Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Messenger of Forgiveness


History abounds with people who have risen above bleak circumstances and remained steadfast in their purpose and their faith. When I think of true heroes of faith, Corrie ten Boom comes to mind. She and her father were Dutch watchmakers and devout Christians who hid Jews in their home during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Eventually, the ten Booms’ risky actions were discovered, and they were sent to concentration camps where both Corrie’s father and sister died. Corrie survived, and after the war, she wrote about her experiences, traveled the world and spoke about God’s grace and forgiveness. As a teenager, I read her books, Tramp for the Lord and The Hiding Place, books that changed my life and influenced its direction. I never imagined I would get to hear her speak in person.
When the Billy Graham Crusade came to the Hampton Coliseum sometime in the 1970s, the church choir I directed was invited to sing in Graham’s crusade choir. Corrie ten Boom was the guest speaker at that crusade. I will never forget listening to her accounts of unwavering faith amid one of history’s most atrocious events. She recounted numerous instances where only God’s hand could have turned an impossible situation into a blessing. One example was how an unexpected distraction during the body searches caused her to be passed over miraculously, allowing her to smuggle her Bible into the first concentration camp where she and her sister Betsie were interned. There, they were able to organize and lead secret prayer meetings without being detected by the guards.
I’ll never forget Corrie ten Boom’s powerful account of an incident that happened after the war. She said she was speaking to a church group in Munich. She had gone to post-war Germany for the express purpose of telling the German people about God’s forgiveness. In her message, she mentioned that she had been a prisoner at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. As she was leaving, a man approached her with his hand outstretched. Immediately, she recognized him as the cruel Nazi guard who had processed her and Betsie at Ravensbruck. He didn’t remember her specifically, even though she and Betsie had been forced to march naked past him. It was the same camp where Betsie had died a slow, painful death. Immediately Corrie’s heart filled with hatred toward the former soldier who said he was now a follower of Jesus Christ. He told her that God had forgiven him for his awful actions. When he held out his hand, asking for her forgiveness, Corrie couldn’t grant it. She stood frozen as horrific memories flooded her mind.
All these years since that night in the Hampton Coliseum, I still have a clear vision of Corrie ten Boom’s crystal eyes and outstretched hand as she relived the most difficult decision of her life, a decision that no act of will on her part could have accomplished. Yet she knew God was calling her to forgive this man who had once been an agent of evil. I remember her saying that when she uttered the simple prayer, “Help me, Jesus!” a warm surge of love flowed through her body and into her stiff, reluctant arm as she grasped the man’s hand. In her heavy Dutch accent she proclaimed that she never felt the love of God so powerfully or so completely as she did at the moment she was able to say to her former captor, “I forgive you, my brother.”
Jesus’ followers are called to forgive others as He has forgiven us. It can be a tall order to forgive those who have gossiped about us, said hurtful words to our face, made false accusations, or betrayed our trust. For Christians, this Wednesday is known as Ash Wednesday when we are reminded that God stands ready to forgive our sins when we confess them in sincere penitence. How, then, can we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us? Like Corrie ten Boom, we must learn to cry, “Help me, Jesus!” and then allow God’s love to fill us with the miraculous power of forgiveness.
Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: UnrevealedThe Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Fixer


I’ve been busy preparing for a new semester at school and editing two novels. Running the vacuum cleaner hasn’t been high on my list of priorities. So, it was no surprise when my husband, Carl, decided to do a little vacuuming. Perhaps it was because I’ve hardly touched the vacuum cleaner since Christmas or maybe he was irritated by the little dust bunnies that had taken to following him around and attaching to his slippers. You see, cleaning and laundry are designated as my household duties and Carl does the grocery shopping, cooking, trash removal and numerous other chores. Anyway, I heard him complaining from the other room. “This vacuum cleaner sucks!”

“Isn’t that what it’s supposed to do?” I called, trying to be helpful.

“No, it sucks...as in it doesn’t work,” he clarified, followed by the all-to-familiar sounds of him taking apart any object that annoys his retired-engineer sensibilities.

Within minutes, he was walking toward me carrying something that resembled a medium-sized rodent. “When’s the last time you cleaned the filter?” His question sounded suspiciously like an accusation, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

“I empty the canister once a month,” I answered confidently. Because I do empty the canister once a month. In fact, I’m quite proud of the fact that I remember to empty the canister monthly.

