Love For Us

I’m sure that many of you would agree with me when I say that I feel like I’m on a runaway train.  The past month has been unbelievable for the whole world.

COVID-19 has dropped the bottom out of our lives.

Just outside the comfort and safety of my home there lies fear.  Uncertainty.  Danger.

I don’t understand or know what’s really happening behind the scenes.  I know that I need to be wise and to be wary, but I can’t control any of this situation that is swirling around us.

What I can do is pray.  Pray for my family scattered here and there.  Pray for friends.  Pray for our nation and for our world.  Pray for our leaders.

I can read my Bible.  With my mind on overload it seems that I can only absorb a few verses at a time, but that’s all it takes for me to hear God’s voice so strong and reassuring.

If there’s ever been a time for people to assess their relationship with God, it’s now.  I heard a doctor in New York say that this situation is Biblical…epic.  The God of the universe has stopped our world and I do believe it’s time for us to stop and to listen to Him for a change.

I’ve been spending tons of time with Aaron for the past three weeks while being mostly home-bound.  Every day I try to get him out for a walk or a drive, which he totally loves.

A couple days ago we went to nearby Swanson Park, one of our favorite places to walk and to enjoy a splash of nature in the middle of civilization.  Social distancing is not a problem there.  Aaron even obeyed me and didn’t stop to pet every dog he saw like he usually does.

There were flowering trees:

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Impressive thorns:

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Historical plaques that we enjoy reading:

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And our favorite little bridge:

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As we walked, Aaron talked…a lot!  One of his main topics of conversation involved the fact that he was waiting very anxiously for a PC game that Gary had ordered for him Sunday evening.  Aaron had earned and saved enough money to buy The Incredible Hulk PC game!!!

That night as Aaron and I were in the kitchen, he was still (of course!) talking about that greatly anticipated game.

“So, Dad ordered the Incredible Hulk out of love for me?” he quietly asked.

And as so often happens, Aaron’s words stopped me in my tracks.

“Yes, Aaron,” I answered.  “Dad ordered you the game out of love for you.”

I have thought and thought about that exchange…about the deep waters of Aaron’s heart.

And this picture I had just taken that day in Swanson Park came to my mind.

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How God leads our steps!  How He directs the paths of His children!

We live in this world and we’re caught up in what He is doing, but we can know beyond any doubt that He is fully aware of our situations during this frightening time.

 

“It’s from God that the steps of a man have been settled, and He delights over his way.  When he falls, he will not be flattened, for God keeps supporting his hand.  I have been young; yes, I have become old, but I have not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed asking for bread.”  (Psalm 37:23-25)

 

As the old hymn says, “This world is not my home.  I’m just a-passin’ through.”

God is surely at work in this old world, as He has always been since the beginning of time.  But I know, beyond any doubt, that God is very aware of me and my little family.

He knows our path and He is holding our hands.

Therefore, I can say with great confidence, “Yes, Aaron, our Heavenly Father also ordered this time out of love for us.”

We who know Him are not forsaken!

 

                                    

 

 

What Do I See?

Aaron and I were coming out of the grocery store recently.  Suddenly he veered sharply to his left, leaned over, and proudly held up his prize find.  A penny!  He was so happy to have snatched this treasure!  He proudly held it up for me to see before stashing it safely in his pant’s pocket.

This is so routine with Aaron.  Everywhere we go, he spies items on the ground that most people don’t even see.  Or if seen, most of us wouldn’t think they are worth our time or attention. But not Aaron!

We’ve had to teach him over the years that some things he sees are not treasures and are not even safe.  Things like cigarette butts…yuck!  Or random hair bands, bobby pins, or combs.

Last week, he and I walked out onto our driveway after a rain.  Before I knew it, there he was, leaning over to look at what had caught his eye this time.

“MOM!!  LOOK!!” he exclaimed.  “It’s a worm!!”

 

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A worm.  Aaron just had to look closer at this worm and touch it.  Again, to me it was just another worm, if I even did see it.  But not to Aaron.  To Aaron, this worm was a find worth investigating…worth stopping for…worth his notice.

