Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Journey is Part of the Gift

Recently I wrote a blog about lady bugs and how my little granddaughter, Maddie, likes them.  Then a few days ago I received some glossy sales brochures from department stores, and while idly glancing through them, my eyes fastened on a couple of dresses that would be perfect for Maddie and her 6-year-old sister we'd just seen in Houston.

The dresses were a big gingham red-and-white-check with red grosgrain ribbon bows anchoring shoulder straps of ribbon ruching, and they had a giant lady bug appliqued on the front amid white and yellow felt daisies!  A little summery for here, but not in Houston.  I couldn't wait to go to the store and pick them up. 

I didn't immediately see them on the racks, only a close facsimile of crinkled blue-checked cotton, but I wanted the one in the ad in sizes 4 and 6.  A clerk found them for me in a Toddler 4 and a 6X.  Would that work?  I couldn't remember precisely what their mother told me their sizes were.  I got them anyway.

Then, examining the little frocks in the car, I thought Maddie's seemed a little short.  (She is shooting up and getting leggy like her sister--they take after their mom.)  Then I undid the sashes, and the A-line dresses looked wide!  Actually, that would probably be okay for sturdy Maddie, but Anne-Marie is willowy!  I vacillated between returning the dressses or going ahead and sending them to the girls. 

I mailed them the next day, figuring it would take a few days for them to get there.  Only two days later I received a text and picture showing the children holding the dresses up for the camera with the words, "We love the dresses! Thank you, Mimi!"  Wow!  So fast! At first the pictures looked as if they were wearing the dresses, so I was relieved they fit, but then I saw they were only holding the clothes in front of them. 

When their father called a few days later, I asked him if the dresses had fit or if they had tried them on yet.  "They wore them to church Sunday!" he exclaimed.  I was pleasantly surprised, especially since it was still quite cool here. "Well, it was a little cool here, too, so they wore jackets and leggings with them," he admitted.  With the little black leggings underneath, they probably looked more like lady bugs than ever!  Hopefully, they will do a video or skype with me soon, so I can see my Lady Bugs for myself!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Not Just an Ordinary Day

What a wonderful day it had been!  Our Sunday began with Howard and I accompanying our son Jamie to the Chinese church where he is youth pastor.  He led marvelous songs in worship while seated at the keyboard, then preached an amazing sermon, sometimes calling a Chinese youth or two to the platform as a "volunteer" to help illustrate a point.  The warm relationship they shared was obvious in their shy smiles and willingness to participate.

We joined the rest of the family, including Jamie's wife Tammy and her folks, at their home church in time for the second service.  I was touched by worship songs that were new to me, then was challenged by a missions report of a ministry trip to Argentina by the church young people.  After a lengthy body-ministry session to scores of altar responders, the order of the service was changed for Jamie's ministry credentialing ceremony.  Although he is already serving as a minister, this was a formal licensing procedure we had come to witness.

I really didn't know what to expect, except the presentation of the license, but it was so much more than that!  We were so proud of our son, dressed up (for him) in a new white shirt and tie bought especially for the occasion, sitting modestly and properly humbled by the elders' words of appreciation and affirmation to him.

After the formal presentation of the certificate signed by church authorities, people who might have a word from the Lord for Jamie or their own expressions toward him were invited to form a line down the aisle, come forward and speak the words to him.  Suffice it to say, I smiled through tears as I heard many comments and prophecies bestowed upon him that warmed and agreed with this mother's heart.  I was so glad we were able to be present, although we had no idea it would be anything this meaningful.

Finally, we piled into three cars and set out for a celebratory lunch in one of Houston's best restaurants, courtesy of Tammy's parents.  It was also our little granddaughter Maddie's fourth birthday on that St. Patrick's day, so we were a merry bunch, especially as we watched the children's glee at pre-dinner entertainment of a balloon artist forming a lady bug for Maddie and a princess for Anne-Marie at the table.

Relaxing at last in their mini-van on the way home, I sat by Maddie in her car seat with Anne-Marie in the back on her booster seat.  Tammy drove behind us with the family car.  Howard sat in front with Jamie.  Suddenly I was aware of Jamie calling out "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!"  I looked up just in time to brace myself as the dark form of an automobile coming straight at us filled my view.  Oddly, the impact wasn't as bad as I feared, although he had hit us broadside.  We screeched to a halt under an underpass, while Jamie leaped out.  The other driver went on, stopped and inspected his vehicle, then disappeared.

