Saturday, March 28, 2009

Too Deep for Words

Emotionally drained.
In a haze.
The funeral is over.

It was a beautiful funeral. We found such Scriptures like Prov. 31 (describing the Godly woman) and Gal 5:22-23 (the fruit of the spirit) to be descriptive of Yoko's life. We heard so many stories of how she touched lives. While I know God was with my mother-in-law during her death, and I know that He has been with us since her death--comforting and supporting us, the loss is still hard.

Last night, my Scripture reading was a passage that I have read so many times and even quoted to others through the years. However, this time, the words of one of the verses jumped off the page to me:
"In the same way, the Holy Spirit helps us when we are weak. We don't know what we should pray for. But the Spirit himself prays for us. He prays with groans too deep for words." Romans 8:26

Yes, I am feeling so weak emotionally. I don't know how to pray. But I am comforted because I KNOW that the Holy Spirit prays for me in times like this. And when He prays to the Father it is in a manner that is TOO DEEP FOR WORDS. Just like God's mercy and grace, He goes above and beyond what I could ask or hope for...He even goes beyond what I can pray for!

"Praise You in This Storm"
(words by Mark Hall/music by Mark Hall and Bernie Herms)

"I was sure by now, God, that You would have reached down
and wiped our tears away,
stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
and it's still raining
as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain,
"I'm with you"
and as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands
and praise the God who gives and takes away.

And I'll praise you in this storm
and I will lift my hands
for You are who You are
no matter where I am
and every tear I've cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
and though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

I remember when I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry to You
and raised me up again
my strength is almost gone
how can I carry on if I can't find You
and as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
and as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
the God who gives and takes away."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tribute to a beautiful woman--Yoshiko Nakamine McWhorter

Nearly forty-six years ago, a beautiful, little Okinawan woman stepped off an airplane to begin her life in America. She was wearing a lovely sheath dress, white gloves on her tiny hands, and heels which made her petite stature appear as big as she was inside. She was the picture of grace inspite of the 24-hours of travel she endured alone to arrive. Yoshiko Nakamine had just married Jack McWhorter, a young American marine; she left behind her family and all she knew and held dear to begin a new life in a new country with her new husband.

Upon arriving, she was embraced by Jack's Scotch-Irish clan--a very close-knit family. Jack's mother, Mildred, took her in as one of her own, never distinguishing between Yoko and her own daughters--she was, after all, a McWhorter now and a McWhorter she would remain. Mildred taught Yoko so much--she took her to church where she learned of the love of Jesus, she taught her how to bake, she became her closest friend. Jack's sisters and brothers treated her with such care and love that she was never considered anything but family.

Jack's work often kept him away for a few days at a time. Yet, Yoko was never alone. Jack's brothers would help out anytime she needed them. And Jack never knew what he would come home to--one time it was new landscaping, another time a new pet, and even one time it was a whole new house. If Yoko ever had a need, the family was there to help her.

She was also blessed in that she found a community of Japanese/Okinawan women here in Granite City. These were other women who had married and come here to live as well. These women provided a place where Yoko could just be "Japanese"--where she could speak her language and eat her favorite foods with women from her culture. If ever she met a young Japanese woman, she invited her to join the group---she remembered what it was like to leave her homeland and family behind.

It was easy to love Yoko. I have to wonder if anyone ever met her who didn't just love her. She always looked at the positive side of everything. She believed with all her heart that God would take care of those He loved. She always had an anecdote for any situation. She always looked for "a sign" that showed God was a part of whatever was happening. She was gentler than any other person I've ever known.

I remember the day Mark and I left for our honeymoon; Mark asked her what she wanted us to bring back for her. Without hesitation, and with a straight face, she replied, "A baby." She did that a reply you weren't expecting, but saying it so matter-of-factly you had to think twice to make sure you heard what she said. She'd make you laugh with her quick replies. And other times, she'd give you a look and just nod her head...and you knew what she was thinking.

