Friday, September 30, 2011

The Ant and the Book Signing

The Ant and the Book Signing

Go ahead and call me an idiot. It’s okay. I’m not offended because more and more the title seems to fit.

            Do you want to hear why I’m giving you permission to do that? Last week, I spoke at Summit, Abilene Christian University’s Bible Lectureship, where they sponsor a variety of classes covering a large span of current topics. They host Bible teachers, authors, musicians, and community leaders who challenge Christians to live their calling in Christ, to endeavor to help the oppressed by halting sex trafficking, buying fair trade products, and remaining active in one’s community by caring for widows, orphans, and others who need a hand up. Students and thousands of visitors to the campus attend the sessions.

            In that setting, my publisher had scheduled several book signings for me. I have a system for signing books and it usually works. With three books published, I write a particular message for each of those books and underneath I sign my name. If I know the person, I write a more personal message. At one of those venues, a woman I’ve never met wanted me to sign her book. If asked to sign that particular book, I usually write, “Be a blessing, Page 106, Proverbs 17:17” and then I sign my name. Did I say I have a system and it normally works?  

            However, my plan didn’t work this past week when I was a few numbers off in my scripture reference. Heaven only knows who the book-buyer-woman was, and I do sincerely wish I could apologize for the scripture reference I accidentally wrote. That page number that I refer to when signing is to direct the reader to a story or recipe that I think is one of the better ones within the book. The story on page 106 is the one when close-friend Doris took up an offer of free turnip greens issued to both of us. Knowing I was very busy and couldn’t wash, drain, and de-sand them, she later surprised me with quarts and quarts of frozen ones. What a dedicated friend!

            I like that friendship story, and most people can relate to it. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times.” I don’t write out the actual words, just the numbers. It’s a general scripture, which could apply to many people and situations.

            At the exact moment I signed the woman’s book, the chosen Bible chapter and verse just wouldn’t surface in my mind. After a few seconds of delay, finally, my brain told me that the scripture reference that I usually write is Proverbs 6:6. The woman smiled happily, taking her signed book and moving on to the checkout line, and I greeted the next person.

            Later when the hubbub died down, I easily remembered that I’d written Proverbs 6:6 in the woman’s book. My brain also reminded me -- far too late -- that I usually write Proverbs 17:17.  To my horror, I wondered what words of wisdom were in Proverbs 6:6. I knew that somewhere in chapters 3 to 7 were some plain-talk descriptions about an adulteress. Naturally, all of the sudden my brain functions perfectly, reminding me of such descriptive phrases as, “Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.” Others quickly pop into my mind about the “immoral woman,” or the “adulteress who preys upon your very life,” or how a “prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread.”

            Why did my brain that’s been with me all these years desert me when most needed during the signing? When I realized just how BIG my mistake might be, worry began to gnaw at my peace.  Wondering what message is in Proverbs 6:6, I voiced my concerns to my traveling companion and sister, Sherry.

            “I think I’ve done something really stupid,” I said to her. I explained the number foul up and my fear that I might have called a Christian book buyer a trollop.

            My trusty sister whips out her Bible and says, “Why wait to find out. I’ll just see what it says.” She locates the verse, and I can see she’s reading silently to herself. She giggles and asks, “Are you sure those are the numbers you wrote.” I nod my head. “You’ll either hate yourself or think it’s funny.”

            I audibly groaned. Sister Sherry read aloud Proverbs 6:6, “Go to the ant, you sluggard. Consider its ways and be wise!”

            “Oh, good grief,” I said. “Some poor woman is walking around wondering why on earth I judged her a sluggard!” Then I remember it could have been worse. I could have tagged her as a loose woman who drags her “prey down to the grave.” Thank you, Lord, for small ant-sized favors. This is a sweeping apology to that unnamed woman. In addition, I know she’s not the first I’ve offended with written words and she’s probably not the last, I apologize for any of my misspoken words or written words -- a bunch, I’ve no doubt.

            A sense of humor, a willingness to confess, and a willingness to forgive – life’s too short to sweat the fumbles. Next time the ball’s up in the air and my brain is disengaged, I just hope to pass along a smile and maybe a signature alone. And that will just have to do.

