Gail's Book Nook

Monday, December 14, 2009

Looking Out the Window: So, When Is Chritmas?

Some say that Christ wasn’t born on December 25th. They claim that Christians took the date from a Roman holiday honoring the sun or a sun god. While modern historians disagree about this theory many agree that the Romans revered the sun. According to my Britannica Encyclopedia, Christians took the date to rival the pagan feasts that took place during the Winter Solstice, which honored a new age brought by the sun. Depending on location, the Winter Solstice occurs on or around December 25th. Even though it lasts only an instant in time, many cultures have held festivals marking it as midwinter. According to some, Christmas simply grew to be one of the most popular events.

Nonetheless, every year by the time we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving festive decorations acknowledging the birth of Christ appear in overwhelming numbers across the American landscape. A majority of homes have wreaths on their doors, candles in their windows, lights in the yards and red bows on their mailboxes. The stores and malls turn red and green with celebratory ribbons, sale signs and replicas of reindeer or other symbols of the season. And jolly old Santa Claus sits in the middle of the mall to greet youngsters. In spite of attempts to outlaw nativity scenes they abound on people’s lawns and even in some public areas. Christmas carols fill the airways. And this country’s biggest celebration continues until after December 25th, so when is Christmas?

While many open their presents on Christmas Day we open ours on Christmas Eve after we stuff ourselves with turkey, dressing, sweet potato casserole and pecan pie. Usually I rush to put away the dishes and clean up our great room so we can make the midnight service at church. Then, we hurry out the door into the brisk, cold night. Because we’re running late I fidget in the passenger seat of the car, wishing I could make it go faster. Finally, I see the church lit up like a beacon in the still, quiet darkness. After we park and walk quickly inside we find three seats on the back pew.

I settle myself and try to hush the thoughts of shopping, baking and wrapping that linger in my head by gazing at the green wreaths, poinsettias and brilliantly lit Christmas tree around the altar. When I turn in my hymnal to “O Come All Ye Faithful” and the choir and congregation start singing, the loud, joyous sound of the season captures my heart. After a family lights the Christ candle on the Advent wreath, which symbolizes Jesus as the light of the world, the minister reads the story of Jesus’ birth and proclaims once again his gospel of love. At the end of the service the ushers dim the lights, give each parishioner a candle and light the first candle on each row. One by one we tip our flames to the candle of the person beside us and sing “Silent Night.” The flickering lights gradually illuminate the sanctuary and the sweet melody takes me back to the first Christmas, when the angels announced Christ’s birth, the shepherds left their flocks and the wise men started their journey to the manger. After we blow out our candles the service ends with the powerful sound of the choir singing Handel’s "Messiah," and it is Christmas. Sadly, someone had to crucify Christ to atone for the sins of all of us, but triumphantly he rose to give us salvation. And he lives today. Christmas is when we open our hearts to him.

Isaiah 9: 6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 53: 6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Matthew 20: 18 - 19, “…They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life.”

Geotz, editor-in-chief, Britannica Encyclopedia, Chicago, Il., vol. 16, 1987.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Looking Out the Window: Water Spray

Clear water bubbled from the fountain and shot heavenward like liquid crystals; then, spilled into the blue pool. Strolling up to it from a sea of cars in the parking lot was like trudging through a dark, dense thicket in the forest and emerging on the other side into a bright, sunny day. The presence of water spurting triggered thankfulness for prayers answered and delight renewed. Until several years ago I’d taken the fountain for granted. In the summers I had relaxed with my family on the patio of a restaurant at the mall that overlooked the dancing water in a city in Georgia. Even shoppers walking past it and diners chatting near me hadn’t drowned out its sweet babbling / splashing sounds that had sent soothing vibrations into the busy day. Erupting from the cement, sparkling underneath the sun, it had brought nature to life amid the asphalt and concrete buildings, until the drought.

Since the dry spell had lasted for a couple of long years the fountain had sat quiet. Each time I had walked past the dormant decoration, I had thought of those ghost towns I used to see in western movies, when I was a kid. Since I, like nearly everyone else, had gotten accustomed to rationing my water when washing clothes, brushing my teeth, showering and using the kitchen sink, it struck me as strange that the idle fountain had such an impact on me, but it did. It was a visual reminder that Georgians were in drastic need of a life sustaining force.

Georgia, Alabama and Florida all had shared in bounty from a large lake near Atlanta, Lake Lanier. When the supply had dropped to extremely low levels, quarrels and threats of law suits among the states had dominated the airways. At one time Georgians had looked into trying to annex part of Tennessee, claiming that an old survey had wrongly placed part of one of its water sources in that state. We all had thoughtlessly taken one of God’s blessings for granted until we no longer had it in abundance. Seeing the fountain today, I gasped in glee.

We’ve been having record rain and many are saying “enough” water. Perhaps, now Georgians need to pray for the right balance of rain and sunshine. But water spraying from the fountain brings joy to my heart and reminds me of all the natural resources God has given us. For these and all of God’s blessings I am thankful.

1Chronicles 16: 8 - 9: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.”

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Looking Out the Window: Memories on the Heart

Several weeks ago my husband, Rick, and I ate at a restaurant we frequent fairly regularly. The cute, young waitress who usually waits on us took our orders for burgers and fries. I’ll call her Mandy. As usual Mandy’s smile and bubbly personality brightened our day. We giggled and confessed to her that we shouldn’t eat the fries, but we were going to do it just this once. She joked. “Okay, you’re being bad today.”

Not long after we got our food a couple came in and sat in the booth behind us. Mandy walked up to the table with her big grin. “Hi, how are you?” she asked.
The man, who had salt and pepper colored hair and a pudgy face, spoke in a harsh tone, “I want the steak.”

“Sure, which one would you like?” Mandy asked.

“I don’t want you to put it in the microwave. That will make it tough. Do you understand?”

Mandy’s lips turned down. “Yes sir, which one do you want to order?”

“I want it medium rare. I don’t want blood oozing out of it. I want it cooked right.”