This is such a strange and difficult time we are in right now.  There is so much to absorb…to hear…to try to understand about this virus and about its dangers.  We are besieged with so many changes and challenges.

What do we see when we look around us?

Fear?

Hardship?

Loss?

Stress?

Certainly, most of us can say yes, to one degree or another, to all the above.

But there’s something else we really must keep sight of.  David said it perfectly in Psalm 26:3:   “For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes…”

When my eyes dart here and there in such unusual times as we have right now, may I see…above all else…the lovingkindness of God.

Another version says:  “Indeed, Your covenant love stands right before my eyes…”

God’s love for us is right before our eyes, every day and every moment of this scary and trying time.

Sometimes I just don’t see it, though.  I don’t see God’s love because I’m too focused on looking way ahead at what is yet to come, usually with trepidation instead of trust.

This verse continues this way:  “Indeed, Your covenant love stands right before my eyes…and I have walked along in Your faithfulness.”

It’s not MY faithfulness that is being talked about here.  It’s GOD’S faithfulness to me that matters!

We say God is love.  We know God is love.  But sometimes when life is overwhelming, we don’t see His love through eyes of faith.

We don’t understand why we’re being besieged by COVID-19.  Why is God allowing this to happen?

We can’t say for sure, but what we do know for sure is that God loves all of us, and He wants each of us to know Him and to walk along in His faithfulness.

Sometimes I just need to stop, like Aaron so often does, and bend over before God as I look at His love.

When I observe His love and think of His deep love, I know peace that passes understanding.

Peace even in the middle of panic all around.

Then I can stand up again, sure of God’s love right before my eyes, and take off walking again.

Walking in God’s promised faithfulness through the uncertainty.

God’s love for each of us is worth our time and worth our notice.   God makes THE biggest and best difference to me when I’m stressed.

It’s great to stop at some point each day right now, and just ponder the treasure I see right before me.

Thank you, God, that Your covenant love stands right before my eyes!

MERCY!! AARON!!

I’m a southern girl.  Well, from southern West Virginia – born and bred – so no matter what the Civil War folks say about my home state, I still consider myself to be from the south.

I guess that’s why sometimes I just want to look at Aaron when he’s being a particular form of disagreeable and just say, “MERCY!!  AARON!!”

And then tell him that he just needs to hush!!

When I talk to Andrea or Andrew on the phone, Aaron invariably barges in the room and wants to talk.  This happened on Saturday evening as Andrea and I were gabbing away.  I knew Aaron would persist until I caved, so I finally put the phone on speaker and off Aaron went.

He was particularly fixated on Luigi’s Mansion 3 – his newest Nintendo Switch game.  And he was even more fixated on going over Luigi and Gooigi.  I think I spelled that right.

He wanted Andrea to know who Gooigi is.  What Gooigi is made of.  What color Gooigi is.  What Gooigi looks like.  What Gooigi does.

Andrea, ever patient with her brother, commented on everything Aaron said.  She even asked questions…good questions…which fanned Aaron’s flames and off he blazed.

Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.

It took me awhile to put out the flames.  I usually have to end the talking by telling Aaron to say goodbye, after he has pushed me away several times from taking back the phone.

Never once does he ask about Andrea or Kyle, or Darcy or Oakley or Aries or Siggy…all dogs, by the way.  😊

For some reason on Sunday evening, Aaron kept referring to that phone call.  He declared that I only wanted to talk to Andrea…that I never talk to him (REALLY??!!)…that I would hardly let him talk to her…and so forth and so on.

Everything is bad to Aaron when he gets like this, including the fact that I am a bad mom.  I eventually shut down when this happens, meaning that I do not fan the flames of Aaron’s anger by things I say.  Even my eyes – “Don’t squint your eyes, MOM!!”…or my voice inflections, can increase his anger.

Nothing that I say helps.  Nothing that Gary says helps.

