THE NEW EWE
"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
July 2, 2008
The first week of July is one of my favorite weeks out of the year. My birthday is on July 1st, then shortly thereafter we celebrate July 4th. I've always look forward to celebrating my birthday, and although I'm over 40 now, I still get excited and look forward to it. I've been reminding my husband about my birthday for a month now, trying to decide where I want him to take me out to eat for my special dinner, and asking him what he's going to get me for a gift. It's like my birthday brings out the little kid inside. I don't just celebrate for one day, but try to drag it out for as long as anyone will let me. Jon has been teasing me and asking if I was going to have a "birthday month", and I told him I hadn't decided yet; but I thought I'd at least make it last for a week.
Growing up, Mama and Daddy always made birthdays a special day for my sisters and me. They may not have had much money, but we always had a birthday cake (sometimes ice cream) and a gift. Actually, being the baby of the family, I was probably more spoiled on my birthday than the others were. At least looking back now, it seems that way. I didn't think so at the time. But in addition to my parents buying me a gift or my mom making me a dress, my older sisters, who were working, would get me something. I also remember my uncle and aunt, Bill and Ruth, getting me birthday gifts. They bought me a swimsuit and blow up swimming toys one year when I was probably five or six. Then another year, my aunt made me a red dress with brown turtles on it. I still have birthday cards that I've kept throughout the years from other uncles and aunts and cousins.
My uncle Nathan's birthday was also on July 1st. When I was a kid, he would call me sometimes to tell me happy birthday or send me a card. His wife made me a bead necklace three or four different years when I was young. Probably a year or so before he passed away, his daughter gave me a birthday card from him and said that he wanted her to make sure that I got it. I have kept that card as a keepsake.
I would start getting excited about my birthday several days (or weeks) in advance; and even now, I still do. The age factor has yet to bother me. I've enjoyed my life, I've been greatly blessed, I have the greatest husband and family; and there is not much in my life that I regret or wish I could do over or change.
I worked with a lady at one time who made a big fuss about her birthday; not wanting anyone to mention it and not wanting to celebrate; but saying that she just wanted to ignore it and pretend that it wasn't happening. Her comment, that she made on a regular basis, was that she wasn't having birthdays anymore.
I told my husband that my viewpoint is that it doesn't matter if you ignore it or not; it will still occur and you'll be a year older. So why not relish it and have fun and make the most out of your birthday that you possibly can?!
Many, many times, throughout the years, I've heard this response when someone has a birthday; "Well, it's better than the alternative (meaning death)." I think of Eeyore, the sad little blue donkey on Winnie-the-Pooh, when I hear that comment. I can just picture him with his hang-dog expression and sad, droopy face, saying those words in his slow, woe-is-me voice.
Although I realize it is sometimes said in jest, I personally dislike that comment, and it's not one that I've ever made myself. I want to embrace whatever age I am, and make the most of my life. As I grow older each year, I don't want to have the attitude that, "I guess this is better than dying."
Not that I expect to die anytime soon, but for the Christian, death is not something to be feared or dreaded. Ecclesiastes 8:1 states that better is the day of one's death than the day of one's birth. At birth, we enter into a world filled with sin, sickness and disease, heartache, etc. But when we die, we begin eternity in Heaven. We'll be in the presence of God and reunited with loved ones. There will be no worries, sickness, sorrow or death. No financial burdens, politics, presidential debates or elections, wars or strife. We'll never grow old, get wrinkles, have bad eyesight, have to diet, nor have aches or pains. No more mowing of yards or pulling weeds or picking up broken limbs.
So no, I don't consider growing older as being better than death. I will enjoy and embrace each year that God gives me upon this earth. Whether I have only one or fifty more years here, I will try to make each year count for something. But when God calls me Home and my time on earth is over, I will run through the gates of Heaven and bow at the feet of Jesus and thank Him for my salvation and all those things that He blessed me with while upon earth. I will feel my mama's arms wrap around me one more time and hold me close to her heart. I'll hear my daddy clear his throat and say, "Yeah" when I tell him that I love him. If my husband or sisters go before I do, I'll be reunited with them once again. If not, then I will be waiting for their arrival.
Death is only difficult for the family and friends of those left behind; not for the child of God. Part of me wants to remain as long as I can on Earth with my husband, sisters and friends. But there is also a part of me that longs to be with Jesus. I understand what Paul is saying when he penned the words to the church in Phillipi.
Paul writes in Philippians 1:21, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Verses 23, 24 go on to say, "For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you."
Another birthday is also celebrated the first week in July; the birth of our nation. On July 4th, we will see flags flying everywhere, hear patriotic songs, and celebrate the freedom we have as a country. We will remember, and hopefully stop and say a prayer for, all our soldiers. There will be parades all over our nation, and firework displays in almost every city and town.
Jon has a nephew who is currently serving our country through the Army Reserves in Afghanistan. I have a nephew who is in the Army and is serving his second year of overseas duty in South Korea. Kevyn had to leave behind a young wife and small daughter. Jordan's wife and baby girl are living in South Korea with him. Jon and I keep both of these guys and their families in our prayers. We are so proud of them for serving our country.
