The Beat Goes On

The sun rose in the east this morning just as it has since God spoke light into existence.  A quiet, soft breeze rustled the fresh leaves on the trees.  Hummingbirds whirred around the feeder hanging on the back porch.  Like school children at recess, three squirrels scampered along the top of the fence in a game of chase.  The flowerbeds burst with bright colors of red, yellow, purple, and white.  Branches of the old Loquat tree in the corner of the yard, hung heavy with Loquats waiting to ripen.  The grandchildren always enjoy the harvest and a dose of sweet goodness in the fruit.  A falsetto call came from an agitated Mockingbird diving in large swoops at the neighborhood Tom cat making his morning rounds.  Clouds rolled in to give the vegetation a dose of relief from the heat.  This is the world of nature.  Day in and day out, with perfect order, nature keeps constant rhythm as a pendulum on a clock.

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The news headlines are bleak as COVID-19 blows across the world seeking whom it may devour.  The fortieth case of Corona virus was announced for Houston, Texas  making the worldwide infected number over 200,000 cases.  Our current living population has never experienced the type of chaos and uncertainty as we are experiencing today due to the present pandemic.  The young look to the elderly for answers for which even they, in their years of experience and wisdom have difficulty explaining.  Fear knocks on the doors of our hearts wanting to overtake our sanity.  We ravage the grocery store aisles stocking our pantries with food and an occasional find of scarce hand sanitizer or toilet tissue which allows us to feel in control of the monster we cannot see.  The stock market continues to dive deep.  Some investors watch their life savings slip through their fingers like grains of sand.  The United States of America and the rest of the world is in perceived crisis.

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Seeking a way to escape the bleak news headlines and refocus my life, I strolled around the yard this morning and marveled at the beautiful peace we’ve been given in God’s perfect order.  Because most businesses, schools and public entities are closed to flatten the curve on the potentially deadly Corona virus, the City has less traffic and noise.  An eerie hush hovered on Lilac Street this morning allowing me to turn my thoughts to the landscape of creation.

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Just as the tick-tock of a clock, never missing a beat, the birds sing, flowers bloom, trees bear fruit, animals go about their routine, the rain comes, the sun rises and sets.  Soaking in the freshness of spring, I was reminded of Matthew 6:26-27 – “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value then they?”.  As I pondered this verse, two black crows landed in the yard each grabbing an earthworm right out of the lush green grass.  They hopped along as they enjoyed God’s provision then seemingly without concern, took to the air in flight.  As the crows flew away, I recalled Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  That was what I was seeking this morning, rest for my weary soul.  Rest from the burdens of dreaded news headlines and reports of doom and gloom we have all been hearing for weeks.  I opened my eyes and heart to the lessons in my environment.  Nature never over-gathers, never questions, or never stalls in its rhythm.   The constant, steady beat goes on, totally dependent on God’s control.

 

 

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Ditch Robbing

Loaded with all the necessary tools useful for ditch robbing, along with the prodding of an old friend,  I donned my black rubber boots and headed north on Avenue D to the outskirts of Katy.  I drove under the 30-mph speed limit in order to soak in the change that has taken place since my childhood.  Forty-five years ago, I could name every resident along Ave D as they were my playmates; the ones who did life together.  Most of those homes have now changed owners, exterior paint, and landscaping.  The once innocent childhood of running door to door to collect enough kids to play a game of kickball or mumble peg is gone and is replaced with busyness, traffic, noise and insecurity.  This is called progress.

A small, fast car rode up close behind my bumper and honked.  Obviously, the driver was not reminiscing and didn’t appreciate that I was reminiscing on his time.  If he only knew what used to be…the honk of the horn snapped me back to my mission at hand and the reason for the tools in my car.  The ditches are full of wild Amaryllis this time of year.  They are all the same color, white with touches of pink  veining.  These Amaryllis thrive in warm organic mud.  They love the wet, soggy soil of deep road ditches which at one time all flowed freely with water draining from the vast prairie of rice fields or a welcomed heavy rain.  The long stemmed, wide leafed plants have come and gone for over a century, marking the entrance and passing of each spring.  These beauties are about the only constant among the rapid pace of development and expansion that drives our once small, rice farming community.  Morton, Clay, Beckendorff, and Stockdick School Roads all display these clusters of God’s handiwork.

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Raising the shovel and embedding the steel into the thick mud, I was reminded of the hands that toiled long before me in the same fertile soil.  In his younger years, my dad, Morris Oliver was one of those hands.  His shovel was like his right arm as he labored in the fields moving dirt, making way for the flow of water to irrigate and sustain rice on the Katy prairie.  Many calloused hands before him moved soil and assisted Katy’s agricultural progression. This morning, gripping my shovel like my dad and those settlers before him, I toiled to preserve a small piece of days long passed, by harvesting a wild Amaryllis to be planted and shared, as our beloved Katy presses forward in an ever-changing commercial and residential world.