“No, the filter,” he repeated. “When did you last empty it?” It sounded like an accusation to me.

“Well, since I didn’t know it had a filter, I’d have to say...um...never.”

“No wonder it doesn’t work.”

Now I was sure of the accusation but decided to ignore his comment and mind my own business as I heard a variety of strange noises coming from the garage. Some wives refer to this behavior as puttering, but my husband doesn’t putter. He fixes...and he does it immediately. If something is broken, it can’t wait. Carl won’t be able to sleep until it’s fixed. In fact, he has been known to get up in the middle of the night to fix things, especially computer issues. If he needs a part, does he wait until he’s going out for another errand or appointment and consolidate his trips? No. He must go to Lowes or Ace Hardware that very minute. Failure to do so might result in him suffering a stroke.

Our children seldom call their father just to say, “Hi, Dad” or “How are you?” They might begin the conversation that way, but chances are the greeting will be followed by their asking his advice on how to fix something.

Carl’s reputation as The Fixer reaches far and wide. Friends, neighbors, former neighbors, children, grandchildren and other relatives call on him for help with their problems whether electrical, plumbing, automobile, or computer. They know if he can’t fix it or tell them how to go about it, it can’t be fixed.

As for me, I can fix breakfast; I can fix my hair; and I can fix my eyes on a sunrise, but for everything else, I’m grateful to be married to The Fixer...and yes, he fixed the vacuum cleaner.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: UnrevealedThe Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Embarrassment is not Fatal


I’ve heard it said that it takes six weeks to incorporate a new habit, six weeks of practicing that behavior consistently. Well, I must be a slow learner because it took me four years to purge sugar from my diet, and it is taking a lifetime to stop beating myself up when I make a mistake. I just did it again! I called myself a “slow learner.”

I don’t like to fail. I don’t think anyone does. Failure, even a small botch, feels humiliating. When I mess up, my first instinct is to berate myself. Self-flagellation is nothing new. It was a part of early Christian history, especially in monasteries and convents. Even Martin Luther whipped himself as a means of atoning for sin. I don’t whip myself when I find I have disobeyed God or made a foolish mistake, but I fall into the unproductive habit of self-blame. My instinct is to waste mental energy shaming myself; making myself feel less-than; forgetting that I am a forgiven and renewed child of God.

What if, instead of engaging in unproductive mental self-flagellation, I turned immediately to God in prayer, confessed my shortcoming, and asked for help in making things right? What if I trusted the promise of Romans 8:38-39 that “…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus?” Perhaps Paul’s list of ‘nors’ should include nor embarrassment. 

What if, instead of getting discouraged by problems and embarrassed by mistakes, I remembered that God loves me no matter what blunders I make and stands ready to show me how to solve problems? What if I focused on my innumerable blessings, turning my attention from miniscule earthly issues to the grand scheme of God’s purposes?

I’m not advocating ignoring issues and hoping they’ll go away. Denial never solved a problem or made a situation better. Rather, I’m trying to develop the habit (resolution, if you will) of facing life head-on and dealing with embarrassing mistakes without falling into a blame-and-shame funk. 
    
After all these years, I’m still working to develop healthy responses to stress. Worry, self-doubt, and self-flagellation are not healthy habits. If God has already conquered death, how can I allow myself to be discouraged even for a moment by life’s inevitable challenges?

Another verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds me to put problems and perceived failures into perspective: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).” In other words, God has my back; God is in my corner; and every negative experience provides a teachable moment with the potential for growing in wisdom and faith.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: UnrevealedThe Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com

Friday, November 22, 2019

Why I Love Advent

The month of November brings thoughts of celebrations with all the trimmings we associate with the holidays. We think of feasting at large tables shared with loved ones, adding festive decorations to our homes, and buying just the right gift for each friend and family member. We plan parties, attend concerts, and embark on trips that take us “over the river and through the woods." Our moods are lifted by familiar carols, sparkling lights, and Hallmark Christmas specials. It’s the time of year that most of us anticipate with delight, even though we know it will involve a measure of harried rushing about.

