Thursday, April 17, 2014

BARRABAS



Of all the characters documented that final week in the life of Jesus, I am drawn to the unlikely ruffian Barrabas. Other than the Son of God, of course, HE'S my favorite.

Barrabas was a murderer, thief, scoundrel and major trouble maker.....an all around bad guy. And he was in prison for his crimes, awaiting his sentencing which would surely be crucifixion.  He deserved the death penalty and he knew it! I have a vision of him sitting hunched against a stone cold wall, shacked by chains, grumbling, smelling like dried blood with bits of last weeks goatburger decorating his scraggly beard.

It's not his fine upstanding character that I find so compelling!  It's not what he said, which was NOTHING.  It's not what he thought, of which we have no idea.  It's not his actions.  (No, I'm not naturally drawn to the BAD guy in the movies!) 

What I find fascinating is what he HEARD!

No doubt his prison cell was around the corner, down the tiny cobbled streets, out of sight! His life counted for nothing, there would be no reason for him to be near the center of town. The jail was always down a back alley, right? BUT, Jerusalem was no metropolis at the time. The whole area was pretty compact.

As Jesus appeared before Pilate publicly there is NO doubt what Barrabas HEARD!

You remember!  That spineless, crowd pleasing official  Pilate decided to make an offer to the angry crowed assembled that day.  He was sure it would placate them,  maybe get them off his front porch for a while. He was ready to be done with the silly Jewish conflict even though he found NO reason to condemn the man Jesus to death. He literally washed his hands of the whole mess. The  bothersome affair seemed beneath him, a waste of his precious time.

His offer?  He asked the mob mentality controlled  crowd who THEY wanted him to free that day, Jesus or Barrabas!

His  singular voice was no doubt directed toward  the crowd...."Who do you want?  Jesus or Barrabas!"

IN unison the crowed cried out loudly and angrily,  "GIVE US BARRABAS." Their fists must have been flailing in the air.

Pilate's lonely voice came back at them, "What shall I do with the man called Jesus?"

The crowd, "CRUCIFY HIM!" "CRUCIFY HIM!" Those words must have echoed through those walled streets.

Did Barrabas know what was going on?  I doubt it.  He was totally detached from the whole religious mumbo, jumbo  problem.  He probably wasn't the smartest pencil in the box, either.

ALL he HEARD was,  "GIVE US BARRABAS.  CRUCIFY HIM!"

I KNOW what he was thinking then!! He was about to meet his maker. I wonder if he even acknowledged he had a maker!

A short time later the guards came, keys a rattling. His time was up!  He must have been scowling, ready to resist the muscular law enforcers, one last ditch effort! The survival instinct must have kicked in.

 The cell door was flung open and the chains were quickly REMOVED from his arms and legs.  They must have pushed him out the door.  "Be gone with you. You are free."

Barrabas!  FREE!  He must have stumbled into the sunshine, shielding his eyes from it's brightness.

FREE!  A convicted man....FREE AND FORGIVEN.  An INNOCENT MAN would die and he, Barrabas would live.

Why do I relate  to Barrabas?  Because he is me, and you, and every person that hears the EASTER story that accepts the God planned, substitutionary crucifixion. Chains exchanged for freedom. How can you NOT love that?

Barrabas experienced literal, in the flesh,  GRACE.  An exchange had been made, the life of the One from Galilee would die in his place.  Barrabas didn't deserve it!  But wisely, he didn't refuse it. He walked out.

AMAZING!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

HOLY WEEK

This is IT! THE most holy time of the year for Christians. This week surpasses even CHRISTMAS.  Easter is why the baby Jesus came, you know.  It is the culmination of HIS earthly work.

Reflecting on the last week of the  life of Jesus is happening throughout Christian churches and homes.  It happens every spring and sometimes it is more meaningful than others. Those years when I take the time to stop the hustle bustle of life and truly study those last days are the best and most meaningful Easter seasons.  The details of the observation of the sacrificial lamb of God, the triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, Gethsemane, the arrest, the phony trials, the sentencing, the beatings, the path to Calvary, the Crucifixion must ALL be reviewed. There are some life changing elements in the story, it never gets old.  He laid down His life willingly, no one took it from Him.  AND then the victory over death we celebrate Easter Sunday is off the charts wonderful.

The whole story wouldn't be so fabulous if the tomb still contained the bones, but it is empty.  Even if you want to disregard the Scriptures, history itself relates the fact. No body has ever been found, and hundreds of eye witnesses have testified and recorded the fact that Jesus really WAS who HE said He was.

Even the skeptics that like to call him a "good prophet" lose the argument. What "good prophet" would lie about His identity, committing blasphemy,  how is that GOOD?

In our present age of tolerance, try as we might, the claims of Christianity and the claims of other world religions cannot be reconciled.  Either it's true or it isn't.... we can't make a combo of beliefs to make folks feel better about their worldview.  There is just no way to put all tenets together, shake 'em up and make it come out palatable.  Sound narrow? I suppose it is.

If we leave the argument there it's pretty discouraging.  BUT...the purpose behind HIS life was to reconcile people to their God and to each other!  Somehow we've missed that and decided to engage in a shouting match, erecting walls of differences that in view of eternity don't amount to a hill of beans.   HIS purpose  WAS AND IS ALL INCLUSIVE.  The purpose behind calling Abraham to be the unique Father of All religions and the purpose we serve today is the SAME.  Love God and reveal His character and love to the world through our behavior. 

Having just recently walked those narrow streets and paths of the very land  that Jesus walked, hearing the angry shouts of "religious" people, witnessing man's inhumanity to man, and hearing stories of deep generational pain brings one conclusion. The Message of the Holy One has been silenced in that Holy Place.

And I'm not sure the American church culture has done much better. We fight over denominational issues, types of music, types of buildings, times of services, dress code, definition of sin, etc.  And somehow the message we're supposed to be declaring gets lost in the confusion. It takes a steady, determined focus to fix our gaze on God rather than on people (us!) that get wrapped up in the non-essentials.

The Bible tells us there will always be a minority of God's people, holding down the fort, trying to love and forgive as Jesus did. I cherish those people in my life and in my church. The church, with all it's imperfection, is STILL the only place of HOPE and UNCONDITIONAL LOVE for ALL.  

It's a really good place to be this week!  HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! 

That is profound! And demands a response. 






Wednesday, April 9, 2014

ISRAEL - KIVU Holy Land 2014

 

The sun rises over the Sea of Galilee and leads one to believe that Israel is one of the most peaceful places on earth. It is not!

This "journey of a lifetime" lived up to its name. It was our second trip to the Holy Land, the Promised Land, the State of Israel, having crawled all over that place several years ago. This time we received a totally different kind of education and experience.  It was an eye-opener!


March 28, 2014 we made our way to NYC and joined our fellow travelers. It was a mixture of teens, parents, leaders, family and old people!  ("Old people" was determined to be anyone over the age of 40) What a fabulous group! We grew to love each one dearly. They are imprinted on our hearts.

The question is asked, "What was your favorite part or spot?"  The answer? "There was a new one each day."

The front end of the trip was the usual sightseeing, awe-inspiring visits to the Holiest sites in all the world.  By a minor miracle we were able to visit the Dome of the Rock, the high holy place for all Muslims. We visited the Mount of Beatitudes, Caesarea, St. Peters home, Jericho, Bethlehem, Shepherds Field, Herodium,  the Dead Sea, the Wailing Wall, the Garden Tomb, the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,  and MORE!

