Friday, April 29, 2011

Hills and Valleys

“We already have several special things planned to do,” Rhonda, our daughter-in-law announced about the couple of days we were spending together in North Carolina. The first thing they wanted to do was go to a small hamlet called Valle Crucis, a beautiful place of picturesque valleys, sparkling streams, and steeped in local history. The area was named by a priest in the 1800s when he noticed two streams that crossed in a valley, forming a cross.

The first place we visited was a historic general store dating from l883 whose slogan was “Everything for the living; coffins and caskets for the dying.” A wall of post office boxes filled one corner; several locals collected their mail while we were there. A mammoth wood stove, adapted from a pot-bellied one, sat in the center of the room where rockers were pulled up and two senior citizens were engrossed in a game of checkers. The playing pieces were lids of Pepsi bottles.

After the wonderful store, our venture took us to a setting right out of a storybook--the store owner’s birthplace--a rustic, two-story cabin that belied an interior of modern conveniences and decorator styling. A little path led up to a pond with a dock holding Adirondack chairs. Other farm outbuildings had been converted to guest houses, with the main building a beautiful inn. We could have stayed all day in the gorgeous surroundings, but we contented ourselves with getting pictures in the porch rockers and dreaming of days gone by. Mark plans a trout fishing trip there for the summer.

“We have to eat at this place everyone has told us about,” Rhonda emphasized. “I can’t go back home unless we eat there.” We set out to find the highly-recommended restaurant, and we were not disappointed. We were seated at a table set with glass goblets, place mats and real china, and a cart was pushed in laden with food. Bowls of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables, steak, country ham biscuits and coleslaw were put in the center of the table for family-style dining. The food was luscious, then we had our choice of peach cobbler, strawberry shortcake, or chocolate layer cake.

What a sweet ending to a magical day, and what better place for a respite for us and our minister husbands than a place with a beautiful name like Valle Crucis--the valley of the cross.

Night of Terror

“Bad weather is moving in,” my daughter, Julie, told us as we returned to their house after a couple of days in North Carolina. We had had intermittent sun and showers most of the time we were gone, so I wasn’t too concerned. We had been out of contact much of the time with “no network” showing on our phone due to the mountains, and no internet connection at the cabin we’d stayed in.

As the afternoon progressed, ominous clouds began to gather, along with other members of their family. “We’re staying over here tonight if it storms,” our married granddaughters, Sarah and Bethany, said. Both their husbands were working late and they didn’t want to be alone in their mobile homes. Julie became increasingly concerned about 17-year-old Zach, who was working his shift at McDonald’s, and insisted that his father make him come home.

Finally all were present, except one grandson-in-law, Jesse, who called frequently with weather bulletins from his work. Bethany urged him go to his parents’ house for safety rather than drive the considerable distance to where we were. The evening was punctuated by the varied shrill ring tones of concerned friends and loved ones giving urgent missives of where the storm was and what they had heard. It was heading directly toward us.

Suddenly everything went dark, and I knew things were getting serious. We made ourselves as comfortable as possible in their downstairs living room, opting not to sleep in the bedrooms upstairs. Granddaughter Michaela told me the chair I was sitting in pulled out to make a bed, and after awhile, I followed through on her suggestion and made myself a little more comfortable. I was so tired, both from our trip and scant sleep lately, that I soon didn’t even notice the hard ridge under my back.

Everyone wanted to go to bed as it neared midnight, but the reports of dangerous cell clouds rolling in with regularity kept us in our makeshift huddles on sofas, pallets, and chairs. The men kept watch on the porch, with Howard calling me once to come look at the sky. We watched in fascination as a wall cloud, illuminated by flashes of lightning moved across the sky just to the north of us. We were to learn the next morning of the death and destruction it was causing nearby.

Closed in at last with mattresses buttressed against the glass-paned interior doors, most fell into fitful slumber as the warnings slacked off. Howard and I went up to bed at 2:00 a.m., trusting God with the rest of the night. We heard later of many people who were praying for us, and thank God, the prayers were effective.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

God of the Mountain

“Mom,” our son, Mark said when I answered our cell phone, “we’re going to be a little late. I’ll give you and Dad the address so you can go on to the cabin when you get there.” We had just learned it was going to be a mountain cabin where we’d be staying, so we found the street at the edge of Boone, N.C. and headed up a steep, winding road. The address didn’t match, though, and when we inquired, a resident told us there was a street by that name in a town 25 miles away. Mark hadn’t known if the name he had been given was a town or just an area of town.

