Sometimes the Fortune Cookie Gets It Right

Although I rarely eat fortune cookies, I always open them up to read the “fortune.”  The message I read is often not a prediction of my future, but rather a proverb or observation, such as the one I got today:  “Little and often makes much.”  It’s an interesting observation and one that would be hard to dispute, but it doesn’t have any real meaning for me.

Sometimes fortune cookies do make predictions.  Recently my niece’s fortune informed her that she would soon receive a raise.  She’s only 15 and not yet working, so it’s not likely to come true.  And, of course, it is totally unrealistic to think that a strip of paper found in a Chinese cookie could accurately predict anyone’s future.  Despite that, I am fascinated by the number of times a fortune cookie message seems to be have been written specifically for the person who received it.

At the same lunch in which my niece received a prediction of a raise, my fortune cookie message read:  “You lead a useful life no matter what riches are coming to you.”  At the time I wished I had swapped cookies with my niece; I have a job and I could really use a raise.  Despite that, I had to admit that the fortune was the right one for me.  I’ve kept it in my purse since then, and each time I read it, I am encouraged.

Although I have an MBA degree, I have never earned much money.  Currently, my salary is almost exactly equal to the average salary for a woman working full-time in the United States regardless of age, education, or experience.  Not bad, but not great.  I doubt that I will ever be rich in a financial sense.

Yet, I am rich in all the truly important ways.  I have a wonderful family who love me despite my many shortcomings. I have a great job that I enjoy going to each day. (I don’t enjoy getting up in the morning to go to my job, but that’s another blog for another day.)  All my material needs are met, as well as my spiritual needs. 

My job is rewarding in many ways.  I get to meet with clients who are trying to start new businesses.  I give them guidance and direction, free of charge.  They come in apprehensive and full of questions.  Ususally they leave with answers and ready to face the frightening world of business ownership.  Even when I don’t feel like I was able to help them, they usually thank me profusely for my time and assistance. 

Outside of work, I believe my life is also useful. I attend a spirit-filled church where I can worship Jesus Christ freely and where I can train up the next generation of girls to be Christian leaders in our church and community.  We teach the girls the truths of God’s word and instill in them a love of serving others, so that they too will lead useful lives.  One of the ways we do this is through visiting residents of area nursing homes and assisted living centers.  The girls bring joy to the residents through singing, conversation, and interactions.

This time the fortune cookie did get it right.  I may never be rich, but I hope to always lead a useful life.

What fortune cookie messages have you gotten that really applied to you?  What’s the most inaccurate fortune cookie message you have received?

Packing A Life in Rubbermaid Tubs

I spent Saturday packing my mother-in-law’s belongings in twenty Rubbermaid tubs. Last week her three sons came to the sad realization that Mom needs to live in a facility where she can get constant care and supervision.  The decision was made to move her to live near Steve and me.

It felt strange to pack up her belongings without consulting her as to what to keep.  Steve and I made decisions as to what would be kept, what would be given away, and what would be thrown away.  We couldn’t transport everything to our home and she won’t have a need for much in her residence.  Her days of cooking are behind her, so her dishes and cookware were given away.  She doesn’t read much, so most of her books were donated.  We did our best to determine what items were valuable to her and to pack those items in the twenty tubs that would fit in our van.

As I packed her sweaters, letters, photo albums, and keepsakes, John 21:18 ran through my mind. “When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 

Although her body is frail and she is often confused, she does not suffer from Alzheimer’s.  We are grateful that she recognizes her family members.  She knows that she is coming to Virginia where she will get to see little Daniel, her first great-grandchild, and that she will be here when her first great-granddaughter is born in January.  We are not sure, however, that she comprehends she is moving here permanently. 

Steve’s mom has lived a long, full life.  Her body has weakened and her mind isn’t as sharp as it once was.  The important decisions that affect her are made by her children.  She is fortunate to have raised three loving, caring sons who are committed to ensuring that she has the best possible care. 

Our oldest son is fond of saying, “I’m the one who will choose your nursing home.”  He’s teasing, yet there is truth in his words.  One day I may find myself in need of supervised care and my children will be the ones making the decisions regarding my care.  We, too, are blessed with loving, caring sons. I can rest assured that they will put the same thought and consideration into their decisions as Steve and his brothers are now doing for their mother.