We took a family picture I will forever cherish.  (Honeybuns, me, Andy and Hays) at the Mt. of Olives. Zechariah 14:4

We learned and performed Jewish dances on the deck of a wooden boat floating the Sea of Galilee and shared laughter with our new friends. Some brave souls tried the mud pack at the Dead Sea and others tried to catch huge fish in the Jordan River.

It was perfect and such typical activities on a pilgrimage never get old! EVERYONE should experience these places at least once in their lifetime. Seminary students should be required to visit the places of the Bible BEFORE they think they can teach anyone anything. Scripture understood through the eyes of the Middle Eastern culture changes EVERYTHING!

THEN!  Our KIVU leader Andy Braner announced that the rest of the trip was going to be different. An understatement!  We would turn our attention from Biblical history, geography and wonder to relationships with the people of modern day Israel.  Relationship were to become our priority! We were going to now "WALK the WALK of Jesus."

WOW!  That's when the new education for us began.

You see we left the US with long and deeply held ideas about what was going on "over there."  We have studied the scriptures in depth for YEARS and have embraced every command, promise and prophecy. We have traced the lineage of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac and know what God said about those boys and His plan for each of them. (Each would be a great nation, one as wild as donkeys!)

  We support the nation and people of Israel unequivocally! We love the "chosen people" and look forward to their future. Their Godly mission has been removed until the "times of the Gentiles" and we understand that.   We pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the future purpose of God for the land. We support the Biblical map definition and can quote the chapters and verses. (The State of Israel is the size of New Jersey and is the most controversial sliver of dirt on the planet.)

I have also read the Koran, or at least the version printed in English. I understand the tenets behind that very dark and threatening document that most Muslims have never read.  It is not a peaceful religion but there ARE many peaceful people, living in an ancient culture we American's will never (or should) embrace.

So what happened?

We  visited with people, asked questions and saw things we had no idea existed.

For the first time we purposely visited people that live in the land that are NOT Jewish.
 Imagine the culture of the US before the Civil Rights Act of the 60's.  There are thousands of innocent people suffering greatly at the hands of politics, local and international.  There are people hated, disregarded as human and treated worse than we treat our pets. Their crime?  They lived and  rightfully owned land and businesses BEFORE 1948.

 They have been displaced permanently.  Have you ever heard of a PERMANENT refugee camp, one that houses generations of people?  These people have never lobbed a bomb, shot a gun or thrown a stone at anyone. They cannot drive on roads that would take them to work in a convenient timely manner, they have to drive hours around.  They cannot freely leave their designated prison, their children will never see the Sea.  THOUSANDS walk through  many security check-points daily, often stopped at the whim of a young passionate guard for hours in the hot sun.  Pregnant women are turned away from access to a hospital while their husbands are allowed through. Their homes have been razed or locked, their orchards destroyed.  Water is cut-off regularly, electricity too. Gas prices are higher on their side of the wall, food cherished. They are continually systematically harassed. They are given NO permits to build anything on their own land and if they try it is quickly destroyed.

NO ONE wants them! 

We visited Jewish settlements as well. We learned that the Biblical map is not as an important an issue for them as it is American Christians.  Fear and anger reigns.  The mistrust of others  is deep, complex and understandable.  The Holocaust Museum reminds everyone of the slogan "never again."

The wall separating people is real, concrete, barbed wired and extensive. The wall has no doubt stopped the bus bombings and suicides we used to see frequently in the newspapers.  Jewish families come from all over the world and are paid to build homes in  areas owned by Palestinians, their lovely homes and lifestyles subsidized by the government. The flag is raised and their neighbors are urged to get out while they can. When gestures of giving up land for peace are realized, the results are not positive and once again "divide and conquer" becomes the norm.

We visited in lovely Palestinian Christians homes, ate at their tables and heard their stories as well. They too must live in the boundaries established.  When we asked them for their idea of a solution, the reply was,"Jesus."  The very city where the Prince of Peace was born is surrounded by a wall. As one friend stated, "baby Jesus is in prison." And HIS voice of love is drowned out by louder voices of anger and hatred.

Because we all  carried the cherished blue American Passport we were able to go everywhere we wished to go, staying away from areas where rockets red glare. But, the places we went the latter part of the week had NO other American tour buses.  I came away wondering why there is a deliberate hiding of the reality of the horrible situation.  Perhaps supporting tourism is paramount to sharing truth.  And tourism is critical in keeping things afloat.  The typical American tourist NEVER sees what we saw and if ever informed would NEVER support this  type of man's inhumanity to man.

The pendulum has swung, the bullied has become the bully.  What do we do with that information?

The Bible tells us and we believe that as times goes by the conditions on this planet will worsen, so we should not be surprised.  BUT, it also tells us that the purpose of being God's child is to love HIM above all, and LOVE THY NEIGHBOR as thyself.  Wasn't that the message all along? For the Hebrews? For us?  Love Him, then show the WORLD who HE is by our behavior. 

The citizens of the Holy Land have diluted the command to a LAW.  A law they are finding impossible to obey.  Have we?

I had a special conversation with a 40 year old Muslim man. (How great is that? ME? Just a simple granny from Oklahoma) He convinced me that he hates no one.  He shared with me with tears in his eyes how his life has been torn apart, his house locked up so he cannot live on his own property.  He works and pays very high rent for an apartment for his family in a part of Jerusalem approved by the officials. He is NOT free to come and go as he pleases.  I asked him what would "fix" this situation.  His reply, arms stretching wide and with a moan in his voice, "I want them (the government) to just leave me alone to live my life."

Oh, my.  The desire for freedom truly is planted in the heart of every man by GOD.

International Peace Talks continue! I'm not sure the American mind can even begin to conceive the mind of the people involved in this mess. The problem is ethnic, religious, fear, pride, and a terrible history on both sides of the conflict.  I certainly don't have simple answers to such deep complex pain.

I supposed what I do have is a renewed determination to LOVE GOD AND LOVE OTHERS. And when appropriate tell them about the Prince of Peace who is the ONLY one that can help that  type of love become a real possibility in my own life.

And now that I think about it, that WAS the KIVU purpose all along, wasn't it?













Wednesday, March 19, 2014

IMMACULEE ILIBAGIZA COMES TO TOWN


Gabby Ilibagiza Braner
Last week author Immaculee Ilibagiza came to Broken Arrow, OK to speak at a local Catholic Church. It was an amazing evening! Her book is titled "Left to Tell."

Immaculee is a beautiful Rwandan woman, inside and out.  She stood at the podium of that beautiful church in front of a packed house (with an overflow room) for TWO hours and related her story.

She was a young girl living with her mother, father, and two brothers when the genocide in Rwanda occurred in 1994..  The President of the country was killed in a plane crash and on that very day, hell broke out across that beautiful land. The Hutus  declared war on their neighbors, the Tutsis.  Even though they had lived side by side for many years and shared life experiences, it was a slaughter in the making when the government itself promoted the murderous onslaught.
The Tutsis' were called pigs, cockroaches and all foul names, open season on them was declared, just because they were of a different tribe.

It didn't take long for Immaculees  family to realize the gravity of the situation. As a leader in the community the people came to their home to ask her father for advice.  He must have been a tremendously wise man.  He replied that they would probably be killed in the next hour and all must be ready.  He asked them, "are you ready to die?"  Suddenly a revival of sorts broke out as the people cried out for forgiveness, publicly declaring their own sin and their sorrow. They prayed and wept together as they prepared for their deaths.

