Saturday, June 9, 2012


The sound of the wooden steps echoing under my feet as I descended the stairs at my grandparents' house is forever recorded in my mind, as is the faint "chink" from the light bulb cord above the old pink and gray Formica table there in that basement.  Part garage, part kitchen, part laundry room and part workshop, "Cap" and "Gib's" basement was a hub of activity!  It was there that as a young child, my grandmother (Catherine, nicknamed "Cap") would praise me for my slender hands, and then put them to good use washing out canning jars for the hundreds of quarts of tomatoes that were put aside year after year, the excess from their bountiful garden!  It was there on that table that I spread out the new pretty yellow calico we picked out together at the fabric store, and rummaged through her big button jar, picking out little red ones for my favorite, well-loved rag doll which she faithfully and frequently restored to like-new condition!  My grandmother was such an excellent seamstress that, besides doll surgery and beautiful designer-like dresses, she once made a canvas cover for the family's Jeep!  The Jeep was long gone before I came onto the scene, but I recall the many antique Peugeot cars that Granddad (Howard, nicknamed "Gib"), my Dad and his brothers would be working on at any given time in the garage area, not to mention the many deer that periodically hung from the ceiling while they all cheerfully worked on processing the meat each hunting season!  It was in that basement too where my granddad's workshop resided, walls neatly and near completely covered with tools and trinkets, parts and pieces, each having their own place with barely an inch between them, creating a dizzying and yet beautiful, rustic feast for the eyes!

There, also in the basement, the large, white chest freezer sat!  It was enormous to me as a little girl, and perched on top was a heavy, black anvil with a small terrycloth dishtowel tied around the base to keep it from scratching the enamel.  The latch on the chest had long been broken, so the anvil faithfully held the lid shut.  Now, normally a freezer would hold no interest to a child whatsoever, but its contents were of endless enchantment!  Visits to Grandma and Granddaddy's were always crowned with a trip down the steps (*clomp, clomp, clomp --chink!*) to the freezer, sometimes to retrieve bags of frozen berries preserved from their garden for strawberry shortcake, or a quart of PET ice cream, or my coveted favorite at the time-- honey buns!  You have to understand! To a 7-year-old, watching Granddaddy slide that anvil off the freezer and seeing the lid gently spring open was like a pirate gazing with wide-eyed anticipation upon the contents of a treasure chest!  Cold smoke magically rose to reveal the bounty inside!  My eyes never really registered the frozen venison and veggies, but immediately landed upon the cinnamon raisin bread, berries, peaches, and ice cream, and of course the Hostess products which rarely, if ever, graced the inside of my Flintstones lunch box! Selecting a sweet treat was a simple yet beloved tradition for my brother and me!  Once thawed (or better yet, gently warmed), we would consume the sticky, sugary goodness upstairs at the kitchen table and wash it down with a Double Crown Cola, also a staple at Cap and Gib's!  It is a snapshot of the many innocent, predictable happy scenes which played themselves out year after year there in that place with my immediate family, aunts, uncles and cousins!

Just before my grandfather passed into Glory a few weeks ago at the age of 95 (my sweet grandmother having passed a few years earlier), the family held an auction for the house and its contents.  I didn't bid on too many things, but one item I simply could not let go to a stranger was that old black anvil.  Still wrapped in the dishtowel, it was more to me than a hunk of scrap metal or potential doorstop.  It was a symbol of every happy moment I had lived there, no matter how small.  It see it forever in Granddaddy's hands as he smiles and helps me pick out a treat from the "treasure chest."  Crafted from a piece of railroad track, it is also a reminder of the 33 years he worked on the trains of Norfolk & Western, faithfully providing for his family, often away.  There were abundant memories and lessons learned in that home, to be sure, too many to fill this blog over a lifetime.  But in a small way, that silly chest freezer was a little picture of my granddaddy's life.  He was the anvil on that home, solid, strong and steady, always keeping the "lid" on even during very hard times, caring for his wife of 67 years through the frailty and uncertainty of old age, and safeguarding the "treasure" of love and laughter, family and friendships, meals and memories that resided there to the end. A reminder to me to never underestimate the power of simple day-to-day joys and memories we can create for our children, grand children and great grandchildren!  My grandparents (on both sides of my family) did not live fancy lives, but they were marked with hard work, faithfulness, charity and love.

God, as Christ is the Rock in my life, make me a steady and faithful anchor in my home which I open freely and often for the blessing of others!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Love Note

I'm convinced that anything can be used as metaphor for something in the Gospel!  It would be a fun youth group challenge to present kids with random objects, pictures or tales and see how they could compare or contrast them to some biblical teaching! Christ was, of course, famous for using simple stories to illustrate profound truths about the Kingdom of God!  A mustard seed illustrated faith.  A seed sower demonstrated the proclamation of the Gospel.  A lost sheep, the love of God towards his chosen ones. 

