Monday, November 12, 2012

An Open Letter to Veterans

(In a few minutes my kiddos and I are delivering this letter to three veteran friends who did combat duty.  With brownies.  'Cause brownies are awesome.  Feel free to do the same. :)

Dear Veteran,

The Bible says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD.” (Psalms 33:12). 
I am thankful to veterans like you, who gave up
                        Your time of youth when you could have chosen a different path;
Your freedom in the U.S. to go to an environment where fear abounds but freedom is non-existent;
                        The income you could’ve made working at a different job during your time of service;
                         Health, in exchange for scars on the body and sometimes in the mind;
                         The comfort of being with those you held dear, that you might serve a greater good.

Because of you, I enjoy
                        The freedom to dress how I choose;
                         Going anywhere I please without being escorted by a male relative;
Teaching my children about what a beautiful thing democracy is as I cast my vote for our country’s leaders last week;
Teaching my children that democracy started with GOD.  Not Allah, or Muhammad, but the Almighty GOD of heaven, as that is how He chose to set up His church (Acts 1);
The ability to pray, to worship, and to teach my kids about Jesus.
Freedom from fear in my daily life, freedom from want, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I thought today about how dictators are like cancer.  If you catch cancer early enough, you can remove it, eradicate it with radiation or chemotherapy, and completely extinguish any threat it might make to the entire body.  But if caught too late, it spreads rapidly and overpowers the body to the point of death.

I see these world dictators and powers and regimes------those in Korea, in Vietnam, in the Middle East, in Germany, among other places-----as a cancer.  And I thank GOD to live in a nation that doesn’t wait for the cancer to spread, but instead sends selfless individuals such as you in an attempt to vanquish it. 

Because we live in a nation under God, in a nation that allows HIS truths to be self-evident through the freedom of worship and the preaching of the gospel, we are the most blessed nation in this entire world. 

Truly, BLESSED is the nation whose God is the Lord!

May God richly bless you and have a great Veteran’s Day!

Love and prayers, and many thanks----
The Stotler family J

Monday, October 15, 2012

Worth a repeat :)

I feel like a real columnist----this is a repeat from a few years ago.  But it is the same season, the feelings are the same, and I hope it blesses you today. :)  P.S.  My garden hasn't done this since.
The Mums in the Garden

by Sandra Stotler on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 11:30pm ·

I love the fall.  Just love it.  Love the colorful trees, the crackle of leaves and acorns under my feet, the crisp scent in the air, all my fall Yankee candle scents, apple cider, making pumpkin-themed desserts---just absolutely nothing like it. 

I also like mums.  Mums are strange flowers.  You can purchase them at the discount store in the fall for about three bucks--they are just bursting with color, one continuous ball of autumn hue.  Mums are pretty much impossible to ignore in the fall, when they peak:  in an otherwise bleak landscape, they are the only color visible, just bursting with blooms, their leaves barely visible.

They are visible in the spring and summer too, but for a different reason.  Last year I planted said bargain mums, because the only thing better than bargain mums is having them again next year for F-R-E-E.  Well don't you know, the mums were practically the first plants that sprouted.  What promise!  Taller than any of my flowers that would be blooming much, much earlier.  I just couldn't wait to see those mums!

But soon my spring flowers sprouted and bloomed.  This made my mums stick out like a tall, gangly teenager in 6th grade; all the height, but the maturity of a typical 12-year-old.  My mums looked, well, awkward, and were somewhat embarrassing.  I mean, the healthiest plants in the flower garden---tall and very noticable---and yet not one bloom in sight!  I sometimes wished I would have planted them elsewhere.  Not right in the front of the house---I could have used that premium earth for petunias or begonias, or perhaps delicate daisies!  But nonetheless here they were--and all I could do was wait. 

Irises came and went, and the black-eyed susan's too.  And then, just last week as the other flowers were dying---I got my first mum blossom!  Popping out everyday, new ones; a striking electric yellow, a yellow that can't help but be stared at.  In fact as I pull in my driveway I stop for a bit sometimes and just admire them from the street, because I can quite easily see them from there. 

I have been blessed by God above with a "mum" of my own.  I would not trade raising a special-needs child for all the riches in the world.  I would not wave a magic wand and cure him for fear of losing who he is.  My Lord promised me that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28) One night on my knees I humbly and tearfully begged God for a child to raise for Him.  Not one to love me back, or to give me some sense of purpose or to fufill some childhood fairytale involving Prince Charming---but for a child that would honor God and bring Him glory.  And I received a mum.

