90 Years of Thankfulness

We had the privilege of celebrating a birthday Saturday with a dear family friend, Nana Kehrli. She is 90 years old, still lives in the home where she raised 3 lovely daughters, just down the road from where she was born on Stoney Creek in eastern Tennessee.

Nana, almost everyone calls her that, has slowed down some physically, but her mind is as sharp as a tack. She is an amazing cook – her Southern pork chops just melt in your mouth. Eating “farm to table” is a trend that is growing in popularity throughout our culture – Nana and her family have always eaten that way.

It could certainly be a factor in her 90 healthy years.

She and her sisters ran a grill, a small community restaurant several years back. It was very popular with local folks who knew they would get the best in home-cooking. They probably never made a lot of money because these Southern ladies treated their customers as they would guests in their home.

“Honey, did you get enough? Do you want some more?.”

“Here, take this plate to your mother. I hear she is feeling poorly.”

If Nana knew someone was recently widowed, she would send an extra meal home for lunch the next day. If she knew someone was hurting financially, she gave a discount.

Nana has seldom gone to the doctor in her 90 years, besides the births of her three daughters. “I don’t go to the doctor, he’ll just find something wrong with me.” she has often been heard to say.

Nana has been a widow since 1968 when her Air Force husband was killed in the Vietnam War. She raised her daughters with the love and support of her close knit family on Stoney Creek.

I told Nana Saturday that she could be so thankful for her 90 years of health and mental acuity.

“Gayle, honey, I get up every morning and thank God for all He has blessed me with. I didn’t know of anyone who is as blessed as I am.”

What a testimony of God’s faithfulness!

Colossians 2:6-7 says

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

May Nana Kehrli be blessed with God’s grace and peace in her remaining days.

I want to follow her example – overflowing with thankfulness each day for God’s blessings.

 

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Singing Scripture

Nana singing to twins

We often sang in the car as we traveled when I was young. My parents both had excellent voices and sang harmony, baritone and alto, in a mixed quartet while in college. They represented their school, Huntington College, Indiana, singing in various churches.

Since my parents both sang parts, someone had to carry the melody, so that fell to me. I can sing a melody line with the best of them, but I cannot sing a harmony part to save my life.

I wish I could.

We sang lots of hymns, gospel songs, folk songs, and what I think of as “camp fire songs”, Home on the Range, Cowboy Joe, etc.

I liked the gospel songs the best. They were upbeat, often had an echoing part, and were just plain fun to sing. They also rang true to me – they represented the Christian beliefs that were lived and taught in my home while growing up.

As I continued to grow, singing remained an important part of my life. In high school I started playing the guitar. I still play that same guitar today, 50 years later. I wanted to play the guitar to accompany singing, so I just play by ear, but I know LOTS of songs.

I was part of Christian singing groups in high school and college, and began learning scripture set to music.

Those scripture songs are so very dear to me. I will be thinking random thoughts and a scripture song will come to mind. I will then sing that scripture and be blessed by God’s word. It is hard for me to memorize Bible verses at my age, but I can easily remember words set to music.

It blesses my soul!

Gayleand Elaine in Israel

One of my most precious memories of our recent trip to Israel was singing scripture and hymns with my friend Elaine. We would see something, or hear someone share something and a scripture song would come to one of our minds. Several times Elaine and I had the same song on our hearts at the same time! What a blessing! We not only walked where Jesus walked, we sang as well.

Colossians 3:16

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

I will always be thankful for the musical heritage passed down to me by my parents. Phil and I sang a lot with our children, and although neither of us sing harmony, we sang lots of gospel songs, hymns, and scripture together. Truthfully, sometimes we sang to distract a fussy little traveler. It usually worked!

Now we sing with our grandchildren. I hope to pass down that same musical heritage to this next generation. An unexpected blessing has been the new songs that they teach me.

I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live…” Psalm 104:33

That is the cry of my heart.

Nana singing around campfire

 

 

Be an Ambassador

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My daughter Hannah and I had the privilege of staying two nights in the home of the Ambassador of the Republic of Haiti in 2006 when we were visiting Washington, DC.

We had a lovely visit and even went to a celebration of Nigeria’s Independence Day at the Nigerian Embassy with our host and hostess. I saw the most beautiful dresses there that I have ever seen!

How did we happen to have this amazing opportunity?

Well, the story starts in 1956 when I was 5 years old.

I grew up in an old farmhouse that evolved into a house in a neighborhood four blocks from Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. My parents housed students from Wheaton College to help pay their mortgage.

One of those students was a brilliant young man, Raymond Joseph, from Haiti. He was studying at the college and would always greet us in the mornings and evenings in French as he passed by us to his room upstairs. He had the most beautiful smile and was always interested in what my brothers and I were doing.

Raymond Joseph went on to study at the University of Chicago and later worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and worked as a leader in the Haitian opposition movement of then dictator, Francois Duvalier.

You can imagine my surprise when I got a telephone call 55 years later from Raymond Joseph!

He was calling from Washington, DC where he was living and serving as Ambassador to the United States from Haiti. Raymond had been in touch with my mother and she had given him my phone number. We talked for a long time catching up and reminiscing.