“Yes sir, which steak did you prefer?”

“Oh, I think I’ll take the rib eye. And, I want a glass of water with five lemons in it.”

I assumed he meant lemon slices, and knowing Mandy, I’m sure she interpreted his demand that way also. “Yes sir.” Wrinkles creased Mandy’s brow.

“Oh, and I want the glass filled to about one inch of the top. Don’t put too much water in it.”

“Yes sir,” Mandy said.

As soon as Mandy left I leaned across the table and whispered, “Rick, can you hear that grouch?”

Rick nodded. Later I saw Mandy come out of the kitchen, carrying a plate with a rib eye steak on it. Judging from the strained look she had, I suspected it was for the persnickety customer. Sure enough, she walked to his table and set it down. She hesitated for a moment. Then in a voice so soft it almost was a whisper she asked, “Does everything look all right?”

In my head I heard the drum roll often played in a movie in a suspenseful moment while the audience waits to see if something awful is going to happen. But, the man said, “Yes.”

Thank goodness, I thought. As I watched Mandy go back and forth to that table with wrinkles creasing her brow and her lips pressed tight I realized how the man’s rudeness had put a damper on her day. Perhaps, he was the type person who wants to make sure he takes care of everything in the beginning to avoid problems later. Maybe, nothing had gone right in his life for some time, and he just wanted to know that this lunch would. It’s possible the man didn’t feel well, even though he looked fine. There could be hundreds of reason’s why he sounded so unpleasant. But none of them excused the harsh tone he took with Mandy.

At first I felt so bad for Mandy, but finally I heard her laughing and talking to another customer. Hmmm, she only has to contend with him for about an hour, and he’ll be out of her life, I told myself. At that point I felt moved to get up, walk over to the woman with him and say, “Good luck, lady.” Of course I didn’t.

Today, we returned to the restaurant. We weren’t in Mandy’s section, but she came by our table to speak to us. After we chatted for a moment I mentioned the cranky customer. In an instant she remembered him. “Oh yes, that was horrible. The whole time I waited on him I was so nervous. I was afraid that everything wasn’t going to be all right, and he might explode any minute.”

It dawned on me. Even though I may only enter someone’s life for a moment, I have a brief opportunity to brighten that person’s day by being kind to him or her as a student in one of my daughter’s classes has been to her. My daughter told me, “Mom, this semester I have to take so many books and papers I have a backpack and my arms full, when I start my classes. Every morning one of my students grins real big and grabs the door for me.” She always says, ‘Here I’ll get that.’ It’s a small thing, but it starts my day on a happy note.”

Of course, I also have the option to make someone unhappy, put him or her under a strain or cause that person to be nervous as the rude customer in Mandy's section in the restaurant. I wonder what affect a series of brief meetings in a day has upon a person. It would be interesting to know how a person feels if their quick encounters are all positive or all negative. The impact probably mounts as the moments add up to minutes, hours and possibly even days. The next time I’m in a position to interact with someone even if it’s just for a short time and even if I’m feeling lousy, I’ll try to remember to ask myself, How do I want this person to remember me?

Galatians 5: 22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Behind The Scenes With Guest Blogger Eva Marie Everson


I've been asked a lot lately what inspired my new novel, Things Left Unspoken. It’s a natural question; people often assume that novels are a look into the writer’s real life. Typically, for me, that’s not true. But in this case, it’s partly true.

When my great-uncle died, he left my great-aunt (they had no children) in the house she’d grown up in. She was unable to live alone so she came to live with my mother. My mother sold the house — now in a dying town — to a land developer who was going to restore not only the house, but the town. (It didn’t happen … ) Anyway, it snowed the day we buried Uncle Jimmy. Fleeting snow. Years later (about 10 years!) I was sitting on my back porch, rocking in one of the front porch rockers given to me from my great-grandparent’s estate. It was cold. February. Very gray. And I thought, “It snowed the day we buried Uncle Jimmy.”I knew immediately I had written the first line of a novel. So, I ran inside and typed one sentence, then saved it. It snowed the day we buried Uncle Jim.A few weeks later I wrote some more, then more, and then — as I thought about the restoration of the town that didn’t happen — a story formed. I wrote about five chapters and put it away. Some time later I was talking to my editor at Baker/Revell (Vicki Crumpton) and shared with her three ideas I had for a new line of Southern fiction. The story we now know as Things Left Unspoken was one of them …I wanted to write this book for a number of reasons but one is that I believe we are all lied to. Call it the devil or your own self esteem issues … we hear the lies and we believe them. We think we are the only ones. Or that we are protecting someone, even putting ourselves at risk to do so. One of the characters — Stella — is holding on to more than one family secret. One, she thinks she is protecting someone she loves more than life itself. The other, the same … For Stella, it’s not about her, but about them. Then there’s the main character — JoLynn. Her secrets are so deeply engrained she doesn’t even know what they are. She’s missed out on something she wants so desperately … so many things … but her silence will harm her spiritually and … in the end … maybe even physically!

Finally, this book had everything to do with my own self-discovery, so to speak. I had been writing The Potluck Club books with Linda Evans Shepherd. These are great books, full of things that Christian women deal with. Though the subjects were deep, sometimes the approach to them was light. I’d been reading some deep fiction on my own and really wondering “what I wanted to be when I grew up” as a writer. I knew I was searching for deeper things. I wanted to write things that made a difference (not that TPC doesn’t!) and were more literary. Things Left Unspoken is my first stab at that.

Eva Marie Everson


Eva Marie Everson grew up in a rural southern town in Georgia just outside of Savannah. She is married, has four children and five grandchildren, and lives in Central Florida. She taught Old Testament theology for six years at Life Training Center in Longwood, Florida and has written numerous articles for (including the acclaimed Falling Into The Bible series), and has had articles featured in numerous publications, including Christianity Today, Evangel, Christian Bride, Christian Retailing,, The Godly BusinessWoman and Marriage Partnership magazines. Eva Marie has been interviewed by radio, television, newspaper, and Internet media outlets. In 2002 Eva Marie was one of six Christian journalists sent to Israel for a special ten-day press tour. She was forever changed.

