Lead Head

“Class! Class! Take your seats. Everyone be seated, please,” urged Mrs. Robinson, my second grade teacher.

We were reasonably obedient. Within a few minutes we were all at our desks waiting for the next set of instructions. We liked Mrs. Robinson. She was tall and willowy, not a real beauty, but really kind. She hadn’t been teaching long, but she had a teacher’s heart. That went a long way with rowdy seven-year-olds.

“Class, it’s time to sharpen our pencils. Row 1, you may go first,” she told us.

That’s how we did it then — in an orderly fashion. We had to. There were so many of us. We were the original Baby Boomers. Soldiers home from World War II fathered a lot of babies born in 1947. We doubled the number of classes in school, and increased the number of students per class.

Just the year before our only two first grade classrooms and our only two first grade teachers did double duty with two classes each per day — morning and afternoon. There were no teaching assistants then. One teacher was responsible for the whole lot. That’s how I became teacher’s pet.

I remember writing numbers and letters as early as four years old. I would lie on the wooden floor just outside the bathroom where my daddy was shaving. Paper and pencil at the ready, I would ask him how to spell something, then write it as he called out the letters. It was an arduous task, especially when I tried to write over a nail in the floorboard, but I persisted. I felt very grown up. Being the baby of the family I needed all the ego boosts I could get.

But two years later when I met Dick, Jane, Sally, Spot and Puff – well, it was the highlight of my young life. Those letters made words that you could READ. I mastered “to,” “the,” “him,” “her,” and all the little stuff until I finally got to the action words. Oh, yeah! I’m working it now. “Run, Spot, run!” “Jump, Sally, jump!” “Look at Puff! Look, Mother. See Puff.” This was my introduction to a really big world.

Halfway through first grade Mrs. Reboussin recognized that I needed to be her teaching assistant. She took half the class and gave me the other half for flashcards. I was in heaven!!! I got to read BOTH SIDES of the cards!

School agreed with me … if first grade was any indication.

Now I was in second grade and still trying my wings, but I liked it. I liked doing what the teacher asked of us.

“Last Row, you may go to the pencil sharpener now,” Mrs. Robinson instructed.

I walked obediently to the front of the class and waited patiently until it was my turn to find the right size hole, put the pencil in, and begin churning away with the handle. Sharpening pencils was an art form, and I was good at it. I had had years of practice. I did a lot of sharpening for my older siblings, so I knew a thing or two about having the shaved part of the pencil uniform and making the point really pointy without letting it fall out of its wooden socket.

Pencil sharpened to perfection, I made my way back to my seat, placing both hands on the top of my desk, pencil held firmly in my tight little fist, pointing skyward.

“Now, class, it’s rest time. Put your heads on your desks,” Mrs. Robinson said with an air of relief. She would be glad for the peace and quiet.

Not so fast, Mrs. Robinson. The obedient child on the last row obediently lowered her forehead onto the really pointy point of her newly sharpened pencil.

Wow! That didn’t feel right. I pulled back, dislodging the pencil and started dabbing at my forehead with my handkerchief. It was floral, hand-painted by my Great Aunt Vi. Every morning my mother knotted my milk money into one corner of the hanky so I wouldn’t lose it. There were lots and lots of red roses painted on the handkerchief, so I didn’t notice there was blood. Until the little girl next to me got a really scared look on her face.

“You better go to Mrs. Robinson right now!” she screamed.

So I did. Mrs. Robinson was horrified. She sprang into action. The school nurse sprang into action with something that was really sting-y. The principal came in to survey the damage. At the end of the day they sent me home on the school bus – no note, no phone call home. Things were different in 1954.

My mother was not at home that day. I was supposed to stay at my friend Anne’s house until someone from my family came to claim me.

I walked into the plumbing supply office (that was the front part of Anne’s house). Her mother kept the books for the business. I showed her my still oozing wound and explained what happened. There among the appliances on display Anne’s mother had a brief meltdown. Here she was – in charge of somebody else’s idiot kid with a hole in her head. She collected her thoughts, dabbed something on it that was not quite as sting-y, and prayed my family would return soon.

