The Gift

tomatoWhat is your motive for giving gifts? Most of the time, aren’t they as pure as glossy white gift bag with crispest of tissue? Celebrations, Christmas, appreciation, sympathy, need, or even the running across a tailor-made gift that is I-can-t-stand-it perfect for someone.

All are given through some kind of sacrifice–finances, time, and dare I say, pride.

Yes, pride. One of the hardest gifts I ever gave was……a tomato plant. A scrawny, green stem with droopy leaves. Stamped on it was a guarantee that the receiver would think I was stark-raving loco.

As I planted my garden, a weird itch began my spirit. The more I pushed the pesky thought away, strong God jabs strongly impressed on me to give Matilda a tomato plant. (I don’t even know a Matilda, but haven’t cleared the story with the gal. But who hasn’t wanted a friend named Matilda?) On any ordinary day, I was sure she thought I hung off the cliff of half-crazy. This would vacuum seal it up in Ball canning jar for sure.

But that’s not all. Not only was I to give it to her, but I was to tell her to watch how it produced fruit.

Excuse me, but that absolutely pegged my nutty meter plum past the zany intro of a Veggie Tales movie. I dug deeper and faster, ignoring the jabs, stabs, almost booming voice in my head.

“Okay, enough! Fine! I will do it!” I threw down my shovel, grabbed the best looking Early Girl I had, and stomped to the house. If I was going to do this, I would use a beautiful planter with a BIG bow slapped on the side. Maybe the beauty of the arrangement would distract from the insanity of the present??? I drove the length of town and circled her house like an FBI agent on a stake out.

Whew! No car! I rummaged for a pen and hastily wrote a note of God-given instruction on the back of a deposit slip, reluctantly signing my name. Next, I did a Carl Lewis sprint to her front door, set it on the step, and skinnied down the street faster than Peter Rabbit at the McGregor Farm.

I waited, but hoped Matilda had secretly skipped town forever, or that a gardening bandit was roaming her neighborhood, snitching bedding plants. Neither of us would be forced to speak of the Great Tomato Incident ever, ever again.

But God had a different plan.

Not often do you get to see the result of a ‘crazy gift,’ but God allowed it this time. The call I got bowled me over. Matilda had been going through a funk and thought no one realized she existed. This surprise had made her day. It hadn’t matter in the least what it was, just that God and someone had teamed up to remember her.

Whew! Mission accomplished, and no looney-bin was in my future. (Because at this point, it was still all about my watermelon-sized ego. ‘Crazy’ had been replaced with ‘Hero of the Day!’)

As the summer progressed and Matilda and I shared many a ball diamond bleacher together, I asked about the plant often. “Oh, it’s doing great! I’ve been fertilizing and watering it everyday.” Then, “it’s sure big and bushy. Lots of flowers, but no fruit. My neighbor told me to beat it, so I did.” Next, “It is not looking so great. I’ve pruned it back some, but it is faltering.” And the list continued of her back flips to get that plant to do its thing through the season.

“Oh great,” I prayed, “She’s going to kill it! All this has been a waste and is only going to discourage her more. It will be all my fault. The plant should be full and overflowing by now. Mine are. How could you set us up like this? ”

As the summer went by, it didn’t die, but no fruit either. On one of our visits, I started to apologize for my part in this charade. She stopped me. “You have no idea how precious the lessons I am learning are. To start, I watched it like a hawk. It wasn’t growing as fast as I thought it should, so I fertilized abundantly. When it did take off, I beat it. When it looked peaked, I replanted it. Then I pruned it, sprayed it with bug killer, and fertilized it again. The more I messed with it and tried to control it, the more it suffered.”

She continued, “God showed me that many of the troubles in my life are due to me not being able to back off. I think I have to finagle and supervise every thing around me. None of my family are bearing fruit because I keep micro-managing everyone. I thank God that he sent this tomato plant.”