            Index Card Verse for Week 39: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love” (Galatians 5:6).

You may contact Cathy at      

Friday, September 23, 2011

Little Things Bouy One's Spirit

Little things sometimes become powerful. The small moments in our lives often reassure us of God’s love, a family member’s, or a friend’s.

             As I look at the trees that line the creek near our home, I see them dying right before my eyes. Old oaks, stately pines, and a very old catalpa tree on our property to name only a few. We hope the trickle watering at night has been enough to keep the old live oak in our yard alive. I know that none of those trees really belongs to my family. I can’t determine their fate.  Indeed, they came up as saplings because of God’s design and they remain rooted in God’s soil, and he will water them when he wants. A small thing a raindrop, but its single vitality serves to nourish despite its smallness.

            Our land in South Texas is usually so well watered that it produces an abundance of mushrooms. I’m surprised we coast dwellers don’t have mushrooms growing in our lungs, since the air is so moist. Due to our historic drought, I will sorely miss the abundant splendor of morning glories blooming on the roadsides in Montgomery County – their vines climbing fences and roadway barricades.

            The morning glory’s heart shaped leaves and lavender blossoms have always been a favorite because they are September bloomers – pushing their delicate vines up through the ground even when high temperatures are still the norm. They arrive after dreadfully hot summers, but my search for them this fall has only brought sighting of a few stunted flowers, strugglers hearty enough to bloom beside cracks in the soil that could swallow them whole. A couple of tiny violet flowers, small things, but blooms during droughts always bring blessings.

            Even as grass crunches and breaks under each step of my foot, God’s ever nourishing earth disclosed something else this week.  A surprise lily dared the terrible heat, punching its lovely stem up through the dried earth producing floral trumpets.  Surprise lilies are just that. They most often bloom during hurricane season. They first grow broad leaves and about five days after these leaves wilt, a stem quickly pushes up through the ground producing the lilies.

            We live on an old home place, and I don’t know the network of old bulbs hiding beneath the soil; many have lain dormant for years. Suddenly, a resurrection takes place, and they surprise me by producing an array of color through no efforts of my own. God in his mercy provides a tiny but potent pleasure when he allows one to pop up overnight, a colorful reminder that he remains in control.

            My mother passed away over a recent hot record-breaking weekend.  As I washed the last clothes she wore and folded her socks and washcloths, I also folded little squares of fabric that helped to keep her hands busy over the last few years. You may remember when I told you about her dementia and shrinking interest in the world around her. Bedridden she could no longer read, write, or comprehend television. Family connections faded as well.

            I know many dementia patients pick at their covers, but there seemed to be more of a tailoring method as my mother, who could spend hours in a fabric store or at a pattern catalog, made exact pleats and smoothed them in place. Knowing her love of textiles, an idea was born to furnish her with quilt quarters, colorful pieces of seasonal cotton fabrics to occupy her hands and fill the years upon years of lying in bed and growing more frail. Quilt quarters, an insignificant thing, but I hope they brought her peace, and only God alone knows.

            Do you know someone who would benefit from telling them about the Talking Book Program (TBP), a division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) in Austin, Texas, and works with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) in Washington, DC, a program administered by the Library of Congress?

            They bring the world of literature through the tiny dots of Braille and through audio to sightless worlds of the blind. They also broaden the borders of the disabled through lending and mailing books and the loan of audio playing devices as long as needed – one of their resources: “The Holy Bible” with both the old and new testaments (narrated by Alexander Scourby).

            This week, I pray that you watch for small but significant surprises brought to you by the Creator, and then make time to shine similarly into someone’s life. Pay the toll for the person behind. Show a genuine smile. Speak to a stranger (it’s okay for adults). Give a hug. Hand someone a flower. Truly listen to someone. Look into someone’s eyes. Small acts of kindness nurture others, and those deeds may become the dynamic catalysts to restore his or her hope.

