our lives. I think that was basically it. He never bowed to the culture or political correctness. He addressed wrongs in our society, such as racism, and called it what it is. Sin. He preached this message all over the world, reaching millions. I watched the documentaries on his life and was awed at the enormous crowds he drew everywhere he went. I remember going to see him in 1971 at Texas Stadium. When Billy Graham came to Dallas, it was a huge event even by Texas standards.

As I watched Billy Graham age, I knew that one day we would lose him. For a long time I have had the thought (and fear) that after Billy Graham left this earth, God would remove His hand of blessing and protection from America. We have been slowly watching it happened as we have moved from a society of faith and religion to a secular state.

This morning in my quiet time, I was reminded of just how blessed I have been to be born in an age and place where Jesus is known. It was relatively easy for me to come to the Lord. It didn’t cost me much. Actually, I think I paid a bigger price as a child and teenager who was NOT a believer. I went to school with Christians and Jews, we had daily Bible readings, we prayed, and we memorized the Ten Commandments. In Dallas public schools. My friends were Christians, and when they invited me to their church, I went. I heard the Gospel, and asked Jesus into my heart. That decision changed my life for all eternity. I often wonder what roads I would have taken had I not said yes to Jesus. T was culturally acceptable for me to become a follower of Christ. What a different America my grandchildren are experiencing.

Struck by watching Billy Graham bravely preach in communist countries, and thinking about the words in my morning devotional, I can’t help but think about those people who are living in dark places. North Korea, Syria, and China come to mind. How can they come to the Lord if they never hear the Gospel? And what a high price they pay to become believers. When I went to Kenya I saw how eager the people are to hear the Gospel, how desperate to have a Bible of their own. And I don’t even know how many different Bibles there are in my house!

As I write these words, I fear that America is becoming one of those dark places. Christian faith has become fair game for the mockers and haters. Being a Christian now carries a higher price tag than it did in earlier days. Even though we are still allowed to have our churches, and still allowed to worship, we are becoming more and more secularized. There are many competing activities for our time and attention on Sundays.

Although we don’t deserve it, I pray God would send us another Billy Graham. I pray for another Great Awakening. I pray it is not too late for America.

THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

 

Recently the people of Hawaii got the following terrifying emergency alert: ‘BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. When I heard this on the news I had to wonder. How in the world do you protect yourself from a missile attack, especially if you are living on a small island? Where do you go? Do people in Hawaii have a plan? What about tourists? And what do you do if it’s a nuclear missile? Wouldn’t you have to live in an underground bomb shelter for something like 10,000 years? Please excuse my ignorance about nuclear missiles, but I’m thinking nuclear is synonomous with utter destruction.

I remember seeing a movie years ago called “On the Beach.” It starred Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner (It was a LONG time ago!). In the movie, the world had managed to blow itself up, leaving only Australia as a refuge for the remaining survivors. But there was a cloud of radiation taking aim on Australia, threatening the fate of humanity. I remember there was a sliver of hope, but what I can’t remember is if anyone actually survived. But my plan has always been to get to Australia as quickly as possible. That makes about as much sense as those atomic bomb drills we used to have in school. Right. Getting under my desk and covering my ears was going to save me. But at least those in power could say we had a plan. With a crazy dictator in North Korea and a president who is tweeting “My nuke is bigger than yours,” we are living in scary times. Yet we should not be surprised. We have been warned.

Last December I finished reading through the Bible again. This is something I’ve done multiple times. My thinking is that if God took the time to write this important letter to me, I should read it. It might be important. With current events in mind, the book of Revelation has taken on a new urgency. Actually the entire Bible is full of warnings for us, given to protect and save us. The book of Revelation is the culmination of the history of mankind. It is a warning to believers of the return of our Lord Jesus. We must be ready. It is also a warning that a time of suffering is coming that is greater than any suffering man has ever experienced. Revelation is a final warning to come to Christ before God pours out His wrath in judgment over the earth. It is a picture of Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts, longing to come in and save us. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

