Friday, August 30, 2013

A tough choice

Letters were zooming back and forth from Minneapolis to Memphis where my boyfriend Ted was completing his two-year stint in the Navy, studying hard as a Medical Corpsman with the goal of entering the University of Kansas in the Fall to begin the lengthy education required to become a surgeon. He mustered out of the Navy in January of 1946. Valentine's Day was coming up.  Billy Graham was returning to the school to speak for a Sweetheart Banquet, so I wrote Ted and asked him to come. ...which he did.  Billy, as always made the Gospel very clear. Ted returned to our home state,  registered at the University of Kansas for the Fall semester, then left for the summer to pitch baseball on a sandlot team in Ponca City, Oklahoma. I had fallen in love with those pitching muscles while watching him on the mound during high school. After we married and together produced more athletes, I spent a huge chunk of every day cooking meals that built more muscles. When the trophies began to accumulate I felt like shouting out: "I helped build those muscles!". ...but of course moms just suck it up and babble to ourselves: "Good job, Mom".

Billy had signed me up for a music degree at Northwestern, for Mr. Nelson, the dear man who connected me with Billy in Manhattan, Kansas, and Chicago, had heard me sing as I stood in back of him in the little "church". I was not aware that he had been listening. Music was a natural talent; I took and take no credit for that whatsoever. I had not played the piano in the little fellowship, because I was a boogie woogie and swing player and somehow sensed that I needed to keep that part of me under wraps. ...and then came the night when I was nearly the first one to arrive for the prayer meeting. I sat down at the piano and hit it! A kinda weird guy who was part of the fellowship slithered up behind me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "JoAnn, we don't like that kind of music here". Well, there ya' go: my first introduction to "The List" that I mentioned in last week's blog.

...back to the music department at Northwestern Bible College.  I looked around  (Believe me, I did) for male muscles and there was nary a one. I began in earnest to pray for Ted Stone's salvation.  ...Rotten motive, but,  oh well...  I returned to Kansas for the summer and Ted came from Oklahoma to meet me there. I knew just enough scripture to know I couldn't marry a man that wasn't a Christian.  I asked God to give me something that clearly revealed that I had to break up with this man I had more or less dated for over three years.  He told me a lie, then he lied about lying,  and that did it.  Adios, Ted Stone. As he went out the door, I thought: "What have you done, you idiot?  You have just said goodbye to the nicest guy in the whole world  (O.K., so he lies a little!),  and besides, he's got muscles!"  Two months later I got a letter from Ted saying: "That night, I was sitting in a bus station in Wichita, Kansas, waiting for my bus to Oklahoma, and what you had said to me hit me hard. I said to God, 'I don't even know if you exist or not, but if you do and you can change my life as you have changed Jo's, come in.' " ...not your basic "sinner's prayer", was it?  There wasn't one word about his admitting to being a sinner. Come to think of it, I am not 100% sure that Ted ever thought he was a sinner, even though I suggested to him more than once that he was.

When I got Ted's snail mail, I was delirious with joy!  I wrote him back and made a date to meet him back in Kansas in August. We met and talked until 4 in the morning. I had never read Ephesians 5:21 up until that time, but somehow understood that negotiating is a legitimate option.  It's a key verse that heads up that powerful marriage passage that has been thrashed nearly to death over the centuries. Anyway, here's what I said: "Come to Northwestern for just one semester, get some Bible under your belt, then go on to K.U. and head on into medicine." He agreed to do that, told his parents, and that announcement hit the parental fan.  His dad offered to pay for his education and buy him a new car that very day if he would "...give up that woman who has influenced you into this religion' ". Ted said, "Thank you, Dad, but I have to follow Christ." Yeah, yeah. I know his motives were mixed.

