Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Legacy of Life and Love

I met my match on the first day of school two years ago. “Lance” immediately stood out from his clean, polished classmates posing for their first day of kindergarten pictures. He tussled with his mom at the door, who left him fuming outside the door in angry tears. His jeans were ragged, and he had arrived with no school supplies or backpack.

Approaching him, I noticed several nasty scratches on his face and arms. “What happened?” I inquired, gently tracing a lighter one on his arm.

“Me and my brother were castrating cats...stupid cats!” His answer astounded me! Thus began an unpredictable and often volatile relationship with my new kindergarten student.

I learned that Lance’s father was soon due to be released from jail and that his short life had been unstable, to say the least. I brought school supplies and a new backpack for Lance the following day. At the end of that day, as he waited to be picked up after school, Lance went after some older students, wildly clobbering them with his backpack. The rampage continued as I implored him to stop, so I finally grabbed him from behind, attempting to remove him from the situation. As I dragged him, screaming, through the door he stomped on my foot, breaking two of my toes.

Rather than expel Lance, my principal and I brainstormed about how best to win the heart of an angry five year old. Not many days later, after yet another run-in with his peers, Lance climbed voluntarily into my lap and pulled my arms around him. It was a start, but his struggles were far from over. He regularly earned time-outs during recess. On one such occasion he sat on the ground hugging his knees while rocking back and forth and singing, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, Open the eyes of my heart...” Eyes closed, he repeated over and over again the opening phrases of the song we often sang as a class. The words seemed to well up from the very depths of his little wounded soul.

The child was intense. He sang the loudest, ran the fastest, and was first to conquer the monkey bars. Learning didn’t come easy. It totally frustrated him, and he demanded my undivided attention. In a classroom of eighteen students that was, of course, impossible.

Enter Tyler!

My principal had already sent several reinforcements my way, but Lance proved too much for some of them. When yet another student was assigned to help out twice a week I didn’t get my hopes up. But Tyler was an immediate hit with the class, and especially with Lance. Unruffled by Lance’s outbursts, Tyler’s presence had a calming effect, and yet he seemed embarrassed when I repeatedly told him how influential he had become. He smiled his big easy smile and blushed a little, too, when the kindergartners shouted hello across the parking lot or high-fived him as he passed in the hallway. Soon Tyler began showing up every day to help out instead of sticking to his assigned two afternoons a week. Still, I doubt that he fully understood how critical his role was, particularly in the life of a little boy who desperately needed a positive male influence.

Lance transferred to another school the following year, and Tyler went on to participate in other activities and service projects. He was never stingy with his smile, however, and in my eyes he stood a head taller than many of the other high school students. I always thought there was something very special about him.

Two weeks ago today, on February 10th, Tyler’s life here ended abruptly when his car ran under the back of a school bus on his way to school. Thankfully, no one else was injured. Our small Christian school, however, was rocked to the core; gripped with grief.

It was not until Tyler’s death that I learned how he came to attend our school. It seems that middle school had proven extremely painful, and his parents sent him to our school as a last-ditch effort to help him discover a purpose for his life. He was pretty jaded when he started as a freshman, and often “flew off the handle.” The class he became a part of has never been known for its
cohesiveness, and therefore wouldn’t have been our first choice for a young man healing from emotional wounds. Interestingly enough, he became the “glue” that brought the class together. That seems especially true now, through his death. A love and appreciation for Tyler is something the entire class shared.

The sight of all twelve remaining senior boys (and one special junior friend) serving as Tyler’s pall bearers will stay with me for a long time. It was a very touching and emotional scene as they carried his casket up the middle aisle of our auditorium, and then placed it in front of the set Tyler had recently built for an upcoming play.

Over the past four years Tyler had accepted Christ and grown confident in his faith and in the person God made him to be. He had also become involved in the lives of many younger students. Near the beginning of this current school year he had “adopted” the sixth grade class, and spent one study hall with them nearly every day. The junior high students loved and respected him, too, and of course the second graders still adored him.