No one knows when the end will be, but the Bible tells us to look at the signs, and there are signs all around. The stage is set. But even if Jesus tarries, we are still warned. Scripture tells us, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” Heb. 9:27 (NIV). THIS IS NOT A DRILL. These are two realities, death and judgment. We each have an appointment with death. There is no “if” to this warning, only a “when.” We each have a death date. One day we will die. And the second reality is judgment. We will each be called to make a personal appearance before God. If we have not accepted Jesus as our Savior, the only One who could possibly save us, then we will stand before a righteous God without an attorney, without our Advocate, and without a defense. We will stand in our own puny righteousness that is like a pile of filthy rags in the sight of God. We will be doomed, condemned to full and eternal punishment. Our verdict will be “guilty” and our sentence will be just.

So the warning is “Come!” Come while there is still time. Come while you still may. Come before it is too late. Jesus is not willing for any of us to perish but longs for all of us to repent and turn to Him (2 Peter 3:9). The end is coming. THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. REV. 3:20 NIV

THE OPPORTUNITY OF LIFE

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Well it’s another beginning of another year. I’ve been blessed to have experienced quite a few of these new beginnings. As 2017 was winding down I began thinking about 2018. What do I want it to be? What things do I need to accomplish, to finish? My bucket list is getting shorter because I have been fortunate enough to experience most of my dreams. I always try to bring God into these New Year’s thoughts. What is His plan for me this year? What does He have for me? What areas of growth do I need?

I quit making resolutions a few years ago because I’m only so-so at keeping them. So instead I have asked for a word for 2018. And I believe that word for me is health. I need to focus on my health and to take better care of me. It’s not too surprising that health would be on center stage in my life. I’ve been having orthopedic problems since early fall. And since receiving that word, health, new problems have been discovered. God knew before I did that I need to take time for health.

I’m not sure exactly what getting healthy is going to look like. We all know the basics: eat healthier, move more, de-stress. I don’t see myself joining a gym. I did that in another season and it doesn’t particularly interest me know. Maybe some sort of group class? Or maybe just more and longer walks (when I get my legs working).

I sat down to my quiet time this morning wondering where God would direct me. I just finished reading through the Bible again and I’m thinking I should do something else. So I picked up a devotional book my friend Wanda gave me titled A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baille.  It didn’t take long to get smacked in the face as I began reading the first prayer. The author thanked God for “the great and mysterious opportunity of my life.”

Those words spoke loudly to me. He spoke of life as an opportunity and I guess I never thought of it that way. I have just thought of it as life, being alive. But my life is more than merely being alive; it is an opportunity. And it is a mystery that God would grant me such an opportunity. I wanted to remind myself about the definition of opportunity, even though we all know what it means, so I looked it up. This is what I found: opportunity is a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something. So life is the gift of mysterious possibilities.

We had a tragedy in our church family a few days ago. Our Youth Pastor’s pregnant wife died suddenly and unexpectedly. The doctors took the baby and tried over several days to save him, but baby Asa never really had the opportunity of life. A baby should have an almost endless array of possibilities ahead of him, but baby Asa did not. How remiss am I if I do not thank God for life.

So at this beginning of 2018, I thank God for the opportunity of life, for the possibilities that lie ahead. Lord, please don’t let me go through this year mindlessly. Open my eyes to see the possibilities you have for me.

You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalm 139:15-16 NLT

 

 

WHITE CHRISTMAS

 

A few years ago I wrote this piece for my book, Seasons. When it snowed yesterday, I started thinking about it. This is an updated version I hope you will enjoy.

Jerry and I have been binge-watching Hallmark Christmas movies since Thanksgiving. Even though they are cheesy and predictable, we love them. They are so formulaic, we could write a screenplay ourselves. Especially the ending: It snows and they kiss. I love the settings for these movies. Small towns with picturesque Main Streets, and a snow-covered mountain in the background. But my favorite Christmas movie, bar none, is White Christmas. Jerry groans every year when I suggest watching it, so in recent years I have watched it by myself or with my girls. The girls and I can recite most of the lines and sing the songs by heart. In recent years we have all had trouble staying awake past the train scene (“Vermont should be beautiful this time of year!”) This year I stayed awake through the whole thing!