Anyway, we soon found ourselves surrounded by very high mountains and clueless of directions, because our GPS would not display the address. The little town we were in was locked up tight with nothing open. Howard spotted a police station, but there was no admittance except for an officers' entrance. At a movie theatre next door to it, a man told Howard that his son worked for the sheriff’s department and made a call. He gave us a scribbled diagram, and the GPS did take the name of a street he said was next to the one we wanted. “They’ve developed the whole side of the mountain,” the helpful stranger told us. It’s too new to be in the GPS.”

Piecing together this information, Howard stopped at a station and asked a man standing beside his truck about the road. “You want Bar Mountain Road,” he said. “B-e-a-r--Bar!” he clarified when we looked confused. We drove until we saw a sign that indicated our destination on Pinnacle (the name itself should have told us something) was two miles up the steep and curvy mountain ascent. The further we drove, the more the engine and I protested. “Let’s go back down,” I pleaded, “this is too scary!” I am a little afraid of heights, and the deep gorges next to my window were very unnerving.

Finally, we spotted two road markers hanging awry across each other with the word, “Pinnacle” on one of them. It was difficult to tell where the arrow was pointing, though, and we took a rock-strewn, cut-off road to the right. “This can’ t be it,” I fairly wailed as it was getting darker and more mysterious. Getting back on the road, we finally couldn’t go any higher and began to look for the address marker. Just before we gave up, we spotted a rustic-looking cabin through the bare trees (it was so high the trees hadn't even leafed out yet!), and the key Mark told us about fit!

What a welcome sight of cozy living room, cloth-spread table, and barstools around the counter of an inviting kitchen. Doors led to two bedrooms, with stairs leading to a loft bedroom above. Mark and Rhonda arrived 30 minutes later, and we sat up long and late catching up and laughing about our adventure. It had been scary to them, too, and they were incredulous that we had made it. They didn’t know how much praying we had done!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Little is Much

“You never know the power of these shoeboxes,” our guide at the Operation Christmas Child department of Samaritan’s Purse said. We had come to the beautiful campus of Franklin Graham’s ministry in Boone, North Carolina, and we had just missed the scheduled tour, but the gracious staff thought something could be arranged. “I’ll take you,” the friendly employee said to my husband, our son, his wife and me with a twinkle in her eye. We had already watched an informative video about the history of the ministry, and now we were excited to see how this part of it worked.

She went through the steps with us of how they opened the boxes, taking out any inappropriate contents (chocolate, liquids, glass, or military dolls), which were later donated to charities. “I want to tell you a story of one shoebox,” she offered. She told of how a woman had filled a shoebox with small articles and enclosed a note she had written, wishing the recipient a merry Christmas and explaining that she had sent the box to her in Jesus’ name. Then she closed with, “I don’t have any children of my own.”

It just so happened that the young girl who received the box was in an orphanage, her parents having been killed in a war. She had already told her caretaker that all she wanted for Christmas was a family. Together they wrote to the donor of the box, and more correspondence ensued, with the American woman eventually coming to meet the little girl. She ended up adopting her and taking her to live in America.

“We sent 650,00 shoeboxes from this warehouse,” our host said of the huge building. “I asked one of the personnel what that many shoeboxes looked like. He said if we stacked the boxes wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling, we would fill the warehouse twice.” Then she finished, “What are the chances that one box would go to the child who needed a mother from a woman who needed a child?” We agreed it was the providence of God. She had other stories of miraculous results of the shoeboxes. “Remember,” she stressed, “it’s not the contents of the box that matter. It’s the act of love that sends them, and what God can do with them.”

We left with a new appreciation of the work there and amazed at God’s orchestration of events in the ministry of His laborers. The aura of peace that seemed to surround the complex set in the beauties of His creation was almost holy. The verse comes to mind that says, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills. From whence does my help come? My help cometh from the Lord, who made Heaven and Earth.” These spectacular hills and mountains certainly bore witness of their Creator.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Blessings

“Michaela, can you bring your mom’s iron from the church? I need to press my Easter dress,” I asked my granddaughter on my cell phone. The iron was evidently pressed (no pun intended) into service when they were touching up bridesmaids’ dresses or something. Michaela, her sister and cousin, Allison, were at the church cleaning up from the wedding.

“I’m sorry, Mimi,” she said, “we have left the church and are on the way to Bethany’s. She said you could use her iron. I’ll bring it to you.” I told her I would return it tomorrow at church. Such a lot of trouble for such a little thing! It was worth it, though. The Spring dress was just right for the lovely weather, and I had accidentally left the alternative cool-weather dress at daughter Amy’s house in Georgia. We had gone from cool, to warm, to chilly and now hot on this trip, and I had tried to prepare for everything.

We had an inspiring Easter service in our kids' beautiful, stately church with Howard leading the song service in his inimitable style and our son-in-law, Steve, bringing a timely message. The new Mrs. Raines, back from her wedding trip to Gatlinburg, even graced the pulpit and favored us with a lovely solo in her clear, ringing voice. Afterward, there was a sumptuous feast for all in the gymnasium, still festive with wedding d├ęcor from her reception, and with plenty of wedding cake for dessert!