In retrospect, so many events leading up to and following Tyler’s death seemed to be orchestrated by a loving Heavenly father. Another family on their way to school witnessed the accident, recognized the car as Tyler’s, and helped to identify him. My son Tristan, who was Tyler’s youth pastor, arrived at the accident scene very early on, and was able to comfort Tyler’s mother and accompany her to the hospital. Since the family didn’t have a church connection and Tyler had spoken affectionately of Tristan, he was asked to do the funeral service. The prayers of many were evident as Tristan, struggling with his own emotions, delivered a very personal message of comfort and hope to the more than 500 people in attendance. The gospel was clearly presented, and a few of Tyler’s classmates spoke about Tyler’s positive influence in their own lives. Tyler’s family was overwhelmed and overjoyed by the love showered upon them by people they barely knew. New relationships were formed.

Almost immediately after Tyler’s death many regrets were expressed. One of Tyler’s friends admitted to having “keyed” his car, and declared he was going to permanently inscribe Tyler’s initials into his own car. A female classmate expressed sorrow over regarding Tyler with annoyance. Even I regretted that I had only spoken with Tyler in passing over the past two years since he helped out in my classroom. It was especially fitting, then, that the most poignant words, and the ones that ended Tyler’s service were written by Tyler, himself in his last note on Faceboook:

“so i've been thinking about this for quite a while now and i've been looking for the perfect verse to go along with it but i couldn't seem to find it until one day in leadership we went over it. we all make mistakes, each and everyone of us, but sometimes its hard for us to forgive people who have made a mistake to us or to a close friend or something. in ephesians 4:32 it says, "Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you." we all make mistakes, and we should all be forgiven just like God has forgiven us for all of our sins and falling short of the glory of God. sometimes i dont want to forgive people but then i realize that if it was me i would want to be forgiven. just a little thought thats been on my mind for a while now.”
--by Tyler Toll

That will be Tyler’s legacy –learned the hard way through his own struggles, but learned, and demonstrated to a class of five year olds(one with whom he must have especially identified),then multiplied and magnified to touch nearly every person with whom he came into contact over the past four years.

Dear God,
Thank you for sending Tyler to us. Thank you for both the lessons he learned and those that he taught us. Thank you for his enthusiasm and zest for life, and most of all his love for others. We will never understand why he had to leave us so soon, but help us to honor his life by choosing to follow You with the same enthusiasm, love, and forgiveness. Please wrap your arms around his parents, his brother and sister, and all the others who loved him dearly and miss him terribly.. May his death draw each of us into closer fellowship with You, Lord Jesus, in whose name we pray, Amen.”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Woman To Be Praised

Few things can cause us to stop and examine our lives like death. Last week I had many opportunities for reflection because of three precious people whose lives on this earth ended too soon…too soon, at least, from my selfish, human perspective. They are actually the fortunate ones, because as I sorrow over my loss, they are walking arm in arm with Jesus. Today I’m remembering Sherry.

Sherry was married to my husband’s cousin, which made us cousins in law, as far as I can tell. I would have been proud to have her as a sister. She was a “tough as nails” farm wife, as the preacher at her funeral repeatedly reminded us. She and her husband worked side by side on their farm, with Sherry often driving the tractor or combine. No task was too daunting for her, it seemed. She also loved Jesus, and prayed as hard as she worked. Her husband Wayne reported that the prayer list in her Bible contained the names of 65 people, and she refused to go to bed at night until she had adequately prayed for each one. This devotion to prayer for others continued throughout the months that she struggled against the cancer that eventually claimed her life.

Sherry was determined to live life fully to the very end. Four days before she died a doctor asked what her plans were. “I’m going to Branson this summer with my whole family,” she replied. She was speechless when the doctor asked what her “alternate” plans were. She had no alternate plan. God, however, had an alternate plan for Sherry, and in His grace He spared her a lengthy period of suffering.