I believe that freedom is something that we in the United States take so often for granted. We've always been able to do what we want and go wherever we please. We can choose where we want to be employed, without restrictions. We are free to worship and attend whichever church we desire; or not attend at all. Most of us have a nice place to live, and own at least two or three cars. We have no idea what it would be like if we should ever lose the freedoms that we have. Even though so many in our society and political realm have tried to toss God aside and have total disregard for Him, He has shown us mercy and grace and has abundantly blessed us.
But the freedom that we have as a nation in no way compares to the freedom that we can have through Jesus Christ. God has given us His Word that we could read and study and know truth. We can know right from wrong. We can know how to live our lives. We are given guidelines to abide by. Every word that is written in the Bible is truth.
Therefore, we can accept the very words of Jesus as being true and factual. We don't have to wonder if they are for us today, or if we are alienated from His promises. If He spoke them, then it is so.
In John chapter eight, Jesus spoke some of the most awesome words regarding freedom. In verse 32 He says, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Then in verse 36 He continued by saying, "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."
We assume that our government will never change and that we will never have our freedom stripped from us. But we don't have a guarantee that that will always be so. Within the next few years, we could see the leadership and government of this nation change to such a degree that the freedom as we know it today will just be a memory. We don't want that to happen, and don't think it will; but that's a very distinct possibility.
Yet, we have a promise made by Jesus that will never change and is a 100% guarantee. If we surrender our hearts to Jesus, we can know a freedom that no man can take away. We can live free of sinful lifestyles. We don't have to be bound by fears, temptations, and bad habits. We can live as an overcomer, and live in the complete freedom that only comes from having a relationship with Jesus.
As you spend time with family and friends this holiday weekend, take time to pray for our soldiers and their families. Give God thanks for the freedom that He has blessed us with as a nation. And pray for God's continued grace and blessing upon our nation that we may continue to enjoy our freedom.
But more importantly, take time to thank God for the spiritual freedom that we can experience and have each and every day.
I remember a particular year from my childhood when many of my friends and I celebrated Independence day by shooting fireworks. We were old enough to like the feeling of independence and responsibility. We especially liked shooting the Roman Candles. They were a great way to celebrate how independent we were. That is, until one of they guys got burned. Someone shot a Roman Candle a little too closely to him, and one of the fireballs went up the sleeve of his shirt and stopped on his back. Actually, it was very good aim. We were playing something along the lines of laser-tag, with hot, burning balls of gunpowder. Somewhere in this is a great lesson about how independence comes with responsibility, and at that time in our lives, we didn't have quite enough maturity. Actually, at any age, we can behave irresponsibly, and can take our freedoms for granted. We even have the freedom to turn away from God, if we were foolish enough to decide to.
Note: This is one of my favorite cakes. My aunt Ruth used to make this cake (this is her recipe) and they were so delicious. She knew how much I liked them, so a few times when I was single and lived close by her, she would make one of these for me, then bring it to me (actually she'd have my uncle, Bill, deliver it) for my birthday. I've tried making them myself, and they just don't taste as good as the ones that Ruth made. Probably because she was a better cook than me. Or it could be the love that went into it, and me not having to make it myself.
Strawberry Dream Cake
1 angel food cake
1 ½ cup powdered sugar
1 (2 oz.) pkg. Dream Whip
1 (8 oz.) cream cheese (room temperature)
1 cup cold milk
1 qt. diced sweet strawberries
1 tsp. vanilla
Bake cake (or buy one already made). Mix Dream Whip, milk and vanilla according to package directions. Add powdered sugar and cream cheese. Reserve part of the mixture for frosting. Fold in strawberries to remaining mixture. Cut top off cake and remove. Hollow out inside of cake. Cube cake up that you take out and add to strawberry mixture. Put all back in cake and put top back onto cake. Frost with the rest of the Dream Whip mixture.
July 4th invokes memories of eating homemade ice cream and watermelon and being with family.
Having all sisters, we never bought firecrackers or fireworks. But that didn't mean we didn't get to "enjoy" them. We had a couple of boy cousins (Danny and Richard) who kind of adopted us as their second family. Probably they came over when they were in trouble or their moms told them to get out of their hair for a while. Early one July 4th, before any of us had got up yet, they sneaked over to our house and lit a pack of firecrackers right under my parents bedroom window. Of course Daddy and Mama knew who had done it. The boys had built a clubhouse out of old lumber in the woods between our house and Danny's parents'. They would sleep there occasionally. It was a private clubhouse and they wouldn't let just anyone go see it, but one day they took Mama to show her.
Another July 4th memory I have is when I was probably around twelve. My oldest brother-in-law found someone who let us camp by the river on their property. My dad took his old flatbed truck over and most of us slept on back of it. I think we may have had one tent that we had set up to change clothes in. We cooked over a campfire, swam, and sat around visiting. We looked like a bunch of hillbillies!! Below is a picture of that camping trip to give you an idea of how we "roughed" it.
Don't tell God how big your troubles are - tell your troubles HOW BIG your GOD is!
May each of you have a safe and happy July 4th.
We love you!
Loretta & Jon