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I Can’t Sing or Play Piano

Da Vinci painted one Mona Lisa.  Beethoven composed one Fifth Symphony.  And God made one version of you!  God custom-designed you for a one-of-a-kind assignment – “to each according to each one’s unique ability” (Matthew 25:15).

“The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others” (1 Corinthians 12:7).  Did the apostle Paul say, “The Spirit has given some of us…”?  Or a few of us…?”  No!  “The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others.”

You don’t have to do everything!  You’re not God’s solution to society, you are a solution in society.  Don’t worry about the skills you don’t have.  Don’t covet the strength others do have.  Just extract your uniqueness – to God’s glory! (Max Lucado)

A friend posted on Facebook these encouraging words written by Max Lucado.  I feel they are so worthy of sharing as I find myself at times waring against the feelings of inadequacy as I watch others, with polished skill, changing the world for good.

I can’t sing or play piano which is all I ever really wanted to do.  Because I’m not gifted in either of those areas, I sadly convinced myself that God surely forgot the dose of talent when He created me .  Since I believed I didn’t have any talent, I just needed something to keep my hands busy, so I decided to purchase a sewing machine.  Little did I know that God had a “custom-designed, one-of-a-kind assignment” for me.

Up until this point in my life, I had never had any training in sewing but I have always enjoyed textiles.  I love color and texture.  Beautiful fabrics have tantalized my eyes since I was very young.  With my love for fabric and a new sewing machine, I needed to find a beginner project.  My good friend Sherri, who is an accomplished quilter, encouraged me by teaching me to sew rag quilts.  Once the rag quilt was mastered, we decided to make pillowcases for foster children.  I discovered I can occasionally sew a straight seam!  I found that by not focusing on my inability to sing and play piano, that God really did gift me with a very simple ability to connect beautiful fabrics, by sewing straight seams, into something unique for vulnerable children – His children.

In October of last year, I made contact with a person involved with foster children and offered our service of sewing pillowcases.  He gladly accepted. This was the beginning of “Sweet Dreams for Children” (www.sweetdreamsforchildren.com).  The number of pillowcases needed seemed overwhelming.  We weren’t sure if we could complete the requested amount but we trusted God for the results.  The pillowcases were needed in December for a Christmas party where they would be gifted to foster children of all ages.  Sherri, along with her mother, Jewel and I spent our days and nights buying fabric, matching fabric, cutting fabric, ironing fabric, sewing fabric and dreaming about pillowcases.  Just before Christmas, we had completed seventy-five pillowcases and had them all sorted, labeled, and delivered for the upcoming party.  Although we were exhausted and thought we would never care to sew another pillowcase, six months passed since we made that first delivery and we have jumped in with both feet yet again!

It is our belief the Lord has something bigger in mind and all that we have to do is offer our time, treasure, and talent of simply sewing straight lines, leaving the rest up to Him to use us as He desires. “The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others.”  Today, choose to “extract your uniqueness – to God’s glory!”

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Mama’s Thanksgiving Dressing

“Mix up a large skillet of cornbread.” “It takes LOTS of black pepper.” “Wash the celery really good and use the whole stalk.” “Once you get everything mixed together, taste it, if it’s not right, adjust it.” I stood at the sink today chopping ingredients for Mama’s cornbread dressing. I could hear her words as though she were standing right over my shoulder instructing me like a military colonel. It’s just down right funny how things stick in your mind. I continued chopping and pondering the years I stood, first on a stool, or sitting on the kitchen counter watching her every move until I outgrew those places. There was an unspoken message that this dish was of utmost importance to her.

 

You see, she passed away three years ago this week, two days before her favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. To Mama, Thanksgiving was all about the cornbread dressing. That’s right. I said, “dressing” – stuffing is what sofa cushions are made of and you better not get the two confused. In her kitchen, the turkey could have burned to carbon and the yams could be bitter, but the dressing was always done to perfection. I was an apprentice of cornbread dressing for fifty years, and my Mama learned from her Mama. Truth be told, I probably could have attempted the culinary dish much sooner however, while she taught me everything there is to know about this southern Thanksgiving staple, Mama would never consider allowing me to make it if she was going to eat. She prided herself as an expert and her pride only swelled with the more compliments she received over the years around the family table. As her grandchildren married and brought their spouses to her home year after year, she delighted in watching everyone fill their plates with seconds and then ask for a to-go plate before heading out the door. Nothing pleased her more.

