I Connect with Our Dog Jules

Jules, relaxing in the sunlight, an undistracted moment.

The other night we watched our dog Jules chase the shadows in the setting sun streaming from the dining room windows. Jules is fascinated with light and shadows, distracted from everything else going on in the room.

Every morning Jules meets me at the bathroom door as soon as she hears me open the drawer that holds my makeup mirror. She’s ready for the show of light reflected from either the window or the sink’s overhead lamps onto the mirror and then onto the door, walls, and floor. She sits patiently while I finish doing my hair and makeup, but as soon as I pick up the mirror, she’s alert.

When Jules is focused on light and shadows, nothing else distracts her. She’s intent on getting the best show. Our connection is that I’m also easily distracted when at work – writing or cleaning house. Whenever Jules sees light and shadows, that distracts her from whatever she was doing at the time. Whenever I see a You Tube post or an Instagram notice, I’m distracted from my work and want to watch, for entertainment sake. And generally one photo on a friend’s Facebook page leads me to another and more. I know I should get back to work, but the distraction is more appealing. It’s shear discipline to continue what I’m supposed to be doing.

In a blog post last May, I wrote about being “distracted or dedicated.” My closing paragraph included the following: So I’m back to that ugly word “discipline.” It’s a matter of being dedicated to the best even when I enjoy something good.

Jules and I get distracted, but she also teaches me about the importance of focus – sticking to something without being pulled away by what at the time is less important yet entertaining. That links me to what the apostle Paul had to say about focus: “looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race” (Phil. 3:13, NLT). I join with Mary DeMuth who prayed: “Jesus, enable me to focus on the things that really matter in light of eternity…to finish well.” (Jesus Every Day).

What Could Have Been, but Isn’t

anonymous tourists showing us passports on street on sunny day

My dad looked forward to retirement because he wanted to travel. Where? I don’t know, only to visit places he’d not seen. But he developed lung cancer, had two lobes removed, and died at age 74, basically from the treatments.

Retirement for me came a short while before I had planned, but I welcomed it. Bill had retired four years earlier, in 2008, and I retired in 2012. In between those years, Bill was hospitalized for 24 days with Legionnaire’s disease, a type of pneumonia. Now he has Alzheimer’s disease, and I’m convinced that the pneumonia and its treatment had some effect on his memory loss.

Unlike my dad, we didn’t have specific plans for our retirement years. But I do know that I did not anticipate reckoning with a husband bound in a fog of loss remembrance. Presently I want him to understand directions and explanations I give, but that isn’t in his mindset.

What could have been is not possible now. And yet it doesn’t mean the good life is not in our sights, because our life does have meaning and purpose. If I were to judge our lives, comparing it to what we had, that would be unfair. It’s different now, not bad, to say the least. It’s good, not better, to say the most.

What Bill and I had then has now become a treasury tucked away in remembrance. And as my friend Everett said, “Memories are to be shared.” While I may recite a long-ago or even a more recent incident, Bill may pretend to know, but it’s lost in his memory bank. That doesn’t mean I quit bringing up memories, but it does mean I can’t expect the give and take of sharing.

I’ve not written this to engage in a pity party for me, Bill, or others in like situations. Reminding ourselves that life is a matter of acceptance, of being in the moment, we can be satisfied with life as is. Love makes all the difference, for we know God is in our midst. “Immanuel–God with us” is a reality. We rejoice for each day as God’s gift for us―to know Him better and to spread the Good News to others. What could  have been, isn’t, but what we do have is God’s good plan, and I give Him thanks.

Be Home Base

Guest Blog Post by Rachel Wedding-McClelland (earlier photo of her sons)

I needed this reminder today. Perhaps some of my other mom friends do, too. When mothering sons, heed this advice:

Be home base

You are home to him. When he learns to walk, he will wobble a few feet away from you and then come back, then wobble away a little farther and then come back.

When he tries something new, he will look for your proud smile.

When he learns to read, he will repeat the same book to you 20 times in a row because you’re the only one who will listen that many times.

When he plays his sport, he will search for your face in the stands.

When he is sick, he will call you.

When he really messes up, he will call you.

When he is grown and strong and tough and big and he feels like crying, he will come to you — because a man can cry in front of his mother without feeling self-conscious.

Even when he grows up and has a new woman in his life and gets a new home, you are still his mother: home base, the ever constant, like the sun. Know that in your heart, and everything else will fall into place.

Quit My Day Job? Labor Day 2021

Recently Bill stopped by my desk while I was on the computer. He asked, “What are you doing?” With one word, I said, “Working.” He repeated that several times, yet as a question: “Working? Working? Working?”