Now I questioned my mum, albeit briefly, which to be quite honest is out of character for this bastian of self-righteousness.  In my arrogance I thought that "bringing God honor and glory" meant becoming a preacher, or a great deacon, or a missionary to carry the gospel to other nations.  But the Potter has been using my precious mum to bring Him glory all the time. 

Having a mum has forced this self-reliant, sinner saved by grace, to TRULY rely on Jesus.  To cry out to Him in moments of dispair in search of comfort where there is otherwise none, and to diligently seek the face of GOD in search of wisdom regarding decisions.  It has caused both of his parents to be abased in our lifestyles, to re-evaluate what is important, to be compelled to submit ourselves to what SHOULD be done in our household anyway.  Having a mum has given us both soul-felt, tear-producing compassion for parents of sick or disabled children.  The pot cannot fashion itself.  The Potter uses trials to mold the pot into the shape that He desires.  And having a mum has shaped me into someone I would certainly not otherwise be. 

This story is not over.  My precious, sweet awkward mum is still growing.  And God blesses me everyday with the opportunity to be here, to watch it all unfold, while faithfully, and abundantly, blessing us with comfort, peace and joy in the soul-- and absolute delight in our remarkable son.  One day he will bloom on his own, in his timing---and I have no question that he will be a bright hue of joy in an otherwise "typical" landscape.  Others see the spring mum---but through eyes of faith, and with the comfort of the Holy Spirit deep in my soul, I see the blooms already.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Children Should Be Seen. . . Because You Never Know What They Might Be Up To

 Amusing grace it IS, after all!                        
Last week Jason and I had a dear sister from church over at our home.  We talked for a while and then we had prayer together, asking God to intervene in a grave situation in this sister’s life.  There we were, all three of us hunkered down on the leather couch, begging God for help as best as we could.

Yep.  All three adults.  Which means that there were exactly NO ADULTS present, truly, to supervise my children. 

I am the proud mother of four beautiful, crazy kids.  They are all under the age of 8.  At one time I had 3 in diapers.  That’s like triplets, but more frustrating:  if you do the quick math you will soon realize that at least one of the kids should probably have been potty trained by then.  People are always so kind to bring that sort of thing to your attention, too.  And inevitably some sweet person at the grocery store will ask you if they are all triplets, even though one is a newborn and the other one can read (true story).  But I digress.

I don’t know if they are more inventive or wild than any other group of kids that age.  But they seem to be to me.  It feels as though I am always in discipline mode.  You know that part of the Bible where it talks of Saul (in his pre-Paul days) “breathing out threatenings and slaughter” against the early church?  I feel like I do that some Sundays, when I debrief the troops after a particularly active session in the pew.  I can be pretty militant in the pew, expecting my charges to sit at attention without complaint or movement, or potty breaks or snacks, and limited eye blinks, in a Missionary Baptist church service.  I just do.

If it were possible, I would patent my Snap of Death----which is a loud, cracking snap of my fingers.  I have to snap my fingers because I usually can’t remember the name of the child I am snapping at.  They think it is just because I can’t shout their name in church-----oh nononono.  Like so many moms before me, I have been driven to the very edge of my sanity and can no longer speak readily the name of the child I am addressing at the moment.  The Snap of Death seems to resonate with children everywhere.  Most all of them in our small congregation turn to look at what is about to happen next when they hear it.  I have even seen the adults shiver. 

You see, I have first-born syndrome.  FBS can typically be characterized as “not seeing the forest, because the bark of this one tree here is starting to peel off and it needs to be addressed YESTERDAY”. To say that people with FBS expect perfection in the most unlikely of places is a complete understatement.  And not only do I have FBS----but I MARRIED someone with FBS.  So where I could be permissive, say, in letting the kids wear shorts to business meeting----my FBS hubby picks up the slack.  And vice-versa. 

So on this particular evening I learned a lesson.  I don’t know how much it will help me to loosen up in the long-term, because I still have an “inner child” with FBS.  But I suppose every little bit helps.

We are in earnest prayer on the couch, and I vaguely begin to notice someone touching my forehead.  It is sort of like that frog in the boiling pot analogy.  Gradually I become more and more aware of something on the left corner of my forehead.  I am really, really praying now, so don’t be taken aback by my lack of awareness. 

