Practicing for Heaven

I was thinking about heaven a few days ago as I was driving home from an outing.  Hubby was at home, and I was driving along with my thoughts to keep me company.  Suddenly out of the blue heaven popped into my mind.

Thinking about some of the comments and conversations I heard in the past, it seemed as if God put a whole zip file in my mental computer in an instant, and I started un-zipping and unpacking the file in my mind.  I’ve heard comments like, “I believe everyone will go to heaven because God is a God of love.  (Sure He is, but He is so much more than that, and I’m not betting my eternal future on that statement alone!)  “I can’t wait to see the mansion that has been prepared for me.” (I am positive our mansion will be great, but should that really be our main focus?)  And then there is this one. “What are we going to DO all day.  I mean, you can only sing praises for so long before you get tired and want something else to do.”  (REALLY?  Words escape me.  Perhaps some picture heaven as being a place they can do what they want all day as long as they have choir practice first.”  I don’t begin to have all the answers, but my view of heaven is a little different.  God loves us, yes.  And He prepared a way for us to get to heaven, but we need not think you can get there any old way.  There is only one way. Jesus.    Mansion? Great. Streets of gold and gates of pearl? Amazing.  Seeing Jesus and praising God?  Well HALLELUJAH!  Now that’s what I’m talking about.  As for needing something else to do other than praise Him,  God has a plan.  But I really can’t see that plan including us gossiping over the fence with our neighbors or sitting discontentedly in a heavenly corner saying we are bored.

All that was in the first folder in my mental zip file.  Then came this thought.  Practice.  Yes, practice.  Think about it for a moment.  A fine musician spends hours practicing. There are drills and runs to keep fingers nimble and flexible.  There is new music to learn to improve technique.  There are practice sessions to learn and absorb the music until it becomes a natural part of us.  And what about an athlete?  From pro baseball (or football, or soccer or whatever) to T-ball, if we want to get better from week to week we must practice.  The more we practice, the better we become.  Years ago (too many to mention) I worked at a Tastee Freeze  For those of you who don’t recognize the name, it was an ice cream and sandwich fast food dream.  Anyway, one of my jobs was to make an ice cream cone using the soft serve ice cream machine.    The cone had to swirl around and end with a curl on the top.  And it had to weigh an exact amount.  I became pretty good at that, but my first attempts were laughable.  So what did I do?  Practice.  It occurs to me that even though I don’t know exactly all of God’s plan for heaven, I can be practicing now.  I can practice being kind to others.  I can practice being an encourager.  I can practice singing praises.  I can practice worship.  And the more I do these things, the more natural and meaningful they will become.

There was a lot more in the thoughts God gave me that day…far to much to write about in one sitting.  But I have to stop for now.  I need to go out and catch up on a little practice.


Pancakes…a Life Lesson

Recently one of my granddaughters and I were discussing cooking and food.  Nothing new here…we often discuss food.  I remember how special it was one day to tie an apron around her tiny waist, stand her on a chair and let her help me cook.  I think we made mac and cheese in a saucepan or something similar to that.  And of course, before you click your tongue, I had turned the stove off during the time she was “stirring” and I did everything with her safety in mind.  Really, what else would you expect.  I guard my treasure and my grandchildren are some of my treasures.

Anyway, we got on the topic of pancakes.  Both of us love pancakes.  We even both love blueberry pancakes!  With visions of  preparing a family breakfast together, I asked her if she had a special blueberry pancake recipe.  No, she declared.  She only likes blueberry pancakes from iHop!  FIDDLE!  My visions melted away, but it did start a trip down memory lane.

One particular memory stays vivid in my mind.  It haunts me a bit and I hope it always will.  You see, I didn’t always like pancakes.  I remember like it was this morning a time when my frustration with pancakes bubbled over…and frustration bubbling over wasn’t something you did in my family growing up.  We had too much respect for our parents, and had been raised well if I do say so myself.  But this particular day my younger brother and I had been playing outdoors after completing our chores.  It was probably a summer weekday or else other siblings would have been home from their summer jobs.  I’m guessing I was somewhere between 7 and 10 years old. (Age has never been super critical to me so I’m not entirely sure.)  I remember Mom calling out the door that we were to come in for lunch.  With a big smile she gave us each a pancake that she had sprinkled sugar on and rolled up like a jelly roll.  “Take it outside and eat it.”  Normally I would be thrilled to eat outside, but seriously- a pancake?  And not even any syrup?  As we scampered out the door without a backward glance, I remember saying, “I HATE pancakes.”    It seemed to me we had them often, so obviously Mom must love them a lot.