Yoko definitely loved children! All children. I never saw her prouder than the days she would sit and hold her new grandbabies. Elisabeth was her first grandchild and the evening Elisabeth was born, Yoko stood outside the nursery silently gazing in awe at our tiny new baby. Her grandchildren---all 6 of them---loved her too!!! A trip to Grandma Yoko's house meant fried rice, Snicker bars, Grandma Yoko buns with honey, and (quite frankly) anything else they wanted. She didn't believe in telling them no and she hated seeing any of them upset.

Yoko was my mother-in-law. We had a few differences, and sometimes it was difficult to communicate because of the language difference, but I respected her completely and with my whole heart. She loved me with the same love she had been shown by her mother-in-law; she never differentiated between me or Emily, her own daughter. She always encouraged me and supported me in everything. She offered advice on parenting my children, but she never pushed her advice onto me.

Yes, Yoko taught me much about love. One time, when I was pretty frustrated with Mark, I asked her, "Yoko, how do you put up with these McWhorter men?" We were in her kitchen washing dishes; and without hesitating, she simply said, "It's love, Shannon. You just have to love." I've pondered her response over the years. I knew what she meant then and I know it still today. She was telling me that love is a commitment. (If you are committed to someone, you can "put up with" them.) She was committed to Jack; whatever Jack wanted was fine with her. Oh, there were times when she would have chosen something different, but she knew it was what Jack wanted. The beauty in this is that Jack was just as committed to her as she was to him. They didn't grow apart as they grew older, in fact just the opposite was true. Over the years, I watched their love and commitment to each other deepen as they grew older.

On Thursday, March 19, 2009, Yoko left on another journey. As she did 46 years ago, again she left her home, her family, and everything she held dear. Again she left to go to a new home in a new country; but this time she left to go to her eternal home in Heaven. Her last few months on this earth were full of struggles, but in the end she died peacefully. She is gracing Heaven now with her gentle spirit and anecdotes. And I have to wonder if she is making Jesus laugh with her wit and quick replies.

You did your best, Yoko. Your legacy of love, joy and gentleness will live on as we continue to do ours.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My little big girl. Can she really be 15?

My life changed dramatically on March 15, 1994. That is the day Elisabeth was born. I had read all the books that everyone was reading at that time and thought I was completely ready for this new life to enter our family. We headed to the hospital that morning; it was Mark's 30th birthday. And just under 9 hours later, our baby girl was born. It was 6:53 in the evening. She was so tiny...5 lbs 15 oz and only 18 inches long. She had the tiniest round head that was covered with thick black hair. She was precious and perfect!

I wanted her with me the entire time. I didn't want the nurses to take her to the nursery. And called for her if they kept her too long. I woke in the middle of the night and walked down to check on her. There she was...the nurses had tied a little pink bow in her hair. MY baby!

She has always been a tiny girl. Always on the serious side. And always gentle. Sometimes she is hard to read. Sometimes, even as a little girl, she hides her emotions. But she is a WONDERFUL daughter. She has brought me such joy.
Yesterday, since Mark has gone to Mexico, I surprised her with a party with some of her friends. She would never have invited the kids over I'm glad I did it. They all came over after church, ate pizza, played football in the back yard, and then had cake and ice cream in the living room. Just hanging out. The kids all headed home and she headed to Fusion (youth group). But last night, as I sat on her bed before tucking her in, I soaked up her chattering about the day's events. Talking about her friends and how great they all are. Chatting about why some kids don't see "right from wrong." Discussing how our actions (what we do, where we go, what we read) really do show our beliefs and attitudes--and who we are inside. I finally had to cut her off as midnight was drawing close. I think she would have talked all night--and the caffeine she had drunk earlier was partly to blame.

I am so blessed to call her my daughter. What a wonderful girl. Right after she was born, I realized that instead of "knowing it all," I knew very little. In fact, most days I feel inadequate to be a mom. Yet by God's grace, He has used me--inspite of my inadequacies--to raise this beautiful, wonderful, smart young woman.

Thank you, God, for the gift of Elisabeth!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Two kinds of grief....

I've been trying to write this post for several days now. The words have been swimming in my head, but I haven't been able to communicate them clearly.

