Two years ago, when it was just Mom and me for Christmas in Abilene, she suggested serving dinner at the Salvation Army (see Serving up Love on a Plate). So we did, and it was fun and rewarding, and we met a lot of nice people. So this year, when it looked like it would be just the two of us again, we decided to help out at the Salvation Army here in Asheville. In fact, two of our neighbors here in the retirement residence are members at the Salvation Army. Then we found out that Kevin, my younger son, was coming to spend Christmas with us. When we told him about our plan, he wanted to come help, too. We had served dinner back in Abilene, but this time we were assigned to help out in the kitchen. Our assignment was dessert for a few hundred people. We were led to the dishwashing area of the kitchen (out of the way of people who were doing the actual cooking). There was a pile of pie boxes and we were instructed to cut up pies, put them on disposable plates, wrap and stack them on trays. After a few false starts and bumping into each other in the small space, we developed a system that worked beautifully: I cut the pies, Mom put the slices onto plates, and Kevin wrapped and stacked them: pumpkin, apple, pecan, and icebox pie—a variety on each tray. When Petey, the cook, checked and saw our progress, he brought out some cakes to be sliced: carrot cake, sock-it-to-me cake, red velvet, and brownies. A few times we needed to seek Petey for help because we needed more trays, or ran out of plastic wrap, that sort of thing, but mostly we functioned very well together. A few times I got too far ahead of Mom, which gave me the opportunity to go throw out the pie boxes. At other times Mom got too far ahead of Kevin and helped him wrap the desserts. Kevin, being the last guy in our assembly line, never got ahead, but he never complained. Before we knew it, Petey came back and said, “I think we’ve got enough now. Youse can all go home now.” And he thanked us for our help. Mom and I hadn’t thought that anything could beat serving Christmas dinner for fun, but this had really brought us together in loving cooperation for a good cause. For me, it was one of the best things about Christmas. The others being God’s amazing gift to me (see yesterday’s post), and having Kevin here with us. God is good!
Two of Mom’s three dogs are “rescues,” that is that she got them from the pound instead of from breeders. Rescues tend to be mixed breeds, and if not adopted, they will be euthanized. In many ways, I can relate to rescues because I feel more like a mutt than a pedigreed purebred. And like the dogs, I was under the sentence of death, but Jesus rescued me.
All my life I’ve felt like a misfit. I didn’t know precisely what to call that feeling until I moved to Italy. As a foreigner in Italy, I finally understood this misfit feeling to be feeling foreign. Yes, all my life I’ve felt foreign in my own country, and even among my own family. Peter Wagner in his amazing book, Your Spiritual Gifts can Help Your Church Grow, points out that this is a sign of a missionary gift and calling.
I moved to Asheville over a year ago, but in truth I have spent very little time living here. During this time I have visited a few churches to which I had been invited, but mostly attending Mom’s church and going to Bible studies and services here in the retirement community.
The first church that I was invited to (the day after moving day) was the church next door. It is a small, very friendly church and the worship style is chandelier-swinging—which I love. I like worship that is uninhibited and free because then I know that the people behind me (I prefer sitting down front) aren’t shocked by my uninhibited show of love for my Lord. I have visited some churches where I have gotten comments about the freedom of my worship. One pair of teenage girls once told me, “Wow! You just don’t care!” That could be taken a number of ways, but I prefer to take it as a compliment.
Most of the time I live in Italy. And because of my traveling lifestyle, even when I’m in the US, I haven’t had a whole lot of opportunities to attend this church or get to know its people. Until now, that is! Before going to the conference in Dallas, I attended a Sunday evening service (before Thanksgiving) in which each of us was asked to share what we are thankful to God for. In hearing about what they were thankful for, I learned that almost everybody there was a rescue like me—rescued first by others in the church, and then by Jesus. Many of them are misfits like me.
The associate pastor told me that the church’s mission is to help those people who have been wounded by bad church experiences. Certainly there are a lot of those, not just in Asheville, but all over the US. It certainly is good to know that there is a place where misfits can fit together and all of us can be rescued—by each other and by the Lord. I love my misfit church! God is good!
