Window Shopping

I love living on the Westside of Paso Robles. With the renovation of the downtown area, Paso has been able to keep the small town atmosphere alive and well on the Westside. This is a great time of the year to stroll along the streets of downtown. The shopkeepers are all busy decorating their store fronts for the holidays. I love window shopping at the furniture and decorator stores. The displays of their living areas are warm and inviting. The rooms are always accessorized perfectly. There is never anything out of place. As I gaze longing into the windows, I imagine myself sitting on one of the cozy sofas with a cup of coffee and having a long chat with a dear friend.

It is entertaining to imagine living in that perfect room in the window, but reality soon creeps in. I live on the other side of the window in a world where life is not perfect, where my living room is not accessorized perfectly. Dirty cups reside on the table and stray socks hide under the sofa.

So it is with our spiritual lives. My heart longs to live in a perfect world with a perfect family, perfect friends, and a perfect church. I desire to be a perfect wife, mother and friend. But I am a sinner living in a world marred by sin where perfection is an illusion. I am thankful that my family and friends love me enough to forgive me of my sin and imperfections. I am thankful that my Heavenly Father uses this imperfect world to refine me and smooth out my rough edges. I am thankful that Jesus challenges me to live out the Sermon on the Mount, causing me to struggle with the same questions; “who is my neighbor; how many times must I forgive; what does it mean to be light to the world?”

My heart also longs for God. David cried out in Psalm 63, “My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” David could not quench his thirst for God. Often I try to fill my hunger for God with other things, other enticements, but they never satisfy. They are only temporary distractions. Perhaps our longing for God is not meant to be satisfied until we reach heaven. The prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 26:8, “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you.”

C.S. Lewis said in his book, The Weight of Glory

“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”
We are on the outside of the world, strangers in a strange land. But it will not also be so. Jesus promised the disciples and us in John 14 that someday we would dwell with Him in our Father’s house. I long for the day when I shall get IN, when I can mingle with the splendor. When that day arrives, I will no longer be on the outside of the window looking in. I will be sitting on a cozy sofa having a long chat with a Dear Friend.

Home for the Holidays

There is something about Christmas that always causes me to remember the Christmases of my childhood. It was a special time of year for my  family, especially us six kids. We did not have a lot of money growing up so we really only got presents at birthdays and at Christmastime. We did get new clothes when school started but the “newness” of those things was long gone by December.  When I was very young we did not get our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve. We were told that it was a German tradition my dad brought from his family. When I became an adult I found out that dad went out Christmas Eve to get the tree because he could get a cheaper price that way. My mother finally convinced my dad to loosen up his wallet a bit and let us get our tree earlier in the season so we could enjoy it longer.

The anticipation of Christmas morning was almost more than we would handle as kids. The days leading up to Christmas were filled with excitement, wonder, and childhood joy. Christmas morning began at 6am but we were always awake well before then. We would try every year to get Mom and Dad to get up earlier, but they always banished us from their room until the appointed time.  Dad would gather us all around the tree and he would pass out the gifts one at a time to each child. We would excitedly watch one another open our gifts with as much glee as when we opened our own.  The gift exchange was followed by breakfast and then going outside to play with our new toys (it was California Christmas weather), while Mom began preparing our lavish Christmas dinner. Even after all of us “kids” were married with our own families, we continued to gather at Mom and Dad’s house to celebrate  Christmas and enjoy a delicious Christmas dinner with the family.

Our holidays are much different these days. Both Mom and Dad are gone now and our own families have spread across California making it difficult to spend the holiday together.  I look forward to the time when I will have married  children and grandchildren coming home for the holiday and reliving our family traditions.

As I reflect on the years I returned home for Christmas, I praise God that Jesus did just the opposite.  God the Father sent his son, Jesus, from the only home he had known in heaven to live on earth. He spent 9 months in the womb of a unwed teenage mother. He was not born in his parents’ hometown of Nazareth but Bethlehem to fulfill God’s promise.  And his actual birth occurred not in a home but in a stable. Not the place one would expect to find a king. Thus began a life of homelessness for the Promised One.