What is it about that movie that speaks to us? I think for me it is a combination of nostalgia and hope. When the movie first came out, I was only a little girl. I was remembering my early childhood Christmases this morning. The one that particularly stands out in my memory was when I was six. It had been a good year financially for my parents (most were not), and I got a Western Flyer bicycle and a Toni doll. My younger sister received a Tiny Tears doll. For some reason fruitcake is tied to this memory, although I’m sure I would not have eaten any at that age.

White Christmas follows the career of two soldiers (played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) in the years after World War II. It dawned on that the Christmas in my memory was not too far removed from that war. Since it ended before I was born, the war always seemed like ancient history to me. But to my parents, it had only been a few years. I wonder what it felt like to celebrate Christmas in peace and prosperity after going through such a dangerous and rationed period. They never spoke much about the war, and now I wish I had asked more questions.

I remind myself that we are still fighting wars. All over the world we have troops that are dreaming of a Christmas “just like the ones (they) used to know.” But they are doing their duty, trying to keep peace in a world filled with conflict, trying to keep us safe. And the ones who have returned home may still be battling their own traumatic memories.

Peace on earth. The prophets spoke of it, the angels sang of it. And yet we still have wars and struggles, families are still torn apart. We even have battles within ourselves. This past week I have heard some particularly devastating stories in my office. “Jesus, you were born into such a dark world! Oh, Prince of Peace, where are You,” I cry.

“Where is the Christmas we long for,” I wonder. Then Jesus reminds me that the war is not over. His kingdom on earth has not yet been established. One day soon, He will return and conquer evil for good. Until then, we will still face battles. The words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow say it best:

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
From Christmas Bells1.

White Christmas. What is it about snow? It makes everything beautiful, pristine. It covers even the most blighted landscape, turning it into something pure and new. That’s what Jesus promises to do for us. He takes our ugly, sinful hearts and covers them with the pure snow of His love, transforming them and turning them into something new. He offers us peace with God. May we all experience a truly white Christmas this year.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18 (ESV).

WAITING FOR CHRISTMAS

 

Today I am revisiting a devotion from My book, Seasons. I’ve changed it up a bit to reflect where I am today. And I’m asking myself if I have grown any since I wrote this. I don’t think I have gotten any better at waiting. But God in his mercy and patience is still working on me.

WAITING FOR CHRISTMAS

I’m terrible at waiting. I hate waiting in lines, waiting for a human to speak on the phone, waiting in doctor’s offices, waiting my turn. I get impatient and irritable. Why doesn’t everyone move at my pace? I’ve been doing some Advent readings in preparation, and being reminded once again that Advent is all about waiting. Of course it is waiting for Christmas, for the birth of the Christ Child, but there is more.

Every year I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, God is in the Mannger (great title). This book is a collection of letters Bonhoeffer wrote from a Nazi prison. When he wrote about Advent, abut waiting, he was writing from the deepest desires of his heart. Waiting was a fact of war and a fact of his life. He waited to be released from prison, waited to be reunited with his family and fiancé, and waited for the war to end. When he learned about all the suffering that was being inflicted on the world, his family and friends, he could do nothing but pray. And in those prayer times he recognized how our soul is in waiting for redemption. “Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent. One waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other—things that are really of no consequence—the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.”

We do a lot of “this, that and the other.” Things that we imagine are important, but really have no lasting significance. Christmas can be an exhausting time of year, especially for the mom of the household. Let’s face it ladies, most of the responsibility for making Christmas happen falls on us. Even for those of us who love Christmas, and who wouldn’t want to miss any of it, it is still a lot of work! This year I am purposely trying to reign Christmas in a bit. However, that old instinct is still there. Do I have all the gifts for children and grandchildren even? I can’t find my Christmas ramekins (Because I really need those!). I tell myself that when I finish the shopping, the decorating, and the endless lists, I will then have time to sit and wait for Jesus. To wait to hear the voice of God. To hear the knock at the door.  Am I more concerned about my door decorations than the One who is standing at the door and knocking?

