I’ve been a born-again child of God for almost 28 years. I was saved when I was fifteen years old and since, then, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Therefore, in the intervening years, I’ve also had to make a lot of apologies to both fellow-Christians and non-Christians alike. Interestingly, I have had a 100% forgiveness rate from the non-Christian population. When I have done someone wrong at work or elsewhere, and I’ve apologized, they have said, “It’s ok,” and treated me with kindness.

In the church, or the Christian world, it’s another story. I have about a 90% success rate on receiving forgiveness there. Why is that? Shouldn’t Christians immediately forgive, since they are aware more than anyone of their own sin-riddled condition? They have experienced eternal salvation by the sinless Son of God! They should revel in that blessing and desire to shine that light to everyone, they should understand mercy, patience, self-control, the struggle between what one wants to do, and what one should do (Romans 7), yet, when I have apologized, they have stared at me and walked away. Or they have never replied to my written apologies. I do not know why this has been the case.

I do know that all I can do is apologize. I’m not perfect. I can’t live a perfect life. No one can.

I also know Christ has forgiven me, and He continues to be not just generous with His forgiveness, but philanthropic with it! He will never, ever stop forgiving me. God is the One I will face in Heaven someday, He is the only One who can judge me, and He has judged me as righteous because of His Son, Jesus.

I also know that I can forgive others. As far as I know, I have a 100% forgiveness rate myself. If anyone has ever come to me and apologized for hurting me, I have forgiven them. Granted, there have been times I have been hurt and that person has never said they are sorry about it. But I try not to remember those hurts and I strive to move forward in love and kindness regardless. If they ever do desire my forgiveness, I’m ready to give it.

I don’t understand why Christians don’t forgive. It’s a mystery! I just know that I don’t want to be that kind of Christian.

I’ve been thinking about Arkansas a lot lately, my home state. I really just want to go “home,” but then I thought, where would that be, exactly? I grew up in Hot Springs and Benton (not Bentonville, that’s where Walmart is, Benton is near Little Rock), but it’s been many years since I have had an actual address in either city. I have lived in Kansas, Texas, West Virginia, and Oklahoma, as well, and I like things about all of those places. And, though I do still call my parents’ house “home,” it’s not really home now. I know that if I could pack up my family and take over my mom’s house, it wouldn’t be the same. Dad is in Heaven, my siblings, Kevin and Melanie, don’t regularly visit, and my mom has redecorated the whole place in the intervening years. Not only that, if I do move “home” I will find problems exist there, too. I will still have bills and will still get sick. Maybe I want to just rewind time, and be twelve again? No. Scratch that. Those years were hard, too.

I guess the home I really long for is Heaven. Seeing my Savior face-to-face, singing His praises, being free from pain, tears, and the horrible, nasty word “goodbye.” I wonder if I will be able to hug the Lord when I get to Heaven? I know I will be able to worship at His feet. Yes, I am definitely looking forward to arriving at that home. Not that I have a death wish, but I am ready. I know I still have so much to do, but I am also genuinely tired. Like Paul, I can feel the constant warring of my carnal desires against what the Holy Spirit wants me to do and I feel like I’m always doing the wrong thing (Romans 7:18-19).

As you can imagine, this line of thinking led me into a depressed state. When I ponder how wrong I am, how wrong I will continue to be, and how futile this whole life feels sometimes, well it’s a drag. Then I thought again about home, in particular, Hot Springs, my birthplace. Hot Springs was the first national park, because the it was the first “federal government land reservation set aside for public use, a status achieved on April 20, 1832, when President Andrew Jackson signed the legislation to protect forty-seven hot springs on the slope of Hot Springs Mountain” (Encyclopedia of Arkansas). The water that flows from the springs is about 140°F, and it doesn’t matter whether the air temperature is 104°F or – 4°F, the water stays hot. In both summer and winter, you can see the steam rising. Anytime of year, it’s a sauna (pun intended, feel free to visit any number of spas on Bathhouse Row). No matter what the circumstances are around the springs, two things always happen: the water is always flowing, and it is always hot.

That is what God is for me. He is always faithful, always present through the Holy Spirit, and Jesus’ is always interceding on my behalf. His salvation is complete, the work is done, and Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. It is permanent. If I continue to feel depressed, my salvation is secure. If I am happy, my salvation is secure. If I am lazy, my salvation is secure. No matter what, I cannot lose Christ.

One day, the hot springs and the entire world will be no more, but even then, my salvation is secure.

Mom was featured in the newspaper for winning Teacher of the Year in 1985.

