Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Love and Grace Challenge

M is for Missionary

            “Ladies, ladies.  Please settle down and find your seats.  We are about to begin.” Using her hands, Hannah Saunders shushed the crowd of women.  “Who is ready to begin digging into God’s Word?  I know I am.  We have a great weekend planned but first let us get to know each other.  I want you to locate someone you don’t know and find your similarities by asking a few questions. Look to the screen above me if you need suggestions. Go.”

            Lisa Sparrow glanced at the list provided and patiently looked around for a newbie she could encourage.  She had been coming to these retreats since moving to China eight years ago and had been blessed every time.  Finally spotting a timid woman in the corner she approached her and boldly asked the first question on the list.  “Do you enjoy cooking?”

            A shocked Olivia White answered, “No, I don’t.  Do you?”

            “Not really.  My favorite phrase of my husband’s is ‘Honey, let’s go out tonight.’  It always makes me feel special.  Managing a household is hard work!  Oh, by the way I’m Lisa Sparrow.”

            Shaking the extended hand Olivia smiled, “Olivia White, nice to meet you.  I guess the next question is ‘How long have you been married and how many children?’”

            “Ten years and two children.  What about you Olivia?”

            “Six months, no children.  We just arrived here so that answers question three.”

            Not missing a beat Lisa continued, “We have been doing M work eight years and I have to say that this particular resort is my favorite place to visit.  I always come away from these weekends refreshed.  Have you had much time to travel yet?”

Confused, Olivia asked, “Excuse me Lisa, but what is M work?”

“M work is our term for what we do here.  It is short for missionary work,” Lisa answered matter-of-factly.   

”Oh, I see.  That makes sense.  To answer your question we have not had time to travel yet but we plan a trip to Chengdu soon to visit the U.S. Consulate.”

            “So, you are American then,” Lisa concluded. 

            “Yes, from Arkansas.  What about you?   Where are you from?  I hear an accent but I don’t do well with placing them yet,” Olivia lowered her eyes and whispered. 

            “The U.K. just outside of London.” Gingerly placing her hand on Olivia’s arm Lisa encouraged, “And don’t be ashamed of that Olivia.  You will learn quickly about other cultures when you meet enough people.”

            “I hope you are right,” Olivia nearly shouted over the timer signaling the end of the icebreaker. 

            “Lisa, do you want to introduce us to your new friend?” Hannah the M.C. asked.  “Please stand up both of you.”

            Avoiding eye contact an embarrassed Olivia held tightly onto the only person she knew in the room. 

            “This is Olivia White from Arkansas, United States.  She is newly married and newly arrived in China.  First time doing M work.  Her answer for love and grace was lovely.  I hope she can share it if asked.  Ladies please let us give a warm welcome to Olivia.”

            Quieting the applause Hannah first thanked Lisa before turning to Olivia, tenderly asking,  “And what have you learned about love and grace in your walk with God so far?”

            Gaining confidence Olivia asserted, “Love is boundless and Grace is immeasurable.  But, neither exists without the other.   Just like George Bailey in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ I shudder to think what my life would be like without either one of God’s gifts.  If you haven’t watched the classic American film I highly recommend it.”

From the back of the room a loud “Amen to that one,” came from an African-American sister, Sheila, who stood up and continued, “I love that movie, watch it every Christmas. But I love that comparison even more.  It makes you think.  Life without God’s love and grace?  No thank you!” Sheila shook her head. “Thanks for sharing Olivia and I know that we all look forward to getting to know our new American sister serving HIM in China!  Can I get another Amen?”

A unified chorus of “Amen” resounded in the room and reverberated off the walls changing forever the life of timid Olivia White embarking on a new adventure. 

Cat and Dog Challenge

It’s All Relative

Challenge: To teach sixteen-month Annabelle Smith her first animal sound. 

Persons Involved: One child, two parents, three cousins, four grandparents and five aunts/uncles. 

Mission: Six teams of two compete in teaching the child (Annabelle) her first animal sound by spending time with her repeating the approved sounds. 

Judges: Annabelle’s parents Jack and Melissa Smith. 

Approved Sounds: Meow and Ruffruff representing a dog and a cat.  Three teams will be assigned the cat and three teams will be assigned the dog. 

Timing: Smith/Richards Family Reunion July 5 – July 10. 

Rules: Only one team at a time with Annabelle not to exceed one hour each day per team. 

Prize: To Be Determined. 