The scripture reading at Sherry’s funeral was Proverbs 31, with a few apt modifications referencing hogs, soy beans, and grain trucks. We couldn’t help but nod our heads in agreement as verse after verse described her perfectly. “…Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.” (Proverbs 31:29 NASB) Sherry lived a full life with few regrets, as evidenced by her ever-present beautiful smile and the joy that emanated from her. She served her husband, her family, her church, and her community well.

After the funeral we gathered at Wayne and Sherry’s sprawling farmhouse as we have on so many other occasions…weddings, funerals, and visits from far-off relatives. I wondered if any of us would feel like laughing as we usually do when we gather, but Wayne immediately put us all at ease with a story about the chair he was occupying.

It seems that one morning Sherry was feeling a little “frisky,” so when she came downstairs she sat on Wayne’s lap in their new recliner. As things started “heating up” the chair reclined further and further, until suddenly, without warning, it flipped over backwards, depositing them both on the floor. “I’m surprised you hadn’t heard that story,” he quipped. “I’m pretty sure all of Davis county has heard it, and I know it travelled all the way to southern Missouri!”

Of course the story had us all in stitches, and from there the stories and memories continued, punctuated as usual by much laughter…certainly the best medicine on such a bittersweet occasion.

Sherry’s life was honored that day, but more importantly, God was honored by Sherry’s life. She was a blessing to everyone she met. What an inspiration to those of us left here to live out our lives! “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands; and let her works praise her in the gates.” Proverbs 31: 30-31 NASB
Since that day when we celebrated Sherry’s life and faced living the rest of our lives without her, I have pondered these questions:

How God-honoring is my life?
Would my family and friends find comfort, even joy and laughter in
recalling their memories of my life?
What passage of Scripture would best characterize my life?
Would my family and friends feel blessed to have had me in their lives?

Dear Father,
Sometimes I am overwhelmed with the blessings you have allowed me to enjoy in this life you have given me. Thank you for allowing me to know Sherry, and for blessing my life through hers. Thank you, too, for the questions you have laid on my heart. Help me to honor you all the days of my life, and may others feel blessed to have known me. May my life inspire them to love and honor You when they see what You are doing through me. In the name of Your precious Son, Jesus, Amen.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Monday Manna: One Tiny Tender Shoot

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him, and with the stripes [that wounded] Him we are healed and made whole. Isaiah 53:5, Amplified

One Tiny Tender Shoot

From barren soil, drought-stricken, parched
one tiny tender Shoot appeared.
So plain and homely was its form
it was not welcomed nor revered
where men in sullen shadows marched.

Abundant sorrow shame and grief
bent the Sprout low to the ground,
so smitten and afflicted here
that even God most surely frowned,
making its earthly visit brief.

I saw through eyes blind and diseased;
I saw, and yet assumed the worst:
Death was the end –His just reward,
but of the dead He was the first
to end its curse, and God was pleased!

Abundant love coursed through His veins,
abundant pardon, mercy, grace
gushed from violent gaping wounds,
compassion dripping from His face;
Only His righteousness remains.

Broken and bathed in Jesus’ blood
my sins are gone, my sight restored!
The Bud, once stricken, scorned, despised
now stately, treasured, and adored;
once-thirsty soil quenched by the flood.

Abundant life and joy and peace
sustain my spirit, soul and mind!
I feast on Him, my daily bread,
And drink His water, milk, and wine…
abundant gifts that never cease!

By Sharlyn Guthrie
(Based on Isaiah 53 and 55:1)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Garden Encounters

Internet Cafe Chat

Tell one specific time in your life that you were overwhelmed with God's love for you.

Do you need a little breath of summer today? The first thing that came to mind when I considered this thought is how overwhelmed I am with God's love when I am working in my garden. On one such day I penned the following poem...nothing heavy, just a breath of fresh summer air.