Now, girls, God has given us a powerful ability to influence. Note that I did not say manipulate. That was Eve's screwed-up response to Satan's seduction.  Ted went with me to school, I introduced him to Don Rosenberg who headed up the Navigators (scripture memory course started by Dawson Trotman for Navy men) and Ted Stone took off like an eagle.  The rest is history and I'm a gonna tell it to you, week by week.  There was never a conversation about his becoming a medical surgeon. ...not ever. Instead, he became a "Surgeon for Wounded Souls". He is in God's "hotel" now. When the Rapture comes, which could be today, we will meet together with the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.  So, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

Next week: Tricky lists

Just as I am Thou wilt receive; wilt welcome, pardon, change, relieve
Because Thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Love, Jo

Friday, August 23, 2013

An unfamiliar world

I will never forget what it felt like as a four month old fledgling Christian to be thrust into the midst of a thousand students at Northwestern Bible College who had come up from the cradle through the Christian system.  They spoke a language I didn't know. The girls looked different.  I wondered if maybe they had all overslept when their alarm went off and didn't have time to gussy up, but within a few days I had figured it out:  In order to appear spiritual girls should appear natural.  Well, my dears, to this day, I need a fresh coat of paint every morning to cover up what God didn't get quite right. It was inevitable that I would be summoned to the office of the Dean of Women. Her words:  "Jo Ann, we don't want our girls to look worldly ".  I had already signed a statement promising not to smoke, drink, dance or go to movies. That was the short list. Now I was hearing from the Dean Herself that I looked worldly and I needed to promise not to do that any more. Paul the Apostle and the other guys had a few hundred well-chosen words to say about what is truly worldly. ...but God was growing me by asking that I adjust, with grace, to ways of thinking which I thought were nonsense.  I had become a part of a Christian institution; something quite new for me.

I knew absolutely nothing about the Bible when my plane touched down in Minneapolis in January of 1947.  My first assignment in school was to read through all the Bible and the version of choice then was the King James.  If I had had a little black dog and some money I woulda said, "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore" and hopped on a train and fled.  I developed insomnia from sharing my living accommodations with a gaggle of girls which I had never had to do before; plus, I was doubting that I had been redeemed because I was struggling so hard to understand what the Bible was saying.  Once in awhile I would "get it" and was so excited, but I was too proud to tell my fellow students that I felt like a biblical moron in their midst.

My dorm housemother,  "Mother R",  spent and bent from raising six kids,  lived right below my room.  In the middle of the night, more than once,  I stumbled downstairs and knocked softly on her door. She got out of her warm bed and gathered me into her arms,  lead me to her bedside where we fell to our knees and she opened her torn and marked old Bible and read to me.  I went upstairs and immediately went to sleep while she probably stayed awake the rest of the night.  Now,  that's discipleship!  "Mother R" had been provided by my Father to be a Spiritual Mother to me.

My Father led me to another "door". ...that of dear  Dr. Harry Stam who was teaching missions while on medical leave from the Congo. You older saints may recognize the name "Stam".  Harry's brother was  "John" who was martyred with his wife "Betty" during the Boxer Rebellion in China. I showed up at Dr. Stam's office door during lunch hours when the dear man needed to rest, my King James Bible tucked under my arm.  He  never turned me away.  I sat at his feet as he fed my soul.  Now, that's discipleship! My Heavenly Father was providing for me a Spiritual Dad.

Billy had arranged for me to work right smack in the middle of the administration of the school. There were some precious Christians there like Dr. Sanden, scientist, whose book I helped prepare for publication.  What did I know about science?  Nothin'!  Now, that's discipleship!  A year and a half later, Dr. Sanden would walk me down the aisle when Ted and I were married. He had become another of my Spiritual Dads.

Of course I didn't expect to have to endure deceptions as I had experienced in the world. ...but I was in for another of many lessons in "grace".  There was a staff member, probably in her 40's,  who was so desperate for a man that she bought herself an engagement ring, flashed it around for months as we pressed on her to let us meet her fiance'.  She came in crying one day to tell us he had died.  We mourned with her. Then came the day when she broke down in hysterics and admitted the whole bloomin' lie.  Pitiful.  I felt sorry for her and knowing the way I was then, probably struggled not to suggest that she hock the ring, buy some make-up,  have her hair styled and throw her out-of-date wardrobe in the trashcan. There are a couple of reasons I am bringing up this story:  "Lying" wasn't on the Hallowed Statement we had all signed.  That's the problem with "lists". Secondly,  I had been a "deceiver" myself before becoming a Christian.  God was growing me up, revealing my awful sin of self-righteousness.

