“What’s That Smell?” (Or, The Case Of The Unidentifiable Odor)

“What’s that smell?” our 2 ½ years old granddaughter asked as I carried her out the door of the church building last Wednesday night.

We were visiting our family in Wisconsin. The church building sits at the edge of a grain field owned by a dairy farmer. The dairy farmer had recently cleaned out his manure pit and scattered the organic matter on the field surrounding the meeting house. A swift wind blew across the field, carrying the odor directly toward us.

I laughed, because the smell brought back memories of my years on our family farm. But then I became a little sad. It saddened me that our granddaughter had heretofore never experienced this acrid smell. The odor was a natural part of life when I grew up. By age 2 1/2, almost every child in our rural area could have identified it because almost every farm served as home to a small dairy operation. It saddened me to realize that my granddaughter will not know so many of the wonderful experiences I knew as a child.

Our world is rapidly changing. The rural landscape and the face of agriculture is swiftly becoming totally unlike that which so many of us have known and loved.

One of the brethren who exited the building with us remarked concerning the smell, “That’s Wisconsin!” Wisconsin is known as the dairy state. Much of the state has relied upon all aspects of the dairy industry for its economy. For the residents of the small villages and townships which dot the rural landscape, the pungent odor of cow manure is like the smell of fish on a wharf. It is life and a natural part of making a living. That too is changing. I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer, “That’s Wisconsin!” would make sense, even to its residents.

It saddened me to ponder these rapidly changing situations and to contemplate the lost memories for my granddaughter’s generation.

But then I began to realize that experiencing certain lifestyles and reminiscing about old memories are not the most important things one can pass down to his grandchildren. On this night, my granddaughter learned her most important lessons inside the church building, not outside it. Inside, she had been taught the importance of faith in God. Inside the building, she had been taught the importance of studying God’s word, of worship, and of prayer. Inside, she had experienced the value of a loving fellowship with people of like faith.

There are many wonderful lessons every grandparent needs to teach his/her grandchild; lessons about how to make a living, how to work with his hands, and how to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation. But the most important lessons a grandparent can pass down to his/her grandchildren are the lessons about faith, love for God’s Word, and love for God’s family. Christian faith has well served peoples of every generation for 2000 years, regardless of the most recent contemporary culture or lifestyle.

Christianity, in all its beauty and love, was applicable when nearly every farm served as home for a dairy operation. It is also applicable now, even in the face of a swiftly changing agriculture. And Christian faith will be just as applicable if in the future, one of my descendants never experiences that “sweet smelling” odor wafting on the wind, prompting him to ask, “What’s that smell?”

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9)

“1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, 3 things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” (Psalm 78:1-4)

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When The Need to be Needed Needs to be Reassured.

This morning, as I stood at the kitchen counter watching our 20-month-old granddaughter spoon-feed herself milk-softened cereal, I couldn’t help but feel proud. But at the same time, I felt a little empty.  Not too many days ago, she needed me to feed her.  Not too many days ago, she needed me to sit by her so that she felt secure.

Not too many days ago . . . I felt needed.

But this morning, our grandaughter demonstrated the skill of using both her left and right hand to feed herself without spilling the bowl’s contents. This morning, she never whimpered when I rose from my seat to fix my own breakfast and coffee.

We all need to be needed, to feel that we are important to someone else in this world.  Perhaps that’s one reason we marry and have children. When our children are small, the degree to which they depend upon us sometimes overwhelms us. Yet the fulfillment of knowing that we are essential in insuring another person’s health and happiness supersedes the overwhelming load of responsibility.

We take great pride when our children learn new skills which demonstrate that they are maturing. We snap photos and send out snapchats of our children practicing their newly developed abilities. Yet each attained milestone produces a certain amount of sadness because it grants the child more independence.  In our minds, we are no longer needed; at least to a degree.

I have felt this pride and this emptiness several times throughout the years.  I felt them the first time that our oldest daughter bravely walked into daycare by herself. I felt them the first time our son motionlessly sat alone in the barber’s chair. I felt them the day my wife told me that she had enrolled our youngest daughter in the county’s head-start program.

