Ramps anyone?

I literally pulled these babies up from my yard today. Yes, I said yard, not garden. Immediately my olfactory sensory neurons perked up. It was then I remembered a story from my childhood about the potency of ramps.

First, in case you don’t know, ramps are wild onions. Here’s a little background and apparently now they’re in high demand. Read here. Golly, if only I’d kept mine. However, their pungent odor is now permeating my trash can. Good thing tomorrow is trash day. Sorry, had to chase that rabbit.

Back to the story.

Summertimes were always a time we, my sister and I, looked forward to. It meant extra time spent with our grandparents and in particularly with Grandma and Grandpa Reese. We always looked forward to staying with them because other cousins came to stay as well. Sometimes there would be four or five of us at the same time. Unlike Mamaw who loved to have and spoil us individually, Grandma preferred the whole lot of us! I think she did it that way because she wasn’t going to be our entertainer. She knew she wouldn’t have to deal with our boredom if there were others to play to keep us occupied. She was the no nonsensical type anyway. Drama didn’t exist in her realm and she refused to deal with drama.

Anyway, on this particular occasion at Grandmas, I wasn’t staying. It was just my sister Kristi and cousin Stephanie. Grandma was an avid gardener. She had a splendid green thumb. Anyway, she had the girls outside and showed them they could pick and eat even the wild onions or ramps. Eat them they did. I don’t know how many but as officiously odious as the two ramps I picked today, one can only imagine the pungency seeping from them.

Mom came to pick Kristi up from Grandmas. She had an appointment with our dentist, Dr. Cabe. Mom said as soon as Kristi shut the door she said, “Dear Lord, what have you been eating?”

“We ate ramps. They are so good.” Kristi replied.

At this point my Mom’s memory is a little foggy but knowing her like I do, I would imagine she went on a mild tirade using the dreaded middle name saying something along the lines of , “Kristi Lynn Reese do you know what you’ve done? You knew you had a dentist appointment and now you smell so bad, I don’t know if they’ll see you or not. I can’t believe you ate stinky ramps before going to the dentist.”

I am certain Mom was embarrassed to take her in the dentist office reeking but she had no choice. I guess they could’ve refused service. Mom doesn’t remember. I’m sure they didn’t. They just put on their masks and dealt with my sister’s ramp breath.

Isn’t that how we deal with sin in our lives? We know it’s there and yet we mask it and deal with it that way! The only problem is that even with the masking we do, sin stinks. God smells it, we smell it and over time others smell it too. How do we rid ourselves of the pungency of sin? First, we confess our sin. I John 1:9 (KJV) says, ” If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”

Why confess when God already knows? Sometimes being able to verbalize puts our sinful ways into perspective. It’s an open admission of what we’re doing wrong and often, it’s where healing can begin to take place.

Sometimes we confess to others, especially when the sin is destructive behaviors or addictions. Trusted friends who won’t heap judgement on us but who will gently love and lead us back to a right relationship with the Father. Ones who have our backs and love us enough to help us get well.

Keep in mind that we all sin. Romans 3:23 “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Our nature is bent toward sin and it is only by the blood of Jesus that we can be forgiven and set free.

He always pursued me…..He still pursues me!

Before I go any further, God has impressed on my heart that I need to share with you what qualifies me to talk about Him, His goodness, His grace, His mercy, His love and His Son, Jesus. It’s nothing I have done. There’s really no good in me. It is what He has done for me and my heart being receptive to His invitation for abundant life, which is only found through belief in Jesus.

So, let’s start at the beginning. I grew up going to church. Probably from the time I was two weeks old, my parents took me to church. I grew up with flannel graphs. I loved the way teachers could display the story. I loved the visuals. It just made it real. I found it easy to memorize scripture, stories and songs.

When I was 9 and going to VBS all of my friends were going forward for baptism. I followed. I knew and answered all the questions about becoming a Christian appropriately. I even went through a six-week class to make sure that you were sure. I’d already adopted the idea of pretending to be something you’re not just to fit in. I couldn’t just sit the sidelines and watch my friends get baptized. I would be the black sheep. The only one who didn’t. Only I didn’t. I just pretended I did.

