Thursday, March 31, 2011

You Are My Sunshine

I saw a blue streak in the sky today followed by a strange, yellowish-white light! Oh, it’s the sun and a strip of sky trying to peek through the grey cloud cover! I feel like Paul who was in the storm at sea and hadn’t seen the sun or stars for 14 days. Well, we’ve had daylight, but a dismal one for what seems like two weeks. This morning I dressed to go out in winter coat, gloves, turtleneck and corduroys against the cold and damp, but my wardrobe this afternoon gave way to sandals and capris. It’s supposed to be 88 on Sunday! My mood is lighter already!

I have a dozen buds on several of my irises, some more plump than others, and the knock-out rose bushes we planted last year have greened up, looking alive and well, even showing buds. I think the pansies are the only things that have enjoyed the cold, misty weather of late. They are as happy as clams, their little faces turned up and bobbing merrily in the wind. Their bright colors of yellow and violet have cheered me on the disagreeable days we’ve been having. Spring’s grey skies set off the soft green of the trees and the lilac of the redbuds beautifully, though. Nature’s palette is like a water color, especially on rainy days.

Today is the last day of March, with Easter coming in scarcely three weeks. I should be used to Oklahoma weather by now, after the 3 1/2 years we’ve been back and the childhood I spent here. I remember Easter almost always being cold and grey back then. (Later, my husband’s mother invariably attributed the weather to the “equinoxial storm.”) I didn’t know that then, I only knew that we teenage girls were chilly at Easter services in the flowery, pastel dresses our mothers had made, wobbly in our white heels with goose bumps on our bare legs.

After attending our granddaughter’s wedding on Good Friday at her father’s church in Tennessee, we may spend Easter a few hours away in North Carolina with children who live there. Our son is a pastor, too, and we are looking forward to church with them. What a time of celebration! Families getting together, a blessed holiday, and Spring all at the same time. When I get back, I should be welcomed home by a mass of purple irises. And hopefully, warmer weather!

What Smells So Good?

My husband has been chopping a cedar stump from our yard. A tree had been cut down years ago, and later sawed close to the ground, but it still interferes with his lawn mowing. The tree had divided into three trunks, and I didn’t even realize the dead, grey, wood jutting up was cedar until I saw the reddish color exposed by the axe and caught a whiff of its unmistakable fragrance. “Cedar!” I exclaimed, as I breathed deeply of the scented air. It was as if I’d opened the cedar chest we used to have that held our family’s memory-laden garments.

I never thought cedar trees were particularly pretty, especially when they had grown old and gnarled with their dark, dense greenery. But last winter I needed some evergreens for an arrangement, and lacking the lush, long-needled pines we had in Mississippi, I tugged at a branch from an ancient cedar at our fence line and broke off a few fronds. They were beautiful up close! Their delicate, flat, lacey patterns were perfect in my garden wagon filled with pinecones on the porch.

The cedar tree figures prominently in the Bible, mentioned 75 times in scripture. It was considered very desirable for building, especially for the strong ceiling beams supporting structures meant to last for generations. Both Solomon’s temple and the one that followed were built with cedars from Lebanon. Cedars were also valued for their aromatic fragrance.

II Corinthians 2:15 says, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” Paul admonishes us to “Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor,” Ephesians 5:2.

One of the household tips I was reading in the ubiquitous organizational article in a magazine was how to refresh a cedar chest that had lost its fragrance. The author suggested lightly sanding the surface of the inside of the chest to release the lovely smell. Not bad advice for Christians who have lost some of their sweetness: we need to ask God to brush away some of our hardened exterior and draw us closely to Himself so that we may once again be “the fragrance of Christ.” How wonderful if a memory of us after we are gone evokes "a sweet-smelling savor", like the aromatic old cedar.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Bad Bet?

When we lived in Gulfport, Mississippi, there was a Q & A column in the local newspaper about gaming. One person wrote in asking for tips on successful gaming and the chances for winning. The columnist, an expert in her field and actually representing the industry, began her answer with this statement. “Remember, casinos are palaces built by losers.”

And palaces they were. We took a walk-through of the most palatial one of that time once when we had out-of-town guests who wanted to see the sights. The domed entry soared upwards like the Sistine Chapel; the wide, elaborately tiled walkways with beautiful restaurants and expensive shops on each side made corridors of the fanciest, world-class airport pale in comparison.

Fountains and manicured flower beds reminiscent of Disney World attracted the eye. We even took the hotel elevator to see a sample of their guest rooms--beautiful, serene, professionally decorated spaces met our gaze. Designed to pamper, there were spas, salons and exercise rooms to meet one’s every need. People poured in by the droves.