In the evening, the young women of the family, accompanied by Howard and myself, saw the inspirational movie, “Soul Surfer”. It is the story of Bethany Hamilton, the 13-year-old surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack, and her way back to finding new purpose in life. What a heart-warming way to end a wonderful day.

Our plans are to meet Mark and Rhonda, our son and daughter-in-law, in Boone, North Carolina (a couple of hours away) today. They have had an unused gift of a reservation there for some time at a Bed and Breakfast and wanted us to join them for a couple of days. We weren’t sure if the accommodations would fit us all, but they called this morning with the news that the lodging is actually a house! We passed through Boone (Franklin Graham’s “Samaritan’s Purse” is based there) once before and the scenery is spectacular! God is so good to provide all the details of this wonderful trip. I think, like us, He also likes to surprise His children sometimes!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Maddie Joy and Other Joys

“Do you want me to take the rock from Maddie?” I asked my son, Jamie, as they got into the car to take their leave. The baby was buckled in her car seat and was sitting right behind her daddy. Who knew when the 2-year-old might decide to send a flying missile toward him? It had been Maddie’s passion to pick up rocks all day, from street side gravel to hefty chunks she tried to excavate on our jaunt down the hillside and around the pond. We were here at our granddaughter, Bethany’s home where she had proudly been showing us around their hilltop property.

“Yes, I’d feel better if she didn’t have it,” Jamie replied with a sigh. I pried the tomahawk-shaped rock from her fingers as gently as I could, smiling at her sweet baby face and speaking coaxingly to her, “Give Mimi the rock.” When she realized what I was up to, her face crumpled and transformed into one of disbelief and outrage. I quickly threw it away while she screamed louder.

“Give it back to her!” Jamie said resignedly. “I can’t stand it!” I retrieved it from the grass and put it back in her flailing palm. Instantly she calmed, with a only a bit of righteous indignation remaining and the redness around her eyes already beginning to fade and her face returning to pink and white. I felt bad for upsetting my temperamental red-haired granddaughter, but I would feel even worse if she hit my son! Hopefully they arrived back at their lodging safely.

We had all attended the wedding the night before for our second granddaughter, Sarah. Today we had spent sightseeing with other gathered family members, then after supper on the deck, we finished the evening around a campfire roasting marshmallows where, to my family’s amazement, I had my first taste of s’mores.

We’d had a glorious day, showing Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town, to those of us who’d never seen it. After lunching in a quaint eatery, where our group of 14 overwhelmed the staff, and the food was terrific but the service was not, we whiled away a couple of hours lolling beside a spring-fed stream. It was just in back of our daughter, Julie’s, art studio, and there were Adirondack chairs, a picnic table and lots of cool grass and dappled shade just right for that handy throw and pillow pulled from the car. There we enjoyed ice-cream cones, and of course Maddie collected rocks.

I’m wondering if she'll have one squirreled away in her pocket at Easter services back in Houston!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Road Not Taken

We went backward on our walk at the park today. No, I don’t mean we walked backward, we just took the path from the end and went to the beginning, instead of the other way around. It was an eye opener! We saw things from an entirely different view and it was refreshing. We had often met people on the path coming from that direction, but it was novel to come that way ourselves.

Actually, it’s good for you to do something a different way. I’ve read that it wards off Alzheimer’s to do something like trying to read a book upside down. Change awakens the mind and, I guess, creates new pathways in the brain (or at least helps neurons connect better).

We hear a lot about thinking outside the box. In other words, not the normal way of thinking about something. I got the chance to do that quite by accident last weekend when the power was off. When we moved here a few years ago, it was quite a challenge to curtain and drape the rooms, adapting what I had and keeping new purchases to a minimum. The bathroom window didn’t have a shade, so I had “temporarily” propped a painting in the window. It fit perfectly, and it was a translucent, hand-painted scene of clothes flapping on a clothesline. It had been in my laundry room at our former house.

Well, the house was too dark with no electricity that day, so I moved the painting to let more light in, setting it on an antique wash stand below the window. Hey, it looked good, there! The white-washed, weathered frame fit just right between the supporting posts of the wash stand’s towel rack. But now I would have to put something in the window. I spotted a couple of nice towels, never used, folded on top of the wash stand.

Hmm. I could fold the ends over, do a running stitch to make a pocket, slide a spring rod through them, and they would be perfectly appropriate for a window covering! I was dreading to look for bathroom curtains, anyway. I stitched them up this afternoon and was pleased with how they came out, even though they had to be folded almost double. Oh well, the backs would have excess fabric, but it wouldn't show. I accidentally hung them backwards, but the excess made a charming tiered appearance, so I left them. The bathroom looks much better!