The sad reality was that I did know exactly how to become a Christian. I did know all the answers, all the scriptures, all the great stories. I had fantastic head knowledge. I just lacked the heart knowledge. God’s word had not penetrated or permeated my heart, only my head. There is a substantial difference. Head knowledge doesn’t lead to a clear sense of repentance. Head knowledge is still all about me wand what I want. Heart knowledge changes you from the inside out. It convicts and draws us out of our sinfulness and into the abundant life Jesus has for us. John 10:10 tells us, “The thief (devil) comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I Jesus) come that they may have life, and have it to the full”.

At nine years of age, I was baptized but I was not saved. I knew I wasn’t saved because I saw how my other friends, and even my sister had life changing experiences. I saw how their behaviors changed. I was the same. Nothing changed, if anything I was more bitter and angry, not less.

I plodded on through elementary school, junior high and high school without ever allowing the love of Jesus to change my heart. On the outside, smiles and laughter abounded. On the inside was constant turmoil and poor choices. Poor choices that lead me down some very dark highways in life. Choices that still haunt and taunt me today, when I allow my mind to wander and the evil one to remind me of my past.

All the while God pursued me. He sent special people into my life to lead, guide and direct me. While these people knew I was flailing, they didn’t grow weary of telling me how much Jesus loved me. In fact, it was more their actions towards me than their words. I still wouldn’t bend or break. My heart was hard. It was stone cold. I liked it that way. I didn’t have to feel hurt or at least pretend it didn’t exist. Oh, I could talk the talk but I didn’t walk the walk.

Heck, I even convinced, we’ll maybe not, Ned that I had prayed diligently over my decision to get married at 19 1/2 years old. He seemed satisfied with my reply but he still didn’t agree with my decision. While the decision itself, as I have told you before, was more because I was in love with the idea of marriage more than I loved the person I married. I had lofty notions or what marriage would be….oh boy, was I ever shocked! But God used this decision magnificently to pursue my heart and bring me into a right relationship with Him.

It mostly began once we moved to Bremerton, Washington after a year of marriage. I was five months pregnant when we moved. So in addition to a major move in our first year of marriage by the year and a half mark, we would also be welcoming a new baby. For someone who doesn’t adapt well at change, change was being thrust on all sides. Not to mention the reason for our move was decommissioning of a submarine and a crazy, challenging work schedule for my husband at the time. It was 24 hours on 24 hours off.

Anyway, I discovered I was lonely and isolated because he didn’t want to live in base housing. So we lived in an apartment about 20 minutes away. I had to make my own way. The first Saturday I was there, he was working until Sunday evening and I decided I would go to church. I had rarely attended church while we were in Charleston. It just felt like the best thing for me to do. The only problem was I really didn’t know my way around. I got out a map and the phone book. It just so happened that the first church that piqued my interest happened to be within 10 miles of our house. I decided it best to know where I was going and how far away I was. Luckily, it only took about 12 minutes. As I rolled upon the little white church, it reminded be of the old country churches. Like the ones where if the walls could talk would tell you great stories of faith. The deep seeded faith. The kind of faith that moves you. I found myself excited for the next day.

For the first time, in as long as I could remember, I got up with an enthusiastic and optimistic attitude about going to this church. I don’t know what I was expecting, I just knew I was excited. Since I was going somewhere new by myself, I dared not get there too early. I walked in just a couple of minutes before the welcome and announcements. The place was filled with joy. I had never seen such joy on the faces of people. I couldn’t put my finger on it then but I know now, it was the joy of the Lord. As the praise team began, there she was, Sherra. I watched intently as she sang. Her voice clear and beautiful but there was more, her countenance. It wasn’t the fake or performance oriented smile, it was real and genuine. Sweet. Tender Her brown eyes glowed as she sang. I was captivated by her. She wasn’t the only one. I just knew that we were close in age and there was something about her that I wanted and I wanted to get to know.

After the service, she sought me out and introduced herself. I am not sure how long we talked that day but long enough to find we had a lot of common ground. She, too, was a military wife. Her husband was a Marine. We exchanged numbers and became fast friends.