She went on to say that coincidentally, the same day of my speedy delivery, her husband brought home her a picture of vines twirling around plump clusters of grapes. It read, “I am the Vine; you are the branches, If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5 We both stood amazed.

Oh, Giver of every good and precious gifts, let us be faithful to team up with you in a not-so crazy capers that only feel ridiculous at the time. May we be forever thankful for prunings that produces a harvest of humility.

Photo credit~mine!

Why Putting Your Mind in the Toilet Can Be Quite Heavenly

“You have to come visit! I want to show you what all little ol’ Lucas, Kansas has to offer.”

My buddy, Michaela, has been cranking my arm through the cell phone waves for over a year to come visit.

And I have honestly meant to, but you know how time just meanders away and no one knows where it went. She’s only three hours away, however I had failed to head north. Eventhough I would be totally entertained by her, a porch swing and a Coca-Cola, she kept throwing out lines of enticement she knew I wouldn’t be able to refuse. She knows me too well. Give me something with a funk-a-delic factor and I’m in.

“So 100 years ago, there was this kind of crazy guy named S.P. Dinsmore, who made cement sculptures covering his yard. Most dealt with the Bible, and he named it the ‘Garden of Eden.’ When I give tours there, my favorite thing to do is shine the flashlight on his face, because after he died he wanted to be on display in his mausoleum in the backyard for all eternity.”

Now, who would turn that down, but she kept on with stories of the town putting in a giant toilet bowl and an art center with pop tab creations, limestone carvings and other grass-root art. My imagining took me to an artsyland, but figured I had a good idea what I was in for. Afterall, I have been out of Barber County a time or two.

I was wrong. My mind was blown on so many levels. Woe to me who is attempting to do Lucas justice!

First on the Michaela Tour was Bowl Plaza. When the 450 resident decided they needed public restrooms, the run-of-the-mill loo simply would not hold a flush. Oh no! They created the builing to look like a giant toilet. A hubcab handle and the mosaic seat left in the upriight postition had to be the mark of a male artist. The picture cuts off the giant roll of tp next to it.

bowl plaza

Coming inside, a whole world of gender appropriate mosaics summoned us in. Michaela kept pointing out embedded super-hero action figures, sports memorabilia and Avon bottle guns. She swept her arm across the pristine throne and said, “To get the full effect, you need to sit here.” I assured her that I was fine. My mind just needed to adjust, trying to drink in the barage of really uniqueness flying at me. Someone had thought outside the tank to create this. Here’s one of the unusual displays.

Cars
A swirl of Hot Wheels. How cool!

Check out the ladies room. Love the tea cups. We could have a languished in there, entertained without so much as an Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader.
gal room

Across the neighboring lot was a giant collection of forks stuck in the ground. To me, they were just funky forks, but my eyes were opened to them being a croquet wickets. Hit me in the head with a mallet, because I sure didn’t see that coming.

At the Grass Roots Art Center, I learned that to be considered a ‘grass roots artist’ you can have no professional training, but a passion that compels you to go with the colors streaming through your head and create no-holds-barred. You might make an Abe Lincoln out of used chewing gum, carve or weld anything and everything in arms reach or recycle those pop tabs to make this~
pop tab car

Or what about all those cow skulls cluttering up your pasture? Tell me this isn’t every boy’s dream?
cow skull car

And for the girls, check out the Re-Barbs. And plenty to choose from. A seven room house is filled with these remade garage sale cast-offs.
Pilar 1

And for the Barbie collector/hunter/music lover~
Rebarb antlers

A new project of the town is combing the state to find rocks to replace ones lost and restore a whole village of these buildings. And not just any rocks, but specific ones. (On Facebook, go to Miller’s Park to see if you can help their quest.) This one came to about my hip in height.
Rock house

The beauty of the town is this: eventhough the little 1920’s meat market has the scrumptious homemade smoked sausages and the familiar meaty smell from my youth to draw me back, and although, I stared boldly in at Mr. S.P. Dinsmore’s stiff ol’ corpse, there is still a treasure trove of attractions we didn’t get to. Like the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Things, an impressive snowglobe collection, and maybe even a ride in the jeep with dinosaurs glued to it and spring horses bouncing in the back–dare I dream that big?