He said that if we ever came to Washington, DC we were welcome to stay with him.

Don’t ever say that to the Woodys – we will come!!!

We had the most delightful visit. Ambassador Joseph had his limo pick us up and drop us off for a tour of the Haitian Embassy. We talked at length about the issues facing his homeland and his efforts to work for progress and real change for his people. His love for Haiti and his people was evident in his home, his office, and all he shared with us.

The definition of ambassador is – an accredited diplomat sent by a country as its official representative to a foreign county.

Raymond Joseph was an excellent ambassador. He represented Haiti well from 2005 to 2010.

The recent appointments of ambassadors for our new administration has prompted the above memories and also started me thinking of our role as ambassadors for Jesus Christ.

II Corinthians 5:20-21 says –

20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin,  so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

What a beautiful message of reconciliation!

We, God’s children, should be representing our Heavenly Father in such a way as to make others who aren’t Christians desire to become part of God’s kingdom.

Are we being good ambassadors?

Do our children, grandchildren, friends, co-workers, anyone we come in contact with – do they see a Jesus in us who loves them so much He died for them?

  • Do others see grace or condemnation?
  • Do they see joy or sadness?
  • Do they see faith or fear?

God is making His appeal through us!

May we be faithful ambassadors of the kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Ashamed

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I am visiting my mother this week. I am staying with Mom in her apartment at the retirement community where she lives in Wheaton, Illinois.

This week is the year anniversary of my father’s passing on to his eternal reward. He is greatly missed.

My mother is doing well. She is active –

  • physically – exercising regularly
  • mentally – coordinating library services for her community
  • spiritually –  attending her local church and involved in Bible study in her community.

God has been so faithful.

Mother is very quick to give God the glory!

As we walk the hallways (two miles of carpeted hallways here), we see many people who I knew while growing up here in Wheaton. One lady yesterday said to me – “Oh, Gayle, I remember you in “Oklahoma” our school musical that year.

That was in 1969!

What really has struck me is the fact that I am immediately identified as Esther’s daughter. I was walking alone in the hall and a resident stopped me and asked me who I was. “You look familiar.” she said.

When I told her who I was and that I was Esther Barker’s daughter, she responded, “Of course! That is why you looked familiar. I knew Esther when she was your age.” (I now look very much like my mother did when she was 65.)

I have been told I look like my mother my whole life. I have never been ashamed of that fact – since it was so consistently expressed, it has always been one of those givens of my life, like having brown eyes, or being taller than average.

I have always been identified as Esther’s daughter.

That is who I am.

Is my identity as a daughter of my heavenly Father as easily identified? Do individuals that do not know me see Jesus in me?

Is Jesus evident in my words and actions?

That is who I am.

Paul says in Romans 1:16-17

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

I realized that I have never been ashamed of being identified as Esther’s daughter because of the unconditional love she has always demonstrated toward me.

An even greater love has been demonstrated to all of us in God’s giving His one and only son  – Jesus – as the sacrifice for our sins.

I am not ashamed of the gospel. My desire is that I live in such a way that people identify me with the gospel.

May we live in these troubled times sharing the unconditional love our Heavenly Father has so freely shared with us.

Let us live  – not ashamed to be identified with Jesus.

 

 

He’s Coming, Again!

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The last of our children and grandchildren left yesterday.

We had a wonderful time with family – coming and going at various times with a brief overlap of everyone. It can be wild and crazy at times, yet the joy of having our children and grandchildren in our home supersedes all other factors. We know we are truly blessed.

As I mentioned in my post on December 13th, I spent a lot of time preparing rooms – making beds, putting pictures of the anticipated occupants in the rooms, (learned from a dear friend Donna), a small dish of special candy in the adult rooms, and fresh towels. As much as possible, I wanted each family member to feel welcome and loved.

I also put away any breakable or valuable non-essentials so that we did not have to say “no” any more than necessary.

The preparation paid off – I enjoyed the seven days we had family here and we only broke two dishes, but I wouldn’t change a thing!

So, yesterday we started cleaning up. Phil vacuumed, I put things away. One load of sheets is in the dryer and the second load is in the washer as I type this.

Yet, something my older brother texted me with his holiday greeting keeps resonating in my mind.

“Jesus is coming again!”

We made so many preparations to celebrate the first appearing of Jesus. All were special and held meaning for us and our family as we celebrated Jesus’s birth.

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But what preparations am I making to prepare for His second coming?

In I Thessalonians 5: 19-24 (MSG) Paul addresses this very issue –

19-22 Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil.

23-24 May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!

The preparations are quite clear –

  • allow the Holy Spirit to empower us
  • listen to those who speak God’s truth
  • don’t be deceived – test everything by the standard of God’s Word
  • throw away the bad, avoid everything that is evil
  • God will make us holy and whole
  • God is completely dependable – HE WILL DO IT!

God will make us prepared for the second coming of Jesus. We can begin the process by following the first four steps – but ONLY God can complete it.

The joy of preparing for our family’s arrival was the anticipation of them actually coming. Our granddaughter Adella said to me, “Nana, you are so happy when I come to your house.” Yes, I am, and I am so pleased she knows it.