Many people justify gambling by saying that the Bible is neutral on the subject. But the Bible is clear on the subject of stewardship. Wasting is always cast in a negative light. Jesus had the disciples gather up the leftovers from the feeding of the multitudes that nothing be wasted. The story of the Prodigal Son is often thought of as the story of a rebellious, runaway son. But the word, prodigal, means wasteful. He wasted his inheritance on riotous living. We knew of many instances in our years there of families being torn apart, their homes and sustenance lost in gambling, and of lives wasted.

When gaming and lotteries were made legal in our state, revenues generated were supposed to benefit the school systems, yet the schools regularly cut out programs like music and physical education. It seems the benefits went to the new highways that were put in to accommodate the extra traffic to the casinos.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, I thought it was ironic that a mammoth barge that held afloat one of the casinos was picked up and deposited on top of and crushing the structure of the first gambling hall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast dating from early times. Was God trying to tell us something?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Shoeless, not Clueless

On a cold Spring noontime last Sunday, most of the people at my son’s church went home barefoot. No, they weren’t homeless or underprivileged, they were just moved by Mark’s sermon to place their shoes on the altar to be sent to Japan. He had forewarned them somewhat by asking everyone to wear a pair of shoes to church that day that wasn't necessarily their favorite pair. Some surmised what he had planned and brought boxes of shoes from their homes. No doubt they will be a blessing to many who lost everything in the earthquake and tsunami recently.

I can’t think of a gesture that would be more humbling and touching than to go to the altar, take off your shoes, and place them as an offering to God for the benefit of others. I don’t imagine that there was a dry eye in the place. Evidently, most of the shoes were sturdy, serviceable shoes in good condition, probably a lot of athletic shoes. I asked if anyone put in high heels, and he laughed that the ladies who wore them that day wouldn’t part with them. I remarked that it would be like when some people used to put neckties in missionary barrels to be sent to the jungles of Africa. (I remember seeing pictures of bare-chested natives wearing some of those neckties.)

“Mom, what are missionary barrels?” Mark asked. “I’ve always wondered what people meant by that.” Talk about a generation gap! As late as the 1950s, when I was a girl, churches routinely packed missionary barrels of clothing to be shipped, probably by sea, to foreign countries. Our church women’s group, then called Women’s Missionary Council, included rolls of bandages for the leper colonies. It would be an afternoon’s activity for the women, including my mother, to tear old clean, white, bed sheets into long strips of cloth, then roll them into bandages of the right size like a roll of gauze bandage. How my mother loved those hours of visiting, praying and fellowship with her WMC’s, hands busy in the work of the Lord.

From what I have read and seen in period movies and television presentations, frontier churches also received missionary barrels sent by rail to the West or to poor mountainous regions of the country. The minister’s family often depended on the contents for clothing and even toys and gifts at Christmas time, not only for themselves, but for their congregation as well.

Mark’s church also received an offering for Convoy of Hope, the disaster relief agency partnering with our church fellowship, who has been on the ground since day one of the Japanese tragedies. Thanks to modern transportation and travel, help is available almost immediately to stricken areas, followed soon after by shipments like the shoes and other humanitarian aid supplies. No need to wait months for boats as in the old days. Modes of transportation may have changed, but the motivation behind such shipments has not. Christian love and concern for their fellowman is as certain as the calamities that are sure to come.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It Happened One Night

“Hurry, Howard! It’s cold out here!” I urged my husband as I scurried to the restaurant entrance while he was still getting out of the car. The March wind was whipping on this misty, grey evening, but we would soon be inside. There were lots of cars here, so there must be a good attendance at the party for our friend’s 93rd birthday. I could see the cozy scene through the plate glass windows of people gathered around tables, laughing and talking. I thought we were right on time, but maybe we were a little late.

As my husband walked up, I grabbed the door handle and gave it a pull. What? Nothing! “It’s locked!” I exclaimed. The door wouldn’t open! “Let’s try the door on the other side. They must be using that door,” he directed, as we headed to the other side of the glass entrance. It was locked, too! There was a sign that said, “Please Use Other Door.” What other door? We dashed around the corner of the building, but were only met with an expanse of brick wall.

By this time, Howard was rapping on the glass, trying to get someone’s attention. I recognized faces of the honoree’s family, but they only glanced up then went on eating. Finally, someone got up, came through the inner door, opened the entrance and let us in. “We must be late!” I apologized. “I thought it was for 5:30.” Turns out it was for five o’clock. We had driven the 15 miles or so from our neighboring town, and it was nearing six o’clock by this time.