Michaela asked me what I was going to do when I got home; she knew my brain was buzzing. I said, “Make a big ol’ mess with whatever crosses my path.” Lucas has succeeded in making my mind go places I could never have imagined. These pictures and my explanations are nothing, absolutely nothing compared to what lays waiting for those willing to wander down the very alive town.

I couldn’t help but remember how that beloved disciple John agonized over, not only giving the revelation given to him, but how could he write to give it justice deserved when never-before-seen colors flowing in front of him? Or what about the gates, each made of one giant pearl? Or the street of pure gold, that was transparent like glass? Or what about the blazing glory of God so bright that there was no night? Oh, to continually be in the Lord’s presence! How does one describe it? (Read Revelation 21-22 for a out-of-this-world refresher course)

While Lucas, KS isn’t heaven, by all means, it certainly opens a door of possibility to imagine what mind-blowing things the Lord is preparing for us. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” 2 Cor 2:9

Gazing Back Over This Thief’s Footprints

How insignificant our daily footsteps seem as we plod through the ordinary. If we only had a clue to how orchestrated they truly are. Join me as I gape in awe at some of our recent ones.
*A shopping trip to Mega LumberLand with detailed list and full intentions of buying bathroom remodeling supplies that fell paint-roller flat for no particular reason. Hence, we left with confused expressions and not so much as a paint brush.
* A compulsion propelled me to excavate the mysterious treasure trove of Mom’s cedar chest. This led to organizing the pictures inside-which overflowed to labeling and sorting all of our own family photos-which led to me vowing to go through every scrap of paper in our office-which led to ‘why don’t we just paint the walls,’ which led to engulfing mass chaos inhabiting three main rooms in our house.
*After writing Mom’s eulogy, I put the papers in a padded folder to try to look muy professional, on a day I felt anything but that.

So why are these random actions significant? If we gone into our crazed inspiration mode, where nothing in our path is sacred in our remodeling path, when Mom died, we would have been down to one bathroom.

And no shower.

For eight people to navigate for four days. Not that it couldn’t have been done, but so we were blessed that we didn’t have to.

And despite the office project insanity, all of Mom’s pictures and special items from her past were pre-laid out for us like a memorablia fan. What great memories they triggered to pass on and made her tribute sparkle.

The padded folder. After giving the eulogy, I scooped all the papers off the lectern that I had gently laid aside as I had read through them. Whew! I was so relieved that I hadn’t blubbered, passed out, or fell off my heels. Now I could just sit down and be in the role of just being the grieving daughter. Once I plopped in the pew beside my husband, the pastor began the sermon, starting with: “I had planned to do a twenty- minute sermon, but it seems that Kelly stole my notes.” The place erupted.

I whispered to Cliff, “Do you think I should I take them to him?”

“Well, yes!” he answered incredulously, as my father-in-law flashed a proud fist-pump for my slick thievery.

I frantically retrieved the papers and tiptoed them up the center stage steps, as if no one could see me. I handed them sheepishly to Pastor Dale. Later, he wove the incident in as a perfect illustration for a point he was trying to make. It was like he had seen it coming, it was crafted in so masterfully.

Besides my mom would have thought this episode was hilarious!

In awe, I sat, as he continued to read on. Psalm 121 was one he plucked out of the blue. There was no way he knew it was one of the very last pieces of scripture I read her. And why did I pick that one? I had no idea it was one of her most loved passages–until I read through some of her bible study workbooks a few days after the all the funeral dust had settled.