Writer of Books, Author of None
Eva Marie’s work includes the award-winning titles Reflections of God's Holy Land; A Personal Journey Through Israel, Shadow of Dreams, Sex, Lies and the Media, and The Potluck Club as well as The Potluck Club: Trouble's Brewing, The Potluck Club Takes the Cake; The Potluck Catering Club Secret's in the Sauce, The Potluck Catering Club A Taste of Fame, The Potluck Cookbook, Things Left Unspoken (her first in the new series of Southern novels released by Baker/Revell), Oasis: A Spa for Body & Soul, and Sex, Lies and High School to name a few. Eva is a contributing author and/or editor to a number of other publications.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Looking Out the Window: Sometimes We Only Have the Faith of a Mustard Seed

No one likes to be deceived, especially by someone he or she loves. But that’s what happened to Cammie O’Shea, the main character in my recently released romance / mystery, LOVE TURNS THE TIDE. Her fiancĂ© not only dated other women during their engagement, but he also was apprehended for beating one of them nearly to death. Not long after Cammie learns of his crime she moves to Destin, Florida, to complete a job assignment with a new newspaper named The Sun Dial.

Getting the paper off to a good start hinges largely on Cammie’s article about a new development, Pelican Point, owned by Vic Deleona. Still heartbroken over her failed romance, she intends to keep her relationship with Vic strictly business. Therefore she works hard to write a good story about his real estate venture and tries to complete it as soon as possible. But he keeps scheduling appointments with her to see a unit or to pick up pictures. Since she's spending so much time with him or at the office she meets no friends and grows terribly lonely. Finally, one evening when the sun casts golden red hues across the sky over the emerald sea, she walks on the beach, turns to gaze at the sunset and accidentally bumps into a young woman, Angie Jones. They introduce themselves, and Angie invites her to meet for dinner at a local restaurant. Cammie's thankful she has a companion, but no one can take the place of her family and the community she’s known all her life in Cedar Forks, Georgia, her hometown. While she feels she needs God more than ever she believes she’s drifting away from him.

One Saturday morning she reaches for her Bible, and it falls open at a bookmark placed in Romans. She reads Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” In her heart she knows the words are true, but she can't understand how a move to Destin, Florida, possibly can be good for her. Nonetheless, she opens her daily devotional book to that Saturday's verse, Mark 11: 24, which reads, ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." If only her faith could be that strong, she tells herself.

To make matters worse, she and Angie have break-ins at their condos. But Cammie keeps praying, reading Scripture and going to church. Sometimes when she strolls on the shore, she is overwhelmed by the magnificence of the sea and wonders if God sent her to Destin so all the beauty would make her forget the ugliness of her broken engagement. Is Cammie’s move to Destin a disaster or a blessing in disguise and could her appointments with Vic lead to romance? To find out look for LOVE TURNS THE TIDE on the Awe-Struck E-Books Web Site. Simply Google Awe-Struck E-Books and go to the New Releases page.

Matthew 17: 20: “…I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
A VISUAL WORTH HAVING: Once when I was quite ill a friend of my daughter’s sent me a mustard seed in a clear glass jar four inches high. He said, “Tell your mother to put this somewhere she can see it everyday.” And I did.


The Beginning: Once dubbed the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” Destin dates back to seventh century A. D., when American Indians lived there. It’s named for Leonard Destin, who moved from New London, Connecticut, about 1845. For years he and his descendants fished and navigated the only channel passage to the Gulf of Mexico between Panama City and Pensacola, known as Destin’s East Pass.

The White Sand: Destin’s sand originated 20,000 years ago during the Ice Age, when temperatures warmed and ice caps started melting. Quartz particles from the Appalachian Mountains were swept into the water and carried by the Apalachicola River
to the Gulf of Mexico, one-hundred twenty-five miles east of the area that became Destin. As the sea level rose, the quartz sands formed a new shoreline. The process continues today.

Destin Currently: A tourist area, Destin’s activities include fishing, golfing, boating, snorkeling, kite boarding, and scuba diving. For more information visit;

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Guest Blogger Cecil Murphey Talks About His New Book

When Someone You Love Has Cancer
Author: Cecil Murphey
Harvest House Publishers
ISBN: 978-0-7369-2428-3
Retail $10.99

A Word from The Man Behind the Words
When Shirley walked in from the garage, she didn't have to say a word: I read the diagnosis in her eyes. I grabbed her and held her tightly for several seconds. When I released her, she didn't cry. The unshed tears glistened, but that was all. I felt emotionally paralyzed and helpless, and I couldn't understand my reaction. After all, I was a professional. As a former pastor and volunteer hospital chaplain I had been around many cancer patients. I'd seen people at their lowest and most vulnerable. As a writing instructor, I helped one woman write her cancer-survival book. Shirley and I had been caregivers for Shirley's older sister for months before she died of colon cancer. All of that happened before cancer became personal to me--before my wife learned she needed a mastectomy. To make it worse, Shirley was in the high-risk category because most of her blood relatives had died of some form of cancer. Years earlier, she had jokingly said, "In our family we grow things." In the days after the diagnosis and before her surgery, I went to a local bookstore and to the public library. I found dozens of accounts, usually by women, about their battle and survival. I pushed aside the novels that ended in a person's death. A few books contained medical or technical information. I searched on-line and garnered useful information--but I found nothing that spoke to me on how to cope with the possible loss of the person I loved most in this world. Our story ends happily: Shirley has started her tenth year as a cancer survivor. Not only am I grateful, but I remember my pain and confusion during those days. That concerns me enough to reach out to others who also feel helpless as they watch a loved one face the serious diagnosis of cancer. That's why I wrote When Someone You Love Has Cancer. I want to encourage relatives and friends and also to offer practical suggestions as they stay at the side of those they love. The appendix offers specific things for them to do and not to do--and much of that information came about because of the way people reacted around us. It's a terrible situation for anyone to have cancer; it's a heavy burden for us who deeply love those with cancer. by Cecil Murphey


The World Health Organization reported that by the year 2010 cancer will be the number one killer worldwide. More than 12.4 million people in the world suffer from cancer. 7.6 million people are expected to die from some form of cancer. That's a lot of people, but the number of loved ones of cancer sufferers is far greater. What do they do when a special person in their life is diagnosed with this devastating disease?

