Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Assignment

Several years ago, my pastor challenged us to ask God for an assignment, then watch what happens. It was going to be risky, for sure, because it would upset my carefully laid schedule and might even nudge me into doing something I wouldn't ordinarily volunteer to do.

I went home enthusiastic, but I grudgingly asked for an assignment. In my heart, I hoped he wouldn't answer, because my week was already full with deadlines and appointments. Of course, God knew my thoughts and he's the best reader of my motives and intents, too. So he must have gotten a good laugh out of my halfhearted attempt to open myself to an assignment I didn't really want.

That afternoon, it arrived in the form of an envelope addressed to someone named Bob McKinley. Five houses down from us lived an older couple I'd never met. Oh, I'd waved to them as they passed, if I happened to be outside weeding flowers or getting in or out of my car. Didn't know their names, though. Who has time for names of people who live halfway down the street?

The envelope sat on my kitchen counter for a couple of days, until I felt that unmistakable nudge. So, are you going to complete your assignment? God whispered into my thoughts. You did ask for it, you know.

That afternoon, I took the envelope to the address on its label, and knocked on this stranger's door. I had every intention of handing over their mail and heading home, until a sweet eighty-something woman opened her door and greeted me with a wide grin. "Well, well, well! Look who's here, Hon'," she called over her shoulder.

A male voice responded with, "Come on in!"

Their names were Bob and Miriam. Nice old couple whose children lived several states away. Bob's words came in measured doses, and an oxygen tank sat at his side like a spare leg. We talked about trips they'd taken, and hobbies they'd grown to love. At one point, Miriam motioned me into the kitchen to help her pour tea for the three of us, but she really wanted to fill in the blanks. "He has cancer," she whispered. "Terminal." A retired oncology nurse, Miriam had been caring for him there at home. Her first husband had lost his battle with cancer, and she said she was thrilled when she and Bob had found each other five years later.

"Bob was my high school sweetheart. Can you imagine? Seventy years later, we reconnected. Both of us had lost our spouses." Her eyes clouded. "And now this," she said, patting my arm. I thought I was going to cry.

We visited for well over an hour, and when it was time to go, I promised to return in a few days. Sunshine warmed my neck as I walked home, and I found myself thinking, If Bob's mail hadn't been delivered to the wrong house, I would have missed meeting this dear couple.

Three days later, I learned that Bob had died in his sleep. His passing made me more aware of the world outside my door, and how little it takes to make someone happy. Stranger or friend, neighbor or internet acquaintance--everybody needs a touch every now and then.

God knew I needed that specific assignment, and I'll be forever grateful.


Friday, February 20, 2009

One Swift Act

In November, 2005 a terrible tragedy occurred in my community. I sat down that evening and the following words poured out. Looking back, it's hard to believe that over three years have passed. Life inevitably moves on past every sad occasion, but sometimes it's good to retrace steps and remind myself that life is precious and can be 0h-so-fleeting. When I catch myself lamenting the little things that don't matter in the Bigger Picture, or when I forget that each day is a sacred gift, this story always stops me in my tracks.

November 8, 2005

Sometimes I read about an event so tragic, it makes me shake my head and ask why. A few days ago, my local paper reported the death of five siblings in a car accident. Their father was driving the car, when another vehicle crossed the center line and hit them head on. It is one of those stories that sears the heart.

The children ranged in age from 12 down to 2. They were riding along, happy to be picking up their mother soon. Both the driver of the approaching car and their dad were seriously injured.

I searched my brain for an answer, but kept coming back to three words: God only knows. And that's exactly what their pastor spoke at the funeral, where five little caskets sat in a row. God only knows. For a reason known only to him, he called all five siblings Home on the same day.

In today's paper, I read about their mother, who is expecting her sixth baby next month. She has already visited the hospital room of the driver who was responsible for the accident, to see how he is faring. She wanted him to know that because of her strong, deep walk with God, she is able to forgive him. Not just in words or through numbed tears, but wholly and completely.

And that's the real answer, I suppose. Through one swift act, a horrible tragedy has left a family and several communities reeling. Yet, in another swift, unselfish act, a gracious, grieving mother reaches out in concern for this man's welfare, to wish him well both physically and spiritually.

Faith doesn't produce any better than that.