Jesus left his home in order to bring us back home to our Heavenly Father who awaits our arrival. Jesus is there now preparing our home for us and when it is ready, He is coming back for us to bring us home. (John 14)

The miracle of the incarnation made possible the miracle of salvation. We marvel at how God, the creator of the  universe, could become man. Yet we should also marvel at how God could love us so much that He would leave His heavenly throne to become like us. The miracle of Christmas is not just that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” but that God chose to love us at all. Because of Christmas and because of Easter, I now have a new home waiting for me in Heaven where much of my family now resides.  I’m sad that I won’t be able to be with my extended family this year. However, I have great joy and confidence knowing that one day I will be home for the holidays; home with my King whose birth we celebrate.

A Father’s Epitaph

It was 1:30am when the phone rang. “He’s gone. “ She said.
“Ok.” I replied. I did not know what else to say.
“At least he did not linger in pain for weeks.” She replied
“Praise God for that. I guess I will talk to you tomorrow about the arrangements.” I answered.
“Yes, “ she said. “Goodnight.”
I hung up the phone and went back to bed. Sleep evaded me as my mind traveled back over 50 years of memories with my dad.

Dad was born in upstate New York to a hard working German couple. The 5th of 15 children, family, fun and the farm were the most important things to him. He always considered himself a farm kid which in those days was not saying much. In 1947, he met and married a beautiful southern gal named Bettie Jane Reeves. Though military rules forbade them from fraternizing (she outranked him) that did not stop Dad. He wooed her with his charm and charisma and they married in June of 1947. A daughter was born in 1948, another daughter in 1950, and the first son in 1952. They moved around a lot then and Dad went from job to job. Mom said he always had a bit of wanderlust in him.

The promise of a better life and warm winters brought them to California in 1955. Dad took a good job for a chemical company in the San Fernando Valley and a set of twins were born, a boy and a girl, in 1956. Pneumonia took the life of their second son in 1959 which sent both Mom and Dad into a long period of mourning.

Dad continued to work at the chemical plant rising to a supervising position over a large crew of men. Mom stayed home to care for the kids which she loved. Joy crept back into their lives when a third son was born in 1961 and a fourth daughter in 1965. Their quiver was definitely full. It was a “Leave to Beaver” life for many years.

Dad’s job transferred him to a new city but rather than relocate the family he decided to commute. At first he came home every night, then every other night, then only on weekends, then finally not at all. The “Leave to Beaver” life was unraveling. Shortly after their 25th wedding anniversary, Mom announced that they were divorcing. Dad had begun a relationship with another woman.

Life changed dramatically for the three of us still at home. My youngest sister was only 7 at the time, my brother was 11. Mom went back to work and back to school and I became a surrogate mother to my younger siblings at the age of 16. Our childhood memories of dad were few and reduced to some weekend visits, or an occasional letter or phone call.

Meanwhile Dad decided to leave his suburban life for something different. He married his second wife and moved to Northern California to begin his own farming business. Perhaps he hoped to relive his carefree days as a farm kid. Unfortunately things did not go as planned. Soon he moved to Oregon to begin another business. When that did not succeed he gave up the dream of self-employment and got a job in the business world in Northern California. After ten years, the second marriage ended and he moved back to the San Fernando Valley and worked whatever jobs he could get. He was lost and un-tethered.

By this time all the “kids” were grown and married with kids of their own. Mom had gotten a college degree and was successful computer programmer for an engineering company. She attended a local Baptist church and had a great group of friends. She spent much of her free time enjoying the grandkids and traveling when she could.

Dad’s spiritual life was always a big question mark for us. At one time during his second marriage he told me he walked an aisle at a small church and prayed to receive Jesus. However his lifestyle never seemed to match that confession and he had no desire for church.

After 15 years of being apart my parents remarried in 1987. Mom had forgiven Dad years before and she said that Dad was the only man she had ever loved. She had high hopes that he would start attending church with her. He went a few times, but always got too antsy in church to stay committed to it for too long. However he saw Mom’s devotion to the Lord every day. She had a vibrant prayer life and kept her Bible next to her chair at all times. When they relocated to Lancaster, CA, she quickly found a new church and attended it regularly. She began a woman’s bible study in the mobile home park where she lived. They lived out their last years together pretty happily. Dad was a good grandfather and was proud of all his kids. He loved Mom immensely and preferred to not talk about the years they spent apart.