“Oh, that’s okay,” the young man assured us. “We just got started. Come on in!” He explained that they had reserved the restaurant, so the owner had locked the doors when they began. Most of the spaces at the long tables were filled, but he showed us to two seats at one end of a table. “We’re just having our salads,” he said, pointing us to the salad bar. By this time, people were smiling, nodding and welcoming us to the party. It felt so good to be in out of the cold! More and more faces began to look familiar. We had grown up with the children of the birthday guest, but we had lived away for a lifetime and had reconnected with them only in recent years, mostly at events like this.

Howard was soon engrossed in conversation with the person across from us, thoroughly enjoying uncovering bits of the past and acquaintances held in common. It was like playing detective in a mystery novel as he unraveled threads of information that were inadvertently dropped by this stranger. “Oh, I remember him!” Howard would say, or, “They used to trade at my dad’s store!” I chimed in, too, reminding and clarifying, when I wasn’t talking to the old acquaintance on my right. After all, we’d both grown up here.

Later, I reflected on how we felt when we couldn’t get in the door, and the similarities to the story of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. The five foolish who had let their lamps go out and were too late for the wedding feast found themselves on the outside looking in. Verse 10 says, “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding, and the door was shut.” Jesus reminds us to be ready in verse 13, when he says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” It pays to know what time it is.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Heaven's Harmony

We filled our bird feeder with birdseed today. Birds are beginning to show up in our yard, some with tentative nesting behavior. Earlier two cardinals were investigating a small tree by our front porch, hopping from branch to branch, a small twig in the mouth of the female. When the brilliantly colored red male flew to a bush opposite, she followed, and I lost sight of them. I think they are the same couple that sits on a branch jutting under a metal awning that is over my kitchen window. She is always trying to balance a twig on the branch, but that’s as far as her nest-building goes in such a precarious spot.

It is amazing that God put this nesting instinct and parental drive into these small creatures. They are a joy to watch and add brightness to the days of any who are patient enough to observe them. They are a microcosm of our own human behavior as we work to establish homes, nurture our young and launch children.

The residents we see when we visit nursing homes remind me a little of frail, fluttering birds, tired and spent from life’s buffeting. But sometimes I catch a glimpse of who they once were, when a bright spark lights up their face or actions. Last night, when most of the attendees of our monthly service had been wheeled in, a late comer appeared, born on the strains of the music that had lured her from her room. Supported by her walker and accompanied by an attentive helper, she fairly danced into the room, her feet shuffling in time to “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” her eyes quietly smiling.

At an assisted living facility we visit, most have no need for walkers and come to the service under their own power. Some cannot keep their feet still as they respond to the hand clapping music, and one nearly always comes in dancing, her halting shuffle keeping the rhythm of the song as played by my husband on his guitar and our son on the mandolin. As we sing the jubilant hymns and choruses their weak voices are emboldened and blended into a cacophony of praise, as sweet as any birdsong to Him whose eye truly is on His "sparrows".

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Day to Remember

Our granddaughter, Sarah, is getting married in a month, so I am on the lookout for a dress for the wedding. Yesterday was a beautiful day, and my husband’s day off from work, so we set out to a nearby town with more shopping possibilities. It was slim pickings in the dress department, with most being bare, scanty styles, excluding one that might have worked, except for the too short sleeves and the too high price.

Never missing an opportunity to scan the casual shirts and tops, I saw some lovely ones on sale that fit perfectly (almost). Casting a longing eye at them, I tried another store without success in either category. Oh, well, we were hungry and wanted to eat lunch anyway. Walking out, I almost bumped into a display and said, “Oh, look at that beautiful blouse! I wish it were in my size!” I checked, and it was! I took it without even trying it on (my husband was impatient)! My spirits were definitely buoyed as we stepped out into the brilliant sunshine to go to lunch.

We almost went to our favorite place, but at the last minute I suggested an Italian restaurant I’d been to before with a ladies’ group. I wasn’t sure Howard would like it, but as soon as we stepped in to the high-ceilinged, terra cotta-embellished interior, complete with a balcony and Italian kitchen, I could tell he was impressed. Their special of the day was a wonderful pasta, with salad and fresh-baked bread. We thoroughly enjoyed the tasty lunch amid the décor of huge porcelain urns, archways and colorful appointments.

We would be glad we had our light-hearted outing to remember when we found sad news on the internet when we got home. A good friend from “back home” had passed away, someone we had gone to church with for years. A brave fighter, he had struggled with his health the entire time we had known him, yet I never remember hearing him complain. Rather, he was always ready to do a job around the church or help out a friend.

