Monday, January 31, 2011

Americana

“Look at the little calf,” I pointed out, while the others brought the small children to see the eager, tail wagging baby feeding contentedly from the cow’s udder, oblivious to all but the object of his satisfaction. The black calf held a stiff-legged stance, rooting and pushing with his muzzle against his look-alike mother as strands of hay fell from her mouth. We were at the Ft. Worth Livestock Show on Saturday, and this was one of my favorite sights. My husband had been eager to see the cattle sheds, especially liking the Charolais, a hefty white breed of beef cattle. (It was surprising for us to find out there were red Angus cattle; we thought they only came in black.)

We had several hours before catching our train home, and our sons thought we might enjoy this slice of rural life in the midst of the city. Apparently, many other city dwellers were hungry for getting back to their roots, judging from the thousands of spectators, who couldn’t all be cowboys, despite the proliferation of boots, jeans and cowboy hats. Other than seeing the rabbits exhibits, which brought back memories of our rabbit keeping a couple of years ago, I could have done without most of the rest of the show. I just wanted to get out in the fresh air and see something festive.

However, the display and explanation of a cotton gin was fascinating. A boll of cotton was put into a glass enclosure, high pressure air extracted and ejected the seed, while an airy fluff of cotton floated as the finished product. We were given the downy puff to keep, and it was as soft as silk. Compressed with other such gossamer balls, it would help make up a bale of cotton like the 400 pound bulk standing next to us. It would take a pound of cotton to make a shirt, and a pound and a half to make a pair of jeans. Selling for $1 per pound, the highest since the civil war, the cotton for the jeans would cost $1.50.

We could not eat in the stuffy, unappetizing atmosphere, so we found our way to the historic Stockyards district, now a wonderful bit of history with the flavor of the glory days of the old west. The sidewalks were thronged with pressed-jeans cowboys wearing crisp shirts and string ties, as well as ordinary rumpled ones. The bizarre mingled with the banal in the carnival-like atmosphere as we gawked and gaped at everything from a wizened old man leading a dog with a cat on its back upon which clung a rat, to the stores with music from a guitar band pouring into the street.

Suddenly a wide place opened before us, with historic buildings behind black iron fences and impossibly green and lush lawns where children tumbled and families lolled, enjoying temperatures in the 70s. The romance of the west was apparent as we read a quote from Theodore Roosevelt inscribed on a wall extolling the skill and uniqueness of the American cowboy. We left just as a cattle drive was about to start down the street, filled with new appreciation of our heritage and the wonderful country God has given us, where, though times have changed, the enduring values of our forefathers can still be taught and practiced, in this one nation, under God.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Soul Food and Food for the Soul

My husband is getting spoiled. Our host and son, Benjamin, has been producing gourmet meals for us while we’ve been visiting at their home. And the best part: he will allow no one in the kitchen, not even to do the dishes! (I’m getting spoiled, too.) He does amazing things with chicken, and Monday we had some in burritos with sour cream, cheese and homemade guacamole, followed by a gorgeous blueberry cobbler he made, topped with ice cream.

Early Wednesday morning, after an amazing omelet breakfast, I heard rustling in the kitchen, and upon investigation, I found Jamie (his childhood name) doing things with yeast and setting dough to rise for French bread. He served New Orleans style Po-boys with garlicky roast beef for supper. The bread made an encore at breakfast, toasted in little half crescents as a base for the creation of an “Alpine Stack” of creamy scrambled eggs, strips of bacon and sharp cheddar melted on top. (Oh, my cholesterol!)

We had a suburban vehicle picnic lunch we picked up yesterday as we hurried to take in a movie he wanted us to see. The roast chicken I shared with Howard was delicious, accompanied by caramelized plantains, smoky beans and Cuban rice. Last night Chef Benjamin stuffed giant pasta for manicotti served with crisp-tender pan browned zucchini. The other meals and breakfasts are a delectable blur in my memory.

We had a feast of another kind at church, as our spirits were renewed in their Wednesday evening worship service/prayer meeting. I admit I mostly observed at the beginning, getting used to the unfamiliar songs on the screen led passionately by a worshipful young woman and the worship team and band. I couldn’t help being touched, though, when an encouraging prophetic word was given, certain parts of it standing out as if just for me.

At the end of the service, an anointed recitation of God’s promises revealing His love and attributes was played over the intercom, the rich tones of the British voice filling the sanctuary making even more memorable the eye misting words. While I baby sat a blonde will o’ the wisp 4-year-old granddaughter and her titian- haired cherub sister, the other adults attended a special conference this morning. We will go home full in every way.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Treasure in a Field

Since our train would be leaving at 8:30 a.m. and arriving at 12:30, I wondered if there would be a place to eat while we waited for our son, Jamie, to pick us up. Jamie checked into it and said there was a Subway where we could grab a bite if we were hungry. I mentioned to son Greg, who had taken the Heartland Flyer trip with his wife on a previous occasion, that Jamie said there was a Subway at the railroad station.

“No, there’s no subway. I’ve been there before,” he said. “It is a bus station as well, but there is no subway.” Next time I talked to Jamie, I told him what Greg said.

