Friday, September 30, 2011

Loveliness Revisited

“We forgot the fried chicken!” I cried. I had been so careful to get everything together for this picnic we decided to do after visiting Cann Gardens yesterday. I had saved several drumsticks from supper, placed them in a plastic bag and put them in the refrigerator. This morning I made deviled eggs and a quick potato salad using last night’s leftover mashed potatoes. I even made bread and butter sandwiches to eat with our chicken. Finally, had I put our iced tea into jars with lids, threw in a few cookies and an apple, remembered a tablecloth, napkins and forks, and we were off.

Well, thankfully, we had only gone a few blocks when we had to return home for the forgotten chicken legs. We would take a walk around the walking path, leaving our lunch in the car until we decided on a likely-looking spot to eat. Howard wanted to eat at a round, concrete table with curved benches where we’ve had many picnics in the past, but the morning was cool and the spot was too shady for my comfort.

“Let’s eat under an arbor,” I suggested, the vine-covered structures might be a little cool, too, but they let in sunlight and were protected from the breeze. While Howard went for the lunch, I checked one out. This one looked like a fairy cottage, with vines of huge leaves covering it and draped around the entrance. I stuck my head in and was amazed! Huge, green, speckled gourds hung randomly from the overhead mesh like so many whimsical chandeliers! A sign was hung prominently reading, “Do not pick the Swan Gourds”. I didn’t, but I could see why it was tempting. They were gorgeous, obviously named for the graceful, curved necks they had in common with swans.

By this time I was warm from walking, so we ate at a sun-dappled table under the tree with a clear view of our beautiful surroundings. This was more atmosphere than the finest restaurant, with drifts and stands of flowers of every description lining the brick path beside us. “Let’s walk again when we finish,” I suggested to my husband. Actually, I was already through, and he suggested I go ahead while he relished the last of his lunch. We would have to leave soon after for him to get ready for his afternoon job.

Oh, here was the name of the flowers I couldn’t remember yesterday! The sign said they were Esperanza “Yellow Bells”. They looked like bells, too, as they tumbled over the landscape from the overflowing branches of the bush. How beautiful! They probably smelled good, too, but I was clueless in that department. The ornamental pepper plants grew profusely, their shiny colors of red, orange, purple or yellow glistening in the sun. I should have brought a notepad to write down the botanical names of all this flora, but as the Shakespearean quote says, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Well, maybe not to me, but they sure looked beautiful!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Garden Glories

“Look at the fish!” I exclaimed as we stood on the little bridge at Cann Gardens this morning. The lily pads were thick, and the swirl of black, orange, and black/orange Koi were in bright contrast to the dark water and green pads. I’d never seen so many before! Maybe it was feeding time, I surmised as some came to the top of the water with mouths open hungrily.

The gardens were incredible this morning. The air was still cool on the wide, brick terraces of the historic house shaded by ancient trees. Overhanging branches framed an Eden-like panorama that unfolded before us, as winding cobbled paths led past pots dripping red begonias, sun-dials in the middle of colorful plantings, and arbors laden with morning glorys.

The only hard part was deciding which way to go. It really didn’t matter, though, because to the right we would pass a weathered old gazebo, followed by a mass planting of brilliant purple petunias, foot-long golden trumpet blossoms hanging from their stalks, and flowering vines that in their autumn lushness spilled onto the walkway. Overhead, clumps of curious green seed balls supported by the fern-like lace of cypress leaves look like hand-painted ornaments on the deciduous conifer.

A fluffy-tailed squirrel crouched under an oak munching an acorn held in his forepaws. The ground was covered in quarter-size acorn caps and the fat green-brown nuts. I noticed a splash of color on the ground and picked up a tri-colored leaf, divided into a broad base of orange, a band of green, and a tip of golden brown. Two more, slightly different but just as colorful, lay nearby. Then I saw a purple-black one. Together they make a seasonal accent on my dining room table this afternoon.

A newer gazebo invited us to sit before we made the circle curving slightly up hill to the rest of the gardens. “We must bring a picnic down here tomorrow,” Howard insisted. “Make those chicken drumsticks we have in the freezer,” I was instructed. He was under the weather with no appetite yesterday, but these surroundings were stirring his senses.

The morning sun gleamed on the shining path before us, making the brick cobblestones white and transparent looking in the golden light. “Look! Streets of Gold like in Heaven!” I couldn’t help exclaiming. And they led into another paradise of autumnal beauty, heralded by a stand of flame-red, brush-like spikes, gorgeous zinnias in their deep tones of orange, red and fuchsia, and masses of yellow--daisy-like sunflowers, coneflowers, and black-eyed Susans. Hovering nearby were clumps of purple fountain grass, reminiscent of the fluffy sail on the squirrel’s back, and the lowly brown of the fuzzy cattail. We are definitely going back tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Long Way Home

“Is there anywhere else you want to go?” my husband asked me this morning after I had dropped off a prescription and picked up a couple of items from Walmart. I looked at the time and saw it was still early, but since I had no other errands, I suggested we just go home.

“I’ll tell you what I want to do,” Howard said, “Go to Starbucks, have a cup of coffee and look at a guitar magazine.” Oh, no. I hated that. He could spend hours sitting by the magazine section in the supermarket where Starbucks was located. I usually went through the grocery aisles while he dawdled over his coffee.

“If you want to stop for coffee, let’s stop at McDonald’s,” I suggested. I knew he liked their coffee, too, and it was fun to people watch, occasionally running into someone we knew. He agreed. He got his coffee, and as I was getting a straw for my lemonade, I saw someone approach us. Turning around, I saw it was our pastor, who is a frequent patron and a fan of their coffee, too. Gesturing toward his table, he invited us to sit down.

Howard didn’t have to go to work until one, and it wasn’t yet eleven, so we welcomed the chance to chat with our minister and get better acquainted when he wasn’t busy shaking hands and greeting other church people. Pastor wanted to tell us about the football game of a 7th grader he and his wife attended the previous night, describing the youngster’s amazing performance and their surprisingly entertaining outing. Somehow the topic of military service came up, and Howard did a double take when the preacher mentioned being stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas.

