Queen Esther

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“Heaven is rejoicing!”

That is what I said to our children after my brother called yesterday evening to tell me our mother had passed through the veil of this life to her eternal home. I believe that with all my heart.

Heaven is rejoicing.

Esther lived up to her name – she believed she was royalty because she was a daughter of the King of Kings. Mother acted like royalty in the sense that she believed she had inherited all the riches of God’s blessings – and she lived like that. She expected good things to happen to her, and why shouldn’t they? She was a daughter of the King!

When her beautiful amaryllis bloomed for the second time this past year, she called me in an excited voice and said – “I’m sending you a picture – you won’t believe it unless you see it! It is blooming again! God blessed me again!”

Esther saw seemingly little things, even what others might accept as everyday occurrences as blessings from God. By recognizing God’s hand in the world around her, she was constantly blessed by the riches of His grace. Her smile was a reflection of God’s love in her heart.

My mother was 90 years old, born Esther Kathleen Rohner on May 17, 1928 in Chicago, Illinois. She was the 3rd of three daughters born to Svea Elise Anderson and Rouleau Lester Rohner.

Just like the queens in literature, my mother had shortcomings. She set high standards for herself and at times imposed those same standards on others. Yet Esther was willing to admit her failings and receive forgiveness.

Mother touched so many lives with her exuberant love for Jesus and God’s Word. She did this literally throughout the world, in Wheaton, Illinois, in North Carolina for 30 years, in Taiwan for 7 years, and even in trips to Brazil at age 86 and 87.

“After 80 you can say what you want!” she once told me with a twinkle in her eye. That means she had 10 years to speak her mind! Look out!

Heaven is rejoicing, and our family is blessed to have had royalty among us for so long. Esther will be greatly missed, but she is with her King. She told my older brother Garry this week that she “just wanted to finish strong.” She did!

2 Timothy 4:7-9 (NLT)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.

Queen Esther is now wearing that crown of righteousness.

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Four Generations 1979

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Thankful for Freedom as a Woman

Beautiful Daughters
As a woman, mother of three daughters, and grandmother of 5 granddaughters, I feel compelled to respond to all the attention in the media recently about the sexual abuse, harassment, and general disrespect toward women in our culture.
This is not a new issue, but it certainly has come to the forefront. Allegations that are years old are just coming to light.
As a Christian, what should my response be?
I have found freedom to be what God has called me to be, respect for the unique qualities inherent in being a female human being, and courage to stand up to those who would disrespect my womanhood all in my faith as a Christian.
Jesus elevated the status of the women he came in contact with through his time of ministry. He dispersed a crowd ready to stone a woman “caught in adultery” (where was the man she was caught with?) by asking her accusers, “he who is without sin, cast the first stone”.
Jesus encouraged women to learn from his teachings alongside the men who also followed him at a time when women were not part of formal spiritual or intellectual training. Mary of Bethany, Martha, and Mary Magdalene were some of those women who followed Jesus.
Jesus engaged in conversation with a woman who was an outcast (a Samaritan) and offered her the “water of life”. He used a poor widow as an example of true sacrificial giving, in contrast with the wealthy Pharisee of the religious establishment.
My Christian faith has given me a strong sense of my worth as a person. I am free of the stigma any cultural bias may project on me based on my ethnicity, community, education, economic status, or any other designation.
I am a child of God, the Creator of the Universe.
Have men dominated women under the supposed authority of religion?
Absolutely, much to their shame.
Have men hidden behind their “religion” to perpetrate acts of sexual abuse? Yes.
Yet these sins against women and abuse of authority are not rooted in true Christianity. The word “Christian” means “Christ like”.
Jesus Christ taught “the greatest love is to sacrifice your life”, and “do unto others as you would have them do to you”.
Sexual abuse, harassment, and disrespect of women should have NO place in our culture, and most emphatically for those who are Christians.
In I Timothy 5:1-2 Paul is instructing his young disciple, Timothy, in the Christ like way to treat others.
1 Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
I am so very thankful for a father, two brothers, a husband, a son, and three sons-in-law who have all treated me with love and respect.
(ok, lots of teasing from several of these males, but ALWAYS love)
I know this is not the case for many women. We as Christians must take a stand for respectful behavior that values the unique qualities of being female. We must speak out against abuse in all its forms.
We must teach our grandchildren what Paul taught Timothy.
We must show love and compassion for those who have been victims of abuse so that they can receive healing and restoration.
Christian women are all our Father’s daughters.

Thankful for Grace

Taking time to be thankful is an important task in maintaining spiritual health. It takes us away from “navel gazing”, focusing on what we lack, think is missing, or what we desire for ourselves, to thinking in a broader sense about all that has been given to us.

Much of what has been given to us we haven’t earned and, truth be told, we don’t deserve.

I think this is especially important in the climate of our current culture. So much of the discourse is negative, divisive, polarizing and unkind. The focus often seems to be on “what is best for me”.

My oldest friend (not in age but in years of friendship) Carol and I just returned from visiting our mothers who live in the same retirement community in Wheaton where we both grew up. Carol’s mother just turned 90, and my mother will be 90 in May.

Driving the 648 miles each way together gave us plenty of time to talk. (not hard for either of us!)

We talked about what God had been putting on each of our hearts recently. Carol is being impressed to practice the presence of God, sparked by a rereading of the book of that name by Brother Andrew. She feels that she needs to recognize every opportunity during the day to mediate or pray. Carol’s days are often filled with family responsibilities, yet she also realized that time slips away each day that could be used to sense God’s presence.

Instead of fretting over waiting in line, or delays in traffic, turning one’s attention to God and what He might want to impress her with, she wants to adjust her outlook on daily interruptions. Instead of becoming stressed and resentful, Carol desires to be thankful and aware of God’s presence.

Carol’s thoughts helped me refocus on something I need to do as well.

I shared that I was being impressed to practice GRACE. I realized I was being critical. My criticism was mainly directed toward people I think are critical. Critical of critical people. Really?! How hypocritical!

Grace.

I shared with Carol that as I realized how sinful my critical attitude was, I also realized the answer was – grace. I don’t know the real motives of why people do what they do. Their motivation might be a deep hurt or a lack of understanding.

God has given me SO MUCH grace. The older I get the more I realize how amazing that grace is! Just like the song says…..”Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me”….

So, as Thanksgiving comes this week, I want to focus on being thankful for these two insights, as well as my dear family and friends – and

  • the opportunity to practice the presence of God day by day
  • the grace of God that allows me to sense His great love, in spite of my sin, and extend that love to others.

May God bless us with truly thankful hearts.

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.

 

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.