“Mama, I’m telling you there is a Subway!” Jamie insisted. Meanwhile Greg was insisting there wasn’t. I asked Greg what eating places were there, and he said outside the depot there was everything! (I think he had in mind our point of departure, near the bustling Bricktown area in Oklahoma City).

“Well, Jamie said we could eat at Subway when we got there,” I persisted.

“Oh, you mean Subway, the restaurant!” Greg exclaimed, “I meant there were trains and buses, but no subway!” Lost in the translation. It reminds me of a wrong assumption I made yesterday.

Jamie wanted to take us somewhere, since the sun was shining brightly after the day of rain that met us when we got to Houston. Howard wanted to go to a guitar store, Anne-Marie wanted to go to the Galleria, and I wanted to go to TJMaxx. Jamie suggested Tuesday Morning, but we have one close to home now, so that didn’t appeal to me. “Do you have a Home Goods store?” I asked him. He knew of one in a shopping area nearby that also had a Barnes and Noble. Something for everyone. Howard went with me, and we would meet up with them at the bookstore a little later.

Getting our bearings at the fun (and right-priced) store, I headed to the beautiful display of gleaming bowls, pitchers and serving items in the dish and china section. Suddenly my eyes riveted on a stack of attractive plates. I loved them! So unusual and lovely with their square shape and lavender floral pattern. If only we had our car! I was examining them, thinking I could probably manage them on the train, when a woman came up and started putting them in her shopping cart! I walked away with a sense of loss, unreasonable as it was.

I couldn’t get them out of my mind, even asking a clerk if they had any more, which they didn’t. As we were getting ready to leave, I walked back to the display, even though I had seen the other customer take all that was left of the dinner plates. Just torturing myself, I thought. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a stack on the other side that I had overlooked! Just a wrong assumption that almost made me miss out! I quickly gathered what I wanted; I would find a way to get them home somehow.

Psalm 37:3,4 says: “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” God has promised to give us the desires of our hearts, but a little persistence goes a long way, naturally and spiritually! Don’t miss out on your blessing by assuming it’s not for you!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Riding the Rails

This is fun! I thought as I began to relax on our train trip. Surprisingly smooth, the ride wasn’t much different from being in an airplane, with the occasional jiggle, of course. And much more freedom and space to move around. As soon as the announcement came on that the snack bar was open, we headed there for a biscuit and sausage, supplementing our scanty hotel breakfast we’d had earlier. A trail of passengers followed us in turn.

It was so cute to observe a family near us. Doting grandparents were obviously treating young ones to their first train ride. The attentive, youngish grandfather stood over them, monitoring snacks and ushering kids down the narrow stairwell back and forth to the restroom. A voice referred to as Mimi pointed out trains to a tot on her lap before we left the station. “He calls them Thomas,” she relayed to her husband. “He said, ‘Where are their faces?’” A young mother kept a professional-looking camera poised to record every reaction of the children in what would surely be a scrapbook full of memories. (My husband and I nudged each other when we heard someone coaxingly say to a subject, “Say, ‘Hi, Thelma.’” Someone had my name!)

The wide, panoramic view out the windows of our elevated car was entrancing as winter fields, hills and valleys spread out before us. Livestock bounded as one across a pasture, calves kicking up their heels, cows frolicking and goats hurrying toward an unseen feeding call. Once I caught a glimpse of animals we had just passed that I could not identify as horses or deer. They were a vivid brown with black faces, shorter than a horse, and one had a strange flap hanging as if from its mouth. Later, the conductor asked if we’d seen the elk! He said one had a rack dangling from its head. So that was it!

“Look, a coyote!” my husband pointed out as I caught sight of a rangy creature darting in and out in scant pasture cover. But the most glorious sight emerged when the intercom announced we were passing through “The Canyon,” the walls of the mountain on one side and the beautiful Washita river on the other. We could imagine a float trip as the wide, shallow river meandered over shoals and frothy rapids for miles outside our window. I could almost hear the clop-clop rhythm of horse's hooves as an Oklahoma cowboy sang a ballad of “riding down the canyon to see the sun go down”.

As we neared our destination, we wondered aloud what a large, stadium-like construction was, finally deciding it might be where the Texas Rangers played. A man from a seat across the aisle and a few seats ahead of us turned and told us it was the Texas Speedway. Another architecturally interesting structure turned out to be American Airline hangars. Our trip was ending, but our memories were just beginning.

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

“Let’s leave today so that we won’t have to leave so early in the morning,” my husband said. That sounded like a good idea, since there was a slight chance of snow in the forecast, and our train would leave at 8:30 a.m., meaning we would have to get up in the wee hours to get ready and be there in time. It got dark shortly after we left, but the trip to Oklahoma City went smoothly and we were there before we knew it.

Following the GPS instructions, we navigated unfamiliar highways and exits off the interstate until we found ourselves deep in the heart of the city. Roads narrowed into one lane with construction barricades almost everywhere. We were in the entertainment area called “Bricktown”, a brightly lit and well-populated spot this Saturday night, excited, laughing young people darting shivering across in front of us to reach some fun destination. We spotted the Amtrak station, but now where to spend the night? The glittering, gleaming towers of imposing hotels were all around us, but they were undoubtedly expensive.

