Friday, January 29, 2010

Epiphany at a Pig Trough

Have you ever made a mess of a moment, a month or more? Most of us have.

Jesus told a compelling story about a son who deliberately walked away from his family and their values only to find that life away from genuine love is no life at all.

The son in the story is the baby of the family, who grew up in a loving home with privileges -- plenty of food, clothes, and enough honest work to earn satisfaction at the end of a day. His family had more than enough resources to meet their servant’s and their family’s needs.

But restlessness settled into this boy’s reckless heart. He wanted to move beyond Papa’s house. He asked to pre-collect on his inheritance -- he wanted now what was meant for later. He was eager to move on and travel the streets beyond his home’s white picket fence. The colorful world beckoned. Home life with all it boundaries had dulled. Open the gate. He wanted out.

His father gave him his inheritance. Like most dads, he knew that it’s impossible to create or enforce enough rules to make your child choose the best path in life. It must have hurt the father dearly to know that the coins he put in a bag for his son were the keys to possible ruin. But youthful lessons are often learned at great expense.

Foot loose and fancy free doesn’t come near to describing this young man’s romp. He traveled far away from home in distance and heart. “Friends” flocked to his money and wanted the good times to keep rolling. But one day, when the boy reached into that bag, he only felt the leather bottom. The coins had vanished. All those nights gone wild, were gone, and his new buddies had slithered off to their home pits.

A severe famine hit the land and his nothing became even less. No source of comfort. No home. No food. But hunger often aids the return of common sense. First, he needed to find a job to support his eating habit. In those days, work for party-boys was scarce, but he finally found employment feeding a herd of pigs.

His wages were meager and his stomach never stopped growling. And one day as he slopped the hogs, he looked hungrily at the abundance of their swill. That’s when he had an epiphany at the pig trough.

“How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” (Luke 15:17). At that moment, he roused from selfishness to repentance. He made a conscious decision to return to his father’s house, and inquire about employment as a hired hand. In his mind, he prepared a speech and it would begin, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you….”

The near-ruin young man found his way home, and in the distance he spotted the precious white picket fence, but it was only a backdrop for the one he really longed to see. Out in the lane, running to meet him, he saw his father. And when his dad reached him, he scooped him up in a big bear hug, held his face in his hands and kissed him.

His father’s extravagant love fueled the son’s remorse, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” But his dad didn’t want revenge or to lop off a branch of the family tree. He wanted him grafted back. With great joy, he asked his servants to bring a beautiful robe, a ring, and sandals. And he told them to prepare a feast, for a celebration was about to take place, “[T]his son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

The entire chapter of Luke 15 is filled with coming home stories, of finding a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. And the essence of each homecoming story is God’s loving forgiveness and heaven’s rejoicing when prodigals return home.

Have you messed up for a moment or a month or more? Turn for home. Watch for the white picket fence. Watch for the Father running to scoop you up in his warm embrace.
Dear Readers,

I appreciate all you faithful readers. I think I started emailing my newspaper column out in early 2006. Thanks bunches for sticking around. Due to a recent glitch in a list server I use, I lost nearly 2,000 addresses of folk who were getting the column. Plus the server is unable to send any mail to Yahoo users. I'll most likely seek another server soon. If you know of someone who would enjoy the column, please forward and invite them to sign up. May God shine on and through you and yours...Cathy


Friday, January 22, 2010

Volunteering and Offering Hope

If you have a pillowcase, minimal sewing skills, bias tape, and elastic, you can volunteer to make a dress. Or as a carpenter said about his seamstress wife, “She’s building a dress?”

As we’ve seen through the recent tragedy in Haiti, volunteerism is the motor that runs many aid agencies. Two days ago, school girls in the United States made dresses for displaced girls in Haiti, and they made them from pillowcases. Hope 4 Kids International will soon send the dresses to rubble strewn Haiti and offer a glimmer of optimism.

Volunteers at Hope 4 Kids International seek to furnish every girl in underprivileged nations with a dress. Across the United States, pillowcases are sewn into sun dresses. In a tailoring school in Ugandi, parent organization, Hope 4 Women International, furnished pillowcases and instructions so that local women could make the simple dresses and also teach the teens in the area.

By also furnishing treadle sewing machines to women in remote villages, they can then make dresses for their daughters even when electricity is not available. Interested? Patterns and step-by-step video instructions can be found at

In this country, 44 percent of adults volunteer, that’s 83.9 million workers. The Independent Sector Survey, sponsored by MetLife Foundation, measures the generosity of Americans based on giving monies and volunteer hours. A recent survey found that 89 percent of households give an average of $1,620 per year. Their volunteer hours represent the equivalent of over 9 million full time wage-earners, a value of 239 billion dollars.