Aaron’s lack of empathy and his inability to connect the dots like we do is a most frustrating part of his autism.

The next morning, weary and bothered, I thought of how my friend – a manager at Aaron’s day group – deals with these issues on the day after they occur.  Aaron often doesn’t want to go to Paradigm on that “next day” after he has blown it, but Barb always reminds him of an important truth.

“It’s a new day, Aaron,” she says.  “We just start all over and don’t let yesterday bother us.”

Thinking of that…of a new day…reminded me also of the wonderful promise in Lamentations 3:22-23:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

God’s love and mercy to me, no matter how much I sin, is new every morning.  And I know that I must also face every new morning with Aaron in the light of God’s loving-kindness to me.

If God is so loving and kind to me, how can I be any less to Aaron?

That next morning was still a little rough on Aaron’s part.  And then when I picked him up in the afternoon, as I watched him approach the van, I saw him stop and turn, running back into the building.

He returned, holding a paper that blew in the wind as he ran toward me again, his face all smiles.

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“MOM!!” he said as he got in the van.  “I colored this for you!”

With great delight he handed me this picture:

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I was so touched.  So amazed.

Amazed that Aaron sat still long enough to color.

Touched that he wanted to mend our fences in such a sweet way.

And both amazed and touched that it was a cross he colored for me.

You see, it’s because of the cross that I can even begin to love Aaron as I should, especially when he is at times so unlovable.

It’s because Jesus died for me, and because He is my Savior, that I AM loved and that I CAN love.

And I love how the old King James Version says that verse I wrote earlier.  “It is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.”

I am not consumed by hatred and sin or God’s judgment, but only because of God’s love and mercy.

Love and mercies that are new every morning.

Like I said, how can I love Aaron any less when I am so loved by God?

One more thing.  The cross is also the reason that I can bear the sadness and fear of Aaron’s 3:00 a.m. seizure today, and another one later.  The reason I can see him sleeping again now and know he may likely seize again.

The reason I can bear up under the disappointment of our doctor day being canceled…because doctor day means, to Aaron, eating out day.  And he does LOVE eating out!  It’s always a fun and happy day, but not today.

Aaron goes through these disappointments and rough days often, which means I do as well.

But like the verses above said, great is God’s faithfulness.  He doesn’t leave me to handle it all alone.  He is right beside me, my best friend, with His mercies and love that give me His peace that passes understanding.

Speaking of understanding, I won’t even go into all the detail of having to wash Aaron’s favorite fuzzy blanket today because he spilled coffee on it…and how it’s the only blanket that he wants to use on his lap when he’s at his desk…or on the couch.

About trying other blankets.

Rejecting those blankets.

Checking his blanket in the wash.

Observing me putting it in the dryer.

Following me around the house because without a blanket he can’t sit or lay.

MERCY!!!   AARON!!!

The Scary Place

Gary and I looked at lots of homes when we were house hunting here in the Wichita area over 17 years ago.  Has it been that long?!  The house we are in now was the second house we looked at during those rushed few days.  We at first dismissed it because the inside of the house needed lots of work.  No other houses were right, though, and so we were pulled back to this house for a second look.  I remember standing in the upstairs window in what became Aaron’s bedroom, looking out over the back yard.  At that time there was a large, beautiful pool in the back as well as the big yard.  I was so surprised when I was told that the whole area out back was part of the house’s yard.  And for me, that was largely what sold me on this house.  That yard……

That yard has offered us room for running young children; for walking and playing with our dogs; for endless hours of swimming with family and friends before we covered up the pool; for our vegetable garden; for parties and fireworks; for ball throwing and bean bags and even boomerangs (we ended that idea pretty quickly!); for enjoying wildlife; and for a measure of privacy that we have enjoyed.

The look of the yard has changed with time, just as we have.  The pool is gone; dozens of dead pines and other trees have had to be cut; fences are not there now; and once young trees are now tall and strong.  But our back yard, despite the changes, is still a place that is home to us.  That yard beckons us, whether it is to work or to play; to sit or to walk……our yard is home and is a place of comfort to us.