Paul tells us in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” I know this is talking about spiritual things, but I believe that God helps us, as Christians, to also think creatively with our renewed mind--to think outside the box.

Of course, one thing led to another, as I had to move the slate “Powder Room” sign from the top of the window to a new location on a towel hook where its blue, hand-painted motif picked up the color of a blue bird on an adjacent hand towel. And I found a home for a nautical rope-trimmed sign declaring “To Life Boats,” with an arrow pointing toward the bathtub. My creative mood extended to our supper meal, when I added homemade glazed carrots to our menu of Sour Cream Chicken and baked a Hoosier cake for dessert. Thank you, God, for creativity and a renewed mind.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

That's Freaky!

Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. A friend wrote that while standing on a stool vacuuming a shelf, she let go of the extension for a minute and it flew into her face and suctioned a hickey on her cheek!

Another friend was definitely having a bad day when her truck caught on fire on the way to work. Next she said she managed to spill most of her soda into her new purse, then rushing to the sink to rescue the floating contents, she tripped over her foot and hit her head against a freezer!

That rang a bell with me, bringing flashbacks of what happened once at the doctor’s office. I had gone to the restroom and was washing my hands with my open purse still on my shoulder. Suddenly it slid down my arm and under the gushing faucet. To my horror, it began to rapidly fill with water, with sodden tissue, money, and things I didn’t even know I had in my purse floating to the top.

Frantically, and laughing hysterically, I dumped everything on the counter and began to dry off my wallet. Thankfully I found important cards dry in their plasticized covers and was able to wipe dry the photos that had gotten wet. I composed myself and walked out as though nothing had happened. Ironically, I had gone to the doctor for a clean bill of health, and came out with a clean purse, as well!

Even worse was the time I was trying to remove a small spot on an article of clothing. I had poured some bleach into a glass and diluted it slightly with water. Just as I began to blot the offending spot, the phone rang. I talked a while with my daughter, then still reflecting on our conversation and thirsty from talking, I unconsciously picked up the glass and drank of the contents. Something’s not right, my mouth told me! Horror gripped me as I realized what I’d done. I quickly spewed the stuff into the sink and rinsed my mouth. I called poison control, and they didn’t think it was enough to hurt me, but my insides must have gotten sterilized that day!

Life is fraught with the unpredictable, and thankfully we can look back and laugh most of the time. Kids keep their guardian angels busy, but I think a close second is found in the occupational hazards of the every day housewife.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Book of Love

I saw a funny movie the other night about someone from the future who had unearthed a book from our time about love. It seems they had no concept of romantic love in their society, having developed a clinical, impersonal system of life, with reproduction being managed by labs and test tubes. His curiosity aroused, the hero managed to go back in time to find out about love. His insatiable desire to learn about it and experience it for himself made for an entertaining story, at the end of which he fell in love and decided to stay in the 21st century.

Thinking about the imaginative story line reminds me of our Bible Study last night, which dealt with developing a close relationship with God. The emphasis was on reading the Word, committing it to your heart, living by it and knowing God through it. Just as the fictional hero had his interest piqued by reading the book, so reading the Bible awakens our desire for knowing God more deeply. In speaking of the righteous, Psalms 1:2 says, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” He can’t get enough, and is always hungry for more.

John 1:1-3 tells us that the Word (Jesus) was there in the beginning with God, and was God, and that all things were made by Him. Verse 4 says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The very essence of our life is Jesus! His life lights up our life in a way that no earthly relationship can. One man at the meeting last night said he appropriated that verse as also to mean sickness (darkness) had no place in his life and could not exist, just as darkness cannot exist with light!

In our study the Word was likened to a treasure. We are told in Luke 6:45 that it is out of the treasure of our heart that we bring forth good or evil, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. If we don’t store up the Word of God and its precepts in our hearts, what will come out of our mouth?

Also, in Colossians 3:16 the Bible says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord.” That is another way to reinforce the knowledge and love of God in our hearts and to share with others.

The Bible is often referred to as a mirror. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 3:18,“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” The more time you spend with someone, the more like them you become. You will probably get to where you even sound alike! The character in the movie may have come back in time to find out about love, but Jesus, who transcends time, was Love come to Earth to teach us how to love and be loved.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Reject Rejection in Favor of God's Favor

The minister yesterday was stressing that the righteous have favor with God. “You even have favor when you are not feeling particularly blessed,” he emphasized. He cited Joseph’s troubles: Joseph was blessed to be his father’s favorite, but in his brother’s rejection of him, he was sold into slavery. Yet Joseph had favor with Potiphar. Even after he had been falsely accused and cast into prison, he had favor with the keeper of the prison. Then he languished in prison waiting for the butler, whose dream Joseph rightly interpreted, to remember him to Pharoah. Finally that happened, and circumstances led to Joseph being second in command in all of Egypt.