It wasn’t until years had passed that I realized what had probably happened.  You see, we were loved so much that I didn’t realize we were poor.  Never did I realize as a child that other families may live differently than us.  I thought Mom loved sewing so much that she enjoyed making our clothes.  I thought Dad loved his work and that was why he spent so many hours there.  Oh, I knew there were a few kids with more “things”, but I just thought they were probably spoiled kids, you know?  In my heart’s eye I can see my mother looking out the window at her two youngest children, saying to herself, “Lord, what can I possibly feed them today?”  I can see her opening the cupboard doors and seeing a few basic staples on the shelf.  (That woman could make more from a few basics than anyone I ever met!)  I can see her taking out the flour and sitting it on the counter and reflecting that she was blessed to still have some flour on hand.  My heart almost cracks as I mentally see her mixing up batter…enough for two pancakes.  Trying her best to make it special, I can see her looking in the sugar bowl for those few grains of sugar and deciding she didn’t want sugar in her coffee anyway.  Then, my heart cracks a little more as I see her cheerfully calling us to come get lunch, and sending us outside on a little picnic so we wouldn’t see the empty batter bowl and notice she wasn’t “hungry” for lunch.  And then pain slices through me as I hear myself say, “I HATE pancakes!”.  And in retrospect, I can see Dad coming home that night and mom greeting him at the door with a kiss, and a look into his eyes that said how much she appreciated his efforts to provide for his family.

I learned several lessons from this childhood memory. I’ll quickly share three.  One is that poor is a state of mind. The fact that I never considered us poor speaks well to the upbringing our parents provided.  We may have scraped the bottom of the barrel at times, but we never went without something to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over our heads.  We did things as a family, and had fun!  Another lesson is that love is a powerful force that can embrace and protect in amazing ways.  (If you don’t think so, just think about God’s love.) It isn’t about keeping our loved ones from hard experiences, but about helping our loved ones THROUGH hard experiences.  Tough times will come, but we can get through them…together.  And finally, when we dig deeper in trying to learn and understand one another, our preconceived perceptions often change dramatically.

What can I say?  I LOVE pancakes.  Thanks Mom.  Thanks Dad.

Pulling Weeds

Feeling a bit energetic today, I went for a short walk outside.  Of course my first stop was our garden.  Hubby has taken over almost all of the gardening.  I love it, but my knees don’t.  Funny, for the last 5 years I have don’t all the gardening pretty much by myself with the help of some Grandies now and then.  Hubby wasn’t able, so I did the best I could, loving every minute of it especially when grandkids were in the garden with me.  Now my body yells if I thing garden, but Hubby has retired and is now back to gardening all the time!  Hmmmm, sounds a bit like teamwork to me.  But that is a rabbit trail and I need to get back to the main path of my thoughts.

The garden looks great, and I was able to plant a few plants that somehow hadn’t made their way to their permanent home yet. That felt good to my soul; gardeners will know exactly what I mean.  Then I came back to the house briefly to get the fresh nectar for our hummingbirds.  They are such a pleasure to watch that I try hard to make sure their feeder is filled every few days.  Walking back outside, I strolled to the large flower bed planted right outside the living room window.  It probably looks like a strange location to passersby, but it is perfect placement for us to watch the birds, butterflies and bunnies that visit.  I had planted petunias, geraniums, dahlias, marigolds, and a host of other flowers earlier this year.  I took great care to notice which area would get shade and which would get full sun, placing the flowers carefully.  Then I put some shepherd’s hooks with finch feeders and cardinal feeders, along with my hummingbird feeder- spaced just so among the flowers.  Two small bird baths were added, and the fairy garden that the Grandies have been working on was moved close to the hummingbirds.  Every time I looked at that flower bed, I had to smile and reflect on the loving God that made such a riot of color possible.