The death of Pastor Fred Winters last Sunday was such a shock. It sent a wave of emotion through our community. It hit the national news within hours and has continued on the local news all week. His church, First Baptist of Maryville, has shown incredible strength through this ordeal. I am amazed. Pastor Fred was no doubt a man of God. A man of integrity. A man who loved life and loved people. A man who wanted to see people come to know Christ. Those who have shared have testified of these things. We've listened all week. I was acquainted with Pastor Fred; many were. We are grieving.

On Tuesday, I realized I was angry. It surprised me. But there it was. I had started hearing things about the attacker....mentally ill is what they were saying. I think that is what made me angry. Of course he was mentally ill. How could he not be? Not to mention, if he was so "sick" why did he have access to guns? Don't get me wrong. I know that God is in control. I know that God could have stopped the attack. I know that God makes good out of what we see as evil. And I know that His ways are not our ways. But as sure as my head knows all this, my heart was struggling with the "why's."

God IS good. He knows when we are hurting.

Tuesday night, as I spoke with a friend, she turned the conversation to the murder. She is friends with the mother of the attacker. She was telling me how badly the mother is hurting. As she continued, I found the anger growing inside me. I told her that while I heard what she was saying, I wasn't in a place to really listen. Instead of saying, "Okay, I understand," her reply was, "Let me tell you some things that may help you with mercy and grace."

So I listened.

As she talked, she told me of a teenager named Terry who ten years ago suddenly became ill. He got lost driving to school one day and didn't know who he was. His teachers suspected drug usage, but he tested clean. He began psychological evaluations and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He began intense drug therapy; but nothing helped....He slipped into a coma. At the hospital, one doctor saw something familiar in the young man's case and suggested he be tested for Lyme Disease. He was and tested positive; treatment began immediately. The next day, he awoke from the coma. But the damage to his brain was severe with lesions throughout. He would never recover. He would never live a normal life.

My friend went on to tell me that when she first met Terry she thought he had autism. She said he paced continually back and forth and he grunted to himself as if in his own world. It wasn't until later that she learned about the Lyme Disease. He is a tormented man.

Then she began telling me told me about the young man's mother. One day she was the mother of a normal, happy teenager; the next day her life was turned upside down. She has fought for 10 years to get treatments for her son in hopes of having him "normal" again. She has spent months in Florida with him getting specialized treatments which cost their family dearly. She had to sell the family business to pay for these treatments. She is a mom who would give her life for her son. And yet she finds herself in this shameful position---the mother of a murderer.

And my heart began to break for this mother, and my anger began to dissipate. God knew I needed that conversation that night.

On Thursday I spoke with another friend who attends First Baptist of Maryville. Pastor Fred was very dear to her family. As we spoke, she talked about two kinds of grief. She reminded me that what we are experiencing is "clean grief." However, the family of the gunman are experiencing a different grief altogether--it is a messy, guilt-laden, devastating, and confused grief.

We must pray for them.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Reading Lesson

Gavin is learning to read. He's gotten to the point where he notices letters and signs while we're out and tries to read them. The other day, he was sitting in the car next to Elisabeth who was reading Jane Austen's Emma; he was looking over her shoulder and suddenly proclaimed, "Mom, I see lots of "the's!" (We had worked for quite awhile the previous day on learning "the" as a sight word.)
Yesterday, on our way home from church, we passed a QT gas station. This time he yelled out, "Hey that is a "KWUT" station!" (QT pronounced phonetically sounds like "kwut.") Of course, we all started laughing which made him even prouder of his reading accomplishment.

Anyone want to go to the KWUT station for a soda?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

In shock

This morning, we attended church as we do every weekend. Our pastor always delivers a great message and our band always leads great music (REALLY great, actually). Today was no exception.

Then something unusual happened. As I walked out of the service to serve in Guest Services, a friend stopped me and said that the pastor of a neighboring church had been murdered while he was preaching. The church is 1st Baptist Church of Maryville (Illinois); the pastor was Fred Winters. We knew Pastor Fred. Our kids played violin together; the girls played soccer on the same teams. He was a wonderful man of God; we had several conversations about missions and the Bible. He has a wife, Cindy, and two daughters. They were a beautiful family. Pastor Fred and our pastor, Pastor Paul, were good friends. Although preaching at the two biggest churches in our area, they were never in "competition" with one another. Instead, they supported one another, prayed for one another, and encouraged one another on a personal level.