Murphey brings his experiences as a loved one and many years of wisdom gained from being a pastor and hospital chaplain to his newest book When Someone You Love Has Cancer: Comfort and Encouragement for Caregivers and Loved Ones (Harvest House Publishers). His honest I've-been-there admissions and practical helps are combined with artist Michal Sparks' soothing watercolor paintings.

Readers of When Someone You Love Has Cancer will receive:
Inspiration to seek peace and understanding in their loved one's situation
Help in learning the importance of active listening
Guidance in exploring their own feelings of confusion and unrest
Suggestions on how to handle anxiety and apprehension
Honest answers to questions dealing with emotions, exhaustion, and helplessness
Spirit-lifting thoughts for celebrating the gift of life in the midst of troubles
Murphey explains why this is a much-needed book: "Most books about cancer address survivors. I want to speak to the mates, families, and friends who love those with cancer. I offer a number of simple, practical things people can do for those with cancer."


1. The first sentence of your book reads, "I felt helpless." Tell us about that feeling. Because her doctor put Shirley into the high-risk category, I felt helpless. To me, helpless means hating the situation, wanting to make it better, but admitting there was nothing I could do for her.

2. On that same page you also write, "One thing we learned: God was with us and strengthened us through the many weeks of uncertainty and pain." How did you get from feeling helpless to that assurance? Shirley and I sat down one day and I put my arm around her. "The only way I know how I can handle this," I said, "is to talk about it." Shirley knows that's my way of working through puzzling issues. "Let's consider every possibility." If her surgeon decided she did not have breast cancer, how would we react? We talked of our reaction if he said, "There is a tumor and it's obviously benign. Finally, I was able to say, with tears in my eyes, "How do we react if he says the cancer is advanced and you have only a short time to live?" By the time we talked answered that question, I was crying. Shirley had tears in her eyes, but remained quite calm. "I'm ready to go whenever God wants to take me," she said. She is too honest not to have meant those words. As I searched her face, I saw calmness and peace. I held her tightly and we prayed together. After that I felt calm. Since then, one of the first things I do when I awaken is to thank God that Shirley and I have at least one more day together.

3. When most people hear the word cancer applied to someone they love, they have strong emotional reactions. What are some of them? What was your reaction when your wife was diagnosed with breast cancer? As a pastor, a volunteer chaplain, and a friend I've encountered virtually every emotional reaction. Some refuse to accept what they hear. Some go inward and are unable to talk. Others start making telephone calls to talk to friends. Me? I went numb, absolutely numb. That was my old way of dealing with overwhelming emotions. I heard everything but I couldn't feel anything. It took me almost two weeks before I was able to feel--and to face the possibility that the person I loved most in the world might die.

4. "What can I do for my loved one with cancer?" That's a good question for us to ask ourselves. How can we be supportive and helpful? Many think they need to do big things; they don't. Express your concern and your love. Be available to talk when the other person needs it--and be even more willing to be silent if your loved one doesn't want to talk. Don't ask what you can do; do what you see needs doing. To express loving support in your own way (and we all express love differently) is the best gift you can offer.

5. Why do you urge people not to say, "I know exactly how you feel"? No one knows how you feel. They may remember how they felt at a certain time. Even if they did know, what help is that to the person with cancer? It's like saying, "Stop feeling sorry for yourself. I know what it's like and I'm fine now." Instead, focus on how the loved one feels. Let him or her tell you.

6. Those with cancer suffer physically and spiritually. You mention God's silence as a form of spiritual suffering. They pray and don't seem to sense God. What can you do to help them? God is sometimes silent but that doesn't mean God is absent. In my upcoming book, When God Turns off the Lights, I tell what it was like for me when God stopped communicating for about 18 months. I didn't like it and I was angry. I didn't doubt God's existence, but I didn't understand the silence. I read Psalms and Lamentations in various translations. I prayed and I did everything I could, but nothing changed. After a couple of months, I realized that I needed to accept the situation and wait for God to turn on the lights again. Each day I quoted Psalm 13:1: "O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?" (NLT) I learned many invaluable lessons about myself--and I could have learned them only in the darkness. When God turns off the lights (and the sounds) I finally realized that instead of God being angry, it was God's loving way to draw me closer.

7. Guilt troubles many friends and loved ones of caregivers because they feel they failed or didn't do enough. What can you say to help them? We probably fail our loved ones in some ways. No one is perfect. If you feel that kind of guilt, I suggest 3 things:

(1) Tell the loved one and ask forgiveness.
(2) Talk to God and ask God to forgive you and give you strength not to repeat your failures.
(3) Forgive yourself. And one way to do that is to say, "At the time, I thought I did the right thing. I was wrong and I forgive myself."

8. Do you have some final words of wisdom for those giving care to a loved one with cancer? Be available. You can't take away the cancer but you can alleviate the sense of aloneness. Don't ever try to explain the reason the person has cancer. We don't know the reason and even if we did, would it really help the other person? Be careful about what you say. Too often visitors and friends speak from their own discomfort and forget about the pain of the one with cancer. Don't tell them about your cancer or other disease; don't tell them horror stories about others. Above all, don't give them false words of comfort. Be natural. Be yourself. Behave as loving as you can.


Cecil Murphey is an international speaker and bestselling author who has written more than 100 books, including the New York Times bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper). No stranger himself to loss and grieving, Cecil has served as a pastor and hospital chaplain for many years, and through his ministry and books he has brought hope and encouragement to countless people around the world. For more information, visit
Something Extra! Cec designed the appendix to be the most practical part of the book. He's witnessed too many situations where genuinely caring people had no idea what to do, so he has tried to give a few general guidelines.

