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A Kindness

Posted in the mid-afternoon by Jackina Stark

Last Tuesday night we had two couples over for dinner. We wanted to make sure this happened before we leave Joplin some time in the next few months. We’ve been meaning to get together with them for over thirty years or so. That’s how long it’s been since Tony coached with Sam and Craig at Parkwood High School in Joplin, Missouri.

Sam and Rita moved to Joplin about the same time we did and had their first child a few months after we had Stacey, our first. There are several things I remember about Sam and Rita, but two things stand out.

The fire is one of them.

Stacey was only a few months old when I tried to burn down our apartment. I wasn’t as dedicated to having a spotless kitchen in those days as I am now, and we had been in a terrible hurry the Wednesday night before the fire morning, trying to eat dinner and get to church with a new baby.

I left a pan of grease on the stove, and the next morning when I went to the frig to get a bottle of formula to warm for Stacey, who would be waking up soon, I realized there weren’t any and I would have to prepare bottles.

I put a pan of water on the stove to boil (yes, those were barbaric days), dropped in the bottles, flipped on the burner, and went into the living room to read the newspaper. It wasn’t long before I heard a popping sound and thought, “Dadgumit! A bottle must have broken.” I put down my paper and rounded the corner of the living room to find the kitchen ablaze. I’d turned on the pan of grease instead of the pan of water.

Not good.

I stood in shock, looking at fire leaping around the kitchen, but I had the wherewithal to rush out of the apartment. Obviously I needed a phone, and ours was in the kitchen. I’m happy to say I hadn’t gone far when I remembered I had a baby inside and ran back in to snatch her out of her baby bed. We made it to a convenience store down the block, and the fire department was called, but we never found one of the little white booties Stacey’s Gran had knitted her (I was running pretty fast).

Except for the kitchen, the fire caused only smoke damage, but we did have to find someplace to live for a few weeks. Enter Sam and Rita with an offer to let us stay with them in their tiny two bedroom house. They gave us their bedroom and stayed in the smaller bedroom with only a twin bed if I recall, and if I recall, Rita was pregnant. I’m sure we thanked them, but I’m sure we did not thank them profusely enough.

I’m not sure what we would have done if they hadn’t opened their home to us. I doubt we could have afforded a motel for even one night, and we didn’t consider going home to our parents, two hours away, since Tony, who was still teaching at the time, needed to be in class. Their generous hospitality we will never forget.

A year later we added another baby girl to the family and during a summer break a few years after that, the girls spent a week with their grandparents and Tony and I decided to make a quick trip to see friends in St. Louis. We had travelled maybe three hours down I-44 when, clunk, the car just stopped.

We managed to get it to the side of the road, and to make a long story short, we would have been there until the kids were grown if Tony hadn’t been able to reach Sam Adams, who once again came to our rescue.

We thought he was just coming to get us, but instead he had called around and brought a makeshift part to fix the car, which enabled us to make it to St. Louis after all. That was six hours round-trip for Sam, and another generosity we will never forget.

I’ve been thinking this week that we forget so very much. It’s hard to conjure up all the moments that have produced a happy life. But it seems to me we remember remarkably well certain moments—moments of extreme joy, hilarity, terror, and shame.

And moments of extreme kindness.


A Few Thousand Smiles

Posted around lunch time by Jackina Stark

The framing is almost done on the Branson house, and now that we’re back home in Joplin for a few days, we decided to go through boxes of pictures and try to toss, sort, and combine everything into one nice big plastic bin with a snap-on lid. We may have to go get a bigger one. I’m keeping more than I should.

I was snapping pictures long before digital cameras existed and scrapbooking made keeping a pictorial record fun and rewarding (and an incredible time-consuming labor of love).

No albums for me. Just envelopes of pictures, and I only began a sloppy form of putting dates on them sometime in the eighties. I have to line up the girls’ school pictures by teeth: baby teeth, missing teeth, growing teeth, complete set.

You don’t have to tell me how pitiful that is.

But I have to give myself credit: I took pictures. And I became an especially dedicated photographer (or record keeper) during the first twelve years the grandkids came along. I still snap pictures of them, but their parents have joined the fray, so I don’t have to be as vigilant as I once was, and of course, I’ve started forgetting things, including taking pictures, even though Tony has bought me a darling little camera which I keep in an inside pocket of my purse.

I’m happy to say I took a picture of my granddaughter Mariah last weekend with our framed house down the hill in the background.