I thought to myself that Satan wasn't happy about our victorious morning.  I also realized angels had cushioned what had been a glancing blow, damaging the driver's and passenger doors, but what could have been so much worse.  No one was hurt, for which we thanked God!  "For He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.  They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone," Psalms 91:11, 12.

Welcome Mat

"It's locked!" I exclaimed to my husband as I stood outside the door of our son's house, wearing my robe and pajamas and holding the clothes we had gotten out of the car.  We had taken an overnight bag in last night, but left our hanging clothes in the car.  Howard, coming up with a shirt on a hanger, tried the door to no avail. 

"Let's ring the  doorbell!" I suggested, seeing a button on the garage wall.  We hated to wake our daughter-in-law, though, and our son, Trevor, had told us last night he would leave early to drop our grandson Kyle  at the TSA (Texas Soaring Association) for a day of work at the field where an area meeting was to be held that day.  "Surely Trevor will be back soon," I said, hopefully.

Just then I glimpsed the top of his SUV that was visible in the distance moving along the road leading to the neighborhood.  "I see him!" I announced, though Howard didn't think so, since the car had disappeared from view.  In a few minutes Trevor pulled in looking at us quizically.  "I was about to ring the doorbell," I said, as he walked up.  He said that wasn't the doorbell, it was the alarm system, and he didn't have his key, either.  He went to the front door and managed  to get in.  Our sweet son then made us a wonderful breakfast while we got dressed.

We had had a great time with them the day before when we had stopped by their house on the way to Houston.  We had spent the afternoon at the flying field watching Kyle in his volunteer duties: holding a glider wing and running until it was lifted by the tow plane, conferring with other soaring enthusiasts, and waiting his turn to go up.  What a peaceful place!  A few clouds were floating marshmallow-like in a soft-blue sky, the only sound the motor of the tow plane  and the wisk of the breeze as the planes glided noiselessly above.

After awhile, we went inside the "club house," a fifties era A-frame that housed the office, a lounge and snack bar.   "How much are the cookies?" Howard asked, eyeing tantalizing rows of them under a plastic cover.  The attendant, a motherly type who cooked for the flyers, answered, "You're welcome."  He repeated the question, to which she again replied, "You're welcome!"  Then he smiled as he realized they were free and got one for himself and one for me, too.

Now we were about to resume our trip to our son Jamie's house and left this family to enjoy the rest of their spring break, knowing that on our way back we could stop there again for an overnight stay, confident of finding no locked door, but of being met only with "You're welcome!"  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rhapsody of Spring

Spring is surely here!  Today I saw several ladybugs near our front steps.  They must have emerged from under leaf residue to lay eggs and do their part in the ecosystem. They may be beneficial insects, eating everything from dandelions to harmful mites, but I like them because they are beautiful!  The shiny red shell with attractive black spots makes them a natural inspiration for artists, illustrators, and textile designers.

The cute ladybug is popular in children's books and stories, especially the timeless nursery rhyme:  Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home, your house is on fire and your children all gone; All except one, and that's little Anne, for she crept under the warming pan. ( A reference to the quite un-ladylike tendency to eat their young?)

My young granddaughters have had ladybug-themed birthday parties, Halloween costumes, and ladybug-bedecked play clothes.  I have a red-painted, dropleaf kitchen table with a vinyl cover--clear, except for the proliferation of ladybugs painted on its surface. (When wiping it down, I often find myself trying to scrub off a spot of ladybug!) 

I also saw several robins today!  Their cheerful red-orange breast is a spot of color on new-greening grass or in the robin-egg-blue sky as they fly over.

 In a store earlier, I was captivated by a brown-eyed doll in the cart in front of me.  A two-year-old girl child, her short, thick black hair curled appealingly around her cherubic face as she regarded me with studied solemnity.  Her brother, who held up four fingers when asked his age, carried on an animated conversation with us, pointing out the features of the toy in his hand.  When he waved bye to us as they left, the baby girl waved and sang out "bye-bye" too!

I am packing to go visit the little granddaughters for the 3-year-old's fourth birthday on Saturday.  I guess I am homesick for them. (My husband said I woke him up saying, "Where's the baby?" in the night last night.  I seem to remember dreaming about a baby.)  Anyway, all young things are beautiful and irresistible.

In some cultures, the ladybug is called "the little animal of our good Lord," and is thought of as "belonging directly to God." But doesn't every young thing He created?  And everything and everybody else, too, for that matter, although we have the choice to choose Him or reject Him.
  
