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Waiting . . . .

Posted around lunch time by Jackina Stark

Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young.
Dorothy Canfield Fisher

To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent that is to triumph over old age.
Amos Bronson Alcott

The answer to old age is to keep one’s mind busy and to go on with one’s life as if it were interminable. I always admired Chekhov for building a new house when he was dying of tuberculosis.
Leon Edel

These are quotes I included in a birthday card and letter I sent my dad. Today is his 94th birthday! I told him these quotes about old age remind me of him. (There are many reasons; my husband told a small group recently that Dad is his hero.)

I hope these quotes cheer him. They cheered me, especially the last one, given the last months in the lives of Tony and Jackina Stark.

I’m just over thirty years behind my dad, but after living in the Joplin area for 42 years and building our “dream house” six year ago, Tony and I were willing to move away and build another one on acres our daughter and her husband gave us in Branson, Missouri, where along with Leanne’s family, we can enjoy the view of a field of cows and a lake.

In this economy, we took a financial hit, but as the commercial goes, “Living near a daughter and her family—priceless!

After two months, I’m beginning to feel like this is home, but I’m finding myself in an extraordinary period of waiting on the Lord, an unexpected period of wondering. I’m praying more than ever the Jeremiah 33 prayer: “Teach me great and unsearchable things I do not know.”

I’ve been absent from this blog for almost two months—because of the move, no doubt, but also because of the waiting and wondering. I began the blog almost two years ago to share things I’ve written through the years with students who have asked for these things in the past and for new readers of my 2009 novels. I haven’t written anything in months (except for these few words), and as I wait, I wonder, will I ever write again?

Well, we shall see.

Meanwhile, as I wait on what God has for me, I wish to do it with dad’s “hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent” heart.




Posted around lunch time by Jackina Stark

This entry wraps up a long series on teaching our children we love them and that God loves them even more. Our daughters are grown and have been for some time now, but Tony and I hope to continue helping them by teaching “their children after them.”

One summer Stacey took Jake and Avrie, her two children (before sweet Cade came along), to see Leanne and her three children before they came on to our house.

Jake, three at the time, and Mariah, two, sat at the bar in the kitchen looking through magazines. They picked up a Compass, the quarterly magazine Ozark Christian College publishes, began to look at the pictures, and discovered something shocking.

Jake and Mariah adore each other, but when they were that age they did not yet understand they were cousins, nor did they understand they were looking at a magazine from the school where I taught for so long.

Mariah could barely speak, but as she turned a page, she saw column after column of faculty pictures. Somehow in that large group of pictures, the two-year-old saw mine, pointed at it, and said, “MY MA!”

Jake looked at her, at my picture, and then back at her and exclaimed, “That’s the Ma I belong to!”

I could hardly believe the sweet exchange and, of course, saw great theological implication. Jake didn’t say, “That my ma, too!” He phrased it with secure emphasis on his place in my life: He belonged to me.

One of these days when we’re retelling that story, I’ll say to him, “That’s how I feel about God, boy. Sometimes when I think of him, secure in his love, I borrow your phrase and exclaim: “That’s the God I belong to!”

Something tells me Jake will know what that means. And Jake and his Ma will smile.




Posted in the late morning by Jackina Stark

In situation after situation, I saw our daughters learn the lesson of love, and eventually they found it hard to be content with less. Of course, at the same time they were testing God’s word again, for as they loved, they were so whole and happy.

Leanne was very good in high school to take time for the somewhat mentally retarded who had been mainstreamed into the school. She really cared about them, and they knew it. At the end of her junior year, several of these boys asked if they could write a note in her yearbook.

They all wrote sweet entries, but one boy, in particular, really touched her.

He had taken her yearbook to his next class so he would have plenty of time to write. A girl Leanne knew came up to her later and told how the young man sat by her and asked her how to spell every word he wrote in Leanne’s yearbook so that it would be just right. He didn’t want to mess it up.

Leanne will always cherish what it took him so long to write: “Leanne, you are a good person and my best friend.”

Leanne is a school counselor and associate superintendent in a small school district near Branson, Missouri. When she first started teaching years ago now, she called her fifth grade classroom the “positive zone.”  Students learned you did not say hurtful things to one another there. I was not surprised that Leanne’s classroom was a safe place to be.

And when my older daughter Stacey calls, hurt if someone at church has criticized something she or her youth minister husband have tried to do so right, she ends up saying that she will try to understand and respect that person’s motives and point-of-view, for she is, above all else, called to love.

She once matted and framed Philippians 1:9-11, her prayer for her children, and put it in each of their rooms. Perhaps it is still there—My prayer for you is that you will overflow more and more with love for others, and at the same time keep on growing in spiritual knowledge and insight, for I want you always to see clearly the difference between right and wrong, no one being able to criticize you from now until our Lord returns. May you always be doing those good, kind things which show you are a child of God, for this will bring much praise and glory to the Lord.

So, our daughters are teaching their children that they are loved and that God loves them even more. As a character in one of my novels likes to say, “Woo hoo!”




