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Time to Be Nice

It takes time to be nice. Driving around, doing errands, I made a discovery. To make it to each place before closing, I knew my start time now included rush-hour traffic. First the bank, with two short lines for drive-through business. Thankful. The clerk’s voice sounded pleasant, but my answers came out flat. Bill asked me what’s next. We headed to Target and CVS with a green light for a turn onto Emerson. A car leaving a store on my right wanted into the traffic, but I hurried on to get the next green light.

Do we live by the clock — rushing through a schedule?

My strategy worked as I found the boxed cake mix before I went to the pharmacy. She would ring up the grocery item with the prescription. But we had to wait as she had a casual chat with a customer ahead of us. No transaction, only visiting. That purchase made, we left for our next stop, dreading traffic on Southport Road. Not as bad as expected, but I drove a few miles above the speed limit.

We arrived at the Post Office ten minutes before six p.m. No cars in the parking lot, quite unusual for Wanamaker. So I got out to check the sign for open hours and the door. They didn’t close until 6:30 p.m. Why all the rush? My business there took only a few minutes, but I missed my usual clerk. The one who served me was congenial and efficient, and she did not insist I mail one package with a question about the zip code. I said I’d check on it and return another time.

With all but one of my errands accomplished, we stopped at the Franklin CVS to buy a few items with coupons. When we returned home, Bill asked for supper. With some reluctance, I decided to return to Franklin St. to order Subway. The server had a bit of trouble with my order at first, and I blamed it on his nationality, not on my faulty instructions. Bill liked being able to eat in their diner.

Sitting at our table, I mentally rehearsed our trip. Opportunities awaited me at every turn, but I chose to stick to my rushed schedule. Will I remember next time that it takes time to be nice?

Endings

Three selections from a writing class in 2000 at Vigo County Public Library.

“Welcome”

I backed up and headed out of the gravel parking area, the aroma of Gala apples filling the car with sweet hope. My stop at Ditzler’s Orchard was like a ‟welcome home” sign hung around my nervousness of fitting into this new community. Patricia had personally bagged choice apples, put them in my car, and invited me into her modest home. Her family room was furnished simply with a large stuffed couch and several dark chairs in front of a built-in bookcase with desk. An old grand-style piano took up the majority of space. She sat in a worn upholstered chair and I sank low into the couch while we talked of family and church. Only after I left did her easy welcome wrap me in warmth.

“A Hearing” (names are changed)

Unpolished dark wooden pews line each wall of the wide square second-floor hall circling round the stairwell of the County Courthouse. Uncomfortably I sit with Susie on one bench while her mother is opposite us. Susie, in a clean blue dress, waits for a hearing with her public defender. Suddenly she jumps up and announces she’s going to visit her uncle in an office on the lower level.

The seats are hard; lights are dim and high overhead. Muffled staccato voices reflect urgency and shame. I look across at this nervous mother who then quickly joins me. Sitting close she jabs at her absent daughter: “Always in trouble. What went wrong? What’s she done now?” Then questions me, “How did you get involved? And why would you want to?” I hesitate to answer and look away. I’m thinking of an earlier back-handed compliment she gave her daughter, “How did you get your hair to look so nice?”

Susie returns and soon an officer calls her name and makes another appointment. Taking Susie back home I try in vain to form an apology not mine to make.

“Ready”

Hugging my knees I sit on the steps. Red cedar banisters frame the concrete and brick porch. Fresh mulch, wet by an early shower, darkens the newly turned soil. The Hosta bed between two maple trees is readied, and I await a gift from my friend’s garden. We will plant one more page of our dream home.

Writing coach Brian O’Neill wrote this observation: “Your sense of an ending is almost always impressive — often a single line that brings the fact of the experience and the feeling beneath it together.”

A Good Look Into Another Culture


“Fat and Simple” guest blog by Christy Yoder

Here’s the fat and simple truth: Culture learning is as simple as joyfully and graciously accepting the words, “You are fat!”  and “You are so simple.”
What? Does that sound strange?  
Well, after 14 years in Africa, those words still make my mind do a cultural calculation.
 
Step 1. You are “fat”  most likely means “You are pretty, you look healthy or you look good!” When told, “You are looking good,” it may mean, “You are fat!” In other words, it’s a compliment, and should be taken as such!
Step 2. Being “simple” means I’m uncomplicated, friendly, easy to get to know.
Step 3. You are fat + You are simple = You are blessed and a blessing
 
Culture learning is a bending of the mind, a receiving and rejoicing in the diversity of God’s world, and often laying aside my own culture to embrace another. The longer I live outside of my home culture, the more I realize how much I don’t know and understand.
(I think that’s true of life with God and people in general.)
That’s the fat and simple truth of culture learning.
Christy and Zach Yoder are Wycliffe missionaries in Nigeria with their four daughter

“For Sale” 1998

We bought it before a “For Sale” sign was ever staked, fourteen acres on which to build our retirement home. The entrance is a cut road, running between two hills, or more precisely high places above the gullies created by long-ago mining.

The east hill I’ve reserved for a playground, an open area for a barn and a picnic spot complete with Narnia lamp post. Underbrush is scarce and sunlight defused by short trees in an uneven circle. Already the visits from some of our ten grandchildren have helped me imagine future family outings – a brick barbecue pit, wooden picnic table and benches, a swing or two hanging from high branches, blankets on the ground, and grandkids scouting out the land.

In the autumn the girls will delight me with multi-colored leaves. Wes will collect the brown ones. He always reminds me that God made brown also. Tommy, our paleontologist, will use his imagination to turn a twisted stick or an oddly shaped rock into some pre-historic creatures. Prying open Tony’s hands, I’ll find beanie-capped acorns and small, smooth stones.

The west hill we have chosen for our home. Markers square off the dimensions and the half-circular drive. A gully in back provides a natural basement entrance. A few trees will have to be cut down, some pruned, but sycamores, poplars, and oaks can be kept. Careful about clearing out too much, we want to retain the wild sanctuary for birds. One spring afternoon we spied two Eastern bluebirds in a large white dogwood.

In complete shade I stand in the “front yard” and visualize rockers in motion on the porch. I look up and feel the cool. I look out in a circle around me and feel the warmth – our “For Sale” sign stuck in the ground near an elm along the cut road. Reality and attachment collide. We must be realistic, but I’ve grown accustomed to my dreams.

Written in 1998 for a Creative Writing Class, led by Brian O’Neill in conjunction with the Vigo County Public Library and the Senior Citizen Center, Terre Haute, Indiana.

The Sense of Presence

In A Testament of Devotion, Thomas R. Kelly wrote about the sense of Presence. He recorded a testimony of John W. Rowntree who, after learning his blindness had no remedy, he left the doctor’s office and steadied himself against a railing. He “suddenly felt the love of God wrap him about as though a visible presence enfolded him and a joy filled him such as he had never known before” (p. 94).

I’ve thought of at least three times when I’ve had that experience of Presence during hard times. Once while walking the track at Asbury College, I fought to gain control over unexpected losses. It was then that God assured me He was and would be in control. Nothing changed except His flooding me with peace.

While prepping tax records, I occupied my mind with thoughts of our second son and the sudden death of his wife. How would he handle the boys and still work? On the recorder a song played about the holiness of God. A wave of God’s presence filled the room and my mind, assuring me of His watch care.

Standing by Bill’s hospital bed in 2010, I recalled a verse in Psalms. “O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (34:8). I knew God would see Bill through Legionnaire’s disease with renewed hope and strength.

Those experiences are in the past. “Between the relinquished past and the untrodden future stands this holy Now…for within the Now is the dwelling place of God Himself” (Kelly, pp. 95-96). My assurance is in an Eternal God who does not live in time, but that is where He has placed me/us. For in the Now I trust God with unspeakable joy and peace. His divine Presence flows through me and give me a new song. “God of grace and God of glory, On Thy people pour Thy pow’r…Grant us wisdom; Grant us courage For the facing of this hour” (Harry Emerson Fosdick).

God’s Words of Endearment

In the eighteenth century, the word endearment came to mean “an expression of love.” When we come to the Decalogue, we find primarily an expression of love. When we focus on God’s words as an expression of love rather than a series of obligations, our image of God goes from a wrathful deity waiting to strike hapless individuals to a Father showing His children how to live a full and abundant life, free of fear.

But in the seventeenth century, endearment had a different connotation. It meant “an obligation of gratitude.” The gift of love is received, and in response the recipient does something. That is endearment. The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber said that the Ten Commandments do not tell me what I must not do; they tell me what I will not do as a believer. Your obedience to the commandments is not the means to your salvation; it is a response to God’s grace and His love for you.

The reason I prefer the word endearment to the word commandment is because commands are often viewed as a form of oppression or military might. As a result, we tend to think of God demanding and booming a list of rules at Moses. This creates a wrong image of God. If we look at a parallel passage in Deuteronomy 6, God’s intention and words are made clear.

“And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear [reverence] the Lord

our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.”

Deuteronomy 6:24

If that is the case, what is the intent of these ten words of endearment? In Deuteronomy 6:24, Moses said God’s statutes are for our good. God has given us these words not because He is sitting up on the mountain saying, “I’m God, and just to remind you, I am giving you these commandments and you’d better not disobey Me—or else.”

In John 3:17, Jesus said He had not come to judge the world, but to save the world. Later He said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

When I look at the Decalogue, I understand what God is primarily saying to the people of Israel (and as an extension, to us): “I am giving you these words because they are the way of life. My intentions are good. If you will do these things, not only will your personal life be blessed, but society itself will be blessed.”

―from the first chapter of Words of Endearment: the Ten Commandments as a Revelation of God’s Love by William B. Coker, Sr.

Behind the Scenes

I’m pulling the curtain aside and telling you about what happened behind the scenes with the Cokers’ attempt to get published. It was never Bill’s desire to publish a book. When I and friends at church told him to write a book, he would say, “There are enough books out there already.” So when the boxes of Words of Endearment arrived, I put a book in Bill’s hands, saying he wrote a book. He said, “How did this happen?” I said he had preached the messages and I put them together as chapters in a book for the people who love him.

I did not try to keep the book a secret, but evidently it surprised Bill. You could say that I went through the process behind his back. We spend our days at our computers: my desk and computer against one wall and the his against a wall across the room. Thus, we have our backs to each other. Bill plays solitaire on his computer; I write, edit, and connect with readers and publishers.

Some evenings, while watching TV, sitting side by side on the couch, I often had the typed manuscript on my lap. Bill would ask what I was doing as I marked up the pages with blue ink. I’d explain it was one of his sermons. Avoiding the word “editing,” I’d say I was moving his preaching voice to a reading voice. That satisfied him―until the next night and we’d have the same conversation again.

Having no success securing either an agent or a traditional publisher, I chose to self-publish with Sermon to Book. When I told them the messages were on cassette tapes, they must have thought I was communicating from the Dark Ages. Our grandson Michael came to the rescue, converting cassette tapes into digital audio files. That became our foundation.

While this was pricey, the STB staff did an excellent job with editing, cover design, and communicating with me. Understanding they were dealing with a middle “man,” they showed respect to both Bill and me. I would get the edits, grateful for comments about Bill’s intellect and biblical knowledge. At times, an editor would write, “I had not thought of it this way,” or “He explains the text well.” If one asked for more material or wanted another illustration, I had to resist devising copy of my own. I’d say we had to be faithful to what Bill wrote and not expand, for he could not help and it was not my place or theirs to add copy.

I could not have done the editing and proofing without the help of Becky, Bill, Jr., and a team of beta readers. They found typos I had not seen, and they also pointed out weak points needing a bit of clarity. Thanks to all who helped behind the scenes, without applause.

When we received the first book off the press, our final proof, the thing that thrilled me most was seeing for the first time the spine of the book. This would be what potential readers would see on a shelf in a bookstore. We approved of the proof and it was off to Amazon to POD (print on demand). The first month Amazon reported 19 e-books  and 119 paperback books sold. I have mailed over 180 books out with Bill’s stamped signature. And that should be only the beginning.

Questions to Ponder

Family: Coker and Laird and ours

Several months ago I wrote down two questions I heard on the radio. I’ve kept this scrap of paper on my desk and it’s time to use it and then toss it.

“What do you want?” is a loaded question and could go anywhere in my mind. While it rattles there, I think of many things I want to gain or see happen. Relationships is my first thought, for these are important among family and friends, even with those I hardly know. For that latter category, it’s good to keep relationships functioning well with storekeepers, postal clerks, and neighbors. In the process of taking packages of Bill’s book to the post office, I’ve become acquainted with one postal clerk. She has the book, Words of Endearment, and says she’ll read it on the plane during her vacation trip. When a problem arose with delivery of one book, she said if she’s not there, for me to return home and come later.

Family relationships are most important. We pray that our family circle not be broken here or in eternity. We stay in touch by way of technical devices. My siblings now meet monthly on Zoom and it’s been a blessing for us all. Because of Bill’s book, several nephews have bought books and report on their reading. That’s a renewed joy.

Friends communicate via email and phone, letting us know how Bill’s preaching has impacted their lives. They are grateful now to continue that influence with his book. We’ve connected with former Asburians and Emmaus folk, as well as church members. Their memory of our times together is better than mine, but it’s refreshing to know they want to renew our relationship.

“Where am I led?” is the second question and the emphasis is on “led.” It’s not always where I want to go or my first choice. When we moved to Indianapolis the summer of 2017, I knew it was a good decision, and it’s proved to be the leading of the Lord. I’m led to study God’s Word more so this year I bought the NLT Pray for Life Bible to lead me in reading through the Bible in a year. Each day has a prayer emphasis on a life issue, passages from the Old and New Testaments, Psalms and Proverbs. So far I’ve not missed a day, about 20 minutes of reading. For prayer time I’m led by Mary DeMuth’s Pray Every Day podcast and her book Jesus Every Day. When she asks, “Mind if I pray for you?” I’m ready.

These two questions could have more answers. Why don’t you ponder them and let me know your answers?

Busy Beginning

As I ended the old year and began the new year, my focus has been split between marketing Bill’s first book, Words of Endearment, and preparing his second book to be published – Prayers for the People. These are two different publishers and their specs vary but for our good.

Book sales for Words is going well, both with Amazon and from my own supply of books. The main differences provided early sales to arrive for Christmas when ordering from Amazon, and I stamp Bill’s signature on the books bought from me. Delivering books to the Post Office gave me the unexpected privilege of talking with the clerk. She knew the “media mail” was Bill’s book, and on the fourth trip she said, “I ought to read his book.” I had brought along a book, just in case (suggestion from our friend Stefanie), and the clerk received it gladly.

The most satisfying part of this marketing venture are the notes we receive with payment, along with comments on Facebook. These confirm that Bill’s influence continues way past his time of preaching and teaching in person. I’m including some comments here, yet it’s only a smattering, for we’re grateful for all:

“His influence is beyond measure.” – “Lots of good memories of you both.” – “My husband is thrilled to have a copy, a belated Christmas gift.” – “I’m sure we are going to be unable to put it down.” – “Emmaus: what a blessing!” – “I am eager to read it slowly so I can take it all in.” – “We pray many people will be touched by your words. However, we continue to be touched by your lives.” – “We will treasure this for years to come. We are deeply appreciative of your hard work.” – One Emmaus pilgrim noted that Bill’s intelligence and silliness on her walk “changed something inside of me!” – Another Emmaus friend wrote, “Give Bill a hug from me.” – One grandma bought books for all her grandkids, even the four-year-old, for she “wants them all to know about God’s love.” – Others bought books for siblings and friends.

So many more; I could fill up the page. Bill smiles broadly with a bit of embarrassment as I read the compliments to him. And he’s not quite comfortable when I say that he “wrote a book.”

And this week I fill out forms (AIS – Author Information Sheet) for the process of publishing Bill’s book of pastoral prayers and benedictions. It should be available later this year. Continue to pray for us both as we get God’s words out to those who know it and to those who don’t.

Christmas Sunday

Our heavenly Father, on this Christmas Sunday we rejoice in the good news of Your Son: ‟To us a child is born; to us a son is given.” We thank and praise You for Your great love and for the gift of salvation made possible through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We rejoice once again in the message of the angelic choir: ‟Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men.”

Father, even though centuries separate us from the birth of our Lord, remind us that it was in a time and place not terribly unlike ours. You caused a virgin girl to conceive and bear a child and call His name Jesus―Savior. In the humble setting of a cattle stall the Word became flesh and the light of eternity broke through into our time-bound world. The words of the apostle John never lose its excitement: ‟We beheld His glory, the glory of the only Son of God, full of grace and truth.” Fill us with anticipation for that time when we shall see Him ourselves.

As we celebrate Christmas, we remember that the Savior was not received hospitably by those people who claimed to be waiting anxiously for Him. The religious leaders of the day sought His life, because they saw Him to be a threat to their traditions. Herod the Great sought His life, because he saw the Messiah as a threat to his own rule. Under Pontius Pilate, the Romans crucified Him because they saw Him as a potential troublemaker.

Father, we cannot view these people as different than ourselves. Too often we have felt Jesus was a threat to our chosen ways as we refuse to bow in submission before Him. We have seen Jesus as a threat to our happiness and have hesitated to commit ourselves to doing His will. We have sometimes viewed the Christ with indifference and considered Him to be irrelevant for our modern times. We have seen His claim to Lordship as an infringement on our rights.

We pray for the millions of people who miss the true meaning of Christmas, because they have no personal relationship with the Savior. They still walk in darkness, seeking in empty forms and traditions peace of mind. They continue their pursuit of happiness along paths leading nowhere. On this Christmas, Father, we pray that some will come to recognize they will find no respite from their restlessness until they find You, for You have made them for Yourself.

We pray for those who have left home and family to bring the news of Christ to those yet to hear and understand. Especially at this time of family gatherings and familiar traditions, we ask that the Holy Spirit encourage their labors and bring a fresh sense of our Lord’s presence.

For each of us who worship, let the joy of Christmas renew within us the thrill of hope, and may the peace of Christ keep our hearts and minds fixed on Him. We pray in the name of Jesus and for our sakes. Amen.