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."





Friday, June 14, 2013

SUMMER ROAD TRIP - 2013

YES, this is hokey! But it was a fun afternoon (for the girls anyway, the men tolerated it.
This is a picture of OLD people playing!

We joined Donna and Bill as they made their cross-country tour of "let's go visit the extended family" trip! There were lots of laughs, good food, and fun times.

The first leg of their journey lasted 8 hours from central Illinois to Tulsa, OK.  The car was packed as if they were going to Mars for 6 months! After a good nights sleep here, we all took off for Dallas, spending time along the way at several interesting antique shops. The guys quickly learned the meaning of "enjoy the journey" instead of racing from point A to point B in record time.

We spent the afternoon of Day 1 in Dallas with Nancy and the kiddos there, laughing, playing, eating and enjoying an impromptu talent show in their living room. (Philip was working in Brazil and missed the fun!) Everybody enjoyed meeting the relatives! (Wish we had taken a picture or video!)

On Day 2 we started the long trek to Colorado. Two full days of more sightseeing, shopping, eating and laughing in their car.

Spending a few days in the Rockies was certainly therapeutic! Andy and Jamie and the Colorado kids gave us the red carpet treatment. There was more shopping, exploring, eating, laughing, playing with the kids and sharing stories.

We all agreed that the highlight of that location (other than squeezing on the children) was forging the rapids of the Animas River. We were thrilled to be alive with all body parts intact at the end.  It was one of those afternoons that started with "am I going to die" and ended with "Yippee, let's do it again!!"

Staying at Camp Kivu was delightful. Watching the counselors prepare and the first campers arrive was great! It was hard NOT to "become a temporary teen" and enjoy all the hoop-la! We thrived in the most beautiful setting and most perfect weather in the world. (While we were there we were informed ON THE NATIONAL NEWS that our town of Broken Arrow was being hit by several tornadoes. That was weird!  But no one was hurt and our house was not in the path of the twisters.)

We added a couple of more people to the packed car as we left Durango. Tiki and Hays joined the fray as we drove to Denver for the last leg of our participation in the road trip. There we parted ways and flew home as they raced across Kansas to be back to work and reality. Many miles covered in a week!

Whew!  What memories!  Making them WAS the intention and the accomplishment!
We've got the pictures to prove it!




Wednesday, May 22, 2013

BOOK CLUB ROAD TRIP

The Ridge Readers took a road trip!  It was only a matter of time.
It was the first, but not the last, no indeedy!

Last week we packed up and drove to Bentonville, AR to visit the Crystal Bridges Museum. What a fun time! 

A sweet friend, Leigh Freeze, is a volunteer museum guide there and she gave us a delightful tour! She had to prepare for months to secure her position at that world-class place situated in the hills of Arkansas.  The Walton family donated priceless works of art and Leigh made them "come alive" with stories that made us look at each piece a little differently.  The Norman Rockwell exhibit also brought smiles to our faces. The group LOVED Leigh! The building itself is a work of art that must be experienced.

The museum was just one event on our itinerary.  We spent two days laughing, complaining, eating, shopping, sharing grandchildren stories and pictures, getting lost, getting found and simply enjoying one another. I have pictures taken at a flea market that will NEVER be posted on Facebook. (Think vintage hats and fox skin boas!)

Also, a flirty waiter at a French restaurant knew exactly how to speak to this group of "over 60's" which earned him a sizable tip! Can you see it???

Strong opinions are always voiced and NO ONE gets offended. We've all lived long enough to know better than that!

I've been in many organizations and this one tops them all.  Women of various backgrounds, careers, family situations, states, religious and political persuasions usually aren't drawn into friendships.
Yet the respect we have for one another is enviable.

 (This group has been meeting over 6 1/2 years, gathering once a month, 2nd Friday.  Missing Book Club is rare, no one wants to miss out on the laughter and discussion. You never know what one-liner is going to be etched in the brain and enjoyed during sleepless nights of the future.  Each member takes her turn at selecting a book to discuss, hosting the meeting and leading the discussion. It works!)

Recently we have discovered that we have a few unwritten "by-laws." (Marion, our most capable President, Secretary, Event Planner and Historian, tries to keep us organized. She had seat assignments for the road trip, coming and going.)