This morning, however, something didn’t look quite right.  We have had a few bad storms recently and I hadn’t actually been in the flower bed for a week or so.  The plants that had been so beautiful were drooping and fading.  The growth wasn’t what I expected, especially from the petunias which can tend to take over.  Hmmmm, what to do, what to do?  You know, just because I love gardening doesn’t mean I have a green thumb.  And then it happened, standing right there between the petunias and the purply flowers (whatever they are called).  God gently reminded me of a lesson or two He had taught me before and now needed to remind me.  Flower beds, like our faith and our prayer life, need attention.  It isn’t enough to plant the seed and let it go. The seeds and plants need to be nurtured.  They need to be inspected for leaves and flowers that are no longer productive.  My son would say they need to be “deadheaded” and have a haircut now and then. Anything that is hindering them from growth, like weeds, needs to be removed. They need a bit of food now and then to keep them healthy.

Our faith and our prayer life need to be exercised and nurtured.  It isn’t enough to say I have faith and then sit down and dwell on that fact.  It isn’t enough to pray a quick prayer now and then when I remember it.  We need to be intentional in our walk with God.  Speaking to me now, but you can listen if you want, I need to see what in my life is keeping my faith from growing.  Some things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but if they take away from  God’s plan for me, then they are bad for me. What in my life is hindering my prayers from being more regular, deeper, more intentional?  If I’m not growing, then I’m standing still, which is the same as going backwards.  Is busyness keeping me from time in the Word?  Are other interests taking up too much of my time, keeping me from putting my faith into action?

Well, I thank God for the nudges and reminders He gives us.  I believe it is time for me to get out my spiritual food and action plan (Bible) and see what else God has to say to me today.  It isn’t always comfortable when God has to dig around in my heart, especially when He has to use His pruning shears, but it is necessary as He makes me into the beautifully blooming, productive  and growing Child of God He wants me to become.  Something to think about, in a quiet moment.

Turning to gaze out the window one more time before I get busy reading God’s Word and pulling some spiritual weeds, I see the hummingbird perched and looking right at me.  It seems he might be smiling.  And you know, I’m convinced the flowers look just a wee bit brighter already.

I am getting the message!

One morning I was listening to a sermon. The first scripture read was Matthew 27:22. Jesus had been brought to Pilate and the scriptures record that Pilate said, “what shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” BAM!!! I had been sitting comfortably listening to the preacher and the scripture hit me. HIT me. Hit ME!

Now I want a preacher to deliver God’s Word and deliver it how God wants him to deliver it. That means there should be times my toes are stepped on. I like happy sermons.  We need them. But if every sermon was a feel good happy sermon I might love coming to church every Sunday, but I wouldn’t be growing very much. And I want to grow.  Second Peter chapter 3 verse 18 says, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen.”

Anyway, back to the sermon.  I’ve heard this scripture before.  Lots of times. You can count on it being read every year at least once if not many times during the Sunday’s leading up to Easter.  And we will all shake our heads and say something like, “That Pilate. He knows what he should do, but when the rubber hits the road, he is passing the buck to someone else.”  And then we go on to the next part of the sermon and forget all about Pilate’s words.  This morning however, the words repeated over and over in my head.  We know that scripture…the sacred writings of God’s Word, are profitable for our teaching and training to equip us for God’s work. (2Timothy 3:16-17)  And the Word said to me when I read them over, “What shall I, (me personally!) do then with Jesus which is called Christ?”

God has given us a wonderful gift!  Salvation from our sins, hope for eternal life.  Wow!  Now what am I going to do with that?  I can sit and think about Jesus all day.  The joy, the peace, the love, the hope.  I mean, think about the time Jesus said to let the children come to Him.  Ahhh, sweet.

“What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?”  Oh. Yeah.  The scripture.  Well, I do try to make sure others know I believe in God you know.  And I’m willing to help out in different activities.  It is so much fun to participate.  I love helping, especially when I can…..wait!  What am I hearing?

WHAT SHALL I DO THEN WITH JESUS WHICH IS CALLED CHRIST?!!!!   Ok, I’m getting it. God has given me a wonderful gift.  You can’ take it away from me, because God gave it.  I didn’t have to earn it. But God wants me to grow.  Sometimes that means I can enjoy the happy blessings of this world.  God wants us to be happy and enjoy His blessings.  Sometimes that means I should do something I may not enjoy as much.  Not because God tells me I HAVE to do, but because I WANT to, because I love God so much, and I want to grow.  Sometimes I have to step outside of my comfort zone, but God will help me. His Word tells me so. (Philippians 4:13) When I read God’s Word, I need to realize the Word is speaking to me.  The Word is not telling me what someone else needs to do, but is talking to me.  ME! How cool is that!  So God is asking me what I am going to do with Jesus, which is called Christ. What am I going to do with this wonderful gift God has given me?  It might not always be easy, but God will help me, and it will be spiritually rewarding.  God, what will You have me do with Jesus, which is called Christ? I want to grow!