Then her father told Immaculee to RUN!  Run to the nearby Baptist preachers home where she would be hidden and protected.  She had no time to gather any personal belongings and simply obeyed,  not looking back.  For the next 91 days she and 6 other women, ages 7 -55 STOOD together in a tiny bathroom, (3 ft by 4 ft),  in the pastors home, in silence!  They took turns sitting on the toilet just to rest their legs.  He fed them crumbs late at night through a crack in the door.

As she told of the harrowing experiences the audience was stunned.

She watched through a crack in the bathroom window as hundreds of "soldiers" with machetes approached the house, surrounded it, came inside to look for people in hiding. She prayed they would not open the door to the bathroom and miraculously they did not, but left.  The brave pastor was sweating bullets as the men looked in every nook and cranny yet stopped at the bathroom door.

While the women were hiding, praying and trembling for 91 days, over 1 millions people were slaughtered after the UN protection  team pulled out of the country.  2 million people became refugees and an untold number just fled their homes into the countryside.  When Immaculee raced back to her home at the end of her stay she discovered her house in ruins and her family dead.

The most remarkable part of her story then began.  She told of her struggle from hatred of those neighbors to forgiveness.  Incredible!  What a message!  It was brilliantly delivered by her and received by everyone in the audience.  Hundreds of people listened and evaluated how they would react. Could they forgive the offenses against them? How minor their hurts seemed to be as they compared them with this young woman's! No one left untouched!

Our family has a connection to this lovely woman.  Gabby Braner was adopted at age 3 months from a Rwandan orphanage.  Jamie knew of this brave woman and gave her Immaculee's middle name!!!

Following the presentation I stood in line to speak with Immaculee with this picture of Gabby and told her story. Our little girl, also from Rwanda was named after HER and that I now pray Gabby  will come to know God just as personally, that she will be brave as she grows up, that she will always pray for safety but more importantly she will pray for the ability to forgive as deeply.  Immaculee's tender heart was moved as she looked at Gabby's picture and signed it..."you are an angel."  Our brief visit was a memory I will treasure.

Immaculee believes that she was saved from death to tell this story, "Left to Tell."  It is a timeless story of man's inhumanity to man but also the story of the supernatural ability to forgive even the very worst atrocity with God's help.  She walks and talks with God!  What an example of power and grace!  I hope Gabby enjoys the picture and newspaper article and perhaps as she grows older will realize the absolute necessity of forgiveness, no matter what!

Very soon the 20th anniversary of the genocide will be acknowledged. Smart folks have done much research to understand the reasons behind the carnage and indictments will probably come forth. That is probably necessary to TRY to prevent future brutality.  But, there is no indictment coming from Immaculee, she is free because she has forgiven!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

GREAT GRANDPA LONG

Wow! Take a look at this handsome fellow!

It's another old picture I  found while rummaging through the picture box. The writing on the back identifies this man as Great Grandpa Long, born mid-1800's. Isn't this great?

If  old pictures could talk, I wonder what this one would say. 
G-Grandpas face is hard to see, no expression gives away what he is thinking.  I imagine he's tired, he may have been working hard from the looks of his clothes.  And how about that ride?  Did everyone in the late 1800's have a buggy like that?  What was the horses name? Where were they headed?  Did they just return from the nearest village or the neighbors home?

What would he say if he could see us NOW?

I suppose every generation believes that it alone has experienced the greatest changes in the history of the world.  Then again, we know that there is nothing new under the sun, just new ways of conveying what's always been happening, I suppose.

Grandpa's social interaction would have centered around this horse and buggy, no doubt. It would have carried him and his family to the neighbors, the nearest town, the local barn dance or the raising of the same. It took some effort on his part to connect with folks.

Not so today!  We are CONNECTED  to the world via cyberspace. Events transpiring on the other side of the world are viewed almost instantly from the devices in the palms of our hands. We can spout off our views whether we know anything about the subject or not, play games with people we don't know or ever expect to know, SEE each other in real time across hundreds of miles, or share the most intimate details with the world with just a click or two.  Yep, it goes without saying, times have truly changed.  At a whirl-wind pace, I might add.

Don't you wonder what he would say if he could see Phil, Willie, Jase and Jeb sporting HIS type of beard? Do you think his eyeballs would pop right out of his head if he could visit the high fashion runways of NYC or Paris? What would he think of our car dealerships or  lower Manhattan during rush hour?

How about Smart TV,  the Iphone, or the Ipad? Would he be brave enough to ride an escalator at the mall or a 747 through the skies?

Time moved on but Grandpa Long didn't.

I wonder what future generations will say about US?  I wonder if they will sympathize with our "old-fashioned" ways when they discover our pictures, DVD's, cars, computers,  or movies on YouTube? 

While I am at it, could someone please explain "live-streaming" or the obsession with  the "hash tag?"

It DOES take some effort to keep up with progress, doesn't it? (There are days I want to climb in my buggy, hitch up old Nellie and ride off over the plains.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

MEET RUBY JEAN




She's a red head, she's wise, she's dependable, she's flexible and I hold her in the palm of my hand. This tiny computer that is velcroed to me and can do everything but cook Sunday dinner AND sometimes I use as a phone has living within it's tiny circuits my new best friend, Ruby Jean.

Ruby Jean's heritage comes from someone named Google Map and she is at my beck and call, day or night, ANYTIME I am in my car and have not a clue where I am going.

I named her Ruby Jean because I don't have a dog by that name.  (One day I WILL holler out my screen door at a Red Irish Setter, a Red Weiner Dog, or a Red Standard Poodle playing in the back yard, "Ruby Jean, git  yur-self in here."   Yes, that is my dream.

Until then Ruby Jean will somehow mysteriously communicate with a satellite flying high over head and then TELL me where I am and which way I need to turn in 1.5 miles.

Together we have found Tulsa businesses, Dallas home addresses, and  Durango hiding places. (Let me be clear, NOT the new establishments selling weed. You don't need a GPS for that,  just a nose! And I don't go there anyway.)

All I need to do is type in where I want to be, where I am at the moment and Ruby Jean does the rest. She maps out a route, tells me how long it will take me to get there and then proceeds with audible instruction.  YES, audible.   She speaks!!!  Sometimes I just TELL her where I want to go...She hears!!

Ruby Jean was MADE FOR ME and people like me that can't find their way out of the driveway.
Not that my inability has slowed me down one iota! ( I've been known to plop the Dallas City Map on the seat next to the drivers seat, jump on the Dallas toll way, go as fast as I can go and pray that I'll still be in one piece at the end of the journey.  The spiral bound map was used when I got OFF the toll way and needed to actually find an address on the other side of town.)  I've traveled several state highways and back roads over the last 2-3 years, ALWAYS leaving enough time to get lost, which I always do. But alas, I ALWAYS find myself, usually in the nick of time.

NOW...no maps, no worries!  Just sweet little Ruby Jean, standing at attention in my cup holder, waiting for me to get down the road a ways before she gently instructs, "take a left, turn right, OR make a legal U-turn."  I love her voice, I love her sense of direction.  I will follow her anywhere!

Life is SO much easier now that she's in my life!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

ME AND THE UPS MAN


If that UPS man gets to know me any better, I'm going to have to put him on my Christmas Card List!
Our on-going, ever deepening "friendship" began a few months ago.

