Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Shepherd Named Shimi

by Sharlyn Guthrie

Shabby shepherds hugged quivering lambs to pounding chests -clutched tangled wool with trembling fingers. Moments ago the black sky had hung silent. Now shepherds lay strewn across the hard ground where they fell, shielding unaccustomed eyes from blazing brightness.

Shimi spread the fingers of his grimy hands just enough to peek through them, afraid of what he would see, but also of what he might miss. Winter shepherding was a new experience in this, his twelfth year. Still, the frightful angelic appearance seemed to amaze even well seasoned, ordinarily unflappable shepherds.

The angel was speaking now. “Do not be afraid.” Easy for him to say! “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Why did they choose us? “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”* A feedbox? Surely the Savior deserves a bed.

The lone celestial being was suddenly joined by a whole company of angels shouting, singing, and praising God. Shimi wasn’t certain when his fear turned to wonder, only that it had. “On earth, peace…” the choir sang in blissful harmony before silently slipping behind ethereal, star-studded shades.

Mesmerized shepherds hesitated briefly, then scrambled to their feet. “We must go and find this infant. If true, this is very good news, indeed!” Two elderly herders agreed to guard the flock while the others gathered their cloaks and began running toward Bethlehem. Shimi’s youthful legs led the pack. Three miles, most of it uphill, was no small distance to cover.

Unlike most of his comrades, Shimi was educated. His father, while living, had insisted he memorize long passages from the sacred scrolls. As he ran, Shimi recalled the foretelling of a king coming from Bethlehem. Would this child fulfill the ancient prophecy?

Shimi had grown up fast. Upon his father’s death, he was obligated to care for his mother and younger siblings. Hireling was the only available job for one so young. Mother would be chagrined by the crude stories that assaulted his ears. Then there was the matter of thieving. Shimi was expected to assist in the unlawful sale of lambs being groomed for temple sacrifice. His refusal to do so resulted in daily ridicule.

The unsavory group slowed as their feet found the cobblestone streets of Bethlehem. Stealthily, in search of a stable, they darted down alleyways. If discovered, their presence near the stables in the middle of the night would certainly be suspect. In general, shepherds were considered mean and untrustworthy characters.

“Over here!” Shimi’s hoarse whisper drew immediate response. A dozen pairs of feet descended upon him. The stable door creaked open a bit, alerting the occupants.

“Who’s there?” A young man protectively wrapped his arms around the young girl beside him.

“It’s just as the angel said,” a shepherd announced. “We’ve found the Christ.”

“Angel, you say?” the young father inquired.

“Yes. An angel appeared in the field…nearly frightened us to death. We have come a good distance to see this for ourselves.” Quietly, respectfully, the men filled the space inside the barn as each gave an account of all they had witnessed. Joseph explained to the shepherds how he and Mary had also been visited by angels.

Shimi knelt by the baby. “May I touch him?” he asked.

“Of course,” Mary replied. “You are but a boy yourself.”

Shimi wiped his dirty hands on the inside of his cloak. Then, ever so gently he traced the back of his finger around the baby’s delicate face. "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."** His whispered words did not go unnoticed.

“How is it that you know the Scriptures?” Joseph asked.

“My father taught me. Your son is the long awaited king of Israel, and I…I am one of the first to know.” Shimi swiped an unbidden tear from his cheek. “We must spread this good news!”

Though their hands remained calloused, the adoring shepherds’ hearts were permanently softened. Their thieving ways and ridicule of Shimi ceased, and they told all who would listen of their encounter with the angels, and the good news of the Savior born in Bethlehem.

*Luke 2:10b-12 (NIV)
**Micah 5:2 (NIV)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cruising for Christmas (but not skipping it)

This blog entry comes to you from the waters surrounding Central America. John and I are on a 10-day pre-Christmas cruise through the Panama Canal. John is a history buff, who has long been intrigued by the history of the canal. He is also a Vietnam War veteran who did his guerilla warfare training in the jungles of Panama, yet he had never been to the canal, so this cruise is a lifelong dream of his, and I got to come along!

We are having a great time, and I can’t help but feel blessed and completely spoiled to be here, especially since we left behind eighteen inches of snow and -20 degree wind chills.

It is hard for me to remember that this is the Christmas season, and since I love Christmas, I feel some regret about that. Oh, there are a few Christmas trees and poinsettias scattered here and there, but there is no mention of Christmas, and, worst of all, no Christmas music!

On Saturday evening I was reading in the ship’s library while listening to a Ukrainian trio -piano, flute, and violin, playing in the atrium below. The music was all classical and lovely, but I was wishing for some Christmas music, when a melody they began playing brought these words to mind: “Down from His glory, ever-living story, my God and Savior came, and Jesus was His name; born in a manger, to His own a stranger, a man of sorrows, tears, and agony. O how I love Him. How I adore Him -my breath, my sunshine, my all in all. The great Creator became my Savior, and all God’s fullness dwelleth in Him.” What powerful lyrics! It took a while for me to realize that the musicians were no actually playing “O Sole Mio,” most likely unaware that lyrics referring to the Savior’s birth had ever been written to that tune, yet their music, combined with the words it unlocked from my memory, seemed like a special gift.

The following morning John and I attended an ecumenical church service, and were surprised to see a large number of fellow passengers in attendance. A Romanian pianist played Christmas carols, and we joined our voices with those of people from many countries and states in singing them. The woman that led the service exclaimed about the unifying message of Christmas; how we can journey from many different places and many different faith traditions, and yet agree on this: peace, comfort, joy, and a blessed hope is ours because of the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Joy to the World!

I hope that you are enjoying a beautiful Christmas season, regardless of where you are in the world, and what the temperature or circumstance. God smiled on us all that first Christmas when He sent His Son into the world for the purpose of taking the punishment we all deserved. Not even the gift of a Panama Canal cruise can begin to compare with that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go feed my face at the Mexican buffet and then sit by the pool for a spell. Adios, Amigos.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's Clearly Christmas, Clarabelle

by Sharlyn Guthrie

Clarabelle clattered down the hall with her walker and entered her room. Pain shot through her hip, reminding her of what had landed her in this dismal place the week before Christmas. The spunky eighty five year old had no regrets about climbing a ladder to wash her kitchen window. She did wish, however, that the ground had been softer beneath it.

After three weeks in the hospital Clarabelle landed here. In her usual optimistic way she had decided to make the best of retirement home living, but that was proving harder than expected. The other residents seemed glum. “Sourpusses –all of them!” muttered Clarabelle, clucking her tongue. “I’ve never seen such a miserable lot. Something’s got to be done.”

Reaching her desk, Clarabelle wondered why things looked fuzzy. “Did I loose my glasses?” she asked aloud. “They’re probably right on top of my head,” she promptly answered herself. When she reached for them, however, they weren’t there. “Well, never mind. I can do what I intend to do without glasses.”

Clarabelle pulled open the middle desk drawer and lifted out a small box. “I knew I had some Christmas cards in here,” she spouted with satisfaction, and then quickly set to work. ‘If I’m the only one with Christmas cheer around here, then I’ll just have to spread it around.”

Clarabelle spent the afternoon signing “Love, Clarabelle” at the bottom of each card…or was it the top? Sometimes it was hard to tell. She sealed them in envelopes, and on the front of each she printed, “For You.” Until she learned their names, it would have to do.

At four-forty Clarabelle slipped the cards into the pocket of her polka-dot duster and headed back to the dining room. Marcy, the kitchen assistant was filling water glasses. “You’re a little early, Clarabelle,” she said.