“Honey?  How does this look?”  Not receiving a response Jack grabbed the newly printed piece of paper from the printer and went in search of his wife Melissa.  Finding her in the basement folding laundry he slyly added it to the top of her pile. 

            “What are you working on?” Melissa asked.

            “Oh, just something to make our reunion a little more fun, and competitive,” Jack winked. 

            “Let me see that.” Snatching the paper from under Annabelle’s pants Melissa began to read the paper.  “Sounds interesting. Do you really think this is a good idea?  Aren’t some of her cousins a little too small?  Arianna is only 4,” Melissa reminded her husband. 

            Jack looked over her shoulder and pointed out their role as judges.  “See that is the beauty of it.  We will determine who is teamed together.  We can match experience with enthusiasm.”
            “Well, alright. Let’s do it.  Let me finish the laundry and we can e-mail our families while Annabelle is still napping.”

            Two hours later the Smith’s received their first response in the form of a phone call from Auntie Becca Richards, the youngest of Melissa’s two siblings. 

            “Melissa, who came up with the challenge?  I think it is brilliant.  Can you tell me who I will be matched with?” Becca pleaded.

Placing the phone against her ear while stirring her spaghetti sauce Melissa paused in her response. 

“Are you there?” Becca asked.

“It was Jack.  He wants to make our time together more fun and competitive. I think he forgets that our family always take challenges seriously,” Melissa chuckled.

In her best voice of defeat Becca sighed, “In other words, I will have to wait for my partner.”

“That’s right.  See you in two weeks!”  Melissa placed her phone on the counter and continued preparing her dinner. 

            July 5: Tampa, Florida

            An air of excitement permeated Grandpa and Grandma Smith’s roomy dining room where the family was all gathered for the afternoon meal. 

            Jack’s older brother Bob turned to his sister-in-law and handed her the mashed potatoes.  “So Melissa, when will we start this challenge Jack organized?”

            “After lunch,” Jack responded from across the table amidst settling Annabelle into her high chair. “Thank you mom for this delicious meal.”

            One hour later over lemonade and banana bread everyone settled themselves in the living room as best as they could.  Jack spoke first.  “We have our teams assigned.”  Holding up his hand he warned, “Wait until I am finished then please find your teammate.  The sounds will be chosen from my hat.  The competition starts now.  Any questions?”

            When no one responded Jack rattled off the names of his relatives and soon the room was full of noise as everyone stood up to find their partners. Chattering ensued as strategies were quietly exchanged. 
            July 10: Smith Living Room

            “Drumroll please.  And the winners are: Six year old Danny Richards and Grandma Richards!  Congratulations!” Melissa handed them a scroll documenting their achievement.  “As of this morning 8 a.m. Annabelle can now say ‘Meow’.”

            “Doggie Ruffruff” young Annabelle interrupted. 

            From the largest to the smallest, everyone present erupted in deep belly laughter that couldn’t be contained.    

Cup and Saucer Challenge (updated)

Mabel Did You Hear?

            “Mabel, did you hear?  Ms. Keller is not coming back this year,” second-grader Betsy exclaimed in her best bossy voice as she and her best friend climbed the stairs to the one-room schoolhouse on the first day of school.

            “But I liked her best!  She was so much better than Mrs. Ross.” Mabel plunked her lunch pail down on the wooden bench reserved for coats and outdoor shoes.

            “Now Betsy, where did you hear a thing like that?” fifth – grader Anne asked in disbelief.  “Ms. Keller would never leave us without saying goodbye.  She told me herself that she wouldn’t leave our town ever again.”

            Glaring at Anne for interrupting the conversation between friends, Betsy flipped her braid and said, “You know that my mom is head of the school board.  I heard her talking with her friend at the general store about someone named Mrs. Green.”

            “Well I don’t believe it,” Anne huffed as she pushed her way past Betsy and Mabel to enter the classroom. 

            A strange man greeted the children as they filed into the classroom.  “Good morning children.  My name is Mr. Green and I will be here for the morning while my wife takes care of some important business.  She should be back at lunch.  Are we ready to start our lessons?” 
            In unison the students responded, “Yes, Mr. Green.”

            “Good.  Let’s begin.”

            Three hours later it was time for lunch. Betsy and Mabel fled to their favorite spot on the grassy area and spread out their blanket under the sprawling maple tree.  It was perfect weather for a picnic. 

            “So, Mr. Green seems nice.  I wonder what Mrs. Green will be like?” Betsy asked reaching for a grape. 