“Fort Bliss! I was there for my basic training!” Howard exclaimed. “When were you there?”

“From October to December in 1956,” Pastor said. Howard’s eyes grew wide, since those were the exact dates he was there! When they recovered from their amazement at the coincidence, they couldn’t bring up memories fast enough. “Remember Castner Field and those tracer bullets?” one said. Oh, I’d heard all about crawling under machine gun fire, but here was somebody Howard could talk to who understood!

They recalled a certain drill sergeant both remembered, the food in mess halls, bivouacs and guard duty, each memory accompanied by delight and hearty guffaws. I was caught in the middle of a barrage of army stories with shots being fired from each side of me.

“Aren’t you glad I suggested McDonald’s?” I said when the clock finally made us leave and we were in the car headed toward home. Howard nodded with a half smile, still lost in reverie. I had heard things he had never talked to me about and saw a little of the 18-year-old youth who had put our courtship on hold when he left to fulfill his military obligation. “Me, too,” I said, knowing that there are some things only a fellow soldier could understand.

Fellowship of the Saints

“We will start tonight first with Bill Smith, then Bill Jones, followed by Bill Williams,” the music director said, giving the lineup for singers at our monthly singspiration at church. “The three Bills,” she went on, lightly, “B-B-B-Bub-Bub.”

“The Three Bubbas!” I couldn’t resist interjecting from the second row amid the laughter of the congregation.

Pastor heard my remark from the platform where he sat along with three others playing guitars. “The Three Bubbas!” he exclaimed, repeating it. “I like that! Who nicknamed them that?” he asked as he looked questioningly over the crowd. Some said this one and some said that one, but I just smiled. The affable older men ate it up and were dubbed that the rest of the evening.

Many were smiling at this light-hearted meeting. Although attendance was small, it seemed almost everyone had a song, even a visitor who had come for the first time last Sunday. He was from Mississippi, here on a short-term work assignment. A songbook was pushed in front of him, and as he got up to sing, he prefaced his selection with remarks of what a kind and friendly church this was, then sang a hand-clapping rendition of “Try a Little Kindness,” from the spiraled notebook of someone’s favorites.

My favorite was when my husband sang a wonderfully anointed version of “Sweet Anointing”. At least I thought that was my favorite until a 12-year-old girl sang every verse of “Jesus Loves Me”, moving me to tears with her clear, sweet voice, not only because of the tender words, but also because it reminded me of the innocence and sweetness of my own 12-year-old granddaughter. She had asked my opinion earlier, and I thought the song was too young for her, but I was so glad she chose to sing it.

Besides singing songs, people were also invited to do readings of poems or other inspirational writings. Since I don’t like to sing in public, I read an article from one of my books, as I do from time to time. They all seemed to enjoy it, and at the fellowship meal following the service, our visitor approached me. “I didn’t know you wrote a book!” he said, “I would like to buy it for my mother.” I told him I would bring him one Wednesday night!

What a close-knit, enjoyable evening this had been. And what a blessing to know that our visitor will take the memories of our church home with him, and also that my book will carry my words back to Mississippi (or Alabama, where the visitor is from originally). As my husband is fond of saying, “God knows how to put a service together.”

Friday, September 23, 2011

Faith of Our Fathers

“I wanted to get up close and catch the man in his tricks!” the preacher was saying. “Everybody said he was a fake and paid people to pretend they were healed!” Our speaker was an 88-year-old minister himself, telling of his early days of belief. “A young woman came carrying a little child whose crooked limbs were wrapped around his mother; the preacher prayed for him then told her to put him on the floor. She looked at him dumfounded--she knew the child could not walk.”

Then he said in amazement, “As soon as the baby’s feet hit the floor, his legs straightened before my eyes. He stretched them out and walked! Then he began running, following the preacher around! My only thought was ‘I wonder how much they paid that baby to do that?’”

The man in the pulpit may have been 88 years old, but he was full of zeal as he taught with authority from the Bible, interspersed with his story of faith. He had come home a broken man from WWII, nightmares and flashbacks of the horrors of what he had seen and experienced tormenting him. At age 30, he had had enough of alcoholic escapism and called on God. He has been preaching ever since.

“Doctors try to find something wrong with me, but they can’t!” he exclaimed. “Once they said I had high blood pressure and gave me medicine. When I got home, I took one of the pills.” He went on, “My wife stepped out on the deck to feed the birds some crumbs, lost her footing on the icy floor and fell. She screamed and couldn’t get up. I went to help her, and I fainted!” He came to, saying to himself that his wife needed him now more than anytime in their lives, got up to assist her, and fainted again! Just then a neighbor happened to look out the window to check on her cat, noticed them and called an ambulance.

“It was the pill!” the old gentleman shouted. “They said, ‘No, you’ve had a heart attack,’ but after running all kinds of tests they could find nothing wrong anywhere! I never took that medicine again and I feel fine!” He certainly had endurance under the power of the Holy Spirit, preaching an hour, at least, even as his wife tapped her wrist as time went on.

He closed the service with prayer for those who came up asking him to pray for them. The Lord was there in a powerful way, and we left rejoicing and praising God, inspired by one whose “youth was renewed like an eagle”.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Right Thing to Do

Howard and the pastor were talking at lunch on Sunday about how the Holy Spirit had moved that morning, and one of them said it reminded him of the song, “It’s Beginning to Rain.” “Why don’t you help me with the service tonight and sing that song?” Pastor asked Howard. He agreed, then spent most of the rest of the afternoon practicing and looking up the song on the internet to refresh himself with the words. After his nap, there was scarcely time to gather his guitar and materials and head to church.

We were almost there with a couple of minutes to spare when our cell phone rang. It was “Brittany.” “Will you pick me up for church?” the voice of the young girl came faintly over the phone.

“Oh, Brittany, we’re running late,” I said. “Can anyone else bring you? Howard has a part in the service and has to get there.” She said no, but Howard was shaking his head and pointing to his watch. I put my hand over the phone and mouthed, “We can’t ‘not’ get her!” His sigh of resignation made me tell her we would come, but to call earlier next time.