The Bible is full of promises to the righteous. We may have down days when we don’t feel blessed, but truth be told, we still have the favor of God. Psalms 1:3, speaking of the righteous, says, “He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither, and whatever he does shall prosper.” Have you ever had something turn out right, when you had little hope that it would? Many times I have toiled over a meal, worrying about its outcome, and yet things seemed to right themselves, with everyone enjoying the food and complimenting the cook! That was God’s favor.

When I look back, I know it was God’s favor that granted me my husband, and later my family. It was his favor that none of the children went astray and are strong Christians today. When Howard went into the ministry mid-career, we still had three of our six children at home to educate on a minister’s salary. One by one we watched as God provided for them.

Trevor just happened to walk into his school’s financial aid office and noticed they were having trouble with a computer program. He knew the program, offered help, was hired, eventually becoming Financial Aid Director, which led to his career with the Department of Education. God’s favor.

Our daughter, Amy, was enrolled in a state college, and we were about to incur considerable education costs, when she fell in love that summer, married that winter, and went to nursing school nearby, most of which was covered by her scholarships. Again, God’s favor.

The youngest, Benjamin, was awarded the prestigious National Merit Scholarship, paying all costs and even letting him study abroad his junior year. And it was God’s favor that kept him that year in France, granting him favor with the people (they thought he was French), a part-time teaching job, safety in travel and sustaining him in a serious bout of illness and many bouts of homesickness.

Look for God’s favor in your life. You are sure to see it if you just acknowledge it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Storm Story

We had known the weather was threatening a thunderstorm when we went to bed, but were startled awake a little before midnight by the ringing of the phone. It was our son, Greg, with whom we’d spent the evening at a get-together for our grandson, Adam’s, 17th birthday. “Mom are you guys okay?” he asked anxiously. “There’s been a terrible storm over here!” They live only a dozen blocks away, but we must have slept through the disturbance.

He told me the noise had been terrific, with wind and hail, and the crashing of tree damage. “Do you have power?” he asked, “Ours hasn’t gone off, but it probably could.” I flipped the light switch, and sure enough, we had no power. Peering into the darkness out the window, I couldn’t discern any damage. Greg and his father had been concerned about a questionably-safe tree between our house and the neighbors, and had been planning to cut it down soon. “Did that tree fall on your neighbor’s car?” he questioned.

I would have to wait until morning to find out the tree hadn’t been blown down. Early risers, we couldn’t go into the kitchen, make coffee, or make an early breakfast as we sometimes did. We sat in the darkness reminiscing about experiences with hurricanes in Mississippi. Then when the sky grew less dark, we sat on the porch swing in the balmy air.

“Let’s go see if anything is open and get something to eat!” my husband suggested. Hurriedly dressing and without a light to put on makeup, I joined him in the car in a quest for breakfast. All was dark in our immediate neighborhood, but lit up along a main highway. Our hopes rose. Drawn along by the sight of the “golden arches” standing like a beacon, we pulled into the drive of Macdonalds. Several employees were staggered along the drive out front, and when we lowered the window a young lady said, “We have free coffee, but no food yet.” We gratefully took the coffee.

“Maybe the donut shop is open,” I ventured. There was a vehicle outside when we drove in, and we recognized a woman in pajamas as the owner. Howard asked if she had any donuts. She went in and brought out two pastries in a paper sack (which turned out to be sugar-sodden and so sweet we couldn’t eat them.)

“How much?” my husband asked, offering her two dollars, to which she generously replied, “Oh, just one’s enough.” It was typical of the air of conviviality that prevailed that morning. There were widespread outages along our route, and when we got home the electricity had not come back on.

Still hungry, we called a restaurant at the edge of town, and they were open. Nothing ever tasted so good! Evidently, a lot of other people thought so, too, judging by the record crowd at breakfast. Animated conversation flowed with words like “tornado,” “cellar,” and “no power” punctuating the air. We were all blessed to be safe, and about 11 o’clock, I was thankful to be able to call to my husband in our back yard, “The power is on!” It had been a long 12 hours.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Labor of Love

My husband loves to be outside this nice weather working in the back yard. Every spare moment is spent out there, raking, hammering, sawing or just staring into space dreaming up his next project. I admit I get a little impatient on his days off when he only comes in for meals, or when he stays out there all morning on work days until it is time for his afternoon job. But I can’t get too upset when I see how happy it makes him, and how well he sleeps at night after such vigorous exercise.