A package had been delivered to our house while we were out of town.  Our wonderful neighbor signed for the thing and held it safely in her home until we got back.  When we picked up the mail, old newspapers and boxes delivered I noticed that one box had the right address on it, but alas not the correct name.  How does that happen????

Well, I called the UPS people  and assured them that yes, indeedy, no one by that named lived here! They promised they would send a truck out the next day to pick it up and get it back to it's rightful owner, wherever that might be.

No problem.....

BUT...that very day I came down with an awful cold,  fever, upper respiratory ailment.  I promptly took some meds, donned my "flannel nightie saved for sickness," jumped in the bed and covered my head with a pillow and a promise to NOT come out until morning. Misery had settled into every part of my being. Every molecule of my body was in agony.  My hair stood straight up and my eyes glazed over.

After several hours of facing death itself, the doorbell rang!

In unbelief I finally dragged myself to the window and sure enough, the familiar brown truck was parked in the street. Those efficient people were coming after that box, a DAY EARLY.

The doorbell rang again.  I had to answer it and get rid of that pesky package. I threw on my very roomy, very fuzzy full length CHEETAH robe and half-crawled to the front door.

I opened the door!  There stood the guy in the brown uniform.  He had a shocked look on his face as if he'd seen something or someone from the "other side."

Only then did I realize that I was the source of fright! I'm sure he didn't know WHAT  creature was standing in front of him.  An animal escaped from the circus perhaps? A cheetah on the loose from the safari exhibition down the road? Big foot? An audition for National Geographic?

 I threw the box at him and croaked, "I'm in the bed sick, you weren't supposed to come until tomorrow."

He was speechless.  If he'd stayed a minute or two longer I'm sure he would have gone away blinded.

The whole embarrassing ordeal lasted only a few minutes.  I crawled back to bed thinking that I was one lucky women for I was positive I'd NEVER SEE him again.  Chalk that one up to a terrible moment and try to forget about it.

YES, FORGOTTEN!  UNTIL.....a few weeks later another package arrived. (I shop online!)

I answered the door and was greeted by a cheery "Hello, glad to see you're feeling better."

WHAT?  The same UPS man came back???

Well, at least that day I had my underwear ON and that cheetah robe OFF!

Since we were first "introduced" my UPS  man has been here several times, ALWAYS INQUIRING about my health......and ALWAYS with a silly grin on his face.

I've learned something from this ordeal.....UPS men NEVER FORGET!










Thursday, January 9, 2014

TIME

A visit HOME, our beginnings, our place of origin ALWAYS includes an afternoon of digging around in old pictures.  Every year the treasures discovered result in hilarious laughter as together the whole clan examines odd looking hairstyles, plaid jackets, beards, antique cars, long forgotten relatives and a few folks no one EVER knew!

(I'm sure there is a diagnosis for people that keep old pictures of somber looking, darkly dressed folks no one knows, never knew, or have any hope at all of identifying. No doubt we are a sick people!) 

This past New Years Day the Braner family had a rip roaring good time when  huge plastic tubs of pictures were presented for a "pitching" party. Territories were designated for "save" piles and the fun began.  Memories were stirred and good times were remembered.  We came home with a short stack.
Old frames and duplicates were discarded......3 garbage bags full!  Success!

Stories poured forth as we were transported back in time. Where did all that time go? How could so much have transpired? Aren't we STILL those young people in our minds?

 There were giggles and one liners and occasionally a tear or two as loved ones no longer with us appeared before our faces.

This picture is one of the many in our short stack that made it back to Oklahoma. It was taken in 1956 on a cold snowy day.  Honeybuns is the 5 year old kneeling on the center sled.  He is surrounded by his two older brothers and their neighbors. No doubt his mother took the pictures.

This image conjures up visions of a cloudy day filled with many trips pulling that sled up and down the hill behind their farmhouse. What a fun time! What a picture of innocence! They had all the time in the world that day.

I'm going to show this picture to the grand kids. There is NO WAY they will believe that little boy is Papa!

And in the process, squeeze joy and purpose and peace out of every moment of time.


Monday, December 23, 2013

TX CHRISTMAS 2013

It was the year of the STUFFIE!  Yes, that brilliant marketing campaign led these four cutie patooties to want those stuffed animals that have all kinds of pockets, zippers and hidden compartments to HIDE stuff!  They are now owners of Gracie the Hippo, Sky the Giraffe, Turtle and Puppy! Go figure!

Yes, Gracie really did get a HIPPOPOTAMUS for Christmas! (Mollie knows all the words to THAT one, of course!)

Companies should take a lesson from this advertising ploy. It worked for us!

Christmas with the  Dallas, TX Braners is sheer delight, full of squeals, songs, sloppy kisses and kid views of all things related.  So fun!

We tickled, played games, went to church together (All Saints Anglican of Dallas) shared food, bankies and beds. We enjoyed a "grown up" dinner, "grown up" conversation and a tour of University Park Christmas Lights with the parents of this brood.

 Mollie began practicing on her new keyboard, Gracie modeled her UGGS and Thompson and Betsy pulled their new luggage around. (Packed with Stuffies, of course.) Grown up gifts brought grown up smiles and hugs. We give because we love deeply.  Great tradition!

Christmas!  What a great time with those we love more than life. It comes and goes so quickly, little minds and bodies don't stay small very long.  We try to capture and HOLD those fleeting moments.

Thank you Philip and Nancy for this mini-Christmas Day!  We loved it and YOU!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

COLORADO CHRISTMAS 2013

This just about sums it up! 

A few days in beautiful Colorado with the Colorado Braners around Christmas time is sheer joy. This branch of the family tree is in constant motion and every year in mid-December we jump in for the ride! I doubt we could have packed one more fun thing into our celebration.

Good food, many laughs and one liners, an art class, an old time picture, gift exchange and  a sleigh ride through the snow covered mountains of Pergatory.  Whoo Hoo! And Merry Christmas.

We love it....and we love these fabulous people!
Thank you Andy and Jamie!
We are blessed beyond measure!

Monday, December 2, 2013

IT'S JUST A GOURD! MAYBE NOT!

The week before Thanksgiving is a big deal for students of Providence Christian School in Dallas.  It's the yearly Grandparents Day program and the presentation of all the students projects.

It's such a fun day!  The kiddos present a fabulous program in the sanctuary of Park Cities Baptist Church, reciting huge passages of poetry, letters and literature, sometimes in Latin!  They sing Psalms, hymns and otherwise make heavenly music. The teachers and staff of that wonderful place are to be commended for their love for the students and their outstanding abilities! We love that place! (Each year we come home thinking we should sell everything we have and give all the proceeds to the school! Then we come to our senses and don't do that!)

After the program, everyone enters the "great hall" where all the projects are on display. Talk about diversity and talent! There is everything from pickle making, lego cities, gardening, cooking, knitting, aerospace, photography, etc.  The list is endless! The students work with their grandparents most of the time to develop a skill.

This year Gracie showed pictures of how she landscaped the flower beds at their new house. Good job with pansies!  She may develop a green thumb in years to come!

Mollie's project involved gourds and ME!

  TWO YEARS AGO I decided to plant some decorative gourd seeds along the fence line in our backyard as an experiment! They grew, and GREW AND GREW!  There were way too many!!!  (Think about squash vines winding all over the yard! We were at times fearful of strangulation!)

