Saturday, June 27, 2015

When I See You Again

Today, amid the chaos and controversies taking place in the world, Rich and I attended the funeral for two high school sweethearts tragically killed last week in a car accident.  Nick and Janeal were sweethearts in every sense of the word .... not just dating.... but sweet hearts to the friends and family who loved them, as evidenced by the crowd in attendance.  They were eulogized as having beautiful smiles, warm personalities, and friendly to all who met them.  I knew Janeal when she was in the awkward middle school stage, however, she still had that winning personality and I knew then she was on the high road to success.  Nick was a football player getting ready to rev up for his senior year and loved to have a great time.  He died on his birthday.

The funeral was slated for noon at a large church in our area and as we arrived to join the crowd already gathered, you could sense the shock and disbelief on the faces.  As the ceremony began, we stood to honor the families as they proceeded into the sanctuary.  And the outward signs of grief coming from a father, a mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and friends filled the worship center with only the groanings that one can understand who has lost someone so near and dear to them.   The tears and sobs in the room matched the rain hitting the roof as if heaven itself wept along with us.

There were prayers, songs, eulogies, the usual.  And you could read the silent hearts of the teen-agers:  "Why?"  "She just graduated."  "I loved them both."  "Don't tell me there is a reason, I want to know the reason."  And just as if the pastor could read their minds, he said, "Each of us has an assignment.  If you play on the football team, you have an assignment.  If you work at Walmart, McDonalds, or anywhere, you have an assignment.  Nick and Janeal each had an assignment and when they completed it, God called them to Him.  So, realize today your assignment and carry it out well."

And about 1,000 of us sat there listening, praying, crying, and hugging.  And among those 1,000 people, some were black, some were white, some were mixed, some were Hispanic, and some were Asian.  And among those 1,000 people there were old people, middle aged people, and young people.   And among those 1,000 people there were fat people, skinny peoples, tall people, short people and they were wearing different clothing.  And among those 1,000 people, I am guessing there were heterosexuals, bisexuals, homosexuals, and transgenders.  And among those 1,000 people there were Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Muslims, as well as skeptics.  But for two hours on a steamy, rainy late June afternoon, 1,000 people forgot their differences and honored the lives of two young sweet hearts.  For two hours, we loved each other and didn't know anything about each other. 

I've been looking for an answer to address those things on social media that shake me to the very core of my beliefs.  Yes, the answer lies in Scripture, but it also is in the moments surrounding us. 

Perhaps that was the assignment for Nick and Janeal.  Perhaps in their deaths, it gives us new meaning for loving each other and for how to live a life of compassion.  If so, well done children.  Now go get your reward  and soar everyday in heaven, praising the Father who gave you new life in Him.  I can't wait to tell you all about it when I see you again.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Father's Day Story Worth Repeating