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."--Luke 6:27


Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Simple Solution

Lightnings {{es|Tormenta el├ęctrica.Image via Wikipedia

One of the things I love about children is their innocent assessment of any given situation. Three and a half years ago, when my oldest granddaughter was six, our conversation turned to storms.

"Grandma, are you scared of thunder?"
"Were you scared of it when you were a little girl?"
"No, because you can't have thunder without lightning. And I really, really liked a big lightning storm, especially when the electricity in my house went out."

I explained how my mom would gather plain white candles from the cabinet above the refrigerator, light them and place them on a high shelf at each end of the living room. Shadows would dance across our faces as the candles flickered. We'd huddle together and tell stories or munch on snacks, and after each lightning flash we'd count to see how long it took the sound of thunder to reach our ears.

I sighed at the memory, because my mother had passed away recently. "But then the storm would pass and suddenly all the lights would pop back on. I was always disappointed when our together-time had to end."

My granddaughter's blue eyes brightened. "Well Grandma, why didn't you just switch the lights back off?"

"Simplicity is the glory of expression."--Walt Whitman


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Friday, February 6, 2009

Turning Life's Corners

The Corner album cover

ave you ever sensed that the road of life has turned a corner? It's a knowing, the way you know when you've witnessed something beautiful, or met someone special who touched your heart, like the shopkeeper in my last post.

Sometimes our corners are sad, and catapult us down the road a ways on a grief detour. Sometimes they're introspective, and help us to evaluate our priorities and goals. Sometimes they make us grin, for the sheer joy of grinning.

And sometimes, like the corner I rounded recently, they make us realize that time marches steadily on. Maybe we're not as young as we think or feel.

I was coming out of a store, about to head across a parking lot entry lane to my car, when a boy stopped me. I'd chatted with him briefly just seconds before, as I checked out with my stuff. He was about to turn ten, and I patted him on the back and said how I remembered my first double-digit birthday.

So he steps up to me and says, "Let me help you across the street."
Excuse me?

The kid wanted to help me across the street, as in, "May I help you cross the road, you sweet little ol' lady, you?"

Yep. That's what he meant. And he took it a step further. He actually stepped out into the road, held up his hand like a well-trained Boy Scout, and stopped traffic. For me.

So I did what any little old lady would do (did I mention I'm still in my fifties--not exactly ancient, but not in the hoola hoop stage anymore). I slipped my hand around his carefully crooked arm and let him lead me to my car. Thanked him profusely, wished him a happy birthday again, and collapsed in a hysterical heap behind my steering wheel.


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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Everybody Has Stuff

Chevron bead and Indian glass bead strings

I met someone new yesterday, at a little bead shop where I stopped to have a look around. I've been designing jewelry lately, combining elements from vintage pieces (circa 1930's) with new beads and charms that fit in well with the overall look I hope to achieve. I hoped to find some unique beads to work into future projects.

So I met a woman there at this cute corner shop. She appeared to be in her early forties, and her smile was so contagious, I'd have never suspected she was wrestling with sadness. She greeted me with a friendly handshake, introducing herself by first name the moment I entered.

As I wandered around the shop, I saw her handing out the gift of time, lingering over customers as if each person were the only one there. One lady had a question about a broken pendant, and she showed her how to fix it. Another admitted to knowing zero about jewelry crafting. The shopkeeper encouraged her with, "Everyone starts somewhere. Let me see if I can teach you something simple to begin with." And she did.

When it was my turn to check out, we chatted about gardening and life and family and beading. In a brief few minutes, I learned that she'd lost her dad and her best friend all in the same week, just last month. I shared how I'd lost both parents within a couple of years, and how it sent my life into a tailspin as I worked through my grief.

As I drove home with my package of pretty handpainted beads, I felt as though I'd made a new friend--an unexpected sparkle that God had dropped into my day. And with that sparkle came a thought that has stuck with me:

Everyone carries a load of secret Stuff.

It's true, you know. Too often people go about their day, shouldering a secret burden so as not to dampen someone else's mood. We've all been there, haven't we? We become experts at wearing a happy face and we greet each other as if we're fine, just fine. And when we hear the same from people around us, we accept their words at face value.

Once in a while, though, we experience an invitation to step into someone's real world. That's what happened in that little bead shop on the corner, and I left feeling as if I'd been handed a rare gift.

It's a beautiful thing when we're the target of someone's trust. Wouldn't it be wonderful if every day held a sparkle like that?


*Image via Wikipedia
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