The rules? (These are pretty "loose")

1. The group shall consist of residents of the Forest Ridge Community. Makes attending easy!
2. The number of members shall be limited to 12. (One for each month of the year and that's about as many as fit comfortably in all our living rooms.)
3. A waiting list shall be established for people wanting to join, HOWEVER, space will be available only upon death!
4. A "bucket list" shall be established for future road trips. (I'm lobbying for ITALY!)

The Ridge Readers do more than read!  This group is good THERAPY for mental health!




Tuesday, May 7, 2013

MORE

 The sun is out and beauty is on display!

THE most beautiful flower known to man just gets more glorious every day.  Our yard is lined with color.

Ruffles, petals and aroma tickle the senses. 

I should have been a horticulturalist! Nothing is quite as calming and serene as these beauties.....

Breathe deeply and enjoy!




Saturday, May 4, 2013

IRIS - 2013


The beginning of the tall, bearded  IRIS season!
My favorite flower is shouting GLORY all over my back yard. The colors are unbelievable, the size enormous, the smell delious! Our collection is extensive and exquisite! (This is one of the easiest flowers to grow!)

Because of a threatened freeze this past week, I brought some inside and proclaimed the dining room as the "iris exhibit area."  Honeybuns and I voted and declared the black ones in the front row BEST OF SHOW.


 Now that the freeze is past there are MORE ready to appear.  More colors, more blooms, an even more outstanding display of God's creativity!

Visitors are welcome, drive-by's encouraged.  (No outside entries will be received, our house already looks and smells like a florists!)

Votes for favorites will be counted!   






Wednesday, May 1, 2013

GOING TO SCHOOL

For the past few weeks I've been volunteering with friends at a local public elementary school.  My friend Holly Tumpkin has developed a fun and delightful after school program for 5th and 6th grade girls.  She's found a lot of support from teachers and educators in the area, and a loyal group of volunteers!

I am SO fortunate that she invited me to tag along.  (I'm one of two grandma's in the small group of helpers.)

You might think that when one volunteers it's because there is work to be done and hands and a warm body are needed to accomplish something.  Well, maybe!

But this two hour afternoon, once a week, program has given me an education that I otherwise might not have acquired.

The group consists of fun, silly, sweet, serious, shy, boisterous, and on the surface TYPICAL young girls.  They are various sizes, races, and backgrounds.  They giggle ALOT!

 They all live in a part of town that is far removed from my sterile, every body's grass is 2 inches high, beautiful houses, lakes with geese, golfing community.

The program begins with activities to force all the girls to become friends. It's a sight to behold when cliques give way to all-inclusive smiles.  There is talk of good friendships vs. bad friendships, emotions, and the differences between the way boys handle things vs. the drama of girls. Family relationships, personality types, good characteristics of people, and bad characteristics of future boyfriends are all subjects discussed. Most of our time is spent on issues that used to be covered by moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles.  They love coming to "Girls 101"

Nothing is banned and questions help the girls share what's on their minds.

They don't hesitate in that department!!

As much as I try to be the one helping them discover themselves and new ideas, I and the other volunteers are the one whose eyes have been opened. I'm going to be sad when it ends.

I have learned that not all moms love their children, care for them and protect them.  I have learned that sweet little girls know and see things that they should not even be aware of at their young age.  I have learned that they are making decisions now that will affect the rest of their life and they don't even know it.  I have learned that violence, mental illness and family dysfunction are elements of every day life for many children in my own town.

I have learned that rudeness is actually a cry for "help me."  I have learned that dreaming of a better future is almost impossible for those who have never seen anything good or what I would call normal. I have learned that an 8th grade boy can father two children and take them to football practice.

I have learned that even in terrible situations, sweet little hearts somehow cope!

I have learned that there are GOOD teachers and staff that give their lives to make a difference.

I have learned that money is NOT the solution for these little girls or their schools. Oh, sure, it would be nice to have some new THINGS, but these children need strong healthy families, mature and law-abiding daddies, and moms that understand their role as giver of unconditional love.

Drugs, guns, and gangs have replaced sanity and the God-given purpose of parents.

Lip service by politicians is useless.  I'm not sure churches know how or want to get involved. The DHS system is grossly overloaded.   The problems are pretty overwhelming.  Where oh, where are the good role models?  They are mising from the TV, movies, and video games.