“Just as I was hoping. I need to pass these Christmas cards around before everyone gets here.”

“How nice of you, Clarabelle! Say, are these your glasses? I found them after lunch today.” The girl held something in her outstretched hand, and Clarabelle brightened.

“Oh, that’s where they are! I can be a little scatter-brained sometimes.” Clarabelle donned the glasses, causing the room to come into focus. “Now that’s better. Ooh. My handwriting doesn’t look so good, does it?”

“It’s fine, Clarabelle. Do you need some help passing these around?”

“That sure would be kind of you.”

They finished just as the first diners shuffled in, heads drooped, shoulders sagging. Clarabelle crossed her gnarled fingers and breathed a prayer as she retreated to her own table.

More folks arrived and began opening their cards. Soon the room was buzzing with conversation, though Clarabelle couldn’t hear what was being said. She pretended not to notice when some peeked over their cards and pointed her way. She could hardly conceal her excitement.

The chatter in the room continued to mount. Was that laughter she heard? Her plan was working! Clarabelle was a little puzzled, however by those at her own table. They looked uneasy and were shifting uncomfortably in their chairs. Finally Fred, who sat across from her, broke the silence. “I’m single, you know. But thanks, anyway.”
Clarabelle hadn’t known, and his remarks confused her.

She reached for his card and was astounded to read, "Happy Anniversary. May your love continue to blossom." Her mouth fell open and she snatched the card from the gentleman beside her, "Happy Birthday to a special boy!" A wrinkled woman in a wheelchair extended her card sporting a stork. It read, "A new arrival? Bet you’re proud as can be!" Clarabelle clapped her hand over her mouth and gasped, but soon began to chuckle. The chuckle became contagious laughter, and soon everyone was guffawing and slapping their knees.

“Oh my,” she finally managed, swiping at tears, “I just wanted to spread a little Christmas cheer. You see, I left my glasses in the dining room. I thought these were Christmas cards …” A fresh batch of giggles ensued.

“Well, Ms. Clarabelle, you’ve achieved your goal,” Marcy announced, approaching. “You’ve spread some Christmas cheer and started a few rumors, too.” Marcy turned to the frail wheelchair-bound woman. “Just where have you been hiding that new little one, Mary Lou?” she teased.

Dinner that evening was delightful, and in the following days Clarabelle received a mountain of Christmas cards -mostly handmade. Her favorite, however, was a heart-shaped one that read, "Be My Valentine." It came from Fred, across the table.

I hope Clarabelle made you smile today. Now go on over to Homespun Expressions for links to more great fiction.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Only One Thing Is Needed

“Martha, Martha.” Jesus was most likely shaking his head as He gazed intently into Martha’s eyes and chided her with these familiar words, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42 NIV)

I have often found myself similarly repeating a child’s name, both as a teacher and as a parent. Disappointment, frustration, and incredulity are what I am usually feeling at the time. Don’t you realize? Can’t you see? Is it really that hard to understand? I wish I could say that I am always on the side of “getting it,” and yet at times I hear Jesus’ gentle, incredulous voice calling, “Shari, Shari, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed…”

Why is it so hard for me to see and understand? For one thing, I am good at rationalizing. I have rationalized that my strivings are worthwhile, that what I am doing is for the cause of Christ. After all, somebody has to do those worthwhile things that take time and effort, right?

It’s true. Somebody has to do the real work that worthwhile ministries require. I can’t and should not turn my back on all of these opportunities. Besides, the work of my hands is often a work of heart, an expression of love in and of itself.

I sincerely believe God honors my gifts of labor. When spending time with Jesus feels like an intrusion, however, I am too busy -period. It matters not that my fingers are raw from cooking for the homeless, nor that my feet ache from fund-raising for missions. If my relationship with Jesus Christ has been sacrificed or pushed aside in order to accomplish these good things, my efforts mean nothing. How easy it is to forget the One I am supposedly serving.

Music is one of the chief ways I have always worshipped and communed with God. In recent months I have spent less and less time playing the piano and singing songs of praise. Above my piano hangs a plaque that says, “The Lord respects me when I work, but He loves me when I sing.” I have simply been too busy, but what could be more important than singing praises to my Savior and Friend?

I hear Him chiding, "Shari, Shari..." and then it occurs to me that God, the creator of the universe, the only One worthy of praise, knows my name! He notices when I'm worried and stressed, and He cares when I get too busy for Him! That He desires to spend time with me in loving fellowship is almost more than my human mind can comprehend. How foolish of me to let other things get in the way. Being with Jesus is the better thing -the one thing I need. Nothing else even comes close.

Jesus, help me to desire the better thing. Help me to be WITH You, and not merely busy FOR You. Let me see my time with You as necessary above all other things. Fill me with a greater longing for those sweet times of singing, prayer, and time in Your Word. In your precious name I pray, Amen.

For more reading on the above quote please visit Heart Choices

Friday, November 20, 2009

Arrival and Survival of the City Kids

I'm sharing a little bit of fluff this week. With Thanksgiving coming, I thought about all the fun get-togethers taking place all over the United States this week. I hope these cousins make you smile.

Arrival and Survival of the City Kids
By Sharlyn Guthrie

The cousins all came to visit last week.
They arrived in their city clothes, stylish and sleek.
Uncle told Daddy, voice edged with alarm,
“My kids need to spend some time on the farm.
They’re lazy and soft and don’t have a clue.
I’m sure you and Marge will know just what to do.”

Like Daddy and Ma don’t have enough to do without babysitting.

Each left the mini-van wiping their tears,
backpack in hand, wires hung from their ears;
Zach with his I-pod, Rochelle’s DVD,
Jed’s portable lap-top, a Game Boy for Leigh.
The first thing Dad did was collect each device
and hide them away. He didn’t blink twice.

Do they think they’re on vacation or something?

Ma called us to dinner. She’d made quite a spread:
sliced parsnips, fresh peas, and homemade rye bread,
lamb burgers, taters, and strawberry pie.
They turned up their noses and passed it on by.
Daddy observed them, arching his left brow.
Such finicky eating he’d never allow.

I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow after Uncle leaves!

The boys did the dishes, the girls made the beds;
two rows ‘cross the floor, with heads matching heads.
Then, in the dark, we cousins -all seven-
whispered and giggled ‘til way past eleven.
“Hush! Don’t you know you’ll be up before long?”
Dad hollered, “the farm chores begin before dawn.”

I’ll bet they think he’s foolin’.

Of course Daddy woke us at quarter to five.
How would those city kids ever survive?
Jed helped milk the cows and Rochelle slopped the hogs.
We gathered the eggs, then fed cats and dogs,
gave corn to the chickens, and fed lambs their bottles,
then Zach mowed the hay field with tractor full-throttle.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was having fun.

We rode the hay wagon and baled up the hay,
Then up in the loft we stacked it away.
When dinner time came and the platters were passed
each morsel was eaten, right down to the last;
then straight to our beds with nary a whimper,
and all without Daddy once losing his temper.

Like Daddy would dust THEIR britches, anyway.

After that first day, we mixed work with fun.
We swam in the horse tank and dried in the sun,
played tag after dark –the whole cousin clan-
and swung in the hayloft on ropes like Tarzan;
then back in the corner Leigh glimpsed a cat’s paw
and discovered new kittens curled up in the straw.

You would-a thought she found gold or something.

