tears and laughter

The earth lay cloaked in her winter’s garb as she recieved the lovely shell of a beautifully lived soul.  It was a day of tears and laughter as we said our last goodbye to Sis. Fern.  It was one of the most beautiful memorial services for anyone I’ve ever been to.  Bro. Encil, my father, and Fern’s niece, Sue, all spoke fitting words commemorating her life well lived.  I really enjoy it whenever speakers share personal memories and experiences shared or stories heard of the person who has departed.  It is even more personal when family members share from a lifetime of knowing them.  All of the above happened.  I thought I would share a few of them…

  • Sis. Fern lived in Michigan for some years and was in Bro. Atwell’s church.  A music leader was needed and out of duty, she took lessons and played the piano there for quite some time.  She also served as the choir director.  Bro. Charlie Mayes, whom many of you know, lived there then also and also was a part of the choir.  He was serving as an assistant pastor to Bro. Atwell at that time and was responsible for taking care of many of the problems within the church.  One day, Sis. Fern went to him and said, “Bro. Mayes, I have a problem.”  Asking what it was she began to tell him that some of the choir members were jealous of one other particular choir member.  She then proceeded by saying that the reason they were jealous was that this other person could sing all 4 parts all on one line. 🙂  He then asked, “Well, who is this person?”  She looked at him…I”m sure with that mischievous twinkle in her eye…and said, “Well, Bro. Mayes, it’s you!”  Having many other duties to occupy his time…he graciously resigned from his choir position!  
  • Sis. Robin Davis used to sit with Sis. Fern at church.  Sis. Fern, though greatly loved by so many, was not one to move around and socialize before church.  She attended faithfully, took her place, and remained there…chatting with others who did mix with the people.  Sis. Robin, on the other hand,  blessed with an outgoing personality and enjoying greeting the people before church…would deposit her purse and Bible, tell Sis. Fern she was going to mix with everyone and ask if Sis. Fern had any message for her to convey to those she would be talking to.  Sis. Fern would usually say to tell them she said “hi”.  One day Sis. Robin asked her the usual question but got a different reply.  “No, don’t tell them anything”, Sis. Fern said.  Taken aback a little, Sis. Robin said, “But you always have something to tell them”.  “No” said Sis. Fern, “don’t tell them anything.  I’m not in the mood”.  🙂
  • Sis. Fern lived in the small town of Salem, Kentucky where everyone knew everyone.  She worked as the city clerk and pretty much ran the town.  One day she had to send a local church a notice that their water would be shut off due to the payment not having been made.  The responsible person, having simply forgotten to pay the bill on time and somewhat embarrassed I’m sure as this must have been a very uncommon thing to have happen to this church, responded, to which Sis. Fern replied, “We treat everybody equal.”  Perhaps you would have had to have known her personalty for that to seem funny.  She had a way of saying it with a little witty chuckle just ready to come out at any time.
  • One of the most beautiful things said was by Sue, Sis. Fern’s neice, who read a sweetly written eulogy she had written that ended with a most fitting phrase…”Fern, I’ve always looked up to you.  Now I’ll just have to look a little higher”. 
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tribute to a special friend

The world had an empty spot in it since yesterday because Sister Fern left this life.  She was a wonderful person and at times it’s hard to accept the fact that her personality is missing from this life.  Although she had been sick for quite some time with lung cancer she never acted as though she expected anyone to meet all the needs she had.  There were days I know when she may have had no visitors and few phone calls but she still kept a positive attitude.  She didn’t act as though anyone owed her anything.  She never married and there will be no one to carry on her name.  But we will remember and we will forever carry the memory of her in our hearts and minds.  Memories such as surprising her for her birthday with a houseful of girls with a “big chocolate chip cookie”…eating cheese and crackers and hot apple cider in her special little antique green dishes…spending the night at her house which we fondly referred to as “Fern’s Bed and Breakfast”…eating her delicious homemade gravy with biscuits and fruit salad for breakfast…slowly savoring her famous pecan pie…just sitting and chatting…playing Scrabble with her…taking her home from the hospital…listening to her crack a good joke and enjoying a good laugh with her. Yes, the world is empty because it lost Fern Kirk, but our hearts are full because of the life she lived and the memories we have of her.  She was known to some as Fern, Sister Fern, Aunt Fern ( though she has many well-loved nieces and nephews, I asked permission and called her that at times), and even Fernie-pooh by really close friends 🙂 .  But most of all and most importantly she was known to God as “His child“.  She trusted Him with her life and would always say “He’s in charge” even when the doctors gave her a bad report.  Perhaps her greatest signature was her wit…a twisted sense of humor as she referred to it!  She loved playing with her great-niece, Kirklyn, who persuaded her to do a great many things that probably no one else could have.  I think a favorite game of theirs use to be dressing up and acting out “The Wizard of Oz”.  What joy she brought to her life.  I don’t regret a time I called or visited her, I just wished I would have done it more.  I hope she knew how much she was loved and appreciated but I wish I would have told her more often.   I certainly am looking forward to seeing her again someday!