1. Before you offer help. Learn about the disease before you visit. Determine to accept their feelings, no matter how negative. Pray for your loved one before you visit. Don't throw religious slogans at them, such as, "This is God's will" or "God knew you were strong enough to handle this."

2. What you can do now. As the first question, don't ask, "How are you?" Instead, ask, "Do you feel like talking." Don't offer advice. Be willing to sit in silence. If you need to cry, do so. Be natural. If appropriate, hug your loved one. Human touch is powerful.

3. Long-term caregiving. The overarching principle is to let the seriousness of the disease determine the amount of time and commitment you offer. This can be a time for you to help them spiritually. Think about tangible things you can do that say you care. Plan celebrations for every anniversary of being cancer free. Ask them reflective questions such as:
What have you discovered about yourself through this experience?
What have you learned about relationships?
How has your faith in God changed?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Looking in the Window: Sharing from the Soul

When a new theater opened in Cobb County, Georgia, near us, we rushed to get tickets for a show, "Lord of the Dance." Since I'd wanted to see the performance for a long time and already had in mind how good it would be, I thought I possibly had set myself up for disappointment. But the international dance troop charmed me from the instant their nimble feet tapped the stage. Following the story about the Little Spirit that travels through time to help the Lord of the Dance protect his people from Don Dorcha, the Dark Lord, I glanced quickly at my bulletin between scenes.

While the Irish background music, fiddlers and black and white costumes set the mood for different dances the entertainers' body movements depicted honor, impending danger, evil and finally the triumph of good. I sensed a desire from each of them to connect with the spectators to bring their message to us loud and clear. During some of the jigs the Warriors moved their tap shoes so fast I wondered if drumsticks could have kept up with the staccato rhythm. As limber as puppets on strings, they portrayed the victory of virtue over evil covering the stage with high-stepping energy and smiling faces. It must have taken them years to perfect their God-given talents to perform at their level. They took me to another world, letting me escape the pressures of this one for an afternoon.

Later, still filled with enthusiasm from seeing "Lord of the Dance," I returned to the theater to attend another performance, which I won't name because I sat through the entire show wondering when it would end. The artists dressed in black pants or skirts and white shirts sat on the stage in a semi-circle facing each other as opposed to looking at the audience. A man greeted those attending, and the program of musical renditions began. I only could name three of the songs they played, and that was because I recognized the melodies. I had no program and no one made announcements identifying the arrangements. Occasionally, one of the performers raised an instrument in the air at the end of a piece, and I wondered if it signaled something to the other artists, or if it was a gesture meant for the observers. On the way out of the theater my husband said, "I felt like I was watching a jam session."

"Yes, they seemed so detached from us."

I admire all musicians for the hard work it takes to become accomplished, so I mention the latter performance and our conversation about it for only one reason. Once it occurred to me that those on stage had distanced themselves so far from the onlookers I wondered, "Am I a Christian living in my own world like those artists?" It's one thing for me to go to church and Sunday school, to read my Bible and say my prayers. But am I devoted to my faith, passionate enough about it to include others in it? Just as the dancers in "Lord of the Dance" perfected their skills to reach out to viewers I need to hone my ability to communicate my convictions. And, I imagine it will take me even longer to accomplish my goal than it did the dancers. But, I'm going to start by trying to listen closely to people so I can identify those who may need to hear a kind word, be encouraged or be reassured. I hope when the perfect opportunity presents itself I will tune into the seeker and include him or her in the Christian community.

Hebrews 13: 1 - 2: "Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Looking Out the Window: An Unexpected Kindness

Usually when I travel, I swim early in the morning before the pool opens, so I won’t be in the way of anyone else. But, this May, when I went on a Florida vacation with my family, I awakened each day to a temperature in the fifties and a north to northeast wind, gusting at thirty to forty miles per hour. By the afternoon when the sun had warmed the day to seventy something, the pool looked like a cross between an adult pool party and a kid’s birthday celebration. I didn’t want to join the women and men sun bathing on the blue and white chaise lounges, and I felt I’d be out of place in the crystal, clear blue water with the kids diving for their swimming pool rings, floating on rafts and jumping from the sides of the pool, not to mention that they left no room for a lap swimmer. However, after four days my yearning for water exercise grew great, so I put on my suit, cap and goggles and headed to a place far different from Cobb Aquatic Center in Marietta, Georgia, the indoor pool where I swim all year with like-minded patrons who wear caps, goggles and occupy their own lanes.

By the time I reached my destination many of the children had taken a break, gathered around a group of men and women who had their lawn chairs pulled up to the edge of the pool. Only a couple boys around middle-school age played in the ten-foot-deep area. Seeing this moment as my best opportunity to work out, I got in and slowly waded toward the rope between the shallow and deep ends of the pool. Pondering if the Mothers and Fathers would gasp in horror if I removed the divider, I also wondered how I’d politely ask the youngsters still standing between me and my swim to share. Then, I noticed two young ladies sun bathing right in front of where the two boys hung on a ladder. One of the gorgeous girls with long blonde hair, who sunned her back, raised her head and watched me with interested big blue eyes. Even though both youngsters had brown eyes and brown hair, I thought perhaps one of them was her younger brother, and she was taking care of them, so I asked, “Are you with the guys?”

In a kind voice she said, “No, I’m not, but they can move if they’re in your way. Do you want to swim laps?”

She understood. “She’s a swimmer,” I thought. But more importantly, judging from her assessment of my awkward situation and her concerned look, she was a caring young woman conscious of the needs of others, such as a Christian would be. “Actually yes, I’d like to move the rope and swim on this side for about fifteen minutes.”

“Sure,” she smiled at me. Then she said, “Guys, you play here. She’s going over there and use that side of the pool.”

They looked a bit shocked, but said, “O.K.”

I thanked them, swam my laps, and got out refreshed.