Yesterday morning, my 10 year old son, Matt, was surprised to find a small folded paper peeking out of his shoe which had been left in front of his bedroom door.  Upon inspection, he discovered that it was a note from his big sister.  One side, in capital letters was the word "NERD!"  and on the back, "STUPID!" and the polite closing, "From your loving sister Emma."   Matt read the note, laughed and then yelled something through her door like, "Butt brain!" or some other classic pithy comeback he no doubt gleaned from reading all those wholesome books I've been providing him over the years like Little House on the Prairie (Pa must have had an edgier side I missed).

Anyway, if you have children, or grew up with siblings, you can quickly grasp the dynamic here.  Hurling insults at one another ala the French soldiers from Monty Python and the Holy Grail  is actually sibling code for "I really sort of like you, sometimes..."  and has been elevated to an art form around our home!  (I'm so proud)  I took possession of the note before Matt could gain the satisfaction of ripping it to shreds, and tucked it away for his "Memory Box," a bin which contains items from his childhood guaranteed to bring tears of sentimental joy to his eyes when he's 30, like his baptism picture and the first rock left in his pocket that I extracted from the now dented clothes dryer!

But looking at that note reminded me of something else.  The body of the message "NERD! STUPID" and the closing "your loving sister..." brought to my mind with a smile the message of the Gospel, "You are hopelessly flawed!"  but "You are eternally loved!"   God's love note to us!  Not a contradiction.  Just the plain truth.  And this "stupid nerd" is so thankful!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

THE Sponsor!

The Hunger Games has swept the nation, first via the popular book series, and now through the much-anticipated film! I resisted getting sucked into the hype at first -- thinking the craze was just another Twilight saga repackaged for the squealing delight of teen audiences and the chagrin of parents everywhere who secretly long for the "good old days" of the original Star Wars Trilogy (in best old-man voice..."Now, sonny, THAT was story tellin'!). But after a friend confessed that she had gotten hooked on the first book, she loaned it to me and I agreed to read it. It was a weak moment -- the biography of George Washington I had been reading, albeit excellent, was not offering me the much needed brain respite I needed at the end of a long day! So I began my decent into District 12!

While the book is definitely geared for teens, and does not offer the same literary meat as, say, "Lord of the Flies," it certainly kept me entertained and anticipating each page. The story is outrageously predictable, but keeps you wanting more (not unlike a box of hot Krispy Kreme donuts that you KNOW is really bad for you, but you can't stop eating them!). And, yes, after completing book #1, I am now hungrily (no pun intended) making my way through Catching Fire. Again, predictable plot, new dreamy eye candy for the girls (Finnick's ridiculous and strategically-tied rope costume should pack 'em into theaters!), but enough blood and guts to at least keep the boyfriends dragged along awake!

Back to Book #1. Katniss Everdeen, the teen aged heroine, is a survivor! She, her town (District 12), and what's left of her family (her father died in a mine explosion) live in the ominous shadow of the Capitol, the only area of the nation (formerly the US, now called Panem) which has ample supplies of food and any luxuries whatsoever. The Capitol inhabitants live a grotesquely hedonistic life (think Paris Hilton on steroids meets Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka)! The other 12 districts serve the Capitol and receive only meager sustenance for their labor. Once a year, the residents of Districts 1-12 are reminded of the "rebellion" against the Capitol which took place 75 years prior. To keep potentially unruly citizens in their place, the annual Hunger Games was created. Two young citizens (a male and a female) from each district are randomly drawn to compete to the gruesome death in an elaborate arena, an artificially created and contained ecosystem, which changes each year. Only one will survive, their district earning food and other rewards for a full year! Whee!

Katniss and fellow classmate, Peeta, find themselves in the Games! What ensues is a combination of Blade Runner, Survivor and Death Race 2000! One by one, the contestants pick each other off. In the end, naturally, both Katniss and Peeta are crowned co-winners, an unprecedented accomplishment, by threatening mutual suicide rather than killing the other. But along the way, readers/viewers are kept on their toes throughout the games. Katniss' father taught her how to hunt in the forbidden woods surrounding her district, so her prowess with a bow enables her to be a serious contender. Peeta, whose family owns a bakery, cannot rely on his cake decorating skills to help him ("Ow! The icing! It burns!"), but thankfully he has brains and outwits players by forming false alliances. He's also very good at concealing himself in mud (typical boy).