Yes, the world is empty but our hearts are rich from her friendship.  And for that I’ll always be thankful. 

blurbs from brownsville

I just returned from the meeting in Brownsville, Texas.  Yes, I know it was a minister’s meeting.  No, I am not a minister.  No, I am not married to a minister.  Yes, I am the daughter of a minister and this is one of the great blessings of being one…getting to travel with my parents to meetings!

It was one of the best trips I’ve taken because I was able to spend so much time with such wonderful people and I came home spiritually refreshed.

 Here are a few highlights:

  • flying – first time since flying to Russia in 1996
  • staying at the Rodriguez’ “bed and breakfast” filled to capacity…well we might could have gotten a couple more in…despite the total number of 17 occupants, there were two unused couches 🙂
  • listening to so much Spanish…I think with some effort I could pick up what I learned in college and add to it
  • spending time with the “girls”…Sis. Melva, Sis. Susan, my mom, Galadriel, Ana Ruth, Kaytlin, Janie, Bonnie, and Melanie
  • hearing Sis. Susan’s love story
  • listening to Sis. Susan and my mother talk and share music thoughts
  • my debut as a stairs slider 🙂
  • singing around the piano Saturday night…especially “He’s In Control”
  • getting to know friends better and discovering new kindred spirits and deep souls!
  • seeing Lulu again in Rio Bravo
  • meeting Berenice in Rio Bravo
  • eating so much good authentic Mexican food…I think there was more of me when I came home than when I left
  • going shopping with Becky, Amy, Lauren, my mom, Sis. Wheat, and Sis. Roark
  • receiving my “servant girl” gift from Janie from Mexico
  • Janie and Kaytlin reminding us to pray in the middle of our disasters…van break-down, etc…
  • driving back and forth to Rio Bravo…especially the midnight snack that was supposed to be “to go ” at Whataburger
  • being in the ladies’ meetings and being convicted through the messages I heard
  • hearing Brother Finnicum speak so passionately in Rio Bravo about pursuing God’s ways in marriage and family
  • so thankful that God allowed everyone to make it home safely despite the stomach flu encountered by so many…and Jacob’s hospital rendezvous in Houston…SO thankful he is okay

You know, there are special times in our lives that we reflect on with such good feelings and later wish we could experience again or recreate in the future but can’t exactly.  What precious memories I will carry with me forever from this time. 

fresh vision for a new year

It’s a new year…although the weather and seasons don’t seem to acknowledge it and neither does God’s original calendar.  Really, who in their right mind would choose to begin a new year in the middle of winter?  Certainly not God!  I love His decision that springtime should herald the entrance of new life to the earth.  However, the calendar does say it’s a new year and so it brings with it a sense of newness and fresh starts.  I do love fresh starts.  There’s something about a new notebook/journal full of clean white pages waiting to be written on that holds a sort of thrill to me.  It inspired the beginning of a song the Lord gave me at the start of a new year about 12 years ago. 

Our lives are like an open book, waiting to be used for good

Let’s write God’s word upon our heart, never e’er let it depart

Think upon it day and night, keep it with you as your guide

For through God’s word we find the way, that leads to never-ending day

 

Now many things we all must do, to be faithful tried and true

If we follow God’s command, we will see the Promised Land

Full perfection we can see, if we follow God’s ministry

So let us run with all our might and be counted in His bride

 

I can become a precious stone, someday kneel before God’s throne

Understanding I can gain, giving ear to what You say

Grace You’ll give to overcome and become like Your dear Son

Eternal life I can obtain, if I do not run in vain

 

Lord, please give me a sound mind, higher in You now to climb

A white robe I want to wear and in all Your glory share

Just to be right by Your side and in Your great love abide

It will be worth the price I pay, walking with You all the way

 

chorus

Make me like You, Lord, in every way

Shine Your light upon my heart, guide my steps as on I trod

So I may see You, some glorious day

Oh, grant me, Lord, that I may be like You someday

 

Of course, I am inferring that we can be like Him in all of His duplicatible ways (I Peter 2:21…)…not in an egotistical way.