THEN I feel a towel, brushing ever so gently (NOT) against this same forehead locale, much like 100 grit sand paper.  And I begin to smell minty-freshness.  Kind of like. . . .


With a holding capacity that would make Rave Number 4 jealous, I reach up and examine the amazing powers of toothpaste on my hair.  And then I get tickled.  Because what else can I do?

Do I jump off the couch and scream at my kids, after giving them the Snap of Death in my flustered state? I don’t even know who DID it!  Did they truly think that I would not notice that the whitening power of Crest Pro Health left me looking like Bonnie Raitt? 

And better still----do they see me pouring my heart out to the Lord, and in a moment of startling hypocrisy lash out at them for a mistake? 


Why is it so hard for me to show mercy to my kids?  I sometimes feel like the servant who was forgiven much, but couldn’t forgive in little.  Not to mention that the Lord can’t fellowship with you when you have anger in your heart.  Even if that anger is about one of your kids! 

Just as I am over the giggles that were brought on by the visual of me hugging said sister post-prayer, and she smelling my minty self and seeing the terrific height of my bangs, my sweet, delicate daughter climbs on me, lays on my back and lets off a vile noise that is usually reserved for patrons of Mexican restaurants.

And that about put me clear over the edge of silliness. 

Because EVERYONE heard it.  Maybe even the neighbors.   Hardwood floors, echo, reverberation.  “Goodness gracious, Harriet!  Batten down the hatches!!”

Um. . . .prayer was over for me.  What a perfect metaphor for my life in crazy motherhood!

He doesn’t expect my kids to be in line all the time.  My main job is to please Him.  If I would just concentrate more on that, I would have more joy, peace---and yes, longsuffering for my kiddos.  And they would see their mama and daddy loving a sister in Christ, and confessing through their actions that even though they don’t have all the answers, that even their big, strong, mama and daddy KNOWS that they can go to Jesus for help.  I thought my dad was the strongest, toughest, smartest, biggest, and most invincible man in the whole universe.  I bet you thought the same about your dad. 

For kids to see that big tough daddy (or mama) cry out to God SPEAKS VOLUMES to a little child. 

Lord, please help me to concentrate on You.  To not forsake prayer and study for laundry and diapers, but to realize that getting in touch with you daily is more important than the air I breathe.

Love to all my fellow Christian mamas today!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lessons from the Garden

Post-revival recovery, (n.):  The week after a week- long revival.  It differs from a typical week in that, albeit with a joyous spirit and an extra spring in the step, muscles relax from wrestling children in the pews every evening, one must go to 3 stores to replenish all groceries, and you are doing 2 weeks’ worth of laundry instead of 1. Much of which needs ironed.

Oh, but SOOOOO well worth each and every effort!  Sure did have a great time in the Lord last week!

So I start an “Amusing Grace” blog, and I have nothing amusing on the first post.  Guess what?  Nothing amusing today either!  It is just that when I learn something from the Lord, it is so much more exciting to me than my crazy existence.

Today I am thankful that the Holy Spirit is my teacher.  When Jesus was preparing His disciples for His departure in what I call the “Jesus Loves Me” part of the scriptures----John 14 thru 16------ He told them in John 14:26:

               But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name,

                he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever

               I have said unto you.”

Sometimes Jesus taught his disciples in very dramatic ways (i.e., walking on water, feeding the 5,000).  Other times it was through the mundane, ordinary details of life----like in sowing or fishing.  Which are no less miraculous----it is just that we have grown so accustomed to them that we oftentimes fail to see the very hand of God that designed it ALL to work in harmony and to be reflective of Him.  The creation, a Godly marriage, true church unity----these are all facets of life where there should be trouble and strife due to the complex nature of the elements in each.  But to me it is as though God designed them all to be intricate and complicated, so that when something so diverse can come together with such a magnificent harmony, it can only point to a majestic God who made it so.

And so I was tending to my garden (don’t I just sound like Laura Ingalls?), enjoying a lesson from the Lord.  I will do my very best to paint in words the picture laid before me.   