I’ve been thinking a good deal about Mary during this Advent season, about how she spent that first Christmas. We are not told much about how she prepared for her baby. All we really know is that she had swaddling clothes. And Joseph. How did he prepare to become the earthly father of God? I don’t think Mary and Joseph “did” Christmas; Christmas was done to them. They received it. And what a glorious Christmas it was. A birth announcement like none other, sung by a heavenly choir from a sky that was radiant with the glory of God.

What if God wants to give Christmas to us this year? Instead of all our frantic activity, what would it be like if we waited for His gift of Christmas? Waiting. That is what Advent is all about. Waiting for Jesus. What would it look like if we really received Christ, in all of His fullness, into our hearts this year? Instead of packing Jesus away until Easter, what if we kept Him alive every day of the year? What if, like Mary, we said, “yes” to his will for our lives? What if we like Joseph were willing to put aside all our plans for our lives, our preconceived ideas about how things should be, and obey the voice of God?

What if we become truly willing to carry and deliver Christ to a lost and hurting world? Jesus is standing at the door and knocking (Rev. 3:20). What if we become truly willing to carry and deliver Christ to a lost and hurting world? Jesus is standing at the door and knocking.  Am I willing to put aside my ideas of how Christmas should be, willing to sit and wait? Bonhoeffer reminds me that if I want the greatest, most profound and most precious things, I must wait. I will not find those things in all the hustle and bustle, the business of Christmas. They are not at the mall, not in the boxes of decorations stored in the attic, and not in any electronic “cart” at an Amazon checkout. I will find them in waiting.  God forbid that I should keep Jesus waiting!  Waiting and knocking at the door of my heart!

Oh, Father, we ask You, the Giver of all good gifts, to create Christmas in our hearts this year. We wait expectantly and like Mary, we say, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever He wants.”  Forgive me for keeping you, the King of kings, waiting!

ANOTHER THANKSGIVING, ANOTHER TURKEY

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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It occurs in autumn, my favorite season, and it’s all about family, food, and love. About the only shopping required for Thanksgiving takes place at the grocery store, and I even love grocery stores at this time of year. All those special seasonal foods.

As I was getting my dressing together this morning I was remembering past Thanksgivings and trying to remember how many Thanksgiving dinners I have prepared. How many times have I made that dressing? I’ve cooked a LOT of turkeys!  I can’t remember many Thanksgivings from my childhood. Of course that was a LONG time ago. I do remember having Thanksgiving with my grandparents and my cousins a time or two, but as time went by I can’t remember Thanksgiving being an especially big deal. Broken families sometimes make for difficult holidays. I’m sure we must have done something for Thanksgiving because my dad was a fabulous cook. This happened out of necessity because my mother had neither the skill or the inclination to boil water. But that was our gain, because Daddy had an interest in cooking and an adventurous palate. His meals were the best! I guess that is where my love of cooking began.

So after Jerry and I married at the very tender age of nineteen (smart!), I wanted to tackle a turkey. It’s a good thing I didn’t try it at Thanksgiving because I caught it on fire. Turkey flambé! Gosh who knew there were bags of really gross stuff inside those cavities? So I’m thinking the first couple of Thanksgivings we must have had with Jerry’s family.  On our first Thanksgiving we went to Jerry’s Aunt Mary and Uncle Sam Lomonaco’s house with the Italian Carona family. That’s when I made the happy discovery that some people have lasagna and spaghetti with their turkey. Awesome!

It didn’t take many years for me to start preparing the Thanksgiving meal.  I don’t know how many Thanksgiving dinners I have made. I’m guessing around 40 or so, maybe more. When we moved into our first house I wanted to have Thanksgiving at our new house. In the beginning, I didn’t do it every year, but after a while it became mine to host and I loved it. We would have my grandparents, Jerry’s parents and sometimes his sister and her family. Many times my two great aunts, Una and Tess would join us as well as my Uncle Arthur when he was in town. There were times when my siblings and their families would join us, and a few times when we went to their homes. One of my funniest memories was the time I stopped up the sink and water from the garbage disposal, complete with bits of broccoli and onion, was backing up through my washer! As luck would have it, my brother-in-law owned a plumbing company. He went back home and got his snake and climbed on the roof to snake out the pipes. It was one of those Dallas days that started off warm but a “blue norther” came blowing in while he was on the roof and he just about froze!