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There are two big evergreens at the back of our yard, visible from our house but not too near.  I sometimes think of our yard as ending there because you can’t really see around those big trees.  You must walk around them to see what lies out there in the very back part of our back yard.

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There is simply a small area out there that is our property, where Gary mows and where more trees grow to both sides.  And it is there where a finger of the neighborhood lake weaves in a curve.  This part of the lake is dry for a good part of the year, but is full of water when the rains come.

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It is this section of our yard that is, to me, fairly creepy.  There are some trees there, one especially, that is wild and untamed.  Its branches are tangled in a mass of knotted wood and long thorns that threaten if you get too close.  It’s a dark place, especially in the summer when leaves and underbrush are growing.  I feel cold in this area, even though this is still our yard.  It isn’t warm and welcoming like the rest of our yard, but is a little ominous and foreboding.  I like to walk back around those large evergreens where I can see our house and the rest of our yard, safe and welcoming.

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I was standing in this area of our yard a few days ago while Aaron and I took our Great Dane, Jackson, for a walk.  Aaron was having fun exploring the dry creek bed, and Jackson was sniffing everywhere and everything.  I still didn’t want to linger long here, but as I did stand there I was reminded of one of our favorite Psalms and of the very wonderful lesson we learn from it.

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We often think of Psalm 23 as the one we read at funerals.  But David wrote this Psalm from his life as a shepherd, before he became a king.  He compared our God to a shepherd, a life that David knew well.  Our Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters.  But…..He also is with us during those times that we must walk through dark valleys.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.  Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” 

Often shepherds in Bible times found themselves in desert areas, where there were deep valleys.  Those valleys were full of danger.  Danger could come from bandits, from sudden raging floods, or from wild animals.  The valleys were frightful…..a place of threat to the sheep.  But the good shepherd kept a close watch, using his rod to beat off wild animals and his staff to gently guide the sheep away from danger.  Sometimes there was no other way to go but through the desert valley, but the sheep knew that they could trust their shepherd to guide them through the dangers.

So it is with you and I as we live this life.  Honestly, if left up to me, I would have chosen some different paths than those that God has chosen for me.  But God knew best for me, and He continues to know where I need to be and what circumstances need to be around me.  He has proven Himself undeniably faithful and loving to me, even…..and especially…..in the very hard times.  He has a reason, a purpose, for every dark valley and every unwelcome event in my life.  He may choose to let me know the reason now, and He may not.  That’s where trust comes in…..the trust of me, a sheep, for my loving Shepherd.

I have dear family and friends who have been in, or are still in, one of those dark valleys.  To each of you I say that God, your great Shepherd, is with you.  He will protect you and He will comfort you as only He can.

To Paul and Goldie whose daughter, Jennifer, went to heaven only a month ago after such suffering.  To Janet, my dear friend who is fighting cancer.  To Nancy, whose sweet father was just put on hospice.  To Steve and Dona, whose lives have been radically changed when Steve suffered a massive stroke over a year ago.  To Dan and Wendy, who face untold stress and grief as they watch their precious Elijah suffer from severe seizures.  To Sarah, Anna, and Kyle, who have had more loss this year than I can fathom.  To Linda and Laura, who will always grieve the tragic death of their son and brother.  To Kurt and Jill, whose son Nicholas just endured yet another infection and brain surgery.  To my sister, Mary Beth, who somehow goes through each day with a smile as she struggles with a muscle disease.  To Karen and Bill, who have heartache that just can’t be told.

And to so many more of you, each with your own battles……your own valleys…..your own dangers and fears.  Let God be your Shepherd.  Know Him and trust Him.  Know that He has a reason for every path that you take, and His reason is one that is born out of deep love for you.  Someday we will understand.  And in the meantime, we need to trust our Shepherd to have our good nearest to His heart.  For he truly does.