If you know me at all you have probably realized, either through observation or my confessions, that I am not the world’s most self-disciplined person.  If you, say, wanted to clean out your garage that is filled with junk, I am your cheerleader.  I’m coming over and making sloppy joes, and I would figure out how to turn your broken tire iron into valuable scrap metal, and which scrap yard you should take it to.  I would help you clean the first day and tell you how fantastic said garage will be one day.  You would be able to see the Garage Mahal in your mind’s eye----clean, painted, and organized in that expensive TLC way.  I’m your girl for motivation, and I really sincerely mean what I say. 

But on day 3, when it is hot and you are left with a stack of papers to painstakingly sort through----this cheerleader has LEFT THE BUILDING.  Exit, stage right.

My dear husband always tells me this quote by some famous dead guy, “Every success has a beginning, a struggle, and a victory.”  In this Oreo, I don’t want the cream of struggle.

You cannot garden this way.  Trust me.  I have several years of hopes and dreams that shoot up like a rocket into the sky, only to come crashing down in a field of weeds and choked out green tomatoes.  But this year is different.  God has allowed me to truly realize the benefit of a principled, self-disciplined existence. And though I am taking baby steps, I am moving forward.

Back to my lesson.

Our Christian walk is like a garden.  And the Christian life, to bear the most fruit, requires daily care and labor.  When the plants first go in the soil it is an exciting time filled with promise and expectation of a great harvest.  And that is true, if the garden is tended to, laboriously and without fanfare, in the day to day duties of June and July. Not too many people applaud the weeding and watering.  But you will “reap in due time, if ye faint not.” The weeds come up quietly and slowly at first, and then if left alone will encroach all over the ground, and shoot up past the plants until the true plants are so covered that the light can barely get in and the water just touches the root enough to keep the plant alive.  The fruits of those plants are scarce, small, and usually diseased.  Fruit, yes-----but just enough is produced to discern the plant from the many weeds around it.  The plant is almost completely camouflaged in a sea of tares.

If you are going to pull the weeds at this point, you must know what a weed is and what a plant is.  And the weeding will be very, very, very difficult.  You will work long hard hours in the hot sun tearing out each weed by your own hand.  Simultaneously, you must be watering the plants several times a day to promote their growth.  And in the end, your efforts will reap a harvest.

Sister, are you studied enough to know what the weeds are (the works of the flesh, Galatians 5) in your life? Have you been in contact with the Lord and asked Him to show you the weeds? Can you get into the Light in prayer, or are you too covered up by the dark shadows of the tares?  Are you willing to pluck those distractions, sins, and sometimes even relationships (“evil communications corrupt good manners”) in your life out by your own hand, because you would rather produce fruit for the Master than to be camouflaged by the world?  The rototiller of the spiritual garden is repentance. The light is Truth.  And the water is the fellowship of the Lord.

Are you tapping into your supply of living water, through prayer and meditation, on a daily basis? 

When you do these things, you will begin to produce fruits. . . fruits of the Spirit.  And you will GLADLY trade willy-nilly, haphazard spontaneity, and your right to do things the way that you want to do them, for a disciplined, principled life in Him. 

Because there is NO thing in this world that can ever satisfy like Jesus. And anyone who has ever truly been saved by God’s grace can attest to that.

Lord, show me the weeds in my life.  Give me courage and strength to remove them, to trust in you, and to serve you in the mundane.  I want to be a fruitful vine in your vineyard, bearing fruits of Your Spirit and the peaceable fruits of righteousness.

Have a wonderful week!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Suffer the little children

Do you have any young people in your life? If you do, I truly wish that you would take some time out of your busy life and read this.


Children are an absolute blessing from God.

But children can be trying.  They make noise, they make messes, they waste food, and they spill the stickiest of red Kool-Aid on your newly mopped floor. They color themselves from head to toe in blue dry-erase marker while you are on the phone making an appointment to have the ink pen removed from your leather couches.  They make an insane amount of mistakes.  They can’t complete a task, they are far too loud in church, and they have poor personal hygiene.

But if you are an adult, with children swirling about you in any capacity, take note:  These happy, loud, seemingly simple and thoughtless little people have many thoughts going on between the ears.  And they have even more going on in the heart.

Do you really see them?  Not the noise or the mess----do you see THEM?

There are many, many young people I know that carry burdens that I have never had to carry.  They are in unchartered territory without the benefit of someone to guide them through the murky, tempestuous waters of a life they can’t control.  They are desperately seeking a harbor of refuge, a place to rest awhile before they must once again sail on the stormy sea.  In most cases they are bearing out the effects of the sins of those who are commanded to love them, through the pain of abuse or the confusion of living in a broken home. Sometimes they are afflicted through the ridiculously shallow standards which society and the media use to determine if you are “somebody”.