I don't know what the future holds for these 19 little girls. If statistics are correct and projections valid, it won't be bright for most of them.   A few will prevail in SPITE OF THE ODDS. Hopefully they'll all be ALIVE to see their 18th birthday.

 I DO know they've won my heart.

I think it would help if we could tell them that God came to this earth in the form of a man called Jesus who loves them and has a plan for their lives, that HE can be their comfort, guide, and joy.  It would be helpful to be able to share with them that HIS way can bring peace to their hearts when there is none in their home.  It would be nice for them to know that there is a great community of believers that love them and want to help. It would be helpful to give them HOPE.

But, those days are gone.  It's illegal to give hope through speaking the gospel of Jesus Christ in public arenas these days.

Perhaps they'll SEE HIM in the eyes and behavior of Holly and her gang of volunteers. It would be a miracle, but HEY! That's the kind of business HE'S in!  Maybe that's been HIS plan all along!

Taking the body of Christ to school!  It's a FABULOUS, GOD-ORDAINED PLAN!













Monday, April 29, 2013

BIRD WATCHING

He's looking at me!  And I am looking back!
Hey birdie!  Look at the birdie and smile!  I'm taking your picture!

Yes! This is what old people do on slow Sunday afternoons. Honeybuns and I sat in ROCKING CHAIRS on the back patio and waited for this guy and his cousins to come for a snack!  Free entertainment for about 20 minutes.

When the yellow finches arrive, it is CERTAINLY spring!  They are beautiful! I have counted as many as 15 hanging onto this bird feeder at one time.

But, just one turn of the head, sneeze, or slight movement sends them off lickity split!  They're pretty skittish!

So, what's up with that?  We were not about to harm them or try to catch them.

I guess it's the old "fight or flight" syndrome, and since they are designed beautifully with those tiny feathered wings, they can and they DO choose FLIGHT!

What talent!  I'm sure mankind has envied birds since the garden of Eden.

Wouldn't it be fab to be able to lift my arms and SOAR?  I  doubt I would be so easily frightened, BUT, it would be nice to "lift off" when the laundry is piled up, relationships flare up, or expectations rise up.

 Escape!  Yep!  That's what this finch is doing!

Evidently I/we are not supposed to escape every time something goes awry, or we'd have feathers, too.

Perhaps we're supposed to live and learn right here at ground level.

(I have a crazy FEAR of heights anyway, it would never work!)

So, the bird fears me and I fear heights.  Evidently this whole thing is working out the way it's supposed to. While he's flitting around today, I guess I'll go do laundry!






Sunday, April 21, 2013

CRYSTAL BRIDGES MUSEUM

The Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, AR is FABULOUS!

Honeybuns and I drove over Saturday for the day. 

We've heard many positive comments about this museum so we needed to see it for ourselves.  It's amazing how many Masterpieces are housed there in the hills of northern Arkansas, home of Sam Walton and the Walton dynasty.

The building itself is worth the drive!  It is a maze of curves, water features, and soaring windows. Views of blooming dogwoods and native plants along the many walking trails makes it an indoor/outdoor experience. Entrance is free, thanks to the Walton foundation and Saturday it was FULL!  Families, couples, baby strollers and prom dates wandered through the corridors. (The gowns and tuxedos added to the festive atmosphere.) Museum volunteers were everywhere making sure everyone was having a good time and the pieces were protected.
Walking Boy!
The upscale restaurant is fun and very popular. Special "reading rooms" furnished with comfy sofas and books related to art gives weary feet a rest while curious eyes can flip through art history pages.

The permanent collection is something I would expect to see in NYC or perhaps France. Both traditional and modern art was breathtaking! Even the sculptures were entertaining.

The traveling exhibit of the work of Norman Rockwell brought smiles to EVERY FACE!  As a fan of Norman, Honeybuns was mesmerized as he read about the artists career and work all made famous with those Saturday Evening Post covers that documented decades of American history. Mr. Rockwell would have been very proud to think that his interpretation of middle America was actually being ENJOYED by middle America. We chose favorites and wanted to bring them home with us.


Look at those hair-dos!

Ceiling of the restaurant!
 