“Surely goodness and mercy (lovingkindness) will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” 

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Wilted

I have some container plants on our front porch.  They need routine watering, of course, but definitely need plenty of water during our very hot Kansas summer.  A few weeks ago, I was guilty of neglecting those plants for longer than I should have.  You know how it is.  I just got busy with many other things.  I would remember the plants and tell myself I needed to check on them, but then once again I would forget to do so in the midst of running here and there.

I had noticed my pretty Impatiens in the corner drooping a little one day, so I gave myself a mental note to water the plants that evening.  But I yet again got distracted and didn’t water them like I promised myself I would do.

When I finally went to check on the plants some time later, I was sad to see that my Impatiens was completely wilted.  “Beyond wilted,” I thought.  “This poor plant is dead……gone.”

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I very nearly just tossed the pitiful thing in the trash can, but something made me stop.  I decided to go ahead and water it.  What could it possibly hurt?  So I filled my watering can, gave all my plants a much needed drink, and waited to see the result.

The first time I looked at the dead Impatiens after being watered, it didn’t look any different.  This just confirmed to me that it was beyond hope.  But still I waited.

And wouldn’t you know, by the next day I was amazed at what I saw!!

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My once dried up plant was now thriving once again!  It had sprung to new life because of simply being watered.  It soaked up what it needed once that life giving need was provided.

I have gone through times in my life where the bad news and the burdens are overwhelming.  Sometimes it’s been hard to handle the stress, and so I have bowed low under the pressure.

It’s during these heated times in my life that I must not let myself neglect the one important element of what sustains me…..God.  He knows my situation and has even planned my path for a purpose.  But it sure is easy to become distracted from Him as I feel the weight of my fears and burdens.  Someone else felt this way, too, and wrote about it beautifully in Psalm 42:

“Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?  Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.”

When we know God, it doesn’t mean we won’t suffer.  It doesn’t mean we won’t feel despair.  But knowing God does mean that we have hope.  Hope in God is hope well placed.  It’s a hope that brings us to praise…….praise for His help and His presence.

“The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life.”

God loves us throughout each day and even gives us a song during the awful dark hours of the long nights.  That song is our prayer as we lay in the stillness of night, when everything seems darker and bigger and more awful than in the light of day.  Our prayer to God…..our deep groanings……our praise…..turn into a song, even when we don’t really hear a beautiful tune at that moment.  But God hears and He is pleased, and He is the One Who turns our prayers into a song.

Just in the past few days I have a dear friend who found out that she has breast cancer.  She will soon begin chemo and then face surgery.  My brother-in-law went in for a heart cath and was told that he will need bypass surgery.  A friend said goodbye to her wayward son as he moves very far away, and she feels she may not ever see him again.  Another friend is watching her son’s seizures dangerously increase as she awaits a visit with their specialist in Memphis.   I could keep going.  It just seems like there is so much suffering and personal attack right now.

This past Monday I sat in a friend’s back yard, at her picnic table, and we along with another friend were sharing some of the ongoing situations that one friend especially is dealing with.  This wonderful mother and wife, my sweet friend, suggested that we pray.  She bowed her head and started speaking very comfortably with God.  We all prayed, just as if God was sitting right there with us and we were including Him in our conversation……which is really the case.  It was so sweet, and each of us was so encouraged in just the way that we needed.

Just like my wilted plant.  We all felt like this at first –

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But after praying, we were encouraged and refreshed…..just like my plant that finally received water.

“Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?  Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”

The more I wilt, the more I can count on God to give me just what I need as I hope in Him, praise Him, and rest in His arms.  He will refresh me and He will revive me, even in the heat of the trials that I may be encountering.

He’s a good God and an amazing caregiver for us.

And He never forgets us when we need watering!

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Fixing My Broken

 

I sit here at the kitchen table, one ear on the washing machine and the other on the baby monitor. Our washing machine was having some trouble two nights ago, so yesterday when Gary got home from work he opened up the back and got it all fixed. At least we hope it’s all fixed. That’s why I’m listening as it washes a second load this morning, wanting to be sure it’s working as it should.   A broken washing machine is no fun!