Matthew 7: 12: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Looking Out the Window: Leap of Faith

On Good Friday when our daughter, Laurie, called to tell us to look for shelter at a Cracker Barrel, the middle Tennessee sky looked overcast, but not threatening. Within minutes after we hung up large pellets of ice that sounded like rocks hitting a tin roof pounded our gray Avalon. But there was no Cracker Barrel in sight, so we stopped under a bridge behind several other cars and a van. My husband, Rick, got out his laptop and pulled up a map that showed massive splotches of red and yellow all around the area where we were parked. While I stared at the grass flattened by strong wind an eighteen wheeler with its trailer waving passed by; after it, an ambulance with its siren blaring. After the hail stopped I said, “Rick we have to move to a safer place.”


Staring at the computer, I noticed a tiny sliver of green, indicating rain between one of the storm markings. Almost simultaneously, the sky cleared to a drizzle and the grass returned to its normal position. “The Cracker Barrel.”

“O.K., they’re bound to have one in Murfreesboro, but how can I pull out with all these vehicles speeding past us?”

“You’ll have to move up there.” I pointed to a spot beside the road that had turned to mud while we had sat behind it. Our tires spun in the mush momentarily, but then we merged safely, seeing the Cracker Barrel within the next three minutes.

After we parked Rick said, “I’m going to get out the laptop again and see what’s happening, but you can go inside if you want.”

Needing to stretch my legs, I put on my black raincoat and sloshed through the parking lot. When I entered the restaurant, a group of customers meandered about in the gift shop. Thinking they probably had come in to get out of the storm too, I joined them, strolling to a clearance rack of jackets and blouses. Soon the room grew dead silent. I let go of the beige shirt I held and looked around. Everyone had disappeared as though they’d suddenly been scooped up. I poked my head out from behind the display to see a concerned looking manager in a burgundy tee-shirt, who held a cell phone or an I-pod. (Technically inept, I’m not sure which). He spoke to another fellow in a matching shirt. “On radar, it’s close,” he said. Then he spotted me. “Ma’am, if it hits us you’ll be better off in the hall with everyone else.” He pointed to the area between the men’s and ladies’ bathrooms.

I couldn’t believe my ears. “Is one coming our way?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“All right, but I need to tell my husband. He’s in the car in the parking lot.”

A pleasant looking waitress with salt and pepper colored hair, who wore a light blue shirt and black pants said, “No ma’am, you go back where it’s safe in case we get debris from the roof or our merchandise. We’ll get your husband.”

I got a sinking feeling in my gut, but I joined the crowd of men, women and children. I must have looked as confused as I felt, because a slender, young blonde-headed woman said, “Hi, the manager says we’re okay here if it touches down again. We were in the bathrooms when the tornado hit downtown Murfreesboro.”

Clearly understanding the danger for the first time, I was stunned. “I guess I was under the bridge.”

“You’re better off here.”

“Yes, I think I am.”

Finally, Rick entered the hallway, where we waited until the manager said, “All right, they’ve closed Interstate Twenty-four. However, if you’re going to Eight-forty you probably can make it now. It won’t be safe here until about 4:00 p.m., but you all can get ahead of the twister.”
Rick quickly thanked the managers. While waiting for him I heard an elderly man giving the young blonde directions to take her around Twenty-four. Then, strolling by others chatting on their way outside, we left.

The hazard we narrowly escaped now swirled behind us, but more headed toward us -- getting to Eight-forty to turn northwest out of its path our only hope. Just one and one-half miles north of the Cracker Barrel trees snapped part way up hung helpless along the side of the road, behind them a house with no roof. Farther up the highway more pines were cracked in half, branches strewn. Additional homes barely stood on damaged structures with exposed pink insulation draped over fragile fragments of boards while dozens of police cars flashed blue lights. An ambulance sat near an overturned eighteen wheeler that blocked the south side of the road. With traffic backed up for miles behind it people walked around their vehicles, looking at the devastation of limbs, boards and bricks. We passed by a wrecked car that apparently had rolled across the north side of the road and turned upside down in the grass just beyond the shoulder. “Rick, it looks like a bomb exploded here. When do we get out of its path? Do you think we’ll make it before this thing strikes again?”

“The exit can’t be too far.”

Within five minutes after I asked we turned into safety. We later heard that the EF-4 tornado had hit downtown Murfreesboro at 170 miles per hour while we were under the bridge; then, started its path of destruction southeast toward Chattanooga. It destroyed 700 structures, killed two people and injured forty. One twister stayed on the ground for thirty-five minutes, covering over twenty miles. It was nearly one-half mile wide at its broadest point.

But we were in America’s Bible belt, where we found refuge with kind people who took care of us. Later that night when I turned on the news, I learned so many people had volunteered to help in Murfreesboro some had to be sent away. One lady interviewed said, “Somebody had food delivered to my house, and I don’t even know who it was.”

When actions spring from Bible based beliefs, we take care of each other. I hope when I see a person in one of life’s tornadoes, weather related or otherwise, I can respond in a way pleasing to God.

Matthew 25:40: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

Friday, March 20, 2009

Looking in the Window: Life Skills

Today I got caught amid the big yellow buses caravanning toward the school near our house in Georgia. I usually time my journeys through the nicely landscaped homes to avoid them because they back up traffic. But today I watched them as though they were an educational parade. With equal distance between them they snaked up the road for one-half mile, turning ever so carefully into the parking lot in front of the sprawling brick building. Then it dawned on me. What a great country. All across America these giant-sized cumbersome vehicles drove children to their free educations, and not one single kid was left out.

It had been that way for as long as I could remember. Watching the youngsters peer out the back window of the vehicle in front of me, I recalled my school days at the foothills of the North Carolina mountains in a two-story brick building with a pristine grassy yard, bright green shrubbery, flowers, a circular drive in front and a playground out back. In the first grade when I completed my work correctly, the teacher let me play quietly in the playhouse in the back of the room. A friend and I would set the small red table, sit in matching chairs and whisper to each other while we served pretend tea. On other days when I talked too much during class, I had to go to the corner of the room, face the wall, and do deep knee bends.