Today if you look closely you will be able to see the blue spot on my forehead — all that remains now of the pointy pencil lead. But beyond that is a soul bent on obedience to the Father and His word. Oh, I don’t always get it right, but I have the heart of a woman who really wants to.

“Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you.“ – Romans 6:15-17 (NLT)

 

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Nature or Nurture?

“What do you think is causing the rise in drug use among teenagers?”

This was the question posed by a politician to a group of high school students in 1987. He was ostensibly trying to get a teen perspective on teen issues. It is more likely he was trying to build his voter base for a future run for President.

The kids made a few stabs at trying to answer the question. Things like:

  • Both parents at work, leaving kids home alone
  • Boredom
  • Poor parental role models

My son was not patient enough to endure any more. He stood, identified himself and addressed the speaker, who, by the way, had attended divinity school as a young man.

“Senator,” he began, “the problem is the condition of the human heart. The cause is sin.”

He then gave the politician a concise presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He explained that until the heart is surrendered to Christ and comes into obedience to the Master, evil will abound. The students cheered. The politician was speechless.

Several years later a young woman approached me at my office in the church. She had just started working in the day care and came in to introduce herself.

“I went to school with your son,” she said. Then she told me the story of that day at the high school.

“We were so proud of him,” she disclosed. “We thought he was great!

“There were lots of us who had been Christians for years, but we were silent. When we saw how bold he was, it made us want to speak up, too. I mean, he wasn’t afraid. It gave us the courage to start standing up for Jesus. It changed us.”

“And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel …” — Ephesians 6:19 (KJV)

The Third Commandment

I was recently reunited with a dear childhood friend. We e-chatted back and forth with treasured memories. I soon learned that her remember-er is different from mine.

For instance, I remember getting in trouble for crossing the highway to play with a friend. She remembers getting in trouble for crossing the highway to throw rocks at that little boy, whose name she says was Lars. I say it was Sven.

Play with the boy, stone the boy; Lars, Sven. Things get lost in Memoryland after 58 years, but one memory remains unshakeable. My friend Anne shared the word of God with me, and it left an indelible impression on my life.

We were sitting on the floor in her bedroom playing something and listening to a red vinyl record of the marches of John Phillip Sousa.

I do not remember exactly what I said, but all of a sudden my diminutive friend, who couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, exclaimed, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain!”

Where did that come from? I had never heard anyone use the Word of God in a regular conversation before. At first I was offended (I think the Word of God does that), and I felt upbraided. Then I felt conviction (I think the Word of God does that, too) and a sense of having done something really wrong. But I didn’t want to run away and hide under the bed or anything.

Then I was curious. How did she know that, and how did she know how to use it in the right context? Not even my mother had ever said anything like that to me. How could a kid do that? It was direct and powerful, and it was right.

When I recovered from the shock of what had just happened, I think I replied something like, “Oh, OK.” But I pondered it for years. It had depth of impact. It was simple, but profoundly complex.

It was obviously something that required extensive and detailed study or knowledge, but it came from the mouth of a babe. It was emotionally intense, pointing the way to a place remote from me and inaccessible.

I’m telling you. I pondered it for years. And then I decided to test it.

I was thirteen and defiant. I was the master of my fate. I was thirteen and scared to death. But with typical teenage bravado, I decided to challenge Anne’s admonition and let fly with some sort of sacrilegious verbiage. Then I waited.

It was not long before I felt the effects of that outburst. Sparing you the gory details, I will say that I fell into a cycle of sin and sadness that lasted for years. And I knew it had begun when I shook my rebellious tongue at the Almighty.

Not satisfied with two proofs of purchase, I challenged God and His Word yet again as a young married woman — again on purpose — with the same sad and sinful result.

Finally I began to catch His drift. Taking His name in vain was a thing not to be done. God is real. God’s Word is real. There are consequences for breaking the commandments.

Later I learned that if you have broken one of the commandments, you have broken them all. That’s when I knew I was in BIG trouble. I started looking for that remote and inaccessible place, and He drew me closer and closer. It was not so remote after all and was easily accessible. You just had to say the right words.