Man by light switch!




We love museums and we love Arkansas!  It was a great day for both!




Wednesday, April 17, 2013

REALITIES OF TODAY

Warning:  This blog post is depressing!  Proceed at the risk of YOUR mental health or at least your MOOD!

I am bewildered! Not stressed, not anxious, not angry, and not ready for the rubber room just yet.

 And  I am a list maker. 

Lists are therapy for me.  If I can see it in a concise form, somehow it becomes manageable!

I'll title this one: The Top 15 BAFFLING REALITIES OF TODAY.

1. A bomb in a pressure cooker kills and maims, and poisionous letters are sent to Congress.
2. The trial of abortionist Gosnell is totally ignored by the American media.
3. California citizens readily sign a petition to "rid" America of the first and second amendments after being told that they would be supporting their President.
4. The new health care law is contained in 17,000 pages and Dr's. shake their head in disbelief at the size and directives.  (One local Dr. recently predicted that America will skip socialized medicine and willingly accept communism, called by another more positive name of course.)
5. Marriage is being re-defined and if you support the differences and roles of men and women you are a dangerous bigot.
6. A black brilliant neuro-surgeon is labeled and threatened because he happens to be conservative.
7. Proven adulterers and sex addicted politicians are returning to office with the support of voters.
8. Guns laws are being debated and presented for a vote in congress that would not have stopped ANY of the past mass shootings, ignoring the fact that criminals do not OBEY LAWS.
9. Over half of the population believes that the way to get out of debt is to BORROW AND SPEND trillions of dollars MORE. (Rain tax is supported: taxing people for the amount of rain that falls on their property, monitored by satellites.)
10. Modern day slavery is rampant and the porn industry that feeds Human Trafficking is considered recreation. (Customers are white men with discretionary income.)
11. Infanticide is considered a "decision between a mother and her Dr."
12. Jay Leno has proven that most folks on the street do not know the name of the Vice President.
13. 1 Ambassador and 3 others are murdered in Benghazi and no one knows why.
14. Illegal is now defined as undocumented.
15. (Honeybuns favorite)  Corporate jet owners that worked and paid for their planes are vilified while the one criticizing flies around the world at the expense of the tax payer.

There are more but if I go on, I'll have to eat a bag of Oreos, just to get through the day.

So, what do I/we do with "the new normal?"

CHOICES:
A. Ignore it all, tend to my own knitting and pretend none of this affects me or my family.
B. Try to be a voice of reason when given the opportunity.  "Evil reigns when good men do nothing."
C. Rest in the Sovereignty of God, knowing that "nothing can separate me from His love."
D. all of the above.

I choose B and C. 

Whew! That was hard but I have a plan!




Wednesday, April 10, 2013

BLUE GRASS AND STEPHEN CURTIS CHAPMAN



Blue Grass is BACK!  Maybe it never left.  But it's not been playing around our house for several years.  I don't know why I've neglected it. I've ALWAYS loved it, amazed at the talent it takes to bring fabulous music from a banjo.

In the style of Mumford & Sons, Stephen Curtis Chapman and his flying fingers have just released a new CD titled Deep Roots! We found it at Cracker Barrel at Sunday lunch. The music is really good!  He has made some new arrangements of old hymns, sometimes including his father and other family members singing along. 

As he sings those old fashioned words  I am immediately transported back to memories of country days.  I can feel the sun on my face and see clouds of dust billowing up from dirt roads, usually by an old pick up truck!

As wonderful and up lifting as contemporary worship songs might be, there are NONE that relay the simplicity of  Blue Grass.  I'm thrilled that it's gaining in popularity!

The Chapmans have "deep rooted faith." It has been tested by tragedy in recent years and found to be the real deal. I suppose knowing their story adds to the authenticity of the words as well.  He sings of what he knows and he knows the ONE of whom he sings.

I like that title "Deep Roots."  There has to be a "drawing" upon the strength of deep rooted faith when trouble comes.  Jesus promises us a troubled life as long as we're on this earth, but also promises HIS presence in and through it as well. And THAT is more than enough. These old hymns teach that.

False prophets teach just the opposite and millions of people have swallowed that lie from the pit of hell: hook, line and sinker.  I hear personal testimonies of such grandiose statements almost every day.