Our cousins left Sunday; that day was our last.
We cried as we hugged them; the week went too fast.
We gave them zucchini, tomatoes, and beets,
carrots and corn and a kitten named “Deetz.”
They aren’t city kids now, as this story ends;
turns out our four cousins are really our friends.

Hey, wait! They forgot their stuff… I-pod, DVD player, laptop and Game Boy. (Smile.) They’ll be back soon.

Sherri is hosting Fiction Friday today at A Candid Thought. Go right on over there and find some links to more great fiction.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hot Chocolate Served With Hope

I wrote this for the topic "home group." It is fiction, because I had never really been part of a home group at the time that I wrote it. After meeting with my current home group last night, I decided to post this on my blog for Friday Fiction. Our small group is everything it should be. I look forward to it every Thursday evening and miss it when we can't attend. I dedicate this entry to the 6 other couples who make up our very special home group.

Hot Chocolate Served With Hope
by Sharlyn Guthrie

Warmth wrapped its long arms around me as I entered the cozy family room. It emanated from the handshakes and smiles that greeted me. It crackled inside the fireplace and flowed through me as I sipped hot chocolate and nibbled fresh-baked banana bread.

Curiosity pulled me into the conversation. It nudged with each introduction and needled through the small talk. It glimmered in the others’ eyes. It licked my fingers and curled up on my lap -cautious, but willing to take a risk.

Variety caught me by surprise, binding me into the common cord that wound through the evening. It directed music, shaped prayer requests, and expounded on the Scriptures. It projected from eclectically decorated walls. It delineated opinions, personalities, and backgrounds, piquing my interest. And it cleverly defined our humble troupe: a family with teenagers, a twenty-something with child, three singles, an elderly widower, a divorcee, and our middle-aged hosts.

Comfort crept in to replace caution, coaxing off protective layers and drawing my stocking feet up into the arm chair. It convinced me to relax and be myself –not perfect, just real. It eased strained features and curved set lips. It carried me into my Father’s presence.

Renewal began, flickering with hope’s tiniest ray, thawing the perimeter of a stone-cold heart. It bowed my head and brought me to my knees, weary and broken. It revealed my folly and my pride, evoking repentance. It was portrayed in the warmth and comfort of a home and in the imperfect, varied, and devoted members of Christ’s body assembled there. Complete healing still seemed distant, but hope insured it would come.

Please visit Vonnie's Blog for more great fiction.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Corner for Clovis and Me

Today I am sharing a story that came directly from my heart, as well as from what I saw, heard, and experienced in Uganda last summer. This story is not an exaggeration. It is an accurate portrayal of life for hundreds, even thousands of African children today.

My story won 1st place overall for the topic "childhood" in the Faithwriters' writing challenge. It can also currently be found online at Journey Ezine.

A Corner for Clovis and Me
By Sharlyn Guthrie

I hear chanting. As always, I believe at first it is a dream. Silently, I count to one hundred eight, the number of morning mantras. By twenty-five I know it is morning. Roosters crow now, and orange ribbons of daylight spill over our broken brick wall. Clovis sighs, his tiny hand curled around my finger. I curl myself around my sleeping brother. Clovis means fighter. My brother lives because he is a fighter. My name, Palesa, means flower, but I will fight, too, for my brother.

Clovis and I are Karamajong, a tribe known for fighting and stealing. Our people are despised and poor. After Mama died, Uncle sent me to the markets to steal. “Don’t come back empty-handed,” He said. Like all good Karamajong, I can steal, but I don’t like to. Once I brought home potato peels and rotten bananas. Uncle was boozing with his friends under the jackalberry tree, long straws curving from each of their mouths to the common boozing pot in the center. He slapped me so hard my eyes swelled shut.

Clovis was always with me in the markets. Some who saw that I carried a baby pretended not to see me stealing. One day I was grabbed on each side by two soldiers. Though I quickly gave up my loot, they only grunted, heaving Clovis and me into the back of a truck filled with many children. We left Kenya that day. We have not seen Uncle since.

The truck stopped in Jinja and we took to the streets. Having never been to school, I could not count. Now that I can count, though, I think there were one hundred eight of us -the same as the number of morning chants to the Allah god. These chants are heard, if not heeded. We are neither heard nor heeded, but shooed out of the way like rats. In Uganda there are many homeless children. Even potato peels and rotten bananas are scarce.

One day we found Miss Rachel; or she found us. She came looking for us with open arms, asking us our names, gazing into our eyes like we were something special. She began bringing us food, always calling us by name. She told us of Jesus, a Good Shepherd, who knows all of His sheep. He is her shepherd, she told us, and wants to be our Shepherd, too.

Miss Rachel brought posho one afternoon and looked over all who gathered around. “Where’s Lydia? She asked.”

“Lydia is dead,” I told her. “She was so hungry she pulled meat from a dead rat’s mouth and ate it. Then she died.” Miss Rachel cried. She pulled us all to her chest and cried and cried. That is when I first felt the love of the Good Shepherd.

I found a place in the slums for Clovis and me to sleep. One wall of this room has crumbled, but part of a roof still covers our corner. It is a good place to rest until the rains come. Then we hug each other and shiver, waiting for daylight, hoping for the next day’s sunshine. During rainy season we stop hoping for sunshine, and I beg Miss Rachel’s Jesus to stop the rain.

Last May, when the rains ended, Miss Rachel invited us to school! I was afraid of going to school, but she promised us food and took us there in a truck the first day. We had to watch where we were going so we would know how to come back.

School is five kilometers away. Each day now, I carry Clovis along the red, dusty road, dodging motorbikes and boda bodas. My feet are calloused and tough. Still, I wish sometimes for a pair of shoes.

At school we sing and pray to the living God. Then we drink a big cup of porridge. I smile, watching as Clovis slurps and licks the drips off his chin. He naps in my lap during morning classes. I listen carefully, doing my best to learn and understand. After baths, at noonday, we eat a bowl of rice, sometimes wearing our gifts of fresh, new clothes. Then, under the warm afternoon sun I run, and laugh, and play. And for a little while I feel like a girl of ten.

Author’s note: While Palesa is a fictional character, her story could be that of thousands of street orphans currently living in Uganda. For most of us, such an existence is difficult, even painful to imagine. For children like Palesa it is the only childhood they have ever known.

I will be returning to Uganda this next summer to hold a teacher conference for Ugandan teachers who work with these children, helping to feed, clothe and educate them daily. If you would like to contribute to this ministry, you can do so here: Heart of God in Uganda.

For more great fiction, please visit Rick @ Pod Tales and Ponderings.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hope Emerges

I can't think of anything in nature more mysteriously beautiful than the metamorphosis of a butterfly. It is such a picture of hope and second chances.

Hope Emerges

Throughout the barren winter and in the dark of night,
on dismal days when color is unexposed by light,
an altered life abides its self-made shell
while the things that best could lift it from out of the abyss
expand, useless and crumpled inside the chrysalis.

Creature’s plight could be perceived as pitiful mischance,
restricted by its nature and blind by circumstance.
No future can prevail for one so dead.
Confounding recollections of a less than lustrous past
Transcend present existence by margin wide and vast.

Somehow, despite misgivings and elements endured
The creature feels a stirring, a tiny rip is heard.
Perhaps there is a future after all!
Then blinding rays invade the creature’s dank and dreary space
Enlarging and exposing a life within that place.

Although its whole existence hangs by a silken thread
New warmth floods in, surrounds it, reviving what was dead.
“Alive for what?” the situation begs.
And now it finds the number of its legs has been reduced.
By whose sad misadventure was this tragedy induced?