Another program, Retired Senior and Volunteer Program (RSVP), helps people over the age of 55 find meaningful volunteer work in their communities. They state, “Anyone willing to lend their skills to make a difference is welcome to join RSVP and receive its referral services and benefits.” RSVP has nearly 500,000 volunteers across the nation who help adults learn to read, deliver meals to the homebound elderly, and assist in disaster preparedness and response.

In addition, many retired persons volunteer at non-profit groups, who benefit from the life-learned and work-related skills of retired seniors. RSVP volunteers work in libraries, community centers, schools, law enforcement agencies, parks, and hospitals. Marge Wright, whose volunteer work was spotlighted in the regional RSVP newsletter, trained to become a mentor to juveniles who are at risk of incarceration. She listens carefully to the young man she is mentoring and finds ways to connect through his interests.

Ms. Wright collects “relevant newspaper and magazine articles” about his sports and entertainment heroes and then uses those to help him “increase his reading and reading comprehension skills.” Also, she watches for opportunities to address appropriate and inappropriate behavior, and that type of conversation is easy when conversing about current events.

One of RSVP projects is our non profit Friendship Center, meeting the needs of Senior Adults throughout Montgomery County. Volunteers are needed to assist with the Meals on Wheels program. Contact Nicki Wright at Gulf Coast RSVP if you can help with this project or others.

Jesus poured out his life to those he only spent moments with or those who traveled with him three years. He summed up his entire mission when he said, “[T]he Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give himself as ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). And Jesus words, “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) are a much repeated truism, over 2,000 years later. Jesus not only gave his life on the cross, but he laid down his life for others every day.

Christ-follower vol;unteers, whether you are “building” pillowcase dresses, building wooden trusses for a home, or building sandwiches at a homeless shelter, you are in good company. Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Real LIfe is Good for Kids-January 15

My high school English teacher Mrs. Ermel, a stickler for proper pronunciation and grammar, said, “You raise chickens. You rear children.” She longed for the Texas teens she taught to develop good language skills, and she wanted us to learn the difference between the words “raise” and “rear.” Ms. Ermel gave a life lesson that I still remember: there is a vast difference in tossing chicken feed to yard birds and the attentive rearing of children.

One of the greatest heartaches to parents is to watch an adult child go astray. Some wander just off the proven path while others hit the bottom of deep ravines. Adult children’s failures create ripples of suffering, guilt, remorse, what-if’s, and more for parents. Some parents recognize their enabling trends and that their children could have benefited from experiencing failure. Other parents may have reared three outstanding citizens, only to have a fourth child rebel from family teachings. Good parenting is difficult to practice without support.

Evil abounds. And too many young adults get ensnared in wrong ideals, addictive substances, and thoughts of entitlement. Broken hearted parents stand on the sidelines and watch the destructive behavior of adult children, wondering how they can best respond to the situation, wondering how they can restore their own sanity and peace.

Allison Bottke, author of “Setting Boundaries with Your adult Children,” shares six steps that offer hope and healing for struggling parents. Through her own experience with a prodigal son, she advises other hurting parents. She covers many areas of coping with the heartache of out-of-control adult children. It is an excellent source for parents who long to regain their sanity.

For those of you still parenting teens, I’ll share some preventive-concepts. The following eleven rules have been attributed to Bill Gates as part of a talk to high school and college graduates. No matter who wrote them, they might help your teens avoid a pitfall:

One, life is not fair, get used to it. Two, the world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself. Three, you will not make $40,000. a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice president with a car phone until you earn both.

Four, if you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss. Five, flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger-flipping; they called it opportunity. Six, if you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Seven, before you were born, your parents weren’t boring. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you are. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents' generation, try "delousing" the closet in your own room. Eight, your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. Some schools have abolished failing grades; they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.

Nine, life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time. Ten, television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs. Eleven, be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

A new support group is forming in Montgomery County, Texas to help struggling parents set boundaries with their adult children, regain their sanity, and to offer special hope because “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). If you wish to talk to the facilitator, send me an email at writecat at consolidated dot net and I’ll forward your message along to this group.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Support for Values-January 8

How much support do you receive from family, friends, your church, or an organized support group? Christians believe we receive our best and utmost support from God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and the church, the body of Christ. But support groups also offer opportunities for us to be accountable to someone for our “rule of life.” You probably have set up rules that govern your life, whether you realize it or not.

Good schools and businesses are known to teach their guidelines for operations. These guidelines are often called mission statements. But “rule of life” seems a better term to fit individuals, families, and churches. One church states, “A rule of life is simply a structure in which spiritual formation is facilitated.” The Latin term for “rule” is “regula.” The Latin word doesn’t carry all the negative implications of the English word “rule.”

The Latin term indicates self-imposed rules that one longs to practice. A Rule of Life is simply a tool for growth, “not a pair of iron pants,” someone suggests. They help to identify boundaries and govern behavior.

We all need support to succeed in life. We need guidance from those who are farther ahead on the journey, and I’m a member of several support groups. One is through my church, called a Life Group. About 15-20 in number, David and my group meets in homes on scheduled Sunday evenings to study the Bible and pray together.

