A Collision of Visions (Part 1)

tb street view

Tony’s Small Engine Repair, 245 Franklin Street in Clymer

Habakkuk 2: 2-3 is one of the first scriptures I claimed as my own.

Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
 For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.

I started this blog in 2011 to write the vision of the homemaking ministry that has been nurtured in the hearts of many women in our rural Appalachian community for nearly twenty years.  But those who know me best realize that my vision of a building, for ministry beyond the walls of our numerous church buildings, reaches back more than twice that long.

In my early teens, I began to imagine a beautiful building where everyone is always welcome and always finds comfort and support.  My first thoughts centered on a dream house for my mother where all her children, and all their yet-to-be chosen spouses, and all her yet-to-be-born grandchildren could stay overnight at the same time.  But when my grandmother died in 1974, I began to think of something more like a super great room, a kitchen-dining-recreation room combo where the growing families of the 26 cousins who grew up on Prosperity Hill could all gather to share meals and visit comfortably on special occasions.

My mind has constructed countless buildings over the past 50 years, but since 1977 when I rededicated my life to Christ, those fantasy buildings all had one thing in common: every house, every complex, every campus in my imagination has been a tangible expression of the unity of the body of Christ in our community. The many and varied buildings of my mind are always used for the many and varied works God wants to work outside the walls of our places of worship.

When Gramma’s House became a legally established ministry of In His Hand, it seemed as though it was finally the appointed time for the vision to speak to our community.  We looked at real buildings in Hillsdale, Purchase Line, Commodore, and Cookport.  But the vision tarried.  Our meetings ended, I went to Texas for cancer treatment, and In His Hand lost incorporation status through a legal technicality.   It was not God’s time to grant Gramma’s House a place and a name in our community.

Though it tarries, wait for it.

During those years, while God burdened my heart with a longing to see the body of Christ united in service beyond the boundaries of our church programs, He was also working in another heart.  Joy was just a child when she first felt the pain of broken relationships in congregations where her father pastored.  As she matured, her desire to see Christians experience the healing of God’s love led her into counseling.  Through her marriage, her motherhood, and her work as a therapist, Joy gained an ever deepening understanding of how God uses relationships to transform us into the image of His Son.  She longed to share the healing power of life-giving relationships with others, especially those in the body of Christ.

In 2013 God brought Joy, Natalie, Jenn, and Lorraine together.  Having bonded at a weekend retreat, they began gathering together weekly.  Through these informal get-togethers, they discovered firsthand how transparent friendships can encourage, heal, and inspire.   With the support of her life-giving friends, Joy’s vision focused clearly into Heart Working Women, a platform to tell other women how God uses relationships in His work to make us whole.  It was the appointed time!

While Joy was bonding with her friends, the vision of Gramma’s House faded into the background of my life.  In January of 2015, I learned that cancer had metastasized to my liver and lungs, and I focused on the rapidly approaching portal of the world to come.  Then last year, totally unexpectedly, Joy’s pastor husband received an invitation to serve in our little congregation miles away from her precious CORE of friends.  She was certain that abandoning the newly launched Heart Working Women ministry and her CORE support would not match up with God’s character, yet it seemed that God was mysteriously working His plan to move her and her family to the tiny village in the center of the Appalachian range.

And our visions collided!

Joy found heart working women in the hearts and faces of women in Purchase Line, and surrendered to God’s evident plan to extend her tent pegs.

I will stand my watch
And set myself on the rampart,
And watch to see what He will say to me —Habakkuk 2:1 

Now we are watching, and waiting, and praying and together about a very real building in Clymer (pictured above) where Heart Working Women can glorify God in Gramma’s House.

We invite you to watch and wait with us as our visions continue to collide.

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Gramma fights on her knees

In the sixth chapter of his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul uses a soldier dressed for battle to teach a very important spiritual lesson.  During his lifetime, Roman legions patrolled the empire, so Paul knew wherever believers gathered the image would be familiar to all who heard his letter read.