So all these incidents got me to pondering: If God shows himself at time a time when our feelers are up and tuned as a result of a desperate need to see His hand in the situation, how often does He ordain our oblivious daily steps? Don’t we need to see him as much in the hum-drum? Do we need to slow down and be intentional about watching for what He is choreographing around us? Or do we just allow His orchestrated notes be stealthily whisked away by thieves such as the time-crunch and busyness gods, chasing the stupid, or just flat being weary of life’s harshness?

Well, I’ve decided to steal God’s notes from Psalm 40:4, for I’m certain He’ll smile and flash a fist-pump when He hears me pray: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, O’Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you have planned for us no one could recount to you; were I to speak and tell them, they would be too many to declare.” Yes, Lord, open my eyes, because I don’t want to miss a thing! Amen.

“Sparklers” ~My Mama’s One and Only Twinkling Post

a>My mom pic />For the first time, I am opening my blog to my mother, Myrlee Moore. She went to be with the Lord on Thursday and having sparklers at her graveside with this reading she authored was her request. Since South Central Kansas is in a burn ban, our family struggled with the risk of setting the cemetary on fire and solicited my father-in-law that he may be responsible for the family’s bail money. Instead, pictures were taken, and the reading will appear in the Protection Press newspaper this week. Yes, her sparkle will continue to flicker on.

When I was a kid, my favorite 4th of July fireworks were the sparklers. I liked the fountains, roman candles, not so much the firecrackers, but give me a box of sparklers, and all was right with the world.
After a trip to town for fireworks, the anticipation of lighting the first sparkler was almost too much for a little girl to endure. Now, you can light them in the daylight, but the magic and enchantment isn’t there like in the dark. Sometimes you got one that just burned and sparkled endlessly, while you ran and danced through the dark. And there seemed to always be one in every box that started out with promise, but never quite took off and fizzled out. But it did its best. And you try another one. If later you went back and tried again the fizzler would ignite and sparkle after all—not as strong, but doing its best, because you didn’t give up on it.
Our lives are a lot like sparklers. The good times we are there sparkling away, but not nearly as evident as the dark times. Our sparkle changes and encourages and lights the way for others. Yes, we have those who start out with great promise, but for whatever reason they fizzled out quickly. But remember they did their best and maybe their time was not yet to be a great sparkler. Don’t give up on them.
After the sparkler has slowly faded away, the smoke drifts away on the breeze, you’re left with a burned up wire, but in your heart and mind you still see the magic and the light of the sparkler.
This is why when I’m gone I want sparklers at my graveside service. I want a celebration of good times and of all the people who have been strong sparklers throughout my life. My body will be like the burned up wire, my soul the smoke drifting to heaven, but always remember the sparkle of life we each have and keep sparkling, dear ones. Keep sparkling. You never know how much light you’re giving to others in the dark.
I am so blessed by the Lord for my huge box of Super Sparklers! My loving and supportive family, my old friends from childhood, who went out of their way to call, write, visit, and my caring church family, who came through with food, prayers, calls, monetary contributions, driving or just listening. Scripture tells us to let our light shine, and you are! I love and appreciate every one of you. Keep up the sparkle. You are the greatest and I hope I’ll be remembered by putting a little sparkle in your lives in return. I thank God for the special experience with Him and all of you.

Myrlee Ann Moore September 29, 1940-January 31, 2013

The First Christmas Eve Service and Why the Kitchen Ladies Were Sore Afraid.