Love’s Supremacy

Posted in the early evening by Jackina Stark


Children can be very self absorbed, and even mean to others. I haven’t known a child that hasn’t had such an impulse, and we need to be there to show them the supremacy and necessity of love.

Loving is the bottom line of the Christian life. Jesus said to “love as I love.” So along with teaching our children by testifying and by encouraging them to trust him and test his Word, we also tried to teach them to love.

Jesus said loving one another is an old and new commandment. I guess it is as old as God himself and as new as trying to love each new day. We never wanted the girls to think they would be children of the light just because they had Perfect Sunday School Attendance pins. There is one main question to be answered in life. Do you love?

I knew the “look” my daughter Leanne was telling her sister about. When I was a teenager, I made the mistake of looking at my dad that way. My superior stare said, “You are uncommonly stupid!” Dad, ordinarily a forbearing father, reacted by picking up a loafer I’d left on the dining room table and giving me a whack on the top of my presumptuous head.

Now years later Leanne had chosen to settle an issue with an acquaintance by flashing that same deadly look, and I decided not to ignore it.

“Leanne, come upstairs and talk to me.”

Suddenly running the sweeper and emptying the dishwasher sounded appealing to my ninth grader. I didn’t blame her. Confrontation is the pits.

She dragged herself into my room and looked at me with dread as I told her to come sit on my lap. She hesitated, not because she was almost as tall as I and felt too old for such a thing. She hesitated because my lap was too close for the misery she had begun to feel.

I have held Leanne thousands of times, but never to list the potential consequences of a choice some people may not have noticed or worried much about if they did. She sat on the edge of my lap and turned her face away from me.

I talked to the sliver of her face I could see: “Leanne, this afternoon there’s a girl out there who might feel crummy about herself simply because you looked at her with such contempt.”

Her body stiffened. I hated to say more, but I wanted to try to explain all the reasons why I had to make such a big deal about a look. “Now that girl may believe something about you that isn’t true, Leanne. She might think you’re mean, when the truth is few people on this planet are sweeter than you are.”

I put my hand on her face and tried to get her to look at me. Total resistance.

I had never been denied her blue eyes, but I had one more thing to say. “Leanne, most people know you’re a Christian, and sometimes even a look could eliminate your opportunity to show someone what God is like.”

Now the tears came. And now I would not let her resist my hand as I turned her face toward me so that I could tell her how much I loved her.

Finally she relaxed in my arms: “I’m sorry, Mama. I’m really sorry.” I brushed her tears away and told her I knew she was sorry. Forgiveness was swift and sweeping.

She was downstairs helping me find something to fix us for dinner a few minutes later, chatter and laughter replacing anger, guilt and shame. But I knew she had learned once more that being Christ’s was more than attending church each week as good as it is to worship and remember and learn with others. I John 3:11-24 tells us that loving “with actions and in truth. . . . is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest” in the presence of God.


When Enough Is Enough

Posted in the late morning by Jackina Stark

Last week I told you about a time I confessed to Stacey that God was helping me forgive, as he has commanded us to do in his word, which is the road map for life-abundant and eternal.

The girls had several opportunities to put this into action themselves. For instance, they came in from school one day, furious with a little girl who had called them names and tried to trip them on the bus.

By the time I’d heard all the particulars, I wanted to smack the kid myself. For years we had been able to summon it, but there in my kitchen on that autumn afternoon, tolerance had vanished.

I thought I was hungry when we sat down to eat an after school snack, but I found myself making designs in the honey on my plate, too upset to eat, too upset even to say much yet. The girls, however, had not lost their appetites and buttered their biscuits with a vengeance, talking plenty while they did it.

“Enough is enough” was the general motif, and now they would retaliate. Okay, maybe they wouldn’t trip her or call her names, but they would do something. They could at least put her in her place.

That’s about the time Matthew 5:43-47 tunneled its way into my consciousness.

Never one to suffer alone, I finally opened my mouth and reminded the girls of what Jesus said. How are we different from the pagans, he wanted to know, if we love only those who love us? We are to love our enemies.

We couldn’t sit there eating biscuits anymore. We got up from the table and went into the family room to pray. I knelt there with the girls, but they did the praying. Their prayers were simple and real. They told God how crummy they felt and confessed that it was hard not to hate this girl. “Help us care for her,” they prayed.  They expressed how awful it would be for someone to want to do and say such things to other people: “She must be so miserable.” They closed this prayer with one last request: “Please. Help her.”

I couldn’t believe what was happening. We were experiencing “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” My young daughters were embracing God’s truth, and just as Jesus said it would, the truth was setting them free.

No matter how hard it would be for them to love and forgive this “enemy,” it would be infinitely easier than bitterness and resentment and revenge.

When Stacey and Leanne got up from their knees, peace had replaced turmoil. But more than healing had happened. They had trusted in and lived out this truth of God’s Word, and as a result, they came to know God more fully.

God’s Word is Truth, and it, beyond all other things, provides guidance and comfort.



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