The interesting thing about spending 10 days and nights with your 85-year-old mother is that a lot of repeating goes on. I say something. She says "what?" I repeat. And then she asks me questions. A lot of questions. They just happen to be the same questions over and over and over. It takes patience but I figure if she was patient with me for the 20 years I lived under her roof, then I could most certainly return the favor.
Today (day 8 ~ but who's counting?) I decided I would play "name that great-grandchild" and test her knowledge of her umpteen great-grandchildren.  We went through the whole gamut of April has four, Joel has three, etc., etc., and she was able to name everyone with the exception of one. I will not name that one for fear of offending one of her grandchildren, but I thought that 14 out of 15 isn't bad for a woman who can't remember how many times she has asked me if I have a new car today.
But then the game took an interesting twist when I began to ask about generations. She easily remembered the names of my father's six siblings. And she and I both got a little tangled on her mother's family members, but that family was a little tangled to begin with. Then we managed to name the nine children my great-grandmother (her paternal grandmother) birthed. All nine.
And that is where the story took a slight turn when we started talking about one of those nine: her father, Sid.
Now, my sisters and I knew our grandfather very well. And we knew most of the stories. And most of the stories were not the kind you would sit around and fondly remember on a winter night by the fire. One of my stories in particular included spending the night with my grandmother and right when I laid my head on the pillow she reminded me her pistol was underneath and it might be a good idea to remove it. She had to have some protection just in case he came around after he had been drinking. My mother lived with her grandmother most of her young life because her father moved around a lot to find work. Her mother would track him down and live with him while my mother stayed on the farm. I'm not sure if my grandmother loved him so much that she tracked him down or if she felt the need to keep him on track when she finally tracked him down. Nevertheless, he gave everyone plenty of reason to worry with his, shall we say, colorful lifestyle.
Finally the day came when his womanizing and his drinking caught up with him and he found himself in the state penitentiary.  I think it was a culmination of too many DUIs or perhaps it was driving his riding mower on the downtown sidewalk and running over a man. Nevertheless, he was going to have to stay put for awhile.
And so, the story goes, that my mother would visit him in prison. And while she was there she noticed a man with a Bible that also visited quite often. And as it turns out, the man was visiting my grandfather and speaking the Gospel into his life.  As my mother continued to visit, she noticed the change in Sid's life. He began to confess and repent and ask forgiveness. He even wrote her a letter asking for her forgiveness. My grandmother had passed away and he was greatly saddened by the fact that he could not speak with her. My mother told me that if God could forgive him, then she certainly could as well. When he returned home from prison, mother told me he was a changed man and she knew it was only because of the saving grace of God.
She told me this story THREE times in a row within a 45-minute period. But to me, any story of grace is definitely a story worth repeating.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Public School Teacher ..... Why Me, Lord?

     Many of you know the song...Why me, Lord? What have I ever done?  Well, it is all about not deserving His precious grace, however, I am not sure that a day never goes by in the life of a public school teacher without the "why me, Lord, whatever have I done to deserve THIS??"  Yes, I teach in PUBLIC school ... You know the very government-run bastion of hell that is so in the news today. And, I am going to confess.... I teach, gasp, common core standards - created by Satan himself (if you believe the current scandal surrounding that invention.).    ( I am tempted to confess other things: I vaccinated my children, used plastic diapers that are still rotting in landfills, and occasionally rode without a seatbelt. I even let my children drink cow's milk.).
      Of course public schools are at the gates of hell because they are man-made institutions that do not allow God to be mentioned by people in authority.   We spend lots of money going to foreign countries where the Gospel cannot be openly preached but yet we forget our classrooms are not too far removed from being mission fields in themselves.  Which brings me to this:  I teach in public school because I am called to teach in a public school. And while my sovereign Lord allows for my free will, I willfully choose to obey His calling.
      I have taught in Christian school and I believe that He called me there as well for those seasons in my life. I loved my experiences and believe that I helped to impact generations of believers and their future families. And there were challenges there that many times asked me to question "Why me, Lord?"  But I would not look back on any of that with regret because I loved my students, my fellow teachers, and my administrators. And it was perfect training for the next step to public education.
      But, for now, He has me here in Paulding County, Georgia. How did I get here?  I question that also. But that is not for me to question, just to bloom where He planted. And I am blooming.  I am planting  seeds that impact hundreds. My demeanor is not always perfect - far from it.  My mood is not always pleasant - maybe 88.8% of the time it is. But my students know they have an advocate and they know that I am showing them tough love that otherwise does not exist in their lives.
      The odds are heavily stacked against my students. Many will be the first generation in their families to graduate from high school . Many are caretakers of both siblings and parents. Many are making decisions about which parent to live with. They want to be hip, cool, swag, and anesthesiologists, pediatricians, and marine biologists. They want to be heard and will use ANY, and I do mean ANY way, to be heard.  Most of them are never heard by any other adult other than a teacher. Many of them come to school hungry with breakfast and lunch being the only meals they will eat. Some can't read, add, or subtract. They live through their cell phones because they believe the friends that text, snapchat, and kik are their true blood friends that will ALWAYS be there. Their insecurities take over, they see no relevance in an education, and they believe nothing that any adult has to offer them.   They are our future generation that cannot see the future.
       And then, a shining light, usually in the form of a teacher, gets through and they begin to realize that maybe they do have value.  Maybe they can succeed. Maybe they can try harder. That's where my part comes in. I believe that every student has a purpose in life and they have what it takes to fulfill that purpose. It just has to be discovered.
       Today started out as one of the most discouraging days I can remember in a long time. But by nightfall, the light shone through and I was so encouraged. I was invited to a Sensational Senior Banquet by a former student. I stood beside him as he told the audience how he knew I loved him because I was tough on him and I taught him well. I got a certificate!! And I heard other seniors tell the impact that teachers had upon them and the tremendous difference we had made. Then, following the banquet I was checking my messages and got this one:

            Oh my gosh Mrs. Erdman I think I would be a failure in Literature if it wasn't for your class! I went from making a 55 on my first paper in your class to never making below a 98 on a paper as of today by the time I left your class. Best. Teacher. Ever. All of those warm ups you made us do that I hated paid off.. so after two years I thank you for the warm up torture.  All of my teachers always compliment on my papers and I'm all like, "Pshhhh, yeah!" And then I think about you because you're the teacher that actually taught me how to write. c:

         I really hesitate to write and publish this blog. I do. I don't want it to be a reflection of me. I want it to be a reflection of this:

  I Corinthians 12: 4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different 
kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

        What I have is a gift.  A God-given gift that can only be explained by the Heavenly Father Himself deciding that I could be entrusted with it. That is an earth-shattering statement and an awesome, holy responsibility never to be taken lightly. And it is not just for me. I work with incredibly talented people everyday in the trenches who are frustrated, downtrodden, and just plain exhausted. But one thank you from a student makes all the difference. 

       So, why me, Lord?  What have I ever done to deserve this privilege to serve You in this manner?  

Ephesians 4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

That's a pretty tall order for somebody like me. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Consuming Fire

This is snow day three. I have literally been alone in this house - well, I have dogs - since Monday afternoon. It is Thursday. Stir crazy is real and cabin fever is a medical condition. But this morning, in the beauty of a quiet snow, I was drawn to my sun porch for my quiet Bible study in the book of James. Huge flakes are still falling. The neighbors' fireplaces are blowing. And it is truly a winter wonderland. And as the writer led me to Ephesians, I read the words .... "He is our peace."

So, after reading the commentary and going here and there, I wanted to continue writing out the book of James in my journal and offering my own commentary, but this circled verse in my Bible caught my eye before I even reached James:

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken,
Let us show gratitude,
By which we may offer to God an acceptable service with gratitude and awe,
Our God is a consuming fire. 
Hebrews 12:28-29

I know this last verse. I hear it often in song and in sermons. But, for some reason, I has forgotten the reality of "consuming fire."  I used my Bible references and found Hebrews 10:27 (with fury of the fire and consuming adversaries) and 2 Thessalonians 1:7 (His mighty angels in flaming fire) from the New Testament. But then turned to Deuteronomy .... A jealous God ..... And then Deuteronomy 9:3:

Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you.  

And while I believe He was literally saying those words to Moses, He has figuratively spoken to me today. 

I struggle. My mind is daily attacked ..... the temptations are overwhelming to put myself above a jealous God. To meet my needs on my own, knowing that His kingdom that I have received cannot be shaken. He figuratively will "destroy and subdue them before me" so that I can drive them out and destroy them. So, why won't I?

Because, in my flesh, I am weak. In His Spirit, I am strong. In my weakness I am made strong because His kingdom in my life cannot be shaken. 

Having realized this, what is my response?  Gratitude. An acceptable service of gratitude and awe. 

So, here I sit. 
The powerful peaceful natural beauty of a snowfall surrounding me and the knowledge of consuming fire. 
I sit in gratitude and I sit in awe. 