Each contestant must rely on their wits and skills to survive, but no matter how strong, talented, agile or clever, in the end, they all eventually find themselves at the end of their proverbial ropes and must depend on their sponsors to help them. Yes, like all good professional athletes, they have sponsors, individuals or businesses who send in gifts, such as food, water, medication or weapons to assist the contestant they are betting to win! A number of times just as Katniss is near death, a small silken parachute descends, containing something she needs to stay alive! Convenient! You feel sorry for the contestants (called tributes) who did not manage such good sponsors (Peeta: "Cool, I got a crossbow!" Katniss: "I got night vision goggles!" Charlie Brown: "I got a rock.").

This incredibly long, painful stream of consciousness regarding the Hunger Games is all to illustrate one simple, but profoundly important point in our lives. Have you ever looked at someone and thought, "Wow! That person is so strong!" Or, "That person has such a strong marriage!" Or, "That person's kids/job/house/ are so perfect!" Well, let me tell you. . . they're not! Even the seemingly strongest individual, marriage, family, job, etc. is weak. Painfully weak. If they appear strong, it is only because they have not encountered circumstances in life's arena that have shaken them to the core. A diagnosis. An unforeseen temptation. A tragedy. The loss of a child. An addiction. A betrayal. Abuse. They may make it through one unscathed, maybe more. But there is one out there that could bring them down. They just don't know it. The "sponsors" they have relied on along the way have helped! We all have different sponsors, some better than others! Family and friends are good choices. Alcohol, drugs, entertainment, money, sex, even optimism and positive thinking make lousy sponsors. In the end, even the best sponsors will eventually run out of resources, time, patience, or ability. Ultimately, there is only one advocate who can see us through everything we face in the "arena." Christ. And Him alone.  Unlike in the Hunger Games, we don't have to look good or perform well for Him to choose to sponsor us! And His little parachute drops day after day after day, containing the same thing each time, which is always exactly what we need! The gospel!

Friday, September 9, 2011

When No One is Watching

Some of you may know that we homeschool our kids. As their teacher, I am therefore keenly aware of their academic (and behavioral) performance on a daily basis. Once a week, however, they have an opportunity to be taught by someone else! We participate in a national academic program called Classical Conversations. One of their weekly requirements is to prepare and then deliver a presentation in front of their class.

This week's assignment was to narrate a Bible story, using props, visuals, etc. My 9 year old son chose the classic tale of David and Goliath. For his visual aid, after much encouragement from me to think it through and be creative, he hastily drew a crude cartoon on a small white board depicting 2 hills, a stick figure "Goliath" that resembled a stereotypical jungle head hunter, and "Philistines" fleeing a tumbling boulder down one side of the hill (I must have missed that in the original account!). I sighed. "OK, Matt" I said, "Are you ready to practice your presentation in front of me?" To say that his performance was less than well planned or orchestrated would be an understatement! After his disjointed story account, multiple verbal pauses ("Ummm.."), and haphazard visual aid references, I encouraged him to think it through more in his head, giving him pointers about how he might improve his story. I went to bed discouraged and thinking that his performance may be an awkward moment for all!

At Classical Conversations, I chose to spend the day in our daughter's classroom since I had been in our son's the prior week. I sent him off to his class and wished him luck! At the end of the day, I saw his tutor in the hallway and asked how his presentation had gone, sheepishly apologizing for Matt's lack of preparation. The tutor gave me a perplexed look and said, "What are you talking about? He did great!" I then learned that his story account was accurate (with events in the right order!), his use of the picture was amusing and well done, and his delivery was smooth and engaging! After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I thanked the tutor and walked away with a semi-dazed look on my face, but so thankful that my son's performance away from me had actually been better that his in-person attempt!

If you are a parent, you understand the pride which comes when you hear that your child has behaved (or in this case, performed) well when you were not watching! When another parent commends my child's behavior to me when I was not present, I feel so happy! It's easy to behave well when the rule-maker is watching, but how do we act, think, perform, when he or she is not? Christians can fall into the same trap -- behaving "well" when we are around other Christians, our spouse, etc. but then falling into "secret" sins behind closed doors, or when we are around non-believers. When thoughts and actions are godly when no one is looking, or when around others who would give us the liberty to abandon our faith, then we have made our heavenly Father smile indeed!

But isn't that what young David did when he fought Goliath? David was away from home, surrounded by non-believers -- Philistines on one side, and cowardly Israelites on the other! No one would have scoffed or thought twice if David had recoiled in fear from the giant as they had, abandoning their faith in adversity. Yet the instruction of his father, Jesse, did not leave David! His faith demonstrated away from his eartly father showed us all that he believed and adopted as his own, the faith taught by his father!