In those days, Nixon was President, hair was ratted and lacquered to the heavens, and anti-bacterial products had never occurred to anyone. (Had not man just walking on the moon? Seriously, how much more could society realistically progress?) A pastor in a little red brick church decided to offer a Christmas Eve communion service.
And since this was an unprecedented event, worries abounded. ‘But so many will be out-of-town’ was one argument. Another pointed out the colds, flu, and the I-Think-I’m-Gonna-Die-So-I’ll-Plan-My-Funeral-on-the-Cold-Bathroom-Tile stomach viruses were wreaking havoc in the small town. ‘Is it really going to be worth the effort?’
Still, the pastor was compelled to try, if only for those few faithful that tend to show up whenever the doors are open.
A decree went out over the land, inviting all to worship on this glorious night of nights.
And lo, the pastor was amazed. For unto him a packed house lay before his eyes, one he could have never have imagined. Even faces looked down from the hardly used balcony. Hymns were sung, scripture read, and the Spirit danced among the open-hearts. Yes, the glory of the Lord shone all around them.
Up from the basement the kitchen ladies proclaimed, ‘There are not enough communion cups!’
‘Refill them.’
‘But we don’t have time to wash them!’
‘Refill them, anyway.’
‘But the flu…”
‘Refill them and let God handle it.’
And they were sore afraid.
Now, I don’t know if their hearts were as willing as Mary’s when she said, ‘let it be as you say.’ It’s highly doubtful, but they did as the pastor requested.
Communion was served, and the worship was a precious aroma filtering unto God in the glow of candlelight reflected in the reverent faces.
As time passed, talk circulated amongst the congregation, I’m sure generated by the curious, yet, concerned kitchen staff. ‘Did anyone at your house get sick after the service?’ and ‘You know I wasn’t feeling real great, but went the service anyway. Now I feel great.’ Eventually, after the census had been taken, not a report came back of illness. Yes, the Savior who had turned water into wine had covered a multitude of sins and highly infectious germs, making the tainted vessels pure as if washed in bleach water. Once again he had shown himself to those who were faithful to seek him.
Let us be like Magi, who said, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)

From our house to yours, may you have a very Merry Christmas as you welcome the Savior, Healer, Friend, Redeemer, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace……

Cliff and Kelly Long, Casey, Misty, Cole
Karsten, Robin, and Bren Burns

Cruising With Jesus and Why My Dad Would Have Scobbed My Knob

NativityDear Dad,

Confession time.  The only reason I’m doing this 34 years later is you are hampered by a broken neck, and I have a slight chance of out running you for once.

One of the reasons I am such a rule follower is I knew better than to tangle with you.  Due to the Great-Hang-Up-Your-Towel-Young-Lady-Incident-of-1964, you got your point across.  Nor, having my milk and cookies taken away in kindergarten, because Romy talked me into doing a big flairing ‘Amen’ to the God is Great prayer, I wasn’t to mess with God either.  I behaved in high school, and hid in the bushes at a Senior Party because I knew, I knew, I knew you’d find out and the crime would not be worth the fall-out.  I was the kid that always said, “But, we’ll get in trouble…”

To this day, I can’t remember whose idea it was, or even who all conspired in the plot.  Weird, since I have an uncanny memory of bygone days, but can’t remember where my cell phone is at this moment. Maybe it was due to the blinding flood of adrenaline of the most scandalous and adventurous thing we could cook up in my sleepy hometown of 706 folk.

We took Jesus cruising.

You know the one out of the Methodist Church nativity scene?  The really, really white one with the brown plastic curl on the top of his head?  But, we had good reason!

“He looked cold and bored,” and “Mary probably needs a break,” we rationalized.  Yes, we were ultra creative to be the first ones attempting this and sure no law against Jesus nappingon the books, still, in Protection, Kansas, this was destined to be a capital offense.

But, we were not the best criminals, for we could not keep Him to ourselves.  Oh no!  Someone found a flashlight, and as we dragged Broadway, He glowed his light that whole mile down and back to oncoming motorists.

And, Dad, it was worth it!

Yes, I know our motives were not pure, but I assure you we were reverent. How could we not be? We were riding up close and personal with the Holy—even in plastic form. Yes, there was something special that noordinary doll could replicate. We cradled and rocked him, afterwards tenderly laying Him back in the manger. Make no mistake; it was a defining event.

And we never did it again.

(Rest assured, being a student of your parenting, if I had caught wind that my little pagans had done something like this, I would have scobbed their knobs, too!  Can you imagine the buzz of coffee crowd at Don’s Café, if we’d gotten caught?)