I learned quickly the specialness of that little church was the joy that filled the hearts of the people. It was place where grace was given in abundance. A place where folks cared for the needs of others. A place of hope and freedom. It was there that God really began speaking to my hard heart. I allowed him to soften a few calluses. However, I wasn’t ready to make a full commitment. I still wanted to do my own thing, my own way. It was still more about me.

The ten months I spent in Bremerton were some of the best and worst of my entire life. That’s all I’m going to say about that for now.

We returned to North Carolina. He went to New York for ELT school, I stayed behind. My parents had started going to Hendersonville First Baptist Church. I started going with them. God continued to pursue my heart. I met couple after couple that inspired me. Again, I saw how joyful they were. How real and authentic they were. It was captivating.

In 1991, I found myself at a real crossroads, now I had two boys 21 months apart and my marriage was falling apart. Oddly, I was emotionally sound, except the occasional feelings of not being able to care for the boys. I was now living in Hendersonville and very involved at FBC. God was continuing to pursue my heart. Then, on that spring day in 1992, we had a guest Pastor, Mark Corts. He talked about how so often we get Christianity wrong. Often we actually are baptized before we ever really believe in Christ. He said, “Now is the time to get it right. Repent. Believe. Be baptized.

The invitation was offered. My heart beating out of my chest as I stepped forward but for once in my life I didn’t care what people thought. I knew that Jesus had changed my heart. He had pursued me. I wasn’t even worthy of the pursuit. Yet, He loved me and in that moment, that’s all that mattered. I’d spent 13 years doing it my way. It wasn’t working well for me.

I wish I could tell you that everything in my life changed and everything got better. It didn’t and that’s not reality. In fact, for a period of time, things got worse. My husband no longer wanted to be married. I was asked to leave the youth ministry until my divorce was finalized. I was misunderstood and abandoned by some friends. However, God was working in all these things. Did I question my decision? Sure. I question a lot of things. I just knew I wasn’t going back to what I was. I liked the new me better.

This story is important for me to tell you because I am never certain what God will ask me to share. What I need you to understand is that from brith until I was 22 years old, my life was my own. I did some vile things. I hurt people along the way. I was hurt along the way. So, as stories of my past are shared, I was not the same person I am now. That’s what’s really important for you to understand. Also, you need to know that I am not perfect and I still do things and have attitudes and actions that are not always pleasing to the Lord. And this is how I know my heart is changed because, I like when I was younger, my conscious bothers me and God’s love for me compels me to get rid of things that are not pleasing to Him.

The main reason I wanted to share this with you is because maybe you’re like me. Maybe you were baptized before you really gave your heart and life to Jesus. If so, get it right. Do it in order. It’s truly one of the most humbling and awesome decisions you’ll ever make.

In closing, I will leave you with the following quote from one of the wisest men I’ve known. He said this to me and his daughter, one of my dear friends, about a week before God called him home, “When it’s all about me, me is all I see.” Jim Lowry . Think about it. Most often “me” is the reason we can’t see the greatness and vastness of his love, nor can we see His relentless pursuit.

Exhausted, Tired…..a call to pray.

I don’t mind telling you that the past few weeks have been hard. Truthfully, they’ve been very testing and trying and have virtually stripped me of energy and I feel like I’m walking around on the brink of tears and dazed. I’m exhausted and spent, emotionally and physically. My energizer batteries have died. Finished. Caput.

We moved in our new home on February 4. I knew the week following was going to be challenging. I’d already told Terry that it was going to be “hell week”. Mentally and physically I had. prepared, or so I thought, but I wasn’t prepared for the events Monday would bring.

I was in Hendersonville taking care of an obligation when I received a phone call from Mom telling me that Popaw was being taken to the ER. He had taken bad fall because he had some major GI issues which caused him some lightheadedness. He banged his head and fell on his right arm. Knowing full well, it would take forever in the ER, I didn’t rush but but finished up my obligation first.

I got the hospital around 3:00. Popaw was pasty white. He looked terrible. Hadn’t been able to keep any food on his stomach. They ran every test imaginable. It wasn’t the flu. It wasn’t a heart attack. He had not injured his head or neck or arm when he fell. Nothing. Nada. After filling him with two bags of IV fluids, they called it GI infection and send him back to the bridge.