“Program Cracker Barrel into the GPS,” my husband instructed me. We hadn’t eaten, and we didn’t want to pay for parking or eat in one of the night spots attracting so many. I agreed, knowing there would probably be moderately-priced lodging close to our favorite restaurant. We were grateful to find just that, and after enjoying a late supper, we turned in and got up in plenty of time to make our train.

I clicked on the GPS as soon as I got into the car. It came on and just as quickly went off. What was this? No matter how we tried, we couldn’t get the thing to come back on! Lord, help us! We really had no idea where we were, only blindly following the directions of the device last night. We had to get to the railroad station! What a time for it to go out, after all the years we had had it! Howard went into a hotel office and came out with a printed computer map which we followed carefully and got into the heart of town again. We missed a turn, though, and got hopelessly turned around.

“Sir, could you direct us to the train station?” Howard called out the car window when we saw a young family scurrying along in the morning cold. They were also carrying a computer-printed paper. They told us they had seen an Amtrak sign on Main street, and pointed us in that direction. We had been so close and yet so lost. Thankfully, God had put that family on that otherwise deserted street. After braving the cold, pulling luggage up high steps and two flights of stairs, and waiting in line to get our tickets from an agent standing alongside the train in a nor’wester gale, we thankfully fell into our seats. And we thought the hassle of airline travel was bad! Things could only get better!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Luggage Baggage

“Howard, this isn’t our suitcase!” I called to my husband after I had opened a near look-alike bag belonging to our daughter-in-law. We were unpacking after they had picked us up at the Amtrak station in Ft. Worth. They were in the area on an anniversary trip and would take us to Houston with them for a visit at their home. My husband brought me another bag, and as I started to unzip it, I thought it looked unfamiliar, too.

“This is not our suitcase, either! You must have gotten the wrong luggage at the train station!” I wailed. He examined it and agreed he’d never seen it before. All kinds of alarm bells were going off in my head. His medicine and all his clothes were in the smallish bag I’d purposely chosen for easy luggage handling. (I’d learned my lesson about cumbersome suitcases over Christmas.)

Taking charge, our son said, “I think I can take care of the medicine,” getting ready to call his father-in-law, a pharmacist. Then another thought hit me. My computer was in there! My other brain! Just then we saw a luggage tag with a name under a plastic cover.

“Let me call them,” Jamie said, trying to calm us down. He called the number, which was in our home town, saying, “I think we have your luggage!” He was met with a confused response: no, she had not taken a trip; no she was not at Amtrak. Then she asked if we had opened the bag. I ran to do so, hating to again look in someone else’s luggage. The inner lining was neatly zipped. I opened it, looked, and there was a computer. And Howard’s clothes!

“I’m sorry, it’s our luggage,” I heard Jamie say over the phone in a shame-faced voice, then in the next breath, yelling, “You guys are something else!” My mind whirling, I remembered it was a bag I had bought at a garage sale a few years before and it had been in the back of the closet, rarely used. I hadn’t recognized the leather trim that made it look so unfamiliar, and in the dim light of the bedroom, the color seemed different.

We all convulsed with laughter and relief, everyone talking at once. Howard hadn’t remembered the bag, either, and had no idea where it had come from, so it was all my fault. But who cares? All’s well that ends well (which of course won’t happen until we’re safely home again). But, despite a few earlier scrapes that day, God had kept us safe as always.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Persistence

A couple of weeks ago I had the futile (I thought) experience of displaying my books at an estate sale, as a result of a gracious invitation by the proprietors. Bargain hunters and book signings don’t mix, I found out, and I was a little down and puzzled over the situation, as I felt God was in it.

Then this morning my phone rang, and an unfamiliar voice asked for me. She identified herself as organizer of the Northern Oklahoma Literary Arts Book Festival. She said she had seen me at an estate sale, but she felt like they were being herded through (my sentiments, exactly), and she didn’t get to stop. I was invited to be part of the Festival! Many authors will be present, displaying their books and offering them for sale. It will be held at an historic mansion here, now known as the Art Center. Tables will be set up, and there will be a reading room where excerpts of the books may be shared or children’s books read aloud.

Who knew? (Well, He did, of course!) Since it will be held in May, I will have time for the other book I am working on to be ready. I was told that the event will be heavily promoted and advertised. (Our town is big on festivals and events.) So it is something to look forward to. Although I have been disappointed before, it seems God always gives me a nudge of encouragement at just the right time.

Other venues I have explored seemed to have trailed off, but I am patient. After all, the Bible does say in Ecclesiastes 11:1 to “Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days.” Then in the next verse, it advises, “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight, for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.” I’m not sure about the meaning of the last verse, but it sounds like more you share, the better the outcome.

Our lives are a venture (and adventure) of faith. Step by step He leads us. And although it may not be a scripture, it is true that God works in mysterious ways. That is part of the adventure!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Too Blessed to be Stressed!