It’s now finished emerging from out its tight cocoon.
A tingling sensation spreads through its members soon.
Just what it means is more than one could guess.
Its wobbly legs are strengthened and fresh air unfurls its wings,
now swelling up with hope and fortitude that hoping brings.

For hours it sits immobile, yet quivers in the wind.
As transformation finishes, bold hues merge and blend.
Life-sustaining blood now surges through.
Translucent, dazzling wings spread outward with uncanny ease,
and hope, like butterfly is buoyed upon a lilting breeze.

--Sharlyn Guthrie

Please take time to stop by Christina Banks' blog, WITH PEN IN HAND, for more Friday Fiction.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Time For a Little Romance

Thirty-five years ago this week, on October 19, 1974, John and I were married. It is one of the finest choices I have ever made. Our marriage has always been something we both nurture and treasure. John has a great sense of humor, and he is an excellent husband. He is also a great father to our three sons, and now revels in the title "Papa," which his grandchildren adoringly call him.

With thoughts focused on our marriage this week, I thought I would share a couple of poems. The first poem is "Forever Fall," which I wrote for John for this anniversary. If it's a little too mushy for you, then you might enjoy the second one, "All Shook Up At The Hop," which received an Editor's Choice award for the topic "embarrassed" on Faithwriters. It was written in John's "voice" (with his full approval), and it's basically the true story of one of our early dates.


Forever Fall

When scarlet sumac fires raged,
fine feathery fronds of pampas waved.
Midst pumpkins, squash and bittersweet,
you held my hands and vowed to be
my life’s companion, ally, love;
the prince that I’d been dreaming of.
Cloudless evening’s crimson warning
beckoned glistening frost by morning.

Three decades and a half have flown.
Love, through each season past, has grown.
Now fall’s vibrant, leafy showers
blanket summer’s fading flowers.
Fair autumn scenes our senses fill.
Her breezes make us quiver still;
lift rapturous hearts in whirling dance;
stir memories and ignite romance.

~Sharlyn Guthrie

All Shook Up at the Hop

I’d spoken to her many times.
We’d had a casual date.
Every time I saw that girl
my heart would palpitate.

She was a gorgeous cheerleader
and I was just Joe Schmuck.
I feared approaching her again
would really push my luck.

And yet here was my opening;
it seemed the perfect chance.
I offered to escort her to
our college “Fifties Dance.”

Great beads of perspiration
upon my brow arose.
Shrugging, she replied with
a resounding, “I suppose.”

My heart did several flip-flops.
I was thrilled beyond belief.
“Stay cool,” my ego whispered
as I trembled with relief.

A prize was being offered
for the couple dressed the best.
I found the perfect get-up.
I knew she’d be impressed.

Saddle shoes and poodle skirt
bedecked my Sally Jean,
plus a curve-enhancing sweater
and a scarf in kelly green.

She called my broken glasses
taped together with a wad
a crazy stroke of genius.
Whew! What an act of God!

With confidence and valor
I took her by the hand,
then turned and twirled and spun her
to the be-bop of the band.

My rhythm was atrocious.
I could not keep the beat;
so I tried to keep her moving
without stepping on her feet.”

We twisted, shook and shimmied
‘til the final song was played;
then caught our breath and waited
as the costumes were assayed.

“Eight finalists were chosen,”
said the judge who held the page.
I beamed at Sally Jean as
we were called up to the stage.

“The winner,” he continued,
is really quite a clown.
While he has been up dancing,
his zipper has been down.”

In haste my eyes averted.
How I prayed it wasn’t me!
Then I glimpsed my whitey-titeys.
What a grim catastrophe!

My trembling fingers fumbled.
The crowd –how it did roar!
I wished that I could disappear
or melt into the floor.

My blood was surging upward
in a retroactive rush.
It set my heart to pounding,
made my whole complexion flush.

At last my pants were fastened,
and I peered at Sally Jean.
She grabbed my hand and flashed the
biggest smile I’d ever seen.

“We won! We get two tickets
to the big concert next week!”
she squealed, and then she planted
a wet kiss upon my cheek.

Another date with Sally?
My head began to whirl.
I’d take being embarrassed
if it meant I got the girl.

Joe and Sally Jean (Johnson) Schmuck are celebrating thirty-five years of marriage this year. Although Joe’s sense of rhythm has not improved, his philosophy, “Keep her dancing, without stepping on her toes,” suits Sally just fine.

For more great fiction, please visit Lynn Squire's blog, FAITH, FICTION, FUN, AND FANCIFUL

Sunday, October 18, 2009

When I Consider...

When I consider your


the work of your fingers

the moon and the stars,

which you have set in


what is man that you are

mindful of him

the son of man that you

care for him?

PSALM 8:3-4

It has been a while since I've participated in Monday Manna. When I read the verse for this week, several of my photos came to mind, so I decided to illustrate the verse instead of expound on it. After all, "a picture is worth a thousand words," right?

I am often reminded of this verse when I am out experiencing God's creation. It fills me with a sense of awe, as well as thankfulness that I can boldly approach the throne of our great God, creator of the universe, knowing that He knows and loves me intimately. Why does He love me? Because of who He is, not because of anything I could ever do! Simply incomprehensible!

For more thoughts on this verse, visit Joanne's blog, An Open Book.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Thirsty Soul

by Sharlyn Guthrie

One solitary drop of water landed on an outstretched tongue. Until that very moment, the soul was unaware of its thirst. Now its open mouth reached heavenward in great expectation.

How long since I last drank?

With eyes and awareness now heightened, the soul saw nothing but desert stretched out ahead. No life apparent here, only bones…eerie predictors of the soul’s own fate.

How did I come to this dry and desolate place?

When the soul began its journey it had waded waist-deep in the stream of living water, drinking deeply and frequently. Memory supplied the missing snapshots.



“Do you know much about this water?” the confident fellow on the shore had inquired. “Do you know where it comes from, what it is made of, what lives in it, where it will end?”

No. I haven’t thought about those things. I’m just enjoying the water.

“A common mistake,” the fellow had laughed, “and a sure sign of immaturity, as well. You need to walk out here until you know more about it.”


I’m getting very thirsty. I think I’ll go back in the water.

“That would be a big mistake. What you need is food. Here, eat this steak. Then we will have some bread.”

The bread and steak are wonderful, but I’m so thirsty. I really need some water.

“Only the weak return to the water. See how foolish the others look, splashing and frolicking like children?”

I wish I was in the water with them.

“You don’t know what you’re missing. Mature souls crave food. Follow me.”


Long rows of tables stretched across a dining hall. Heads bowed over heaping plates. The diners ate in silence except for the chewing and smacking sounds that occasionally escaped their lips. The soul felt thin and frail compared to the overall plumpness of this group. They motioned toward a chair at one of the tables spread with an amazing array of various foods.

Oh! Thank you! The food looks delicious, but could I please have a drink of water?

At this the other diners stopped, mid-bite, and stared. The meaning behind their blank expressions could not be discerned, but the soul flashed its best smile, grabbed a fork, and began to eat, instructing itself not to ask the same question again.


Life centered on the preparation, presentation, and consumption of extravagant meals. Little else mattered. As promised, knowledge about water was gained, and the soul became convinced that the knowledge was a logical, if not wholly satisfying, substitute for the real thing. The soul found itself gaining poundage and looking very much like the other diners. It felt smug and superior when the occasional frail soul wandered in.