Helping Girls Discover Who They Are in Christ

When I was a high school math teacher, one of my students made a statement to her classmates along the lines of “High school is the best time of our lives, people.  You better enjoy it.”  I challenged her assertion and explained that she had so many wonderful events in her life ahead of her—college, marriage, and children just to name a few. When she thought it over, she could see that the sentiment she expressed was actually very negative.  Yet, I’ve heard adults make the same comment to their high school children.

For many people high school was a wonderful experience, and they look back wistfully on that period when they had lots of free time to spend with their friends and they were still under the protection of their parents.  Unfortunately, however, high school is a very tough time for many other teenagers.  Some teens struggle with making friends and feel like they don’t fit into any groups. Teens are pressured to wear the right clothing and hairstyles. Girls may be teased for being overweight or not fashionable, and bullies pick on smaller, weaker guys.    Even the athletes and beauty queens are pressured to live up to worldly standards of physical perfection that are unrealistic. It’s no wonder that many teens struggle with low self-esteem.  

In writing and in working with girls in my church, I am passionate about trying to help girls and women discover their truth worth as children of God.  For 32 years, I have been privileged to work in my church’s Girls Ministries program.  I became involved in this ministry while I was in college. My 8-year old sister volunteered me to teach a group of younger girls so they wouldn’t be in her class.  I was available, so I agreed to serve.  It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that Girls Ministries would be one of my life’s missions.  

The Girls Ministries program exist to introduce girls to Christ and to help them find their place and purpose in life.  One of the primary goals is to help girls realize that they are loved and esteemed by God.  Their worth and value as human beings has nothing to do with their abilities, their actions, or their appearance.  They are valuable because God created them and loves them. 

I once heard a preacher say that the most profound message of God’s Word can be summed up in “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  Jesus loves me and Jesus loves you.  He loves each and every girl, regardless of her appearance, her background, her home life, or the mistakes she has made.  This is the message we desire to impress on the heart of each girl. John 3:16 is perhaps the best-known verse in the Bible. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  God loves each girl and His love is so great He sent Jesus to die on the cross for her sins, so that she can spend eternity in Heaven with Him.  

Of course, the girls hear this message in Sunday School and church.  So, why do they need Girls Ministries?  I believe that Girls Ministries is important for girls to learn how to fulfill God’s purposes for them as women.  Girls need a place where they can meet without boys present.  Girls Ministries affords girls an opportunity to be themselves without trying to impress boys and to discuss concerns that should not be discussed in mixed company.  

In a girls-only environment, we address sensitive issues such as dating standards and sexual purity.  We teach them to apply makeup to enhance their appearance and to dress modestly, so as not to tempt boys to have inappropriate sexual thoughts about them.  We give them tools to recognize verbal or physical abuse and encourage them to date only Christian young men who share their beliefs and who treat them with respect and courtesy. We also teach girls that they will make mistakes and they will have to ask God to forgive them.  When they seek forgiveness, God forgives.  However, they may still have to live with the consequences of their mistakes.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) Each girl in our program learns that God has a wonderful plan for her life.  She can achieve this plan if she follows the instructions in God’s manual.  God’s commands are not to restrict her, but to allow her to live life as fully as He has planned for her. A girl who appreciates this truth will not struggle with self-image or lack of worth.  She will realize how valuable she is to the one who created her and she will grow into a confident young women equipped to fulfill God’s purposes for her life.

Praying for Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse died earlier today, most likely of a drug overdose.  Although I was not an fan of Amy’s music and did not approve of her lifestyle, I was sadden by the news of her passing.  Only 27 years old, Amy should have had most of her life ahead of her.

The first time I remember hearing of Amy was in the fall of 2007 when an Internet news service ran of photo of a fornlorn Amy after her husband arrest.  I don’t typically read gossip about entertainers; however, I was drawn to Amy’s photo.  It was not her trademark beehive hairdo, her outlandish makeup, or the tattoos that covered her body that attracted my attention.  Rather , it was the desperate look in her eyes.  She reminded me of a lost child in need of help.  As I read the accompanying article, I learned that Amy was a talented but troubled young woman addicted to alcohol and drugs. 