Whew! You sure can get a lot of housework done when you’re upset! Since we added some inspirational channels to our network, I’ve actually found a program I like. It has all my favorite qualities: gorgeous photography, period setting, dramatic story line and wholesome content. But just as my husband left for his part-time afternoon job, I noticed the word “video” displayed on the television screen. I picked up the remote to catch the show that would just be coming on, but I couldn’t program it in on the complicated device.

My husband had turned it off after watching something, so I called him to ask about it. “Just push the button on top of the television, and it will come right on,” he advised. I did what I thought he meant, although I was pushing the button on the right that he said was on the left.

“Call the cable man,” was his next advice, but I decided to keep trying, even getting out the instruction manual. After repeated attempts, I finally turned it off in frustration. It wouldn’t have mattered so much, but I had been watching the shows of the apparently long-running series in haphazard order, sometimes seeing the characters as young kids, while in the next program they might be young adults. But now they were airing the series from the beginning. I had caught the first two programs, only just beginning to connect the dots, and now I would miss something.

I had already written my blog, and now there was nothing I wanted to do. The afternoon stretched out blankly before me. Well, I could always clean house, so with a determined set to my jaw, I moved things off a shelf and began dusting a bookcase. Room by room, I went through the house dusting everything in sight. Then I got the dust mop and went over all the bare floors, finally dragging out the cumbersome vacuum cleaner (Howard usually does the vacuuming) and doing four rooms of rugs.

Working off my irritation, I found myself starting to enjoy the way the house looked. After glancing through a magazine that came in the mail, I barely had time to get supper ready. As soon as Howard came in the door, he started for the television set. “You won’t be able to fix it; I already tried,” I told him. He reached up on top and “click” the picture was on! “I told you what to do,” he reminded me. But I thought he meant the button on top of the electronic box sitting on the tv set! All that frustration, so easily fixed!

Well, I may have missed “Wind at My Back,” the show I wanted to watch,
but I had my own wind at my back all afternoon! The title comes from a traditional Irish blessing some attribute to St. Patrick which says, “May the road rise to meet you, May the wind be always at your back, May the sun shine warm upon your face, May the rains fall soft upon your fields, And until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of His hands.”

The Bible was no doubt the origin of that blessing and says in Numbers 6:24, “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.” I should have claimed that blessing in the first place!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Play on Words

I just learned a new word! Or at least a new way of looking at an old word. Responsibility. Broken down, you could say it is response ability. The ability to respond. As Christians, it is our responsibility to respond to God’s directions to us. Our response ability depends on how obedient we are to what He tells us or what we know would be His will.

As parents, we love to have our children respond when we call. It is the mark of a responsible child. Further, it is even better when they are obedient to what they are told. Jesus gives an example of this in Matthew 21:28, when He says that a father told his two sons to go work in his vineyard. The first son refused to go, but later thought better of it and went. The second son agreed to go, but he did not go. Jesus asks, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” Of course, the right answer was the first son.

Apparently, the first son was honest enough to say no, but he evidently had a repentant heart and did go to work. The second son, while seeming to respond respectfully, really only lied and was disobedient as well. There is nothing so disappointing and disillusioning as to expect and depend on someone to follow through on what was promised, only to find it didn’t happen. That is a mark of irresponsibility.

There used to be a saying in my father’s lifetime, and one that I remember him abiding by, that a man’s word is his bond. Usually a handshake was given as a seal to that bond. My husband remembers that about his dad, too, and it penetrated deeply into Howard’s conscience. Often something will come up where it is inconvenient or near impossible to fulfill something he has said he will do. “But I gave my word,” he says, and either accomplishes it or calls to explain why he could not. This has been an example to our sons, as well.

Jesus’ story was applied to the religious establishment of that day. John was sent to them “in the way of righteousness” to usher in the Savior, but they did not believe him. Then when the humble people believed, and the religious leaders saw it, they did not repent and accept the Truth, preferring their own traditions. Their “response ability” was distorted. If anyone should have recognized Jesus as the Messiah, it should have been those schooled in the scriptures. It was their responsibility. But they responded wrongly. What is our “response ability” to the responsibility He has given us?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Did I, or Didn't I?

Having a vivid imagination can be helpful in writing, but this was ridiculous! I had nursery duty at church yesterday, and as I sat in the rocker in a rare peaceful moment, the thought occurred to me that I might have left the heat on under a pot on the stove! I had invited our kids for Sunday dinner, put a turkey roast in the oven, the table was set and almost everything would be ready when we got home from church. I knew I had set the pot of mashed potatoes into a pan of hot water to keep them warm, then turned it off when it boiled. But shortly before we left, I had reheated it, and I couldn’t remember turning off the burner!

I considered getting someone to watch the babies while I dashed home to check, but when I looked in my purse, my car keys were not there, and Howard had the other set in his pocket and he was involved in leading the service. I sent for Joanna, my daughter-in-law, who was in the toddler room, and told her of my nagging worry. “I know it’s silly, but by this time my house could be filled with smoke!” I practically wailed. She attempted to text my son, Greg, who was in the sanctuary, but before she could send it, he happened to step out into the foyer and she saw him. He was glad to run to our house to check things out.