These same feelings sent shivers throughout my body each time we added a new licensed driver to our insurance, each time a new university was chosen, each time an off-campus housing contract was signed, and each time our end of a phone call began with, “Where are you, who are you with, and how long will you be there?”

This morning, as I watched our granddaughter feed herself, those old feelings of pride and emptiness sent shivers through my body once more.  But this time, the emptiness didn’t stay with me nearly so long.  Why?  Because experience has taught me that each new level of independence simply brings new levels of dependence.

Our children never outgrow their need for us.  They will simply need us in a different way.

Today, our children are all mature, responsible, and educated.  Each has established his/her own family.  Each has at least one child that heavily depends upon him/her. Yet each of our children still need us.

This morning’s opportunities and observations proved that to me.  May we be given many more chances to experience these warm feelings of pride and brief pangs of emptiness.

“Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.” (Proverbs 17:6) ESV

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Mama, Will You Tell Me A Bedtime Story?

One late night about three years ago, at the Lima (Peru) airport, a young boy was becoming increasingly cranky as the wait for his family’s flight wore on. During one of his displays of irritation, his Spanish speaking mother picked him up, cradled him in her arms, and began to tell him a bedtime story. The young boy’s crying immediately ceased as he became mesmerized by his mother’s comforting tone and dramatic gestures.

I have no idea what the story was about. From her voice inflections and facial expressions, a huge giant or ogre played a key role in it. I imagine it to have been a fairy tale which was native to their culture.

As I watched the mother cuddle her child within her loving embrace, I noticed that his eyes were becoming increasingly heavy, yet they never left her face. Without a doubt, this child had previously experienced the warm embrace of his mother’s arms and the comfort of her expressive voice. It was also quite apparent that as long as she had the power to control the situation, he would experience it again and again throughout his childhood.

These memories will forever form a part of the child’s psyche. When the boy grows up, he may not be able to recall that night’s dramatic presentation, but at some point, a sight, a smell, or a sound will spread a sense of warmth and security over his being. And for a brief moment, he will believe that everything will be alright, just like they were each time he snuggled within his mother’s embrace.

Indeed, the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

“The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him . . .an excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels . . .” (Proverbs 31:1-31)

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure dwells in you as well.” (2 Timothy 1:5)

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Mama Changed the World Without Leaving Home

Except for the first 4 years after she and Daddy married, Mama, Ruth Waddell, has lived her entire life on the same farm in a dot-on-a-road-map rural community in southcentral Kentucky. She’s never been employed off the farm, but as worked as many long, hard hours as any man on that farm; milking, tending tobacco, gardening, cleaning house, and providing for her family.

Mama and Daddy were married at age 16 and 18 respectively. Five children were born to the union. Mama gave birth to four of us within 5 years and 1 month, before she turned 24 years old, and a fifth sibling was born 10 years later.

Mama has traveled very little throughout her life, rarely going beyond a 70-mile radius of her small farming community.

Considering all these factors, one might think Mama’s circle of christian influence would be small; seen and felt mostly around Three Springs, Kentucky.

But one would be wrong.

To date, her direct influence through her family’s travels and evangelistic efforts stretches throughout Kentucky into Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. It has been experienced in Scotland, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, the Bahamas, the former USSR, Germany, and more.

Scores of kids have spent the night in her home, played volleyball or basketball in her backyard, “swam” in her cow tank pool, and worked on 4-H projects in her driveway. Through these kids, now adults, a part of her has traveled throughout the world.

For over 50 years, an untold number of children walked through the Old and New Testaments in her Bible classes. Missionaries and visiting preachers have been nourished by delicious down home cooking and have told of their travels to wide-eyed kids around her table.

Do you have to be a world traveler to make a difference all over the globe?

Naw.

Just ask someone who slept last night in the same room she was born in 77 years ago. She’s done it without much more than leaving home.

“The sayings of King Lemuel – An oracle that his mother taught him . . .An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels . . .She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong . . .She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy . . .Strength and dignity are her clothing and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her . . .Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” (Proverbs 31:1-31) ESV

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Lay Aside Your Own Electronic Toy In Order To Help Your Child or Grandchild Avoid Becoming an Electronic Junky

He sits slouched against the sofa, entranced by the action occurring on the screen of the hand-held electronic device.  Occasionally, he will pop the screen with a thumb or slide a finger along the surface to scroll for more choices.  He can sit and do this for hours.