And my other ear is on the baby monitor because Aaron had two hard seizures last night. He’s been out of bed this morning, drinking his requisite three cups of coffee and then back to bed. He will sleep off and on today as he recovers. I’ll continue to listen for further seizures, which he often has during the day following his night episodes. Poor Aaron. He and I are still hoping to take supper over to Shawna and Aaron’s other friends at the house in which they live. He keeps asking if we can still go and I keep hoping that we can. Why do seizures have to so often mess up his fun times? It makes me sad for him. So in a sense a broken Aaron is no fun, either…..for him, certainly.

I don’t look at Aaron as broken, but I look at his seizures that way. They interrupt his life so often and so it breaks my heart for him. They break into his routine and into his plans, mess up his sleep and his following day, make his bitten tongue so sore, his head hurt, and all the rest that goes along with these awful things.

It makes me think about how we live among so much brokenness. There are so many broken issues and broken people all around us. Just this week I visited my dear friend, Atha, who is still struggling as she recovers from a stroke. Our friends in Texas, Steve and Dona, are working hard on his stroke recovery. Another friend’s son died from cancer early this morning. A friend is undergoing heart tests this morning. Our own daughter will soon have more medical tests run as her body continues to show a problem as yet unfound. Scrolling through Facebook…..looking at my prayer list……visiting with others on the phone or at lunch only confirms the deep hurts and problems that many are facing.

Our broken world is marred by sin, fractured back in the garden as Adam and Eve willfully disobeyed God. We and our world continue to bear the consequences of that sin in a universe imperfect now, not as God planned. But it’s not hopeless. Not at all. God made a way for each of us to come back to Him through His own Son. Jesus paid the price of sin, and for all who are called and respond to God through Jesus, there is life and hope.

God fixes our broken.

But we still have this life here, lived in broken bodies and in a broken world.

I watched Aaron on Sunday morning as he cut the Sunday coupons for me. This is his Sunday routine, performed faithfully for me as only Aaron does. In fact, he won’t let me come near the coupons with a pair of scissors because I don’t cut them correctly. Aaron cuts on the dotted line as best he can. Not near it. Not beside it. Not close to it. He cuts ON the dotted line.

Then he takes the little strips of paper that he has cut off and he meticulously snips them into tiny pieces as he holds the strip over his special trash can that’s just for that purpose and no other. It takes lots more time than necessary, but he doesn’t care about that. He has always, and will always, clip coupons and paper strips in this fashion. It’s very fascinating to watch.

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After the coupon is cut, he slowly and methodically places it into the coupon box. He doesn’t just toss it in. He slowly and carefully puts each coupon in its position, all neat and orderly. Look at the coupon box from this past week.

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As I think of the brokenness of life and of our world this morning, I’m reminded that for believers God is much like Aaron as he clips my coupons. God is full of purpose and planning for my life. He carefully cuts, always ON the dotted line, and He puts events and people and order into my life in the exact way that He knows is best. He is structured and precise as He takes each individual element of my life and places it exactly where it needs to be. His timing is perfect. His placement is always on spot. I may not understand it all. I may not like it all. But I know the One Who is doing the clipping and the snipping and the placement of each single area of my life, and of those I love.

And I know that I can fully trust Him to do it right. It’s called sovereignty.

“The Lord will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness , O Lord, is everlasting. Do not forsake the works of Your hands.” Psalm 138:8

Someday, maybe not until heaven, I’ll be able to open that box that holds my life events. I’ll see it all together, clearly, and I know that I’ll see order. I’ll see the plan of God. I’ll see each piece of my life put down just where and how God wanted it, always for my good and for His praise.

Even when I mess it up, God brings order back into it as I allow Him to do that. He loves me that much, like the verse above says.

So I’ll let God do the clipping, even when I don’t understand it or even agree with all of it. Because I know I can depend on Him to do it right, every single part and piece.

He keeps His ear on us, and He fixes our broken. He’s the only One Who can.