It may seem strange to Bill that what I do on my computer is called work. After all, when he’s on his computer most of the day, he’s playing solitaire. So what is my work? Since this is Labor Day 2021, the subject of work is a good topic for a blog post. Right?

For many years I dabbled in writing, never calling myself an author. That’s because while I’ve had articles published in magazines, I’ve not authored a book. Most of what I wrote came under the headings of devotions or personal experience articles.

The one assignment I’ve been most proud of came from a friend, a board member, I’d met while working on staff at Good News magazine, an evangelical voice within the United Methodist Church. By accepting that invitation from Helen Rhea Coppedge, I contributed to The Woman’s Study Bible, published in 1995 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. I wrote annotations for the books of Numbers and Amos along with eight topical notes. I had the privilege of reporting to the editors Dorothy Patterson and Rhonda Kelley.

We had recently moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, where Bill pastored World Gospel Church. While doing the research and writing for this study Bible, I volunteered at the local Crisis Pregnancy Center. Not working for pay, but getting to write most days. A few years later I went on staff at the CPC, but still got magazine articles published.

Bob Hostetler, literary agent, in answer to someone’s query: “When can I quit my day job?” he wrote, “When you’re making as much money writing as you are at your day job.”

This fits me how? I retired in 2012 and we moved to Indianapolis in 2017. I began my dream job in earnest. That’s to get Bill’s messages in print. Currently he has two books on the market―Words of Endearment and Prayers for the People―and a third book, The Scandal of Christmas: Advent Reflections on Four Unlikely Figures, to be published before Thanksgiving this year. That’s my work, yet the money earned goes back into the work.

Bill never said he wanted to write a book. So how do I get his words published? Literally, behind his back. In our study/office, our desks are on opposite walls. He’s playing on his computer and I’m working on my computer.

Prayer: Move from Dissatisfaction to Confidence

Do You Want to Move from Dissatisfaction to Confidence?

If you’re like most Christians, your biggest regret in your spiritual growth is your personal prayer life. You know how to pray; you know it’s talking with the Lord in thankfulness and petition. You do spend some time praying, even every day, but you’re not satisfied with the time or content. What steps would move you from being dissatisfied to being confident? Your goal is to please the Lord with your prayer life. What could help you make that transition?

Think about those times when you have sensed God’s presence near and you relished your time in prayer, knowing full well that you connected with the Lord in prayer. Would one of those times be when you’re involved in church worship? You were being helped to communicate with God. Could it be while the pastor (or a church member) led the whole congregation in prayer? During that prayer time, you sensed God near. You put aside your hesitation and doubts and you heard a prayer that connected your desires with the words being spoken by your pastor. You joined in offering prayer for others’ needs and you knew God listened and would answer.

Prayers for the People: from the Heart of a Pastor could be the needed resource to bring you into that sweet communion you sensed when in church worship. This book is a collection of pastoral prayers and includes prayers offered during Sunday morning worship, weddings, funerals, special events, and closes with benedictions. The author was pastor of World Gospel Church, Terre Haute, Indiana, for 19 years. Bill Coker held the conviction that as pastor he knew the needs of the people, so he led in prayer every Sunday. As you read the prayers in this book, you could move from your sense of dissatisfaction to being in God’s presence.

If you are interested in purchasing Prayers for the People, it’s available on www.amazon.com. $13.00 I have sold all my author copies of this book.

God’s Unexpected Love Letter Addressed to You

How do you view the Ten Commandments as recorded in the Bible? (See Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.) In the past, they have been posted on courtroom and schoolroom walls. The Commandments have too often been used like a weapon to persuade youth to obey the rules. People even quote particular commands to gain an advantage in an argument.

Personally, you may have viewed the Ten Commandments as coming from a harsh God who rules the universe with an iron hand. Do you see them as commands, rules, and regulations? Do they strike fear in your heart and mind? Or do you ignore them as an ancient creed for past generations?

If you exchanged commandments for “words,” would you consider God’s words as something to help you understand Him better? Could these words even move you to understand yourself better in God’s eyes?

Could you see the Ten Commandments not as rules but as words of endearment?

That’s the position Bill Coker takes in his book Words of Endearment: the Ten Commandments as a Revelation of God’s Love.

The book is written by Bill Coker, Sr., former professor of Bible at Asbury College and former pastor of World Gospel Church in Indiana. With an historic context and careful biblical word study, Bill set his purpose in these 12 chapters to explain what each word (commandment) meant as God intended. These enlarge our understanding about what God said and why. The book begins with a chapter on the Decalogue and then fleshes out each of the ten words in separate chapters, closing with a message on “Rightly Handling the Word of Truth.”

