Thursday, February 24, 2011

Imitating Christ

I will never be on American Idol. First of all, I'm too old. Secondly, I can't sing. Third, well, do I really need a third reason? The first two pretty much disqualify me from becoming actively involved in the talent competition enjoyed by millions.
During the tryouts this year, I noticed several contestants auditioning with songs made famous by one of the judges, Steven Tyler. They sought after and, every time I tuned in, received his approval. I guess the nod from the artist was validation of their talent.
I can identify with the desire for approval, and I've wasted too much time in my life trying to gain acceptance by people. The older I get, the more my focus becomes upward, and the more I aim to please the Creator of all.
Ephesians 5:1,2 compels me. "Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do because you are His dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God." This Scripture was summed up succinctly with the letters, WWJD, asking the question, "What Would Jesus Do?"
Toyohiko Kagawa (so glad I'm writing and not pronouncing this) seems to have lived his adult life answering that question. Born in 1888, in Kobe, Japan, Kagawa was orphaned early, lived with his widowed stepmother, and then his uncle. He attended Bible class to learn English, and was disowned when he became a Christian during his teen years.
Kagawa believed in putting his Christianity into action. He lived among the poor, in a six feet square shed, as a missionary and social reformist, and was eventually arrested for his role in labor activism. Following a devastating earthquake, Kagawa was asked to help rebuild the nation because of his ability to reorganize and restructure. He was released from prison into his new role, but declined the money and benefits attached to the job saying, "To work with the poor, I must be poor." He is also quoted as saying, "I read in a book where a man called Christ went about doing good. It is very disconcerting to me that I am so satisfied with just going about."
Few of us will live a life like that of Toyohiko Kagawa. And that's okay. But it's not okay if we don't acknowledge, develop, and use the gifts God has placed within us. In our brief appearance on planet Earth, we have the responsibility to touch our corner of the world with the love of God. When we stand before Him, this audience of One, may our lives demonstrate the use of the talents He entrusted to us. To the best of our abilities, may we leave nothing unsaid, undone, unwritten, or unsung. May we hear, not "You're going to Hollywood," but "Well, done, my good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:21)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Monique and Frank's Day

Do you know anyone who delivers singing telegrams? Lauren and I don't. Lauren wanted to send one to her sister, Monique, on the morning of her wedding. The only problem was our inability to think of someone we could hire to tackle the task. Finally, we called upon my sister, Kay, who immediately agreed to gather a group of singers to serenade Monique. (I never offered to pay her, but I'm sure she would have refused to accept it.) Kay distributed copies of our version of Adam Sandler's "Grow Old with Me," learned the song by listening to it on youtube, and held practice in her home.
February 5th finally arrived, and although it was during the Blizzard of 2011, the sun was in full display. Monique, more relaxed than I had seen her in weeks, sat at my kitchen table, looked out of the window, and began to laugh. Walking across the lawn was Kay's Choir, led by Kerri, who was strumming her son's toy guitar. Monique was presented with huge bouquets of balloons and flowers, purchased by Lauren earlier that morning, and listened as Kay, Mimi, Ann, Kerri, Brandi, Tiffani, Amanda, Jaden, and Dylan gave an unforgettable performance.
The business of beauty soon began. Hair was curled, pinned, and sprayed. Make-up was applied, re-applied, and just when I thought I was done, Lauren added more. Michael and Geoffrey did not begin to dress for the wedding until my daughters and I were walking out of the door. We piled into the car, began what Elise deemed, 'the last ride as single sisters,' and stopped at a gas station when Monique said, "I need a Coke Icee to settle my stomach."
Michael was remarkably composed as he escorted Monique to her groom. Victoria sobbed throughout the ceremony, but somehow had enough energy to remain on the dance floor during the reception. Me? My tears came when my Dad, Monique and Frank's choice to officiate their wedding, paused to allow the couple to share their thoughts before taking their wedding vows. Frank began.
"I never would have guessed that the girl who denied me of a kiss on our first date would end up being the girl I marry. However, every day since that night we have grown closer and closer to one another, and every new thing I learned about you has only made me love you more. I love your dedication to God and to your family. I love your passion and drive. I love the way you look with no make-up on. I love the way your beautiful blue eyes pierce my heart every single time you look into mine. But what I love the most about you is that you love who I truly am, and you allow me to be the man God has called me to be. I am your Warrior and King, and I will love, protect, and care for you until the day that I die."
Monique then pulled a sheet of paper from the pocket of her wedding dress and read, "On August 30, 2009, I went on a date with a boy. I was pretty sure the night was doomed to fail since the boy was a science teacher and I just assumed he’d be very nerdy. But, then there was you.
"I cannot imagine any moment in time more perfect than this moment. And trust me, I’ve imagined my wedding. As a little girl, I wondered what my dress would look like. I wondered if my parents would cry, I wondered if my flowers would be pretty and I wondered where it would be. But the thing I wondered the most about was who I was going to marry. And, then there was you.
"You have exceeded every expectation and surpassed every dream and I cannot believe God loves me enough to trust me with loving you. So today, on our first day of forever, I promise my loyalty and devotion to my favorite person in the world. It’ll be the one thing I’m always sure of, the one thing I’ll never doubt, and the one thing that I’ll always look forward to, because it will be you."
I realize the wedding was just one day, just a small fraction of our lifetime. I am even more aware that God had other things to take care of on the fifth of February: many other prayers to hear, many other people to attend to, and many other problems to solve. This knowledge makes His answers to my heart's cry for the day so much sweeter and so much more appreciated. His concern for all that concerns me is just one of the many reasons I sing His praises. Hmmm… I wonder if Kay can come up with another singing telegram.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Victoria and the Valentine Candy