That year, in fact every year that I recall, my instructor began each day by reading a devotional and Bible verses. Then, she said a prayer. We followed that with the Pledge of Allegiance before we started our lessons. Images that stand out include those of an incorrigible young man who disrupted class in the fifth grade. Short and scrawny, with brown crew cut hair and clear blue eyes, the rowdy little fellow threw spit balls and jabbered without ceasing. Our teacher, I’ll call her, Mrs. Jones, glared at him with angry green eyes; then, told him to stand in the corner. But every time she had her back to him, he turned around, scrunching his face into strange contortions, causing the class to erupt in laughter. So, she put him in the cloak room, a narrow closet without a door, where he threw all the garments that neatly hung on hangers on the floor and banged on the wall. Finally, Mrs. Jones, a hard-nosed, no-nonsense person with red hair and a sharp pointed nose that made her look even more scary when she rose her voice, put him under her desk. For the rest of the day he crouched there, staring at the class with a pained expression. That cured him.

Mrs. Jones’ world consisted of verbs, nouns, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections and how to use them correctly. As passionate about the English language as Romeo and Juliet over each other, she put the parts of speech in sentences and called on us one by one to diagram them on the blackboard until the morning and part of the afternoon was spent. The rest of the day she taught a bit of science, math, history, and geography. A student could confuse the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans and receive a calm correction. But one who mistook an adjective for an adverb incurred her wrath. Those who didn’t understand and correctly speak the English language did not leave her class. If she were still teaching today she easily could have a forty-year-old student trying to understand that a noun is the name of a place, person, or thing, so he or she could go to the sixth grade. But the fortunate students who learned her lessons breezed right through English in high school and college.

My eighth and ninth grade history teachers taught the wars fought by the United States up until that time with particular emphasis on World War II. Teaching us to recognize and reject the communist movement taking hold, they cautioned us to be vigilant to tyranny and encouraged us to guard our precious freedom. Then, freedom meant the right to worship at any church and speak of our faith in any place, to work for a better life, to have guns, which some of our parents used for hunting, to travel when and where we wanted, and to feel protected from evildoers by the laws of our country. In that era when so many built bomb shelters to survive a nuclear blast, which they feared would come from the Russians, most of us surrounded by the mountains drew security from them. The hills that towered above us with their blue tint reaching toward Heaven projected so much strength and endurance I thought nothing could touch them, harm them or move them. If we heard of the unthinkable attack I would flee to them.

Finishing eighth grade, I moved to a brick three-story building on Main Street to attend high school, where chatter about aliens from outer space filled the halls. I, like so many other students, stood outside with my father on clear nights, gazing at the Heavens, locating the Big and Little Dippers while watching for Sputnik, the Russian spacecraft that flew around the sky, possibly barely missing encounters with spacecrafts from other planets. Thoughts of skinny aliens with three eyes and yucky, slimy bodies that might descend on us, devour us, or take us back to their homes to study dwelt in the back of my mind, even when I did the Bop to the songs of Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and the Comets, and the Clovers. But I always told myself we all could be mistaken. They could be kind, caring creatures.

One warm, May night my best friend hosted a sleep over in tents in her backyard for six girls. After her father grilled hamburgers for us we stacked several 45 R P M records inside her record player on the back porch and danced with each other to “Whole Lotta’ Shakin’ Goin’ On,” by Jerry Lee Lewis, “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino, and “Blue Suede Shoes,” by Elvis Presley. When finally we wore ourselves out, we put our sleeping bags in the tents and breathed in the fresh spring air. Pulling back the flaps on our temporary quarters, we gazed upward at the dark, mysterious abyss lit by twinkling stars and a glowing moon and wondered what lay where we could not see, where no one ever had been. Then, one of us spotted a light streaking across the sky like a comet. Screaming at the tops of our lungs, we grabbed our sleeping bags and rushed in the house, safe from the aliens.

In the midst of it all we learned that living by God’s word brought peace, protecting our country preserved freedom, and hard work coupled with integrity brought success. I’ve attended several high school re-unions to find that my classmates grew up to be salt-of-the earth people, teaching their values to children and grandchildren. Many hold leadership positions in their communities. Some finished college, while others earned Masters and Doctorate degrees to become teachers and coaches.

Many wonderful, dedicated people instruct our children today. While I drive ever so slowly behind the processional of big yellow buses I see youngsters pouring from the doors of some vehicles already parked at the school. And I wonder what values for living they are learning.

Proverbs: 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

Monday, February 16, 2009

Looking in the Window: Finding Love

Years ago I attended a small college nestled in the towering, blue-tinted mountains of North Carolina. Every afternoon after class I joined my peers at a local hamburger joint in a modest brick building, where I forgot about such weighty matters as the American dream seen through the eyes of Clyde Griffiths in Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY. But at the beginning of fall semester my senior year I met a guy. I’ll call him Joe. Each day when I let go of my books and settled into sipping my Coca-Cola, Joe sat down, put his elbows on the bright yellow table and made an off-the-wall statement, such as, “I bet you can’t prove to me that God exists.”

My muscles would tense, but I’d set aside my soft drink, turn away from my friends who chatted about the next fraternity party and try to say something to convince him there was a God. A member of my philosophy class, he claimed everything could be explained by science and bombarded me with reasons why there could be no God. Looking back on the situation, I suppose he could have been reaching out. But then, I felt harassed, so after a couple weeks of his needling I put some thought into ending it.

The next day when he sat down across from me at the overcrowded booth, I waited for him to stop his insults on God long enough to take a breath. Then I said, “Well, if there were no God there would be no love, because all things good, including love come from God. If scientists could create love, they already would have mixed up a batch to bring out whenever needed.” He left and never sat down with me again.