I harvested the gourds that fall and laid them out on a table outside to "dry" over the winter!  They did their thing, turning all brown and disgusting!  I was about to throw them all away (about 30) when it was decided that Mollie's school project would be "from gourd to birdhouse."  SO, we kept the curly, moldy things.

Last summer it was decided that the birdhouse would be made while she was visiting us. 

I did some research and discovered that those brown things needed to be soaked in bleach and scrubbed.. ALOT..to remove the outer covering.  SO....like a good grandma, I got to work.

It was a mess!  BUT, the results were good. We ended up with clean, tan, lovely shaped gourds.

Mollie tackled the job.  Papa helped her drill holes, clean out the membrane, and attach a hanger.

She painted them brilliant colors and had a great time doing it!  SUCCESS!!!

We took pictures, made an online scrapbook and there she is, SO VERY PROUD OF HER WORK.

She never left her display the whole time the hall was open for observation!  She told everyone about her gourd birdhouses, holding them up proudly.

Those silly things were MORE than gourds.  They brought to Mollie a terrific sense of accomplishment and many grins! What a great memory!

It took two years and it was worth every minute.  PRICELESS!

What a privilege to be a part of Mollie's project. Thank you Providence!  Your requirements for your students brought this grandmother and her precious little grand- girl much joy.  And THAT was the purpose, wasn't it? 




Sunday, September 15, 2013

ALASKA - the Land, the People and the Critters!

 WOW! Alaska is a BIG and MIGHTY place! (One fellow told us that ony 1% of Alaska land had ever felt a human footprint.) We visited Anchorage, Fairbanks, Coldfoot, Wiseman, Denali National Park and all spots in between!  It was an outdoor-back country adventure. (We are NOT the outdoorsy campy type, but loved it all the same.) It is truly the last great frontier.

The land is remarkable, beautiful, harsh and unforgiving. Only the strong survive! We trekked over mountains, mud, springs, perma-frost, gravel and a little snow. The temperature has been recorded to below 90 degrees on places in the higher elevation. The lowest we experienced was 38. Fall begins and ends in September. Winter follows close behind. The natives watched the mountain tips carefully, monitoring how far the snow has "come down" from day to day. It moves quickly.  (Even though it was the first of September, I realized I was wearing two shirts, long underwear, three pairs of socks, a stocking hat and a winter jacket.)

We breathed clean mountain air, shivered in cold rain and nearly froze on some occasions.  In September the golden Aspens shouted hallelujah and the hillsides were unbelievably beautiful. Red berries, blue tinted foliage tempted all kinds of animals to feast! The fog enshrouded Mt. McKinley was simply breathtaking! The reflections of the mountains, clouds and landscapes in the clear blue lake water was NGO perfect.

We took snapshots of grizzlies, caribou, moose, eagles, and ground squirrels referred to as "bear burritos." Their home in Denali National Park is well protected from too many visitors, no cars are allowed on the 92 mile road to the BackCountry Lodge without a very hard-to-come-by permit!  A limited number of ex-prison-buses haul the tourists down the gravel road that is lined with surprises. Visitor centers provide necessary bathroom breaks.

Kodiak Bear Pizza was yummy, salmon/potato soup and salmon burgers a delicacy.

This huge bull-moose greeted our bus early one morning, posed and smiled!  This is my favorite picture and moment.  He was magnificent and he seemed to know it! The bears along the way were so focused on eating cranberries they barely noticed our staring at them. The caribou and Dahl sheep lined the mountainsides. It was all surreal!

We rode planes, trains, buses and automobiles during this adventure, sometimes all in the course of a few hours.  We rented a car in Fairbanks and drove the 13 miles to the NORTH POLE! Santa was on a vacation until November but we sat in his chair and shopped in his store.  The reindeer were the only animals we saw that were fenced, but they were doing fine.

 It was in Fairbanks that we learned we'd forgotten to tell the hotel staff to wake us up if the Aurora Borealis appeared during the wee morning hours.  It did!  The entire hotel was evacuated to the back property and were stunned at the other-worldly sight,  as we slept on! (Can you believe it?)

Part of such a trip is meeting interesting people as well.  We learned that young folks from all over the world apply for "resort" jobs online and proceed to spend their summers working in Alaska. Some are so enthralled by the experience they decide to stay, even if it means living in a tent, going to the creek for water every day and somehow withstanding the cold. We met some fascinating tourists, one elderly PA couple told of their work establishing schools for the Masi children in Kenya! We visited with retired airplane executives, school teachers, authors, and photographers from all over the GLOBE. One young couple from New Zealand told their stories as we shared a dining car on the train, complaining that their country was becoming a "nanny state" as we just smiled in sympathy.

The people at Coldfoot and Wiseman were the locals. Coldfoot is a truckstop on the Dalton Highway. (Ice Road Truckers was filmed there.)  We stayed in a very primitive pipeline-worker camp.  The food was very expensive, filling, not good or healthy! The people working and living at Coldfood do their best to provide a little comfort to the drivers that haul all necessary goods up to Prudhoe, the working oil field. After 3 days, the guy that owned the place thanked us for coming, declaring that we had "good vibes." Maybe that meant he liked us because we didn't complain about the accommodations.

It was there we met Windsong!  She never stopped talking. She'd retired from the corporate world a while back, made her way to Alaska and evidently had not seen anyone to talk to since! She had words, STORED UP! We enjoyed that delightful, sweet woman.

Coldfoot was base camp for our nightly trips in search of the aurora borealis.  We left camp at 11 pm, arrived back about 3 am. The night hours were spent outside the little log cabin looking straight UP!  When you're right under the aurora oval, it's always straight up, never NORTH!  The weather changes constantly. It was raining, clear, snowing, clear, raining all in an hour or so. No lights for us, but a momma moose greeted us back at our "hotel" early one morning.

We met Dorothy, a widow woman that lives in a one room log cabin above the Artic Circle, no running water, or heat other than wood.  We met a young man that raises 25 sled dogs. We visited  Wiseman, population 13, where an outdoor expert, his wife, and his sister lead all educational talks and demonstrations for those that DO venture that far north.  We met a couple that run a restaurant on the Yukon, their building was broken into last winter by 3 bears that wrecked the place and stayed the winter.

Yes, most places are boarded up tight about Sept. 15 and revisited again the following June after winter. 

We learned that during the winter months, the Anchorage airport has a DAILY non-stop flight to HAWAII! Smart folks!

Would we return to the Artic Circle?  Probably not.  It's one of those once in a life-time adventures for two very spoiled city slickers like us.  But, WOW! What great memories and pictures forever imprinted on our minds. Too many to list! It is a remarkably beautiful place. The folks of Alaska are truly unique, brave, and kind. Stocking hats OFF to them! 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

DR. KING'S DREAM AND MINE


I'm old enough to remember the day Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave his famous, "I have a dream" speech.  Those were troubled times.

The speech galvanized the nation...finally!  It had been a violent and vicious few years as riots, marches, sit-ins, terrible murders, police dogs attacking people and fire hoses blasting folks to the ground were ALL broadcast on the nightly news around the US.

I was 12 years old and watched our black and white TV in utter amazement.  My friends and I were young, confused and a little frightened.  There were no marches or boycotts in my mid-western town, but we knew the sights represented something terrible going on in other parts of our country.

Terrible and wonderful, because of Dr.King! He preached love and non-violence yet many misunderstood, mistrusted and judged him by his skin color rather than his message.