“Shouldn’t Greg be back by now?” I asked Joanna after 20 or 30 minutes had gone by. “Something must have been wrong, or he’d be here,” I fretted. She didn’t seem too concerned, so I tried to keep my mind off it, and as soon as possible rushed Howard out the door so we could go home.

No smoke greeted us as we turned the corner on our street, and no fire trucks were in the driveway. We found Greg relaxed on the sofa in front of the tv, calm as anything. “Everything was okay, the stove wasn’t even on,” he said. “I figured I might as well wait here, since I was feeling a little bad anyway.” Oh! What a fiasco! Thank you, Lord, that nothing was amiss, and forgive me for my unrealistic fears! We had a wonderful lunch and very enjoyable family time. I’m beginning to think those irrational thoughts that pop into my head at church are a trick of the enemy. It couldn’t have anything to do with my memory!

Friday, January 14, 2011

True Value

One of the most striking examples of devotion in the Bible is found in II Samuel 14:17. David and his men were holed up in a cave at Adullam, virtual prisoners as they hid from enemy forces that were determined to kill David. The Bible says in verse 15, “And David longed, and said, ‘Oh, that one would give me a drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate.” David was home sick. Saul had been pursuing him relentlessly to kill him. Even though David had been anointed to be king, that time had not yet come. He was probably just thinking out loud and longing for a bit of home, not unlike any soldier on any battlefield today might say.

But his dutiful men heard him. Their devotion and loyalty to their admired leader kept them alert to his every word or action. He did not know they would pick up on his sigh of lament and do the unthinkable. Verse 16 says, “And the three mighty men broke through the host of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate, and took it and brought it to David.” David, a man of deep devotion to God, was moved by this unexpected, selfless, heroic gesture. Knowing the cost of what the water represented, he deemed it too precious, too priceless, to drink. In an ultimate show of what it meant to him, the verse continues with the words, “nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the Lord.”

What must the men have thought? They had risked their very lives for this token of devotion to their leader! They could only listen in humbled awe as David lifted his voice in prayer as recorded in verse 17, “And he said, ‘Be it far from me, O Lord, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives?’ therefore he would not drink it.” As part of the ritual of Hebrew sacrifices, they never consumed the blood, but poured it out before God. David was offering to the Lord this water which represented the lives of his men.

Another time, David wanted to buy a threshing floor to erect an altar to the Lord (II Samuel 24:18). The owner, Araunah, offered to give it to David, along with oxen for the sacrifice and wood for the fire. But David insisted on paying for it. He said, “Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing.”

Thoughtful gift givers keep their ears open, attuned to a dropped remark or casual mention of something liked or of interest to a dear one. “How did you know I wanted that?” the recipient often exclaims in surprise. Because someone was paying attention. Can we do any less for the desires of our Lord, no matter what the cost?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sands of the Hourglass

My husband and grandson share what I call a “Barnabas Moment” every morning as Howard drives Adam to school. A short radio program by that name comes on during their early morning jaunt, and from what Howard tells me, it has become a real bonding time. They both look forward to a cheering word, topical comment, or bit of good news from the broadcast. Apparently, it launches them into further conversation, something guys are not always so good at, or it comfortably fills the silence of non-talkative, pre-dawn mornings.

Thanks to Adam’s iPhone, Howard always comes back with the current weather report: the exact temperature, wind-chill factor, and week’s forecast. It seems the phone is never out of the teenager's hand. He can come up with data on any topic at a moment’s notice, thoroughly impressing his grandparent. Let Howard muse or wonder about a song, local event, or airline schedule, and his tech-savvy grandson whips out the info.

Adam will get his driver’s license in a few months, and the small morning routine of picking him up for school will disappear with the whir of his own wheels, just as it did when his sister, Allison, became a driver. She got a ride from Grandpa every morning, too, for a couple of her high school years. There wasn’t much conversation between them--just yes or no responses from the back where she sat with her cumbersome book bag, purse, and jacket splayed across the seat, lost in her own teen world of friendships, studies, or current drama. It was a dependable, close-knit moment, nevertheless, that they both treasure.

When the kids were small, and we lived a few hours away, our families got together on frequent week ends and summer visits. Seeing these grandchildren was a highlight of our lives, the visits bright spots in our planning calendar. But then they became teenagers, with their own interests and little spare time, even though we live close now and see them weekly, at least at church. No longer do they come over to bake cookies or explore with Pa Pa; their worlds have changed. So we are thankful for the occasional Sunday dinner, the game of Scrabble or Quiddler maybe squeezed in after, or a glimpse of Allison when she is home on a college week end. No wonder a “Barnabas Moment” is so important!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Empowered for Service

“Does anyone have any suggestions for study topics for our future small group meetings?” we were asked at church the other night. Several ideas were mentioned, from Finances and Marriage to the study of Revelation. I suggested that, as we had had so much teaching already, we have a time of actual prayer, or an intercessor group, at the church. Then my husband, who had been rather quiet, raised his hand.

