Help Thou Mine Unbelief

Today it hit me. It ain’t rocket science. It’s knowing.

Mark 9:24: “24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

So not so long ago, as she was describing the very real injustices that have befallen her lately, a friend said to me, “I pray and pray, but nothing. I just hear nothing. God’s not here.”

And my first response was, “God IS here, even when He is quiet.” I am so strong in my belief; how can she not be? But my friend looked at me, disappointment written all over her face. Where was my own ability to share His Word?

Although Romans 8:28 scrolls across the LED readout in my mind’s eye each time calamity hits, I felt sure my friend was not headed to her Bible when she got home.

“All things work together for good… to them that love God and are called according to His purpose.”

But for my friend, that means everyone except her. Except now.

And Lord knows I was her at one time. Lord also knows unbelief sometimes still catches me unawares, in moments of anger and frustration. So there’s that. But there’s more.

This past Friday, after months of anticipation, I was ready to go to a spiritual retreat in the mountains. Abe was looking forward (really, he was) to fixing something guy-like for dinner and hanging out with the dog for a couple of days.

Arrangements had been made with My Ladies, who would sing their Sunday hymns with a CD instead of Pastor Kathleen. They’re so solid in His Word that although I’m certain they miss our time of fellowship and communion, they don’t miss a beat in worshiping and giving Him the glory.

Another notification was to my friend who’s seriously ill and whose personal resolve and reliance on God have become very evident in the past weeks. We’re spending more time together, my friend and spouse and I, treasuring the laughter and sharing bits of life. I told them I’d be gone for the weekend. They wished me well and said to get in touch when I got home, but something tugged when I hung up the phone. What was that?

Then on Thursday a spring storm hit, and all things being equal — which is to say I drive a Prius, and sloppy, slushy roads are the bane of a low-rider like that Toyota — I contacted my dear friends at the helm of the retreat and let them know I’d not be coming. In the flesh, I was bummed. I’d been waiting for a long time to fellowship and worship with this church. But in my spirit there was actually peace. Interesting, I thought. Tug tug.

Saturday dawned clear(er), and my flesh and I told Abe, “I’m going!” It didn’t take long to pack the Prius and, two hours later, my little toboggan-hybrid and I were slip-sliding through some serious mud uphill to the lodge. We made it in fine stead, and I joined the service late but in time for powerful prayer. After settling into my sweet room and reconnecting with a great roommate, I walked down a fairly steep hill to the cafeteria to meet up more friends.

And then, oh hallelujah, I was so blessed to spend well over an hour in quiet, personal contemplative worship, letting the music move me through Isaiah 60.

“1 Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. 2 For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.”

Wow oh wow oh wow. The balm of Gilead was covering every part of me, and a sense of renewal, of His power and of my own worth in Christ Jesus rose inside.

As I climbed the stairs to my room for a quick bite of lunch and, yes, a quick glance at emails, peace was in that mountain breeze.

Now, right here is where all things really and truly do work together for good, where I start coming full circle to my hurting friend: Lunch was warming in the microwave, and I was sitting on the sofa, iPhone email tone dinging softly as I scrolled down. The microwave also dinged, so I arose. And then… and then my back dinged loudest of all.

The spasm was so intense I saw stars. Seriously, white bursts of pain going off in my head from what was happening between fourth and fifth lumbar, a place of chronic stuff in my body. To keep from hitting the floor, I grabbed a chair back and held on tight.

These waker-uppers are not uncommon and happen a few times a month — but this one was way off the Richter scale. Nothing like this had swept over me since the disk herniation nearly three years ago.

It seemed like forever before the spasm itself subsided, but I suspect it was more like a minute. OK, now what? I went on auto-pilot and got my lunch out. It would be really easy to insert metaphor about losing my lunch at this juncture, but I’ll forego. Just be advised it was close.

“You need to go home” Someone whispered in my ear. A few minutes later my roommate walked in.

All I could tell her was that this hurt, and and I didn’t want to make a big announcement. So I asked her if she’d help me with my bags — I had envisioned myself kicking them down the stairs and moving them with my feet to the car, but what to do when them when I got them there hadn’t quite been worked out in my mind. I also asked her to tell my friends I was sorry.