But that's not why I love the season of Advent. Rather than encouraging us to surrender to all the busyness that we’ve come to associate with Christmas preparations, Advent invites us to slow our pace and focus on our spiritual preparation. From the Latin word adventus, advent means “coming.” In the church calendar, Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. For Christians, the season of Advent, starting twenty-four days before Christmas, bids us to prepare our minds for the coming of Christ, the promised Messiah. It opens our hearts to receive the hope, peace, joy and love that are symbolized by the candles on an Advent wreath.

Since we live in a fallen world, filled with fallen people, including ourselves, it’s often challenging to place our hope in the future. Every day brings news of yet another terrible event somewhere in the world. With media sources that clamor to report negative news, each in the most sensational way, we begin to lose hope that God is still in charge and will ultimately triumph. Sometimes it seems like evil is winning. And what about peace? Is peace on earth even possible? Gradually our joy is depleted as hate seems stronger than love. But that’s exactly why God sent Jesus to replace hate with love.

Ours is not the first generation to feel hopeless, joyless, devoid of peace and longing to know God’s love. “O Come, O Come Immanuel” is one of the best-known Advent carols. The text, originating in the ninth century, speaks of the Israelites’ longing for a savior to release them from captivity. They “mourn in lonely exile” feeling hopeless and without joy. They plead with God to send a Messiah, a Savior who will “bind all peoples in one heart and mind.” The Israelites were expecting an earthly king to deliver them from captivity. But God had a mightier plan. He sent His son, Jesus, to offer deliverance to all people, deliverance from sin and death.


It’s fundamentally impossible to commercialize the season of Advent. But leave it to retail corporations to give it their best shot with the likes of “Elf on a Shelf” and those Advent calendars that hide a piece of chocolate candy behind each day leading up to Christmas. Not that there’s anything wrong with helping children count down the days. It’s just that the twenty-four days of Advent are about so much more than moving an elf or finding a piece of candy. During the twenty-four days of Advent we are encouraged to connect or re-connect with God in a personal and powerful way through meditation, study, prayer and inspiring music. That’s why I love Advent.


Cindy L. Freeman is the author of four award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room, and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Charlie


What will your obituary say about you and the life you lived? Recently I attended the memorial service of a dear man who I knew only fleetingly. Charlie was quiet and unassuming, but he always made it a point to stop by my office on his way to his volunteer job with the Respite Care program housed in another part of the church building. He would ask how I was doing, and I would inquire about his wife of over sixty years who suffered with chronic back pain. At Christmas time, he would bring me a hand-crafted gift that his wife had made for each member of the church’s staff.

I was drawn to Charlie because of his humility, kindness and gentle manner. I could tell that his wife’s unrelenting pain drew worry lines in his face. One day, he told me she could no longer sit in the pew and had to stay home from church. He said she had given up hope of ever experiencing relief and prayed daily for the Lord to “take her home.” I promised to continue praying for her healing, but mainly that she would find strength, comfort and peace. We both assumed she would go first, that he would be able to care for her lovingly until the end. There was never a hint of resentment in his voice, only frustration that he couldn’t do anything to relieve her pain. Our brief encounters always ended with a warm hug.

That was the extent of my relationship with Charlie. After a few years of his “stop-bys” I noticed he was slowing down. He developed a shuffle and began walking with a cane, but he never considered dropping his volunteer job. I learned from the Respite Care manager that he loved his job and the clients loved this man of few words who had more than enough compassion to go around.

Charlie ended up in Hospice Care and eventually passed away at the age of 83. His obituary was only two paragraphs long, referring to his 63-year marriage, his two daughters, one grandson, some siblings, nieces and nephews. That was it.

At his memorial service, I learned that Charlie’s legacy was one of quiet service. He was greatly influenced by a mission trip he undertook to Latvia. After that trip, he continued to support the home for unwed mothers and their children that our church helped establish. As a member of the church’s “Tool Guys,” he quietly accomplished odd jobs around the building and helped people in the community who couldn’t afford to pay for home repairs. His service to Respite Care was never mentioned. While I was surprised by the omission, I knew that’s how Charlie would have wanted it.

On the surface, Charlie’s life seemed to be one of little significance. He lived an existence devoid of fanfare. His accomplishments were few... or were they? 

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available from amazon.com or hightidepublications.com  

Monday, September 30, 2019

Embracing Peace


I spent much of my adult life striving, planning, and reaching for self-imposed goals. For many years, I tried to find my worth through my career and achievements. I was lured by the false premise that the so-called American dream must be attained in one’s lifetime for that life to be worthwhile. A schedule filled with busyness, activities, and frenzy shows that life is full and rewarding. Right?