Billy's first Crusades were launched in Los Angeles that year.  In Chapter 7 of his book "Just as I Am" he writes that he was never quite happy as the President of the school, but he had promised the dying Founder and President of the school,  Dr. W. B.  Riley,  that he would accept being "Interim President".  Billy brought "new blood" like me, to the school,  as he had promised Dr. Riley he would do. Gradually I discovered that he had snatched several of us out of our unsafe places from across the nation that same year. Billy didn't have any time for me for he was up to his arm pits in alligators with the situations he had inherited at the school, his Vice-Presidency of Youth for Christ, a quickly unfolding Evangelistic ministry, plus having a wife and children far away. ...but my Heavenly Father was providing other Spiritual Parents for me. Billy had done his part in launching me into new life in Christ.

Billy spoke in chapel when he could.  I remember with clarity one statement he made:  "If my wife ever gets off her knees, my lips will turn to clay".  Statuesque, classy Ruth was anchored in Montreat, North Carolina, making their home a safe refuge for Billy and their children.  It was exciting for us students to hear first hand of the waterfall of God's blessings upon Billy's ministry.  He provided chapel speakers from around the world, expanding our world view. ...but  the one that most touched my heart was "Daddy Byus", 90 years old, from the mountains of North Carolina where Billy had spent his childhood as a hard-working dairy farmer's son. "Daddy Byus"  would enter the chapel, singing: "My wonderful Lord, my wonderful Lord. By angels and seraphs in Heaven adored. I bow at Thy shrine, my Savior Divine; My wonderful, wonderful Lord." By the time this dear old pastor reached the pulpit the student body was tearfully singing along with him. He would begin the week by saying, "Now students, when I was here last year we studied Psalm 91:1A.  This year we will be looking at Psalm 91:1B".  ...and for five days, we visited Heaven.

Our dear mentor, Ray Stedman, used to say: "To live with saints above, oh, that will be glory, but to live with saints below...Well, that's another story!"  I had stars in my eyes because a "star" had thrown me a rope of hope. Jesus is the only "Star" upon which we are to fix our eyes and we seem to have to learn that again and again.  God was not going to spare me from a course in "Graciously Dealing with Diversity".  I am still in school.

Next week: Ted Stone chooses.

As a mother stills her child, Thou canst hush the ocean wild
Boistrous waves obey Thy will when Thou say'st to them "Be still".
Wondrous Sovereign of the sea, Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

Love, Jo

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Affirmation junkie

I am an "affirmation junkie."  My "love language" is words. I believe that the Body of Christ is sorely deficient about giving words of encouragement and affirmation to brothers and sisters about observed Christ-like character traits.  Hebrews 10:24 and 25 underscore my conviction.  For instance,  I love being able to sincerely tell someone that they have a "kind heart".  I know it is Jesus Who gives them that "kind heart", but Geez Louise! Telling some Christian who is being discouraged every day in this alien world that they have a "kind heart" can give them the desire to keep on coping for one more day.

I didn't want to reveal any of the ugly stuff  about my past in my blog last week. As usual, I questioned my motives until I nearly wore myself to a frazzle. A Ted-ism helped me:  "Even when we give a cup of cold water, we dangle our dirty finger in the cup!" Now, there's a leveler!  Only at the Judgment Seat will any of our true motives be revealed and He tells us that in I Corinthians 4: 5: "At that time each will receive his praise from God."  I love that word "praise"! ...from our Father!

I have been and still am a counselor to couples. I know that premarital sex causes mistrust between partners after marriage. Ted and I had enough struggles in coming to any semblance of "oneness" without beating ourselves up over being that indulgent.  I hurt so for today's generation who have bought into Satan's lies about how satisfying premarital sex is.  Some of the teenagers I have been teaching have already had sex, had abortions or are stressing over whether or not to raise their baby or give it up for adoption.  Some of their mothers are having sex in the bedroom right next to theirs with someone other than their marriage partner. What is a kid supposed to do with that? Some are very close to crossing the line into homosexuality. As of this week our Governor has made it legal for boys and girls to share one another's restrooms at school.  Oh, whoopee!