Soon I was headed down the hill, a physical and emotional mess. But that tug I’d felt when talking to my friend’s spouse was growing stronger as I drove, and like gravity, it was pulling pulling pulling me home. I was a little afraid. OK. I was a lot afraid.

Don’t you know that fear and pain can combine to really put the whammy on a person, and I was whammied up like all get out. But don’t you also know that prayer is the most powerful healer, and as I drove, I thankfully received the prescribed dosage.

Later on at home, with heat on my back and my legs elevated to relieve pressure, I continued giving thanks and let God be God, He Whose knitting put me together in the first place, and He who had whispered, “You need to go home.”

And it turns out my friend’s spouse had called, and I would have missed it by more than a day if I hadn’t returned. Every call from them is hugely important right now, and I was glad to get back to them. It was a knowing, that tug, knowing where I was needed to be and what I myself was needing.

As the evening deepened, I could actually feel the lower back muscles release and my spine move back into alignment. My legs relaxed, and my knees felt a “whoosh!” as the fluid that had built up drained.

Closer to my noggin, the muscles that had caused my cervical spine to go all cattywampas also released, and my neck and shoulders eased back onto the bed rather than arching upward and outward.

The circulation returned to my hands, and my fingers flexed.

If you think I didn’t say out loud, “Yes! Praise be to my God!” let me reassure you: Indeed I did!

Now, do I believe God caused my back to spasm so I’d look like an idiot and leave a wonderful retreat after being there for only a few hours? No, I do not. I believe more than likely my slipping on a patch of sloppy mud and instinctively bracing myself as I walked caused that. But do I believe He gave me this opportunity to know that I know that I know exactly how He can use a really bad situation to illustrate His power and His Glory?

Absolutely I do. Nothing is too big for God, and nothing is too small. Nothing is coincidental, either.

It just so happens my friend who’s struggling to hear the Voice of God understands physicality and injury, and she treats my back symptoms. She shares her knowledge of exercises to align my spine. I, in doing what I do, share my faith.

This coming week we have much to share, not the least of which is that both she and know what we know. She knows the exercises work; I know God speaks to me.

She knows for the exercises TO work, we must DO them. I know to HEAR God, we must LISTEN. Both of us know that our knowing IS our belief. For each of us, belief is inward. It ain’t rocket science.

“Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.”

And aren’t we thankful that for God, even rocket science ain’t rocket science? Amen.

 

 

 

 

There is no “I” in “we”

By Kathleen Thomas Gaspar

During the past three-plus decades of professional scribing there have certainly been periods of low productivity. Nothing much to write about, much less write home about. No major noisy rattling of ideas in the old noggin, no motivation to tippity-type a clever look at politics. No anguished trip backward along the path to/from childhood. Or a deliberate wringing of heartfelt tribute to sunrise or a cow-dotted pasture.

What? No inclination to rail against the big, bad old world? At times, no. Nothing. Nada. Zippity-doo-dah.

Still for fully 35 years there was always that deadline, always a column due, and the words would come. Eventually. Finally. Pushed or pulled. Sometimes begrudgingly, over the span of an entire day. Admittedly such words were not always gracefully strung together, but until the fateful emailed pink slip arrived – a tremendous lesson in humility, to be pink-slipped so impersonally – the words left on time week after week, year after year.

After the pink slip came the actual drought. No words whatsoever, not for weeks – for months, to be truthful. Each visit to the keyboard brought only this message: Not yet.

Difficult to hear through the ears of faith, but who can argue with that Voice? Even when the subject matter was to be all about Him, all about His command to “go ye” and the wellspring of worship that pours forth from worship services at Florence Care Home, Bruce McCandless State Veterans Home or Forget Me Not Assisted Living, His whisper was, “Not yet.”

Why? Because each visit to the keyboard for the purpose of giving Him the glory always – each and every time, always – included a one-letter word that caused the keys to stick.

One letter, capitalized. I. The word was I, and when it appeared on the page, generally in the first or second sentence, His whisper was, “Stop. Is it about you, or is it about Me?”

Well! Pink slipped again!

So today is a new day, and here’s what has been imprinted on my heart, that now I might type into the keyboard and upload to the blog site: In glorifying God through the gentle times of worship with good Christian ladies at Florence Care Home, with the precious heroes at the McCandless Veterans Home, with the love-filled group at Forget Me Not, there is not one I in we.

Absolutely God called me, John 15:16: “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you.”