But over time the number of diners had dwindled. Those who ventured outside the dining hall rarely returned. One day the soul left the dining hall, promising to return with young souls that needed filling.


Now, one drop of water had rekindled the soul’s desire, yet all that could be seen for miles around were dry, dead bones.

How could I have forgotten how much I need the water?

With thirst renewed, the soul fell to its knees in the scorching sand. A prayer emanated from its parched lips.

Jesus, I have wandered far from You, the Living Water. Foolishly I denied the thirst you created within me. I am fat, but empty; full, but very, very thirsty. I have lost my way. Help me return to the stream and drink deeply of You.

The sky opened, raining on the grateful soul. The soul drank. It laughed, and sang and danced. Turning around, the soul could now see the path it had taken…the path that had led it far from the life-giving stream. Now it returned, running back along the same path, filled with new purpose and anticipation.

As the exultant soul ran past the dining hall a few diners pressed their noses to the windows and watched, uncomprehending. Then, shaking their heads and clucking their tongues, they returned to their tables and prepared for yet another meal without anything to drink.

If you found yourself identifying with the soul in this allegory, I pray that you have already found your way back to the Living Water. If not, perhaps this allegory has renewed your thirst.

Sara is hosting Fiction Friday this week on her blog, Fiction Fusion. Please stop by and follow the links to more great fiction.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Naomi Ponders

Naomi Ponders
Based on the book of Ruth

Because of you, wee one, who coos in the crook of my withered arm; because of you I know my God remembers.

Hunger banished my family from our home. Refugees we were, beset by weariness and suppressed by loneliness in a strange, distant land. Discouragement and fear stalked us. Death overtook us. God dealt with me so bitterly I was certain I’d been forgotten. But all is well, wee one. I know my God remembers.

Because of you, precious one, who curls tiny fingers around my gnarled, arthritic one; because of you I know my God redeems.

What overwhelming loss I experienced! Your devoted grandfather and our two beloved sons were snatched from me. Who would comfort me? Who would further my family? Who even cared if I lived or died? Too old to marry, and too poor to support your mother, I begged her to leave me and return to her mother and father. She refused, fierce in her loyalty to me. Although I had nothing to offer her, she left the country of her birth. She was better to me than seven sons. Her humble, honorable actions caught your papa’s eye. Your papa, my husband’s kinsman, took pity on us. He has become our deliverer; our rescuer. I know my God redeems.

Because of you, little one, whose breath is warm and sweet against my wrinkled cheek; because of you I know my God rewards.

Hope had dispersed like chaff in the wind. Dreams had dissolved into tears. The outlook was dismal and bleak. This day, this moment, this fulfillment of hopes and dreams I dared not believe in or even wish for. But God smiled on me; smiled upon your mother; blessed His humble servants. I know my God rewards.

Because of you, cherished one, whose curious eyes quicken my aged heart and lighten my faltering steps; because of you, I know my God restores.

My home, my family, my lineage will endure. I am called blessed among Bethlehem’s women. If my sons, Mahlon and Chilion, had lived and fathered many children, none would hold as much promise as you -my delightful grandson, Obed. You are my fulfillment, my future, my renewer of hopes and dreams. My nights are restful, my days filled with purpose, because of you. I know my God restores.

Karlene Jacobsen is the new hostess of Friday Fiction at Homespun Expressions. Visit her blog for links to more great fiction.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Peasant and the Prince

Today I am sharing one of my personal favorites. I had such fun writing this story for the Faithwriters challenge in December of 2007. The topic was "The Church."

The Peasant and the Prince
by Sharlyn Guthrie

A young peasant woman shuddered at the sight of the prince striding toward her. Shrinking into the shadows she attempted to hide, fearful of his motive in seeking her out. She had spat at him yesterday as he passed, though she hadn’t thought he’d noticed.

The shadows failed to conceal her. He grasped her with firm, yet surprisingly gentle hands. “I saw you on the street yesterday.”

Her eyes scanned the pebbles near his feet and her throat constricted, preventing a reply. Placing one finger under her chin, he tipped her head, causing her to meet his tender gaze. He wiped a smudge from her cheek, then caught her as her knees buckled.

“I have come to offer you this.” He smiled, extending a roll of parchment tied with red ribbon. “It is a ketubah, a marriage contract. I love you, and wish for you to become my kallah, my bride.”

“You? Marry me?” She searched his face for the mockery she expected to see, but none was found. “I haven’t a dowry,” she managed, ashamed.

“It makes no difference. If you accept my proposal I will see to it that you are housed and cared for until I return to take you as my wife. It’s all here in the ketubah: my love for you, my intent to marry you, and promises to fulfill all of my obligations to you both now and in the future.”

“But where will you be?”

“I am going away to prepare our future home. I can’t say when I will return, only that I will. And when I do, you must be ready for our marriage. Will you accept me as your groom, your choson?”

“Oh yes, I do accept!” She bent to kiss his feet, but was quickly drawn up into his embrace.

“Then you must begin now to act worthy of me. Go, change your clothes and ready yourself for the day of my return.”

One rapturous kiss was shared, and the prince left as quickly as he had come. Word of the betrothal spread, and many were taken aback. Why would a prince marry a peasant woman? Some were angered, while others simply chose not to believe it was true. Still others marveled at the mystery and intrigue of the unlikely match.

The kallah soon discovered that her temporary home was situated in the realm ruled by the prince’s arch-enemy. Still, she cheerfully went about her preparations for marriage, concerning herself with little else. Her new life contrasted sharply with the life she had lived as a peasant. Few had taken notice of her in the past, but with her name now linked to that of her choson, all eyes, it seemed, were on her.

Attractive suitors clamored for her attention –men of strength, ardor, and shocking impropriety. Their attention was flattering, nevertheless. One offered wealth beyond compare, another fame and recognition throughout every worldly kingdom, yet another promised amazing supernatural powers. Such offers sometimes tempted the kallah, who was growing weary, and at times impatient.

Each suitor was seemingly more attractive than the last. When their charming ways failed to entice her, their tactics became less subtle. “Didn’t he say he would return?” they taunted, “Where is your choson? See? He has left you with only a ketubah filled with empty promises. Surely he is dead, or else he has found another lover more worthy of his name.”

Confused, the kallah unrolled the ketubah, seeking her beloved’s wisdom. “Be on the alert for imposters, sent by the enemy,” it said. “They are wolves in sheep’s clothing who seek to snatch you away from me. Don’t pay them any heed. Keep your heart pure.”

Years passed, and life went on around her. Most of the kingdom dwellers lost interest in the story of the peasant and the prince. When the aging woman attempted to remind them, they laughed. “You’re still waiting for your prince? You’re missing all the fun. Don’t you know that purity is outdated? A real lover wouldn’t expect you to wait so long.”

Still, the kallah remained faithful, yearning for her beloved. The wait had been long, and sometimes it seemed unbearable. But day after day she reached for the well-worn ketubah, and each day its words rekindled her passion and restored her longing. For once she was merely a peasant woman in soiled garments, but soon her home would be a palace. She knew the prince, her precious choson would come.

Please stop by Joanne's blog, An Open Book, for links to more great Friday Fiction!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What's Mine is Mine

I have been listening to my son, Tyson’s music lately. He is a song writer, guitarist, harmonica player, and worship leader, all of which are useful in his position as a Bible camp director. One particular set of lyrics has recently grabbed my attention. The song is “My Treasury.”