My favorite memory of Danny was of him mowing the church grounds on the riding mower, singing at the top of his lungs and praising the Lord with his huge grin. Howard was remembering the time they were Wise Men in a Christmas play together, and Danny’s rolled up trouser legs kept falling down beneath the hem of the robe costume. Recalling happy times helps us smile through tears and be grateful for God’s goodness. Danny’s real life is just beginning, and until then we cherish our earthly life and family celebrations. I will find a dress for the wedding. (Oh yes, the blouse fit perfectly!)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Music to the Heart

“Let’s stop and see Melvin,” my husband suggested. We had already been to one nursing home, but he wanted to see a man in another that we had known many years ago and was now suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Mel responded to our greeting a bit uncertainly, and, since I hadn’t seen him in forever, I asked if he remembered visiting at our house in New Orleans in the early 70’s. “We went to Mardi Gras!” I reminded him. I think it was the only time I’d ever gone, and we went because they had come from Kansas and asked us to take them. He said maybe he remembered, but I could see that he didn’t.

I was amazed that our friend looked so well--in his eighties, he could have been in his sixties. Dressed in sweats and seated in the recliner, he was the picture of health and still nice looking. It was hard to believe he was diagnosed as terminal. As Howard started a gospel CD and the warm notes of a “What a Lovely Name” filled the room, Mel stared intently at us. He asked who was singing. Howard told him, but he repeated the question several times.

A former musician and gospel singer, the patient seemed captivated by the music, his lips forming the words of the songs now and again as we sang to him. On one song, Howard’s glance to me revealed what I had already noticed: a sweat-sock clad foot resting on the recliner was keeping time to the music, a toe tapping the air with the beat.

Howard had brought his guitar--an instrument our friend had played all his life, and for many years with his own band--and at the close of a wonderful time of worship in song, Melvin stated simply, “That’s a good song.” The music had obviously touched a chord in him that went beyond memory.

When we took our leave, Melvin told us he appreciated it and asked us to come back, although I don’t think he ever knew who we were. A soft-spoken, genial personality, his good nature was preserved intact, a product of a lifetime of courtesy and polite manners. “They shall know you are Christians by your love,” says the words of a song. Jesus said this would be a hallmark of His disciples. Having likely sung that many times himself, I’m sure Melvin felt the kindred spirit we felt that day, a kinship of the heart.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Blessed by Blessing

"Do you want my blanket?” the elderly woman startled me by asking. She had said she was cold, so I draped a blanket from the back of her chair around her, and she explained that she always felt cold. I said I was cold lots of times, too, and that’s when she offered me her blanket.

“Oh, no,” I told her, “I’m not cold now.” We were at a nursing home where I had come with my husband, since he had an appointment to visit Ruth, an elderly patient, with some “music therapy”--singing with the guitar and playing an inspirational CD in her room.

“I’ll find Ruth for you,” the attendant said. We found her, not in her room, but dozing as she sat on a couch in a lounge area. “Can you just do your ministry here?” the director asked. Howard agreed, and soon she had pushed up a half-dozen wheelchair occupants, and he began strumming the guitar. We were used to ministering one evening a month to a large group gathered in the activities room, but this was out in the open with people working and walking all around us, so it took a few minutes for us to settle in.

My husband was trying to be effective without making a disturbance, so he wasn’t belting out the songs in his usual exuberant manner. I added my rather thin accompaniment though, and the plea in his eyes encouraged me to keep singing. Although Ruth never opened her eyes, the rest of our group listened, smiled, or tried to sing along. Occasionally, an aide quietly administered meds or unobtrusively checked an area of concern on a foot or leg. I couldn’t help noticing her attentiveness as her smile lit up her face while talking and tending to a patient. She would even fondly kiss and hug her charge as if it were her own mother.

What love she must have for them! One could see that they responded in kindness, too, as had the lady who offered me her blanket. After a few songs, Howard played the CD, while we sat quietly listening to the beautiful strains of “Be Still and Know That I Am God”. A large aquarium containing a huge fish was next to us, and it seemed the fish swam gracefully to the rhythm of the song, occasionally being still as if in awe of its Creator.

“Thelma, you are lovely,” Howard surprised me by saying as we left the service. “I’d rather sing with you than anybody.” Well, I do know his songs, and we actually sang together in church when we were teenagers, but I had held back through the years in favor of better singers. I might reconsider. I was feeling the love, too.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Point of View

Doing the dishes every morning is made pleasant by the mass of pink flowers outside my kitchen window as I stand at the sink. The flowering quince is almost in full bloom, and the morning light illuminates the blossoms in all their glory. I went outside yesterday to view them from the backyard, and strangely, they weren’t nearly as impressive as “in my face.” It’s as if I’m in the middle of the bush and they are magnified to me at the elevated eye level that is my perspective.

It reminded me of the Bible verse that says to magnify the Lord, Psalms 34:3, when David enjoins us, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together.” Of course, we can’t make God any bigger than He already is, but by praising Him, our view of Him is enlarged.