            “Ms. Keller HAS to be coming back.  Just like Anne said, she promised us.”

            “But he said his wife is our teacher.  How can it be Ms. Keller?” Betsy argued.

            Picking up her sandwich Mabel spoke between bites, “All I know is what Ms. Keller said and I know she didn’t change her mind over the summer.”
            “How do you know?” Betsy asked.

            “Look over there!  Ms. Keller IS Mrs. Green,” a triumphant Mabel exclaimed pointing in the direction of the schoolhouse. 

            “All I see is Mr. Green hugging someone.  Wait a moment . . . he is kissing Ms. Keller.  She must have gotten married over the summer.  So that explains it.”

            “I told you so Betsy,” Mabel said smugly with her arms crossed.
            “Why were you so sure?”

            “The cup and saucer on the teacher’s desk were the ones I gave her for Christmas last year!” Betsy and Mabel laughed together before gathering their picnic as they rushed over to congratulate their mutually favorite teacher Mrs. Green. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Lock and Key Challenge (1st place out of 23 entries) :)

Love From Above

“Sweetheart, it’s time.” Sally Palmers gently took her daughter Rachel’s hand in hers and raised it to her lips as Rachel sleepily smiled.  “You’ve got a big day waiting for you, but first is something special.”

“What is it Mom?” Rachel groggily asked.

“Just trust me and come now.  I can attest you’re going to love it.” Sally walked out the door and shut it quietly behind her so as to not disturb the still sleeping guests gathered for Rachel’s big day. 

Now fully awake and curious Rachel grabbed the clothes set on her nightstand and dressed quickly to follow her mom, almost slamming the door.

“Sweetheart, your shirt is on backwards.”

“It is?” Rachel pulled her shirt forward and found the tag.  “So, it is.” Rachel and her mom laughed. 

“Well, never mind. No time to change it,” Sally replied as she sped down the stairs to the kitchen with Rachel in hot pursuit.

Over steaming cups of coffee Sally handed her only daughter a key. “You know that your father wanted to be a part of all the major milestones in your life and invented this game so he could, this being no exception.”

Turning the key over Rachel said, “Yes, I know Mom. My favorite was the advice he gave me for my first broken heart.”

“He really wanted to be a part of this day so he came up with something significant.  But first, you are going to have find the lock.”

“Where do I begin?” Rachel asked.

“Somewhere in this kitchen,” came the wistful reply.

Thirty minutes later Rachel and her mom reconvened over Rachel’s favorite breakfast, hot cinnamon buns and yogurt.    “I found it!” Rachel cried triumphantly turning the lock.  It was only when a little ballerina dancing to Rachel’s favorite song popped up that she realized it was the music box her father bought her when she was three, just before he was diagnosed with leukemia. “Where was this hiding and why now?” Rachel cried through her tears.

When she could control her own tears Sally answered, “Your father wanted to save this for your wedding day to let you know he is a part of it.  He loved his little girl very much.” Dabbing her tears with a tissue she continued,  “There should be a letter for you in the box. Why don’t you read it?”

Rachel tenderly removed the letter and began to read:

My dearest daughter Rachel,

I love you and always will.  This last gift I will bestow upon you is the most memorable.  Up until now your mom has been keeping the keys to locks with letters given to you upon momentous occasions. There was your first day of kindergarten, first day of junior high, first day of high school, your first broken heart, high school graduation, moving out on your own, your first job, and university graduation.  I tried my best to give you advice each time and I hope that you listened like you would have if I had not been taken from you so early.  But, the most important event I wished to be a part of was your wedding day and so I decided that this music box we chose together on your third birthday was just the gift for you.  I want nothing more than for you to share this with your husband and future children and let them know the love of their father/grandfather.  Please cherish the gift and most of all enjoy your day! 

In case you are wondering about my advice for this important day, no, I didn’t forget.  I Corinthians 1:25 “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (NKJV)  My interpretation is that if you know God has brought you two together then that is enough!  You don’t need to understand everything, because we can’t know what God is doing anyways.  HIS ways are different than the world’s so don’t try to put the world’s framework on a Godly marriage.  It won’t work! 

Love from above,
                        Your father Tim Palmers
Carefully replacing the letter Rachel embraced her mother and together they let the tears fall until they were exhausted. 
Sally spoke first.  “Are you ready?”

Slowly nodding her head Rachel said, “Is it alright if I wear the key as a necklace today?”

            “I think that is an excellent idea!” her mom replied.