Maybe you want to read that scripture for yourself and see what God is saying to you?  Think about it, in a quiet moment.

Camp Feet

Years ago when I was a youngster, I attended a 4-H camp.  It was AMAZING!  I remember singing around the campfire, listing to our camp counselor and playing lots and lots of volleyball.  When our sons were young they were able to go to church youth camp several times.  I remember being happy for them; I was also a bit wishing I could be a youth and go to camp.

As an adult, I knew there was our denominational church camp.  Hubby and I often went nightly and heard some great preaching.  I heard people share memories of camp and thought…how did I miss all that?  What are they talking about? Well, this year I was able to go to Family Camp.  Who knew that the evening services we attended were only a small part of the camping experience?

Camp CoffeeOur theme was THRIVE. In a nutshell, during the daytime hours we talked, had Bible Studies that were so enriching, shared wonderful meals, formed friendships, enjoyed family activities, ate some more, and had some incredible coffee before the evening service.  WOW!  I enjoyed getting to know some older people from the state north of us and hearing the life stories they had to share.  Some of the younger adults had so much enthusiasm to share.  And watching the children was an experience all its own.  They played and learned and rode their bikes from breakfast until lights out.  And like me long ago, they played lots and lots of ball…but it was GaGa Ball.  And yes, some of my grandchildren were there. What they learned about Jesus and the songs they shared with us were so precious.  Spiritually, the whole experience was so needed and so uplifting.

I went a bit early to help get things ready only to find so many people had volunteered so many hours to clean the campgrounds, make repairs, set up the tabernacle and more.  Helping to prepare the grounds definitely helped me see and appreciate all the effort that goes into something like this.  During camp, I was scheduled to teach 7 different craft classes so I tried to get everything ready for that too.

In between the work, there was so much fun!  A local company that rents golf carts delivered 10 to the camp.  Some were rented to campers, some were set aside for the speakers, the nurse, or other staff that would need to get from place to place quickly.  Never having driven a golf cart before, I was thrilled to be given a tour of the camp.  Then- oh what fun- I was allowed to drive.  Oh yeah!  Hubby wasn’t around which was good, since he tends to be a bit overprotective.  Needless to say, I had a blast.  And in case anyone wants to know what to give me for my birthday, I would like my electric golf cart to be a cool shade of lime green with purple trim with 4 seats and please remember a great sounding horn. (hint hint)  And by the way, when hubby got to camp and was able to drive one, he had the same grin on his face that I did.

Craft time went well, although the flip flops flopped a bit.  We managed.  But the great thing is that we had so much fun.  Maybe a later blog can focus on the specific crafts, but suffice it to say, we shared plenty of laughs along with the paint. And speaking of paint I seemed to accumulate a splotch of each color and I wasn’t even painting! I still haven’t figured that one out.

One of the big things I heard people talking about was camp feet.  Yes, by the end of the day, those wearing flip flops had accumulated several layers of ummm, well- dirt.   It was a badge of honor that showed others just how active a person been that day and how much fun they were having.  Some even posted pictures of their feet that clearly showed the strap lines of their flip flops.  Since I was wearing purple Crocs, it took a bit longer for me to get my camp feet on.  (of course we washed our feet, but it was hot and dry at camp this year and dirt does cling you know.)

Camp is over now. Laundry is clean again.  All those supplies that I took to camp for crafts are back at home.  I would like to say they have been put away, but that wouldn’t be true so I won’t even go there. And finally, after many days I am able to sit once again at my computer and share some thoughts on this blog.  In fact I think I will kick off my Crocs and read a few other blogs while I am sitting here.

Wait a minute!!! I think I can see just a shadow…maybe just a memory…of camp feet!

Peace Disrupted!!!