He stood up for the folks that had been treated as second and even third class citizens.  FREEDOM was the demand, rightfully so. Freedom to live life as every other American citizen with dignity, opportunity and respect was the focus.

FREEDOM!  Granted to us by GOD, yet sometimes NOT recognized by the state or other people for that matter.

Dr. King was the impetus behind many good laws and the change in our culture that finally granted equal rights to people that had been enslaved by bigotry and ignorance.

"Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last."  Dr. King deserves our utmost respect.

I have a dream!  It is much like the good preachers.

My dream is that a grass roots movement will form AGAIN and rise up against MODERN DAY SLAVERY.

I believe it will take an effort the size of the Civil Rights Movement to bring about FREEDOM for the millions of men, women and children that are RIGHT NOW being held against their will by force,  fraud, and coercion in the deep, dark world of Human Trafficking.  It's right under our noses, rooted in every community across the land, sometimes in homes and high schools.

That world of drugs, weapons, trucks transporting people up and down our highways, storage buildings holding young girls, pornography, selling children,  men working in landscaping, women held in massage and nail parlors, and 32 BILLION dollars exchanging hands goes unnoticed most of the time. Yet, I read articles of girls found, men released, and children rescued EVERY day in our local newspaper. (The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are engaged but often outnumbered.)

It's being exposed, but way too slowly, even though there are hundreds of respectful and powerful non-profit organizations drawing attention to the need for rescue, restoration and redemption. 

The greed and need of white men with discretionary income drives the industry. Prolific pornography starts the whole process.  (I hate to write those words, yet cannot gloss over the facts!)

Yes, we've come along way since the days of Dr. King. I truly believe that in most areas of our nation people ARE judged individually by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.  But, we still need a national movement that will compel people to stand up and say NO to the practice of selling, using and throwing away human beings as worthless trash.  As a NATION, we are lacking "content of character" proven by the fact that we allow Human Trafficking to thrive.

What can we do now? (A few ideas!)

Educate men and boys of the danger of pornography and the fact that it is NOT a victimless recreational sport. Insist that your church hold meetings to talk about it!

Educate yourself and everyone you know about the facts!  Read books and watch documentaries. Google Human Trafficking, pick an organization that is fighting it, study the issue and support ANY legitimate effort. Every agency, non-profit, and volunteer MUST be successful.

Be ready to spout out the facts to anyone that will listen, even if they don't want to HEAR!

PRAY that those held will find a way of escape.
PRAY for those in law enforcement, that they will be protected and successful in their efforts to find and arrest the criminals.

Take care of the children in your life. (No sleep overs,  no trips to public bathrooms alone, teach them of stranger danger AND RELATIONSHIP DANGER. Teach them that it is OK to be rude when anyone forces them to do something against their will. Teach them to TELL.)

Teach children and teens of Internet safety. (They must NEVER agree to meet someone they've met online.) Be a snoop! Check their computers, ipads and phones for questionable Internet sites.

Support legislation that affects the prosecution of traffickers and recruiters.

Support safe houses with your time by volunteering and with your money as you can.

Lobby to change the laws so women arrested for prostitution can have their record expunged. (A prostitute is a VICTIM, not a criminal.)

Put the HT hot line number in your phone and call if you even suspect foul play.
888-3737-888  Report suspicious activity and let law enforcement check it out.

We have some terrible things going on AGAIN.  Perhaps we need another like Dr. King to lead the charge!

Where is he?



















Saturday, August 3, 2013

REMEMBERING THE CELLAR DOOR

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a woman at the Upper Room Magazine.  That was highly unusual, even though I've written several devotionals for them over the past couple of years, they don't usually request anything other than permission to publish.

This was different!  They are going to publish an article I wrote about the security our family felt in  the "root cellar" during threatening weather when I was a child.  The magazine wants to print a PICTURE of the root cellar.

I went on the hunt in the "picture closet" and after about 20 minutes of digging, found this! 

There is it!!! In all it's glory!

My grandfather is posing with the two "delights" of his heart.  I am 7 years old here, looking a little pouty because evidently I'd just trimmed my bangs myself and was sporting a rather angular look.
My sister is holding her Bible, so this must have been taken on a Sunday morning before heading out to church.

In the background is the cellar door! Notice the mound on the horizon with the ventilation pipe sticking up out of the dirt. 

Now THIS safe place is VERY DIFFERENT than the ones being installed in our neighborhood these days. It was lined with shelves filled with potatoes and canned goods a few old rickety chairs and was home to various types of spiders.  It was dark, damp and dirty.  And during scary wind storms it became the place for the family of 5, (me, my sister, grandmother, grandfather, & bachelor uncle)  to take refuge and play games!  My granny was a fun activities director with "simon says" and  "singing contests."  Only my grandfather was aware of the threat of being blown away,  we were just having fun after being routed out of warm beds to make the cold, windy, rainy race to the cellar door.  Bad clouds always seemed to appear in the middle of the night.

The root cellar has long since been filled in with dirt, it no longer harbors frightened men and giggling girls. The spiders have moved on. It's just a memory now.

SO....we'll see if the magazine wants this picture!  No one ever dreamed that ANYONE would be interested in that ancient memory!

By the way, exactly WHEN did I become the person of "ancient" memories?
Am I no longer that little girl with the crooked bangs???



Wednesday, July 24, 2013

LET'S TALK CHURCH

My neighbor and friend is moving! We've been having some real heartfelt conversations now, talking about all sort of changes and challenges moving to a new state will bring to her. Other than a new hairdresser and a new house, the next biggest challenge will be finding a church home that they will love and that will give them an opportunity for meaningful service.

 (She said goodbye to her sweet little kids Sunday School Class this past Sunday! She will miss those little boogers.) She and her husband have been active, vital members of their church here in Tulsa. Their pastor is grieving this loss!

Church! The subject comes up regularly, with all kinds of friends, not necessarily those moving out of the area. Sometimes people just want to talk "church" with me.  I listen and learn much.

Some of our friends are deliriously happy at their church, others struggling, some not attending anymore for all kinds of reasons. I understand the range of emotions on display during this type of discussion. There are SO many interesting stories of people and their church history.

Because I/we have been members of 12 different churches in several different cities as we've moved around the past 40 years. I, of course, have an opinion!

 I think we have just about seen it ALL!

Here's my take:
In the purest sense, the TRUE Christian church (many denominations) is formed by a group of individuals that believe Jesus is the Son of God, Deity on earth, the Holy One that willingly sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world and that HE alone is the bridge between sinful man and the Holy God. They believe HE alone gives power, comfort, guidance and joy now and that after their physical death they will be united with Him and other believers eternally. They meet together, pray together, worship, forgive, and sacrifice much for the well being of their fellow believers and mankind. In other words, they offer grace and help wherever needed as Jesus would.  They study the Bible, believing it is the inerrant living Word of the Creator and Sovereign God. They humbly admit mistakes, realize their own tendencies to take things into their own hands, make apologies and tell the truth in love. They realize the holiness of God but also their own sinfulness.  Yes, believers are forgiven and delivered from the power of sin, yet still acutely aware of it's presence in their own dark thougths, words and deeds.

God in HIS perfect wisdom has placed true believers in EVERY  church, every one that teaches these important doctrines anyway.

Sounds perfect, doesn't it?  All loving and kind, focused and grace-filled.