When my dad suddenly lost his job at fifty-two years of age (his boss needed a place for his nephew), Dad just took it as part of God’s plan for his life. He wasn’t sure where the mortgage, college tuition for my sister, or car payments would come from, but with weak faith he humbly prayed, “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.” God heard and answered that prayer.

A few months after this loss, my mom received a call from her former boss, the elementary principal at her former school. He had just been hired as the new superintendent of the district, and wanted mom to be the elementary principal. However, Mom was not certified to take this position. “The state of Arkansas allows you two years to be on the job while you’re gaining your certification,” he said in his beautiful Arkansas accent. Mom was doubtful, nervous, but open to what God had for her. It seemed to be God’s will; He was opening a door. My dad had lost his job, and now my mom was about to receive a tremendous promotion. After prayer and discussion, she accepted the job and began working on her principal’s certification that summer at the University of Central Arkansas. I have fond memories of helping her study after dinner. I made it my goal to make her laugh at least once in each study session.

It didn’t take long for word to get out that the school board had hired a principal who hadn’t yet met the standards for the job. Sure, she was an award-winning teacher in that very district, was beloved by every student (and their parents) who had the tremendous blessing of finding their names on her roster, and obviously, the leadership trusted her – but so what? She didn’t have her principal’s certification. Sure, Arkansas’ law had spoken, my mom was completely legal, but this wasn’t enough for “Mrs. Donahue.” (Name changed to protect her privacy.) Mrs. Donahue was wealthy, and her children were brilliant. She demanded a better leader for the elementary school. She got her cronies involved, and they, too, demanded it. They bombarded the local newspaper with editorials expressing their outrage. (Mom purposely chose not to read a single one.) They protested her hiring at a special school board meeting. Mom attended, with a support group of her own, though I’m sure it seemed to dwarf the opposition’s. Her boss, the new superintendent, came to the table, opened his briefcase and pulled out his Bible, laying it in plain sight for all to see. Mom was scared. She had been scared in the days leading up to this, but she showed up, her faith firmly planted in the One who rules all things. She won. The school board voted to let her stay. Thus began nine of the toughest years of her life. She was principal, Title I coordinator, food services director, football game gate-keeper, and so. much. more. (Hats off to all school administrators!)

After she got the job, one of her first acts was to meet with Mrs. Donahue and show that she was there to serve all the students in the school, yes, even those who wrote angry editorials about her. Mom was practically shaking as she sat in her half-unpacked office, pen suspended over a blank notebook, ready to write down dozens of suggestions, complaints, and ideas from someone who was against her. But Mrs. Donahue wasn’t so bad, after all. Mom’s warmth, love for children (and the Lord), shone brightly, and Mrs. Donahue left mom’s office as a friend, not a foe. Mom leaned back, praised the Lord, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. When the meeting was over, she glanced at the notebook: she had written down nothing. Mrs. Donahue left, saying how she had never felt that an administrator had cared more for her than my mom.

What was the secret of this victory? It wasn’t that mom had prepared perfect remarks, or that she was smarter or wiser than anyone else. It was prayer and dependence on God’s Word.

I was about thirteen years old when these events occurred. I had no idea how God would use them in my life. I was an eye-witness to my mother’s agony, but also her faith. Behind the scenes, I heard her talk about this drama. I heard her pray about it at every meal in which we were together. I heard her say, “God has given me what I need! It’s Proverbs 16:7, ‘When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.’ I must concentrate on doing right, on striving to please the Lord, and not worry about the rest.” This passage was her song, her thought, and her prayer in the days leading up to the school board vote. It remained her go-to passage in the years to come. She completed her certification early, and served there for almost a decade. Her farewell party was epic, all themed around The Andy Griffith Show (Mom’s favorite!). Dad was there, her fellow teachers and retired ones, too, who were more than just faculty and staff, they were her friends, they were her inspiration to keep going. In her farewell speech, she honored them. “I came to work with a cold,” she said, “you came to work with cancer.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

You might think I want to credit my mom with this astounding turn-around, and I do insofar as to say that she simply did what all Christians should do when their back is against the wall: Ask yourself if you are doing what you can to please the Lord, trust the Lord to help you please Him, and take another step of faith. She did what the Psalmist did in Psalm 118:5, “I called upon the LORD in my distress: the LORD answered me, and set me in a large place.”

I’m not sure what enemy you’re facing today, but the Lord knows, and He is ready and able to see you through. Win or lose, I can promise you that it will be for your good and His glory.