Again, he says in 35:27, “Let the Lord be magnified, Who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.” (The Hebrew word, shalom, which is translated here as “prosperity” also means “safety, wellness, happiness, health, and peace” and is usually translated, “peace”--which is true prosperity.)

My daughter-in-law brought me a bouquet of jonquils from her yard, bringing a bright splash of yellow to the dining room table. Up close and personal, I can enjoy them and appreciate the beauty of the hardy bloom, and even see the delicate intricacies of the trumpet, pistil, and other parts of the flower. In other words, they are magnified to me, which in turn magnifies their Creator.

When Mary, the mother of Jesus, was greeted by her cousin Elizabeth, to whom the revelation that Mary was with child with the Holy Infant was given, Mary responded with the song we call the Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” it begins, which means “declares the greatness of”. Her song was taken from Hannah’s song, another mother who recognized God’s greatness in the birth of her son, Samuel.

May we never fail to recognize God’s greatness in creation and magnify Him in our lives. The closer we get to Him, the better we can see Him.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Space Wars

My husband is an opportunist! He takes every opportunity to take advantage of a space I have freed up by arranging his books and papers there! Recently I was having a group of ladies over, and in an effort to restore something of the spacious look we had when we moved here three years ago, I moved a table from behind the sofa to a bedroom. We’d downsized to this smaller house and it’s a challenge to make everything fit (especially if you’re just short of a hoarder!).

Howard has his huge desk in our room, finding a workspace in the midst of the organized clutter of office paraphernalia (I counted three staplers), his pens and colored pencils lined up neatly and stacks of carefully penned yellow legal pads, books and ledgers surrounding him, not to mention the Bibles. Then when insomnia strikes and requires he read, to spare me the desk light, he heads to the kitchen in the wee hours where I find it difficult to make breakfast later for all the Bibles, Evangel magazines, and study material he has left opened at strategic pages all over the table.

The sofa table tucked surprisingly well into one corner of the spare bedroom, and camouflaged with a colorful patchwork quilt and with the smaller rocker I had switched out, it looked positively cozy. In front of the window and with a floor lamp beside it, I could see this as a desk and computer corner for me. Also, a place for me to have a quiet time while he studies mornings in our room before his part-time afternoon job.

Why was I not surprised when I walked in there the day after my ladies’ meeting to find my husband comfortably ensconced in my nook, coffee mug in hand and happily relaxing in the rocking chair reading a magazine, several books stacked or open on the table, with bookmarks in place that sent a “do not disturb” message? Oh the joys of (semi-) retirement!

Jesus told us when we pray to enter into our closet and shut the door. I guess that’s what I’ll have to do! (Or wait until he goes to work to enjoy “my” space!)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Picture It!

“Mom, is your computer on?” My son asked when I answered my cell phone. I told him no, then he asked me to turn it on.

“I’m not home right now,” I told him. Actually, I was in a dressing room trying on clothes. It was almost 80 degrees today, prompting thoughts of spring and summer duds. “Why? What’s on?” He said he’d made a little video and I promised to look at it as soon as I got home.

Later, as we were driving home, I said to my husband, “I wonder if Maddie got her birthday present yet.” I’d ordered it several days ago, and tomorrow would be my granddaughter’s 2nd birthday. “That’s it!” I exclaimed, “Jamie has made a video of her opening her birthday present!” I remembered telling him that I’d love to see her opening it and wishing he could make a video!

It captured the scene in every dramatic detail, from the tantalizingly slow tearing off of the packaging, to Maddie’s delighted squeal when she saw her Lady Bug Pillow Pet and her possessive rush to the farthest corner of the room, hugging it to her body as she ran while her sister looked on. (Anne-Marie got a consolation prize, though: a Pillow Pet game was included in the box.)

A picture really is worth a thousand words. My son is the master of understatement, and I knew if I merely asked him how Maddie liked her birthday present, he would only say, “I guess she liked it, she’s playing with it,” or some other non-committal statement. (His highest praise for some special thing or event has always been, “It’s alright, or, “It was alright,” even though he knows it drives me crazy.) But seeing is believing, so I am a happy camper.

I heard a preacher on television last night reiterating the truth that Jesus is returning for those “who love His appearing.” I find myself getting so caught up in life that I forget to anticipate the life to come. But when the world is getting too troubled, I do think of the joys that await us over yonder. It’s kind of like a distant trip or vacation I have planned--I put it in the back of my mind, not allowing myself to dwell on it or become consumed with it, and suddenly, it’s right around the corner, and I get excited! Many have had visions or heavenly experiences that whet our anticipation, and we wish that for ourselves. But Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” In that case, a few words from Him are worth a thousand pictures.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vanity, Thy Name is Woman

Few can forget the photo that flashed around the world when the bride-elect of Prince Charles, the future Princess Diana, as a young ingenue posed clueless and slipless with a child on her hip in a see-through skirt, her lower silhouette outlined for all the world to see. Well, she was baby-sitting, after all! Maybe she didn’t expect the paparazzi so early in the game!