Do you really see them?

They are real.  They are authentic people, with acutely real problems. 

And children, by their very nature, are not good problem solvers.  They aren’t supposed to be.  To proficiently problem solve requires experience and wisdom, two attributes that eclipse child development.  A child can’t assess a situation and measure its significance as it relates to the rest of his life, accurately.    A child can’t see things as they truly are and as a result do not place the blame of their hurts where it should rightly be. They are taught in school that they are not the result of a Creator that fashioned them in His image, out of His love, but that they sprang up from a primordial ooze with no purpose but to serve self.  They are appropriately self-centered, and so whatever problems they are subjected to must be because they are wrong/bad/ugly/too fat/too short/not athletic/not smart/not good enough/unlovable.   

If you are a child of God and know Him through His salvation, you have a DUTY to speak truth.  You have a DUTY to see a child as a person created for a purpose.  You have a responsibility to treat that child with all the respect that your heavenly Father treats you with.  You have a duty to be a safe harbor.

Have you ever once cried out to Jesus and found Him to be too busy for you?  Has He ever tried to distract you with His blessings so that you would leave Him alone?  Have you ever repented to Him of your sins and found Him to be annoyed that you failed, again?  Has He ever marginalized you because of your poor behavior?  Has He ever, ever withheld His sweet comfort when you have desperately pleaded with Him for it?

The children in our lives need caring ears and soft hearts to listen to them and to love them just for who they are.  They need to see that love, Godly true love, seeks not her own, but is patient and kind and longsuffering.  They need someone to be a voice of truth when they are surrounded by the lies of Satan. 

These children have a warped sense of “love”.  They are taught by example that “love” is self-preserving and self-serving.  That “love” is selfish, impulsive, doesn’t keep its word, and is conditionally given only to those who deserve it. 

Jesus loved children (He still does!).  The Savior of mankind came to earth on a mission to glorify His father and to make Himself a perfect sacrifice for all of mankind.  And in the midst of healing the sick, raising the dead, and walking in perfection-----He made time for children.  The scriptural account doesn’t show Him disciplining them or rebuking them.  It simply shows Him being with them.  Is there a greater gift that a child could receive, than a heart full of love and an ear ready to listen? 

Christian, be the arms and feet of the Savior.  Allow God to touch your heart concerning the needs of the hurting children in your midst.  Reach out to them, take an interest in them, and pour their needs out before the Almighty God of heaven, that He might intervene in their circumstances.  They are starving for the sweet fruit of the Spirit in their lives, and you possess an abundant orchard full of goodies that you can access for them.

I am going to end this post with a poem I stumbled upon many years ago that I can finally read without crying (sometimes), mostly because of my familiarity of the prose:

We pray for children
  who put chocolate fingers everywhere
  who like to be tickled
  who stomp in puddles and ruin their new pants
  who sneak popsicles before supper
  who erase holes in math workbooks
  who can never find their shoes

And we pray for those
  who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire
  who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers
  who never "counted potatoes"
  who are born in places we wouldn't be caught dead
  who never go to the circus
  who live in an x-rated world

We pray for children
  who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions
  who sleep with the dog and bury goldfish
  who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money
  who cover themselves with band-aids and sing off key
  who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink
  who slurp their soup

And we pray for those
  who never get dessert
  who have no safe blanket to drag behind them
  who watch their parents watch them die
  who can't find any bread to steal
  who don't have any rooms to clean up
  whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser
 whose monsters are real

We pray for children
  who spend their allowance before Tuesday
  who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food
  who like ghost stories
  who shove dirty clothes under the bed and never rinse out the tub
  who get visits from the tooth fairy
  who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool
  who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone
  whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry

And we pray for those
  whose nightmares come in the daytime
  who will eat anything
  who have never seen a dentist
  who aren't spoiled by anybody
  who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep
  who live and breathe but have no being

We pray for children who want to be carried and for those who must
  for those we never give up on
  and for those who don't have a second chance

For those we smother... and for those who will grab the hand of
 anybody kind enough to offer it.
Ina J. Hughes

Lord, please help me to see through Your eyes, and love with Your heart, and care for the least of these in your kingdom.

May God bless you on this fine day. J