When I was twelve years old, my dad lost the job he’d had for over twenty years. He was 52 years old. He was a nervous guy, and I inherited that trait from him. During those days, he worked on claiming the promises of scripture. He kept Isaiah 41:10 on a 3×5 card in his shirt pocket, from where he would regularly withdraw it, read it, and then try to say it without looking. He also kept that same verse taped to his bathroom mirror. I can still see his distinct scrawl as it stared back at me when I do the weekly cleaning:

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

He died suddenly in 2004 when I was only 26, but he did not waste those years. He didn’t know it, but he was preparing me for a multitude of sunless days. His testimony of constant toil, enduring love, and endless dependence upon Scripture has carried me through my life. The memories of his laugh, his trumpet playing (“Reveille”, anyone?), and his boyish orneriness still bring a smile to my face.

I remember how he had to start over with a new career. He began selling life insurance at 52 years old. I saw him study for the tests that insurance people have to pass. I saw his nerves, and then I saw that 3×5 card. I saw him fail at finding success in that career, pivot from that disappointment, and begin school for small engine repair at age 60. I saw him achieve his dream of working with his hands, getting all greasy and grimy, smiling from ear to ear! He could have quit, he wanted to quit, but he didn’t quit.

In 1958, when my dad was only 21 years old, he lost his dad suddenly to a heart attack. My grandmother Courtney, who was 50 found herself without an income. She started college at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway to become a teacher. To supplement her income in college, she worked in the evenings at a school for mentally disabled children. Part of her job was to clean the very tall windows of the building. This was hard work. But my dad was there – he showed up after his own job and cleaned them for her.

But that’s not all. My mother’s family is just as tenacious. My grandmother had her sixth child when she was 42 – that’s how old I am! That youngest child, my Uncle Gary, fell sixteen feet from a scaffold while building a barn on the family farm. He lost the use of his legs from the fall when he was in his twenties. In the hospital, the nurses came to him to say that the occupational therapist would be coming by to explain what careers were available for a paraplegic. He looked at her incredulously and said, “I’m farming!” And that’s what he’s done for over forty years. He’s used his upper body strength to climb a rope to get into the combine. He’s been stranded for hours in the rain, heat or cold when his tractor broke down or got stuck in the mud – in the days before cell phones! He has overcome physical obstacles that I cannot comprehend.

If Dad, Grandmother Courtney, Grandmother Leonard, and Uncle Gary didn’t quit, how can I? God saw them through tremendous challenges and heartaches. And God has not changed.

I am about to embark on a new and difficult journey: I’m 42 years old, and I’m a college freshman. I just completed my first classes this summer.I am majoring in Social Studies Education and I hope to find a job teaching after graduation.

Before you offer your concerned words of warning, don’t worry, I know it will be difficult. I know that working in public schools can be frustrating. My own mother was an elementary education teacher, a special ed teacher, and an elementary principal for my entire upbringing. She was “Arkansas Young Educator of Year” in the beginning of her career, and only soared to greater heights from there in the world of education.  I watched her put in countless hours, write lesson plans (or IEPs), and deal with parents. As a principal, I watched her juggle schedules, plan school lunch menus, look for substitute teachers (that could take a long time some mornings!), attend school board meetings, discipline students, go to band concerts after a long day, and so much more. I have a lot to live up to when it comes to following in her footsteps. I have learned from her that the best way to teach is to view it as a ministry, not a job. Teaching was her ministry, and she glorified God in a magnificent way through her service. What a blessing to have her counsel and support as I start down this road. What a joy to have a mother standing on the sidelines, cheering me on!

I’m so thankful that in my darkest hours, I have been held up by these men and women, whose ordinary lives had an extraordinary impact upon my own. When I am ready to give up, I need only to look to these true heroes that I knew quite well: Grandmother Courtney, Grandmother Leonard, Uncle Gary, and Mom and Dad. I know I will feel alone on this journey – I already have! But I am not alone. I have the Lord, and I have these courageous individuals who have gone on before me and blazed the trail. They have left breadcrumbs of encouragement on that trail. Their words echo down through their lives, “Don’t quit.” In a voice that sounds just like my dad’s, I hear, “You can do it, partner.” And then I see him pull out that marvelous 3×5 card: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee…”

I wanted to share the speech I gave at Mitchell’s graduation for two reasons: First, many friends and family couldn’t attend the ceremony due to COVID-19. Second, I shared my speech from Lauren’s graduation here three years ago. Why not keep the trend going?