Many years later I read an article stating that a scientist had proven that chemicals in the brain produce love. I wondered if it was Joe. Even if it was, he still hasn’t isolated the elements and concocted a bunch of it. So the centuries old question remains. What is the source of the sought after emotion that exists in so many forms that sometimes touches our lives in extraordinary ways?

Recently, an email circulated telling the story of an elderly man who went to an emergency room to get stitches for a cut. While he was there the nurse asked about his wife. He explained that she had dementia and hadn’t recognized him in several years.

When the nurse finished bandaging his wound she asked, “What will you do the rest of the day?”

“As soon as I leave here I’m going to see my wife.”

The nurse looked at him with shocked blue eyes. “But, she doesn’t even know who you are?”

The old man tapped the nurse lightly on the arm and said, “I know who she is.”

Then there’s the passion that captures lovers as described by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in “Sonnets from the Portuguese.”
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,
I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.”

Those who study the Bible probably have read that Jesus came to bring a gospel of love. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37 - 40).

In “Paradise Lost” John Milton said:
“Freely we serve,
Because we freely love, as in our will
To love or not; in this we stand or fall.”

During the Christmas season this year we had unseasonably frigid weather in Georgia. A lover of warm, tropical breezes, I hardly could stand to walk out of the mall to the car. Yet, every time I did I strolled past the man shivering in a red jacket, standing beside a red bucket anchored in a three-pronged frame, each breath he took frosty white. Some folks brushed past him as though they didn’t notice him while others nodded or greeted him with a friendly, “hi.” A few pulled out a dollar, a five or a ten and put it in the bucket to help the less fortunate. Dressed in clothing suitable for a southern climate, he must have wished for a long, heavy overcoat. But he remained there in the red jacket in semi-darkness in the cold.

However, when I think of love I remember my mother, who had so much of it she must have known where it comes from. Once a member in our family accused my mother of loving the rest of us more than her. Mother assured her that wasn’t true. Then she said, “There’s plenty for everyone. It doesn’t run out like tea you pour from a pitcher.” If there’s an abundant supply it’s up to me to choose love.

I Corinthians 13: 13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Looking in the Window: Food for Thought

My dictionary defines a miracle as “an event or action that apparently contradicts known scientific laws” and “a remarkable thing.” However, most people associate a miracle with an act of God, so I was surprised when I saw the words “Miracle On The Hudson” on television, describing the U.S. Airways jetliner that ditched this month in the New York river. Sadly, our country endured a spiritual drought about ten years ago, making it taboo to be a Christian. Even though Christians have reclaimed some of their right to say they believe in God without being chastised, other than evangelists and ministers the media who are under more scrutiny and more likely to be attacked for such professions of faith, lag behind the general public. This is the first time in recent years I can recall seeing the word “miracle” on the news, most likely because of its religious connotation.

Some meanings of spiritual are “of the spirit or the soul,” “of religion,” and “not corporeal,” which draws one’s thoughts even closer to a higher power. So, I was shocked when I heard a television commentator say that he didn’t see how anyone could look at what happened on the Hudson River in New York without feeling spiritual about it. Because our country has become a secular society controlled by an even more worldly media that so often denounces Christianity, I was happy to find that some, even though immersed in the glitzy realm of nightly stardom, apparently stood so in awe of the event that they could not in good conscience fail to mention that these people must have had help from above.

I agree. It’s a miracle. The reports I heard told of acts deviating from the norm from the moment a flock of birds hit and disabled both engines. A reporter spoke of how skilled the pilot of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 had to be to clear a building, not only putting the plane down in the water, but also doing it in a way that kept it from cracking. We’ve come to learn that he is an airline safety expert as well as a seasoned pilot. But without aid once the Airbus A320 was down, many in the freezing water probably couldn’t have survived. Some say that lessons learned since 9/ll benefited these victims. Seeing the plane adrift one of the first responders said he didn’t even need a call to tell him of the emergency. In addition, by the time he arrived to take the survivors into a warm cabin, preventing hypothermia, other first responders and the coast guard were there to do the same.

Describing the rescue, reporters used the word “extraordinary.” One passenger talking about the scene on the craft told of people who were stunned and frightened still finding a way to escape in the chaos of such a horrible tragedy. The fact that all got off is a great tribute to the way the crew handled the situation. Also, some find it amazing that the airplane floated long enough to allow those aboard to flee to safety. They want to study the jetliner to see why. So, was the “miracle” the result of expertise and years of training? The survivor reporting said before the plane went down many of those aboard had said prayers. Had God heard them and answered?

When we or the media speak of the incident, even though we are willing to use the words “miracle” and “spiritual” no one has said “Praise the Lord” or “Thank you Lord, for saving these people.” Is it a blessing that God gave the pilot and crew the opportunity to develop the skill and knowledge to handle such a tragedy? Is it coincidence or God’s hand that gave those deplaning the presence of mind to do it? Several times since the happening I’ve been in the midst of people amazed by the phenomenon that allowed so many to avert a deadly catastrophe, giving glory to the pilot, the crew, the responders, and the survivors. All of us, myself included, admire the pilot and crew for their courage, their knowledge, and the efficiency with which they performed their jobs, providing safety for those under their watch. However, a thought in the back of my mind keeps nagging me. Is it strange that we aren’t thanking God for taking care of all of those involved, including the crew and the passengers? I’m sorry to say I didn’t mention God’s greatness or his part in the “miracle” to anyone until I spoke with a young woman currently studying the books of the Old Testament.
When I asked her if she’d noticed that people were falling short of praising God for the “miracle,” she said, “Yes, I have. I can just imagine how the entire episode would be recorded in the Bible. It would read something like, ‘the people were in grave danger, and they prayed and cried out to me for help. And, I heard their pleas. I caused the pilot to miss the building and land the plane without cracking it. Then, I sent the first responders to save the people from the freezing water. And, I made them get off the plane without harming one another. I gave some of the passengers the presence of mind to help others who needed it. And still, the world has not praised me. They have not acknowledged my deeds.’”

Isaiah 43: 10 - 13 - “You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed--I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, that I am God. Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?”