This morning I eagerly went out to my garden EARLY in the day.  It had been at least a week since I had been able to find time to visit what has been through the years a place of peace for me. As I walked through the garden with the dirt sifting though my shoes and probably between my toes I thought of a blog post I read recently.  Last week I had a visitor to my blog which led me in turn to discover their blog.  You really need to check out Stuart’s writings at because I know you will enjoy your visit.  Anyway, Stuart is another person who loves dirt.  Not the nasty negative dirt some people like to spread, but the good clean dirt that God gave us to enjoy and grow things in while we dwell on our blessings.  From that thought I went on to prepare my heart to pray and plant. By 6 a.m. I was happily checking progress on my beans.  Little did I know that my peace was about to be disrupted!

There are some fun things I needed to plant so my grandchildren can explore the fun in the garden…things like popcorn and tiny pumpkins.  This morning I wanted to plant another row of green beans and also some kidney beans. Rows made, I reached in my pocket and pulled out my seeds. “Father…” I started my praying as I dropped the seeds in the row.  “I sure do thank you for my garden and allowing me another year to enjoy watching things grow.  I can’t wait until my grandkids see these tiny pumpkins growing.  And thanks for a quiet peaceful place to pray and reflect on all You have created.”  Suddenly my peace was shattered!

lowflying plane

A low flying plane zoomed over my head as it prepared to spray the nearby field.  Or perhaps the pilot was practicing making rows by using the wheels of his plane certainly he was flying low enough.  (The picture is not showing the lowest point of flight. The fence blocked that picture. And on the return trip the plane flew much closer to my garden.) I tried to ignore the noise and the fact that my hair was about to become tangled in the wheels of an airplane.  Once more I bent to drop those beans into their row.  Drop, drop, drop-step.  Drop, drop, drop-step.  Slowly the 2 short rows were planted, but I didn’t get much praying done.  The drone of the plane was overpowering.  Not only that, but the plane was literally so low I could tell the color helmet the pilot was wearing, and if my eyes had only been a bit better and my glasses not so dusty, I think I could have seen if he (or she) still had the tags hanging on their outfit.  I could easily count the lights on the sides of the plane and see the little rim around each light.  And yes, the pilot turned their head to glance at my garden.

Sorry folks, but that is too close for me.  Once my beans were covered, I scurried into the house.  I really did scurry.  You could see my scurry prints in the dew that was still on the grass.  Now how does all that relate to my praying?  Well, sometimes the distractions of this world intrude on our time with God.  The distractions aren’t necessarily wrong things. The pilot of this plane was only doing their job.  Not a bad thing in and of itself, but to me, it was a distraction.  I couldn’t focus on what I needed to do at the time, which was to pray.  The plane didn’t STOP me from praying, but with my peace shattered, I wasn’t praying as fervently as I wanted, but this was something I could change.  My praying location changed, if you will.  Now sitting on my rocker, peace is restored.  While I love praying in my garden, I can certainly pray just as much from my rocker.

The plane is still outside, but the droning is now similar to that of a large bumblebee, something I can ignore.  And when my initial prayers are finished, I may just wipe the dust from my glasses and go back out and see if I can determine the color of the pilots eyes.

Growing in the Garden

During periods of rain, we have an opportunity to grow.

While looking over some of my earlier writings, I came across this-“Looking out my window, I see a grey sky filled with clouds. Intermittent rain showers beat against the doors and windows.  Now, such a view could cause someone to think it is a dreary day.  In fact, the view is far from dreary if you put it in proper perspective.  Weeks of intensely hot temperatures with little or no rain have caused plants and spirits to wilt.  My husband, who dearly loves to garden, stopped what he was doing to point out to me that a good rain for the garden happens when the clouds hide the bright sunlight.  He says when we water the plants in bright sun light, it is not as effective and can, in fact, cause damage to the plant.”

This causes me to think about our spiritual lives.  We love those times when the sun is shining brightly in our life.  We enjoy basking in the blessings of God our Father.  Yet during the rainy periods is often when we grow the most.  I don’t mean we enjoy the hard times.  We aren’t necessarily glad that we go through trials and struggles.  But we can thank God that during the hard times, He is with us, and makes us grow stronger.  During the times when God is allowing us to be “watered” in His garden, we know that we can grow in His Word; we can grow in grace, and we can grow in that deep inner joy that sustains us no matter what we are going through.  And behind those clouds, the Son light is still shining bright.

Think about it, in a quiet moment as you grow peace by piece.