She was waiting outside and jumped into the car, all smiles. “Boy, I’m glad you picked me up. They are going to watch a bad movie in there, and Mama said I couldn’t watch, but I wanted to come to church anyway!” Thank the Lord we had come and got her! And to our amazement, the service hadn’t started when we got back.

As the song service was coming to a close, someone spoke up and said, “Can we sing, “It’s Beginning to Rain”?” I couldn’t believe my ears! Was this a confirmation that the Lord wanted the song sung tonight, or just a coincidence? I wondered what Howard would do, since the congregation had already sung the song, but when his time came to sing, he handled it with grace. He sang a couple of choruses first, then plunged into “It’s Beginning to Rain”; the congregation sang along even more enthusiastically, and the Lord blessed.

In Bible Study the next night, the scripture was read that says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” John 15:13. I have heard that besides the obvious meaning of dying for someone, this scripture can mean laying aside what is important to you (your life) to sacrifice your time to help another. I think that is what we did for Brittany. What if she had stayed home and somehow viewed the movie? Who knows how it would have stuck in her mind and affected her later? As it turned out, she was blessed by her time in church and was a blessing to others. It seemed that God had indicated his approval for the song, too!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Living Epistles

“We were going through the drive-thru at our favorite fast-food place recently, gave our selection, and the voice on the speaker said, ‘Would you like to add (this or that) to your order?’ I said, ‘No, but thank you for asking.’ Just then the manager came on, saying, ‘That’s the nicest thing we’ve heard all day. There is no charge for your food!’”

We had been talking about having the peace of God reflected in our lives at the Bible study last night, and Bob, our leader, gave this illustration. It had been prompted by something he recalled earlier. He had been at a corporate meeting with other store managers where one of the participants, a high-strung lady with a lot of energy remarked, “Well, when I get too stressed, I just call Bob! His calm voice assures me everything will be okay!” While he did a double-take, she went on, “It’s just like he reaches out and lays hands on me over the phone!”

That’s when Bob’s wife said “Tell them what happened last night!” about the restaurant incident. As part of our lesson on living in the Kingdom during our temporary stay in this world, we were focusing on I Peter 2:12, which says, “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” People do watch us!

I shared about the day we were going through a McDonald’s drive-thru getting breakfast since our power was out at home, and the cashier told us the lady in the car in front of us had paid for our food! I couldn’t figure out why, but later I thought maybe the tag on our front bumper, which would have been visible to her, had struck a chord. It reads, “GOD IS GREATER THAN ALL MY PROBLEMS.” (Either that or we looked like storm victims!)

An elderly lady at the meeting raised her hand and said, "I heard a nice compliment on someone the other day." She went on to say that a lady who gets her hair done at the same beauty shop she uses and (who is part of the family who owns the store where my husband has a part time job), said, "We have the nicest man who works for us. His name is Howard Summers, and he is probably the nicest man we've ever had work there."

"Oh, I know him," our friend replied. "He goes to our Bible study!", to which the lady responded, "He is a minister, you know."

That was such a blessing to hear that, because I know my husband wonders at times if his witness is having any effect at all. But he is part of the salt and light we are called to be in this world.

I may not have the calm, deliberate voice of our friend, Bob, who said he was working on consciously reflecting the principles of the Kingdom, or the charisma of my husband, but I can still think before I speak. As one person pointed out last night, David prayed in Psalms 141:3 that the Lord would put a guard over his mouth and keep the door of his lips. My prayer, exactly!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Coming from Behind

It was hard to be youngest. Rachel was the last to give up cartoons, teased out of Barney in sibling ridicule, and then her beloved Dora, by her older brother and sister. She was in preschool when they were in elementary, and the last to learn to write her name and achieve the other milestones of childhood.

Now the others were teenagers, and Rachel was putting away her dolls for the last time. She loved daydreaming, riding her sleek, pink electric motor scooter and hanging with her best friend. She wasn’t interested in sports, while the others excelled: Corrin in softball and Reid in football and swimming.

“Rachel, you’ve got to do something to get moving!” her parents prodded the languid preteen. But Rachel was unconcerned. Computer games and television were much more enticing. Then a friend’s mother suggested Rachel join her daughter in cheer-leader training. She perked up, having learned to do cartwheels in previous gymnastic classes. She loved the training, even perfecting her backflip to what she hoped was qualifying status to be chosen as 7th grade cheer leader for the upcoming year.

Rachel couldn’t believe it when she didn’t make the team, while much less qualified girls made it. Later, the leaders confessed there was a mix-up in the scorecard numbers, but nothing was ever rectified. Her training partner made it, thanks to extra-training lessons her mother secretly arranged with the coach, with whom it turned out she was romantically involved.

Rachel’s parents signed her up with a community cheerleading group. This would be good training for 8th grade cheer leading possibilities, besides which they would participate in competitions around the country. This soon became ridiculously expensive, and Rachel was crushed to drop out.

Her P.E. teacher, noticing Rachel’s ability to run, urged the leggy youngster to try out for cross-country running. Rachel wasn’t enthusiastic about it, but was buoyed and surprised when she made the team. Coming in from practice, she grumbled a bit, but her mother could see a light in her eyes that hadn’t been there before.

A week or so ago the 12-year-old came in #20 out of 125 girls in a cross-country race. Another race was coming up, and her parents promised her the trampoline she’d been begging for (to practice cheers), if she made it to the top 10 this time. For once, her siblings were on her side, and pressed for the top 15. When her folks saw at the halfway mark in the race that Rachel was #2, her father said, “We may have to get her that trampoline.” Out of 150 girls, Rachel placed #14. I think my granddaughter’s going to get her trampoline. Way to go, Sweetheart!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wake Up Call

I looked at the clock on Saturday and saw it was almost noon. Oh, no. I hoped I hadn’t missed a new cooking show by an area resident! I flipped on the Food channel, but something else was on. Maybe it was on TLC. No, but here was the insane program of mother’s entering their babies and young kids in beauty pageants. My heart went out to the small contestants. They were so adorable and innocent as they cried and protested at what they were put through to satisfy the vanity of someone else.