 

I mentioned in my last post that the Shah family had inspired me along the lines of creating a vision for the new year and for life.  I wanted to share something I received in an email from Doug Philips (Vision Forum).  It was along the lines of revisiting the past year and chronicling the blessings of the Lord and dealing with unresolved bitterness and unforgiveness.  It made me want to keep better track of significant events in my life that I sometimes forget when I fail to write them down in a permanent place. 

Here’s the email from Vision Forum.  Hope it’s a blessing to you, too.

 


Special Note: The following article is updated and reviewed each year as the Lord teaches our family new and important principles for beginning a new year. I hope it will be an encouragement to you as it is to our own family.

Dear Friends:

Life moves fast. If we don’t take the time to chronicle the providences of God, we forget them. If we don’t take the time to say thank you to those who have invested in our lives, we actually cultivate a spirit of ingratitude in our own hearts. If we don’t stop and make sure that we have a spirit of forgiveness toward others, we grow bitter, we lose the capacity to move victoriously into the future, and our prayers are hindered.

Here is a little practice that I was taught and would like to share with you. Each year, during the last week of December, I would encourage you to do the following things.

I. Outline and Chronicle the Many Providences of God

Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. (Hab. 33:2)

First, using simple bullet points, outline the key events for every week of every month of the year. Take the time to do the research which will help jog your memory and allow you to make an accurate record. I find that reviewing bills, blogs, journals, newspaper headlines, letters, and even organizing my photographs chronologically are enormously helpful tools. Those individuals who were faithful to journal or keep a diary will have little problem reconstructing key events. Give yourself a good week to reconstruct your own outline of the year. Also, by making this a family project, you will not only build your list with greater speed and precision, but (in the hands of a loving patriarch) the very act of chronicling the providences of God in your life is a blessed tool for family discipleship.

Every family will have a different set of priorities directing what they should record. In addition to recording the key events and providences of the year chronologically, I try to take the time with my family to record some of the following information on separate bullet lists:

  1. Where did I/we travel?
  2. What were the titles and key texts of sermons I preached?
  3. What books/articles did I write?
  4. What significant household projects did we accomplish in 2007?
  5. What were the most important meetings of the year?
  6. What special friendships were made this year?
  7. Which children lost teeth, and how many?
  8. Who grew in physical stature, and how much did they grow?
  9. Who learned to read this year?
  10. What diet and physical exercise regimen did I maintain to honor “my temple”?
  11. What books did I read? Did we read as a family? Did my children read?
  12. What Scriptures did my family memorize?
  13. What loved ones died this year?
  14. What were the great personal/ministry/national tragedies and losses of the year?
  15. What were the great personal/ministry/national blessings of the year?
  16. What were my most significant failures/sins for the year 2007?
  17. What unresolved conflicts/issues am I bringing into 2008?
  18. What significant spiritual and practical victories did I experience?
  19. In what tangible ways did I communicate gratitude to those who have blessed me and invested in my life?
  20. What are the top ten themes of 2007 for my family?

II. Say ‘Thank You’ to Those Who Have Invested in Your Life

[I] cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers. (Eph. 1:16)

Whatever happened to the man who first opened to you the words of life from the Scripture? Where is the comrade, coach, or instructor who believed in you and helped you to accomplish a great goal? What about the Bible teacher whose careful handling of the Word opened up new vistas of understanding? Where is the friend who stood with you through thick and thin? Most importantly, what have you communicated to the mother who carried you in her womb, loved and nurtured you, or the father who labored to provide for and shepherd you?

When was the last time you responded to their investment in your life with gratitude, blessings, and even money? Jesus reminds us of those ungrateful recipients of blessing who simply went their way without demonstrating gratitude (Luke 17).

Before the year ends, make a list of two types of people: The first list are the names of people whose life, ministry, or personal investment in you have deeply touched you and changed your life. (In my case, the list includes parents, pastors, and even some teachers from the early years of my Christian walk that I did not meet until much later in my life, but whose books and tapes were crucial to my personal discipleship as a young Christian.) The second list should include those people who played the most significant role in your life in 2007.

Write a brief, meaningful letter to each of them. Be specific in your gratitude. Explain what they did for you and why it was important to you. Show them how they were God’s instrument of blessing in your own life. Pray over each letter, asking God to grant you rich insights on the character qualities of each individual and on the way those qualities changed your own life. Where appropriate, include a check or special token of appreciation that reflects your desire to show them, tangibly, that you recognize that you are in their debt. You cannot imagine the joy this will give to someone from your past who may think you have forgotten them. Give generously and without concern for getting a tax deduction. I strongly recommend sending money to your parents. Keep in mind that you will never be able to return their personal and financial investment in your life, except through your testimony of faithfulness, covenant keeping, and honor to the Lord.