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After her cancer diagnosis, she managed to share with the family one more Thanksgiving and one more performance of preparing a huge pan of dressing which tasted as good as it ever had in past years. In October of the following year, her disease progressed causing severe illness. I was at her house one day sitting with her. She had not been eating well as the chemo caused nausea. It was fairly early in the day when out of the blue she asked me to make cornbread dressing. At first I thought I didn’t hear her correctly. After all, I held the record for apprenticeships. I said, “You want me to make dressing?” This seemed very odd since Thanksgiving was still two months away. With a slight smile she nodded. I moved her to a chair close to the same kitchen where as a child, I had observed her cooking. She sat peacefully and watched my every move. I was careful to do it exactly in the same order and methodically as I had witnessed her, using the same knives, spoons, and bowls that she had used my entire life.

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While I knew how to prepare this dish, I couldn’t help but feel a bit anxious. My dear Mama was allowing me the honor of preparing this sacred dish for an audience of one, the Queen of Cornbread Dressing. Once it was browned to perfection in the oven, I pulled it out and placed a serving on a small plate and handed it to her. She smiled as if this plate of dressing had brought back all of her fondest memories. In her weakened state, she managed to take a couple of bites. Handing the plate back to me, she looked up in satisfaction and said, “It’s as good as mine.” At that moment, time seemed to stand still. The lump in my throat was uncontainable as I realized that I had just prepared my first and last pan of dressing for my Mama. I passed muster and a big pan of cornbread dressing.

 

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I’d Rather Have Jesus

Like some of you, I grew up in a small country church singing hymns. Apart from the Word of God, there is just nothing that speaks to me greater than the truth that comes from the lyrics of a gospel hymn. However, I must admit, that while I have found comfort and encouragement over the years as words of a hymn came to mind, I do not believe that I have fully processed the intended message of some of my old favorites to the extent that I did this week with a particular hymn that I learned as a child and have sung many times since.

Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas Gulf Coast two and a half months ago. My husband, Bill and I had recently moved back into our completely remodeled home that had taken ten months to finish. We had only enjoyed it for six months when the water from Harvey began to pour under the baseboards from every exterior wall of the house. There was nothing we could do except watch the dirty water rise while listening to weather reports, as we obviously were not the only ones affected by this horrific storm. Flooded out of our house the first night, we slept in our car enjoying background noise through the cracked windows of storm water rushing across the carport. Water lapped against the wheels of the car sounding like a boat moored to the dock as waves roll by, slapping its side.

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During times of disaster, most people as a whole seem to be thankful for their very lives – just to be spared of death, which I certainly was, as well as thankful for the lives of friends and family who were experiencing their own uncertain storm situations. There were many people stuck on rooftops for hours, even days, as they waited for rescue crews to reach them. Sadly, some were not spared death. The water ripped and ravaged with great force throughout southeast Texas. The rising water knew few boundaries and delivered heartache with a vengeance.

Bill and I had to completely vacate our newly remodeled home due to the flood. Once the rain finally stopped, the rebuilding process began. We stood by in utter disbelief as our contractor removed the barely used wood flooring, sheet rock, baseboards, trim, as well as drilled holes in all of the new cabinetry. Painful to watch is an understatement. Nevertheless, I felt I could still praise God that the situation was not any worse, that we were spared our lives and would have a home to return to once repairs were made.

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As construction tends to go, we have had delay upon more delays trying to move toward our quest of returning to the house and resuming some type of normalcy. Because of the devastation to thousands of homes, construction trades have expanding backlogs of work. And with every delay notice, I find my faith being tested. As long as life goes according to my plan, I can praise God but, throw in a time of trial, disruption, or discomfort like we are currently experiencing, I find myself fluctuating between despair and gratitude, between complaining and praise. I ask myself, “Why us?”, “What are we supposed to learn from this?”, “Are you really for us Lord?” I then try to balance that in my mind and my heart with thoughts of thankfulness. “I’m thankful that we can eventually move back into our house”, “I’m thankful for our health”, “I’m thankful that our vehicles did not take on water”, “I’m thankful for the many family and friends who provided food and shelter for us”, so forth and so on… I wrestle daily with these conflicting thoughts.

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Yesterday morning, standing in front of the mirror drying my hair, a hymn mysteriously filled my mind. I began to sing. I had sung it hundreds of times during my lifetime. The words of the hymn freely flowed from my lips, but I sensed my heart wasn’t fully in agreement:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold

I’d rather be his than have riches untold
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or land
Yes I’d rather be led by his nail pierced hands

Than to be the king of a best domain and be held in sins dread sway
I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today
I’d rather have Jesus than worldly applause

I’d rather be faithful to his dear cause
I’d rather have Jesus than world wide things

I’d rather be true to his holy name
Than to be the king of…….