Today the Roman soldier is ubiquitous in Sunday School material far beyond the lands where the Caesars once reigned. And he still makes an effective teaching aid on a poster with his armor labeled from Ephesians 6:13-17.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;

There is even a plastic version of the full armor of God available as a child’s costume. However, the day I saw seven-year-old Tim use the sword of the Spirit to pound on the shield of faith held by four-year-old Nathan, I knew something was missing in their lesson on spiritual warfare.

Unfortunately, the same thing is too often true for adults as well. Too often we isolate those four verses as though simply describing the armor accurately can keep us safe. And I think that like Tim and Nathan we might even use the armor fighting our allies instead of our enemy.

Very early in my walk with the Lord, I memorized all the pieces of the full armor of God. I knew that rema, not logos was the Greek word for “word” in the passage. I understood from that fine distinction that I was to have precise portions of scripture hidden in my heart and ready to apply as needed.

However, it was much later that I finally realized that the battle I was preparing to fight took place on my knees.  Ephesians 6:18 tells us exactly what to do once we have our armor in place:

praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints —

If we move back in the passage to verses 10-12, we see that Paul had reached a conclusion of some kind when he introduces the concept of spiritual warfare:

 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

One day as I was reading my Bible, I had one of those utterly transcendent moments of enlightenment: FINALLY! Finally, my sisters, I made the connection between Paul’s warning about the spiritual nature of our battle and everything he had said from Ephesians 5:22 to 6:10. He tells us that our battle is not with our husbands, wives, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, employees, employers or any of the other people who are most likely to annoy or disappoint us in life. He tells us that we must live armed and praying so that we are always warring against God’s enemies and not against God’s children. He tells us that the evil day we must withstand is any day that saints allow the enemy to disturb the unity of the body of Christ.

And that is why Gramma must constantly fight on her knees.

Good homemakers spend time on their knees

If you already know how to build the spiritual foundation for a good home, you realized immediately that the title of this post contains a metonym for prayer and not a command to keep your floors clean.

Good homemakers pray!

It has been over ten years ago since we first began to share a mission and a vision for the homemaking ministry we eventually called Gramma’s House.  Our mission is to help make every home a holy, happy, healthy haven of hospitality.  Our vision sees homemaking  first among honorable careers, and sees communities where it is economically feasible for women to choose to work in their homes.

From the moment we first shared our vision up to the present, everyone involved has agreed that prayer lays the foundation for ministry and builds it every step of the way. Yet it is usually much easier to get women to together to cook, to clean, to garden, to sew, or to study than it is to get them together just to pray.

The women who support Gramma’s House with their time and their talents also support the ministry with their prayer.  Just because a woman is reluctant to pray aloud, in the company of others, it doesn’t mean that she never prays.  Some prayer warriors are shy by nature. And I am certain that God abundantly blesses all faithful closet prayers.

But I am also certain that if we want to receive all the riches that our Father in heaven wants to pour out daily into our lives, we must be willing to talk to Him freely and openly together at any time, in any circumstance, with anyone.

Think about the way Jesus prayed at the tomb of Lazarus:

And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” (John 11:41, 42 NKJV)

In this account (John 11:1-16) we have clear evidence that Jesus was in constant communication with His Father even if His disciples didn’t realize it.  They are confused about the whole situation, but Jesus, in silent communion with His Father, knows that Lazarus is dead. He also knows that the death will display the glory of the Son of God, but He still does not make it obvious to His disciples that He is talking with His Father.

Then, standing at the tomb with many Jews watching and listening, Jesus not only makes His conversation with His Father public, He openly acknowledges that He chose His words for the benefit of His audience.  From our Lord’s own example here, we know that when He told us to pray secretly in our closets He did not mean that we should never let anyone hear us talk to God. Christ shows us that a voice raised in prayer for all to hear can bring glory to the Lord in a very special way.

The typical attitude Christians have about talking to God together seems rather bizarre if we imagine natural children assuming the same attitude toward their own beloved father. Imagine a happy family of children. Imagine that each child will talk freely to the father about everything and anything as long as no one else is in the room.

Now imagine that another sibling comes in, and immediately they both begin to act as though their father is no longer present. They talk to each other about how much they love their father. More brothers and sisters join them, and they sing songs about their father’s goodness toward the family. They even discuss the things they plan to ask their father and agree that they will all make the same requests. But as long as there are two children in the room, no one will speak to him out loud. Well, maybe one of them will speak to the father aloud, but when they are all together, it has to be done at a clearly prescribed times.