Howard has been dragging home various miscellaneous boards he buys at the Habitat for Humanity surplus store. (His newly-acquired F-150 truck comes in handy for this.) He did a great job doing some repair work on the back of the garage, but the back yard never held much appeal to me. I prefer the view from the swing on our screened front porch. But today after he went to work as I stood at the kitchen sink doing our lunch dishes, I peered out the window at the yard. It was charming!

The newly-raked yard was showing green from the overnight moisture, dappled in sun and shadow by the emerging young leaves from the elm branches overhead. Howard had finished constructing an attractive yard bench and had set it between our little garden statue, Boy with a Jug, (which had reminded me so much of our four-year-old son when we bought it over 30 years ago) and a large bird bath with a gracefully swirled base and fluted bowl that he bought at a yard sale last week.

He had placed our fifties-style metal yard chairs before the little matching table and positioned a cushioned lawn glider chair and its mate in a cozy conversational grouping around it. The picnic table, swept clean of leafing residue, was nearby. Excess lumber had been stacked neatly behind a white picket fence enclosure, built last year in a burst of creativity, in one corner of the yard behind the garage. I was impressed! It looked positively inviting!

I had to go outside and sit a few minutes among the singing birds flitting through tree branches, attracted by the birdfeeders and dropping down to sip from the birdbath. I was able to identify a distinctive birdsong as coming from the brilliant red cardinal high overhead, his beak opening and his little body jutting forward with each trill. I had to hand it to my husband. He had created a veritable work of art.

Ever since Adam tended his garden, it’s been inherent in man to tame his environment and bring order to his little bit of creation. I joined my husband in his little Eden after supper, where we shared the binoculars and a new pastime of bird watching. After all, love isn’t just looking at each other, it’s looking in the same direction.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Out to Eat

The park and garden were beautiful. We had finished our picnic and were now dawdling in the welcome warm sun by the fish pools. I was getting a little tired, and the concrete bench carved with angels was hard, nonetheless. “Howard, sit with your back next to me,” I suggested to my husband, then I leaned back on him when he did. Wow! This was comfortable! I could sit here all day! The benevolent sun was warming us into indolence as we watched the hypnotic koi lazily swimming about, occasionally darting for a stray insect or some indefinable food underneath the water.

Spring was just coming to the gardens, the budding trees and branches mostly bare, but showing a promise of beauty, like a gangly 12-year-old who had not yet filled out, but whose face and features held a trace of womanliness. The soft greens that hinted of leaves and the violet of the red bud trees added to the pastel of blue sky, faded a little today with wisps of clouds veiling its brightness. We just couldn’t let this day go by without taking our sandwiches to the park; yesterday was a brilliant blue, but the winds were a little too sharp for an outing. And tomorrow promised rain.

“Look, someone’s got our place,” I had said to my husband when we first entered the park. A man dressed nattily in a business suit sat erect and preoccupied with papers spread out before him at a round table underneath an arbor. Maybe a salesman needing a brief retreat during this noon time, I thought. “It looks too sunny, anyway,” I consoled myself as we continued along the path. The first time we had eaten there, the overgrowth was actually stultifying with its denseness, but in the fall, with the leaves thinning, it was about right for our take-out lunch.

We veered from the path and took a shortcut across the sparsely greening grass to our destination: a gazebo, new last year, outfitted comfortably with side-by-side gliders, an octagonal picnic table, and benches encircling the walls. Egg-salad sandwiches with little pickles, iced tea, chips and snack cakes were a feast in this setting. All too soon, we were ambling our way back to the car. The arbor, empty by this time, would have been perfect with its dappled sunlight, I noticed as we passed it. Our gazebo, beautiful to look at, was shaded and a little cool within. But now soaking up the sun leaning back-to-back was a perfect way to get warm. Shaking off our sleepiness, we headed home for a nap.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Heartthoughts: Innocents at Large

The hearts of our son and daughter-in-law warmed with parental pride when, on a hospital visit where they had offered prayer for a friend’s child, their four-year-old daughter asked to pray. “Lord, we just pray,” she began as their faces beamed in humble gratitude for this pious child, “that it would rain eggs full of toys and candy down from the sky for Easter!” she finished triumphantly. By that time, they could hardly keep their composure.

Concepts of the divine are both so real and nebulous in the minds of kids that it sometimes borders on innocent irreverence. Like the time when a friend's little girl, also 4, stepped out into a surprise cool front one Spring morning on the usually balmy Gulf Coast. “Mama,” she observed, “I’m sure glad Jesus lives in our hearts and not down here!” Her mom asked why, and she replied, “Because He wouldn’t like this crazy weather!”

Or the time I heard my granddaughters, then 3 and 4, playing. “Corrin, do you know everything?” Rachel asked her bossy big sister, to which Corrin modestly replied, “No, Rachel! Nobody knows everything but God and Pa-Pa!”