But it was a bit comforting to know that such a faux pas, apparently accidental, happens even to the Royals. I thought of that one day when, as a pastor’s wife, I had worn a favorite dress to church. Very pretty, it had several voluminous layers over a dark built in slip. Waiting for church to start, I was standing talking to someone at the sound booth, when a lady tapped me on the shoulder. “Your skirt is caught in your waist elastic,” she whispered. I rushed to the bathroom and saw that at least one of the skirt’s layers was bunched up in a tangle of sheer fabric, hopefully revealing only another layer below. I had a full-length mirror installed in the ladies’ room the next day.

Today a Face book friend shared that she had been interrupted in the middle (or rather, at the start of) putting on makeup for work, and when she looked in the car mirror upon arriving at her job, she gasped. She didn’t say what she had omitted, but a trip to the cosmetic counter of a nearby store was necessary before she was ready to face the world.

That brought a flood of instances from other friends of embarrassing situations. It seems pantyhose is notorious for causing wardrobe malfunctions, with one reader in possession of a photo of her mother standing at the sink at Thanksgiving with her skirt tucked in her undies. She teases her mom that she will put it on her fb profile.

Once I was mortified when I saw a young matron parading around the front of the church, seemingly oblivious that she should have been wearing a slip under a thin, translucent skirt that was attracting attention. As discretely as possible, I pulled her aside and took her to the restroom, where I gave her the half-slip I was wearing, since she seemed to need it more than I did in my heavier clothing. (I thought I was doing her a favor, but she seemed mystified by my concern.)

While some opt for washing off an interrupted, half-completed makeup application and going barefaced, others would not be caught with a naked face and have learned to keep a survival kit for such emergencies. An extra set of clothes might be nice too, for say, a coffee-drenched ensemble, but one can’t prepare for everything. There will always be a slip somewhere.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cliffhanger

“May I say something?” I interjected at a Bible study last night. We were discussing hearing from the Holy Spirit and I was reminded of something that happened to me several years ago. As a church secretary, I was doing some errands on a beautiful fall afternoon, checking an item in a catalogue at a bookstore before I would purchase some hard to get items at the supermarket to send to our church missionary in Kenya.

Leaving the bookstore and stepping out into the glorious sunlight, I reached for my car door and saw a glint of silver twinkling on my steering column. My car keys were dangling from the ignition! I was locked out! A coat hanger! I thought. I wondered if the clerk in the bookstore had one. She did, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I knew I couldn’t poke the hanger through the key hole, but I saw no other way to get it in.

Finally, I pushed the hook of the hanger against the rubber that lined the window, and gratifyingly, I felt it give. Still, there was no way to guide the hook the tantalizing two inches to the protruding knob that would unlock the door. Risking all, I pulled the hook out of the window and decided to insert the corner of the hanger. It slipped in easily, too, and my confidence mounted. The sharp angle of the hanger would have caught the knob, but it was slanted away from the lock.

Try again. This time, I bent the hanger corner before I inserted it, and it slipped expertly over the lock. I held my breath as I gave a quick, but firm, yank (kind of like pulling a baby tooth). Incredibly, the lock popped up! I was positively euphoric. I had an impulse to keep the hanger, but it was all bent, so I deposited it on a pile of boxes at the back door of the bookstore.

As I was pulling into the parking lot of the grocery store, I was suddenly aware of an older man calling out to me from the parking space opposite mine. “I don’t suppose you have a coat hanger in your car, do you?” he asked with an embarrassed laugh. “I’ve locked my keys in my car.” I knew then why I’d had that inner nudge to keep the hanger.

Was that the Holy Spirit? I decided it was when I realized that little things we do and take for granted are actually part of living a Spirit-led life. “In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:6. The others tended to agree with me.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Daisies are for Love

“Would you like some daisies?” my neighbor was asking. “I am thinning out my flower bed and I have all these extra plants I’m getting rid of.” Daisies! My favorite flowers! Of course, I took them. Come Spring, I had thick, lovely stands of them bordering my front entry.

We were just getting settled after a transitional period between churches. We had recently assumed the pastorate of a small church and had moved into a modest rental home in the country. The location was idyllic, and I was able to overlook the shortcomings of the small house, which did have its own particular charms. It was light and airy with many windows overlooking a side yard where we had hung two porch swings right-angled from each other on the branches of two oak trees. It was a perfect conversation spot for us and visitors alike.

