A Mantle of Kindness

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Childhood memories are precious relics that I guard on dusty shelves in the deep recesses of my heart. When I have time to visit this library, I pull out books written by the lives of my grandmothers. As I turn the pages, their work-worn hands come into focus and tell the story of kind deeds.

The oldest woman in our family was my great-grandmother, Martha. When I was very young, my mother would often take me to our family’s Kentucky farm to visit. Great-Grandma was a small, round lady who let her hands, not her tongue, do her talking. In the kitchen her hands were like a conductor, waving around bread dough, mixing cornmeal batter, turning chicken in sizzling oil, and swirling gooey frosting on moist cakes. Never upset by anything out of the daily routine, she was accustomed to hearing her husband call out to a passerby or two.

Have you eaten dinner? Well come on in and join us—tie up your horse here–Marthie’s setting dinner on the table!

When the missionaries arrived, Grandma’s hands supplied them bedding and linens she had sewn with her skillful fingers. Every quilt and pillowcase was embroidered with love as she sat by the fire of an evening, peacefully rocking in her favorite chair. She and Shelby even sacrificed their own bed to those missionaries for months on end, putting their own comfort last–and they did it with humility and joy. Everyone who knew her hailed her as a saint, and rightly so.

The end of her life had a stunning conclusion when she came to herself, after having suffered a stroke at the age of 89. She sat straight up in bed after weeks of semi-consciousness, reaching out her arms to the unseen and pleaded,

I want my crown. Give me my crown!  

Then she fell back onto her pillows, asleep in the arms of Jesus.

Martha’s gracious spirit was next passed down to her daughter, Ethel, whose kindness welcomed strangers to her table and never turned away anyone hungry. Ethel was just like her parents regarding hospitality. My grandparents’ home, often nicknamed the Johnson Hotel, was permanently welcome to family and friends traveling through Cincinnati. In spite of the hard times of the 1930’s, there was always plenty of food on the table and warm beds for guests.

During the Depression, her compassion would lead her to take pork sandwiches and a cups of coffee to jobless men, hungry and discouraged, who knocked at her door. The look of desperate gratitude from their eyes into her sympathizing ones was their sole exchange. Even stray animals seemed to sense that scratching at her door would bring them a meat bone or a pan of milk.

Her last act on this earth was to minister kindness to others. Feeling sorry for a lone neighbor across the road, she decided to bake him a cake and personally deliver it. It was on the walk back home that her heart gave out, and she died a few days later in a hospital.

I remember traveling to that red brick hospital for that final visit. Her face shone with a heavenly glow as her spirit was ready to fly away. I can still see her hands reach out to touch the face of my mother as she bent over the hospital bed. A touch of love passed on that mantle of kindness.

Although these two women now live only in memory, their linens, tablecloths and quilts they made years ago have been passed on to me. Holding them is like taking hold of their hands again. Even now as I sleep under the quilt that my grandmother finished for me just before her death, I feel wrapped in that mantle of kindness passed down through the generations.

She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor. And she stretches out her hands to the needy. (Proverbs 31:19-20) NAS

 

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Is Heaven For Real?

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I recently saw the movie, Heaven is For Real.

The curious thing to me is that the parents of Colton Burpo, who  are Christian pastors, had such a hard time coming to terms with their personal belief in heaven as a real, actual place.

What convinced them? It wasn’t necessarily Colton’s vision of his dad yelling at God in another room while Colton was in surgery.  It wasn’t even the description of a blue-eyed Jesus with those marks on his hands and feet. Neither was it the beautiful flowers and colors that are indescribable in human language. For Todd, the deciding proof for his belief lay more in Colton’s seeing Todd’s father, who had passed away years before. The most surprising element was that Colton saw a young adult version of his grandfather in heaven, not the elderly man he had become before his death. How could the four-year-old have recognized the wedding day picture of that young man, some fifty years ago, as the same man who had introduced himself to Colton in heaven?

Colton’s mother, Sonja, was even more disbelieving of the story, until Colton revealed that he had met his sister there. The little girl had no name, and she told Colton that she had died in her mother’s tummy. Perhaps other details of his eyewitness of heaven could be explained away, but it was impossible that Colton could have known these facts. Her disbelief dissolved in a pool of tears.

What do you think? Is heaven for real? Do we just accept these eyewitness accounts with blind faith? Although the Burpo family struggled to believe their son’s spiritual experience, my family has its own stories to tell.

My mother’s side of the family is a strong Christian clan who periodically has experienced the supernatural, especially at the time of death. My great-grandmother was a true saint during her lifetime, in which she spent ministering to her family, friends, and missionaries. She actually sat up and reached out her arms to the invisible right before she escaped from this life and entered eternity, pleading, Give me my crown! I want my crown!

What did she see? An angel that came to carry her away to heaven, showing her her waiting reward? Jesus Himself? We can only speculate, but I do believe that the curtain into the spiritual dimension was pulled back, allowing us to witness and to believe.

My grandfather also had a supernatural experience just hours before his departure into eternity. Lying in his hospital bed, he suddenly pointed and calmly said, “What was that–over in the corner? A star fell over there.”

I do know that this man, who had always been terrified of dying, was totally at peace and unafraid when it was his time to depart. Was that his angel who had come to escort him through the heavens and into God’s kingdom? He died shortly after seeing his falling star.

Are you convinced? Whose story would you have to hear to believe heaven is real? Listen to one from Jesus Christ.

Jesus comforted His disciples on the night of the Passover, before his arrest. After the meal was over and Judas had departed to betray Him, Jesus washed the feet of each disciple and spoke to them about what was going to happen. This was His story:

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. –John 14:1-3 NAS 

Jesus also discussed heaven hours later at the crucifixion where He was crucified between two thieves. The one on His right begged Christ to remember him when He came into His kingdom.

And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” –Luke 23: 43 NAS 

God’s Word assures us in these and many other scriptures that heaven is for real.

Do you believe it?

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A Hidden Infection

Today was a hard day, beginning with a second root canal on my front tooth. Only an unplanned dental emergency brought the hidden infection to light, which prevented a future dental tsunami.

It all began with my discovery of the nutritious benefits of raw foods. An entire aisle of raw nutrition at the organic grocery came into focus, and the granola bars almost leapt off the shelf and into my arms. Although I noticed that these treats were rather tough to bite into, I indulged for several delicious days in a row. I suppose it was on the fourth day that I happened to bite into a particularly stubborn bar, and my tooth loosened with the stress.

That is how I wound up in the endodentist’s chair this morning. A small but very old infection had been lurking inside the original root canal, undetected. Had it continued a while longer, the pain, diseased tooth, and the cost to fix it would have been far worse. Such a blessing in disguise!

This experience got me thinking. Is there infection in our spirits that can be lurking there, undetected? How can we know for sure? After all, the Word tells us that we are all sinners, which indicates darkness present on the inside. Romans 3:23 confirms it:

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (NAS)

When we have an accident that causes pain in our souls, do we acknowledge it or just ignore it? Admitting that we have done something wrong is hard to do, because we all feel justified in our own eyes. Pride keeps us in the darkness, but humility brings us into the light.

The question, then, is left at each person’s door. What will you do with the sin in your life?

Left undetected, sin festers and grows, making the spirit sick. As soon as we realize it’s there, we can go to the One who made a way for us to find forgiveness and a fresh start. John 1:9 explains it clearly:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse of all unrighteousness.”(NAS)

I’m so thankful for that rocky-hard granola bar. I’m even more thankful for the bumps in life that make me search my soul. To be saved and set free from sin is what matters the most.