Words of Endearment could move you from fear to trust, from apprehension to love for God, from ignoring the standard God sets for us to accepting the good life ruled by a good God.

Purchase the book from www.amazon.com or from Bill and Ann Coker: al2.coker@gmail.com with free shipping. Only $12.95 and you could have a new and better perspective on the Ten Commandments, God’s loving words for you.

Waiting yet being productive

I sat in my car in the faculty parking lot, waiting for my husband. I had finished my day job and we’d go home to prepare dinner and do whatever. Often I had to wait for Bill as his office hours at the college were not 9 to 5. I came prepared, loosing a book from the door’s side pocket, and began reading where I’d left off. Being productive while waiting.

That happened years ago. I’m now reading a book by Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage titled The Waiting Room: 60 meditations for finding peace & hope in a health crisis. It’s taken me back to the 24 days when Bill was in Union Hospital, Terre Haute, Indiana, with Legionnaire’s disease.

Bill in physical therapy at Independence Rehab

Lots of time waiting – for doctors to visit, for Bill to receive diagnosis and care, for his release time. I recall one morning when Pastor Dan joined me as we waited for a procedure that didn’t happen. He had given generously of his time and we shared life stories.

Today’s reading quoted that familiar verse Jeremiah 29:11 about God’s plans for His people. “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (NIV). We tend to make present-day application and don’t consider the context. The people from Jerusalem lived in exile in Babylon. The Lord spoke through Jeremiah to tell the people to be productive during their 70-year wait before returning home. Build houses, grow gardens, marry and have children. And most surprising of all, pray for the prosperity of Babylon.

These days my waiting times look different. Currently I’m waiting for the proof of Bill’s third book, The Scandal of Christmas, four Advent messages. I’ve approved the cover design and illustrations. It’s exciting, but I admit to being anxious about this book being available in time for pre-Advent sales. The first Sunday in Advent is November 28. So how can I make this waiting time productive?

Clean the refrigerator? Tackle the clothes that need ironing? Work on other writing projects? Such as revising my companion book for The Pilgrim’s Progress, compiling my devotions for a new publication, looking over Bill’s transcripts, or reading.

I’m also waiting on Bill, not in the sense that I’m expecting him to do something. It’s like putting aside my expectations and being available for what new changes he makes. What will he forget and what will he want us to do today? He likes to take rides in the country; so will I wait on what I want to do and accommodate his wishes? How do I judge which waiting is more productive?

Valued Interruptions

The other day Paul, our son-in-law, said he didn’t want to interrupt me while I was reading my Bible. He’s considerate that way. But, come to think of it, my life has been full of interruptions, mostly good, some not so.

Every young mother can relate to interruptions by their children. It’s usually while doing some important task (even in the bathroom) or talking on the phone. But children are insistent and want attention “now.” More often than I’d like to admit, my attitude about being interrupted has not been agreeable. Then comes along that unexpected time when a child wants to share her find while playing outside. My window sill in one house displayed a collection of rocks, cones, and seeds. These love gifts from my children started with an interruption.

When I worked as client services director for the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Terre Haute and Brazil, IN, I observed an open door policy. That stimulated interruptions from volunteer counselors needing advice or wanting to share their recent encounter with clients. Most were work-related, but sometimes those interruptions opened up their personal lives. Both of us benefited.

Now the interruptions come from great-grandkids when we have the pleasure of their company. Our granddaughter Anna is committed to bringing the triplets for a visit, at least once a year from Nashville, TN. They want to help, especially in the kitchen. I can do the fixings alone, but to them it’s part of their play. I’m blessed with their interruptions.

Ethan helps prepare chicken curry
Naomi snaps beans for dinner

Levi works alongside motel laborer.

More presently the interruptions come from Bill who likes meals on time. I’ll be typing away on a document or email and Bill stands by the clock and points. It’s noon. It’s six o’clock. When are we going to eat? I want to choose the schedule, but he’s as insistent as our children had been. So I put him off for a few minutes and then head to the kitchen where he stands and observes every move, often taking a utensil off the counter before I’m finished with it. He only wants to help.

So whether it’s from a child, worker, or husband, interruptions can lead to a good relationship – if my attitude remains open and compassionate. Bring on the interruptions.

Missed Invitation

It wasn’t until the end of the day that I realized I had missed attending the graduation party for a high-school senior from our church. Earlier in the day, Bill had even asked if we could go someplace. We went for a drive in the country and enjoyed it. Upon returning home, Paul told me about the graduation events he’d attended. That was when it clicked. I had an invitation, and I had missed the party. I had not put it on my calendar, but had only shoved the postal card invite behind other mail on my desk. It would have been a better use of our Saturday afternoon time, but no. Sending a card of congratulations became my only recourse.

This got me to thinking about other missed opportunities. At Asbury College I forgot to purchase a ticket for a play, The Diary of Anne Frank, put on by drama students. This book is a favorite, so I wanted to see the play. I even walked over to the theater on campus, but it was only to appease myself, eventually to make me feel bad about missing out because of my neglect.

Another story: I was getting ready for an event to start soon when a door-to-door salesman came to our house. Taking time to listen for a while, I finally told him I had to leave for a meeting. After he left, I felt guilty. Not because of putting off his sales pitch, but because I did not use our time together to give a witness about what mattered most to me. I was going to a meeting related to my spiritual growth, and yet I had missed out on an opportunity to talk about Jesus.

The invitation that no one should miss is the call of Christ to follow Him. His invitation is given to all. Listen as I wrap that invitation in the words of Scripture. Jesus did “not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Lately I’m been thinking of and praying for loved ones and friends who need to respond to the call to follow Jesus. And I don’t want to miss out on extending that invitation.

What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals

Looking for something else, I found this article. Isn’t that the way with lost and found? Anyway, I don’t know who wrote this piece, but I do know by the style that neither Bill nor I wrote it. Both of us, however, would agree with the author. So let it stand as anonymous and see what response you have: good or not or in between.

March 29, 2017. #hymns #music

I don’t think we should go back to using hymnals. But I do think there’s value in considering what we lost when, over the course of a relatively short period of time, we gave up hymnals for PowerPoint projection. Not all of us, mind you, but most of us. It’s worth considering because it helpfully shows what we stand to lose when we switch from one media to another, and especially when we do so quickly and without due consideration.

If we were to go back in time twenty or thirty years, we would find that most churches had hymnals. They had hymnals because it was the best way of providing each member of the congregation with a copy of the songs. You’d hear it in every church: “Take out your hymnal and turn to hymn 154…” And then hymnals went the way of the dodo and we began to look instead to words projected on a screen. Here is some of what we lost along the way.

We lost an established body of songs. Hymnals communicated that a church had an established collection of songs. This, in turn, communicated that its songs were vetted carefully and added to its repertoire only after careful consideration. After all, great songs are not written every day and their worth is proven only over time. Therefore, new hymns would be chosen carefully and added to new editions of the hymnal only occasionally. Churches would update their hymnals, and, therefore, their established body of songs, only once every ten or fifteen years.

We lost a deep knowledge of our songs. When we removed the hymnal, we gained the ability to add new songs to our repertoire whenever we encounter one we deem worthy. And we do—we add new songs all the time. As we add new songs with greater regularity, we sing old songs with less frequency. This reduces our familiarity with our songs so that today we have far fewer of them fixed in our minds and hearts. Few congregations could sing even the greatest hymns without that PowerPoint screen.

We lost the ability to do harmonies. Hymnody grew up at a time when instrumentation took a back seat to the voice. Hymns were most often written so they could be sung a cappella or with minimal instrumentation. For that reason, hymnals almost invariably included the music for both melody and harmonies and congregations learned to sing the parts. The loss of the hymnal and the associated rise of the worship band has reduced our ability to harmonize and, in that way, to sing to the fullest of our abilities. It often seems like all we want from the congregation is their enthusiasm.

We lost the ability to sing skillfully. As congregations have lost their knowledge of their songs, they have lost the ability to sing them well. We tend to compensate for our poorly-sung songs by cranking up the volume of the musical accompaniment. The loss of the voice has given rise to the gain of the amplifier. This leads to our music being dominated by a few instrumentalists and perhaps a pair of miced-up vocalists while the larger congregation plays only a meager role.

We lost the ability to have the songs in our homes. Hymnals usually lived at the church, resting from Monday to Saturday in the little pockets on the back of the pews. But people also bought their own and took them home so the family could have that established body of songs there as well. Families would often sing together as part of their family worship. It is easy to imagine a family singing “It Is Well with My Soul” after eating dinner together, but almost impossible to imagine them singing, “Oceans.”

It is probably too late to go back to the hymnal. I am not at all convinced we ought to. But it is still worth considering what we lost along the way and how congregational singing has been utterly transformed by what may appear to have been a simple and practical switch in the media. That little change from book to screen changed nearly everything.