So what's the problem and source of many conversations?

Well, along with those people that embrace and live the doctrines listed above are those that CLAIM the title of Christian as well, claim being the operative word. So many folks heard someone say that ALL they need to do is whisper a few prescribed words, shake hands with the preacher, be baptized, pray every day at 5:30 a.m., ry to lead a good life, put a little money into the offering plate, go to church EVERY Sunday for years and host a visiting missionary that happens to come to town.  (All those things are wonderful, but the MAIN ELEMENT  is missing.)

The whole issue is not even their fault, for SOMEONE told them that's what its' all about! Just say the prayer and you're IN!

Those folks BELIEVE the lie ("just repeat these words after me") and call themselves Christian but truly are not!  They sit in the same pews, sing the same songs and smile the same smile. They look just like  those of the REAL DEAL on Sundays! (Important reminder: No one can see inside the heart of anyone, you know, nor should we presume to try!)  When a conflict arises (usually not of eternal value) these folks are the most vocal, the most judgemental, the most unkind, the most demanding!  A haughty spirit rears it's ugly head and terrible things are said and done.  (I hate to put it in print BUT, the greatest mission field is the church pew.)

When those folks AND the  true Christians are put in a gunny sack together, anything is possible!! It's worse than a sack full of cats on their way to the river.

They sometimes try to communicate, unsuccessfully, because usually no one is listening!

I believe and have it written on my eyelids,  "I and everyone else is capable of any type of sin given the right set of circumstances."

Things happen all the time that challenge the sweetest believer's ability to forgive.

We have seen every imaginable and unimaginable scenario in those 12 different churches. We have seen fabulous, life changing events as a result of faith. We have witnessed marriages healed, relationships restored, unspeakable joy and shared grief. But we have also seen terrible devastation as cruelty has left people in it's dust. (Have you heard the true story of the Texas deacon that got into an argument with the pastor and SHOT HIM? DEAD!)

When things are going fine, the church can be the finest place in the world to be. When things are awry it can be simply dreadful!

Some folks say that the church is critical in a person's life because of the support of the people, the friendships, the work that can be done when arms are joined. All that is true!!  BUT....you know, deep friendships and support can be developed at the local bar, shared tragedies, the workplace, and the center of a common cause as well. 

I'm writing to say that attending, belonging and supporting a local church body is a WONDERFUL experience  (and commanded by God) but the heartbeat of the congregation MUST BE all about God, knowing, loving and obeying Him.  Trouble, hurt feelings and deep-seated pain happens when people go to their local church meetings expecting people to be HOLY, and expecting GOD to be the one out to "get them."  I'm calling that "backwards theology."

Only God is HOLY and PERFECT.  People are not!  And in spite of all good intentions,  ALL people make mistakes either intentionally or by sheer ignorance. 

There is a line in an old hymn, "I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name."

Love people, yes....Love God, more!  Then and only then will you love ALL people for whom He died.

Jesus thinks the church is very important. It is called HIS BRIDE. Sometimes the bride is bloodied and wears a tattered gown, barely alive from all the skirmishes.

BUT, we can't dismiss it. Rather than blame the hypocrites (of which there are many) we must admit we get hurt when WE  focus on the wrong PERSON.  Perfection is WAY too much pressure to put on any mere mortal!

I/we need to adjust our vision and expectations from time to time.

God is the only ONE that is ETERNALLY  FAITHFUL, KIND AND TRUE! 

Sometimes it's very hard, but we must give people a break and forgive.

I've read that "unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die."

Another hymn, "Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart." 

God, help us forgive, have mercy upon us.













Saturday, July 20, 2013

LITTLE LIGHTHOUSE TEACHER APPRECIATION

Marcia Mitchell, founder, Catherine Zollar, speaker
Laura Francis, volunteer extraordinaire, Julie Harrelson, teacher
Yesterday 40 teachers and staff of the Little Lighthouse of Tulsa  celebrated their last day of this school year and their accomplishments. What a joy it was to see these gals as we participated in serving them a free lunch, a Stonecroft speaker, lots of hugs and applause.

They are saints.

They have chosen to be teachers of some of the tiniest citizens of the area. There are 60+ kiddos, age birth to 6 years attending  the school, tuition free, and I understand there is a waiting list of over 100 at any given moment.  The kids are "special needs" and require and receive the most advanced treatment available on the planet. The teachers know each child is some kind of SPECIAL.  They love them, pray over them, prod and encourage them to take a step, blink an eye, roll over, say a word, or sometimes just make any kind of movement at all. Success stories are rampant! Parents are thrilled when their little one is able to communicate with them for the first time or able to take a few steps after hearing Dr's. say that kind of progress is impossible. These teachers, therapists and staff  know better.

In fact, the word "can't" is never heard, used or spoken.  Happy are the parents whose child attends this fabulous school. (The school is expanding in order to admit more children from the area.)

I've taken the tour and SEEN with my own eyes the miracles that happen there on a regular basis.

We celebrated them.

We  heard Catherine tell her story of grief and loss, joy and redemption while wiping tears and sharing laughter.  She reminded all of us of the magnificent power of God to redeem the most hopeless situations for His purpose, His glory and our pleasure. What a delight!

We celebrated the love God has for all of us, His special children.

The staff of the Little Lighthouse are movers and shakers, shaking up the world of impossibilities.
It is a privilege to know them.

Monday, July 15, 2013

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANDY BRANER!

We were living in Augusta, Georgia. The date was July 15, 1975, 11 a.m, when our first born son changed our world forever.  It was an earth shattering event!  Our lives instantaneously changed from that of carefree, young marrieds, footloose and fancy free to PARENTS

Wow! What a shock-er-roo!  No longer did we live for ourselves and our own selfish interests but all of a sudden life was all about HIM!  It was an instant love-at-first-sight event. The earth stood still and nothing going on outside that hospital room was worth a thought.

What a cutie! And what a delight!

Grandma Audrey, Grandpa Russell and Granny Gaines showed up a day or so later to ooh and coo and stare at him with us as if he were the first baby born on this planet. I suppose (or I HOPE) that is the way every little baby is greeted into a family.

That was 38 years ago. We have 38 years of exciting, fun memories to reflect upon today! We're looking at old pictures and scrapbooks, laughing, wiping a tear or two and being very thankful for our boy.

Time has simply WHIZZED by. He is now a husband, father of 5,  President of his own company, pastor and mentor to teens, college kids and youth pastors all over the world.

Yes, baby, we've come a long way.  And we could not be prouder of the passion in his heart for his God, his wife, his children and his calling to teach thousands of students the love and character of God. We've graduated from his being providers and protectors to becoming his favorite cheerleaders.

Yes, the Creator's plan to allow us mere mortals the opportunity to participate in bringing a little life into this world has got to be one of His best ideas! How else would we learn that it truly is "more blessed to give than receive?" Where else would we learn that "love is patient, kind and not self-serving?' How else would we know that "love never fails" or that there is "no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend ( or child)?"

How else could we experience what every PARENT has realized: that the very definition of  parenting is "watching your heart walk around outside your own body?"

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ANDY.  We are celebrating YOU today. We love you more than you will ever know!

(Now, I'm waiting to see what he thinks of the hilarious, insulting, anonymous card I sent. It's our tradition!)








Saturday, June 29, 2013

TEENS AND TRAFFICKING


Where do teenagers learn about Human Trafficking, Sex Trafficking, Labor and Industrial Trafficking, Debt Bondage, Internet Safety and Pornography on a sunny weekend in June?