Garden Encounters

I strolled barefoot to my garden.
Grass tickled between my toes.
Dewdrops sprinkled ‘round my ankles.
Gnats buzzed boldly up my nose.

As I neared, the rhubarb rustled.
Purr-sy scampered into view.
Frightened robins all a-flutter
chided loudly as they flew.

Near the lettuce, still and silent
save her twitching nose and ear
rabbit paused, then darted quickly
guided wildly by her fear.

Running past, a squirrel took notice,
then proceeded up a tree
where he sat and scolded mildly,
eyeing both my cat and me.

I began by cutting spinach.
Next I felt for bulging peas.
Crunchy, sweet, a few sustained me
as I picked them on my knees.

From the pond a splashing clamor
shook me from my reverie.
Drake was romancing his darling
quacking, splattering noisily.

Soon their noise disturbed the gander
guarding o’er his nesting goose.
Cantankerous, he honked a warning,
flailing wings outstretched and loose.

Smiling, I returned to labor
senses flooded, heart released,
and my praise began as humming.
As it grew, volume increased.

In the breeze cool and refreshing
Jesus whispered in my ear,
“I’ve been waiting all this morning.
I’m so glad you found me here.”

So from there our chat proceeded
up and down six rows of beans
as methodically I weeded
through my worries, hopes and dreams.

Straightening, I surveyed with wonder
all my Father had bestowed.
Surprise! Atop my pile of produce
perched a gray and wrinkled toad.

“Shoo,” I said, and gently nudged him
‘till into the grass he hopped.
Quickly I picked up my treasures,
although once again I stopped.

From beneath the tall potatoes
something gave my foot a tap.
Mice-tro lazily stretched and pawed me,
waking from his long cat-nap.

To the house I then retreated,
cats frolicking in my way.
By my sweetheart I was greeted,
quizzing me about my day.

Viewing me smudged and disheveled,
sympathizing with his tone,
he remarked, “You worked for hours—
Too bad you had to work alone.”

--Sharlyn Guthrie

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Thanksgiving For Dreadful Deeds

Internet Cafe Chat
by Sharlyn Guthrie
My father was an elementary principal. He faithfully attended church, taught Sunday school, and even preached on occasion. He provided well for our family. I always had adequate shelter, good food, and comfortable clothing. My parents paid for music lessons, allowed me to go to church camp, and at times sent me to private school.

My father molested me…not once, but continually. As I grew older I resisted and pushed him away; I was disgusted, but quite honestly it was just the way life was, so I guess I thought of it as normal. He didn’t stop trying to molest me until after I left home.

I began to see my family life as less than ideal, so as an adolescent I began to make a mental list of things I didn’t want to repeat in my own life. In some ways I was mature beyond my years. I grew into a close dependence on my Heavenly Father. In other ways I was lacking, particularly when it came to setting personal boundaries. I was also a people pleaser and a terrible communicator. Oh, I liked to talk! But I buried my feelings and hid behind my Christianity, just like my parents did.

As you might guess, I was quite vulnerable as a teenager. Discussing sex at home was taboo. My parents had rules, but the rules seemed more effective in protecting their image than protecting me. Besides, I was already ruined, and I was pretty sure it had to be my fault. Somehow, by God’s grace –and I REALLY mean that— I got through my teen years without being raped or worse, although I was victimized by other family and non-family members.

My story has had many twists and turns, but I’ll suffice it here to say that I married a “prince” of a man and I’m living happily ever after. God is so good!

Just a few of the things that have been a struggle in my life are these: feeling worthy, feeling forgiven, feeling nothing, enjoying sex with my husband (initially), facing the reality of my father’s incestuous advances, confronting my father, exposing a family legacy of lies, forgiving my father, losing my relationship with a sister, honoring a father who was less than honorable…the list goes on.