My Treasury
Words and music by Tyson Guthrie (March 2004)

Her sister cooked. Her brother laughed.
She broke her little jar of glass;
Poured a year’s pay on a pair of dirty feet.
And as the oil mixed with dirt and clay
She let her hair down to wipe the mud away.
It was the first time they’d seen Judas weep

What’s yours is yours; what’s mine is mine.
If it could stay that way that’d be just fine.
That’s the sound of thieves breaking in.
I hold on what’s been given me,
Like alabaster jars in my treasury,
And the moths and rust they wear my treasure thin.

I thought one time I had a friend;
I ain’t never seen that man again.
He left without saying goodbye-
Had a top hat and a mustache;
He paid me every penny in cash.
And he’d smile and wink his beady little eye.

What’s yours is yours; what’s mine is mine.
If it could stay that way that’d be just fine.
That’s the sound of thieves breaking in.
I hold on what’s been given me,
Like alabaster jars in my treasury,
And the moths and rust they wear my treasure thin.

Well we scrape and hoard and rake it in.
We fill our coffers to the brim;
Call it things like “Good Stewardship.”
And the bride of Christ is growing fat!
We fill her up with this and that,
And in a dim, dark mirror she’s looking pretty fit.

What’s yours is yours; what’s mine is mine.
If it could stay that way that’d be just fine.
That’s the sound of thieves breaking in.
I hold on what’s been given me,
Like alabaster jars in my treasury,
And the moths and rust they wear my treasure thin.

One Sunday in June I sat in a small, sweltering mud and dung building packed with so many people that some had to sit on benches outside. All rejoiced and praised God with their whole hearts. They had also come prepared to give that morning, their offerings including various kinds of produce.

One month later I sat in an enormous, elaborately equipped sanctuary in a large U. S. city. Everything about the music and the rest of the service was professionally planned and perfectly executed. The church contained several restaurants and coffee shops, a 2-story McDonalds style “playland” for toddlers; an aquarium built into the wall of one long hallway; and a three-story youth building with basketball courts, stadium seating theater, and every video game set-up you could think of. I’m pretty sure no onions or mangoes showed up in the offering plate at this church, but judging from the size of the facility, one week’s offering could have easily built a large enough structure to hold the first congregation, with enough left over to feed its starving members for an entire year! Thinking about it actually made me ill, and sent me seeking out the words to Tyson’s song.

Now It is true that some of the lyrics of “My Treasury” apply to the church. However, I am personally challenged by them as well.

Jesus said: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Do I hoard my treasures? Do I regard what I have received from God as my own? Have I allowed my integrity and joy to be stolen? Is my treasury full of rusty vials, weighing down a sadly misplaced heart? Where, in truth, does my treasure lie? These are the questions I have been asking myself recently.

Father, search my heart. Forgive me for holding on to things that can never satisfy. Let my treasure be simply, completely You. Amen.

How Sweet all at once it was for me
to be rid of those fruitless joys
which I had once
feared to lose!
You drove them from me,
you who are the true,
the sovereign joy.

You drove them from me and took their place,
you who are sweeter than all pleasure...

O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth,
and my Salvation.

Confessions, IX, I.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Acquainted With Grace

It has been too long since I last joined Friday Fiction. Today I am sharing a non-fiction story I wrote for Faithwriter's "unsung hero" challenge. It is especially appropriate this time of year, because the story begins on a long ago August day. You will soon see why it is a story very near and dear to my heart. I have edited this piece a bit since I am not limited here by word count.

Acquainted With Grace
by Sharlyn Guthrie

Tall sunflowers waved from both sides of the narrow highway leading to the tiny Kansas town that would be our new home. My father pointed to the low building on the edge of town, just past the sunflowers. He would be the school’s new principal.

We turned off the highway onto Main Street passing a post office, a bank, a thrift shop, a grocery store, and a barber shop. As our car and moving van crept through town, an old man sitting outside the barber shop pulled his pipe from his mouth and leaned forward, following our progression with interest. Another rose and removed his hat as if receiving royalty. In those parts, a new principal might have come pretty close.

We pulled up to a small, sagging house kitty-corner to the Presbyterian Church. “Here we are,” declared my dad, the only one to have seen the house prior to our move. My wide eyes surveyed the barn, the huge tree with broad sturdy limbs, and the patches of flowers sprinkled here and there. I bolted from the car, eager to explore. My mother and sisters were less enthusiastic. They sensed that this was yet another temporary home. Getting excited or attached would only make moving away more difficult. At the age of five, I had yet to learn those lessons.

The townspeople with children lived on the other end of Main Street, nearer the school. Our neighbors were elderly, and most of them grumpy. Aunt Grace, who was not actually my aunt, and who, in fact, was closer in age to my seventy-something grandmother, was the exception to the grumpy rule. She was a spry old maid who lived across the street and owned the town’s thrift shop, a second-hand store. I loved Aunt Grace from the moment we met. Unlike our other neighbors and all the adults I knew, she encouraged my company and never seemed to tire of my chatter.

Aunt Grace’s one-bedroom house was equipped with ramps to accommodate her boarder. Fern was younger than Grace, and wheelchair-bound. She occupied the largest room on the front of the house, the one lined with windows. I often wondered if Fern’s heart and soul were more crippled than her body. Despite Grace’s sunny disposition and obvious devotion to her, Fern kept the blinds on her windows closed, preferring to sit in the shadows mumbling and grunting to herself. Aunt Grace always invited her to join our picnics by the pump and our games of “Hide the Thimble” and “Pleased or Displeased,” but each invitation was declined. Only occasionally would she let us take her around the block in her wheelchair.

Work was important to Aunt Grace, and working alongside her was delightful. Unlike other adults, she actually made me feel as though my contributions were helpful. In her shop she trusted me to hold delicate figurines while she dusted the shelves they normally occupied. At her home I pumped and carried sloshing buckets of water half my weight; then cranked funny-looking underwear through the wringer on her old-fashioned washing machine. She taught me to make and serve tea, and then to act lady-like and proper as we sipped it from dainty china teacups.

Aunt Grace’s laughter, the sound of pure joy, still plays in my ears. I heard it for the first time when she caught me, a princess on a white horse, riding her propane tank. It rang out again after she had endured all nine verses of “Honey, You Can’t Love Two” sung from atop the mound that was her cellar. Applauding wildly, she laughed until she cried. I was certain from her response that I was destined to be a star.

Two years after my family moved to that idyllic village set amongst wheat fields and sunflowers, we moved again, leaving Kansas and Aunt Grace behind forever. Naively, I anticipated new neighbors just like her. But there would never be another person in my life like Aunt Grace. I had already met the woman who would have the greatest impact on my life, a true servant of Jesus who proclaimed, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me…” (Mark 9:37 NIV) I vowed to follow her wonderful example to the best of my ability. As a result, teaching, shaping and nurturing young lives has become my life’s work. I want every child I meet to feel important and loved, because each is wonderfully made -painstakingly formed in their mother’s womb by a loving creator. (Psalm 139:13-14)

Aunt Grace is my unsung heroine. She measured worth differently than most, turning others’ junk into treasure; from outmoded nick-nacks, to disabled, disgruntled old women, to curious, meddling children. Each of us, regardless of age or ability, was better off for having been in her care. She never left that small Kansas village, and was never formally honored or acclaimed. I learned of her death after her funeral, and cried as I rocked my own two year old son, clutching the announcement to my heart. A half century after our first meeting Aunt Grace is still my greatest inspiration, a beautiful example of love, joy, patience, humility, and yes –grace.