Absolutely the God of the Universe chose me, the me of I. But just as absolutely there is no I in we, the we of Faith Freedom Footsteps. And not a day goes by without the reminder that Faith Freedom Footsteps leaves not the impressions of my feet, not even our feet, but His.

Each Sunday wide-open hearts receive His love and sing it love back to Him, and though bodies are not so spry, faith and spirit are childlike. Children of God, all.

Oh, and what a mirror to hold up, to peer into and give thanks for the many times He has carried this tired old frame, refreshed this worn-out old mind and exhorted this flagging spirit, saying, “Nothing in your life is unknown to Me or unexperienced by another.” Thank You, Lord, for my rebirth as Your child.

What is celebrated each Sunday by we children is that Jesus took all of our shortcomings to the cross, and where stained hearts and bloody souls once resided there is now the righteousness of God in Jesus within me. That’s the glory of God, hallelujah. That’s what we lift up in praise.

II Corinthians 5:21: “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

We are but to believe, to walk by faith and not by sight. Whatever trials we see as unbeatable, whatever mountains we see as insurmountable, He has already beaten, already climbed.

Why, He has conquered the grave. Whom and what then shall we fear? Nothing.

Nada.

Zippity-doo-dah.

Hallelujah and an amen.

1 Nana + 1 Lily + 1 Hannah = Fun

[Nana’s note: My eldest granddaughter, Lilian Kathleen, has been bitten by the writing bug. I couldn’t be more thrilled or proud. Here is her take on our recent visit]

By Lily Gauss

The plane flight was shorter than I had expected. In no time at all Hannah, my sister, and I were running into the arms of our Nana. The airport, that was a maze to Nana, was very simple to me. I had spent a bit more time in airports than Nana and it was my pleasure to lead the way out of the maze.

When we got to the car, Nana immediately offered us snacks. She held out a nice yellow banana to Hannah and said, “Have a banana with your Nana, Hannah.” Hannah burst into giggles, for she finds almost anything funny, and I knew that was going to be the joke of the trip.

We drove away from the airport and debated spending the night in a hotel. After a few yawns from Hannah, Nana and myself we decided it would be best to stay in a hotel.

The next morning it was prudent we take a selfie to commemorate the trip. It only took a few tries to get a nice picture. We packed up the room, ate breakfast and were on the road in no time.

During the drive Nana reminded us that we were going to sing for some nice ladies at an assisted living home. Hannah and I didn’t know any of the songs, so during the drive we practiced. “Amazing Grace” was easy because I already knew parts of it, but some of the others were a bit harder. We sang the songs over and over till they were drilled into our heads.

When we finally reached Nana’s, house we weren’t thinking about the songs anymore but the promise to go shopping! We went to The Market Place first. It was a cute shop and I got some awesome earrings. I was only disappointed that the lady working there saw my henna tattoos and then showed me to the “hippie” section. That was sad and embarrassing. [Nana’s note: Lily assured me she was joking… which vastly relieved me since I am, after all, a recovering hippie. The real deal. Seriously.]

After The Market Place we went to Goodwill, where we got dresses for our visit with the ladies. It took me a while to find a dress but Hannah found one faster than a Cheetah can run. [Nana’s note: No lie. Hannah is fast.]

By the time we got home, it had started to rain and after the rain came the lightning and with lightning there is always thunder. Since we couldn’t go outside, we decided it was time to drink hot cocoa and watch Netflix. We settled in on the couch and ended a perfect day the perfect way.

I woke up with a smile knowing that today was the day to see the ladies. I helped Hannah into her dress and gave her a sweater to wear. No matter how happy I was, I was also nervous. We practiced our songs a few more times and got in the car. As we drove down the road we passed a couple more nursing homes. I thought about what it must be like to have Alzheimer’s or another condition that could cause me not to be able remember things. Suddenly I felt grateful about what I was doing for if it was me in there, I would want someone to sing to me.

When we stopped at the assisted living house, I was slightly surprised at how beautiful it looked. There were flowers growing everywhere.

We started our session in prayer, and I prayed that when I grow old, someone would do this for me. We held hands during the prayer, and even though the lady next to me, Joella, hands were weak, they were warm and I could sense that she was happy. We sat down and after everyone found the right page in the songbook, we began to sing. After a few songs (“Amazing Grace” being my favorite), Hannah agreed to sing from “The Sound of Music.” Afterward everyone applauded.