 It goes like this,"God would NEVER allow a tragedy to come to my life!"   I shake my head sadly.  We live in a time when it's acceptable to  "make up" a definition of the Sovereign God just to fit our needs and foolish ideas. "Feeling good" is readily embraced at the expense of the TRUTH.

Music is powerful and the WORDS are important.

Remember this one,  "Be careful little ears what you hear!"

Call me old-fashioned, but my ears are enjoying TRUTH today, set to the music of a banjo playing Blue Grass.










Saturday, April 6, 2013

THE VICE SQUAD AND THE CHURCH

It's not just every day that I get to visit with  members of the vice squad!  Wow! What an education I received.  Four members of the Christians Against Trafficking coalition had the privileged of talking with some very experienced Tulsa undercover police officers this week.

They had much to say and we had much to learn.

Their stories set our hair ablaze as they shared statistics and frustrations.  They work hard, mostly while the rest of us are sleeping.  They find themselves in situations we will never encounter. Some of their tales sounded like something fresh out of a movie. They are trained, motivated, and committed to delving into the sub-cultures of our city.

Tulsa is a wonderful place.  It is filled with good, honest, God-fearing people and has a matchless reputation of volunteerism and philanthropy.  700 churches meet weekly.  Many positive elements in the city and surrounding areas make this a fine place to live and breathe and raise healthy children.

BUT...as we learned this week, the criminal element is thriving as well.  As in most cities across the US, the people in power in Tulsa have a huge task when they start prioritizing crimes to prosecute. There are just too many! There is only so much time on the court room docket, only so much room in the jails. The problem is humongous and the judicial system is broken, most often by sheer volume.

Our new friends have the distinct job of routing out prostitution, among other vices, and tell us that sex crimes are rampant in our town. Drugs and violence are interwoven. And those crimes are destroying families, businesses, and children.

Since the "world's oldest profession" has been around pretty much since the beginning of time, we were not surprised.  Evidently local massage parlors and upscale hotels are the popular meeting places. "Stings" similiar to those we've seen on "Dateline" are common.

We were stunned at the number of very young girls that are found by these officers. (Thirty a night is not uncommon.)  The Internet is their method of advertising and huge amounts of money are their reward. (Customers are typically white men with discretionary income, their names are published in the newspaper.)  There are many websites that exist for this business plan.

We heard stories of very young girls, some by their own volition, that make very bad decisions that determine their future. If under 16, the victim/perpetrator is sent to juvenile detention, for a short time! Rarely does that plan have a long-range positive effect.

 Sometimes pimps are involved, sometimes girls  are held by force, fraud, or corecion and then it becomes a case of Human Trafficking.

We discussed solutions, after-care, methods of operation and then the big question: "Where are the parents of these CHILDREN?"

The vice squad sees it all.  And they have a perspective developed through experience.

The consensus seems to be that parents have abdicated their role. Evidently today's parents don't want to parent but rather be FRIENDS with their children.  That rlationship involves no boundaries, no rules, no serious conversations, and no time! There is little help with education, spiritual training, or guidance as to how to get out and stay out of poverty.  Often the parents of the "children of the night" have no idea HOW to parent. They themselves had no role models or support systems.  Some are trapped in generational poverty and don't even know it. Drugs are commonplace, jail is a place to rest and get fed for a few days, and an arrest is nothing to fear. (They KNOW the judicial system is overloaded so an arrest is a minor inconvenience.)

Other absent parents are found on the golf course, in the office, or jetting around the country. Buying gifts or trips can be mistaken for parenting. Also, today young boys have an option, they don't have to grow up and become men/husbands/fathers if they choose not to.  They can choose the life of extended adolescence and forego adult behavior and responsibility. Children of fatherless homes are so vulnerable.

We offered help and prayers.  They appreciated both, and sincerely believe their efforts are doing "some" good and "if one young girl is rescued" their efforts are worth it all.  Their workplace is dangerous and often very sad, but they are determined to persevere.

It takes some very brave and wise folks to do what these people are doing.  Strength, wisdom and compassion were on display at our meeting.

A few months ago a Federal Attorney we met summed it up, "We in America do not take care of our children."  The people on the vice squad are certainly trying!