Also, your children need to know the people who have blessed their parents. They need to see that Mom and Dad are grateful and generous. Share your letters with them. In our household, we ask our children to write to some of the people who have blessed Mommy and Daddy, because our children are the indirect recipients of these blessings on their parents.

This will take a day or two to complete. You may have twenty letters to write, but you will never regret saying “thank you.”

One last thought: One reason why Christians are often limited in vision, energy, and blessings is that, contrary to the Lord’s command, we are ungrateful, unforgiving, and bitter. Far too many who profess the name of Christ spend more time obsessing on those who have wronged them than rejoicing in those who have blessed them. Letters and tangible expressions of gratitude are not only pleasing to Christ, but an antidote to heart-sickness.

III. Forgive Those Who Have Wronged You

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)

In the course of a year, it is possible to build up many offenses and personal grievances at others. Left unaddressed, these grievances fester and grow. They turn the heart black and the body weak. They foster a spirit of vengeance and misguided self-righteousness. The short of it is this: Unforgiveness leads to bitterness. Bitterness curdles the mind and the spirit.

Fresh starts and new years should begin with forgiveness for others. Having a genuine spirit of forgiveness towards those who have wronged us is a mark of biblical Christianity. It is an evidence that we have been redeemed, and that we are praying lawfully: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

Successful Christians are men and women who are free from bitterness. They have learned the principle modeled by our Lord Jesus Christ who, while suffering death at the hands of people he had never wronged, was able to say “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24).

I have a dear preacher friend with a sterling reputation who was once grievously slandered. When asked about the wicked actions of the slanderers, he replied something to this effect:

Oh you don’t understand — I am far, far worse than my detractors realize. They may have gotten a lot of the specific facts wrong, but I am just thankful they don’t know how bad my heart truly is. God have mercy on me a sinner.

This man had victory over bitterness.

My father is another man who always appeared to have victory over bitterness. In fact, from my earliest days to the present, I have watched lesser men “twist the truths [he’s] spoken to make a trap for fools.” [i]

Early in my life when I was still in government schools, I would listen to my own teachers criticize before my class the work my father was doing for the President to dismantle a government agency which was at war with the family. I read untruthful articles and saw derogatory comics on the pages of the Washington Post picturing him as a caveman for his “prehistoric” views. When my father was a leader in the Republican Party in Massachusetts, a gangster repeatedly threatened the life of his family. I remember being a boy and having my father shield me from homosexual picketers and protesters that would follow him and our family around at public locations.

Most painful and difficult for many to forgive is betrayal and dishonor. But that is a mistake. Betrayal and dishonor probably exist in the lives of most men. And why should any Christian be denied in their lives what past generations of Christians — and our Lord and Savior Himself — patiently endured? To our shame, most of us have been on both sides of that coin. From a son’s perspective, however, it is highly instructive to watch a father act honorably in the midst of such conflict. It has been a great blessing in my own life to observe my father nobly respond even in the face of barbs from former allies and friends, once loved and nurtured by him.

Eternally optimistic, Dad would always say: “Never be bitter. Life is too short. Thank God for your blessings. Press on!”

Bitterness comes from being unwilling to forgive. Bitter people are small people. They are unsuccessful people. They are people who cannot move forward. They are people who believe that the personal wrongs against them are so great that they — the offended — are entitled to do to their offenders what they pray the Lord Jesus Christ will never do to them: refuse to forgive.

Here is my recommendation: Think through every grief, minor and major, caused by others to you in the year 2007. Now add to the list any other personal offenses that continue to linger from past years. Write these down as bullets on a sheet of paper.

The first thing you will likely realize is just how many offenses are polluting your thought life and, probably, your spirit. This is a sign of latent bitterness. Bitterness will kill you. It renders you completely ineffective.

Now prayerfully walk through the list — bullet, by bullet. With each offense, remind yourself that the most despicable action taken against you by another utterly (and infinitely) pales in comparison to the least of your offenses against the Lord Jesus Christ.

And yet He has forgiven you.

Before 2008 begins, adopt a spirit of forgiveness towards your insensitive friends as well as your hateful enemies. Forgive your imperfect father for whatever it is you need to forgive him for (and pray to the Lord that your own children someday forgive you for your failures). Quit devoting untold precious hours to commiseration, mental replay of the wrongs done, and thoughts about just how badly you were wronged. Stop blaming everybody but you for your problems. Look to yourself. Once you start chronicling your own sinful attitudes and crimes against God and man, you simply won’t have time to worry about the wrongs done to you. You will stop being bitter, and you will start being thankful.