“No!” the pudgy three-year-old tot exclaimed. “Don’t wanna be princess!” as her mom relentlessly ran a comb through her wet hair. Greater powers than hers prevailed, though, and the baby was beautified, cajoled and forced into a routine that was sad and disgraceful. Suddenly it was as if something came over the child as she pranced, whirled, did gyrations and posed like a wind-up doll on stage, to the glee of her parent.

“Are these supposed to be blurry?” a 10-year-old contestant said after contacts to change her eye color were inserted with difficulty. She was having trouble with her “clippers”, plastic teeth worn to cover her own gap-toothed smile. This was unreal! Her mother had made her a Vegas-style costume copied after nightclub showgirls. “If I don’t win, I still want to be a show girl when I grow up,” the child announced.

It reminded me of a speaker we heard once in Mississippi whose dad had told her, “If you keep that school-girl figure, you can be a Bunny in Vegas.” She found herself doing just that, but in a miserable lifestyle. She said one day a backslidden Christian, a fellow “Bunny”, came up to her and said, “I know what’s wrong with you. You’re under conviction.” The girl didn’t know what that meant, but it set her on a path to seek God. She prayed to be saved, and with no one to guide her, she decided to baptize herself in her own bathtub. “Yaba-daba-do!” she chortled as she came up out of the water. God took those small beginnings and turned her into a powerful preacher.

Sometimes I feel like Jeremiah, the prophet, when I see what is happening in our world. Everywhere are excesses juxtaposed with deprivation. Food has become such an obsession it has its own channel on television. Sports and entertainment have become idolized. Fashions are immodest and/or indecent, especially for the young, while young girls are sexualized and exploited. The list is infinite.

What happened to the simple lifestyle we used to raise our children? My own kids are under enormous pressures in raising their families. Thankfully, they are guiding them in the right direction. My grandchildren are involved in the wholesome activities of band, football, cross-country running, part-time jobs and youth ministry, but I will not stop praying for them. The stakes are too great.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Through the Cracks

“Kyle’s birthday’s tomorrow,” our son, Trevor, mentioned as Howard was asking about the boys in his phone conversation this morning. What? I had forgotten another birthday? I can’t believe it. The third grandchild’s birthday I’d missed this year, and another that I had remembered belatedly! I have always kept up with their birthdays religiously, even if there are 18 of them. I will get his card today; while I’m at it, I’ll get one for granddaughter, Michaela’s, whose big day is the 27th. Since that was my grandmother’s birthday, that one sticks in my mind.

Speaking of mind, I learned a new word this week, and it’s French, at that: haricot vert. A Mississippi friend on face book was sharing her supper menu of mac’n’cheese, squash and buttermilk biscuits, when she threw in haricot vert and rib eye. Turns out it is thin green beans, the kind I prepare occasionally, pronounced something like ar-e-ko-ver with a French accent. Must be something I missed while living around Cajun/French influence in the South.

Well, it’s one thing to miss something trivial, but children’s feelings are not trivial to me. I felt so bad on two occasions recently over a couple of oversights that were unintentional, but unfortunate, nonetheless. Our church had planned a youth activity, which was to include adults for a support group, and I was asked to bring cookies. The little girl I have been “mentoring” called to see if we could pick her up. The event started at 5:30, and my husband didn’t get off work until then, making it at least past six when we would get there. Not to mention that she lives about 20 miles away. Howard told me we would not be able to pick her up. I suggested other people she might call, but she said she had already tried them.

I couldn’t enjoy the gathering knowing that she was absent, especially when I saw someone she sometimes rides with was there by herself. She said “Brittany” hadn’t called her. Then Wednesday night the service was spontaneously re-scheduled for 5:00 p.m., to allow time for a fellowship meal with an abundance of food leftover from a reception the day before. Everyone was called with the announcement, except apparently, Brittany. She showed up at 7:00, when everyone was leaving, breathless and hair wet from the shower (I had given her a hair dryer, when I learned hers was “broke”, but she was in a hurry). She had tried to call us at 4:30 for a ride to evening church, but we missed the call.

Lord, let me make it up to her. I know children are resilient and forgiving, but they have tender feelings, too. My grandkids know I love them and will overlook my forgetfulness, but I do not want to offend “one of these little ones” who may be on the cusp of faith.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Life Lesson

I was engrossed in the pastor’s sermon when my husband thrust his arm in front of me with his wrist watch showing 12:20. Oh, no, I needed to get home, since we had invited our son’s family for lunch! It takes us 30 minutes to get home, and I had some final preparations to do. Anyway, my roast needed to come out of the oven by now. Ten minutes or so later, I nudged Howard, suggesting we leave a little early. He gave me a stern look and shook his head.

Trying to be patient and not let my thoughts interfere with what was being said as the pastor seemed again to be closing, I whispered to Howard that maybe we could leave at the close of the invitation. He was lost in prayer and shook me off in irritation. The invitation took a twist as Pastor shared his father’s colorful past in lengthy detail, the point being that if God could save him, (which He did), he could save anybody. It was almost one o’clock when we left. Visions of a dry roast and impatient family waiting in our driveway made me urge my husband to hurry, even though I was receiving a well-deserved lecture on reverence in church.

Imagine my surprise when no one was in our driveway, our daughter-in-law was being detained at a short meeting after their services, and my son and granddaughter were taking leisurely motorcycle rides and in no hurry. My grandson wouldn’t even be present, as he was visiting a friend. Even more astounding was my discovery that the roast was fork-tender and cooked to perfection! The meal was lovely, and I was ashamed of my anxiety.

I read somewhere that when we get upset if things don’t go according to our plans, it is a form of sin--wanting to be in control rather than trusting God with the details of our lives. The Bible does say in Proverbs 16:9 that man plans his way, but God directs his steps. I still have some work to do in this area.

Yesterday, for instance, I had planned to do laundry and hang clothes outside, as I do every Wednesday. We got up to a rainy morning, the first in weeks, so I was disappointed, wishing I had washed the day before when the weather was sunny and hot. I had agreed to go with Howard to do something since I couldn’t hang my wash, but suddenly the sun came out with a nice dry breeze, and I wanted to stay home!