Thank you, Jesus.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Roller Coasters

I was sharing my blog with my students a few weeks ago and they agreed that it was unacceptable that it has literally been YEARS since I last blogged. I cannot recall everything that has happened in the past few years but I can tell you this much:  I do not know where time has gone.  It has flown by .... "fleeting" as the Scripture so accurately describes it.

 But I believe that if you are living and breathing, then you are reminiscing on 2013. It came in quietly, sneaking up, on the proverbial little cat's feet; knowing full well the happiness that would abound only to be followed by grief so deep.

For the most part roller coasters scare me. I hate the part where you are slowly chugging up, knowing full well that you will reach a plateau and then plunge rapidly, without any control of what is about to happen to you. That might be the part that scares me.  The out of control part.  And, so, in looking back on the past 365 days, I realize there is so very, very little under my control.

I look back to the spring as we held a memorial service for my sister's husband. He had been sick a very, very long time but death still surprises you. And now after the plunge, I watch my sister step off of that coaster ride, gather her belongings and the pieces of her heart and try out a new ride, cautiously and fearfully. But, I know my sister. She is a determined woman and I know full well that she will sing a new song and decide that living cautiously and fearfully is not living.

In September we anticipated Levi's arrival with the scurry and hurry associated with a new baby.  We got on that coaster thrilled to see the outcome, only to get stopped at the top, hanging in midair, not wanting to take the inevitable plunge that we knew awaited us when we received the news.  Oh the grief of holding your grieving children. Parents are pretty helpless people when it comes to sheltering their children from stark reality. It is so out of our control.  And so, as a family, we plunged headlong into some dark days, lonely nights, and months of stumbling around. But I know my son and his wife.   They are determined people and they, too, will sing a new song and decide that stumbling around is unacceptable and not living.

And so it begins again. 2014. Another ride. Another chug chug chug up the hill. Another plunge out of our control. So what is in our control? Do we scream?  Do we hold our hands up with reckless abandon like we are so tough we don't need to hold the rail?  Do we cry?  Do we just endure silently waiting on it to finally come to a standstill in the station?

 I suggest we ride it with great anticipation. Instead of dreading the plunge, we should look at it as such a great experience that we get to enjoy. While grief and death are not enjoyable, they are inevitable. And what is our gain?  A closer walk with The One that is in control.  A deeper, abiding trust that comes only when you have been through the valley.

The Valley of Vision
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory. Let me learn by paradox 
that the way down is the way up, 
 that to be low is to be high, 
that the broken heart is the healed heart, 
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, 
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, 
that to have nothing is to possess all, 
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, 
that to give is to receive, 
that the valley is the place of vision. 
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine; 
let me find Thy light in my darkness, 
Thy life in my death, 
Thy joy in my sorrow, 
Thy grace in my sin, 
Thy riches in my poverty, 
Thy glory in my valley.

The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions

Arthur G. Bennett 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Benjamin and the Brotherhood