Tony and I will have been married forty-four years this summer. We’ve been smiling at the camera for a long time now, and I’ve been going through pictures taken during those years. I’ve thrown out the really bad ones, which is a blog entry in itself, a classification and division essay. But there are so many pictures I kept: sweet ones, funny ones, interesting ones. That plastic container is a treasure chest.

It contains, in part, births, graduations, weddings, family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas and Fourth of July, family vacations and reunions, visits and vacations with friends.

In so many of the pictures, someone is being hugged or held. What on this earth is nicer than that?

Six of us took a cruise a few weeks ago, and my friend Pam took a picture of me and Claudette, a friend I’ve had since college. It is taken from the back, and we are looking out across the ocean, our arms around each other’s shoulders. If I ever get a hard copy of it, it will be a keeper. (I’ll try to date it when I throw it into the box.)

I doubt I’ll ever get around to making albums. But it will be easier to look through my box now that things are sorted a bit. We might have a marathon picture viewing the next time the family gathers.

The grandkids hate for me to talk about passing from this life to the next (I call it passing from life to life), but when it happens, and both Tony and I are gone, I hope the kids and grandkids can take off a few days and sit around this plastic container, this treasure chest, and look at our lives together in pictures and take all the hugs and smiles they want. I hope they can feel the warmth of our love and thank God that we’re waiting for them in a place he’s prepared for those of us who believe.

But first—the new house and a family vacation on Dauphin Island!

Someone find my purse and hand me my camera. :-)



Bless This House

Posted around lunch time by Jackina Stark

We’ve been spending quite a bit of time in Branson, Missouri, lately, watching the progress on the house we’re building on the acres my daughter Leanne and her husband so graciously offered us.

This bribe to get us down the hill from them is one we gladly accepted after we had mulled it over almost a year and after we envisioned life with our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren up the hill and a field of cows and Taneycomo Lake behind us.

Saturday, while Leanne busied herself with one thing or another, and while the men put up fence and fed the cows, I went down to the house, which now has the framing done for the walk-out basement, ready for the main floor to be framed tomorrow.

I prayed over the house where we would probably spend the rest of our lives, and I wrote scriptures on the two x fours that would be supporting the floors of our bath/bedroom, entry, and study.

I began by writing one of Tony’s favorites: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Of course I had to write the sheep Audrey counts when she can not sleep. If you’ve read Tender Grace, you might recall the verses: ““Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”; “I am with you always”; “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me” (KJV); “It is I; don’t be afraid.”

I wrote another passage I included in Tender Grace: “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this.” “Yes, Lord. I believe.”

And I wrote a prayer I’ve taken from Jeremiah 33: 2-3. My dear friend Linda Campbell cross-stitched this passage on a pillow for me when I began to pursue novel writing. It sits on my desk, but it has become a prayer I offer almost daily, often several times a day. So I wrote where my study will be, “Teach me great and unsearchable things I do not know.”

I usually elaborate on it just a bit when I offer this prayer. “Teach me great and unsearchable things I do not know—about writing, about life, about your Word, and about you.” These things I want to know about are listed in emphatic order from important to most important.

I recommend these verses to you, for the Lord who formed the earth and established it has said, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

What a great prayer! What might he show you if you only ask?



Posted around lunch time by Jackina Stark

I have just finished writing a speech I’m going to give at the Ozark Christian College annual Preaching/Teaching Convention this week. I look forward to giving it.

This is in direct contrast to the first speeches I gave when I started teaching thirty years ago.

I distinctly remember the prayer I prayed every time I left the house to give a speech that first spring. It began “Dear Father” and closed “In Jesus’ name.” In between I put my head down on the bed I knelt beside and sobbed.

Then I got up, fixed my makeup, and walked out of the house to do what God had called or at least allowed me to do. Scared? You have no idea. But I was able to do it—for one reason, and one reason only.

The Holy Spirit of God enabled me.

When Jesus told his disciples he would be leaving, he also told them he would not leave us “comfortless” and promised the Holy Spirit would dwell in them. He called the Spirit “Comforter,” and it is no wonder. It seems everything he does for us provides comfort.

I am comforted to know he gives us gifts (Romans 12:6-8), and I thank him for the joy of using them. High points of my life have come in the times he has done through me—whether I have spoken to a crowd of strangers or sung at a friend’s funeral—what I simply could not have done myself. That seems to be his special gift: doing in us what we cannot do ourselves.

