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Monday, April 27, 2009

Test Day

Picture a young blond girl with sweating palms and a furrowed brow as she enters the classroom to take a test. This girl would often wish that the end of the world would come before the teacher handed out the tests. As time went on, this girl experienced true and false tests, multiple choice tests and later essay tests. She thought about the test experience a lot and tried to figure out a way to 'ace' the test without tedious study.

Then in college she heard about cramming. Now there was a thought. Don't worry about studying until the night before and then studying until late at night. She studied Old Testament History for a test at Midwest Christian College until 2 am. The next morning, sleepy-eyed at 7 am, she stumbled into the small room and looked at the questions. The test might as well have been written in Hebrew - none of it made any connections in the gray matter of her brain. She received an 'F' fairly for that test. Lesson learned -- don't cram.

Essay questions gives a fair shot at circumventing the question and surrounding the answer in a cocoon of words. Multiple Choice questions are always a problem. Never answer your first choice
quickly, second guess as many as possible, set up a debate in your mind about the validity of each answer. Beware of True and False tests. Everyone knows that a double negative makes the comment true, or is it the other way? It didn't matter what topic was tested, and how many times she was told to 'study harder', 'work harder' and all the other platitudes she heard.

At this point, I am shifting the point of view. You knew this is my story, right? In early teaching, I began making up tests. When one student 'discussed' with me my choice of the answer, I listened to the way she chose to answer and why, with support from the text. She received credit. In a graduate course, the professor's final was given at Christmas party, when he gave each of us a question to answer - one-on-one. I passed. Then one class was pass or fail. We are all told that we would pass.

One book, called Learning to Learn, presents the skills for taking tests as:
organizing information, recognizing anxiety, recall/memory, practice, over-learning, scheduling, test-wisedness, positive attitude, concentrating and focusing thinking. Many books have been written on testing and learning, but still it is an individual exercise.

What is the value of testing? It is trusting yourself to test your limits! That is courage. (Bernard Edmonds) Testing can come through many areas of life. My Mother knew. As she waited to die, she wrote and asked me to grade her notes. I didn't understand, but she did. She was testing her limits. There are many areas of life in the following quotes in which we are tested:
The ultimate test of a relationship is to disagree but hold hands.
The difference between school and life? In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson.
My test of a good novel is dreading to begin the last chapter. (Thomas Helm)
The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don't know what to do. (John Holt, Jr)
Wise are they who have learned these truths: Trouble is temporary. Time is tonic. Tribulation is a test tube. (William A Ward)
Testing is evaluation, accountability and realignment. Interesting that our Bible talks about testing. The Old Testament tells us that Abraham's faith in God was tested by the command to take Isaac to the mountain. Abraham placed Isaac on the altar and prepared to sacrifice his son, and his hand was stayed by God. Abraham's faith was tested and he was faithful. Hebrews 11 tells us of the Heroes of Faith. Those who were tested and persevered in their faith.

We all have times of testing or stretching. When bewilderment and confusion come upon us. The physical suffering, the physical needs, physical illness can bring about a testing of our spiritual faith to stand firm in Jesus Christ, the Rock. It is a pass or fail testing. Life doesn't give us the answers and this teaches us trust and faith as we walk with our Lord. This life contains the every day test that has eternal significance.
Luke 8:12-13, 15 - This story is about some of those people. The seed is the Word of God. The seeds on the road are those who hear the Word, but no sooner do they hear it than the Devil snatches it from them so they won't believe and be saved......But the seed in the good earth—these are the good-hearts who seize the Word and hold on no matter what, sticking with it until there's a harvest.
As I watched a friend die of cancer, bit by bit, I saw lady who began the struggle with the Joy of the Lord as her Strength. She went through all the struggles, disbelief and anger that accompanies the advent of life. How sweet it was to see the faith become strong and how she trusted her Lord. When I asked her to give Jesus a hug when she saw Him, she said, "I will." As I looked into her eyes of pain, I felt as if I could see into Heaven. I knew the eyes would close here and open to see her Lord. She would hear, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' She passed the test.
James 1:2-4 - Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pike's Peak

We didn't take many vacations, therefore I will never forget this trip. It must have been 1938 or 1939. My parents decided to drive to Colorado in our four door Ford car. It was a long trip from western Oklahoma, or it seemed so, to me.