At a Baptist Church in Bixby, OK!

This weekend was New Beginnings Baptist Church annual leadership weekend and all subjects pertaining to Human Trafficking were tackled. WOW!  What an outstanding, organized plan that accomplished the goal of helping teenagers become aware of the dark world of modern day slavery.

Youth/Family Pastor Jeff Berg spearheaded this event which required a time commitment from the teens from Friday 1 p.m. to Sunday afternoon 5 p.m.  The teens experienced being "trafficked" Friday night with a sweat shop, seedy motel, immigration headaches, and all the dangers involved in a world very different from their own. Rooms of the church were decorated as such and each one spent some time in one area or another all night long. They got a "taste" of being held against their will through force, fraud, and coercion. Some were led away from their friends only to return with signs hung around their neck declaring they had been "beaten" or "raped!"  A few endured the frustration of working in terrible conditions at a mindless job for hours, their only light a single bulb hanging from the ceiling.  Some had to try to "sleep" in horrible conditions created without A/C, a concrete floor, no pillow and a humming noise that wouldn't let up. A couple of boys had their money and identification "stolen" making it very difficult to successfully complete the complicated "immigration" procedure.Some officials they had to face didn't speak English, some required a bribe.  The list of "planned frustrations" went on and on!

Jeff and his team of volunteers very carefully led them all through the simulation without causing undue anxiety or trauma. They finally got to sleep  (for real) at 3:30 a.m.  The plan was brilliant!

He invited me and my friend Wanda Satrom of Christians Against Trafficking to participate in a day long Saturday seminar for the teenagers.  We presented Human Trafficking 101 and helped them navigate a research project about all things pertaining to HT on computers.  We brought with us a HT survivor to tell her story, the founder and President of the Demand project to talk about Internet Safety and a representative from CrossLane Counseling to speak to the boys about Pornography. Wanda and I spent a separate time with the girls talking about BOYS, addictions, sexual purity, etc.  We encouraged the girls to embrace and enjoy the love, forgiveness, power and protection that only Jesus can give them, rather than to look to a boyfriend to fill the longings of their hearts. (Much time was spent discussing appropriate clothing choices, alcohol, avoiding dangerous situations and the need to pray for each other and the boys of their group.) 

  It was a long full Saturday!  When we left at 5 pm the activities were still in process.  A movie dealing International HT was next on the agenda followed by a recap of the activities thus far in preparation to teach the ADULT members of the church all they learned at Sunday services.

These teens are so very fortunate to have a pastor and a church  help them navigate the dangerous waters of the modern world filled with technology, predators, recruiters, and peer pressure. They don't run from uncomfortable subjects but offer solutions. Yay for them! What a very LOVING thing to do!

May their kind increase!!!








Thursday, June 27, 2013

ONE NATION UNDER GOD

It was a bittersweet hope filled ending of a depressing day.

Yesterday started out with the announcement of the Supreme Courts decision to overturn the California vote that defined marriage in that state as a union between a man and a woman. Yep, Prop 8 passed a long time ago. Several other states followed with similar laws.   Needless to say, the homosexual community was not about to accept the voters wishes and so redefined the issue as one of  "civil rights."  Amidst the legal mumbo jumbo and dissension by some of the Supremes, it now seems that our unelected justices will decide matters of this land, disregarding the voters wishes.  The Defense of Marriage Act is history.  (That particular piece of legislation was put in place by President Bill Clinton when he was running for office and needed the evangelical vote. Today he is in favor of it's repeal. The winds of change in the political atmosphere are unstable, you know.) News conferences on the courthouse steps confirmed the obvious, "The only thing that matters is WHO you love." Marriage certificates for gay couples are being printed at this very moment. Polygamy is already being mentioned, I'm wondering if a 46 year old man loving a 9 year old child will be next, perhaps even Fido! In all the fiasco, it seems that most of America and the American church snoozes on.

Mid-day I was involved with an interview with a sweet woman who is a survivor of Human Trafficking.  Her tale was horrific. As a child her mother sold her to men that would pay her money to buy her drugs that would feed her addiction.

Another case of the selfish use of another human being to satisfy individual lusts. There are thousands of young women just like her walking in our midst in various stages of recovery.

All of this was enough to make me crawl in the bed, cover my head with a vow to "not come out 'til morning." A nap, yes, that's what I needed!

BUT, last night was the annual ONE NATION UNDER GOD concert at our church and I sure didn't want to miss that! I pulled my head out from under the sheets and went.

It was GLORIOUS!  The Kirk of the Hills choir, orchestra, director, Pathways choir and soloists did an outstanding job. The patriotic music was heart wrenching and soul lifting. The words of the songs were deep with meaning and the instrumental- only pieces gave time for solemn reflection. A beloved WWII vet told his story of how his understanding of the word FREEDOM grew once he'd enlisted one month after Pearl Harbor. The program ended with a bagpiper playing Amazing Grace while the packed house sang. The message was clear: God alone is our strength, foundation, and purpose.

As I visited with some folks afterwards and watched tears flow down their faces I'm sure we were of one mind. Tony Perkins said it best this morning, "Our nation is one that our founders would barely recognize."

Perhaps our nation is still UNDER GOD.  Perhaps in months to come we will see HIS judgment. (If HE does NOT judge us, HE owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.)

Perhaps there are some folks left in this land that believe God orders the universe and all that is within it and we the people, the justices, the politicians and the heretics do not.

Perhaps, as the Bible states, there will ALWAYS be a REMNANT of believers that are committed to be "salt and light" in a world that has lost its way.

Perhaps it is time for "we the church" to take seriously the passage read at the beginning of the concert last night by Dr. Wayne Hardy.

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."  II Chron 7:14

Perhaps its time to wake up, church!

















Saturday, June 22, 2013

LION KING

 AMAZING!

What a delightful afternoon at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center! The Broadway production of LION KING was worth the 7 year wait.
Yep, the last time the play was performed in Tulsa was 7 years ago. I remember the day!  It was moving day for us as we relocated to Broken Arrow, OK.  As we unpacked boxes, I heard that the famous musical was leaving town after a 2 week run. I was SO disappointed that we missed it by a hair.

When the box office opened 6 months ago for this performance I  grabbed up two seats.....orchestra level, center!  PERFECT!

It was worth the wait!!! Honeybuns and I joined the sold out crowd, including many children.  The music was fabulous of course (Can you Feel the Love Tonight, and The Circle of Life)  and the story very well known. (We've watched the video countless times with the grand kids.)  But it was the costumes that stole the show.

I'd expected much, but was blown away by the engineering and the colors and detail of the hyenas, zebras, giraffes, elephants, wildebeest, and other African animals.  The actors made all the gears, wheels,  stilts, strings and springs of the puppets work flawlessly even as they danced to the African drumbeat down the aisles. The beasts came to LIFE!

Mufasa and Scar talked, battled and stared each other down as they determined who would be King of the jungle. Simba danced with Nala and was reminded of his true identity by the crazy baboon, Rafiki. Timon and Pumbaa brought the audience to tears with their antics and jokes. Even the Savannah came to life as dancers balanced huge plots of "green grass" on their heads.

I cannot imagine what this production team could do to make it better. What talent!

It was a magical afternoon. I'd go again in a minute!

It was a Saturday of  "Hakuna Matata."