Unto The Least: A Man Named Richard

 

I remember him so well.  Richard……….nondescript, uneducated, stinky, and often unwelcome Richard.  Our paths crossed because Richard attended the same church where I grew up and where I worshipped.  Our paths also crossed because God ordained it to be so.  God ordained it to be so………so that I would learn a lesson.   It was a lesson best taught by the method that God loves to use – the weak things of the world confounding the mighty. 

 

Richard was a very short little man.  I often think that he was our version of Zaccheaus there in Princeton, West Virginia where I was raised.  Richard didn’t have much education and he was also very simple minded.  Today I’m sure he would be classified as being developmentally delayed, at the very least.  Yet he had served our country in World War 2, returning to Princeton when his time was up.  I remember hearing the story of how Richard wanted to help build the parsonage for our pastor at Johnston Chapel Baptist Church.  The men decided that Richard could dig the sidewalk, and so they used twine and little posts to outline the walkway that Richard should dig.  As Richard dug, his shovel cut the twine and it veered off to the side……..and Richard continued to follow the twine with his digging.  I’m not sure if the men let Richard dig anymore after that or if they found another safer job for him to do. 

 

I remember Mom and Dad loading us five kids into the old station wagon and then leaving for church.  We never missed a service unless we had a fever or were throwing up, or maybe if blood was involved.  This was in the day of services every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and anything in between.  This was also in the day of revival services that lasted at least a week, and sometimes longer if the Spirit led.  There were mission conferences, too, as well as other special services thrown in here and there.  The Kings did not miss church.  If Dad was working, then Mom loaded the station wagon and off we went. 

 

I loved going to church, but I always dreaded that drive up Thorn Street because often we would see him………..Richard, standing on one of the corners of Thorn Street, not far from his house.  Richard, standing there waiting for a ride to church from one of the church members that he knew would drive by in our little town and see him, and offer him that ride.  Richard, whom I was sure never, ever, ever took a bath.   The smell was just awful!  We kids would strain our necks to look ahead to see if he was still standing there, hoping against hope that some other family had come by before us and picked Richard up.  If we saw him, we would beg Mom or Dad not to stop for him………..to let someone else have that privilege on this day. 

 

But no……..Mom and Dad would always stop for Richard.  He would hop in our already crowded car and immediately we would be assaulted by that odor.  We girls learned a trick.  We would take a small purse-size container of perfume and try to hide it in our hand as we held it up to our nose.  Or at least have some perfume on our wrists that we could sniff in the hopes of blocking out that smell.  I’m not sure what John did to combat the odor but at that point it was each King for himself.   If no one was able to give Richard a ride, then he would walk to church, regardless of the weather……and that was probably a five mile walk.

 

Richard would talk, talk, talk.  He had a very fast, clipped speech.  I can still hear him make a comment and then say, “Isn’t that right?  Huh?  Isn’t that right?”  Then he would laugh and launch into something else, and ask again if that was right.  If he wasn’t talking, he was making a clicking sound with his tongue, as if he was getting food out from between his teeth.  He probably was, since I also doubted that Richard ever, ever brushed his teeth……….which just added to his unique smell. 

 

At church, Richard would lean up on the pew in front of him and talk to whomever was sitting there.  His eyes would dart between the people as he rapidly talked, and clicked his tongue, and laughed, and said, “Isn’t that right?   Huh?  Isn’t that right?”  The large church helped to spread his odor out some and keep it from being as strong……….unless you were the fortunate ones who were sitting in front of him and with whom he decided to engage in his mostly one-sided conversation.   Needless to say, when I was older and had the opportunity to sit in front of Richard……….I tried to find another seat.

 

Richard, though, was good at math.  I remember how that always surprised me.  On Wednesday nights, four men would count certain sections of church and then give the number to the pastor out loud as they were called upon to do so.  Richard almost always added those numbers faster in his head than Preacher Jimmie could do on paper, and he was usually right.  Amazing indeed!  And also amazing was the fact that Richard loved the Lord in his own simple way and was one of the most faithful church members that I have ever known.    I don’t remember seeing Richard carry a Bible and don’t know if he could read, but he knew his Bible.