As for you, you are enjoying the quiet stillness.  It’s a break from the noise and chaos which you’ve experienced over the past few days. You silently express thanks for this wondrous, spellbinding device.  Its magic is providing you time to get some of your work done, or to do some of your own social media surfing. You’d like for things to stay this calm all the time.  But you know they can’t.

Why?

Because there is no way that mindlessly staring at an electronic screen for hours on end can be good for anyone.  Not someone your own age.  Not someone his parent’s age.  And it definitely can’t be good for your 8-year-old grandson. Common sense tells you this fact. It doesn’t take a scientific study to prove the dangers of becoming an electronic junky or video zombie. In fact, you are battling your own junky-like tendencies.

But, oh, it is so peaceful and quiet.

You know that to tell him to put away the device means encouraging him to release all that pent-up energy.  It will come forth in the form of running, jumping, throwing, hitting, or kicking.  The objects utilized may be balls, cards, solo cups, toy cars, or furniture.  He will do his best to restrain himself and to play within the bounds which you have set, but to do so will prove nearly impossible.

You know that it is up to you as the adult to help him channel the energy in a proper direction.  You will try to help play in the house, but after a couple of near catastrophes, you know that he will need to be sent outside.

It’s hot out there.  There are no other boys around with which to play.  His personality does not allow him to play by himself for a very long period of time.  So you know that you will have to be his playmate.

But it’s hot out there. And he will not want to simply stand to play catch.  He will want to move.  He’ll want to kick the ball. He’ll want to perform trick throws and catches. He’ll want to hit a ball as far as he can.

So before you tell him to put away the device, you spend quite a bit of time trying to think of activities which will require less energy output; fishing, building a bird house, shooting his BB gun.  These activities work well, but they don’t last very long; an hour, 2 hours, maybe three; and then it’s back to the drawing board.

The next few hours sure would be easier on you if you didn’t care whether or not that little boy turned into a video zombie.

But you do care, because his mind and life are too valuable to be sacrificed to such trivial pursuits.

So you set aside your own electronic toy, and invitingly utter, “Let’s go play ball.”

At least that’s what I hope you do on a regular basis.  For your young son’s or grandson’s sake, as well as for your own sake.

“28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV

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Letting Grandchildren Choose The Road Less Traveled Is Tough On A Grandpa

One of the great blessings of being a parent of adult children is their making you a grandparent. Another great blessing is being privileged to play a major role in the grandchildren’s upbringing due to their living nearby.

A grandpa wants to be there to protect them and provide for their every need. I’ve often said concerning our youngest granddaughter, “She may get hurt; and she inevitably will get hurt; but it’s not going to happen on Pa’s watch.”  So, I follow her everywhere she goes. If she grunts and points, the indicated item is placed within reach.

Deep down, I know I can never keep my assertion. I know that my hovering does more harm than good because it hinders her coordination and skill development.  I know that granting her every grunted whelm will slow her vocabulary development.  But isn’t that what grandpas are for?

Grandchildren are so special.  But like the children we raised when we were but youths ourselves, they must grow physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. (Luke 2:52). To do that, they must eventually make their own decisions.  They must also learn to live with the consequences of those decisions. They must learn to express themselves so that they can communicate their joy or sorrow for making those decisions.

The above picture shows my granddaughter wandering off on her own. As she started walking away from me down the gravel road, I couldn’t help but think of Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken.  Especially, the last three lines.

“Two roads diverged in the wood, and I-
 I took the one less traveled by,
   And that has made all the difference.”

 

Letting her grow up is going to be difficult. But as she and all our grandchildren travel life’s inevitable roadway, I hope they take the road less traveled.  I hope that they are leaders and not followers.  I hope that they accept life’s challenges with courage and determination.  I hope that whatever their chosen vocation, they elect to serve with compassion and kindness.

 

But foremost, I hope they will do all these things because they will have chosen to follow the most important less-traveled pathway. The one described by Jesus.

 

“13 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14) ESV

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A Father. The Man of a Thousand Faces. Until . . .

A father originally possesses many facial expressions with which he displays his emotions. There’s one for love, one for concern, one for elation, one for pride, one for anger, one for frustration, and so on.