“I just want to tell you a story our son told me about something that happened to his pastor,” Howard said. He began to share that the pastor of Jamie’s church in Houston had recently come back from a mission trip to Pakistan. Somehow he and a team of several people were involved in an evangelistic meeting in this Muslim country. A large crowd had gathered, and for security purposes, armed guards carrying machine guns were posted around the American church workers.

As God’s presence began to be evident, with some being healed and touched around the platform, the crowd began to surge forward in an unmanageable mass. Suddenly there was a thud on the platform. A baby was tossed onto the platform by desperate parents who could not get there themselves. The preachers found themselves being rushed out of the building for their own protection and escorted by armed guards to their quarters.

As they sat in their rooms in disappointment, the ministers questioned how they could fulfill their mission and do what they had been called to do. Later, they found out that, even though they had been forced from the meeting, God had not left. It was told them that people continued to be touched and healed even after they were gone. The presence of God had lingered in such a strong way that their needs were met, despite their limited understanding. Perhaps they prayed, even as the man in the Bible prayed, “Lord, I believe. Help Thou mine unbelief.”!

Howard said he was amazed at how the Holy Spirit works, so his suggestion was recorded as the topic, “Works of the Holy Spirit.” Hopefully, this will be an open-ended class, as interactive as the title of the New Testament book, “The Acts of the Apostles, ” implies.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Shut In, but not Shut Out

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” And how! I was having a telephone conversation with my 4-year-old granddaughter, Anne-Marie, and she was describing something she wanted from the toy store. As she talked in and out of the phone, I couldn’t make out everything she was saying--something about Rapunzel’s hair (from the movie, “Tangled”)--evidently a wig for pretend play. Finally her daddy got on the phone and told me she had said the hair was 4 units long. Not only could I not understand her, I couldn’t understand what she was talking about! My son told me that meant the hair was about two feet long.

Her twenty-two-month-old sister, Maddie got on the phone, and though I loved her babbling, I didn’t get what she said. Finally, I suggested that Jamie put them on Skype, something we hadn’t done in several weeks. He said he would call me back in a few minutes, and I went to look in the mirror and smooth my hair. They always looked adorable, but tele-viewing works both ways!

When the phone rang on the internet, I connected and saw my grandchildren in glorious, living color and animation! How beautiful! Anne-Marie’s darling face filled the screen with her muss of blonde curls, and I could see she was dressed in a taffeta-like Rapunzel costume with a criss-cross bodice, puffy sleeves and full purple skirt. I could understand every word she rattled off to me, and saw every toy she held up--mainly, her Prince Flynn doll.

I caught my breath when I saw Maddie, a red-haired, miniature version of her mother. If only I could kiss those loveable cheeks! She was a vision of spun cinnamon-sugar, wriggling off her daddy’s lap and waving at me. This would never do! They were more tantalizing than ever! We set up a tentative date for a visit to their house in the near future. When I saw them briefly at Thanksgiving, the girls had been recently sick and not quite themselves. I could see they had grown and were now bursting with health and energy and I couldn’t wait to hold them.

On this holiday-feeling snow day, I caught up with grandchildren in Georgia panting and gasping as they played in the snow. 13-year-old Corrin’s comments were descriptive, but her mother promised to post pictures later. She was having her own snow day, getting frustrated trying to work from home with an uncooperative computer. Atlanta was virtually at a standstill with icy, snowy roads.

I have not ventured out into our 2-inch snow, and I have learned the meaning of the word, “house-coat.” It’s a coat you wear in the house to keep warm, and I have worn mine all day. A pot of homemade chicken soup simmers on the stove, the fireplace glows cheerfully, and electronic communication keeps loneliness at bay. Howard has been at his books, only just now going out to start the car. A cup of hot chocolate is starting to sound appealing on this winter-quiet, first-snow-of-the-season day. Truly my cup runneth over.

Who Knows What a Day May Bring Forth?

We had a full house at church yesterday! The warmth and camaraderie and close proximity of our neighbors created an almost gala atmosphere. The worship seemed to have a new intensity, the joyful songs and hymns ringing out loud and clear, contrary to the normal pattern of thin voices on Sunday morning. Did we set an attendance record? No, our finicky heating system in the sanctuary had chosen this frigid morning to act up, and we had no choice but to meet in the upstairs fellowship hall (the original auditorium of our bi-level church).

When my husband took the podium to lead in prayer, he was awed by the “coincidence” of similarity of the scriptures he had prepared to read and the theme of the song service. The scriptures from Psalms 33:18 -20 coincided with the words sung from “He is Mighty to Save” and others dealing with courage, mercy, trust and rejoicing. The refrain, “He has conquered the grave” resounded with the thought of v. 18-19: “Behold the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine."

“How many of you are on Facebook?” the pastor asked as he came to the pulpit. As several raised their hands, he went on, “How many of you looked at it this morning?" Fewer raised their hands this time. “I just want to read you what I posted early this morning in my announcement before I knew about the heating system: ‘Come expecting…It’s a new year with a new focus, but it’s the same unchanging God who has promised to meet us here!'”