By June of this year, my stomach was tied up in knots and I wanted to hang up my discipleship assignment and sit and watch the acorns fall off the trees. ...but I won't. I have rested, studied and prayed and will begin on September 5 to teach the Book of Romans to mothers only. I have told them: "This is the deal:  You can come only if you are committed to taking what you are learning and teaching your kids and anyone else who will listen. Memorize II Timothy 2:2. That will be your regular assignment."

Last week, I left you in the little church in Manhattan, Kansas, where I asked Christ to forgive my sins and come into my heart and change me. Several months later, Mr. Nelson, one of the adult men in this unusual little group of mostly students sprinkled with a handful of adults, invited me to go to a Conference at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. I had never heard of Moody Bible Institute and didn't know what a "Conference" was, but it sounded like a party to me. I had no idea that I would never return to the state of Kansas or to my life as it had been. We walked into that Moody auditorium which was packed with Christians from around the world. Behind the podium stood thirty-year-old Billy Graham, fast becoming known in Christian circles, but I hadn't been hanging around in "Christian circles",  except for the little Sunday morning fellowship in Manhattan, Kansas. Billy had spoken there several times but I had no idea he was anybody special. Half way through the Conference, Mr. Nelson invited me to lunch with Billy.  There we were in a lovely dining room on the top floor of a snazzy hotel.  Billy, even then a man of action, came right to the point: "Jo Ann, Mr. Nelson has been watching you. What you do not know is that he is a member of my Youth for Christ Board.  He believes you are worth an investment. I am inviting you to the Bible college in Minneapolis, Minnesota where I am now President. I will make sure you do not owe any tuition for a year and Mr. Nelson will help you with expenses. We do not think it is safe for you to return to Kansas."

Boy Howdy! Were they ever right about that! Those guys in the athletic department where I was working at Kansas State College were lookin' pretty good. Now, think on this: I had had few words of guidance, protection or encouragement. Here were two men who had nothing to gain by throwing me a rope of hope and they thought I was "worth an investment".  I flew the next day from Chicago to Minneapolis, was met by Billy's staff people and the next day, they launched me into the first day of the rest of my life. I left a disapproving family back in Kansas and a bewildered boyfriend named Ted Stone in the Navy in Memphis, Tennessee.

I do want to tell you about this good and powerful message my parents modeled when I was growing up:  "If you want to eat, you work!"  Thank you, Mother and Dad.

Next week: A very strange, new world.

                                                  HE IS ABLE TO DELIVER

He is able to deliver thee, O sinner; See, your life is in His hand
Thus you live at His command; He's the source of good, the ever blessed Giver




Saturday, August 10, 2013

Why can't we let Him love us?

I have and continue to work with  people whose souls are damaged from childhood wrong
impressions about God which have led to guilt,  shame and blame about their past.  Result: struggles in believing that God loves them unconditionally.  Perhaps my honesty about my own journey will shed some Light on what may be causing you soul-pain. That is my intent.

I shared with you last week that I was a child left to figure out life by myself because of the terrible circumstances caused by our nation's being at war on two fronts, the slow, agonizing death of my grandmother,  and the heartbreaking responsibilities forced upon my parents. My family was barely surviving.

Against her parents' wishes, my mother had eloped and married my dad, an unbeliever. My mother, a trained singer, had a couple of years of college, which was very unusual for a farmer's daughter in those days. When her father's death required that she and my dad move to the farm, Mother slipped into barely coping with her lot in life.  She hated the farm.  It was a miserable place. Her dreams of pursuing a musical career as a city woman were over.   Early on, I took on the responsibility of making life better for my mother.