The first time I officially saw him kick a football was when he was in 8th grade. He scored a PAT at the end of a middle school football game (unheard of back then) and the bench and crowd erupted in cheers. Little did I know that kick would be the beginning of a journey of 100,000 miles.
This week marks the end of Ben’s college football career. Lord willing, he will play in his last game as a Chanticleer on Saturday. This milestone brings back a flood of memories over the past nine football seasons. As a freshman at West Rowan, he and I began road trips that would take us literally all over North and South Carolina. I can still recall the Saturday morning he told me, “Football is a brotherhood. These team members are my brothers and I would do anything for them.” It was one of those “morning after” Friday night lights when we were going to Dr. Comadoll’s office for “treatment.” I really think it was just another reason for the brotherhood to gather together.
I recall the road trips to Happy Appy for football camp and the same to NC State and then on to Laurinburg to meet up with Jay Wooten so they could work on Ben’s recruiting video. Many, many mornings we left before sun up and didn’t return for days. Ben and I had our “songs” …. “Skin” by Rascal Flatts, and “Better Together” by Jack Johnson. We talked about football, school, the future, God and, naturally, girls. We solved many of the world’s problems, only to be confronted by new ones.
Like moving to Georgia. In 2005, when Rich felt led to move to GA, Ben and I were very excited. Ben was anxious for new beginnings and new friends. But once he was there, he felt the tug to return to West Rowan football and leave us at 16. Oh how I remember the day we were driving northbound on I-85, crying together. I told him I felt like a terrible mom … he told me he felt like a terrible son. I recall going to the lawyer’s office to “give up my rights” to the Nelson family so that it would be legal and we could protect West Rowan from anything illegal. I remember the long, long, long trip back home. But I also remember the tender loving care of the Nelsons and the graciousness of my school administrator who also had a love for football sons. She was so very, very good to let me leave early on those crazy Friday afternoons of rushing to Mt. Ulla for the 7:30 kick-off. (She even went with me once, but don’t tell anyone) And oh, how Rich and I remember those traffic issues in Charlotte.
There were many things I missed during his last two years of high school, but I didn’t miss many of his games and I didn’t miss his Homecoming King ride around the track! I didn’t miss his senior night for football, nor did I miss his senior night in baseball. But, that was a fluke! I was only there because he had broken his nose the week before and I came up for the surgery!
I definitely remember the summer we went to Carol White Kicking Camp at Coastal Carolina University. Rich and I were there when Coach David Bennett got his first look at Ben Erdman. Coach Bennett was talking to someone when he noticed Ben get up and address the entire camp about sportsmanship and coming together. His senior year quickly came and also meant signing day for Coastal Carolina and that was a hallelujah moment. There was a lot of rejoicing in that room that day. And so began the hunt for teal and black. I recall the day Rich, Ben, and I stood in our Georgia driveway and Ben said, “Here it is. This is what we worked for.” And then he was gone.
College football took us in the opposite direction. No longer were we heading north, instead, I-20 became our friend. That first year when we were tailgating rookies and football rookies was really hilarious now that I look back on it. That dorm room was TERRIBLE and even more terrible was the accident that almost took Ben’s life. But God was gracious and healed him to bounce back and have the sophomore ride of his life. Sophomore season opened at Penn State. We traveled with friends and witnessed the game of Ben’s life. It was a glorious weekend, even though I am unsure if Rich will ever forgive me for forcing him to go. (It was at the worst possible time of his life.) Junior season had Ben hanging his head and saying, “I am the Job of punting,” but we all learned there was more to life than football. Senior season took us with the same friends to West Virginia University and then making a resounding statement to Liberty University this past weekend: don’t mess with us at our house.
I tried to compile a list of things I have learned in the past nine years and have come up with a short list, one that I am sure I will add to as the days go by.
1. All fast food tastes the same, it just comes in different packaging.
2. If you can’t find a rest area, Flying J has the best restrooms. (Even though my father-in-law swears by Cracker Barrel.)
3. The most scenic rest area is Lake Hartwell, SC.
4. It is humanly possible to change clothes in your car without anyone seeing you.
5. KOA Kamping Kabins are a great place to spend with your 18-year-old son during his orientation week at college and especially if you want to sing “Father, I Adore You” in a round.
6. Broadway at the Beach makes for a fabulous family weekend.
7. And speaking of rest areas, if you frequent the Georgia rest areas as often as I have the past five years, you can accumulate enough literature to teach your Georgia history classes.
8. You can knit 238 scarves and crochet 72 baby blankets/afghans if you are the passenger.
9. Eighth grade essays are much more enjoyable to read on the way home if we win the game.
10. There is more to life than football.
11. And speaking of rest areas, I found the best quote there just today: “The little moments? The little things? They are not little.”
12. Big boys not only smell bad after football games, they also cry.
13. Some of the best moments are spent in the sand at Disney World boardwalk while your son and his girlfriend pray for you and then you pray for them.
14. That athletic plaques are great, but the best ones say Academic Excellence Award.
15. That you brace yourself when your youngest son calls to ask you something and then breathe again when the question is: Mom, have you ever heard of Charles Spurgeon?
16. That a 1996 Toyota Corolla is, by far, the best ever car built.
17. That motorcycle riders carry guns and know how to use them.
18. That you really can go an entire football season and not use a credit card.
19. That when you hit a dead object in the road, it is best to hit it while doing 80 mph so that the impact is not so great. (and, there again, kudos to the Corolla)
20. That good administrators are a gift from God.
21. That wonderful husbands are a gift from God.
22. That safe travel is a gift from God.
23. That God has plans that dwarf yours.
24. That little boys grow up to be men right before your very eyes.