Wednesday, April 3, 2013

COUNTERFEIT GODS?

Timothy Keller has hit the nail on the head!  Actually he does that every time he writes, ANYTHING!  This Manhatten pastor is a critical thinker and gifted communicator.  His words ring true.

In his book, Counterfeit Gods, Keller explains the how and why all those wonderful pursuits of success, money, true love and the life we've  always wanted OFTEN leaves us restless,  lonely and dissatisfied. He quotes several Biblical characters and tells their stories so WE might learn a lesson or two.

In our era of economic meltdown, ALL that disappointment is magnified in divorce, bankruptcy, suicides, bitterness and hopelessness.  If ANY good has come from America's recent downturn financially/culturally/spiritually it is the revelation of how foolish it is to place our hope and hearts in fortunes, marriages, relationships, careers and a secure retirement.  They ARE Counterfeit Gods! Americans have worshipped them for years and they have crashed around us.

He describes a  strange melancholy that is a result of a culture FILLED idols. We can (and do)  make gods out of children and family, career and making money, achievement and critical acclaim, a romantic relationship, a political or social cause, morality and virtue,  peer approval, military power, health, fitness, beauty, emotional dependence of others on you,  ideologies, saving face or social standing. We develop relationships with people and things that can only be described as worship.

Sometimes the god of  religion goes askew with the thought, "if you live a good life, then the gods or God will HAVE to bless you and give you prosperity."  The ones that follow THAT god assume that the most successful people in a society are those closest to God. The daily headlines prove THAT line of thought false! (Jesus Himself tells us that we WILL have troubles as long as we are in this world.)

 Whew!  What a description of America!  These "gods" are "in our face" 24/7!

Years ago, Bill Gothard defined idolatry as: "Expecting anyone or anything to do for you THAT which only God can do."

Archbishop William Temple said, "Your religion is what you do with your solitude." In other words, the true god of your heart is where your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention."

Also, another way to discern your true love is to look at how you spend your money.  The mark of an idol is that you spend too much money on IT.

Another question, "What are you really living for?"  If you pray and ask for something and don't get it and respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then maybe you've found your true god.

Final test. Look at your uncontrollable emotions.  Fear, frantic activity, overworking, despair, guilt?
Pull those emotions up by the roots and see which god is clinging to them.

Idolatry is not just disobeying God, it is setting the whole heart on something/someone beside HIM.

The solution? It is NOT pulling yourself up by the boot straps or obeying rules of outward conduct, but setting your heart on Christ as your peace and your life.  THAT is the road to freedom from counterfeit gods that control us.

Thank you Timothy Keller!  You've challenged us to THINK!





Monday, April 1, 2013

INTRODUCTION TO FISHING

First fish of the season! It's there, you just have to squit one eye and look very closely. It was the ONLY one hungry enough to take a chance on that worm.

Papa is holding the line and that "monster" fish is hanging on the hook.  (Not to fret, we released him back into the lake immediately after this picture, no permanent harm done to him.)

It was Thompson's very first fishing trip. (age 3)  Nevermind that it lasted only about an hour and the "trip" consisted of a short walk from our house.  It was a VERY big deal for him. 

He loved the tackle box and all the equipment, the lake, the geese, the turtles and the setting. He did NOT love the fishing worms.  And he did not kiss the worm before it went on the hook, "just for luck."

Every little boy needs to know about fishing. Hopefully next time we'll go somewhere and catch one big enough to FRY!  I'm sure he'll love that!

A fishing trip with Papa!  Priceless!

Friday, March 29, 2013

GOOD FRIDAY

I cannot imagine walking down a familiar road in my town and seeing human beings hanging on rough hand-cut crosses.  The pain, cries, sweat, blood, flies, heat, and smell must have been horrific.  The religious and political leaders sneering, laughing and mocking added to the surreal scene. Relatives, friends, and people passing by must have been in some type of shock at the sight. The Roman method of capital punishment was unbelievably cruel.

Watching someone you love hang there must have been unbearable!

How Mary, His friends and His disciples even lived through that day is remarkable! I wonder if his mother cried out, "let it be over soon."

The Bible says the sky went dark from about noon until three o'clock.

Maybe that was some type of comfort, a type of sheltering from the intense heat, the sneers, the gawkers.