Can you thank me for trusting you with this experience even if I never tell you why? ~God

This was the question I struggled with most. One by one I worked through the other issues over months and years. Just when I would think an issue was solved, it would bare its fangs, mocking me. None of it happens over night, even with Jesus. I wouldn’t want to go through it without Him, it’s true. But healing takes time, and it’s hard!

When my father passed away seven years ago I finally felt the freedom to begin talking about this aspect of my life, partly to aid in my own healing, and partly to reach out to others dealing with similar experiences. It has helped to answer the question.

I will always wonder why I wound up with an earthly father who didn’t know how to love. But I have never once doubted the love of my Heavenly Father. Still, am I thankful?

I was fifty years old and had experienced yet another excruciatingly painful event before I was able to say, “Thank you, God, for giving me the father you did. Thank you for allowing me to feel the pain his unwanted advances inflicted. It drew me to You in ways nothing else could. It gave me empathy for the pain of others. It made me a better parent. It made me see the reality of my own sinfulness and my need for Your forgiveness. It taught me to be loving and forgiving. From dreadful deeds, you have produced beautiful fruit. You are a God to be praised!”

"I waited patiently for the Lord, he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock, and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord." Psalm 40:1-3

Monday, February 2, 2009

Monday Manna: It's Okay to Cry

When I saw the verse for this week’s Monday Manna at Joanne Sher’s An Open Book, I knew I had to ask my daughter-in-law’s permission to share something she wrote last September. This was written the day after Sarah and our son, Tyson, lost a long-awaited and much anticipated baby. It was discovered during her check-up that the baby’s heart had stopped beating.

September 26, 2008
I’ve never really had a desire to sit down and write something…until now. God has really laid this stuff on me today and I just have to get it out. Mostly for my benefit…but I hope that I can encourage you through it too.

John 11:35
Jesus wept.

This is one of those verses that I normally just breeze past or use when involved in a game where I have to know the shortest verse in the bible…but today, these words came as a great comfort to me. As I did my bible study today it was over PEACE and the PEACE that Jesus had even through the death of his good friend Lazarus. Verse 4 of John 11 says this “…No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Even knowing that He would raise Lazarus from the dead and that God would be glorified through it, Jesus still wept. Now looking at this story again, I realize it may not have been because of the death of his friend, but because those who knew Christ and knew God’s power still didn’t believe and have faith…BUT the thing I got from it applies either way-IT’S OKAY TO CRY. And after the sorrow and grief have passed and even through it, I believe God IS glorified. I have faith that God is my MIGHTY ROCK and that He has a plan for our lives that is beyond anything we could imagine for ourselves.

I have had moments today where I just break down and cry, but I know God gave us the special gift of this baby…if only for a short while. I believe He is making Tyson and I stronger so that we can be used together as a couple to bring more glory to Himself and that gets me excited. Yes…I will continue to grieve, and I will NEVER forget this moment in our lives, but God is wrapping me up in His arms TIGHT, and I know that He will bring us through this.

We thank you all for your support and love through prayers, email messages, hugs, soup, peach cobbler, etc. May God bless you all for the reflection of His love you have shown us.

Psalm 62:8
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
Pour out your hearts to him,
For God is our refuge.

-by Sarah Guthrie

Sarah is the wife of Tyson Guthrie (my youngest son). In addition to being a wonderful wife and daughter-in-law, she is multi-talented. Best of all, Sarah truly has a servant’s heart. She loves to use her gifts and abilities for the Lord. She and Tyson live in Deep River, Iowa, where Tyson in the director of East Iowa Bible Camp. There she uses her organizational and secretarial skills in the camp office and makes all the campers feel warmly welcomed. Tyson and Sarah have been married for seven and a half years, and continue to seek God’s will for them regarding a family. Prior to their pregnancy they were in the process of applying for adoption, but that had to be put on hold, and now they are waiting and praying. I know they would appreciate your prayers. Sarah's blog can be found here: Everybody Here Loves Camp.