            Index Card Verse for Week 38: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

            Contact Cathy at   

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pool of Mercy

Imagine you’re holding your newborn son. Perfect in every way. No treasure rivals a healthy child, but a few weeks later, an uneasy feeling invades. Your son turns his head toward sounds, but his eyes don’t focus on anything—not even your face.

To the parents and blind son of John 9, blindness became as familiar as daily bread. The son never saw a minnow or the faint yellow of fresh butter. The parents never witnessed his wonder at seeing a puppy or a lightning bolt.

By adulthood, darkness underwrote his world. He had no comprehension of light besides descriptive words. Around Jerusalem, the tentative man who had to feel his way around town was well known. Locals could tell any newcomer, “Oh, he’s been around for years -- blind since birth.”

One day, Jesus and his disciples passed near him. Jesus noticed the man and his disciples asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”

            Perhaps the sightless man overheard Jesus’ answer. “Neither . . . this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (9:3). Jesus continued, “Night is coming, when no man can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (9:4-5).

            Jesus started the ball rolling, with mud balls, so that God would be displayed in the blind man’s life. Instead of immediate creation of sight, Jesus mixed a Sabbath-mud-and-saliva placebo, and smeared it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the pool of Siloam.”    

            Wherever the blind man was in Jerusalem, he obediently groped his way toward the pool. Did he encounter curious locals? Did hecklers ridicule his mud pack? Did brats jeer his stumbling walk or try to trip him? Did citizens pity him, thinking that both his mind and sight were now gone? Whatever he encountered, he pushed on to the pool of mercy.

            When he reached the water, did he kneel and dip his hands in the water? Or with abandon splash into the pool, dipping his head beneath the surface? Did he rise, flinging locks, shaking off droplets, wiping watery dirt from his face and eyes?

            With the soil of the earth washed away, his eyes opened. God met him there. Sweet sight. A spectrum of color. Adrenalin rush. Words and objects connected. For the first time, he had a live picture-dictionary of his vocabulary. 

            On that Sabbath, the blind man saw a mural—his parent’s faces, shimmering water, scowls from religious zealots, the synagogue. Yes, ugliness also treaded the boundaries of this healing. The Sabbath-Nazis aligned Jesus with sinners. Their anger stemmed from his claims to the title of Messiah and his so-called Sabbath offences.

            In the first slew of questions from the religious leaders, the healed man couldn’t identify Jesus. He’d never seen him. After more questions later that day, still without a face-to-face meeting, the man declared Jesus was a prophet.

Then he met Jesus. The sweetest Sabbath sighting of all.

Afterwards, cranky religious leaders asked further arbitrary questions of the healed man. He confirmed Jesus’ deity with his notable evidence-reply, “I was blind but now I see!”

The assignment given to Jesus remains our spiritual calling today: “To open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:6-7).

This Sunday is “National Back to Church Sunday.” A survey showed that most people would go with a friend to church if they were invited. And on Sunday evening at Buddy Moorehead Stadium the “Go Tell” revival, sponsored by over 30 area churches will kick off with multiple national speakers. Do you have at least one friend that might go with you to church or to the community revival? It’s a small thing to do, but when you invite them, you’re opening a door to light and God’s pool of mercy.   

Index card verse for week 37: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:7).

            Contact Cathy

Friday, September 09, 2011

My column ten years ago on Sept 14, 2001

Ten years ago, Jim Fredricks (then religion editor) published my first newspaper column. Then, Reverend Gerald Kline wrote the regular column, but “The Courier” published guest columnist, too. Jim had approved several columns, I’d sent him, and had promised to run one when he had room. Then the tragic events of September 11 occurred. I sent Jim an email the next day and suggested one of the submitted columns would be appropriate should he choose to publish it that Friday. Jim, always generous, published the following column that Friday.

            That column is now part of one of my books, a devotional book, “The Stained Glass Pickup.” In memory of September 11, 2001, the fallen, and of all the love-thy-neighbor goodness of that day and in the months to follow, I share my first column from ten years ago, September 14,, 2001:

“If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right” (James 2:8).