Begrudgingly, I did what he wanted, resigned to the probability that it would cloud up again before I got back, as the weather report predicted more rain, and I would miss my window of opportunity for blue sky, laundry-drying weather. But it was clear and beautiful for the rest of the day! I got all the clothes washed, dried and folded with plenty of time to spare!

I thought of my little granddaughters, who, through no plans of their own, were taken on a long vacation by their parents. They may have wanted to stay in their room and play with their toys, especially the two-year-old, who doesn’t like her play interrupted. But they saw so many wonderful sights and enjoyed new experiences that would never have happened if they had had their way. Their father had a better idea.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Sword for Dragon Slaying

“What are you reading?” I asked my little ‘protégé’ as she sat next to me in church one morning. The book she was holding was covered with fanciful dragons and other mythical-looking creatures. She held it up to me and smiled, but I couldn’t get a good look at it until she went to the restroom and I glanced through it. It seemed to be a Harry Potter-type book for young people. She said yes, it was, to my question when she sat down.

I’m glad she loves to read; she is particularly bright and knowledgeable for a 12 year old. (The other night at church when a man played the guitar and a harmonica simultaneously, she quipped, “He’s multi-tasking!”) I whispered the Bible verse, Philippians 4:8, to her that says we are to think on good things that are true. She wrinkled her nose at me, but continued flipping through the book.

Later, I was struck with the thought that I should give her some good reading material. My favorite classics I have were too old or too young for her, but I did look around the book section of Walmart. Nothing suited, and I considered a Bible, since she usually reaches for one of the standard Bibles that is kept beneath the church seats for those who might need one.

At the Christian bookstore, the Bibles were either too expensive or the print was too small. Then my eyes settled on the devotionals. I picked up a one-minute devotional for girls with a bright, whimsical cover that was small enough to put in a purse. The catchy, energetic writing with scripture passages and spiritual applications seemed just right for her age. I gave it to her Sunday just as the kids were being dismissed from their classes, and she couldn’t have been more pleased.

Then during a moment in the morning service their Sunday School teacher spoke from the pulpit that she had a special presentation to make, calling up a half dozen young people, including “Brittany”. “These kids have been so faithful in their church attendance, some not having missed a service since they first started a few months ago, and some that come even without their parents,” she explained. “And when someone came up to me and said they wanted to anonymously do something for the youth, we decided on this.” She then presented each one with a handsome, compact Bible with large print!

Thank You, God, for your perfect provision! I could see how perfect it was when Brittany kept pulling the Bible out from its packaging during the service, stroking it, feeling the smoothness of its pages as she rubbed them against her arm, and clasping it against her chest, eyes closed and smiling as she turned her face heavenward. May that always be her focus, and the Bible a compass to guide her in the right direction, even as people come alongside when her course needs correction.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Til We Meet Again

“This is the fanciest I’ve ever seen her done up! She was a very practical woman!” The speaker was assisting at the funeral today of someone he loved very much, judging from his fond reminiscences. “If someone gave her something, she was as likely as not to return it to the store, take the money and spend it at garage sales!”

Well, I could vouch for her fondness for garage and estate sales. We like them too, and nearly always ran into our friend rummaging through merchandise on a pleasant Saturday. “I spent 32 cents!” she would announce proudly of her frugality and bargain hunting. I’ve no doubt she went to the sales for the camaraderie, fresh air and sunshine, and the entertainment of peeking into someone’s life through their possessions.

Today was her funeral, and the church was packed. We got there right on time, but it was too late to get a seat in the sanctuary. We sat in the overflow room and listened to the service over the sound system. “Have you ever seen any of her quilts?,” a lady said to me in the privacy of the overflow room after quilting was mentioned in the eulogy as one of her passions. “They are gorgeous!” she exclaimed. I had heard that they even had some of the quilts on display in the viewing room of the funeral chapel. I remember her saying she had made quilts for all her children and many for her friends and grandchildren as well.

Her love for church and living for God was the main remembered attribute of the departed today. “Church is where she learned the way to Heaven,” the speaker noted. “You don’t learn that at the Elks Club, or Kiwanas or the American Legion,” he went on. “Church was her life.” Judging from all the friends and family in attendance, hers was a life well lived, and her influence was felt by many.

A dignified-looking elderly woman sat across from us on a makeshift seat in the overflow room. Toward the end of the service she said, “She was my best friend, my next door neighbor. I’m going to miss her so much; we talked every day.” She went on to say they were both widows, and were very close. My husband told me later the woman speaking was of a well-to-do business family here.

Like the quilts she created, her life was a patchwork of interlocking relationships built over the years and long lifetime in her community. Joined together, the pieces were a montage of colors, patterns, joys and sorrows, lovingly and painstakingly stitched into a covering of faith, offering warmth and comfort in a thing of beauty, like the life of the one we honored and remembered today.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Hum of Life

The younger generation! I can’t keep up with them, nor would I want to try, physically, but it even boggles my mind just thinking about it. One grandson has just returned from a spectacular, heart-stopping climb in the Peruvian mountains. I had forgotten it was this week, so I was spared the worry of his adventure. The area was a four-day climb in just getting there. I can’t wait to see his pictures.

His cousin, a drama major in college, has struck out for New York City to find fame and fortune. He had his first casting call today, after braving the perils of the unknown in finding a room, being locked out, and frightening his mother out of her wits at the thought of him alone and vulnerable in our country’s largest city.

Our youngest son and his family have been touring the West coast for the past two weeks, seeing everything from the original Starbucks in Seattle to Disneyland in Anaheim. Although knowing they were keeping the trip necessarily tame with two tots in tow, I was unsettled to learn of a massive blackout in areas they were headed. Thankfully, power was restored just before their arrival. They should be home tomorrow, praise the Lord!

Our granddaughter, married earlier this year and expecting her first baby, experienced alarming symptoms tonight and headed to the ER. A flurry of communications set us praying, although the crisis was mostly past by the time we heard about it. Turns out mother and baby are doing fine, and we should be welcoming a strapping baby boy in a few months.