Mom was feeling rotten that day as well and I sent her home to take care of herself. By the time Popaw was finally released, it was about 7:45 pm. He was weak and I knew I’d need help to get him back to his room. Got him settled and finally made my way back home. I had been gone almost 14 hours.

Much of that week was the same, I wasn’t gone quite as long each day but plenty long enough. Popaw wasn’t any better. He had an appointment scheduled Friday with his doctor. When Mom called to remind him I was picking him up, he said, “Oh, I thought she was taking me to the hospital.” He was still feeling rotten and had eaten nothing since Sunday.

Mom and I decided it would be best to get him back to the ER. We ended up taking him to Park Ridge. It took basically the whole day, but they admitted him. His blood pressure and heart rate concerned the doctors there. His blood pressure extremely high and heart rate extremely low, not to mention he still wasn’t able to eat. He kept saying, ” My belly feels full. I just don’t want anything,”

He remained in the hospital for the week following. A lot of touch and go moments and several times we thought for certain his time was drawing to a close. But then something happened and he began to eat again. After 12 days of virtually no food, he ate and ate. During that time, it was decided he would need to go to rehab before going back to The Bridge, due to his weakness.

He was moved to Hendersonville Health and Rehab on Thursday. Then a call from Mom Friday morning saying they were taking him back to the ER. Fortunately the stay was only brief and he was sent back to HHR. The ultimate goal there was to get him strong enough to get back to The Bridge.

Last Sunday he was well enough to return. A huge answer to prayer and a willingness on his part to participate in physical therapy to get stronger. Terry calls him a “strong man”. He definitely is and God still has a purpose and plan for him. That’s for sure.

Due to his poor condition and other commitments I had in town, for the first three weeks since our move, I spent a total of three days in our new home. Most days required me to be gone for at least eight hours and sometimes more. It’s no wonder when friends asked how I liked my new house, I would say, “when I’m there I’ll let you know. What I can tell you is that everyday when I awaken, I am thankful and feel blessed to be there.”

Even the weekends felt jam packed. I just never took time to breathe and process we had made a major move. We left everything we knew to come to a different place, albeit not far away, just new and different.

The past two Thursdays have been particularly challenging. Two weeks ago, I finally had a full day to spend at home; however I have Bible Study on Thursday evening. This means a drive to Hendersonville.(Keep in mind, I could still live in Hendersonville and have to drive as far as I am driving now) I’ll be honest. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay home. However, I had spent time praying, making notes and preparing. I needed to go. I did go. God painted this breathtaking sky to remind me of his greatness and goodness.

This past Thursday, I had obligations before Bible Study and didn’t finish until 5:30. I only had an hour to get ready for bible study. I even called Terry and said, “I’m on the verge of tears. I’m exhausted and don’t want to go!” His response, “Just call and let them know you won’t be there. They’ll understand.” I knew deep down that wasn’t the answer. I needed to go. I dearly love these women and I needed them.

I went and I can’t tell you how blessed I was to be there. I didn’t go in with a mask on. I didn’t pretend all was ok. I just told the truth. I was vulnerable. Real. It was hard for me. You know what happened? I felt loved. I felt cared for and I felt understood. It alleviated some of the angst and frustration I was feeling. By the time I left, I felt refreshed.

When we made our decision to move, we weighed all the pros and cons. I knew going in that upfront it was going to be more difficult. I was not living in an unreal dream world where everything would be hunky dory. I knew there would be hard times. I just didn’t know how overwhelming they would be when life threw a curveball with Popaw’s illness. I wasn’t prepared for how Popaw’s illness would resurface so many emotions from Ned’s illness. I simply wasn’t ready for the overrun of emotions.

I’m not telling you this for pity or even sympathy. I don’t need those things. What I need is a body of friends remembering me in prayer for the next few weeks. Things seem to have settled and for that I am truly grateful and thankful.

I am also telling you this because through all of the trials and storms, I have seen the faithfulness of God. He is my hiding place (Psalm 32:7) and shelter from the storm. More than that, He is my strength daily. There have been days when I simply had nothing within me to do anything and He has been my strength and portion just for the day. He always gives me what I need. There may to be anything leftover at the end of the day; however, there’s always more for tomorrow because His mercies are new each day. (Lamentations 3:22-24).