 

Time marched on.  We King kids grew up, went to college, married and had our own lives.  Mom and Dad both eventually retired from their jobs.  They continued to be active at Johnston Chapel, enjoying the freedom to spend more time visiting the sick and those who were shut-ins.  Among those that they cared for, none stood out more to me than their continued care of Richard.  He had aged, of course, and time had taken a toll.  Richard was not only feebler, but was also dealing with the ravages of cancer.

 

I know that others helped with Richard, too, but Mom and Dad did a great deal for him in his old age.  They helped him find a better house to move into, and then helped him move his meager belongings.  They were shocked at what they found as they cleaned his house.  Such filth was hard for them to imagine!  And there in his closets and throughout his house were stacks of Christmas presents that church friends had given him over the years, still wrapped and unopened.   Inside were clothes and toiletries that he surely could have used over the years, but when questioned about it Richard said that he didn’t open them because he didn’t need anything.  Mom and Dad bought him clean clothes and new things, but Richard still preferred his old belongings and his old way of living.  Mom would take him home-cooked food and encourage him to eat better than he was.  She and Dad bought him a small refrigerator to keep his food from spoiling, but Richard refused to plug it in because he didn’t want to waste electricity. 

 

Dad helped Richard obtain his VA benefits, and then made sure that Richard started going to the proper doctors at the VA hospital.  He took Richard for many of his doctor appointments.  This was no easy task in many ways, but none more so than just the pure embarrassment of being in a public waiting room and doctor’s office with poor smelly Richard.  Mom and Dad tried countless times to teach Richard and to urge Richard to use better hygiene, but I don’t know that Richard ever took it to heart.  Dad would explain things to the doctor, but the people around them that they encountered must have wondered about Richard and about Dad.  Eventually Richard’s cancer became more complicated than what the local VA hospital could handle, so Dad took him to the nearest major VA hospital………..in Richmond……….a six hour trip one way.  Twelve hours confined in a car with Richard, as well as the time at the doctor appointments.  The smell……..the constant talking……….the clicking tongue.   Yet Dad just smiled and did what he knew that God would want him to do………..to take care of this little unwanted and unwelcome man. 

 

When Dad tried to see if Richard qualified for any other assistance such as Medicaid, it was discovered that Richard had money.  In fact, he had too much money to qualify for any government help.  Richard never offered to give Mom and Dad, or anyone else, any money for the things they did for him.  They wouldn’t have taken the money anyway.   That was not the motive.  A brother that no one knew about showed up at Richard’s death, and Mom and Dad walked quietly away from any further involvement……..but not before they gave Richard one of their burial plots since he didn’t have anywhere to be buried.

 

Mom and Dad didn’t want any public acclaim for what they did for Richard.  They just loved the Lord and they let the Lord’s love fill their hearts and direct their actions.  I know at times their service to Richard was tiring, was frustrating, was annoying, and very thankless.  Yet Mom and Dad, and the others who served Richard, did so because they lived out their faith and they believed Jesus when He said, “When you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto me.” 

 

Dad is with Richard in heaven now.   I sometimes try to imagine it, the two of them together up there.  Both have new bodies and are totally equal physically and mentally.  Did they hug when they saw each other?  Are they ever beside each other as they sing and as they worship?  Richard doesn’t smell anymore and Dad doesn’t have to explain him to anybody, or be embarrassed.  I wonder if Richard still talks fast, and does Dad still smile patiently at him?  I doubt it, but it’s fun to think about. 

 

And we kids are left with not only memories, but more importantly, we are left with a real example of selflessness that my parents demonstrated.  They loved the unlovely in more than word…………they loved also in deed.  I know that each of us has taken this lesson to heart in our own lives in various ways.  But I doubt that anyone could be any more kind and any more patient than my sweet parents were to Richard.

 

I can’t wait to see Richard in heaven!  I’ll give him a hug……….and no perfume bottle needed!