Here was a man of God who had come to this area 20 years ago to a church with only a handful of members. Through God's leading and vision, the church grew to over 1500 members with 2000 people attending services each week. He loved his wife and children. He was a Bible scholar. He led the church by example.

It is a shock. Why did this have to happen? Why?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Approaching the throne

As I continue my Lenten Scripture Readings, I came back to Hebrews 4 this evening. I LOVE the end of this chapter: " 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most."

At lunchtime today, I was reading a story to the kids about a boy who went before the Emperor of Japan. Here was the protocol that had to be followed for approaching the royal throne: anyone who approaced had to do so on hands and knees, declaring themselves unworthy, and tapping their head on the floor as they approached. To not follow this protocol meant death to the violator.

And yet, this is completely the opposite of how we--Christ-followers--can approach the throne of God. We don't come with a spirit of unworthiness (although we truly are unworthy). No! We come with boldness! Boldness because Christ is our High Priest, because he "has passed through the heavens" (v. 14) And what do we find when we get there? We don't find a harsh, intimidating judge waiting for us at the throne. Instead, we find MERCY and GRACE!

Along time ago I learned the difference between mercy and grace; and it has always stuck with me. Mercy is "not receiving what I do deserve" (as in a punishment for my sins) and grace is "receiving that which I do not deserve" (forgiveness of my sins). And this is exactly what we find at God's throne when we boldly approach it. He is there to wipe away our sin record and to not give us the eternal punishment that we deserve for that sin. In addition, Hebrews 4:16 ends with a bonus phrase: "to help us when we need it most." It's not just grace that we receive at His throne...but grace when we need it most.

I'm so glad we have a high priest in Jesus; that he knows our trials and temptations because He experienced them himself. I'm glad we can have the confidence in what we believe because He "passed through the heavens." And finally, I'm so grateful that we do not have to approach His throne with fear and trembling; but instead, we can boldly come to His throne knowing that His mercy and grace are always there--especially when we need it most!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cleaning the Temple

John 2:13-22 tells the story of Jesus going to the temple for Passover; when He arrived He found "those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and money changers seated at their tables." He was angry! This was His Father's house and they were making it a place of business--a place for them to prosper--not a place of honoring and worshipping God. Verse 15 says Jesus made a "scourge of cords" (a whip) and drove them all out, then he poured out their money and overturned their tables. He cleansed the temple that day!

My thoughts as I read this passage yesterday were wondering what Jesus sees when He looks at the temple of my heart. After all, if we are Christ-followers, our bodies are His temple. When He looks at me, have I allowed the money changers to come in and take over my life? Is my heart--my desires--filled with only those things that seek my own prosperity?

And when I do allow those things to take over my heart, does it make Him as angry as He was at the Jewish money changers? Does it make Him want to whip me and overthrow my tables? Of course, the New Testament says the Lord disciplines those He loves. So, if He does, isn't it only because of His Great Love for me?

"Father God, you are the most perfect parent. You love me even when I am unlovable. You love me even when I allow the "moneychangers to set up shop" in my heart. Forgive me for failing. Thank you for loving me enough to discipline me. Thank you for running out the moneychangers and the animals. Thank you for cleansing my temple. In your most holy name, Amen."

Monday, March 2, 2009

My title bar photo

Several people have asked about the photo I have on my title bar.

Yes, I really did take it myself.

Mark and I visited Washington State in September (2008). We took this photo of the Columbia River Gorge from a place called Chaunticleer's Point which is actually in Oregon (on our way up into Washington). It was very breathtaking and this is one of my favorite photos of the trip.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I HAD to share this quote....

“It’s interesting that Obama’s adorers in the press keep comparing him to Lincoln and Reagan. Apparently they can’t think of a Democrat president worthy of being compared to,” Ann Coulter at the Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend.

I personally am getting tired of hearing this president who has done NOTHING to his credit being compared to two of the best presidents in our nation's history. As usual, Ann says it with style!