It WAS over about three that day!  All the hope His disciples had placed in Him to make things right, to overthrow Roman rule, and to vindicate their loyalty to Him, all gone. He was dead! 

All their misplaced theories and desires were crushed.  They gathered at a hiding place as well.  Their lives were on the line now too.  To those alive then, that Friday was NOT good!

What sorrow! What indescribable grief!

 Where is the grief today, where is the sorrow for all the sin of the world that put Him there?

I don't see a lot of grieving over sin these days.  In fact, that word is not politically correct.  Just try to bring it into casual conversation! Sin these days is defined as just an alternate life-style that must be embraced. Every man does what is right in HIS own eyes!  Our culture is dark and evil seems to be gaining ground.

The cross proved that sin is horrific and demands a price. The price offered and received that day was the body of the Son of God.

God have mercy on us all!



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

CASTE SYSTEM ? IN AMERICA?

WOW!  What an eye-opener!

For a while now I've been extremely frustrated at the national dialogue over just about every subject imaginable: Freedom, right to life, same sex marriage, taxes, politics, morality, movies, value of children, etc.  I've bemoaned the fact that it seems that when we talk to one another we are speaking foreign languages.  There seems to be no clear speaking OR understanding!

Well, Ruby Payne, PhD. has helped explain to me this phenomena.   According to her extensive research we ARE talking different languages because of the vast differences of MIND-SET found in different socio-economic groups.  We might all be Americans but we live in different WORLDS.  The world of poverty is starkly different than the middle-class and the middle-class thinks and behaves totally different than the wealthy. (No news flash there!) The values placed on family, food, education, relationships, clothing, language, money, time, destiny, world view, love, humor varies GREATLY DEPENDING upon the "caste" you were born into!  (OH, my, I thought this only happened in India!)

The family patterns in generational poverty explains why poor children find education in our public schools so difficult and higher education an impossible abstract dream.  Role models and support systems are critical for poor children to succeed and are often missing from their life. This book is a must read for educators, employers, policymakers, and service providers. New creative ideas are possible and critical. Unspoken rules/skills/tools of the middle and wealthy class must be taught and LEARNED.  Until they are the poor don't even know they HAVE a choice to succeed.

Dr. Paynes research and countless books and seminars have earned her the title of expert. Without judgment or condemnation Dr. Payne suggests many ideas to turn things around. Throwing money at a failed educational system is NOT the answer. I find this fascinating.

Anybody in power listening to Dr. Payne?

(How does this affect our national scene?  Speaking the language of the poor and keeping them poor translates into votes, manipulation and dependence. )



Wednesday, March 20, 2013

MUSHROOMS, HERE I COME!

Tis the season! The Morel  Mushroom is "edible gold" from the woods of America, and it's almost "open season." (These were found by my nephew last spring at one of his favorite "hot spots.")

I did a little research, actually about 5 minutes of research, and have learned that there is a wealth of information about these little tidbits of nature.  There are online sights that answer questions, predict the best time to harvest in various states, recipes, equipment needed, rotten tree logs identified and even one called a "sightings map."  Pictures of poisonous and non-poisonous  'rooms are critical information for the novice. Who knew?

All I know is that hunting mushrooms in the spring in central Illinois is one of the most fun times a family can experience. This pictures brings a SMILE to my face as I reminisce. (Tromping through the timber, head bowed down, eyes pealed for snakes, shrieking with joy at a find, relatives racing to the sweet spot near an old rotten elm log, picking them as fast as possible as if they were going to be going anywhere.)  The added reward is EATING them! (Wash/soak in refrigerator in salt water to get rid of bugs, rinse, pat dry, dip in egg, drag through flour, fry in hot oil in Granny's old iron skillet.)

I've learned today that they grow in most states with the weather, ground temperature, amount of sunshine and perfect soil all factoring into the sport. All but the deep south and the desserts of the southwest can claim them, with southern Wisconsin being the very BEST area to plan a hunt.

The season is short, beginning mid-April through mid-June. The relatives in Illinois usually head for the woods mid-May.  Checking out all the .coms makes the whole process a science that guarantees rewards!

And folks are still bad mouthin' that evil Internet!   If it helps me find a "mess" of these in OK, I'll be singing it's praises!