My two younger brothers and I bounced back and forth in the back seat, sans seat belts on the trip, until we came in sight of this huge mountain.

I looked at the back of Dad's head as he drove steadily toward the huge mountain. (Somehow everything appears to be larger when you are only 9 years old.) I watched Dad's hands on the steering wheel, guiding us ever higher and higher up the mountain. Dad told us that the air would be thinner as we neared the top. I breathed in the warm air, but it didn't seem thinner to me. I wondered that 'thin air' looked like and if it breathed in differently.

As he guided the car around the curves, from my seat by the window I watched the side of the road fall away to a deep valley. I saw the rocks and the trees below us. My heart quivered with fear in sync with the vibrations of the car as it brought us to new heights ever nearer to our destination -- the pinnacle of Pike's Peak, 14111 feet - seemed to touch Heaven.

The trip seemed endless. I closed my eyes at times when the sight of the threatening crevices overwhelmed me. Mother reassured me. We will soon arrive and we were safe. A quick look at Dad, showed me his confidence and exhilaration. I knew I could trust him. I relaxed for a time, but another look out the window brought back the tentacles of fear that clutched at my heart.

Suddenly the car's motor no longer worked as hard, we had arrived. Dad parked the car and we tumbled out and looked around. Such a beautiful vista - we were at the top! The song, "On a clear day I can see forever..." had not been written yet but I could hear heart-music.

We could see so far - and we studied the horizon. "Mom, let's build a house and live here forever!" I had never felt this way before.

She laughed and said, "It is beautiful up here, isn't it? It was worth the drive to see God's beauty!"

Now as I remember that trip, knowing there are many other mountains on this earth that are higher, but I still remember the beauty, the peace and the joy on top of that mountain.

Again I am scaling heights in my life with trepidation and fear at times. My Heavenly Father guides me. I look to Him for direction, for security, on my way to the Heavenly Pinnacle, I trust Him. He is my confidence.

All I need to do, is open His Word for direction, for comfort, for understanding of who He is and WHY I love Him.

Psalm 139 holds the reassuring words:
  • He knows me.
  • He knows my life.
  • He knows what I am thinking.
  • No matter where I am, He is there.
  • He made me and knew me before I was born and still in Mother's womb.
  • His words and his thoughts are matter how many times I read your Word, there is always more to learn.
David finished this beautiful Psalm with the words:
Search me, O 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.
We were not created for this world. We were created for eternity. We were created for a purpose by the Great Creator... to serve Him. As we journey through this world with our Lord, we find that the Holy Spirit gives us the characteristics that enable us to be Christlike.

What are those characteristics? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 ends with - Against such there is no law.

These nine characteristics counteract hate, unhappiness, distress, restless agitation, harshness, corruptness, disloyalty, harshness and self-indulgence, the anti-thesis of what the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ will give us.

Philippians 2:1-2
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Kitchen Truth

I trudged home the three blocks from school to 330 South 14th Street in Clinton, Oklahoma. It felt good to be home, and the Brown House, with its L-shaped porch welcomed me. In 1938, we didn't lock our door, there was no need. I walked through the living room, and the upright piano beckoned me from the east wall of the living room. I would practice soon.

Through the dining room and into the kitchen, calling, "Mom? Mom?" There was no answer, and there on the brown varnished kitchen counter I spied a note from Mom. She wasn't home. Then I saw the pile of dirty dishes in the sink. The note asked me to wash the dishes. Mom had draped a folded dish towel on the left side of the cabinet.

I considered washing the dishes, honest. But the allure of freedom became too strong. What did I do instead? I don't remember. But I do remember when Mom came home. She called me into the kitchen. "Why didn't you wash the dishes?"

I couldn't tell the truth - that I just wasn't 'into' washing dishes after school. She would never accept that response.

Then Mom did the unbelievable. Her voice wasn't angry, it was conciliatory. She moved toward the folded dish towel on the counter and slowly unfolded it, saying, "If you had washed the dishes like I asked, you would have been able to eat this Hershey chocolate bar."

My eyes watered, my mouth watered and I felt the sting of sorrow deep in my heart. Mother never bought Hershey chocolate bars. And here lay a chocolate bar. Disobedience has a high price. I lost the blessing of chocolate because of disobedience.