The scripture says of the redeemed that "...thy youth is renewed like the eagle's," Psalm 103:5.  Isaiah 40:31 promises, "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."  I'm claiming these verses for me, especially as I try to keep up with the younger generation this weekend!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Missing!

"Safe were the ninety and nine in the fold; safe, though the night was dreary and cold.  But, said the shepherd when counting them o'er, one sheep is missing there should be one more."  I identified with that completely yesterday tramping over the fields looking for our missing goats!  I couldn't believe it when Howard came in yesterday and told me they had disappeared!

Apparently, the gate to their pen hadn't been closed properly, and the energetic young animals butted or pushed it open and escaped.  Although the family had conducted a thorough search before I found out the bad news, I insisted that we go look again.  So Sunday afternoon found us bundled up against the frigid wind searching every conceivable place for the helpless babies.  Every outbuilding was peered into, gullies were searched, and brambles were inspected.

Not a trace.  The only clue being sharp little hoofprints in the mud immediately outside the pen.  They led to nowhere.  Did something get them?  Were they stolen?  We retraced the road around the property that my husband had already driven. I peered into the pasture from the high road surrounding the farm.  Nothing.  Only the occasional white plastic bag blowing in the wind, mimicking movement and life. 

"What was that?!!" I exclaimed as I saw a large, white object beside the highway as we drove toward home.  It looked like a white blanket, tinged in red.  Or the hide of an animal, I thought.  Howard turned around and went back so I could get a closer look.  No, it was only a large plastic bag, flattened by the rain.  The red colors were the red ties tangled through it.

With heavy hearts, we gave up.  My only consolation was that, in the event they died from exposure, they just went to sleep and woke up gamboling over celestial pastures.  At least I felt better for having looked for them myself.   Barring a miracle, we won't see them again. (Although our lost guinea showed up once after we had written it off!)

Jesus's story of the ninety and nine in the gospels is an illustration of seeking lost souls.  He says in Luke 15:5, "And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. (6) And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost."  The next verse talks of the joy in heaven over a repentant sinner, which is greater than the joy over a just person.

What a tender story of God's compassion, couched in human terms that all can understand.  Especially anyone who has ever lost a sheep (or goat)!
 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

New Kids on the Block

The small flock of goats was gorgeous!  The owner had called them, carrying a pan of feed, and they emerged from the trees and mist almost ethereal in their beauty. The smallish animals owed their size to being half Pygmy and half Boer goat.  In mingled shades of white and brown or black and white, they presented a peaceful, pastoral scene straight out of a storybook.

Shiny, silky hair shimmered in the soft light, evoking visions of Solomon's Song of Songs,  "Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold thou art fair; thou has doves' eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead."

"Dad, I found some goats to be given away!" our son, Greg, had called from his work the other day.  Two young goats had been listed in his company newsletter, and he knew Howard had been wanting some.  Now Greg, his son and the two little girls had gone with us as we followed in the truck to collect them and take them to the farm. 

I couldn't get over how cute they were!  Little prominences of horns were budding on their velvety foreheads above long-lashed, gentle eyes, at once trusting and uneasy as they bleated for their mother.  Cradled on the laps of Greg and the kids, they were gentled as they rode in the back of the pick-up until we placed them in their new, straw-strewn quarters.  Of course the children got into the pen, too, petting and cooing over them.

"Come on, get out," big brother Adam called when it was time to go.  Lifting the 6-year-old over the enclosure, he bumped her head on the low beam of the shed, eliciting an "Ow!" from his little sister.  She wasn't hurt, though,  just a little embarassed as she fled off to play by herself.  "There goes the 'scape' goat," Adam quipped laughingly.

Again, I thought of the Bible verse in Leviticus 16:10 mentioning a scapegoat that symbolically carried the sins of the people of Israel as it was driven away into the wilderness in a ceremony on the Day of Atonement.   A first goat was sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins, and the scapegoat was for the removal of guilt.

Jesus put an end to this system when as the Lamb of God He died on the cross once and for all for the sins of man, if they will receive Him.  We are the sheep of His pasture, and there is no more need for the sacrifice of innocent animals.  They bring joy not only to the hearts of the young, but also to  those who are young at heart, like my husband!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Happy Daze

"Today the kids were listening to the story you recorded for Maddie's birthday last year when she turned three," my son told me over the phone.  Really?  I was so glad to hear the electronic storybook still worked!  It was such fun to do a read-aloud story to her and then see the video of her reaction when she heard it.  Now it is time for another birthday, and we plan to be there for this one!