 

A few years ago my daughter moved into her new home, and asked if I would mind if she hosted.   Are you kidding me? I’d love for you to host. Please take the torch! I am mostly ready to pass it on to the next generation. But this year I asked to have it back again. I guess I’m not quite ready to give up being the hostess. And like I said, I love Thanksgiving.

 

So this year as I make our traditional favorites, I thank God for my family. There are 19 of us now and we will all be together except for Kaylee and Austin who will be with his family. I now have to share my children and grands. I’m thankful for those who have passed on and for those who are still with us. I’m so thankful for our children and for this new generation, our grandchildren, and even thinking about those babies that are hopefully still to come. I’m thankful for our extended family and for our friends who have become family. Most of all, I’m thankful that I get to spend another Thanksgiving with my husband, the patriarch of our ever expanding family. There were some frightening days when I didn’t know if he would live to see another holiday. We tell each other almost daily (once in awhile we might forget), “We got another day.” So thankful for another turkey to roast, a table to set, and a family to gather round.

 

 

THE EMPTY CHAIR

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The following is a letter my friend Cathy wrote to some of her friends who have recently lost their mothers.  She gave me permission to share it.  I know too many of my friends are facing an empty chair this Thanksgiving.  You have lost parents and grandparents, spouses, and even children.  Please know I am thinking and praying for you all, even as I type these words.  You are not alone.

THE EMPTY CHAIR

The holidays are coming . . . and I dread the “empty chair”.

You are receiving this letter because you are my friend and we share a common bond. We are each one of six who have experienced the passing of our mother and walked with her through death this past year.

For all of us this has not been a sudden event, rather a long and plodding journey we have travelled with our mothers inch by inch. This journey has brought emotions and questions as each of our mother’s health and function declined and we could see the end coming. In moments of angst and suffering we would wonder when the end would come and yet . . . we embraced her at every turn not wanting to let go. And then . . . we knew the end was near.

As my mother came closer and closer to death in her final weeks, I felt more and more the presence of God. I prayed for His grace and mercy for her soul and mine. Death is a most sacred time . . . a time no one can completely understand, but you know God is near and your loved one is transitioning into the life after death. For all of us this is part of the human experience, we know it is coming, but it takes on a much deeper meaning when you sit by the bedside of the mother you love. You know God is there as you witness the spiritual mystery when her soul leaves her body like a whisper in the quiet of the night. She is gone.

Now after several weeks, I still reflect often on my mother’s life and her passing. And now . . . the holidays are coming and I face the “empty chair”.

As the holidays approach I hope to embrace the gift of the “empty chair”. I know from the life my mother lived that I am worthy of receiving and giving love, joy, and generosity. I know my mother faced challenges, difficult decisions, and made mistakes in her life and yet she endured. She never gave up, but kept on keeping on. This remembrance inspires me to do the same . . . forgive others and yes also myself, when I am weak to remember I can be strong, and know I can be kinder and gentler, more compassionate and empathetic to others.

The empty chair also reminds me of the depth of love within my family and the reason to keep that love alive and make it even richer. I am also reminded of the love of friends and how that love blesses my life and how I want to be that kind of friend to bless others. And . . . walking with my mother and witnessing her death reminds me to turn to a more consistent life of prayer and dependence on God embracing His love and mercy.

All of our mothers lived long lives and they endured and pressed on. And now . . we have the “empty chair”. We have been left with many gifts from the “empty chair” and It is our time to press on, to reflect and examine our own lives and genuinely embrace the joy and pain of life, allowing it to mold us into a better person, one filled with love and hope, kindness and understanding.

As you and your family gather, I pray you, my friend, have holidays filled with an abundance of love and joy and remember the gift of the “empty chair”. Yes there will be tears, but through these tears we have received many gifts.

Keep on “keeping on” my friends . . . and know I will be thinking of you and your family during this holiday season. I am sending abundant wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving and Christmas season with prayers for comfort and peace.

Lovingly,

Cathy