Wipe the slate clean. “Press on.” Forgive.

Conclusion

As 2007 comes to a close, take time to remember and to say “thank you.” Take time to examine yourself for bitterness. Forgive others.

It is appropriate that we do so on the birth of a new year. Remember that God gave man the stars on Day Four in part so that he could order and structure his days based on a clock/calendar system of days, seasons, and years (Genesis 1). He tells us to “remember” acts and to “number” our days. In Scripture, the formal act of remembering providences of God in our life is linked to hope, honor, and generational success (e.g., Psalms 44, 78, etc.). By February 2008, the year 2007 will be a distant memory. Strike now while the iron is hot. The opportunity to remember and to say “thank you” may never come again. And can you afford even one more day in which your prayers are hindered — because you were holding on to offenses and refusing to forgive?

  Persevero,
     
  Doug Phillips
President, The Vision Forum, Inc.

[i] From Rudyard Kipling’s “If”

 

 

reflections on the final days of 2007

Some thoughts from the last week of 2007

December 27-29 

We were encouraged at the youth meeting in Mt. Carmel.  There were many good things said but three speakers stand out to me. 

Brother Steve Wilkinson (Bourbonnais, Illinois) did a masterful job explaining the kind of music that is destructive to our spiritual life and the kind of music that will edify and glorify God in worship. 

Brother Brad Ratliff (new pastor in Kansas City) very aptly showed how the things we learn to do in church are equipping us with skills that will help us succeed in every area of our life.  Here are a few areas he brought out…testifying/singing specials help you overcome the fear of public speaking which btw is the #1 fear of Americans (didn’t know that before)…team work within a church teaches how to work with others on committees and such…the principles and commandments of the Bible we hear preached help us understand how to have a happy marriage/home.

A young woman, Aleeta, from Benton Harbor, Michigan shared her testimony of how she slipped from church little by little into doing things she never dreamed she would do.  She was so grateful for God’s faithfulness to her and His mercy in her life.  She sang a song she had written.  I’ll share the chorus…

Lord, I want to be single-hearted, single-minded

For a double minded man is unstable in all his ways

For there’s no greater honor than to be a servant for You, Lord

Help me walk the path that’s right and I’ll give my life to You and You alone

 

December 30 

On Sunday we were honored to have dinner with the Shah family from Owensboro (Rajen, Stephanie, Jessica, Jacob, Joseph, and Jonathan).  What precious friends they have become.  They shared how they were preparing to write their family mission statement (as well as individual ones) for the new year.  They have such a vision for a godly home.  I hope someday if God blesses me with a family we’ll be sitting down doing that!  It made me think, though, of how I should make one for myself right now. 

Sunday night at church Bro. Phil Wright from Jerseyville, Illinois spoke and his message was so captivating and encouraging.  Talk about experiencing God…this man has done it.  He was just so honest and sincere before the Lord…no pretense or fancy show…and God performed miracles in his life.  There were many times when He trusted God and God answered his prayers miraculously but the one that sticks out the most to me is of how the Lord sent an angel to his home to tell him to go to the Body of Christ church he had been hearing about but wouldn’t go to until the Lord let him know for sure.  He told him for sure!  It was incredible. 

The Lord moved in a great way and I got such a good blessing that night.

 

December 31

New Year’s Eve service at church was so good.  The Linder family (my youngest brother’s fiance’s family) was here visiting and Sis. Lisa Linder gave her testimony of how the Lord saved her and her husband.  At the time their marriage was on the rocks and she was getting ready to go out to a bar one night to get even with her husband.  While in the bathroom applying her makeup she heard a voice singing into her ear the song “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling.  Calling for you and for me.”  She cried but shook herself and tried to put on her makeup again.  Finally her mother-in-law called and she told her what was happening.  She said, “Lisa, that’s God calling you out!”  Lisa shouting rather loudly said, “What’s He want me for?”  She heard the song a third time and then went and put on the only dress she had, went downstairs and announced she was going to church.  She went to church and cried and cried and didn’t want to leave because she felt so safe there.  Seven years later her husband (who had been backslidden for years) got saved and is in church now, too.  It was a marvellous testimony of God having His hand on your life.

After the service was over several of us gathered together to sing and worship.  It was a precious time of sharing. 

 

I am thankful for all of the Lord’s blessing on my family and my own life this past year.  Sometimes when we kneel as a family at night to pray I thank Him that we’re “all together in one place”.  I know it won’t be that way forever but I am thankful it has been this long.  He has been very good to us.