When Mom passed away suddenly in 2004, Dad was devastated. He talked about wanting to join her constantly. He said that he hoped that she would put in a good word for him. We reminded him that he had to turn to the Lord himself. It was only his own confession of sins and turning to Jesus for salvation that would get him to heaven. We were not sure how much he understood for at the point he was several years into Alzheimer’s disease. Dad health continued to decline and he eventually moved in with my brother and his wife. He talked often about reuniting with Mom and how wonderful that would be.

In early December Dad went into the hospital for what we thought was Alzheimer’s issues. A battery of tests discovered lung cancer which had spread throughout his body. Already frail and battling emphysema, we opted not to do any further treatment. He went into a nursing facility where Hospice treated him and kept him as pain free as possible. Doctors said he had a month or so left.

I went to visit Dad in mid-December for several days. Still uncertain as to his spiritual condition I was hoped to talk to him about Jesus. I had mixed emotions going into those visits. Knowing that he was in his last days, I had already begun to grieve for him. I grieved for the father I was about to lose but I also grieved for the father I never had.

I prayed that the Lord would allow me to know exactly where he was spiritually. I was surprised to find him relatively coherent even though he kept forgetting that he was in the hospital. We were able to have some good conversations during the two days I visited with him, although his attention wandered a lot. On my last visit with him I opened my Bible and read Psalm 23 to him, it was as if a light came on inside him. He began to talk about the Bible and how wonderful it was. He spoke about how much he loved Mom and how much they both love the Lord. He expressed regret over their divorce. This was the first time I had ever heard him talk about the divorce in over 20 years. I read John 14:1-4 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” We talked about how
Jesus had a home for him in heaven. He made the comment, “Most people don’t understand how powerful that scripture is.” Then as suddenly as the light came on, if went off and the moment of clarity was gone.

Days later, my son told me that he had been praying that the double-edge Sword of God’s Word would penetrate the cloudiness of Dad’s Alzheimer’s. God gave me the answer to my son’s prayer.

When I said goodbye to Dad that day I knew it would be the last time I would see him this side of heaven. I got into my car and wept over my loss: the loss of my “Leave to Beaver” life those many years ago; the loss of my mom and the rapidly approaching loss of my dad. I was confident that Dad loved the Lord and trusted him as Savior but it bothered me that I did not know when that was.

“Lord, I prayed, I just wish I knew when Dad’s life with You began.” “It matters not when or how it began”, the Lord answered, “but how he finishes.” The apostle Paul said, “None of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy”, Acts 20:24.

Those brief hours with my dad were a gift to me from God. The Lord knew that I needed the opportunity to completely forgive my dad for past hurts and assurance of his salvation. He gave all that to me in what ended up being Dad’s last coherent hours on earth. He slipped into semi-consciousness the next day and then slipped away to heaven.

My sister called a few days later. “What should we put on Dad’s headstone?” She asked. The Lord gave me the right words. “He finished well.”

Theres No Place Like Home

“Close your eyes and tap your heels together three times and say “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…”With those words, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz is transported back to her beloved home in Kansas.

The word “home” evokes warm memories and feelings for most of us. Home is where everyone longs to be. Where we are loved, nurtured, and unconditionally accepted with all our faults.

After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade center all the travelers who were stranded just wanted to go home. It did not matter where home was or what it looked like. Home could have a high-rise apartment in Manhattan or a farmhouse in Kansas. They just wanted to go home. Did you know that God makes His home in you? Jesus told the disciples in John 14:23

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.

God makes His home in us! Imagine the Creator of the universe living inside us! What a privilege and honor to be the dwelling place of the King of Kings and Lord of Lord.

In our home on we have entertained many guests from missionaries to the town mayor. When those occasions occur, I drive my family nuts by insisting that the house be spotlessly clean. When I consider that the God of creation makes his home in me, I realize how little I pay attention to the cleanliness of His home – me. Just as we need to clean our earthly homes every day so we need to clean our spiritual lives every day. Sin creeps in one cobweb at a time.

Many years ago we had a roof leak in our home. The leakage caused some plaster to fall down from the ceiling in the entry way to our home. It left a barren patch of lath boards about two feet by three feet. Each day I would come home and look up at that barren patch wondering when it would get fixed. It was left in disrepair and pretty soon I stopped noticing it. Months later someone would come over and comment on the hole in our ceiling. “Oh”, I’d say, I’d forgotten it was there.” Sin is like that. If you live with it long enough you don’t notice it.