Last night, big sister Anne-Marie, who is six, was reading aloud to me on Skype!  What a difference a year makes.  These youngest grandchildren of mine are growing up.  They have gotten a new refrigerator, and in eliciting conversation out of them, I asked about it and what they liked to eat.

"I can make my own peanut butter and jelly sandwich!" Anne-Marie said proudly, followed by another little off-camera voice chiming in, "And I can make a cheese and turkey sandwich!" Little women.  It is so amusing (and sometimes disconcerting) to me when I see traits in them that remind me of myself.

For instance, their father related to me that recently when placing a food order, he had given his name as "Ben" for the sake of brevity.  Maddie heard him and said, "You told them your name was Ben!  Your name is not Ben!  It is Benjamin Todd!  You lied to them!" She is a stickler for telling it like it is!  (Maybe it's a woman thing!)

I told my grandchildren Beth and Kate,  who live here, that Pa-Pa would watch them yesterday when they got home from school, because I had to have a nap (he had already had one).  "No!" they chorused.  But I was desperate, so putting him in charge of their snacks, I closed my bedroom door.  After a half-hour or so, I found them contentedly watching TV, the remains of burnt popcorn in a bowl on the coffee table and him asleep in his chair!

"We're hungry!" the girls exclaimed.  "We want that!" they said, pointing to frozen waffles in the freezer.  "Toasted.  With peanut butter."  They had never asked for that before!  They almost never vary from requesting Ramen noodles or popcorn.  I opened the box to find it nearly empty and soon gave them their treats.

Later, after they had gone home, my husband remarked how they liked the waffles with peanut butter he had made for them. So that was it!  Maybe a little flexibilty is a good thing, for me and for Maddie!



Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Better Covenant

I am so glad to not be living in the days of the Old Testament!  Last night I caught a second showing of The Bible on television.  I had wanted to see it Sunday night on the History Channel, but we had a special service at church that I didn't want to miss.  The things the patriarchs lived through!  What an incredible test of faith Abraham was given when he was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac. 

The mini-series captured the emotions not only of Abraham, but also of the frightened, trusting youth, and the incredulous, desperate Sarah when the situation dawned on her, and her impassioned cry when, though at first not seeing Isaac returning with his father, she glimpsed her son at the mountain.  Though these scenarios are not graphically described in the Bible, it is not hard to imagine their feelings as portrayed by the actors, especially the relief of each one when God did provide a sacrifice with the ram caught in the bushes.

Watching the tenuous faith of Moses grow into a tenacious surety showed both his humanness and his determination to trust in God.  The cataclysmic events highlighted in the drama brought reality to the almost unimaginable happenings, such as the destruction of Sodom, the parting of the Red Sea, and the plagues of Egypt.

Lately I have been reading again the wonderful book, Two from Galilee, A love story of Mary and Joseph. In her inimitable style, Marjorie Holmes depicts in vivid detail the awfulness of animal sacrifice, especially as it dawns on young Mary when she takes refuge at the home of her Aunt Elizabeth and the priest, Zachariah.

At first, Mary is in wonder at the beautiful, quiet, priestly home and reveres her uncle as almost divine.  Then she becomes aware of what being a priest entails, the bloody business of killing innocent animals, the burning of their flesh, and the wafting of the sweet incense that did not wholly obscure the odor. 

When Mary's time has come to deliver the Babe who would put an end to the endless sacrifices, her agony and suffering from which she hoped she might be spared echo across the centuries in the author's words and resonate with mothers everywhere.  An infant's birth in a crude animal stable is hard to wrap one's mind around, let alone the incongruity of the Royalty of heaven being born in such a place. 

God used the years of animal sacrifice to instill in the people the need for the shedding of innocent blood for the remission of sins.  Then in the fulness of time, the new and better Covenant was given when the Lamb would die once and for all for the forgiveness of sins of those who would accept Him.  How blessed we are!

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Sweet Smelling Savor

"When a princess dies, the world mourns.  When a saint dies, all heaven rejoices." This quote, from an editorial cartoon that appeared in newspapers after the close deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, was repeated by a congregant last night when church members were giving remembrances of our dear pastor's wife. This special memorial service was held at the pastor's request to record thoughts and fond memories of her by the congregation.

As each one stood or sat to speak into the microphone, the words that tumbled out became a collage of snapshots of a funny, spiritual and caring personality.  "When I first came here, I was nervous about coming to a new church," one lady in her mid eighties began.  "I thought, 'Why would I drive 30 miles round trip to a church when I had moved to Ponca to be closer to church?'  But the minute I stepped in and Clara greeted me, I felt so welcome.  She was like an angel standing there making me feel at home and setting me at ease at once."