I felt led to pray for Amy that day and occassionally since.  My prayers were that Amy would find her way to God.  Only God could provide the love and peace that Amy sought.  Alcohol and drugs could neither solve Amy’s problems nor allow her to hide from them.  In the end, it appears that they killed her.

Unfortunately, I have no reason to believe that Amy sought a relationship with God.  And now it is too late for her.  However, for anyone reading this, it is not too late.  God loves you and He sent his son Jesus to die for your sins.  Making Jesus your Lord and Savior is the only way to achieve true peace and happiness.  God wants to give you the wonderful life He planned for you. Won’t you let him?  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

A Sudden Goodbye

Upon my arrival at work on Wednesday, I was informed that a coworker, Larry, had died during the night.  I was stunned!  I spoke with Larry on Tuesday and nothing seemed to be amiss.  He was smiling and friendly, as he always.  Yet Larry, at 54 years of age, had suffered a massive heart attack and passed away without any warning.

Larry was a “salt-of-the-earth” guy.  The kind of man the world could use more of.  Larry did everything with a smile.  In fact, Larry received an award in May entitled, “We couldn’t do it without you.”  His nominator wrote that Larry was “flexible support with a smile.” 

Outside of work, Larry was supportive and helpful to those around him.  He donated time to tutor at-risk children and volunteered with hospice.  He taught Sunday school and VBS at his church, where he also served as chairman of the deacon board.

I will miss seeing Larry’s smiling face at work each day and our frequent chats.  However, I take great comfort in knowing that Larry is in Heaven.  Larry did not make it to Heaven because he was a wonderful man, although he was.  And Larry isn’t in Heaven because he was kind to those in need or faithful in church attendance.  Rather, Larry is in Heaven because Jesus Christ loved Larry (and you and me) so much that He died on a wooden cross to pay the penalty for our sins.  Larry believed that and invited Jesus Christ into his heart.  Larry accepted Jesus’s free gift of salvation. This gift is available to all who will call on the name of Jesus.

When Larry left work on Tuesday evening, he had every intention of coming back to work Wednesday morning.  He was looking forward to many years left on earth.  I don’t think Larry had any thought that Tuesday would be his last day on earth.  Fortunately, Larry was prepared for death when it came. 

If today turns out to be your last day on earth, are you prepared to enter eternity?  If not, I urge you to accept Jesus’s free gift of salvation today.  None of us are promised tomorrow.

Chasing the Ice Cream Truck

You know spring has arrived when the ice cream truck begins making its rounds.  One made its first appearance of the year in our neighborhood last Saturday.  We let it pass our house without stopping but several of our neighbors flagged the driver down to purchase his sugary confections.  Apparently, the warm, sunny day brought ice cream trucks out in full force across our community.  Our pastor noticed one in his neighborhood and made mention of it in his Sunday sermon.

The coming of the ice cream truck stirs excitement in the hearts of children and adults alike.  We hear the truck long before we see it.  The familiar music wafts through the air, and we run outside to see if the truck is headed towards us or if it is passing us by.  When I was a kid, we used to send one sibling outside to signal the driver to stop while the rest of us looked for change with which to make our purchases.  It didn’t matter that our freezer was always stocked with ice cream and probably a couple of boxes of frozen treats.  The coming of the ice cream man was an event no one wanted to miss.

We introduced our oldest son to the ice cream truck the summer he turned two. Chris was a bit scared by the loud music, but he was thrilled with the treat the ice cream man gave him.  We probably only made a couple of purchases from the ice cream truck that summer and fall, but it was enough to make an impression on our son.  At that time we lived in north central Florida where the ice cream season is quite long.  Yet, at least four or five months passed between the ice cream truck’s last appearance in the fall and its re-emergence in the spring.

I’ll never forgot the day in early March when we heard the sounds of the ice cream truck coming down the street.  Chris knew exactly what the music signaled, and he was determined to buy ice cream.  The twins were nearly a year old.  I had just settled them into their high chairs and given them teething biscuits to chew on.  This was the first time I had put them in their chairs without another adult being present.  I explained to Chris that we would not be able to buy ice cream this time, as I couldn’t leave the babies alone while I looked for money and went outside.  Chris seemed to understand and ran off to play in his room.  Or so I thought.