When we started planning this occasion in January, long before the pandemic changed our lives, I didn’t want to speak at all. I felt like I made a fool of myself at Lauren’s graduation. My speech seemed to lack heart – maybe because I’d given it all during the eighteen years I’d raised her? Maybe because I was nervous? I don’t know. I just felt silly. But Mitchell specifically asked me to speak, and seeing as I did do all the work of educating him myself, I felt it would be anti-climactic if I didn’t do it. After it was over, I had the same sinking feeling that I had after Lauren’s speech. I’m pretty sure I made a fool of myself again. Here’s my speech, so you can be the judge. Also, if you’d like to leave a comment for him, I’ll be sure to pass it along! Thank you for visiting me today.

Mitchell’s Graduation, May 22, 2020, Bethel Baptist Church, Lawton, Oklahoma:

The young man with dark, wavy hair sat hunched at his kitchen table, trying to concentrate on some college homework. Suddenly, he heard his dad’s familiar whistle as he came up the sidewalk on his way home from work. The man at the table jumped up, went for the screen door, and pushed it open. He expected to see his dad coming up the porch steps on that warm autumn afternoon. Instead, there was only the sound of the wind blowing the dead leaves around the front yard. No dad. No whistling. Then he remembered, he was gone. Forever. It had been two weeks already. How had he forgotten?

 

Two weeks quickly became two years, then twenty. The memories of his father would linger for his lifetime. They would be so vivid, that, as we see in this example, that they seemed real. He would share these memories over and over with his youngest child, his eyes glistening with tears some thirty years after his dad had died.

 

My dad was the young man in that story, and I am his youngest child. As a ten-year-old girl, I was convinced that I could take away the sorrow my dad felt. I thought I could fill the void and make him smile. And, I think I did help… a little. But in the years since, I’ve learned the hard way that no one can fill the void that someone you love leaves behind. But, Mitchell, as I sat on the edge of the bed, feeling the waves of grief wash over me as I mourned the sudden death of my own “whistler”, my dad, you tried to bring comfort to my loneliness and sorrow. As a brand new two-year-old, you couldn’t talk, but you spoke nonetheless. You toddled over to where your dad kept his handkerchiefs, you opened the drawer, got one out and handed it to me. I was stunned. I said thank you through my tears, but you kept right on your way, as though you hadn’t just done something remarkable.

 

You did learn to talk, and as you grew, so did your volume. You started whistling – loudly. But I had a hard time complaining about it because I knew you wouldn’t live with me forever. One day, your whistling would be a memory, just like the one my dad shared with me. I decided not to be upset (but I did tell you to do it quieter!) Then you switched from whistling, to singing! Loudly.

 

And you always talked a lot. You bubbled over with interesting, little-known facts. You taught me a little about Opera, and a lot about Kristin Chenoweth, your favorite singer and Oklahoman. You introduced me to music such as “Fight Song”, “For Good”, “The Climb”, and more. Now, whenever those songs start playing in a store, or if I hear someone whistle, I can’t help but think of you.

 

People cautioned me that you would lose your joy, zest, and spirit as you became a teenager, but I’m happy they were wrong. Even today, you still happily share interesting facts that you glean from podcasts, or you begin playing a Broadway musical score on the piano. Loudly. But now, you not only brighten my days, but also the days of customers who need caffeine to start their day. Your smiling face is a bonus to help them along life’s way as you live the dream of being a barista!

 

I have no inspiring words to give you today on this great occasion. But, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a great British physician and preacher who died in 1981, said this to believers, and I think it is excellent advice:

 

“You are not an ordinary person! You are a Christian, you are born again, the Spirit of God is in you. But you are facing all these things in life as if you are still what you once were, an ordinary person…Go forward, He will be with you. You won’t know yourself; you will be amazed at yourself. So talk to yourself about this eternal, amazing love of God – the God Who ever looked upon us in spite of sin and planned the way of redemption and spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all.”

 

I would like to add that this is the God I serve, and the God of your father, your grandfathers, and your grandmothers. May you follow Him, and through Him, may you continue to do great things.

Thankful for our graduate!

 

Mitchell with Terry’s parents, Terry Sr. and Kathy Basham

My sister, Melanie, and her husband, Walter, with our graduate! So thankful they could come from NC to be with us.

My mom, Carolyn Courtney, with Mitchell

Mitchell with his “at home” siblings, Matt, Leslie, and Laci.

Mitchell with his great-grandma, Betty Basham.

He did it!

A literal sign of the times!

Mitchell’s senior table, which we set up at church.

Close-ups of his photos.

%d bloggers like this: