Have you ever read a story that never leaves you? For me, it’s the monk story.
More than 10 years ago, I sat in a waiting room where, rather than waste time, I flipped through the pages of a magazine until an article captured my attention.*
The author had long dreamed of being a monk, but because a 9-5 paying job seemed more practical, he chose that route instead. Years passed and although he was successful, he never forgot his heart’s desire.
One day the author saw a newspaper article about a local monastery. For men who wanted to consider entering monastic life, the monastery was holding a four-week retreat. Qualified applicants would live at the monastery and participate in its activities. At the program’s conclusion, participants could decide whether or not they wanted to enter the monastic order.
The author’s application was accepted and after checking in on the first day, he was shown to his quarters. His stark, doorless room contained a single bed, dresser, desk and chair.
After unpacking, he and the other would-be monks attended an orientation where they were given their itinerary for the next month.
The author was stunned to learn that morning prayers and vespers began at 3:30 a.m.—attendance mandatory. After an early breakfast, assigned chores were performed in silence until lunch. Afternoons were spent in silent study, and once evening vespers ended, the men returned to their rooms where they remained silent.
Assigned to wash the monastery’s floors, the author thought his chore not so bad until he learned that he would scrub the floors on his hands and knees—in silence. The work was painful, exhausting. Hours of silence magnified the harshness. This was not what the author imagined when he dreamed of monastic life.
After lunch on the fourth day, the author returned to his room and began packing. When the head monk walked past the open doorway, he stopped and asked the author why he was leaving.
The author explained that life in the monastery was nothing like he’d imagined. The hours were long and the work was difficult. And then there was the silence. The painful, lonely silence. It was all too much, too difficult for the author to bear. He couldn’t see himself serving God this way for the next 15 or 20 years.
To the author’s surprise, the head monk didn’t try to persuade him to stay, but rather agreed with everything he’d said. Life at the monastery was unbearably difficult. Why, during his many years there, life had never once gotten easier for him. If anything, it sometimes became harder.
Shocked, the author asked the head monk how he was able to stay.
“As much as I love God and want to serve Him, if I viewed my life as though I had twenty or thirty years left here at the monastery, I couldn’t handle it. I’d pack my bags and leave.
“But God uses the difficulty, the austerity, the silence to teach me perspective. I’ve learned to look at my life one day at a time. When I do that, I can get through the hardships that each day brings. There are some days so difficult that I need to look at my life in one hour - or even one minute - increments or I’d be overwhelmed and give up.
“God has taught me to view my life in manageable amounts. That’s how I get through the unbearable. That’s how I stay. That’s how I’m able to serve the Lord.”
After letting the monk’s words sink in for several minutes, the author removed his clothing from his suitcase.
“What are you doing?” the monk asked.
“I know I can make it till dinner.”
Life is difficult. It can be downright brutal. But I know I can make it through today. What about you? How do you get through the toughest of days? Let me hear from you!
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 (ESV)
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
* I regret that I cannot recall the name of the author or the magazine so that I can give both their due credit and my appreciation. If anyone should recognize this story, please contact me. It is not my wish to take credit for this story.
Cynthia Howerter © 2011, 2013Read More
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I will lift up my eyes to the hills - From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2. TO GOD BE THE GLORY All photographs taken by Cynthia Howerter © 2012
I am certain that I’ll never forget him – the dirty ten-year old boy who showed up at my first arts and craft class with the sole purpose of tormenting me.
For me, it was just a summer job at a local playground – a way to make sure I’d be able to go back to college in the fall. I needed money. Sam had a need, too, but it wasn’t money.
My assistant, also a college student, was a no-show that first day. “Great.” I muttered under my breath as I watched the ill-mannered kids shoving each other. This was the playground in the poor part of town. The playground where no one wanted to work. Apparently that included my aide.
It didn’t take Sam long to make his presence known. A few well-aimed punches and nasty kicks sent his peers scattering before he jumped on top of my craft table. He sneered at me. “I suppose you’re gonna make me git down.”
His dirty body and tattered clothing were disturbing to me and helped me choose my course of action. “No, not really.” A quick glance allowed me to see that he wasn’t expecting my response.
I tried not to shake as I put the craft items on the table. Sam jumped up and down, making the materials roll off the table.
“Whatcha gonna do now, lady?” He was just itching for a fight, a confrontation.
After I silently prayed, “Help me, Jesus,” I told the group, “We’re going to sit down like the ladies and gentlemen we are so I can start today’s project.”
“We’re-not-ladies-and-gentlemen.” His face was full of defiance as he spit out the words.
My heart pounded as I tried to smile and act like I was the one in control. I didn’t have a clue what I should do. The Rec and Parks director hadn’t prepared me for kids like this.
I began instructing the kids how to weave brightly colored twine around a small basket. A loud smack sent one of the little ones running tearfully away. The minute I heard skin contacting skin, I knew who was responsible.
“Whatcha gonna do now, lady?”
“I’m going to ask you to help me, Sam. Would you like to help me?”
Sam looked as though I had smacked him. “You want me to help you?”
“Yes. I’d like you to help me.” I wondered if I had lost my marbles. I was asking the bully of the West End to help me. The one who just kicked and elbowed and smacked his way to the top of my craft table.
His hard features softened a little and he asked me what I wanted him to do. The other kids became quiet. They surely wondered if the Rec and Parks Department had sent a looney tune to teach crafts.
“No one ever asks Sam to help,” a girl whispered as she stepped behind me.
As I explained to Sam how to help the other kids weave the twine, he interrupted. “Lady, what’s your name?”
He sat next to a young girl and showed her how to wrap the twine around the basket spokes. The group quieted down and worked on their baskets.
It was ever so faint, but I heard it. “Cyndi, Cyndi, Cyndi.”
Not sure who was sing-songing my name, I looked around the table. Sam’s shy eyes sneaked a peak at me, the hint of a smile in the corners of his mouth. I smiled at him.
My shift over, I loaded the left-over crafts into my car and drove to my parents’ home. Had I looked into my rearview mirror, I would have noticed.
I wasn’t home very long before I heard the song – “Cyndi, Cyndi, Cyndi” – through the open windows. This time it was louder but oh, so sweet. Looking out the window, I watched him ride his rusted bicycle back and forth past our house, smiling and singing his song. He was a long way from home.
Upon arriving at the playground the next morning, he was already there waiting for me. He looked at the ground and asked if he could help me again. “I was hoping you’d want to help me, Sam. You’re a really good helper.” We smiled at each other, the rough, tough West End bully and the college girl.
He rode past my parents’ house every summer until I married. Always smiling. Always singing . Once an unwanted bully. Now a person of value.
Know anyone who needs an encouraging word? Don’t wait. Say it. Be the person they sing to.
“The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Cynthia Howerter © 2011
Good stories serve a purpose. While the objective of some stories is met immediately, the lesson of other stories can be years in the making. Such is the case with this story about my grandmother, Alice. Come with me as we visit my grandparents’ farm near Muncy, Pennsylvania.
A nip in the September air caused Alice to reflect that her four children had grown out of their winter coats, leggings and boots at the end of the previous winter. If the truth be known, the children outgrew the coats just as they fell apart from years of use by previous owners. Alice opened a canning jar that she kept hidden in a kitchen cupboard and counted the bills and coins it contained. There wasn’t enough to purchase winter clothing for one child let alone four.
With the Great Depression in full force, Alice and her husband Ed were having a difficult time making ends meet. As she so often did when adversity confronted her, Alice lowered her head in silent prayer. If there was anything good coming from such troublesome times, it was that Alice was learning to depend on the Lord to meet her family’s needs.
That afternoon as she hung laundry on the clothesline in the backyard, Alice turned her head and looked across the cornfield to the woods where several hickory trees grew at its edge. Their golden leaves made them easy to spot. She felt a strong urge to walk over to them and when she saw that the trees and ground were covered with an abundance of hickory nuts, an idea came to her. After filling her apron to overflowing with the nuts, she hurried home.
Each day, Alice and the children returned to the hickory trees and gathered the nuts. At night, they sat at the kitchen table by the light of an oil lamp and picked the nuts out of their shells. After weighing the nuts on a scale, each pound was poured into a small paper bag. It occurred to Alice that had she not followed the strong urging to walk over to the trees, she would never have thought of harvesting the nuts.
That Saturday, Ed loaded his wife, the bags of hickory nuts and a small wagon into the car and they drove into town. Ed drove to a residential area and after he unloaded the wagon, he and Alice filled it with the bags of nuts. Ed left as he had errands to do in town and Alice had a mission.
She pulled the wagon behind her as she went door to door seeking customers. It was now November and not only did she know that women were starting their Thanksgiving and Christmas baking, she also knew that hickory nuts were scarce due to the Depression, as were many things. In no time at all, Alice sold all of the bags for 25 cents each and even had several orders for more nuts.
For days, Alice and the children repeated the chores of gathering the hickory nuts, shelling, weighing and bagging them, and every Saturday, Alice walked through town and sold the nuts. When nature provided no more nuts, Alice counted her earnings. The harvest not only provided enough money to buy new coats, leggings and boots for all four of her children but much-needed winter coats and boots for Ed and her as well.
Because Alice faithfully turned to the Lord in the midst of her troubles, God always provided a way for Alice. He didn’t necessarily answer her prayers exactly the way she hoped or thought He would, but He answered in ways that were better than she could have imagined.
For as long as I can remember, my own mother relied on her faith and childhood memories to get her through the difficulties that visit a person’s life. And she loved to share these precious recollections with my siblings and me. Over 80 years later, when my own family and I found ourselves in the midst of severe misfortune, it was my mother’s stories about her parents’ faith and persevering spirit during hardships that provided examples for my husband and me.
When Christmas came and my husband and I had no money to buy presents for our own children or food for our usual feast, I thought of Grandma Alice and Grandpa Ed and I knew what I needed to do. I gathered our children close to me and explained that we already had the best presents – our love for each other and our faith that God would see us through our troubles. And just as He had done for my grandparents and parents, God faithfully provided for us.
What gifts are you giving your family? Are they tangible presents that are here today and gone tomorrow? Or will you pass on your faith which will last for generations?
“I will be glad and rejoice in Your love, because You saw my suffering; You knew my troubles.” Psalm 31:7.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Cynthia Howerter © 2011Read More
Ever experience a terrible boss? One who made you miserable? One who held your raises and promotions captive while crossing every t and dotting every i so his own would come through?
Do you still wonder how you could have handled him or her differently? Perhaps you’re currently in this situation and you don’t know what to do. Well, then, let me tell you about my friend Chris.
For 8 very long years, my friend Chris worked for a terrible boss. An industrious, diligent worker, Chris completed assignments on time, if not ahead of schedule. If a project required extra work and longer hours, Chris was your go-to person. Every good boss wants a teamful of people like Chris.
Chris’ boss – let’s call him Steve (not his real name, of course) – had a rock solid reputation within the company of being an arrogant, pompous, controlling bully. And on those occasions when it was glaringly obvious that he had erred, no apology ever slipped past his lips. The way Steve saw it, everyone who worked for him wore a bull’s eye and he was the arrow.
Steve was notorious for giving his subordinates bad annual performance evaluations - if he even submitted them at all. And because performance evaluations determined an employee’s yearly merit raise, his own people were forced to work hard with little to no hope of receiving this important pay increase. Steve let it be known to his department that he felt performance reviews were a waste of time. His time, to be exact.
Before Steve became the department head, Chris had always received excellent performance evaluations which had resulted in significant annual merit raises. However, during the 8 years that Steve was in control of her department, Chris received infrequent evaluations. Those she did receive contained poor reviews of her work. Reviews that Chris knew were inaccurate.
The end of the fiscal year was approaching. This was when the annual performance reviews were to be submitted to the personnel department by all department heads. Chris received an email from Steve. He wrote that Chris’ annual performance evaluation was attached and if she agreed with it, she should sign and return it to Steve.
Steve’s email went on to say that if Chris did not agree with the evaluation, she needed to make an appointment with him.
Chris leerily opened the attachment. On the very first category, Steve had given her the lowest score a person could receive. Chris didn’t read any further. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she printed the evaluation and put it in her purse.
Chris didn’t look at the evaluation again until she got home from work. After reading through it, she was certain that there had to have been a mistake. The lowest score for every category had been circled. This couldn’t possibly have been her performance evaluation. She knew she had given outstanding effort.
Anger took over Chris. She began rehearsing what she would say to Steve. The rest of the evening was wasted as Chris, consumed by anger, prepared her speech.
Steve wasn’t in the office the following day, so Chris was unable to speak with him. However, she scheduled an appointment with Steve for the following morning. That evening she attended a Bible study, and, while there, she had a revelation that she was handling Steve’s evaluation of her the wrong way. It became clear to her that she was preparing to fight a battle that she wasn’t equipped to handle.
Chris realized that when she had rehearsed what she planned to say to Steve, she was actually trying to take control of the situation. Chris repented of her anger and laid it at God’s feet. Then she asked God to help her.
The morning of the scheduled evaluation with Steve, Chris and her husband prayed that God would give her guidance and the right words. Although her evaluation was scheduled for 8:30, Steve didn’t materialize for two more hours. This was another way he demonstrated his power and control to his subordinates.
When he finally arrived and told Chris to come into his office, she prayed, “Okay, Lord, let’s go.” You see, Chris had come to realize that she didn’t have to fight this battle alone. As she walked into Steve’s office, Chris felt the calmness of the Holy Spirit come over her.
Chris told Steve that she had read her performance evaluation and that her first impression was that it had to be a mistake. She then talked about what she’d done over the previous year, including taking on additional duties.
When she finished, Steve said that she had raised some good points. This was a highly unusal comment for Steve to make. He then picked up a pen and crossed out every low score and replaced it with a high score, offering no explanations for either score.
He looked at Chris and apologized – something he had never done to anyone in the department for 8 years. Even when he was blatantly wrong, Steve never apologized.
Chris immediately recognized God’s hand in the matter. She had just witnessed a powerful bully apologize, change every low score on her evalution to a high mark with no explanation for the bad review. What she witnessed, in fact, was God changing Steve’s heart right before her very eyes.
Within a very brief time after Chris’ meeting with Steve, he left the company. No explanation for his departure was issued by Steve or the company, but Chris knew who had orchestrated it. It was The One who took control when Chris admitted she had none.
“I also gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Do all that I command so that good things will happen to you.” Jeremiah 7:23.
Do you have a tendency to handle bad situations without first talking with God?
When you charge ahead and take control of difficulties, are the results what you hoped they would be?
When you think about it, isn’t talking with God and asking Him to take charge of our problems much easier than wasting our time with futile actions?
God is right there. Waiting for you to talk with Him. Waiting for you to ask Him to take control. Once you do, sit back, be patient and watch what HE unfolds.
Do you have a story you want told? If so, please leave me a message and I’ll be in touch.
Cynthia Howerter © 2011Read More