When his first child begins adolescence, one by one, the father starts storing away these facial expressions, until about mid-way through the child’s teen years, the father exhibits only one; this is a bland, somber, serious expression. It’s his “Why am I not shocked or surprised?” look.

He wears this expression when he receives good news about his children’s accomplishments because he has told his offspring time and again that they can do anything they set their minds to do; their success does not surprise him. He wears the expression when he hears disappointing news of his children’s misbehavior or failures because he knows from experience that the adolescent years can be tempestuous and trying; their missteps do not surprise him. This bland, somber, serious look is the one the kids remember because it is the only one they saw for several years.

When the last child reaches adulthood and is on her own; and when the grandchildren begin to come along; the father begins pulling his old facial expressions out of the trunk and trying them on again. He finds the one for love, the one for concern, the one for elation, the one for pride, and so on.

The children’s response to these changes?

“Who is that? That’s not the man I grew up with!”

11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12) ESV

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There’s Not Much a Dairyman Can Do When a Heifer Jumps the Fence

Calving time is a time of extremely mixed emotions for a dairyman.  This is especially true when the expectant mother is a first calf heifer. The dairyman has invested countless hours and much effort over the last two years rearing this young female.  He’s seen her grow from a wet newborn which could barely take a breath into a strong, healthy, beautiful young bovine.

It’s a time of joyful anticipation, but it is also a time of exhausting anxiousness, because the dairyman knows that giving birth to her first offspring can quickly turn into a crippling and even life-threatening experience for both mother and calf in a matter of minutes.  So every day, the dairyman watches and waits.  He checks on the expectant mother multiple times during both the day and the night hours, especially as the time for delivery draws near.

Then early one morning, about 2:00 AM, the dairyman shines the flashlight into the fenced lot where the heifer had been just about 4 hours before, and she is gone.  Everything had appeared fine at 10:00 PM, but now everything had the potential for tragedy. Even though the young heifer had seemed very content with her accommodations over the past couple of weeks, for some reason, she did not feel comfortable giving birth there.  So when the first pains hit her, she jumped the fence, and wondered away.

The dairyman searched for her as best he could in the darkness of the moonless night.  He checked all the places he could think of that she may have gone to hide and find seclusion, but it was to no avail.  So he went back home and waited for daylight.

When morning came, he found the heifer across the road bedded down in a wooded thicket.  She had given birth.  Her weaknesses and unsteadiness indicated that it had been a long and tiring process.  The calf did not survive the stress of the labor.  As the heifer stood up and looked at her stillborn calf, the dairyman’s heart bled for her, but there was nothing that could change the outcome.  Had she stayed in the lot, he might have helped her successfully deliver, but all the “if she hads” and “might have beens” could never change what was. All he could do was give her time to deal with her loss and then help her get on with life.

As parents, we want what’s best for our kids.  We protect them, feed them, and provide as much comfort as we can.  We try our best to guide them in discerning between what’s best, what’s risky, and what’s definitely damaging. When certain milestones approach, especially those which can make or break a young person’s faith and life, we joyfully anticipate watching our child spread her wings to fly; but we also anxiously monitor her use of her freedom, because we know that her experiencing this milestone can easily turn crippling or even life threatening in a matter of minutes.

Then one day,  for many parents, their worst nightmare comes true when they go to check on their child, and he is gone.  The child became discontent with his surroundings so he jumped the fence and wandered away. Try as they may to find their loved one, the search is futile.

Sometimes these life altering decisions have a happy ending; the child is found or she returns home without any major physical, emotional, or spiritual injuries.

But  many times, the loved one returns scarred by the unexpected outcome of his/her choice to jump the fence.  At that time, a parent can stand, wagging his finger and throwing all kinds of  “if onlys” and “this would not have happeneds” in the child’s face; or he can let his heart go out to his loved one.  He can help her mourn for her loss. He can help him pick up the pieces.  And he can be there to help his child go on with life.

Mouse over scripture reference to view entire scripture text.

That’s the story of the prodigal son. That’s the story of us and of God’s love for us when we are found.  And that’s the story of our love for others, especially our own flesh and blood. (Luke 15:11-32)

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