“Lord, forgive me.”

Thank you, Anne. You can remember our growing up years any way you want to, but this is how I remember you.

“But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” — Matthew 21:15-16 NIV)

Cake

It was a simple act. My elderly neighbor had eye surgery, so I baked a small cake and took it to her. I was a new Christian and a bit unsteady on my born-again legs, but I did know how to bake.

She was very grateful for the gesture. I felt simply radiant playing Lady Bountiful, spreading good will, happiness and sweet treats in my path. Giving has its reward, but pride in giving is not especially pleasant to look at, and I don’t think there is any reward involved.

Nevertheless, being quite pleased with my Christian charity, I skipped merrily home.

A few days later I called to ask if I could retrieve my empty plate of Sweet Treat Christian Charity. When I arrived, my neighbor was glad to see me, healing nicely, but distant.

“That’s OK,” I thought. “Old people are usually a little off anyway.”

It’s amazing how we view people who have lived longer than we have. They’re eccentric, too cautious, too talkative, too withdrawn. They smell funny. Their houses are too neat. They don’t hear well; they don’t see well; they walk too slow.

She seems so fragile. If I give her a hug, I might break a bone. He’s cantankerous; he’s grumpy. He only wants to talk about things that happened 50 years ago. She remembers every detail of her childhood, but she can’t remember what she ate for breakfast.

Now that I have a little age on me, I look at it quite differently. I laugh heartily out loud to myself in the grocery store. I treasure the moments of my life. Too eccentric? I don’t like to drive alone at night in the rain. Too cautious? Or just wise? I can talk and talk and talk. I can be still and be still and be still.

Old people smell funny for a variety of reasons. Things leak. The perfume we have worn for years is the scent we like. Mixed with disinfectant and foot powder, it’s not quite as alluring, though. We don’t notice the smells so much anymore. And did I mention … things leak?

Well, of course our houses are neat. Our kids took most of the furniture when they got married. Life is different when the three rowdy kids, the long-haired dog and the useless cat don’t live there anymore.

Hey, I hear what I want to hear. I see just fine — since my cataract surgeries, before dark, with my glasses, large print books and over-sized flat screen TV mounted on the wall. And I pace myself. What’s the hurry? I can get downstairs in one piece if I take the steps one at a time. Stop and smell the roses already!!
You won’t break my bones. Hug me! I’m human, and I love to be hugged. Kids know that. They’re not afraid to show some affection. That’s what makes us grumpy and cantankerous. We don’t get nearly enough hugs.

A little history lesson wouldn’t hurt, you know. Listen to an old person. The stories he can tell are the best. And I have it on good authority that if you’re really old, you can remember them any way you want on any given day. Who’s left to dispute it?

Well, back to the story.

I stood in my neighbor’s foyer, dish in hand, making very small talk, when the Lord spoke to my heart, “Pray for her.”

“I will, Lord. Just as soon as I get home. The children and I will pray for her. Good idea.”

“Pray for her now.”

“But, Lord, I’m new at this. I wouldn’t know what to say. Besides, I don’t even know if she’s a Christian. I wouldn’t know what to say. What would I say? What would she say? It’s probably better to wait until later. I really wouldn’t know what to say.”

“Pray now.”

“OK!” I screamed silently as I slammed the dish down on her lovely table.

I took her hands in mine and said, “I’d like to have a word of prayer before I leave.”

She led me to the couch, and we sat facing each other as I tried to think of what to say. I said something I know, but I don’t know what it was.

Finally came the “Amen!” In the South we say AY-Men! So be it. Now you can go stickin’ a fork in it ‘cause it’s done. And it was done. I was done. I had started to sweat a bit and was anxious to take my leave.

This dear, fragile lady looked at me with tears in her eyes.

“Thank you,” she gushed, then added, “My sister lives in Florida. We talk on the phone a lot, but I don’t get to see her. She said she has somebody who comes and prays with her, but I’ve never had anyone who would do that with me. Thank you.”

 
“Come and learn a lesson about how to obey me.”  — Jeremiah 35:13 (NLT)