And meet us He did! Last night at our Round Table study/discussion group, we were remarking on the morning service. “It turned out to be almost a treat!” I observed about the inconvenience. Our pastor’s wife gave a testimony: “I found myself saying, ‘What just happened?’ With all the realigning that had to be done, I had been stressed over whether it would get done in time. Chairs had to be set up, the musicians’ instruments had to be moved, and songs had to be gone over.” (We had heard chairs scraping, the scrambling of feet and ominous noises overhead from our Sunday School room below. She had been supervising the frenetic activity.)

“Then suddenly, it was all finished with time to spare!” she went on. “The songs had been smoothed out, everything was set up, and we were waiting on the congregation!” (Not only that, but when everyone arrived, we found a spread of donuts, rolls, coffee and other drinks set out in welcome!) We had to agree that God had intervened. The whole service seemed orchestrated by God.

It reminded me of something I had read once, called “A Modern-Day Parable.” In it, a young man had made his plans for the future, praying that God would give him a wife with brown eyes and black hair, let him live in the country, and have a boy first and then a daughter. As he looked back on these youthful thoughts from a distance of many years, he recognized that he had had a very happy life, but with a blonde, blue-eyed wife, a city dwelling, and a daughter born before his son. He asked God why He hadn’t answered his prayers in the way he had prayed. According to the parable, God answered, “I wanted to surprise you.” I think that says it all.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Writing for Reading

Sliding out of the booth in a restaurant where we had enjoyed a late supper, as I gathered my purse and coat I noticed a dollar bill on the floor under the table. I picked it up, thinking it may have fallen out of my purse. When we paid, I showed it to the cashier. She said it was probably dropped by our server, so I asked her to give it to the waitress. Just then the waitress approached me waving something in her hand: one of my good black gloves! My good deed had been rewarded! And so quickly! I found the other glove under our table and left the restaurant with a good feeling.

I needed a good feeling and a confirmation that Someone cared after the past disappointing couple of hours. Several weeks ago, I was invited to bring my books for a book signing at an estate sale. They had seated me very conspicuously, we thought, right at the entrance to the sale in a little breakfast nook, so the people would be sure to see my display. My granddaughter, Allison, and I had gotten there in plenty of time, and we enjoyed seeing the crowd of people gather outside the window, waiting for the doors to open on this first, and busiest, day of the popular sale.

People jostled and crowded in the increasingly cold late afternoon, and finally they were allowed into the garage where they waited expectantly still more tantalizing minutes. When maybe a dozen names were read off, those early-to-register customers burst through the door with empty cardboard boxes for their loot and passed right by us in their hurry to find the goodies. This went on repeatedly-- impatient and excited shoppers who had been held back dashing past us in a frenzy of bargain hunting. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all, or maybe we should have been closer to the exit than the entrance, for most of the customers filed out the front without ever passing our table again.

Allison and I tried to speak to most of the customers, indicating the book, and one said, “Oh, I wondered why you were sitting there and not shopping!” I recognized one lady who had passed us and said hello to her. “Oh! I didn’t even see you sitting there, I was so focused on getting inside!” she said. Another prospect said she didn’t read (a lot of them said that), and one who perused the book briefly said she was a voracious reader, getting shopping bags of books from the library, but she couldn’t afford to buy a new book. A small boy approached us, looking at the poster with my picture on it, and said, “Are you a real author?” I showed him the book, and he intently read the back cover. Only nine years old, he assured me he was a good reader, but that he was awfully busy. So cute. One of the highlights of the evening.

Well, whether anyone buys any books or not, I enjoy writing them. And those who have read this first one and my blog have given me good feedback, saying how much they like them. So I’ll keep writing, if only for my own pleasure, but it is good to get a feeling of affirmation sometimes, especially when I know the Lord is pleased!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sleuthing Scenarios

Wow! I didn’t know there was so much information on genealogy sources today! And that’s without even joining a formal search! Just public records, obituaries, and other people’s research on line. I have found family names going back to the 1600’s, and familiar names mentioned by my mother in the not-so-distant past linking us like a biological road map to our past. I’m beginning to realize that everybody is related to everybody else! Some of the searches trace lines of ancestors to upwards of a thousand people!

But the personal, more intimate details revealed in obituaries and notations are more meaningful to me. I didn’t know that my Uncle Robert, who had caddied for golfers as a child, became such an important golfer that the military sent him all over the world to represent them in tournaments! Nor did I know that my Uncle George (on my mother’s side) was known as “Hook ’Em, George”, due to his sports enthusiast bent, an alumnus of the University of Texas, and that he was a bee keeper!

On my father’s side, which is harder to trace, most inquiries were concerned with tracing Indian heritage. Nearly all stated a grandmother as being ¼ Cherokee Indian. (That’s what I’d always heard about our family, too.) Only it was probably more, as both my dad and grandmother had strong Indian features. Ruefully, one comment was that most in that line of the family had huge noses! And that that was their cross to bear! Is that from the Indians? I’d always thought it was from an Irish grandfather, who, judging from a grainy home movie some 60 years old, had a pugilist nose like a prize-fighter.