I’ve come to realize there’s a difference between an accomplished life and a significant life. I’m not saying that accomplishment is a negative goal, but that a life of significance strives first to glorify God. When our accomplishments honor God they are significant.

Does our striving for significance mean we’re seeking perfection? Only Jesus lived a perfect earthly life because, while Jesus was fully human, He was also fully divine. Jesus wasn’t just a good person who did good deeds and cared about others. He was God in the flesh.

In our humanness, we are incapable of achieving perfection during our earthly lives. But peace results when we strive to obey and glorify God through our accomplishments. While achieving perfection in our lifetime is not possible, I believe peace is an achievable goal.

The formula for peace is simple in theory but not in practice: seek God’s will in all things, confess to those we have harmed and seek their forgiveness, confess our sins to God, and ask for God’s forgiveness. Though challenging, these goals are achievable. But there’s one more part to the formula, and I’m convinced it is the most challenging: forgive ourselves.

Recently, my sister and I were discussing regret. Both of us harbor regrets regarding our deceased parents. I don’t think we’re alone in this feeling. The problem with regret is that it holds the power to block peace. Regret is possibly the most difficult emotion to resolve. Usually, the people we harmed—or think we harmed—are gone from this earthly life, and we are left with if-onlys. If only I had said or done this or that. If only I hadn’t said or done this or that.

I’ve learned that, although it may be too late to resolve our if-onlys with the people we’ve harmed, it’s never too late to seek God’s forgiveness. Believers are promised that nothing can separate us from God’s love, not even regret. When we harbor regret, it’s difficult to accept that God’s forgiveness is both free and final. We keep taking back the regret and carrying it around like a teenager’s backpack filled with heavy books. Regret weighs us down, causing us to drag through our days, maybe even keeping us awake at night, until finally after the tenth time or hundredth time of shaming ourselves, we accept God’s forgiveness, forgive ourselves, and embrace the peace that God has been offering all along.


Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: UnrevealedThe Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Meaningful Work


Every September, I enjoy scrolling through the back-to-school pictures posted on Facebook. I’ve “friended” the parents of many children I taught at the Early Childhood Music School and children who participated in my choirs, some as long ago as forty years. What a joy it is to watch them grow up, go off to college, embrace careers, and raise families of their own. It’s especially heartening to see how many are still involved in music.  

When I retired from teaching and choral directing four years ago, I never dreamed I’d be returning to music education. I even embarked on a new career as an author. But I missed choral conducting, and I dearly missed working with young people. So, when the opportunity presented itself for me to teach again, I couldn’t resist. With some trepidation, I accepted the position as director of the high school chorus at Walsingham Academy, known as The Madrigals.

I wondered if I’d have enough energy to work with teenagers again. I prayed about making the right decision both for the students and for me. I worried the job might take too much time away from my husband, children and grandchildren … and my writing, of course. When I walked into the new- teacher orientation and discovered the other new teachers were young enough to be my grandchildren, I wondered if I had deluded myself into thinking I could handle the position at my age.

I needn’t have worried. After two weeks working at this superb school with delightful students, supportive parents, and dedicated colleagues, I find myself energized, motivated, and thrilled to be back in academia, doing what I love, what I was born to do. Since the position is part-time, I still have time for my family, my volunteering, and my writing. The only significant adjustment has been rising and trying to shine at 5:30 am instead of my retirement time of 7:30, but it’s not every day. In fact, the schedule fits my lifestyle perfectly.

When I visit elderly friends in assisted living facilities, they often remark that they feel useless, spending the bulk of their days in front of the television. The hours drag by as they have little more to look forward to than their daily naps, meals, and swallowing mega-doses of meds. After leading full lives of raising families, building and sustaining meaningful careers, and active volunteering, they strongly desire to continue being productive. Their minds are sharp and filled with wisdom that they long to share. Despite still having much to offer, they are often ignored, and their aged bodies fail them, resulting in frustration.

This September, I am reminded of how blessed I am by this opportunity to be productive in my senior years. I understand my time for productivity is limited, accepting that my body will eventually fail me. Every day, I thank God for the blessing of meaningful work.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available from amazon.com or hightidepublications.com