Yep, that’s it.  I hope that new pacemaker handled the shock okay—maybe more so that I truly was a pretty good kid, if this is a big confession for me.

What amazes me about that crazy caper is God used it to do a little parenting of his own. He taught me that my purpose is not to keep Jesus in the manger. He doesn’t belong there anymore. Can you find a bible story where he scrunched back in it?  Me, either.

Through the years, unexpected reactions concerning Jesus have consistently landed in my lap, whether through truth I’ve shared on radio, in the everyday, and even on some of these blogposts.  And every day, opposition heats up even more.  Lately, I can’t believe the snarky comments because of my Star of David and the Cross necklace. Really.

But with each remark God tenderly opens a door for that person, even if it’s only a crack, so Christ’s light can burst through the angry darkness.

Dad, thanks for teaching me to be a rule-follower, but even more so, that Christ is worth the risk of getting into what the world sees as trouble, so someone else doesn’t miss out on this wonderful and eternal gift He freely gave.

To him, we were worth the cost.

Love ya, Dad~Kel

(My goodness, there are so many great verses I could use with this post.  Here is one of a whole Bible full!)

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Cor 15:58.

Am I Really Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Am I really smarter than a 5th grader?

Lately, I’ve had reason to wonder.  But, not only wonder, but ponder, lament, worry, and any anxious words with the power for me to wallow in my bedcovers.  On many occasion,  I’ve watched Jeff Foxworthy prompt some  Noble Prize worthy contestant to humbly stare into the camera of Jeff’s game show and say, “No, I’m not smarter that a 5th grader.” 

Now, I’m living it, but have lifted the bar, working in classrooms of 8th graders through Seniors. 

True, our son only graduated two years ago, but I’ve hula-hooped out of the school loop.  Either, it’s a new crop of kids, or ones I knew, but have shot up like sunflowers, slimmed down, filled out, or have gotten contacts.  Smartboards have kicked chalk into the dust, turning teachers and students into virtual John Maddens, slashing lines across maps and drawing—well, I’m not sure what most of the squiggles are—but explaining themselves through a magic pen voodoo.  We won’t go into all the ways Google Apps is linking the students to teachers, their documents, and the ability to do their homework on their smart phones—but not smart enough to keep that information from the uninformed teachers of that techno-capability.  (BUSTED!)   

Then, some of the basics are being changed.  I knew Pluto had been voted off the planetary list, but did you know we have a new Southern Ocean?  And who knows where commas go anymore?  They are being bounced around like balls in a Bingo tumbler. 

While the classes that tingled my interesting in high school are still my favorites, most of eye-glazing ones continue to have that ability.  Honestly, I’m trying, but my mind wanders to my to-do list at home, or what the kid across the room is sticking up his nose.  But, some things I’m newly fascinated with, and am picking up more of the dynamics in The Miracle Worker than snickering at whoever had to read Helen Keller’s line of ‘Wah-wah.’ (Oh, like you didn’t?  I had even learned Braille in Primary School because of her and still did.)

Today, one girl posed a plethora of questions, each oozing with youthful frustration. “Why do we need to learn about landforms?  How boring!  And we’ve had math questions in Science!  What’s up that?  And, they’re making us learn about the Dust Bowl in English!  Why, do they keep mixing the subjects up?” 

I was her (circa 1979), not understanding how everything worked together in an intricate ballet.  That had to come in the ‘ah-ha!’ moments sprinkled through life experience.  Come on, none of us is book-smarter than an any-grader on all things. 

And it’s ok.  We were created with unique gifts and graces for us to use wherever God chooses to place us.  If we try our best, ask for help, use the resources available, work on our weaknesses, and develop our strengths, the result can’t help but form us into being ‘swagnificent.’  (Teachable Moment Alert: This is gift is your new uber cool vocabulary word to use at your discretion.  )  

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put into practice. And the God of peace will be you.  Philippians 4:9