Not much of my early story is pretty. I can choose to gussie it up but the parts I omit might be the very parts that will shed Light on the dark places in your soul.  When I was a little girl my only boy cousin and a neighbor boy came at different times to play during the hot, humid summers.  Both of these "nice little boys" tried to tempt me into having sex with them.  The parents of these "nice little boys" were highly respected by my parents. Because both parents and boys were so "nice" it had to be my fault that these ugly temptations were happening.  I was ashamed. I told no one. When I was a sophomore, a woman English teacher liked me and complimented me all the time on my class work.  This woman was respected in my school. I naively invited her to come for an overnight visit to our farm. Of course we slept in the same bed for our little farmhouse had no guest room. In the middle of the night she began to make whimpering noises and slid over beside me, putting her arm around me.  I believe God's angels, even though I had no clue who "God" was,  moved me over to the very edge of the bed as far away from her as I could get.  She backed off.   Matthew 18:10 confirmed my thoughts on this later in life.  I was ashamed. I told no one.  The thrumming question in my young mind  was: "What is wrong with me that three girls call to tell me they hate me  (Check out last week's blog.) and  boys and a teacher try to have sex with me?  It's got to be my fault."

My brothers were ten and eleven years older than I;  therefore I thought they were "right" about everything.  Both were belitterers, demeaning and cynical.  I was an adult before I stopped setting myself up to be wiped out by their words.

During my school years,  inclement weather and muddy roads prevented my being able to get home to the farm on many nights.  I stayed in town, making it quite possible to hide the fact from my parents that I was going to the movies with some boy.  It was widely accepted then that only trashy girls "went all the way" but I was soon to find out that the same expectations were not placed on boys. I was beginning to believe that all boys were gross and all girls were goofy.  I was becoming cynical, just like my family. ...except for my Grandmother. After her death, my dad began to drink heavily and my mother's reactions to his drinking went through the roof.  It affected my respect for my dad deeply when I saw him drunk. By this time I had a PhD. in saying nothing about everything that was troubling me.  Like every child, I needed parental guidance and protection. There was none so I clenched my teenage fist and protected myself.  To this day, I sometimes feel my hand beginning to form into a fist, especially around arrogant, overbearing men who try to hide their disrespect for women, thinking I am so stupid I can't see right through them.

After graduation from high school, my dad had no money to send me to college, nor did he think it necessary. There were no scholarships then.  I wheedled enough money out of him for tuition to a business college in Salina, a city nearby.  I worked for a radio station that trained men to be radio announcers.  I dated a different guy at least once a week and soon realized  I was in the "big leagues". These were not small town boys that backed off when I said a firm "No!" All this time Ted, my boy friend,  was in the Navy.  I never told him I was dating other guys, but actually would come in from a date and write him a love letter.  I told myself I wasn't lying, but it was o.k. to hide what I knew would get me in trouble.  I carried a boatload of guilt about my deception. Upon graduating from the business college,  I got a secretarial job on the campus of Kansas State College, dated a couple of jocks that hung around the athletic office where I worked, and...Whammo!! Christ rescued me, and I suspect just in time before I flushed my stand about no sex before marriage down the toilet. Do not think for one moment that I am nurturing pride about what a good girl I was.  I was a sinner who needed to be made righteous by Christ's substitutionary payment for my sin. ...but up until this point, I had never even heard His Name.  I had simply whiffed his Lovely Fragrance through my Grandmother.

That's the short version. What baggage did I carry into my new life?  Mistrust of pretty much everybody. ... especially of myself.  When I invited Him in, I could barely manage to open my heart's door even a crack.  Now, perhaps you have some insight as to why my arms and heart are open to so many who have a hard time believing that our dear Lord Jesus Christ loves them unconditionally. As I said last week, our Lord is very economical.  He utilizes everything!

O.K., you who keep raggin' on me to put my story in a Book:  I like to make people happy, but I am not ready to make you that happy.  This was only the Introduction. Chapter I comes next week and that's when my Real Life began!

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong. We are weak, but He is strong.