I certainly know it is he who helps me grow in the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). To the extent I am any one of these things, I have the Holy Spirit of God to thank.

I remember the day I sat in a friend’s driveway and prayed that God would help me reach out to this lady who had hurt me. Tears streamed down my face, and I could not raise my voice above a whisper as I paraphrased St. Francis’ prayer: Let me not desire to be understood or consoled; instead, help me to understand and console my friend. I was terrified, thinking I could not do this most difficult and unnatural thing. But I believed the Holy Spirit could, and I remember how free I felt when he did.

It is a comfort knowing the spirit abides in me leading me. He shows me what the good or right thing is and “encourages” me to do it. I was driving home from a dentist appointment on a hot summer day and, like everyone else, zipped right by an overweight woman hobbling down the street on crutches. All I wanted was to get home. However, the Spirit thought we should stop, so I circled the block to ask if I could help.

Often, though, I don’t yield to his leading. It is also comforting for this sinner to know that I am righteous, holy and redeemed because of Jesus (I Cor 1:30), and, back to the Eph. 1 text now, my “inheritance” is guaranteed, because I’m “marked” with a seal, “the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph 1:13-14). The “Spirit himself testifies” with my spirit that, even when I mess up, I am God’s child, and I can cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15-17).

But I am most comforted that the Holy Spirit speaks in my behalf. When I am confused about some issue or when I feel the agony of some wretched pain, my own or a friend’s, I am weak and miserable and don’t know what to say to God. But “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26). Imagine-the Holy Spirit of God groans for you.

The Holy Spirit has come, and my heart knows peace.


Do You?

Posted around lunch time by Jackina Stark

Our VBS one year centered around the theme, “Animals of the Kingdom.” Thus, the children, 2 years old up through the sixth grade, came to a classroom or area to listen to a story teller, that is animal, tell about a very significant event.

I remember when the director came to me more than six months before with a list of animals to choose from. I scanned the list, intrigued to find a whale, a raven, a cow, a snake, and a rooster among the animals to chose from. Then I saw it, the animal that made me glad the dear woman had assumed I would be one of the storytellers.

I was amazed no one had chosen it yet. I told the decorating crew to create a pasture in Room 5, because I, the lost but rescued sheep, was going to sit on a bale of hay and tell VBS children my favorite Bible story.

It must have been about Wednesday the week of VBS, when I was totally warmed up and hopelessly in character, that I began boldly to tell the children that this was the most important story in the Bible.

I enjoyed doing my interpretation of the lost sheep:

I’m not sure how I got lost, children. I guess,  like   it so often happens, I just wandered away. I don’t even know when I realized, for sure, that I was lost. All of sudden, there was no grass to eat or a  stream   to drink from or lie down beside. Refreshment and comfort, safety and peace were far away. At this point, what was there for a little sheep to do? I laydown in the dirt, settled there among rocks, and I cried. My shepherd had 99 other sheep, smarter than I and safe in the sheepfold, he would not miss me, and if he did, what could he do? Oh, I felt so stupid. And afraid. And terribly alone.

At his point each night, I broke character to ask a question, which was just as well because I had invariably cried my black sheep nose off by then. I asked the kids if they could remember one of the happiest moments of their lives. I tried to help them with it: was it seeing someone they hadn’t seen for a long time, was it the day school was out, was it receiving a present they’d long wanted?

Once they had this thing firmly in mind, I asked them what their faces might have looked like—in response to such joy, for pure, deep joy has a way of working up from our hearts right onto our faces. They gave the look a try, and then back in character, I showed them what my face looked like when I finally realized that the faint sound I heard in the distance was the voice of the good shepherd calling my name and how the look intensified when I actually saw his face and knew that not only was I safe, but that I was loved.

Then I told them a most amazing thing, something I shall never forget: the shepherd looked as happy as I felt.

I asked the kids if they knew what the shepherd did when he found me. “He spanked ya,” one boy offered. “You’d think,” I said. “But no.”

Though several of them knew this story, they didn’t know what the shepherd did and were delighted when I showed them how he put me over his shoulder, as it says in Luke 15, “rejoicing.” They all looked at me with a trace of wonder on their faces and seemed to understand what that meant.

Do you?

It’s hard to hold on to this truth, but Psalm 103:10 clearly states “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” Ah, yes. God so loved the world that he sent his son to seek and to save the lost.

Maybe you can understand why this story Jesus told, one of an amazing Trilogy, is my favorite story of all time.

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