For more great Friday Fiction, please visit Julie at her blog, THE SURRENDERED SCRIBE.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Postscript on Uganda: What Now?

Postscript: What Now?

I am thrilled now to fill you in on many exciting developments since my return from Uganda. First of all, after purchasing bananas for two schools, food and soap for many families in the slums, 300 Bibles for King’s Primary school, and clothing for all of the Smile Africa children, I still had around $350 remaining in my Heart of God account! After discussing it with my husband, John, we decided to take a step of faith and arrange through Heart of God to provide fruit to the children of Smile Africa once a week for as long as God provides the funds to do so. July and August have now been covered, and we are trusting that others will want to join us in continuing this ministry to the children throughout the year. More than just a feeding program, these children will be assured each time they are given fruit to eat that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of light, who never changes.” If you would like to be part of this ministry, please see the details at the end of this post.

I would also like to see that the children continue to get adequate clothing, and possibly even shoes throughout the year. This will need to be researched, in order to decide the most efficient way of doing this, but money will be needed, regardless of the method. The money will either be used for the actual clothing, or for shipping donated clothing from the U.S. The same details at the end of this post apply to donations for provision of clothing.

Another exciting development is that Heart of God, Uganda has offered me the position of education director, and I have accepted. I will be working alongside Denise, the director of Heart of God, Uganda, to put together a team of teachers to return to Uganda next summer to train and encourage the overburdened teachers there. So what I want from all of you teachers out there is prayer, practical suggestions for materials and teacher’s conference topics, as well as prayerful consideration about joining us for this next trip in June of 2010. We are also planning two other components of our 2010 trip: a men’s conference, and a teen rally. How exciting!

Since our return Pastor Ruth has forwarded many pictures and sent many updates and developments. She delivered clothing and our gifts to the family in the slums.

The children at Smile Africa all received new clothes from the bales we purchased!

Pastor Ruth has taken in ten elderly widows whose homes had crumbled, and who needed help. They were given some of the mats to sleep on, as well. These women are eating at Smile Africa and they are also helping as they are able with the children.

The children are using the mats that were purchased for resting, and are enjoying their weekly servings of fruit.

Through Heart of God International Pastor Ruth has partnered with World Vision to provide surgery for a little boy who was born with his bladder on the outside of his body. This will most likely save his life and make caring for him much easier.

As might be expected, Satan is active, and trying to interfere with God’s work in Uganda, just as He is anywhere. Kings Primary School has experienced recent personnel difficulties, Pastor Ruth and Grace have both had the flu, and Pastor Ruth had a serious infection from a cut on her foot. Alex was injured when she fell off a motorcycle while going to visit her parents. The father of the child needing surgery has tried to intervene and block the surgery because he believes the mother will benefit from it somehow. Although he has never provided for the child, he went so far as to kidnap him and the mother, holding them against their will until the police were called. If we came away with one notion, it is that life is fragile and often brief in Uganda. Half of the population of the country is under the age of fourteen. This fills me with a sense of urgency. Even one year from now we will no doubt witness many losses and changes among those we came to know and love.

I tell you these things to remind you to pray for Music pastor, Stephen and wife Mary; for Pastor Ruth, her family and staff; for the children and widows of Smile Africa; for Kings Primary School; for Agnes and the Early Learning Center; for Saphan and Alex; for Pastor Stephen and Rosalyn, their four children, and the seven boys they are caring for, as well as for their church and nursery school. I also elicit your prayers on behalf of Heart of God International as we come alongside these brothers and sisters in Christ to assist and encourage them.

If you are moved to give toward providing fruit or clothing for the children of Uganda please send your gifts to: Heart of God International Ministries, Uganda
P.O. Box 248
Willard, OH 44890

Be sure to designate your gifts for “fruit and/or clothing for Uganda.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Days 11 and 12: The Journey Home

Days 11 and 12: The Journey Home

30 June, 2009

After awaking in the middle of my flight from Entebbe to Amsterdam, I visited with Robert, my seat mate. He is Ugandan, born and raised in Jinja, which is a town we traveled through between Tororo and Kampala, and is currently a student at the University of Utah, majoring in health education and economic development. As part of his schooling he was assigned to go to Ghana, but stopped to visit family in Uganda on his way home. He loves his country, and hopes to return to help in establishing an infrastructure. Although he enjoys many aspects of living in America, he is truly grateful for his African upbringing. I can definitely understand that. There is something wholesome, transparent, and down to earth about Ugandan. There is also an unquenchable spirit –one of extreme gratitude, unbridled joy, and hope. Robert wanted to know about all the things our group experienced during our visit, and he thanked me sincerely for “doing all that you did for our children.”

We didn’t have long to wait between flights in Amsterdam, but the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit seemed oh, so long! I was seated across the aisle from Jan, who slept much of the flight. As we were nearing Detroit she began visiting with her seat mate, who was a soldier returning on leave from Afghanistan. Jan was sharing with him about Heart of God’s soldier’s ministry, and she pulled out a business card to give to him. I could see that the man in the seat directly behind her was literally sitting on the edge of his seat, straining to see and hear what she was saying. As soon as she finished talking, he called, “Miss Jan, Miss Jan.” Finally Jan realized he was talking to her, and turned around. He introduced himself as a brigade commander with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, on his way home to bury his father. “I have 12,000 troops and 14 chaplains under me,” he said. “Do you have any materials for them? How about Bible study materials for women?”

Needless to say, Jan was quite excited to share information about the soldiers ministry with him! He promised to contact her later in the week to arrange for some materials for his troops.

When we reached Detroit, everything went into high gear. We had to go through immigration, pick up our checked luggage, and go through customs, then re-check our luggage and find the gate for our next flight. Jeanice and I only had about 40 minutes between flights, so needless to say, we were hustling.

Just as I finished with customs I had a major surprise; I saw Frankie, my seatmate from Iowa, the one I had met on the way to Uganda on Day 1! We had both returned on the very same flight. We embraced, exchanged bits and pieces of our respective experiences, and I assured her I had prayed for her daily and would continue to keep her in my prayers. Now I am even more certain that God crossed our paths for a purpose. I believe that she feels the same. As I left customs for my gate I also ran into Robert, my seat mate from yesterday’s flight, and we wished each other well.

Jeanice, and I bid farewell to Jan and Denise, who each went their separate ways. We then continued on to Chicago together. This was a short flight., but I looked forward to it ending. My stomach felt upset for the first time since leaving Iowa eleven days ago.

John and I had reserved a hotel room in Chicago –one with free shuttle service from the airport, with the plan that I could go there to shower and sleep, and he would join me after working half a day and then driving to Chicago. It worked out beautifully, because I was more than ready for a break from traveling and for real sleep in an actual bed. I was sleeping soundly when he arrived several hours later.

We found a nice little Italian restaurant nearby, and during dinner I began to fill him in on my many adventures.

Since he had the entire next day off, we decided to take a longer way home, opting to stop at East Iowa Bible Camp to visit with the camp’s director -our son, Tyson, and his wife, Sarah. It was great visiting with them, and they were even able to get away with us to eat at The Malt Shop. My stomach was still having issues, but I enjoyed spending time with them, nevertheless.

Later, arriving at home, I was happy to be there and thankful for my husband’s presence and time spent with family, but I was also keenly aware that many pieces of my heart remained strewn across a small country in a continent 8,000 miles away. I also knew that my life had been permanently altered –a good thing, to be sure, but life could never return to “normal.” God had revealed Himself to me in so many ways, and through so many of His beautiful people. Although my journey to Uganda officially came to an end today, I felt that a much greater journey had only just begun.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Day 10: Is it Time to Leave So Soon?