A tiny patio, a six foot square, was outside the front door. We bought a swing with a green and white awning that just fit on one side, and an umbrella table with chairs for the other side, the adjustable umbrella tilting to provide privacy and/or sun protection. A large shrub shielded one end of the swing. And then there were the daisies. Cheerful, thick and swaying gently on their slender stems in the hilltop winds, they brightened every morning for the entire season. When we moved from there a few years later, our land lady protested, “But you had made this such a home!”

Maybe that’s my knack, for as I was posting back and forth with a friend from Mississippi the other day who said she had lived in her home for 20 years, I mentioned that we had lived in our house there for that long. She said she remembered our “lovely house” and how homey it was. I knew I loved it, but it was nice to hear from someone else.

Then a few nights ago I had a gathering at our house for a church women’s group. One of our guests, especially, paid me lovely compliments on the décor (which is kind of Cracker Barrel-Inspired/Early Garage Sale). “You could have a bed and breakfast!” she exclaimed. (Well, I do have a “Mom’s Bed & Breakfast” sign in the kitchen I’d bought many years ago.)

The Bible says in Titus 2 that the older women are to “teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” A keeper at home. I guess that’s me. We have many more freedoms than did the women of that culture, but the Bible is timeless. My children have grown up, but I still keep house for their father. Women will always keep the home, whether or not they have an outside job. That too, is timeless.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sky Watcher

The weeping willows are shrouded with a green mist, my flowering quince has tightly wrapped pink buds that grow fatter each day with the promise of imminent blooms, jonquils appear around town and the forsythia next door is showing yellow. It must be Spring, that long-awaited sprite that tantalizes on capricious chilly winds warmed by tentative sunshine. I have been waking earlier as my bedroom window lightens right on time for the Daylight Savings that goes into effect this weekend. All undeniable signs of the changing of the season.

Yet another natural disaster of record breaking proportions has happened overnight with Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. Yes, we have always had earthquakes, but they are escalating in frequency and intensity, as are storms, floods, extremes of temperature and other weather related troubles. Many see these events as part of the sorrows, or “birth pangs,” that Jesus refers to in Matthew 24--an apt application, as labor pains are at first infrequent and erratic, then with shorter elapsed time between each pain that grows ever stronger.

Jesus gives a rebuke in Matthew 16:2-3 when He says, “When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?”

Another sure sign of Spring is the proliferation of robins the past few days. They are everywhere! All over town I see them sitting, as if deep in thought and solemnly considering where to build that new nest this season. Before we know it, gem-blue eggs will give way to fledglings that fly away.

The mother eagle makes the nest uncomfortable when it is time for her youngsters to make their exit. She removes the downy lining she has placed there to protect the tender, naked hatchlings from the sharp sticks and brambles of construction. But now they have grown and are fully feathered. They have no choice but to find relief by perching on the edge of the nest, where they fall or are nudged into the blue beyond. It seems to me our nest is getting a little uncomfortable, and that we may soon fly away.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Birthday!

My little granddaughter’s birthday is coming up. She will be two. I think I will get her a Pillow Pet. Since she can’t read, I can write this. If I order it online, I won’t have to mail it.

Why do we celebrate birthdays? To mark the momentous occasion when a precious new personality was born into our lives, packed with potential and endless possibilities. Someone said, “Babies are proof that God wants the world to continue.” And how we celebrate when that new life comes into the world! Surely it is a reflection of the celebration in Heaven when a soul is born again!

We are assured in scripture that God thinks of us even in our mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13-18 says, “…Thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret… Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written…when as yet there was none of them. How precious are they thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake I am still with thee.”

Little Maddie’s days were planned before she was even born. Her trips to the zoo, riding on the train in the park, wearing her tutu around the house, singing and dancing in worship time, tasting new foods, playing with her sister--all are orchestrated by God, not to mention the wonderful things He has planned for her future.

So we give gifts to show our love and appreciation and support of the marvelous gift of a child. After all, she is part of us--my mother’s red hair (and maybe even her temperament), her mother’s smile and so much more. Maddie loves soft and cuddly things, always reaching for her blanket for comfort, expertly tossing it onto the floor in an inviting heap and dropping down upon it, her two fingers in her mouth. Enjoying its familiar warmth and fingering its satiny edge when she goes to sleep, she can rest assured, “When I awake, I’m still with Thee.” Happy Birthday, Maddie. I think she will like her Pillow Pet.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Music for the Soul

“See you in half an hour?” I said to my husband early last Saturday morning.