Love, Jo

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The belly ball

In many languages, the "soul" is actually called the "belly".  I picture our souls as being one big ball  of lies and truth all tangled together in the pit of our stomachs.   If we are blind about the lies that are lurking in our souls, the work of the Holy Spirit will be hindered until the day we go Home.  Lies, Satan's weapon of choice,  weigh a lot.  Our Lord reveals His Truth through His Word.  As lies are discovered and dislodged, we "lighten up".  By sharing some of my soul journey with you, perhaps some Light will be shed on whatever is keeping you from fully embracing the fact that He loves you unconditionally.

Learning came easily for me,  probably because Mrs. Ethel, my first and second grade teacher in my one room country school took a special interest in me when she discovered my love of reading.  Secondly, I had the advantage of listening to the kids in the upper grades recite their lessons at the front of the classroom.  Our country school shut down as I was entering the fourth grade and I transferred into town school.  Because I was a farm girl whose home was primitive in comparison to the town girls'  homes,  I hid my life from those girls.  I always felt as though I was on the outside, looking in. 

By the seventh grade, the Second World War was raging in Europe and the South Pacific.  Many commodities were rationed.  Because we raised most of our own food, we had plenty to eat, whereas some people did not.  My grandmother's leg was amputated from complications associated with diabetes; my mother and dad had full care of her. The odor was nauseating and I felt terrible guilt for not wanting to sit by my grandmother's bed and sooth her. I believe it is that guilt that brought me to the Cross for forgiveness five years after her homegoing.

My older brother and his wife moved back to our farm to help with the hard work.  My other brother, in the Air Force  based in the Fiji Islands, shot himself in the foot while cleaning his gun and could not fly the next day's mission that wiped out his entire squadron of 75.  I've debated about saying this but the debate is over: That brother "shot himself in the foot" all of his life.

Many families we knew had loved ones fighting and dying. There were few young men left to help with anything. That's when women entered the "Rosie the Riveter" era.  My dad negotiated with the warden of a nearby German prison camp for inmate help with the harvest.  My mother and I cooked mountains of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and garden vegetables for young, blue-eyed blonde German boys, some no older than my classmates.

In the midst of all of this trauma,  a phone call came on a Saturday afternoon from three town girls: Mary Lou, Bonnie and Faye. They were all yelling at me: "We hate you! Stay in the country where you belong!  It's not fair that you are beating out Faye for Valedictorian." ...and there it was:  plain ol' green-eyed jealousy. ...but I was too hurt to figure that out at the time.   I knew that I needed to zip my lip about that call, for my parents and my brother would consider it a trifling matter and I would feel all the more alone.  At first I swallowed my pain;  then my Irish kicked in and I made two vows to myself:  1)  I will be valedictorian.  2. When I start dating, I will date the best looking guys in the school! 

That year when Ted Stone transferred from another school and walked into my classroom,  I said to myself: "That's the guy!" We didn't date until we were juniors in high school, ...but I got him! ...for sixty years!  ...and I was valedictorian, not only in grade school but in high school ...out of spite. Don't be too impressed.  There were only forty-two students in my class.

Last week's blog was entitled: "God is economical".  He wastes nothing.  To this day, I cannot bear to see a person abused. The Holy Spirit checks me when I feel like knocking somebody's block off. Remember the illustration from last week's blog about the grain of wheat?  Until it dies, it cannot live. After Christ entered my life when I was nineteen, He began His work of healing me from the cynicism that was creeping into my soul.  He started by placing me in a small circle of Christians whose unconditional love for me prompted me to take a look at Jesus, ...and He is still lookin' GOOD!  He continues to measure the worth of a person by every drop of His precious blood.

Mrs. Ethel's Epilogue: Her son, Bob drove from Kansas to Minneapolis, Minnesota for our wedding in 1949.  During the ceremony, Bob became a Christian.  He returned to Kansas,  told his mother about Jesus and she came to know Him.  I immediately reconnected with Mrs. Ethel and until her death at 95 we exchanged letters and phone calls that encouraged us both.  We asked the Lord together that He would take her Home in her sleep. ...and He did.

                                                     UNDER HIS WINGS  

Under His wings I am safely abiding; tho the night deepens and tempests are wild
Still I can trust Him; I know He will keep me
He has redeemed me, and I am His child.