Yesterday at the conference I met Rosy. Right from the start she seemed to be the most interesting person in the room. I met her just before the Ladies Coffee, which was a social time built into the conference. I didn’t register for the Ladies Coffee right away just because the idea of a Ladies Coffee didn’t really appeal to me. I don’t really fit in with most of the women there. But the Holy Spirit had urged me to register for it at the last minute, so I did. I asked Rosy if she was going to the Ladies Coffee, and she said that she was. So we went off together, leaving her boyfriend, Bobby, to attend the next session without us.
Rosy is doing something that I had always dreamed of doing, but never had the freedom or the resources to do: she lives in her fully-equipped camper van and has been traveling around the country since she was laid off from her job. That’s a courageous and daring thing to do, and I admire her a lot for doing it. When I bought my camper van in 2011 (see my first book, Look, Listen, Love) I had thought of doing that, but in Europe. My camper was stolen, which put an end to that dream for me. Nevertheless, I still think about it sometimes when I’m traveling around in Europe.
Rosy also blogs. So there we have a lot in common: writers, nomadic at heart, plus we’re both attending the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Conference, so we both keep our ears open for the trumpet’s sound. I love all the new friends God has for me! God is good!
Greetings from Dallas!
I am here attending the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Conference. The conference has only just started, but already God has been very merciful, helping me through what could have been a couple of bad logistical problems.
The first was the drive to the airport. I left Asheville yesterday morning to drive my son home to Chapel Hill, and then turn back and on to the airport in Charlotte. I had budgeted about seven hours, even though Google Maps had predicted that the total trip would take only a bit over five. I had added an extra hour to my driving plan so that we could have lunch together at his local sushi palace. Leaving him on his doorstep with a full stomach and sushi leftovers, I headed on toward Charlotte. Google Maps either didn’t know about the construction on Highway 85 or that it was the tail end of Thanksgiving weekend and certainly both played a part in the drive time taking every bit of seven hours. I didn’t really hit delays until about 35 miles outside of Charlotte, but I was really glad that I had decided to head straight to the airport and not take my time. In the long term parking lot, I hailed a passing bus that had just gone by the shelter before I could get there. The driver graciously stopped for me even though she was not at an official stop when she did it. On entering the airport, I was especially glad that I had my boarding pass with me and no luggage to check. The flight was delayed by nearly half an hour, but that’s not a problem when you have no connection to make. It gave me an opportunity to breathe and even get a light dinner before boarding.
In order to avoid the expense of renting a car that I would really only need twice a day, I had selected an airport hotel near the conference site, which was another airport hotel. My plan was to take the shuttle to the airport and then catch the other hotel’s shuttle. My hotel’s shuttle departs for the airport every hour on the hour starting at six AM. As I thought about this plan, the enormous hassle and potential of hours lost waiting for one shuttle or the other began to worry me. Rather than worry, I simply prayed instead. After a good night’s sleep, I had thought to catch the six AM shuttle to the airport and arrive finally at the other hotel in time for the conference start at eight. Good plan, but I missed the six AM shuttle. I decided that it would be OK if I were a bit late for the conference. And who knows? I might arrive on time for the conference anyway. So I got a quick breakfast and signed up for the seven AM shuttle. The shuttle driver was there, and he asked me what terminal I was going to. I told him about my crazy shuttle plan. He wanted to know where the other hotel was, and I told him. He said that since he had only two stops to make this morning, he would take me to the other hotel. In fact, he said that he’ll be working all week, and that he would take me every day, assuming that he doesn’t have a lot of stops to make. That is an answer to prayer, and one I would never have thought to hope for!
So once again, I’m feeling like God’s favorite kid. God is good!
You have searched me, Lord, and You know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue You, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and You lay Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You.
For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are Your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with You.
If only You, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of You with evil intent; Your adversaries misuse Your name.
Do I not hate those who hate You, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against You?
I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Greetings from my home base in Milan!
I had a very nice visit at my new part-time home in North Carolina—a great visit with family and friends, a good rest, and the opportunity to connect with new friends. Each day I pray for divine appointments, both for myself and for the missionaries and pastors that I pray for daily. Many of these new friends are the direct result of those divine appointments.
In one of my first encounters back home in Milan a man at a local church asked me to pray for him to “feel the presence of God.” Of course, this made me extremely sad. If he’s a believer, then he’s already got the presence of God—always. It made me wonder if he’s being discipled at all because he should know that. Unfortunately, because this was actually during the church service, I didn’t have time or the opportunity to explain all this to him or to his leaders, but instead just had a moment to pray, which I did. I prayed that he would come to understand the omnipresence of God that has never left him and never will leave him. Afterward, he left before I could explain anything.