The cause of this strange behavior among the spiritual children of God is not that we are socially challenged, and it has very little to do with shyness. If we feel anxiety, apprehension, and even panic in a situation where it should be natural for any child to speak openly to her Father, the cause can be traced to our enemy. Our adversary understands the power God has made available to His children when they talk to Him together.

That is why my next post will be “Good homemakers fight on their knees.”

Books to Brooms Part II

In 1987 when my obsessive-compulsive study habits had reached a peak, I was a member of Purchase Line Church of the Brethren.  PLCOB was then (and is now) one of those little, rural congregations where everyone knows everyone else.  We fell quite nicely into the category that Rick Warren (of purpose-driven fame) calls “the family reunion church.” Fellowship was important, covered-dish dinners were frequent, and family connections provided stability.

Because the church was small, and I was active in the ministry, I knew of many deep, serious problems in relationships.  In my intellectual arrogance, I thought I had the answer to all our woes: BIBLE STUDY.   I naively believed that if every Christian made Bible study a top priority, problems that had plagued the church for two millennia would just disappear like so much morning mist.

How blessed we are that the Lord is gracious to His children!  He does not condemn us for our ignorance.  He only requires that we keep our hearts open to receive Truth, and over the next few years He gently exposed the error in my thinking.

Through my job as Activity Director in the nursing home, I met the pastor of a local assembly (a term preferred over church) that fit perfectly into Rick Warren’s description of “the classroom church:”  they placed an emphasis on study, right doctrine, and understanding the original languages of the text.    Pastor Tim was a gifted scholar, and I joined his Tuesday and Thursday night exegetical Bible studies.   The Bible Speaks Assembly (as it was then known) was absolutely devoted to the study of God’s word.  I had found the church/fellowship/assembly of my dreams!  Although I never experienced the phenomenon personally, I certainly approved when I heard that even at baby showers they searched the scriptures together.

Looking back over the three or four years I faithfully attended Greater Grace (the assembly name was changed), I am fascinated by the way God revealed Himself to me both through His people and in the circumstances He allowed.

My first surprise came in the friendships He gave me.  At every Tuesday and Thursday evening Bible study I saw the same three single people: two women and a man.   I soon learned that on Wednesdays they traveled together  to a Bible study in Pittsburgh (an hour or so one way). Now those three were really my kind of people!  Or so I thought at the time. Now I can’t even remember their names.  Instead the Lord bound my heart first to Liz, then to Marianne and Joan, and eventually to Leslie and Susan: five mothers with small children.  They all loved the Lord and His word, but they had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to devote all their time to attending Bible studies.

The next unexpected thing God did was use my intimate communion with happily married women and their sweet children to teach me why the apostle Paul so enthusiastically endorsed the single state. (1 Corinthians 7:34, 35)  No longer did I simply accept my singleness as part of God’s plan for me, I rejoiced in the freedom it allowed me.

But the most surprising thing the Lord taught me in those days of intensive, corporate Bible study was that my simple solution to the problems in the church had missed the mark.  Greater Grace was just as vulnerable to the kind of trouble I saw at Purchase Line, the same kind of trouble that the enemy uses in every community of believers to divide those who desire to serve the Lord.

And so it was that in 1989 when I started spending less time with books and more time with brooms that I also started thinking deeply about the indispensable role that mothers, grandmothers, and all homemakers play in creating faithful disciples for Jesus Christ.

From Books to Brooms (Part 1)

I find the academic world very attractive.  My dream home would be a library with a little space set aside for unavoidable essentials like sleeping, eating, and bathing.  I have a sweet vision of a life where I am surrounded by books that fill shelves on four walls in every room and lay open on tables all around me.  I have a compulsive drive to find the answer to any question that comes into my head, and an irresistible impulse to check out the source of any unusual fact I encounter.  Google has made life so much easier!