Another support group I’m in is an online community of six women. We communicate by e-mail, and we met through a Christian writers’ group in 2005. Trish, Karen, Brenda, Terra, and Leslie are lovely women with sweet souls. Since we all write for the general public as well as the Christian market, we teamed up to support each other in our personal lives and writing careers. We’ve not all met in person, but we have co-authored a book together and have other projects in mind.

These women pray for me and I pray for them. We pattern our group after the Bible hero Barnabas, who was called “Son of Encouragement” by the apostles (Acts 4:36). Cecil Murphey, co-author of “90 Minutes in Heaven,” calls Barnabas, “a sponsor of champions.” Someone in our online women’s group dubbed us the Barnabas Babes, if babes can range in the ages of 40s-60s. For our collaborative writing projects, we chose a more subtle name, the Word Quilters.

A few years back, we came up with a list of 22 “rules” or goals to aid our children to develop to their full potential. Parents, you may find these helpful in rearing your family or you may recognize some you already practice, even though they are not written. Lately, after reviewing my list, I saw how they could guide adults as well.

Here’s the list we developed: Be on time. Do the best job you can so you don't have to redo work. Don't procrastinate. Value everyone. Respect God. Honor your parents. Be honorable in private moments and in public. Only let worthwhile material feed your mind. Volunteer. Use good manners.

Respect senior citizens. Treat others as you want to be treated. Tell the truth. Be honest in all aspects of life. Use clean language. Be kind to animals. Take care of possessions. Eat nutritious foods. Exercise. Value education. Play fair. Enjoy life.

Think about your Rule of Life and write them down, and then find a support group to help you achieve results. For especially hard times there are specialty groups who support the grieving, the divorced, recovering addicts, parents of special needs children, families living with Alzheimer’s disease, or families in crisis. You can connect with some of these groups through local churches.

I pray that you will think about your life rules this week, and be in church this Sunday with likeminded people. Remember, your Rule of Life is not a set of iron pants they are a path to an abundant life.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A Clutterless 2010?-January 1

My cookie cutters are causing me problems. Why? Because 2010 is about to arrive, and I’m determined to get rid of a few more things in my household. But each time I think about giving the cookie cutters away, memories surface of sticky little hands, smiles outlined by frosting and sprinkles, surrounded by the scent of vanilla.

In 2010, I’m on a quest again—a quest to let go of things that will break, rust, or crumble and to embrace my family and others, the real memory makers. I’m on a quest to make Jesus’ words a reality in my life, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

This New Year, some have simply resolved to not make any resolutions. But many of us recognize the slower winter months as a time to tackle problems, a time to practice and ingrain better habits. Whether you choose to live a simpler life, eat healthier foods, exercise more, or confront an addiction, they can be productive months. Find an accountability partner to help you succeed.

Back to my main project for these next few months, we moved into smaller living quarters last year. Downsized. We had a huge garage sale. We donated household stuff to Angelic Resale (a shop that helps folk get back on their feet). We gave away things to family and friends, but I still want less in the house and garage.

I like the look of surprise on someone’s face when I offer Great Grandma’s old trunk. I want to see my niece use the teapot that was gifted to me by her dad and mom. And why shouldn’t one more family baby wear the crocheted bonnet made in the late 1800s, instead of it resting between tissue paper in a drawer.

A common problem with possessions is that owners become bedazzled by their trinkets and doodads. Cyndy Salzmann, known as America’s Clutter Coach, said that when we refuse to let go of real clutter and things that hinder good progress in our lives, then those things have become idols to us. That’s a disquieting revelation to me.

I wonder if any of my possessions have such a hold on me that I can’t let go. I question if any of the things in my household have lost their usefulness and yet I still cling to them? Whole television shows are based on people who fill their homes to the rafters with stuff. Some people continually buy and order things until they only have paths in their homes, and the rooms are unfit for human habitation.

Just so you’ll know, I’m not against cookie cutters, but I don’t plan to let things fill up my shelves when they have outlived their real use. I still make cookies that you drop by the spoonfuls with the grandchildren, but just not the roll out kind anymore.

The other night, my husband David asked, “Do we have any cookies to lure the grandchildren over?” I didn’t, so we phoned and invited them to bake cookies with us. We made the teacake recipe that I’ve adapted to be dropped by the spoonfuls onto a baking pan. We dipped the bottom of a drinking glass with sugar and pressed them down flat. And we had just as much fun.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to tell you about a few support groups in Montgomery County, groups that can help in our struggles. My first suggestion for group support is to get your family into a church, one of the best places for sustenance and friendship.

If you want to declutter and also keep things out of our landfills, go to and look for the Montgomery County Freecycle group with 2400 members who recycle their unwanted items to each other. No costs involved. This is a nationwide group, so out-of-towners reading this, please look for one in your area.

Happy New Year.