I’d heard my mother say many times that she was related to the founders of Branson, Missouri. And sure enough, that name, and a varied spelling of it, showed up many times on her genealogy records. Current data I read said it was founded by a Reuben Branson who opened a general store there. My mother’s uncle operated a general store when she was growing up (a stretch, I admit, but who knows?) .

More surprises are in store as I refine my search, I’m sure. It is very easy to spend hours just looking at what’s on line, so I’m in no hurry. But, as I said before, we really are related to all of the family of man, and that, of course, stretches back to Adam. Ephesians 3:14 says, “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Family was God’s idea, and He is Head of the House!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Out of the (Linen) Closet

I laughed when my daughter, Amy, told me her kids all had satin sheets on their beds, thinking that was the high point in pampering children. But when I was there at Christmas and saw the soft, luxurious shimmer on the 13-year-old’s pillow, I knew I had to have some. Especially when I found out they were only $11.99 at Ross. I had known that sleeping on a satin pillow is kind to hair-dos, and probably to complexion, as well.

All that they had at Ross’s was one set in chocolate brown, which I would have chosen, anyway. It was the same color grandson Reid had on his bed. 11-year-old Rachel had decided she didn’t like the sheets. “If your fingernails aren’t smooth they catch on them, or if your skin is rough they sound scratchy,” she explained. Her mother told me Rachel had already imperiously announced, “Tell Arlene (her mom’s household help) to put my regular sheets back on.” (She isn’t really spoiled, it just sounds like it!)

I managed to squeeze them into our carry-on by removing them from their packaging, and I must admit when I put them on the bed they were quite impressive. I couldn’t wait to slip into their satiny comfort. This promised to be better than the highest thread-count sheets. I drifted blissfully off to sleep, only to be awakened by feeling chilly later on. The comforter was still in place, but the blanket next to the sheet had slid off the bed. This morning, everything was in a tangle, and I’m second-guessing my good idea. I remembered Amy told me that when her husband’s visiting aunt and uncle slept on Reid’s bed, the man slid off into the floor!

Satin sheets probably work better for a single sleeper who doesn’t move much. Or maybe they are better in the summer time when their cool, smooth surface would be more welcome. They definitely don’t work for a cover-pulling mate, especially since we prefer to sleep in a cold room and turn off our heat at night. If things don’t improve, I’m going to pull out our plaid flannel sheets again. I’ve been hoping to find nobility in ancestral genealogy records, but maybe I’m not ready for living (or sleeping!) in the lap of luxury yet! Come to think of it, those simple Tennessee farmers who may have dwelt in log cabins probably slept on flannel (or homespun) too!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Forebears

“Mama, what town in Tennessee was Grandma born in?” my daughter asked over the phone. When I told her the name of the small town, which I really didn’t think was even a town anymore, she said, “I thought that was it! I saw it on the map. That’s close to the place where the ambulance took the kids after the wreck last week!” Thankfully her children are recovering well from an accident that happened over Christmas when we were all together in Tennessee.

“Really? You mean it still exists?” I exclaimed. I had looked for it on the map many times, but it didn’t show up. She told me she wrote in the name on a Google search, and there it was. I knew that Mama and some of her siblings had gone there to look up an old family cemetery many years ago, but I remembered little about it. We kids had grown up listening to our mother reminisce about her beloved Tennessee, from which she had moved at the age of 12 when her family relocated to southwest Texas at the urging of an uncle.

I promptly clicked on it, and Google brought up the name of the cemetery and a picture of the landscape. A beautiful view of rounded mountains loomed dark green in the background of a grassy expanse, and I was instantly transported to Mama’s remembered environment. What a strange, familiar feeling I sensed; it almost brought tears to my eyes. She had always talked about the mountains, and preferred to raise her family in the country, just as when she was growing up. As I scrolled down the page, one picture in a set of photographs showed a headstone. Dalton! That was the surname of Mama’s step-mother before she married my grandfather when my mother was three years old. The commemorative stone was honoring the family as the longest residents of the area--200 years!

As I looked at the map, I saw familiar names of towns I remembered from genealogy papers I used to have as places of marriages, births, and deaths of members of her clan: Tazewell, Sneedville, War Creek! Then I saw something wending near the cemetery that surely must have meaning--Old Mill Creek. Mama had entertained us many times with stories of her idyllic-sounding life as a child, harvesting apples from their mountain-side orchard, going to the country store owned by her Uncle Robert on a horse, and riding her horse to take corn to the mill to be ground! This must have been the mill the creek was named for!

I couldn’t find out more without joining a genealogy site, but my interest is surely piqued! I can’t believe we actually lived not more than a hundred miles from my mother’s early home for several months a few years ago and didn’t explore it. Our daughter lives there still, so on our next visit, I definitely intend to do some ancestry searching of my own. Mama always said her (step) mother was society-minded, and maybe she had a reason! As one of the oldest families in the area, they were probably quite prominent before moving away to Texas. Just one more reason to go delving into the dim, distant past. After all, if you don’t know where you came from, you can’t know where you’re going!