I am thankful for the scholars and authors who have contributed to the treasury of wisdom stored both on my bookshelves and in my mind. Study is still my favorite way to learn wonderful things about God.  I know the thrill of discovery that comes when I have asked the Lord to help me prepare a Bible lesson.  I know the satisfaction that comes from having a vague concept clarified in the pages of scripture.  But, in what might be the greatest irony of my life, I have learned to hear God’s voice more distinctly while vacuuming the carpet, scouring the shower, and dusting the woodwork than while immersed in concordances, dictionaries, and interlinear Bibles.

In 1989 the work of homemaking was nothing more to me than a series of tasks that I had to accomplish so I could be free to do something important like solve a doctrinal dilemma or search out the root meaning of the words in an obscure phrase.  At that time I was working as an activities director in a nursing home, but I had a strong sense that the Lord was calling me onto a new path.   Unfortunately, I had no clear idea of where that path might be.  With encouragement from several people, I left the nursing home to develop my hobby of making personalized scripture plaques into a business.  But even with several successful craft shows, I realized it would be a long time before I could expect a steady income, so I took on a few housecleaning jobs in private homes.  Alas, my clients kept recommending me to other people until my rather vague business plan was completely swept away. (No pun intended!)  For the next twenty years, my primary income came from helping other women to be faithful homemakers.

From the beginning, I found much more pleasure cleaning in other people’s houses than in my own home.  I always had a sense of deep satisfaction when I walked out a door leaving everything in order.  Part of the satisfaction came because my work was greatly valued and appreciated by each of my many employers; part of it came because I never saw the order I created dissolve when the family came home.   But in His mysterious way, God made housecleaning far more than just satisfying. He transformed it into a deep and abiding labor of love, as every home I entered became a sanctuary where I could spend hours walking and talking with my Creator, Redeemer, and Lord.  He taught me that I needed His assistance with the dishes and the laundry just as much as I needed it to prepare a Bible lesson.   “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) is a literal truth.  He taught me that every independent effort will result in a mess of some kind.  It might be tangible, spiritual, relational, or some combination of all three, but it is a mess just the same.

The many women who invited me into their lives and gave me the freedom to worship in every room of their houses have greatly expanded my treasury of wisdom.  Their contributions are just as precious as those of scholars and authors, for it was in the midst of vacuuming, scouring, and dusting that the Lord began at last to reveal the path He wanted me to take.

No typo in the title

I first saw the word “gramma” written in 1971 during the summer I spent working as a Mother’s Helper in Chappaqua, New York.  I was so far away from home, and I had been gone for so long that my mother’s mother wrote me several letters signed “Gramma.”

My grandmother left school after eighth grade, and it’s likely that she would have been embarrassed if anyone had suggested that she misspelled the affectionate title used by her twenty-six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.  I didn’t suggest it.  I didn’t even think it.  From the first instant I saw her signature, I knew that Gramma spelled it like it is.  To this day “grandma” looks just a bit pretentious to me.   I would say it sounds pretentious too, but I’ve never heard anyone actually pronounce the “grand” when the word is used in speech.

I named this blog, in part, to honor a woman so beloved by her five daughters that they all chose to live within walking distance of their mother. Gramma was the center of our family universe until the day she died and caused our little world to shift dramatically.  It has been over thirty-six years since that day in September, but there are tears in my eyes as I remember it.

As far as I know, Gramma never taught children in Sunday School, and I would be greatly surprised to discover that she ever participated in a discussion of the Bible as a member of a class.  Gramma fulfilled the calling described in Titus 2:3-5 simply by loving her family in a way that continues to influence us through four generations.  But this page on the web is not about her.  I used the plural possessive in Grammas’ Guide to the Universe because I want to create a space to collect wisdom distilled from the lives of women who love the Lord with heart, soul, and mind.

For those of you who fear that I want to return to the good old days of Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best, I state unequivocally that I praise God because, after generations of artificial restrictions, our laws and our culture finally allow women the freedom to choose any career.  God’s original declaration that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:19) shows clearly that He wants men and women to work side by side.    However, while I rejoice in our just liberation, I stand firmly on the foundation of our Creator’s ultimate design and purpose for women, which also shows clearly in Genesis 2:19.

I have asked the Lord use Grammas’ Guide to the Universe to connect spiritual sisters who want to explore the high and holy calling that He has issued to His daughters in the twenty-first century regardless of age, occupation, or marital status.