We went to Walmart afterwards to do some victory shopping. We came home carrying some Walmart loot. A little while later Zampa came home bearing rice pudding that he convinced me to try. To say it was amazing would be an understatement. I was in love.

The next day around noon my cousins Milo and Zoe and Aunt Serina came to pick Hannah and me up. We said our goodbyes and I rode off to my next adventure.

The Season

By Kathleen Thomas Gaspar

        Lord knows it’s been a tough year for some, and though all around us the season fills hearts with gladness, there are many whose Christmas will be a time of profound sadness and loss.

My own family’s wounds are deep.

Last July my niece Marci lost her oldest son, Kathan, in a tragic car wreck. He was a bright and funny and caring young man whose potential was evident to everyone who met him. You didn’t even need to know him well – Kathan’s enthusiasm was contagious, and his love for life was boundless.

Her son’s death tore into Marci’s heart like no pain ever has.  My sister Sharon and her entire family were rocked to their very core.

How do they go on, I wonder? How could their world ever be the same? Marci shares photos and videos of Kathan in every phase of his life, and it hurts to know how she hurts – especially this this time of year, when they were always always always together.

My God, You knows it hurts.

Early in the morning of Aug. 1, two weeks to the day after Kathan died, my brother George died. George, bigger than life his whole life. George, who saved his little sister’s life 20-odd years ago – it was a time when my world crumbled around me.

 George, who was always there, although sometimes – lots of times — grumpily so.

George.

So that morning we siblings – Jim, John, Sharon and I – learned that no amount of emotional preparation is enough. Just as George was a giant of a man, so was his death a huge loss for us all.

George’s daughter, our niece Carrie, and George’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as George’s companion Ruthie have borne a loss so heavy, and my brothers and sister and I miss that big ol’ bear of a brother more than these few and foolish words can convey.

But I’ll tell you one thing. It makes my heart ache each when I reach for the phone to call him and remember he’s not on the other end of the line.

In September, a few weeks after George died, my brother John contracted West Nile virus and held the distinction of being one of five confirmed cases in the entire state. Of course it couldn’t be just your run-of-the-mill West Nile – it was meningitis and encephalitis as well. The first several days were very intense as he battled a temperature of 105, ongoing seizures and tremors and excruciating pain.

As the weeks went by, John had to relearn to move, to talk, to feed himself, to stand and to walk. The adjustment in his life was enormous. The adjustment in the lives of all who love him has been difficult as well, because watching him fight has produced every emotion any of us has within us.

John was hospitalized a total of two months and is now recovering at home – which has been modified to accommodate his walker and has handicap-accessible fixtures in the bathroom.

So, yes, our Lord knows it’s been tough year for my family. But certainly the struggles have not been exclusive to us.

Here we are now, days away from Christmas and only a few weeks from a new year, and around me I can sense struggle.

Just in the past two weeks dozens of folks in our town have been told they no longer have jobs. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? What kind of Christmas comes with that news?

 This kind of Christmas comes. The Christmas with Christ.

Luke 2:1-20: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and lineage of David: To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

“And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

“And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”

This Christmas my prayer is for all who take breath to receive the greatest gift of all. My wish is that each and every soul welcomes the stillness of God’s grace. My hope is that the unsettled-ness of the world calms a bit.

Oh, that the discordance of discomfort softens, and the clamor of greed muffles.

I thank You, God, for Your wonders, Your mercy, Your grace none deserves but which You impart to all who believe.

I thank You, God, for salvation.

Jesus is the reason for the season, and we are the reason Jesus came to this fallen world.

In my spirit stirs the sound of a still, small voice, speaking with each breath my body takes and telling me this:

John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Merry Christmas.

“Lost Connection”

By Kathleen Thomas Gaspar

 Each time I stray 50 feet or more from my iPhone, the little Bluetooth gadget I have stuck in my ear whispers urgently, “Lost connection!” Kind of annoying, but were it not for that reminder, I would more than likely have lost my (costly) phone multiple times by now.

 Lately a familiar Voice has been whispering in my ear at the self-same moment a familiar Hand touches my shoulder. “Lost connection,” the Holy Spirit says. “You strayed more than 50 feet, child. Come back.”

 Lost. Connection.

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