It was February 14, 2002. Victoria’s seven-year-old eyes slowly scanned the Valentine loot scattered on the kitchen table. Pushing aside treat-filled plastic bags, small white envelopes bearing her name, and the wrappings of the candy that didn’t survive the ride home, she reached for the large, red, heart-shaped box.
“And who is this for?” she asked, her voice filled with hope that she was the intended recipient.
“Sorry. I bought it for your Dad,” I replied while thinking Victoria’s choice of the Whitman sampler was pretty impressive.
“May I open it?” she boldly questioned.
“Well… okay,” I answered after deciding Michael wouldn’t mind. By the time he returned from his business trip, he’d barely notice it anyway. I continued, “Just don’t lose the little map inside. It lets you know where each type of candy is located.”
My husband does not like surprises. With regards to candy and to life, he wants to know what’s in store for him before he sinks his teeth into it.
“Okay, I won’t lose it,” she happily promised as I left the kitchen.
Only moments after she had ripped the cellophane from the candy it had been protecting, Victoria found me in the study. Her solemn expression informed me that her next words had been carefully chosen.
“I didn’t lose the map,” she quietly began, then continued with a rush of words, “but I dropped the box and all of the candy fell out and I don’t know where any of it belongs.”
In her defense, I never told her not to drop the box. I only asked her to guard the map. She followed me into the kitchen where we began to pick up the candy. The bounty of strewn sweets dwindled as we attempted to return each piece to its proper place. It was a difficult task, except for the cashews. It’s easy to spot a nut, even when it is covered in chocolate and trying to masquerade as a candy.
And so it is with life…
Sometimes we drop the box. The pieces of our lives are then in disarray and suddenly we don’t know where anything belongs. Spouses, children, jobs, ministries, hobbies, unspoken dreams, friends, and even nutty relatives (I can’t believe I wrote that!) viciously vie for our attention. They all start to look the same. Well, except for the nuts. They’re easy to spot, even when they try to masquerade as something sweet.
Keeping my priorities in order is an ongoing task for me. I am so grateful for my God, Who kneels beside me to take those sweet, but scattered portions of my life and return them to their proper place. Even the nuts!
Ronny may be reached at

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Monique and More Wedding Stuff

I can give a good speech. If you don't believe me, ask my husband, one of my children, or any of the young men who have dated my daughters. Yes, I can talk the talk. I did so again as I sat in a meeting with the couple Monique chose to photograph her wedding.
Monique is my oldest child, and the first to marry. She is also the one with the title "Most Likely to Stress Out Anytime, Anywhere." As the photographers reviewed their agenda for capturing her wedding, they paused to explain that they would stop shooting if Monique appeared stressful, and would proceed only when she was more relaxed. Monique looked at me, and I looked at her, and we were probably both thinking the same thing: We're not going to have one single picture of the bride on her wedding day. I seized the moment and launched into an impromptu speech.
"Okay, time out," I began, "Monique, you've never been married before. We have never had a Monique wedding. Just as I don't compare you to anyone else, I will not compare your wedding to any other. We have planned the details, the things we can control, and have followed through with the appropriate actions. Whatever happens on the day of the wedding, even the little surprises, will be handled calmly, and will only make memories which will combine to make a perfect Monique wedding."
Pretty good speech, right? At least I thought so. Yes, I can talk the talk, but walking the walk is a little more challenging. It's been said that life happens after you have made other plans. In my case, life happened after I delivered my speech.
Monique tried on her wedding dress, an activity she enjoys frequently, and with growing anticipation of her wedding. As soon as she modeled the dress, Gucci, Victoria's maltipoo, walked over and sat on the train. Surprisingly, for Monique is not quite an animal lover, she smiled as we talked about the dog's habit of sitting on the train of the dress. I removed the dog to work on the hem, and asked Monique to walk around to be sure the dress was exactly as she wanted it. Monique walked around the room, smiling with every step. Still seated on the floor, I reached out to adjust the train of the dress, and instantly froze. The dress was wet.
Oblivious to the problem, but well aware of my sudden silence, Monique asked, "What's wrong?"
"Your dress is wet," I said, very softly. Although I've been known to raise my voice, when I am really upset, I withdraw and become very quiet.
"Oh, it's probably water," Monique said.
"No. It's. Not." I said as I walked away. I returned with wet towels and began to dab the train of the dress. Fortunately, the lining underneath had absorbed most of the result of Gucci's accident. As I worked on the dress, I kept thinking, This afternoon I paid to have this dog groomed. Tonight I'm getting rid of her.
"It's not a big deal," Monique insisted.
"It's. Your. Wedding. Dress," I answered.
"Mom, it's the train. It's the back of the dress. It's the hem of the back of the dress. And I'm getting married at night, outside. Even if it leaves a stain, who's going to notice? This is just going to be a funny memory."
I wasn't ready to laugh; however, I was overwhelmed at the maturity of my daughter as she continued, "I'm not even worried about the wedding anymore. I just want to be married to Frank."
The dress was not stained. I began to speak normally again. And days later, at the rehearsal, I turned to see a look on Monique's face I knew to be in response to the news that the weather may force her wedding indoors. No problem, I thought, I have a speech for that. Before I could start to walk towards her, I noticed Frank begin to talk to her, and I watched as she took control of her emotions. Later she said, "Mom, I just want what's best for everyone. If the wedding's inside, I'll be fine."
I am so grateful for Frank, who apparently has a few speeches of his own. For Monique, who is now earning the title "Queen of Calm." And for the fact that the wedding is almost here. A wedding Gucci will not be attending.
Ronny may be reached at