Day 10: Is it Time to Leave So Soon?

29 June 2009

We rose at the break of dawn to shower and finish packing. Although I'm looking forward to seeing John and the rest of my family, I prepare to leave with a heavy heart. I have grown to love the people I have met here, and can't help but wonder if I will ever see them again.

As we finished breakfast, Pastor Ruth joined us and finalized all of our bills for George and Gus’s transportation and the hotel. I had asked her to look into purchasing mats for the Smile Africa children to use for nap time. (They have been falling asleep wherever they happen to land -on the ground or on the concrete floor.) She was able to buy 10 large and 20 small nylon mats for 600,000 shillings (around $300). She will give mats to the families we visited in the slums, too. She was also able to get homemade brooms for Denise and I. After picking those up we said goodbye to Tororo and headed back to Kampala. George was back as our driver today.

As we traveled back toward Kampala we saw a number of baboons along the highway. We also saw many varieties of large birds –cranes, herons, and tuxedo birds included.

With 1,250,000 shillings ($625) of my donated funds still available, we stopped to buy bales of clothing for the children of Smile Africa. We felt that it was much better to spend the shillings here, rather than to lose money by exchanging it. We found a large warehouse of clothing where we purchased three 100 lb. bales of the highest quality clothing: one of shirts, one of shorts, and one of skirts and dresses. Pastor Ruth could not conceal her joy when the decision was made! “Yes!” she exclaimed, “This is a golden opportunity!” Each bale contains around 300 articles of clothing in various sizes, so all of the remaining children will receive new clothes. How wonderful!

We continued on to Entebbe to Saphan and Alex’s house (we met this couple on Day 1), where we were treated to bottled water and gifts thoughtfully selected for each of us. Mine was a beautiful maraca. We also gave them the gifts we had prepared for them.

Next, Saphan and Alex took us to Early Learning Center where their children attend school. We met the kids and Agnes, the head teacher, who founded the school sixteen years ago. The school is high on a hill in Entebbe, overlooking Lake Victoria –quite a beautiful sight!

From there, Agnes took us to her home for a bounteous lunch that had been prepared for us, including delicious baked tilapia from the lake, rice, beans, matoke, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumber salad, potatoes, brown nut sauce, mango juice, and fresh pineapple and papaya. It was our grand finale of African meals! Agnes’ husband is a doctor, so they live in a large home on a beautiful property with spreading trees and beautiful flowers. Agnes had asked to serve us because she was so touched by the things we have done for Saphan and Alex and the Smile Africa kids. She has a beautiful godly spirit about her. She and Pastor Ruth hit it off right away as well.

From Agnes’ house we continued on to the airport, and Pastor Ruth said her goodbyes. She and George needed to make it back to Tororo before dark. Saphan and Alex stayed with us until we had to go to our gate. It was a long while after that before we boarded, and we were all very tired as we began our trip home. We had been up since around 5 a.m. and going strong all day long.

Once on the plane, I visited with Robert, my Ugandan seat mate, ate a few bites of dinner, and then fell asleep for several hours, dreaming of smiling, once-ragged children in beautiful new clothes.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Day 9: Praising the Lord at Mile Eight

Day 9: Praising the Lord at Mile Eight
28 June, 2009

Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 150:1-6)

We drove to a village outside of Tororo to attend church today -Mile Eight village, to be exact. Pastor Ruth was instrumental in starting the church. It is housed in a small building that was completely packed with over 100 joyful, praising people. Their praise was genuine and amazing, and the words of Psalm 150 tumbled around in my head throughout the morning.

After a warm greeting, complete with hugs and handshakes, we were paraded up the center aisle to our seats facing the congregation (a now familiar scenario for us). They continued worshiping God with their voices, drums, and other rhythm instruments, including something that reminded me of a clanging cymbal. Several groups of children then sang for us. One song was from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ.” The teens sang, too, a medley of songs, including one about the name of Jesus, which is a name above all names. The teens were so enthusiastic and full of life –what a blessing to hear them!

Pastor Stephen introduced several individuals in the church to us, including the music leader, a young lady who is crippled. She is a converted Muslim, who is cared for by the congregation, and serves them through her music ministry and work with the children. He spoke about how God had worked in their community and in the life of their congregation, and about how they had grown to the point that their numbers exceed their building space. Pastor Stephen is well-spoken and seems well-grounded spiritually. Pastor Ruth was asked to share, and she had a moving message as well, and was visibly moved as she observed what the Lord has done and is continuing to do among these people. The Spirit of the Lord was evident in this place!

About this time, we were served cold bottles of water –again, a humbling and somewhat uncomfortable experience, as it was quite warm in the church, and everyone must have been thirsty, but we were the only ones given water to drink. Next, each of us was asked to share, through an interpreter, what was on our hearts. I shared how God had laid Psalm 36 on my heart for this trip (see Day 1), and how I have personally experienced God’s faithfulness, mercy, and righteousness throughout the many experiences and circumstances encountered on this trip. God’s character never changes, so we can never go wrong focusing on it.

An offering was taken, and we watched in awe and utter humility as many gifts were laid on and around the small offering table: a mango, a bag of onions, a bag of tomatoes, along with other produce, some handmade items, and some monetary gifts as well.

The church was cleared after this, and we went out to shake hands and greet people, after which we were led back inside the church to eat a lunch of potatoes, matoke (green bananas), chicken, beef, and sweet bananas, all of which Rosalyn, the pastor’s wife, had prepared. Rosalyn is a jewel. She and Stephen have four children of their own, and they are also caring for seven Karamajong boys that Pastor Ruth brought to them from Tororo. These boys had begun sniffing glue, so Pastor Ruth wanted to replace the negative influences in their lives with some positive ones. Denise presented Pastor Stephen with around $100 for the church and also discussed the possibility of sponsorship for children in the church’s nursery school.

It rained hard and stormed on our way back to Tororo. We were especially impressed by the lightning displays. (later, we read in one of the newspapers that Tororo receives the most lightning strikes of any place in the world!) The temperature dropped considerably, and the lightning shut down the hotel’s electricity.

We spent the afternoon packing in the semi-dark. When we realized we had several odds and ends left over, I went downstairs to inquire how many employees work at the hotel. They told us it was between 25 and 30, so we put together 32 baggies filled with a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, a writing pen, a Gospel of John book, and several pieces of candy. These we left at the front desk with a note that said, “God’s blessings to you, from friends of Smile Africa.” We also filled larger bags with gifts we had set aside for Pastor Ruth, Grace, and Saphon and Alex (who will meet us once again tomorrow in Entebbe)

In the restaurant that evening, one of the waitresses came to our table and just stood there, beaming. Finally, she said, “Thank you so very much! We are all very happy tonight.” Other employees also stopped us and thanked us for our gifts to them. It is hard to imagine such gratitude for the seemingly mundane items they received from us. Can you imagine the disdain with which hotel employees in the U.S. would regard such a gift? The Ugandans were genuinely pleased, however.

The electricity was restored during dinner; we remained seated for quite some time, enjoying the brisk breeze cavorting with the sheer curtains that hung over the dining room windows. As we visited, we reminisced about God’s goodness and faithfulness to us throughout the week. Our last night in Tororo was cool, relaxing and pleasant. As Jan tallied our expenses for the week we learned that the entire week’s meals for all four of us in the hotel dining room amounted to around $50.00!