If we had not prepared, I dread thinking of the consequences. No food, no beds ready, no clean bathrooms….There would be no joy on Macktown Gap!

No one knows when Jesus will come again. We DO know He is returning.

I want to commit to intentionally preparing myself – spirit, soul, and body – for the return of Jesus, my Saviour and Lord.

Jesus is coming, again!

Silent Night – Beautiful, Broken World

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Our daughter Abigail shared this post from 2013 yesterday on the anniversary of what our family refers to as “the accident”. If you already saw her re-post, just ignore this one. It is a sweet, timely reminder of God’s faithfulness.
Silent Night
By Abigail Woody Hardy
It was December 5th, 1992.  As I rushed with my parents into the emergency room entrance late that night, a gurney sped past us.  Like a snapshot, I can remember, the sight of a leg, knee up in the air covered with a white sheet and below the knee, unnaturally, something large and black was bisecting the bloody leg.  Is that really what I saw?  I was too unsure to ask my parents.  I could tell they were more scared than they were willing to admit to me.
I sat in the waiting room of the ER.  I felt lost and unsteady as my parents went back to talk with the doctors.  Words like “accident” “coma” “racing” “head-on” were punctuating the air of the waiting room as people from our small church slowly filled it. 
Things like this do not happen to us.  Not to kids coming back from a church youth group trip.  Surely not, God. 
The van, driven by our church’s youth group leader and my Dad’s closest friend, had been hit head-on by a man in a Corvette.  He had been racing 120 mph down the curving road, some pieces of his car left hanging high in the trees. 
My oldest sister Hannah had been in the back of the van with four other junior high students from our church youth group, and two adult leaders in the front.  Kirsten, the energetic college student from WCU who helped with the youth group, died instantly.  Hannah was in a coma.  Mr. Brown, the driver, was the victim we had seen as we rushed into the ER with the brake pedal stuck through his lower leg and a broken pelvis and ribs.  He had been pinned in the car and had prayed with the kids and kept them calm until the emergency services arrived and were able to cut him out.  Another student had a serious head injury and the other three had escaped with broken bones or scrapes and bruises.
My sister had been airlifted to Memorial Mission in Asheville soon after my parents and I had arrived at the local ER.  When I got to visit her in the hospital the next day, I remember the sight of my mother, holding her hand, singing hymns and Christmas carols to her unresponsive body. 
On the third day, as my mother sang Silent Night to her daughter, she heard my sister’s voice join with hers.  Hannah had woken up.
This is the meaning of Christmas, lived out by the people I lived with. 
Mr. Brown, speaking peace to panicked kids as his own pain loomed like a giant wave above him. 
Kirsten, losing her life in the middle of obedience to Christ’s call on her to minister to kids.
My mom, singing Silent Night over my sister in total faith that God is our healer and restorer.
My sister, given back life through no merit or effort of her own, and, oh, so thankful for that gift.
And, yes, the tears fall when I sing Silent Night at Christmas.  Because this is a beautiful, broken world that our Almighty God was born to save.

Father God, we have joy and we have pain in this life.  I thank you for redeeming our pain and making our joy complete.

Tender, Thankful Hearts

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There are many people in our country and the world today that are suffering. The pain, fear,and loss they are facing leaves little room to be thankful.

Here I am, looking forward to the arrival of some of our children, grandchildren and friends tomorrow. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because I enjoy the family gathering, the food, and the focus on being thankful.

Yet I know many are not blessed the way I am. Recently, friends from church lost their college aged son in a tragic accident. A school bus crashed this week causing the loss of five young children. What is there to be thankful for in these situations?

A dear young mother recently shared in our women’s Bible study group that she was dealing with reconciling the fact that –

God is good,

God is faithful,

Yet the pain of the loss of seemingly senseless death lingers.

We are studying Ezekiel, a challenging book heavy with judgement. Yet this young mother shared that she felt challenged by the following verse. Ezekiel 36:26 –

26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.

“Do the situations around me cause me to harden my heart, or soften my heart?”

When my young friend said this  – I realized  – that is the challenge for me as well.

Will I allow situations around me, and personal suffering to harden my heart? Will I allow God to give me a new, tender heart that is able to see and feel His presence in the midst of suffering?

We have much to be thankful for, yet the suffering some face is very real.

The book Defiant Joy, the Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K.Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte recounts that during a period of utter despair, Chesterton “was filled with both an enormous sense of thankfulness, and an enormous need for someone or something to thank.” (p. 218) This insight caused Chesterton to embrace Christianity. He went on to become a critic and writer that greatly influenced the lives of C.S.Lewis among countless others. “The test of all happiness” he wrote, “is gratitude; and I felt grateful.” (p. 221) The defining quality of his life as described by his contemporaries was JOY. Thankfulness leads to joy.

Notice that it was “during a period of utter despair” that Chesterton came to the point of recognizing his need for God. He had a change of heart.

As we gather this Thanksgiving, let us remember to pray for those throughout the world who are suffering in loss and fear.

Pray that we would have tender, thankful hearts to experience God’s faithfulness and love in the midst of all we face.