A strange noise coming from his room alerted me that all was not as it should be.  I ran down the hall in time to see him escape out his bedroom window.  Fortunately, the window was very low to the ground.  I ran back down the hall to the kitchen to check on the babies before dashing out the front door to find my two-year old chasing after the ice cream truck.  I caught him in the next door neighbor’s yard and carried him home as he kicked and cried.  All the while I was praying that nothing bad had happened to the twins.  I found them just as I had left them, happily chewing on their cookies and making as big a mess as possible.

As the lure of the ice cream man was more than my two-year old could resist and I didn’t want a repeat of the day’s events, I developed strategies to cope with the ice cream truck.  I tried to learn the ice cream man’s routine and timed errands to coincide with his visits to our neighborhood.  For those times when we would be home, I kept a bowl of change by the front door to simplify the ice cream buying process.  If the twins were awake, I would put them in the playpen while I went out with Chris to buy ice cream. On the occasions when they were in their high chairs, I positioned myself at the front door where I could keep one eye on the twins in the kitchen and the other on Chris as he ordered a “fudgy cicle” or whatever treat he wanted that day. The ice cream man usually managed to decipher Chris’ order, but on occasion I had to yell it out from my post at the front door. 

We managed to get through the summer with no more escapes out the bedroom window.  By the next summer, all three little boys anxiously watched for the ice cream truck out the front window as they stood on the back of the couch.  They would climb down and run to the front door as soon as they heard its familiar music.  The bowl of change was always close at hand. Those are memories I will cherish all my life.

What are your favorite memories of chasing the ice cream truck?

There’s Nothing Shallow About Having Standards

I just read Kat Richter’s blog “Are Standards Shallow?”  (After I Quit My Day Job) She was responding to being accused of “getting shallow” for refusing to date any man who is not taller than she is when she’s wearing heels.  Kat will probably miss out on dating some pretty terrific guys because of her preference for tall men.  That’s her loss, and it’s her choice.

Having standards is not shallow.  Physical attributes are not standards, however. They are merely preferences.  Any woman seeking a date or a husband needs to have standards.  When I was dating I had absolute standards—my line in the sand that I would not cross.  In my thirty-plus years of ministering to teen-age girls I have encouraged them to decide what their standards are before they begin dating.

For me the absolute most important standard was to date only godly Christian men.  Paul admonishes us in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” It was important that my future husband share my Christian beliefs and values.  I was not willing to risk falling in love with the wrong man, so I avoided dating non-believers.  I met my future husband in high school. I knew he was nice, but I didn’t know if he was a Christian until I saw him at my church one Sunday.  Of course, church attendance doesn’t equate to salvation, but seeing him at church gave me an opening to ask him about his beliefs.  My interest increased greatly as I realized how similar his beliefs were to my own.

Family values were next in importance.  I love children, and I wanted a man who also loves children.  As the second of nine children, my youngest siblings are considerably younger than me.  I was able to witness how a potential future husband would treat and respond to children simply by taking him home to meet my family.  From his first visit, Steve was comfortable with my younger siblings.  He spent many a Saturday afternoon taking them fishing in the summer and building snowmen in the winter. During our senior year of college, Steve and I took my four youngest siblings to a movie. They kids ranged from 10 to 18 years younger than us.  The next day one of his professors asked him about his children.  I guess he thought we got a very early start on our family.

Another standard was that a future husband prioritize family over income.  I can still vividly remember sitting in traffic on the Falmouth Bridge and Steve telling me that he wanted his future wife to stay home and raise their children. Those words were music to my ears.  Although I was in college and planned to continue my education afterward, I still desired greatly to be home with my children when they were young.  Steve added that being home when they were in high school was even more important. 

We were fortunate to be able to make that happen.  Steve worked hard, and I got to stay home. When the boys went to school, I went with them.  For the next thirteen years, they were either enrolled in a Christian school where I taught or I was home schooling them.  I cried on the twins’ last day of school (as seniors they finished up a few weeks earlier than the rest of the students) wondering how I would be able to come to school without them the next day.  I am so thankful for the time I had with my boys.

Beyond those three standards, everything else was icing on the cake. It didn’t hurt that Steve is tall—a full 9 inches taller than me—and very handsome.  But, I would have loved him no matter what he looked like. 

I maintained my standards and married the love of my life.  And there’s nothing shallow about that.