Even my daughter-in-law tackles challenges fearlessly. She has gone to spend the night in a cabin at a camp with members of civic organizations to learn team work by, among other things, participating in a ropes course. Never mind that she has just returned from a week-end church retreat at a rustic, cowboy frontier town. Where does she get her energy? I suppose by doing those energizing things.

My domestic life is dull by comparison, with the highlight of my day being having a plumber out to fix recalcitrant pipes. I felt like Hilly, from The Help, when they deposited our commode on the front lawn so they could go in the back door, so to speak, to remove a foreign object that was slowing things down. The rod in our tissue holder had unaccountably sprang from the wall and disappeared, and after searching the room from top to bottom, we could only conclude, with the evidence of impaired flushing, that it had lodged unseen in the depths of the porcelain fixture. No amount of fishing or plunging could locate it though, until the professionals removed the offending cylinder.

My life may be dull, but that’s okay, it is also peaceful; and there is a certain vicarious pleasure in knowing of the activities of the jet-setters and newly weds. Just don’t ask me to climb any mountains!

Church!

Our church is like a big family reunion at every service! We leave there feeling refreshed spiritually and emotionally (and physically, especially since the Bible says a merry heart does good like a medicine)! Take yesterday. An older gentleman got up to sing a solo, an old familiar hymn, and invited the congregation to sing along. It was a little hard to do, though. He must have learned it to a different tune, I thought. Then when it was over, he deadpanned, “I guess you noticed everyone was off key but me,” getting an appreciative laugh from the audience.

Then in the evening service last night, a tender mood hung over the crowd, owing to the unexpected passing of a church member. “Bill,” the pastor said, “would you favor us with a song tonight?” He was speaking to one of the church’s favorite singers, and he continued, “How many would like him to bless us with two or three numbers?” All applauded politely, but enthusiastically.

He began by doing a speaking part of the song, “Just What Heaven Means to Me,” in honor of the departed, a longtime friend of his. The rest of the eye-moistening song moved several to reach for tissues. “This song has been going through my mind ever since a Brother sang it a few weeks ago,” he said of his next number. “But I know you won’t expect me to sing it with this thing,” he said as he attached a harmonica holder around his neck. He then played a plaintive version of “Hallelujah Square”, accompanying himself on the guitar.

“That was so good, I think we ought to have Mollie sing it!” the pastor’s wife suggested. After a rocky start, the spunky singer found her key, and we were treated to a rambunctious rendering of the emotion-filled song. Arms waved and hands clapped in joyous participation. The hour was growing late, and I think the pastor was wondering when he had lost control (as he often jokingly says), putting his sermon on hold and inviting everyone down to the altar. What a time of refreshing as we were swept up in waves of glory in old-fashioned worship.

The service ended with a heart-rending testimony of an older saint who said she was never taken to church as a child, only met with a harsh “No!” whenever she asked to go. “What did I ever do to make Daddy not want me?” she asked an older sister, who told her she had done nothing but be born a girl. He father was so angry she was not a boy he wouldn’t look at the newborn for a week. In a soft voice,the lady told of a feeling of rejection throughout her growing up years, finally meeting the Lord as a young married woman. She prayed her first prayer over her seriously ill child, to see 105 degree temperature in the baby drop instantly to a normal 98 reading. Still yearning to be filled with the Holy Spirit, she at last was gloriously baptized. She said from that day on she has not felt unwanted. I think that holds true for all who were in attendance last night.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Certainty in Uncertain Times

“You don’t know what may happen from one day to the next,” our pastor stressed, after a service where he had preached on the soon coming of the Lord and the perilous times we live in. The very next day we heard of the credible threat of terrorist activity in our country. Not to mention the record-breaking floods, the wildfires, and the recent earthquakes. Still, life goes on, and the church was looking forward to a “Back to School Bash” for the youth--a cook-out and games by a scenic lake.

The adults were urged to come as support for the youth, and I had promised to make cookies. My husband would be getting off work right at the scheduled time for the party to begin, so I knew we would be a little late. Driving toward the lakeside park, we commented on the huge, black clouds and threatening skies in that direction. After a week of perfect temperatures and blue skies, I hoped a thunderstorm wouldn’t ruin the festivities, as much as we needed the rain.

We didn’t take the printed directions with us, as the oral directions had been simplified to taking a certain road and turning left at the first road. The first road I saw seemed to be a driveway, but I couldn’t be certain. Then we dutifully made a left at the first real road. Soon we were back in town, so that was wrong. Retracing our route, I noticed the “driveway” looked as if it led into a resort area. Nope, we ended in someone’s very nice country estate. Several miles down a windy, bumpy, country road later, we asked directions, got back on the main road, and shortly a picturesque scene met our eyes.

Fingers of a lovely lake spread beside a green area with picnic tables and majestic old trees where families were gathered eating and visiting, some still filling their plates at the grill. I placed my basket of cookies with the others. I was glad we weren’t too late, although drops of rain had started to fall. Since everyone else was ignoring the droplets, we did, too, and they soon stopped. “Look at the rainbow!” someone exclaimed, at the sight of a multicolored arc against the grey clouds.

I was surprised to see one of the couples abruptly head to their car, but the games started as people were finishing their food while we visited in lawn chairs with others. Why are some people walking away talking on cell phones? I wondered. Then there was an announcement that a church member hadn’t been heard from in a couple of days, and there was no response when folks went to check on the elderly lady. Another call came that the family was forcing open the door. Then the pastors were summoned to the home immediately. After they left, another call was received by the woman’s niece, and when she crumpled in tears and disbelief, we knew the worst. A pall hung over the celebration as many began gathering their things to leave.

We couldn’t believe that this smiling, friendly lady who gave warm hugs and was always laughing and that we had seen only last week was gone. She had been a widow for ten years, though, and we had to be glad she was in heaven and reunited with her husband.

Today as I turned on the faucet in the bathroom to get ready to go shopping, nothing came from the spout. Nor was there water at the sink or in the kitchen. “Howard, the water is off!” I yelled to my husband. I finally got through to an emergency line, and was told the water was off all over town. “How long will it be?” I asked, to which I was told, “It may be 10 minutes, or all day. They don’t know what is wrong.”