Others echoed the same refrain several times during the evening.  They spoke of the loyal hospital visits from Pastor and his wife.  Of being certain of her prayers when they needed them, and of trust in her confidentiality in sensitive shared needs. "When my mother-in-law died, it was late at night in cold weather," one man said.  "I called the  pastor to tell him, and he asked if they should come out.  I told him there was no need this late, but Clara wouldn't have it any other way.  She said, 'We're going!'"  (I heard later that they hit a coyote that night, damaging their car slightly, but they made no mention of it then.)

Many recollections were given of small acts of kindness. "They brought me a flag once, to hang out front," a stooped, 90-year-old said. "It was the prettiest, bright little yellow flag. The wind tore it up, and when they visited at a later date, they noticed it was gone.  Then one day Pastor drove up and said, 'Clara sent this to you.' It was another flag to replace it," she finished in a voice trembling with emotion.

I recalled taking my seat one night to find a bottle of lotion sitting there. The label said "Pink Sugarplum," from Bath and Body. When I gestured to ask if she put it there, Clara nodded and smiled.  Howard told of when she baked a pie for him and brought it to church.  Another lady talked of a cactus plant Clara had given her.  "She knew I liked cactus," she explained.  "I even named it 'Clara' after her.  Then I thought, What if it's a male cactus?  But several months later I noticed that it had reproduced six little buds around the base."

"I never laughed so hard in church as I did at Charley and Clara," one elderly gentleman said.  "When he would say something to her from the pulpit and she would answer back at him, it was so funny."  Everyone enjoyed their repartee and her clever and witty retorts, which seemed to delight him as much as it did their flock.  It was obvious they were crazy about each other, even after 34 years of marriage.

"The first time I saw Clara, it was in a store, and I didn't know who she was," a member said as she stood.  "But I sensed something about her in her beautiful smile.  The same smile she had when she worshipped the Lord here in church, her face toward heaven and tears running down her cheeks."  No doubt the same smile she is wearing now in heaven.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Farewell

It was his birthday.  And only 4 days after his wife's funeral.  Their anniversary had been the day following.  We had gotten a call the day before that there would be an impromptu birthday surprise for our pastor on Friday.  On a ruse to celebrate their own anniversay, solicitous neighbors were taking him to Braum's, his favorite place, for lunch. We had gathered there to surprise him.

"Look, he's noticing the cars!" someone said, as we watched them emerge from their vehicle in the parking lot.  "Do you think he knows?"  Then when they came in, we saw a look of realization spread over his face as he took in the smiling group.  He pointed in recognition while we blared out the birthday song.

When he passed our table, I handed him his card, then the others put their cards and gifts there while he acknowledged, laughed and commented over each thought, mostly gift cards for eating out.  "Hallelujah!" he exclaimed when he saw ours was from McDonald's, another favorite  place where he loves to get coffee.

It seemed it was a good idea, this small remembrance and distraction for our pastor during this first week of strangeness, transition and adjustment without his helpmeet.  "I told the boys they didn't have to stay with me anymore," he said.  "They had taken turns staying with me since it happened," he said of their sons.  They had returned to their homes, jobs and families a couple of days ago, and now he was alone.

After an hour or so of visiting, folks began to drift out, so, having finished our ice cream, Howard and I stopped at his table as we were leaving.  I was straightening my husband's jacket as he shrugged into it, when Pastor looked up said, "She always straightened my collar, too," tears coming into his eyes.  "It's the little things.  I stepped out into the garage, and there was a pair of flip-flops by the steps, lying criss-crossed where she had stepped out of them."

We remarked about the suddenness of her departure, and I mumured that she didn't get to say goodbye.  "Oh, but she did, in a way!" her husband said.  I thought he meant when his wife had stood before the congregation and gave the forceful admonition of "Fear not! For I am with you!" to the church.  But he said, "No! You didn't see, but she turned to me just before she sat down and gave me the biggest, happiest, smile I think I had ever seen!"  It was then that she took her seat,  grabbing her head and telling her neighbor to summon her husband.

I was reminded of a poem I had seen on Facebook:

"You've just walked on ahead of me
And I've got to understand
You must release the ones you love
And let go of their hand.

I try to cope the best I can
But I'm missing you so much.
If I could only see you
And feel once more your touch.

You've just walked on ahead of me
Dont worry, I'll be fine.
But now and then I swear I feel
Your hand slip into mine."