“Half an hour!” he said indignantly. “I’ll be gone ’til noon, I imagine.” He had his portable CD player in one hand and his guitar in the other. This would be the first day of his Music Therapy ministry, and he was on his way to see a friend in a nursing home.

We had known this couple many years ago when we lived in Wichita, Kansas, and had just found out they lived here last year. They were older than us, and unfortunately Mel’s health was failing. Howard remembered him as an accomplished guitarist and singer, but he couldn’t be sure his friend even knew him now. His wife, Barbara, had asked Howard to visit her husband, since the doctor had indicated his time might be short.

Howard had had the vision of music therapy ever since his hospitalization last year, when listening to music made him feel so much better. He’d been reading up on it, and believed in the healing power of music. Of course he was familiar with the biblical account of David and Saul, and how David played his harp to dispel Saul’s moods. David had doubtless had many experiences calming his flocks of sheep with the soothing music from his harp.

A few hours later my husband burst triumphantly through the door, all smiles. “How did it go?” I questioned. He told me all about it, how his friend was unresponsive with his face to the wall when he got there. The man’s wife arrived about the same time, and Howard asked her if he could put on a long-playing CD of worship music he had brought especially for that purpose. As they sat quietly talking while the music played, an instrumental version of the song, “Be Still and Know that I Am God,” came on. The beautiful strains of the old familiar hymn filled the room. Suddenly they noticed movement from the patient’s bed. Mel was raising an arm in praise to God!

“Then when I got ready to leave,” Howard reported excitedly, “I asked if we could sing a song for him with the guitar. We began to sing ‘In the Garden’, and when we got to the part about ‘He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own’, I couldn’t believe my ears! Melvin started singing it, too!” He told me of the great presence of the Lord in the room and their joy and amazement at Melvin’s response.

“So it was a success?” I asked, happy for him. But the expression on his face said it all, as Mr. Music was already making plans for next time.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Fear Not

“Answer the phone! Answer the phone! I need help!” Sarah was screaming into her cell as it rang repeatedly at her home where her parents were asleep. My granddaughter was clinging to the slippery roof of her fiance’s car where she had scrambled in the middle of a flash flood in Tennessee a few days ago. They had been on their way to her house when they went over a hill and immediately found themselves in deep water and unable to stop until they came to the middle. Terrified as the water came into the car, she had climbed out the window to her precarious perch, while Kevin struggled against the current to reach her.

“I’m on my way!” her dad yelled when they called her back. “Call 911!” By the time help arrived, Kevin had managed to slog through the dark water, barely keeping his balance as he carried Sarah to safety, praying as hard as he had ever prayed in his life. By then they could see two other abandoned cars in the water. They learned that emergency vehicles had rescued the occupants, but no warning signs had been posted. I saw the television interview the next day as their car was being pulled from the water. Sarah’s fiance gave God the glory for saving them in the story by the news reporter.

I was reminded of this in a sermon Howard preached last night on trusting God. He referenced Daniel in the lions’ den and the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace. The scripture says in Isaiah 43:2, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flames kindle upon thee, (3) For I am the Lord thy God.”

The route the young people had taken ran beside a river, which had overflowed in torrential rains over Oakland road that night, but they were not hurt. Sarah’s triumphant account of their close call was on her face book status right away, which is where I learned about it, getting the full report from my daughter later. I was glad to be able to testify of it in church last night, not knowing what my husband’s text was going to be.

This couple was miraculously spared in a harrowing car wreck on Christmas night. Surely God has something good in store for them. Verse 1 of Isaiah 43 says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” A message to Israel and all God’s people.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Fruit of the Righteous

I love fruit. Right now in my kitchen I have bananas, pineapple, oranges (mandarin and navel), grapefruit and cantaloupe (we ate all the strawberries). Oh, and canned peaches. My husband loves it when I mix several into a fruit salad or put them into pudding. He’ll even eat some that way that he doesn’t like so much.

Last night we were reading in John 15 about Jesus being the vine and we, the branches, bearing fruit. Verse 5 says, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing.” Then Jesus says, “If ye abide in Me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples,” verses 7-8.

Many people think that this is permission to ask for anything they desire, even material or worldly goods. But could it be that Jesus is talking about the Christian traits that make us more Christ like? According to Galatians 5:22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law.” Jesus even mentions joy and love as fruit in John 15:11,12. Maybe we should ask for more of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

II Peter 1:5-8, instructs us, “And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In Paul’s prayer for the Colossians, he says, “…we…do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;…unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness,” Colossians 1:9-11.

It is clear that Jesus is interested in our spiritual growth in our Christian walk. It is only by our abiding in Him that He can produce in us these fruits of the Spirit. If we ask this, according to His will, (and if we abide in Him, we will ask according to His will), it will be done “unto” us.