Well, thankfully, it was off only about four hours, just enough time for us to buy several jugs of water. It is true what the pastor said, “You never know what will happen tomorrow.” At times like this, I remember the rainbow that stood out so brightly over the black cloud. “Hope thou in God,” David tells us in Psalm 42:5. Praise God for that ultimate Hope that will see us through all the times of trouble and uncertainty we may have.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Time Well Spent

The young, helpful attendant bent to pull the patient’s hands from their folded position, bringing them together in a clapping motion. The elderly woman began following the younger woman’s motions as she was encouraged to clap along during the spirited song.

We were at the nursing home this morning where I was assisting my husband in a small, informal service. Half a dozen elderly were assembled in their wheel chairs or sitting on the seat of their walkers, most with hard-to-read expressions, but some mouthing the words of the songs, or at least smiling tentatively.

The now-clapping patient had participated more than the others, singing along intermittently with her high, tremulous voice. I could tell she knew at least parts of most of the songs. “You are singing great!” Howard encouraged them, although mostly referring to her.

“She can yodel, too!” the aide offered brightly, to which the patient emitted two or three little musical orbs through lips pursed in an “O”. “Do some more!” the aide urged her. Suddenly she was a songbird, chin thrust high as the warbling notes of the yodel gurgled out like bubbles from a pie bird.

When one man was wheeled in, we were instructed, “He can’t talk, but he understands everything.” Even though he was twisted in his chair, obviously a stroke victim, he kept his eyes fastened on Howard as we sang. I think I remember him from former services when he participated in singing all the songs, paying careful attention to the words of the hymns printed in the loose-leaf binder.

Half an hour went fast, with my husband interspersing songs with scripture and spiritual applications, and soon our time was up. As we clasped each hand on the way out, I heard one lady say something to my husband. Later, he told me she had said, “My husband had a shirt just like that,” nodding toward the long-sleeve blue dress shirt he wore. A poignant and revealing reminder that these precious elderly have lived meaningful lives filled with people dear to them who now exist mostly in memory. It is joy to be part of their present.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Prayer Changes Things

“The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” the Bible says. Last week at Wednesday night church was a time of fervent prayer. It started out ordinarily enough, with prayer requests taken and prayed for by the congregation, then any who wanted to be prayed for individually for an extra-special need was invited to come down in front of the altar. One man stood up and said, “I don’t know why you came to church, but I came here to be healed tonight!” He said he had been having severe pain in his back that was making standing and walking unbearable.

Many from the congregation gathered around, laying hands on him with earnest entreaties and supplications to God in his behalf. He responded in joyous acclamations of faith and the receiving of his healing. There was not a dry eye in the group raising hands and shedding ardent tears of thanksgiving and praise. When he resumed his seat, he said he got what he came for; the pain was gone!

While the Spirit was moving, a woman presented a desperate request for her son to find a job. He had been seeking work for a long time, and his mother felt keenly his urgency and need. Prayers went up again.

The next time we met, reports started coming in. A woman who was in the prayer circle at the previous service announced that intractable back pain she had been dealing with disappeared that Wednesday night and hadn’t come back. The man who had been healed testified that his pain had not returned. Then the mother jumped to her feet and said her son had gotten a job! Another man who had been looking for work announced that he had gotten a job, also! A grandmother who had asked prayer that night for her grandson’s salvation was jubilant that his mother had called her, told her the boy went forward at his church and was saved a few days later!

Tonight my husband was asked to lead the testimony service, and he started out by giving a testimony of his own. It seems a very inebriated or drug-influenced customer came into the place of business where Howard works the other day. Howard’s heart went out to the young man, who was being assisted by another person as he tried to make a purchase. The otherwise nice-looking young man was disheveled, dirty and incoherent, but in his confused state of mind he realized his condition, saying he needed to rest and get to his grandpa’s house to get cleaned up. Howard said, “I want to pray for you.” He got the man to repeat the sinner’s prayer and gave him $5.00, not knowing for sure what the outcome would be.

A few days later, the customer came back. This time he was clean, polite and grateful. “You’ll never know what you did for me,” he told my husband. “You got me back on the right track. Nobody’s ever done that for me before.” Another instance of the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Beauty for Ashes

“I had an interesting talk with a customer at work yesterday,” my husband shared with me at breakfast this morning. “She said she had worked at a sewing factory in Blackwell for over 30 years, making cloth dolls.” He went on to say the woman shared that she had been a faithful employee, rarely if ever missing work in all those years. “ ‘I was a hard worker, and a good worker,’ ’’ Howard repeated her words.

“Once I hurt my leg, but it didn’t interfere with my work. Then suddenly I was let go,” she had said, shaking her head. “They replaced me with somebody else,” she finished bewilderingly.

“Probably somebody younger,” I surmised, knowing how heartless the working world can be. But he said the new employee had been only one year younger.

Life can seem so meaningless sometimes. Just this morning, today’s daily Bible reading selection, which began in the book of Ecclesiastes, started with Solomon saying the same thing. He had tried everything and found it meaningless. He was jaded on life and seemed to conclude chapter 3, verse 22, on a fatalistic note that this life is all there is.

In the read-through-in-a-year Bible I am using, the next portion of scripture was from Paul in II Corinthians 6:1-2. He had a much more optimistic view of life and eternity, holding out the promise of God’s grace to us. The scripture there says, “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (2) For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation I have succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” It is a time accepted, or a time of God’s favor.

That is the way we must look at life. Disappointments and injustices will always come, but they are nothing in the light of God’s salvation. Paul concludes verse 10 with words that refer to himself and God’s servants “as having nothing, yet possessing all things.”

The next scripture passage is Psalm 46:1-11. It is filled with reassurances that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, and that though the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, there is a river, whose streams make glad the city of God; He is in the midst of it. The Lord of Hosts is with us and the God of Jacob is our refuge. We are told to “Be still, and know that I am God,” verse 10. That is the key to dealing with our frustrations and questions, no matter how we are treated by the world.

What's Cookin'?

I was in the mood to bake a cake. We hadn’t bought cookies this week, and that cake mix sitting in the cupboard was tempting me. Howard had been after me to cook red beans and rice, and to keep from heating the house, I made them that morning to have for lunch. They tasted incredible, and I knew we would still be too stuffed for much supper when he got home, so if we had something light, maybe I could make the cake.