When Ben was a senior in high school, Rich and I were in a Chinese restaurant here in Georgia. On my refrigerator, I still have the fortune attached to Ben’s picture: “Ships are safe in harbor, but that is not why ships are built.” But, oh how I would love to hold on for some more time, for some more football, for some more teal and black.
Thanks for the memories, Ben, and thanks for running the race in a worthy manner. There were lonely nights and crazy classes, but you finished well. You did not disgrace your team, you took your responsibilities seriously, and you made your family proud.
We are very, very much looking forward to the next chapter.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Empty Gas Tanks and Divine Appointments

I am having a difficult time writing this. You cannot really put into words how God works in the lives of His people. On October 2, Rich and I sat down and cut up every single credit card we own. We are finding ourselves in a lot of debt and that is not honoring God. So, we decided that the first step would be to completely rid ourselves of the temptation to use the cards. That means we live strictly by faith that support for the ministry would come through God's people. This has been a tremendous faith walk for me.
Anyway, I have a job and I am getting paid but it just isn't enough to pay the debt and keep the household going so we pray our way through the month. This past week, on Monday morning, I found myself with an empty gas tank. Rich used the mower gas to put gas in my car to get me to work. That mower gas lasted through Wednesday. But on Thursday, there wasn't any more gas and there was $100 in the ministry checkbook. So, Rich took me to school in Blue Thunder (code for the Dodge Shadow) and he was going to get gas in my car and come back to get me. On Thursday afternoon, I was walking to the school office to meet Rich and checked my mail box at school. There was a card from a pastor friend of Rich's and in the card was a $100 bill, a $100 gift card to Kroger, and a $50 VISA gift card. Rich had spoken previously to this pastor and he wanted to bless us. Yay!
But that isn't all. While I was waiting on Rich, a co-worker was also in the office and he had been wanting to get together with Rich for some talking time about marriage, life, etc. At that same time, Rich walked into the office and they were able to speak briefly and set up a time to talk together on Friday. We left and went home. I went to tutor my Thursday tutor people and returned home around 6:30. I checked the mailbox and found an envelope from Carolina Farm Credit. This is a company we used to have our real estate with. I ripped it open and found a check for $241. Yay!
I also sell Pampered Chef and have nothing on the calendar for October. My neighbor saw me at the mailbox and asked for a catalog so that she could get some orders for a catalog show. Yay!
As I ran back in from delivering her catalog, Rich said, "Louanne, you did not open this envelope all the way." Behind the $241 check was another check for $451! Yay!
But that isn't all. On Friday, I came home from school and had an envelope in the mail for $200 for some quilts I had made for a friend. Yay!
So, if you can add, the total so far in this story has reached over $1,000 in less than 48 hours. Plus several checks came to the ministry. Yay!
But, that isn't all. The most important thing is that Rich was able to meet with my co-worker and give him the one thing necessary for a healthy marriage: the love of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit.
What does this have to do with an empty gas tank? If I had used a credit card to buy gas, then Rich would have not had been at school that day and not spoken to my co-worker. If I had not had an empty gas tank, Rich would not have had the opportunity to share Christ with that particular person at that particular moment.
We will be fine - some of you are worried because I didn't have gas money - God is definitely showing up and definitely caring for us. But sometimes He does it when you are in a most interesting predicament.