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

2 Corinthians 7:1

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9

We need to cleanse ourselves and God’s home on a daily basis, not just of the little sins but the big ones too. Often we focus in on the small sins in our lives and overlook the obvious larger ones. Are we treating our families with love and kindness? Are we following His commandments? Are we living for God and not the things and pleasures of this world? Are we staying sexual pure in mind and body, whether married or single? Do we allow anger, envy, and pride keep us from glorifying God?

Take a daily inventory of your spiritual life. It is easy to let the world’s standards become ours. Jesus gives us in the book of John a different definition of home. He did not have an earthly home in his adult years. Christ was at home with God no matter where his body was. Jill Briscoe says “Home is the will of God for the child of God.” The most wonderful earthly home would become a miserable dwelling place if we are living outside the will of God.

God makes His home with us but He is also preparing another home for us. Christ said in

John 14:2-4, “There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know where I am going and how to get there.” (The Living Translation)

This world is not our home yet many of us put down roots like it is. We try to fill our longings with material and worldly pleasures.

“Most of us find it very difficult to want ‘Heaven”‘ at all – except in so far as ‘Heaven’ means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world. Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognize it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts would know that they do want and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.” C.S. Lewis

The world does not satisfy for we were made for another world. Our eternal home is with Christ in heaven and as pilgrims on a journey we long for that home. Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz had the power to go home all along and did not know it. We have the power to be at home with God every day while on this earth and the privilege to spend eternity in His presence.

Oh to be home! To bask in the presence of the Almighty- To be free from our earthly pain – To be reunited with loved ones – To see and touch the nail scarred hands – To worship at the throne – to be Home!

“These last few days! Every little nuisance every stale or tiresome bit of work every feeling of that estrangement which I never quite get over in another country serves as a delightful reminder of how different it will all be soon. Already one’s mind dwells upon the sights and sounds and smells of home….”

In The Good Old Summertime

About the middle of June on a warm summer day, thousands of children wait with anticipation. They anxiously watch the slow ticking clock. Somewhere in the background, a teacher’s voice drones on and on. They do not hear the words as they wait expectantly for The moment to arrive. The moment when they will all experience the euphoria of “Summer Vacation.”

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley in the ’60’s and early ’70’s. The “Valley” at that time was suburbia at its finest. The streets were safe and clean, the schools were safe, and there was no such thing as gang violence. Most of us had dads that worked and moms that were home. The “Valley” in the sixties was the hub of many a western movie, especially Roy Rodgers and Gene Autry. Life, as a child, was good, simple, and fun.

The day after school got out I would bug my mom to drive me to the local library. She usually dropped me off as I would spend hours searching for just he right books for my summer reading. I would check out 8 books each week (the maximum you were allowed to check out) and take them home. I would settle myself on my bed, or out in yard on a blanket if the house was too hot, and read to my heart’s content. When I finished my pile of books, I would return to the library and choose some more.

During my childhood, summer was play time. We would gather near the home of April Showers (that was her real name) and play baseball, dodge ball, and football. When it got too hot we would go to my house where my mom always had home-made Popsicles in the freezer made with a plastic Tupperware set and Kool-aid.

Once a week we were allowed to go to the local pool to swim for the afternoon. Admission was 25 cents which seemed like a lot of money to me then. Our pool had a high dive which was my favorite. I loved the excitement of jumping off that high tower and feeling the pit of your stomach lurch up into your throat. Once you came up for air though you always had to dig your swimsuit out of certain places but it was worth the “rush.”

Summer vacation seemed to last forever. Next to Christmas, it was the best time of the year. But September always came. Nine long months we had to wait until summer came again.

As good as summer was, it pales in comparison to what Heaven will be like for those who know Jesus. Revelation 21:2-4 talks about the New Jerusalem which is a picture of what Heaven eaven will be like.

“And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a beautiful bride prepared for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.” Rev 21:2-4

The endless joys of summer vacation cannot compare to spending eternity with God and having the joy of living with Him. Hebrews 12 describes heaven as the “city of the living God,” where there are “thousands of angles in joyful assembly.”

Christian artists, MercyMe, have written a powerful song about the day we arrive in heaven.

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By Your side
I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When Your face
Is before me
I can only imagine

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of You be still
Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
When that day comes
And I find myself
Standing in the Son
I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever
Forever worship You
I can only imagine

We can only imagine what that day will be like. But I imagine that it will be an endless summer vacation in the presence of the living God!