Just the two of us, though. Maybe I should use half the mix for a smaller cake. I had finally bought an 8x8” pan the other day. Dividing it in half was iffy, though; I usually ended up with one over-full cake and one skimpy one. I could invite my kids over, but supper wouldn’t be that special. Decisions, decisions. The cake turned out amazing, and on impulse I placed ripe strawberries around the edge of the luscious chocolate frosting. Howard was impressed, but we only ate a couple of pieces at the end of the giant cake.

Late that evening, the phone rang and it was our son, Greg, inviting us to eat the next night. “I was supposed to call you earlier, Mom, but I forgot. I hope I didn’t wake you up.”

I told him no, we were just getting ready for bed, and said, “Can I bring a cake I made? It was too much for us.” He said, sure, if there was any left. I assured him there was plenty.

“It’s Adam’s night to cook,” he said as an afterthought. Then he said it would be something I couldn’t quite make out, but it sounded Mexican. I love Mexican food, but sometimes it doesn’t like me. Well, it would be worth it to see them, anyway. I was looking forward to conversation and catching up on family news.

Their family has been cooking by an easy meal plan that has pre-printed healthy recipes and shopping lists for the varied meals. They have been enjoying it, and by taking turns, it is giving the kids experience in cooking. The clear instructions make it foolproof, and the varied menus keep it interesting.

Supper was delicious with my 17-year-old grandson serving up a huge pan of cheesy chicken enchiladas and salad. The festive-looking cake with chocolate-tipped strawberries was the perfect ending. My daughter-in-law’s mom popped in just in time to enjoy the food, too, so with seven for dinner, most of the cake was eaten. I brought home the last two pieces to have tomorrow. It wasn’t too much, after all! And I even brought home a menu sheet to consider. Who knows what I’ll be cooking up next?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Everything Old is New Again!

The Bible says in I Samuel 30:6 that David encouraged himself in the Lord. It was at a time when David had returned prematurely from battle and found the city burned and wives and children taken into captivity. His men were ready to stone him in their grief and anger. But after consulting the Lord, he was able to take his men to victory and recover everyone safely, including his own two wives. Again in Psalm 42, he encouraged himself after being cast down in his soul. Verse 11 ends with, “Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”

My situation was not that serious, I only had a case of writer’s block. I decided to read some of my old blogs that I didn’t put in my last book, and I found myself rejoicing in the things I had related that God had done! I realized I was encouraging myself in the Lord! Tears came more than once when I was reminded of His mercies. I read my daughter’s account of how He had saved our grandson from serious injury in a 4-wheeler accident, and how he had prompted other mothers to pray, saving their children from certain harm or death. Other accounts of miraculous happenings that I had forgotten about blessed me anew.

Some of the trivial or funny things were encouraging too, in retrospect. I had lost an important accent button on a dress, and I was never able to find it at the time. Then just a few weeks ago, when I was looking in a round, decorative box for something, there it was! Just in time for me to sew it on before the cool weather we’re expecting.

I had remarked last year about getting to meet the two little girls from China that friends of our son had adopted. Now they are in China completing the adoption process for two little boys to add to their family, making eight including their four biological kids. My daughter-in-law showed me a picture of one toddler that they will be bringing home soon. “Oh, he looks so healthy to have been in an orphanage,” I exclaimed on seeing the handsome little boy in the photograph, to which Tammy replied, “They always take extra good care of special needs children.”

“Oh, you mean he is special needs?” I asked, surprised. She said all of the children they have adopted have mild disabilities. When she said it is easier to adopt a child in that category, I wondered if that were a factor in their decision, or if they felt a ministry to special needs kids. I think she said, both. Their beautiful adoptive children I have met certainly seem happy and well adjusted, so it must be their calling.

Other testimonies, family memories, and ups and downs of everyday living had me smiling and grateful I had written it all down. I can’t wait to put them in my next book!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Assignment

“Will you pick me up for church?” was the faint, mumbled request on the phone I recognized as the 12-year-old girl who usually rides with us. “I have to get right with the Lord,” she confessed breathlessly before she hung up. This puzzled me a little, but we were to have communion service last night, so maybe something was weighing heavily upon this at-once-mature-and-childish “tween”.

We saw the little brother banging the screen door in his dash out to play, chatted with him and asked him to tell his sister her ride was here. He ran in to tell her, but long minutes passed and we were running late. Then her sister hurried out to say “She’s in the shower. Mom will bring her.”

I felt a nudge on my shoulder in church and looked around to see a damp young lady, looking a little tremulous. “What’s wrong?” I asked. She said she’d tell me after church and came and sat with me. Soon she was shivering from her wet hair and the cold air conditioning. “Ask the pastor’s wife if you can go to the nursery and get a blanket,” I suggested, since no one had a wrap that I could see except a frail elderly lady in front of us who looked like she might need the shawl she’d brought.

My little friend spent the rest of the service huddled beneath a crib sheet while I worried she would catch cold. She asked for mints from my purse, saying she was hungry; I offered her a sample pack of Milk Duds, then when that was gone, she mouthed, “More mints”.

I asked her if she “got right with the Lord” after we had prayed prior to communion. She nodded, a little tearfully, though. In the car, she began to pour out her heart. “I didn’t do my kitchen, because I couldn’t find the broom,” she explained, saying they had a chore list. “Then you were in the driveway, and I wasn’t ready. When I came out, you were gone, so I called Shirley (her other ride).”

“Did your mom say you could go?” I asked, to which she replied, “No, all she said was ‘Get out of my face!’” Telling her she must obey her mother, I said I hoped her mom would understand this time.

My heart goes out to “Brittany”. She obviously is tender toward the Lord and finds comfort and security in church. She is the only one of the children who faithfully attends every service. I well remember the spiritual longing I felt at that age, a time when young hearts are sensitive and a time of uncertainty and immaturity. This is the age when conflicting emotions and temptations vie for her attention. Lord, put a hedge around this one who has so much potential for you. Help me lend a guiding hand and a word of wisdom for her journey.