Later I learned the scripture verse....Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins. James 4:17.

A rebellious disobedient spirit dwells in each of us, and the road to humility and obedience is long with many curves and detours. Have I learned? Not always. But more often as not, I find joy in finding the blessing of helping others and always doing more than what is expected in the name of Jesus. Now, it isn't motivated by a Hershey chocolate bar, it is motivated by faith in Jesus Christ.

Of all the memories of that kitchen in the brown house, this taught me the most. Who knew a kitchen could hold so many lessons. Once my Grosmom Emilie Siemens visited and helped with the dishes. She took the hand-held egg beater (not electric - really) and began turning the crank watching the bubbles of soap rise in the dishpan. Carefully, I told my Grosmom that Mom didn't like it when we play while washing dishes. I didn't want my Grosmom to get into trouble.

Then came the memory of my 'microphone' as dreams of being an operatic star soared. In the evening, I opened the kitchen window 2 inches (my microphone) while I washed dishes. I sang in an inimital copy of what I thought an opera star would sing. I sang aria after aria, dabbling in tongue-twisting 'foreign language' (nonsense syllables) that no one could understand. Mother knew when the dishes were finished, for I closed the window and finished my song with a flourish.

The sweet chocolate Hershey bar lesson was more than 70 years ago, and still vivid, as I live the words of the old lyrics by Ira Wilson.
Make me a blessing, make me a blessing; Out of my life may Jesus shine. Make me a blessing, O Saviour I pray, Make me a blessing to someone today. Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love, Tell of His pow'r to forgive; Others will trust Him if only you prove True every moment you live.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

From Mom and Dad - A Gift of Grace

My earliest memory of a gift must have been my rubber dollie - Rosie. I can't remember receiving the doll, but I remember clearly the day my brothers flipped Rosie into the air and her head came off. Finally my Dad re-attached the head, and Rosie came to me loved and whole.

The anticipation and excitement of unwrapping a gift is when my Dad bought Mom a clock. He confided in us, and told us not to tell his surprise of a mirror and a clock. We didn't tell, but we hinted. "You will be able to see yourself." We weren't into secretive finesse at that age, but hugely enjoyed the secrets. When all is said and done, Dad wound the clock to see if it would work. It did.

Mother sat in the rocking chair by the Christmas Tree in the quiet of the evening, several nights before Christmas Eve, staring into the twinkling lights. Later she said she could hear the quiet, 'tick-tock' of her gift. She didn't tell that she guessed. Our anticipation of her delight escalated while she opened the gift. She obliged with a surprised clasp of her hands, peering into the mirror, and listening closer to the tick-tock of the clock.

One other gift comes to my mind. We moved 50 miles to a different job for Dad. In making the move, money was very scarce. 1945. That Christmas, Mom took me aside and explained that they didn't have money for gifts. On Christmas Eve, after the Christmas story and Christmas carols, I received one gift -- hand made -- mittens painstakingly knitted by Mom. Brown yarn with a bit of embroidery and filled with love. Even then Christmas was more than gifts to me.

When I remember Mom now, I remember her love that inevitably was defined by sacrifice of time and thought. Now when I remember Mom and Dad, I know their lives were filled with small sacrifices to take care of their family. I remember the product lines in the basement when we worked together to can bushels of grapes or peaches. The spring planting of the garden that would bring more food to can for winter use. Our shirts and dresses were made from the printed feed sacks (food for the chickens) that often had holes in them. Mom used her creativity to embroider a flower over the hole. To Mom and Dad, it wasn't sacrifice, for them, sacrifice was spelled L-O-V-E.

They taught us through their lives, the example of love motivated sacrifice. Their every day gifts were the meals Mom prepared, always adding chocolate or butterscotch pie with mile high meringue for dessert. The little adventures of driving for a picnic with the destination undetermined until we found the perfect shade tree beside the road that pleased Mom. Even Saturday cleaning was an adventure...when Mom taught us to race through the cleaning and finish out the back door by noon.

The gift of their lives to us ... is Grace. Grace that keeps on giving from one generation to next. They taught us about Jesus Christ. They taught us about His sacrifice of love for us, dying on the cross. This is the gift that lasts! This is the gift they lived!

John 3:16-17 - "This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again."

Ephesians 2:8 - "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—"