A young grandson of one of my nieces had accompanied his grandmother as she helped clean her church. He was awed by this behind-the-scenes look at God’s house. Going into the kitchen, he said, “Is this where you cook for God?” She told him no, that that’s where they cooked for the people (though he had his theology right!). Then he saw the coffee pot, and not to be deterred, he asked, “Does God like coffee?”

I don’t know what my son was thinking, when, 10 or 11 at the time, we had gone to a church small-group meeting at a member’s house. It was the custom to bring a light snack for break time, and I had set my plate of cookies on the counter. A little later as I passed through the kitchen on my way to the rest room, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a bottle of liquor beside my cookies--the one my husband had received from a customer as a Christmas gift and had put in the cupboard thinking I might use it in cooking! Unbeknowst to his parents, Jamie had brought a hostess gift!

Now it’s his turn to be astounded by a precocious daughter who prays for Easter candy from Heaven. Jesus said the angels of these little ones are always beholding the face of the Father (sharing their antics?). And Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is made up of such as these. Well, with all these little sunbeams around, there will never be a dull moment!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

His Riches

The phrase “I have given you all things,” stood out to me as the Bible study teacher read a scripture. “What kind of things?” I asked. He responded by saying “All things.” Of course I was familiar with such scriptures as II Peter 1:3 that says He has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, and the one where Paul says in II Corinthians 6:10 about Christian ministers, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”

My mind rationalized that we obviously don’t have all things, such as material wealth. But of course God gave us the world with all the resources and raw materials that provide for our lives since time began. Then it occurred to me that the resources for whatever the Lord leads us to attempt for Him will be provided! What a liberating thought! So many times we think of the obstacles and limitations that have to be overcome before we start an endeavor. But if He gives us all things, that frees us from those limitations!

Then there is the scripture in Romans 8:32, reminding us, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” The more I thought about it and reflected on God’s blessings, I had to acknowledge his provision for us, even recently. A couple of weeks ago, Howard was granted a long-held desire when our son dropped the keys of a pick-up truck into his hand. He is as happy as a kid with a new toy. “Every man needs a truck,” he has said like a mantra for years. Now he wants to take it everywhere we go.

And just two years ago, we were given a second car, a nice little Honda that will probably outlast our other sedan, by another thoughtful son. Now we are a three-car family for a family of two! Not only that, the Lord has provided us with a snug, comfortable cottage that we have made into an attractive, comfortable home.

The Bible says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,” Ephesians 1:3. We are also beginning to see more spiritual blessings. Sunday night Howard shared that he had seen a vision of flames of fire in all the windows of the church during a time of praise and worship. He has had other experiences of this kind of spiritual manifestation, as well. I think we can say with Paul, that truly, “as having nothing, and yet possessing all things,” applies to us, too!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Moment of Truth

“Look, Howard, would you like this?” I asked my husband at the estate sale yesterday as I pointed to a cast iron cornbread muffin mold. He is always asking me about the one we have that is shaped like little ears of corn, and I can’t find it. “It’s only 75 cents,” I said as I pointed to the tag. We added it to our handful of items, then put it with them in “our” box under the cashier table while we finished shopping. Later, as we drove home, I remarked, “I didn’t think we had spent that much,” of the total on our tab at the checkout.

He told me to add the items up, even though we were sure we hadn’t been overcharged at the always-reputable enterprise. “Oh!” I exclaimed, when I examined the still-attached price tags, “The cornbread mold was $7.00, not 75 cents!” That’s what I get for not wearing my glasses! And for talking and not paying attention when we paid! If I had thought about it, I would have known that was too little for something some consider to be a collector’s item, but I was beguiled by my bargain!

We saw another sale we couldn’t pass up, down an ordinary street that turned out to lead to a charming, picturesque setting. We’d never explored this neighborhood before (that’s one of the charms of garage sales--seeing new areas). A little bridge over a stream bed led to a cozy, wood-shingled house perched on a small hillock. Beside the driveway was a little tree-shaded alcove tucked into a curve of a board fence, furnished with a wrought iron bench, some statuary, a Gone Fishin’ sign and other interesting items that seemed to have been lovingly collected and placed in this sanctuary-like spot.

On the other side leading to an entrance was the biggest, black iron pot I had ever seen suspended on a stand to hold flowers. I loved their taste, and couldn’t help feeling a twinge of envy. It just looked so homey my heart identified with it longingly. Howard spoke to the man sitting on a padded lawn swing in front of the open garage, behind some beautiful living room furniture for sale. “Looks like you have the best seat in the house!” he remarked genially.