            When my daughter Sheryle was ten, we stopped at a fast food restaurant in Houston for lunch. The dining room was filled almost to capacity, but we found two seats next to the rest rooms. Near the end of our meal, a teenage male employee began rolling a janitorial bucket and mop toward the rest rooms. The worker, dressed in his uniform of gray trousers and gray and white striped shirt, steered the sloshy contents with the mop handle. Approaching the rear of the restaurant where we sat, the young man began having a seizure. He fell to the floor and knocked over the bucket of water.

            What could I do to help? The last time I witnessed someone having a seizure, several friends aided her with a substitute tongue depressor, to keep her from biting her tongue. I recalled that medical aid was now outdated.

            Everyone close by stopped eating. The boy continued to have what I guessed to be a grand mal seizure. Within seconds, another teenage employee yelled to the front, “John’s having another seizure!”

            At the first cry of alarm, a man stepped away from the crowded lunch counter and hurried toward the back. Dressed immaculately in a white shirt, gray flannel slacks, tie and textured jacket, he looked out of place in the casual,jeans-clad crowd. He calmly asked the other employee, “What’s his name?”

            “John,” the employee answered.

            On the floor, John’s muscles were racked by spasms, his teeth chattered, and his limbs jerked. The man moved the mop bucket away from John’s thrashing head to avoid him further injury. Then squatting, he placed one knee in the water, bent over John and said, “I’m a doctor, John. You’ll be okay.”

            Over and over he called John’s name. He gently coached and assured him, “John, relax. This will be over soon. John, you’re okay. Relax, John. This won’t last much longer.”

            Again and again he encouraged the writhing boy. Finally, John’s body, responding to internal signals and the soothing voice of the doctor, relaxed.

            The close quarters and activity had confined the other diners and us to our seats. Sheryle and I gathered our remaining food and tiptoed through the puddled water to leave. The last thing John needed was a gawking crowd.

            The picture of John and the physician remain vivid in my memory. One was in need of help, one was willing to step into the middle of things—in medias res— and extend compassion. My daughter and I witnessed the royal law that day when two pairs of gray trousers were soaked—one by circumstance, one by choice.

Index card verse for week 36: “We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).

Friday, September 02, 2011

Job Description

            Between Fairfield and Corsicana, Texas, my husband saw a highway paint crew at work. At the same time, he noticed a poor mutt that had met his demise in the middle of the road. The painters seemed oblivious to the carcass and sprayed a white stripe over the top of the dog. A similar picture circulates on the Internet with the caption, "Not In My Job Description."

            Any honest vocation comes with a guarantee from God: "That every man may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil -- this is the gift of God" (Ecclesiastes 3:13). It certainly does bring gratification to finish painting a room and arrange the furniture back in place. Or, contentment settles in when school papers are graded or the final jar of canned pickles vacuum-seals with a distinctive ping of the lid. Closing an auto’s hood after an oil change, grabbing a briefcase to leave work, or punching a time card can all signal that the workday is over. A sigh of relief may escape each worker signaling their eagerness for a bit of down time, a tasty meal at home, and a nights rest.

            The completion of work brings about satisfaction. Finishing work means that a must-do can be scratched off a to-do list for at least one day. A job finished. A job well done.  A gratifying accomplishment.

            Plenty of the current young generations have learned to work diligently. But some of the untrained have yet to experience the subsequent gift of satisfaction that accompanies hard work. A few parents see their job description as "activities director" instead of "work coordinator." I'll be the first to admit that Jack will indeed be a dull boy if he's all work and no play. However, for most children play comes naturally, but a learning process is involved in acquiring work skills. Blessed are the parents who recognize their role in this apprenticeship.

            Employers are always on the lookout for enthusiastic workers. And anyone possessing a passion for excellence in their field of work is highly marketable and in demand. It takes many different skills and talents to keep a community functioning, and any honorable profession is worthy of respect.

            John W. Gardner said: "The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water."

            On this very hot September day, when you finally wipe the perspiration from your brow and get ready to shower and cool down, go ahead and eat a healthy meal and allow contentment to seep into your soul because you have worked well. Remember that God's job description includes gifting you with food, drink, and satisfaction as a return for your industrious labor.

            Index card verse for week 35: “And [God] is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25).

            You may contact Cathy at