This is sadly typical of the Church (the universal Body of Christ) in Italy. They get hooked on that wonderful feeling of God’s presence, but have little understanding of God, Himself. None of us “feels” God’s presence all the time. That’s where faith is so important. Faith is based on facts, not on feelings. We must believe that He is right here with us at all times and through all circumstances. Sometimes it feels like our prayers echo back off the ceiling unheard. I have felt this especially in the midst of depression. Read Psalm 139 to understand what the facts are. Psalm 139 is an assurance not just of God’s presence, but of His intimate knowledge of each of us—especially believers. He hears our prayers even before the words are formed on our lips. More than that, Romans 8:26-27 tells us that the Holy Spirit searches our heart and intercedes (prays) for us according to God’s will.
If you are suffering from depression or otherwise not feeling God’s presence, read Psalm 139—in fact, read it aloud daily—and take comfort from it. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). If God is on your side, that’s all you need to live a victorious life!
Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner. 1 Peter 4:12-13
Greetings from Asheville, North Carolina!
Asheville is up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Bellavista, Mom’s retirement residence, is built into the side of a hill. Because of its placement in the hillside, parking is frequently an issue, especially during holidays when family members come to visit.
When I’m in the US, I live here at Bellavista with Mom, which is a very good arrangement for both of us. There are a lot of nice people at Bellavista. In fact, the majority of the people here are very nice, indeed, and Mom and I are friends with almost all of them. But there are also a few cranks.
One in particular is always crabbing at me for this or that. Yesterday he accosted me in the dining room and told me: “You parked in my parking place! You’re young and healthy, and you should park at the top of the hill and leave these parking places for the people who don’t get around so well.”
The management has said again and again that there are no assigned parking spaces here, and of course, I hadn’t parked in a handicapped space. I often drive Mom’s car, but I never park in a handicapped space if she is not in the car with me. Plus this man walks without assistance, not even a cane, so mobility is not the real issue for him. But rather than point that out to him, I just said, “Sorry, I didn’t know that it was your space.”
This man’s crankiness is famous throughout Bellavista. Mom and another friend sat at a table by the fireplace in the dining room once, and he told her: “We always sit here.” Knowing that there are no assigned tables, Mom smiled and said, “Well, have a seat!” That, of course, made him furious and he went to sit at another table
When I told her about the parking thing, Mom went and asked the director for clarification. The director confirmed that there are no assigned parking spaces, but that priority goes to residents—of which I am one. Mom turned to me and said: “We’re not moving the car!” So the car stayed where it was, close to the front door, overnight.
When I woke up this morning, my spirit spoke to me about what Jesus would do in this situation. I knew: Jesus would have parked at the top of the hill to begin with, being always considerate of others. But I don’t want it to look like I’m catering to his bossy demands. I knew that I should immediately move the car, but I didn’t want him to get that parking spot, hoping that someone else would get it, instead.
As I struggled with myself, I realized that the problem isn’t the cranky old man. The problem is me. Two years ago when I was back in Milan after a three year absence, I quickly became reacquainted with how rude people in the big city can be. In particular, it seemed like more and more people were pushing to get onto buses and subway cars, without first letting passengers get off. So I started gently pushing people out of my way when they tried to get on while I was getting off, grumbling to myself all the while. Then the Holy Spirit told me: “It’s not your job to teach people manners. You need to be an Ambassador of Christ, even in these situations.”
Remembering that lesson from Milan, I realized that it’s also not my job to teach manners to this man, but to be an Ambassador of Christ. And what that means is to die to self. The trouble with self is that I’ve lived with myself for such a long time. I like myself. I like getting my own way. But getting my own way is often in direct conflict with obedience.
Obedience requires that I die to myself, pick up my cross daily and follow Jesus Christ. I’ve been a Christian for 45 years, and I still struggle with selfish desires. After all these years, I know that self dies hard. Self dies one of those opera deaths—you know, the kind that keeps singing for another ten minutes, flopping and flailing about on the stage. And just when you think it’s really dead, it comes back for an encore and another ten minute song.