The man began telling us that his daughters were having the sale, changing everything to make him comfortable. He went on to say he had lost his wife a few months ago, and his son had died not long before that. “How long were you married?” I asked him, to which he responded, “Fifty-four years.” I felt a pang. We’ve been married almost 53 years. I realized I should count my blessings and be thankful for my life. We don’t have a lot materially to show for our long marriage, but we have the things that matter most: God, love and family. In more ways than one, things are not always what they seem--a realization that was probably the best thing I brought home from the sales that day.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

To Market, To Market

What a beautiful day for the start of the garage sale season! How could the city have known of this break in the weather when they planned a city-wide garage sale event months ago? Most weekends, there are only a few of our favorite shopping venues listed, but today there were so many we could pick and choose. And of course, we had to go to the stellar attraction, THE ESTATE SALE!

Not being in the market for anything in particular, it was just fun to be surprised with little finds: an old pewter pitcher, which makes a lovely still life with the large, lop-sided ceramic apple beside it that I bought; a lovely basket of the softest weave, the woven handles threaded inside and beneath to come up and make large loops for carrying; a toss-pillow cover, hand embroidered with birds and butterflies in red on a white background; framed art with just the right colors for my living room, and a beautiful Guideposts book on marriage called, “A Match Made in Heaven.” I can’t wait to read it.

And that was only what I found. My husband got his usual assortment of hand tools and noticed a great birdbath. He went back to the estate sale to get it for the backyard when it was half price a little later. I remembered a painting we had both admired, a charming rendering of a row of rural mailboxes and told him to see if it were still there. It wasn’t, but he got the birdbath and the top for another one! Insanity reigns after a long, long winter of garage-sale deprivation!

Days like this must be like market days in the old countries, a sociable time of strolling, examining wares, chatting with friends or acquaintances bumped into, and just getting out and enjoying the weather. A little perk here and there never hurts either, such as something the clerk at the estate sale said as we checked out. “I love your book!” she exclaimed. “I read it every night in the bathtub!” She asked if I had another one yet, and I was able to tell her about the Literary Arts Festival we’re having next month, when I should have both my books.

“Did you know Ree Drummond’s book is going to be made into a movie, with Reese Witherspoon?” she asked, referring to another “local” author from nearby Pawhuska, Oklahoma. We’ve had book signings at the same bookstore. Wow! A movie, and only her second book! She began as a blogger, too, featuring recipes and snippets of ranch life. Well, stranger things have happened, and my book may just hit the right market yet!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Gone With the Wind

A friend on Facebook remarked that she was excited about doing her laundry so she could hang it out the next morning. A flurry of remarks resulted, split half and half between the pros and cons of line drying clothes. I was surprised at the zeal of those who were in favor-- if they loved it, they really loved it! Of course, the others disliked it equally intensely.

I have been having the urge to dry clothes outside, myself. There is nothing like the fragrance of sun-dried sheets and towels. No dryer softener sheet can match it. I often hung our laundry when the kids were young, especially when our dryer would go on the blink. There is something invigorating about getting out into the fresh air and sunshine and going through the homely task of hanging a husband’s shirt, a child’s pair of jeans, or pajamas out to dry.

One day a few months ago, I checked the clothes in the dryer and they were still wet and cold. The dryer had breathed its last! The warm days of autumn were upon us, and I tried to persuade my husband to put up a clothesline for me. I didn’t want one strung across the yard, though, but one on a single pole with multiple lines forming a square around it. That way I could discreetly hang unmentionables and raggedy items on the inner lines, shielded from view by towels and sheets on the outside. Then the whole thing would fold up when I took the dry clothes inside.

Alas, he didn’t want to dig a hole, set the pole in concrete and put up my new appliance, nor spend the money on it, either. Instead, my husband replaced the dryer, and a good thing, too, since winter was coming on. But warm weather is here again, and I think I will renew my efforts for the clothesline. Call me old fashioned, but I even wash my dishes by hand. I got tired of streaked glasses from the dishwasher, so now I use its racks to store food containers and miscellaneous dishes.

Like all kids, when I was young I hated washing dishes. Once in fourth grade, our teacher tried to shame us by saying, “You should be glad to wash the dishes for your mother. When you have good Dreft, and hot water, it’s not hard at all.” That was in the days before dishwashing liquid, and it was a choice between milder Dreft detergent and Oxydol or Tide to do the dishes in, if I remember right.

I noted on Face book a favorite memory I have of my sister’s homespun philosophy when she said, “Many a time I’ve gotten a new lease on life under the clothesline.” I’m sure it was a brief reprieve from other household tasks of the mother of six to be outside surrounded by nature, her perspective renewed and inspiration gained seeing her children’s clothes dance gaily on the line. No doubt her spirit was refreshed by God’s creation, the wind billowing the laundry like clouds above, floating her cares away. She expressed my sentiments exactly.