As I continued to sing, I asked myself if I honestly and deeply believed the words that I spoke. The question of truth stopped me in my tracks. Would I rather have Jesus than houses or land? Would I really rather be led by his nail pierced hands? Would I rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today? Would I rather?

According to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of the hymn, “I’d Rather Have Jesus” is the most difficult message to live into. The battle in the heart caused by the offerings of the world, whether it is riches, relationships, reputation, possessions, comfort, or fame, is difficult. It is not until we fully surrender our complete self and our circumstances, giving up the desire to gain more and have a life of carefree comfort, that we will find real fellowship with our Savior Jesus Christ.

Song video click here: I’d Rather Have Jesus

As we approach week eleven of our displacement, I will continue the process of surrendering my all to God and more boldly sing, “I’d rather have Jesus than world wide things. I’d rather be true to His holy name.”

 

 

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What Does Your 2017 Look Like?

My husband challenges me daily to press into all that the Lord has created me to be.  The following, by Sir Francis Drake, written in the year 1580, was in my email box from Bill this morning as he asked me this question, “What does your 2017 look like?”  I pass this along to spur your thinking as well so that we all hit our mark with intention and without fear in the upcoming new year.

Disturb us, Lord, when

We are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true

Because we have dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too close to the shore.

 

Disturb us, Lord, when

With the abundance of things we possess

We have lost our thirst

For the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,

We have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth,

We have allowed our vision

Of the new Heaven to dim.

 

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wider seas

Where storms will show your mastery;

Where losing sight of land,

We shall find the stars.

 

We ask You to push back

The horizons of our hopes;

And to push into the future

In strength, courage, hope, and love.

 

 

 

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Parfum de’ Peppy

Fighting to open my eyes in order to escape the odor that was surely coming from a terrible dream, I sat up in bed gasping for fresh air. Upon gaining my complete senses, I realized the pungent odor was not a dream at all.

My husband Bill and I live in a very cozy, small, frame house that was built in 1950. The house sits on cement blocks with a galvanized skirt below the floor that encompasses the entire parameter of the house.   From time to time, small critters squeeze their way around the skirt to use the space in between the floor and the ground for refuge. I have seen cats come and go in order to escape the weather elements and an occasional litter of kittens has been born beneath our little yellow cottage with red doors. We have never been bothered by the fury squatters and have not deemed it necessary to completely seal the breaches around the house.

On this particular morning however, I knew we had an unwelcomed guest beneath the floor of our bedroom. We moved swiftly to get dressed and out of the house as the air spaces between the old pine floors seemed to emit the scent of a very agitated skunk which, more than likely, met up with one of the neighborhood cats as one caught the other by complete surprise. Before we could get out, the entire house was engulfed with Parfum de’ Peppy.

The scent gland of a skunk, located under the tail, is used to protect the animal when it is in defense mode. The small mammal sprays its musk at the perceived enemy without regard to the rest of its surroundings. Skunk musk has a lingering odor and is extremely offensive which innocent bystanders do not easily escape.

Lately, I have given thought to my own stinky skunk behavior. When I am agitated, give in to fear, cannot get my way and choose to spew my negativity at someone; I am no different than the pesky skunk beneath our house. My unwholesome words and attitude, like the skunk musk, affect the hearts of others in my environment causing them to repel rather than draw close.

Ephesians 4:29 – Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

 

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Beautifully Healed

The glass, automatic double doors slide open and close, time and time again during the course of the five-hour time frame where I stand front and center as a navigator and helper to those entering MD Anderson Hospital.  There are many who, like me, consider MDA a familiar place as they have undergone treatments and follow-up visits for several years or have stood by the side of a loved one undergoing treatment for a lengthy amount of time.  On rare occasions, I have visited with patients who have been under the care of doctors in the MDA system for twenty plus years.  However, every single day, hundreds enter the front doors for the first time with those closest to them in tow with a look of frantic desperation, tears, and sadness.  The appearance of being lost, confused, and the question of hope is more often than not embedded on their facial expressions.  This was true for one such woman this week as I stood in my usual place, watching patients and families pass through the doors of the greatest Cancer treatment center in the world.

“Good morning!”, I said to her as she hesitantly approached.  Her husband was only two steps behind with a folder full of lab results and scheduling paperwork under one arm along with his iPhone in hand, scrolling with his thumb, obviously hoping to find that he was in the correct building.  Each of them with their own set of concerns; he, trying to insure a timely appointment arrival and she, wanting someone… anyone, to assure her that she was going to survive her recent Cancer diagnosis.  After exchanging pleasantries, I asked to see her appointment schedule.  Her husband was more than willing to pass the responsibility over to me as it can all be very intimidating and overwhelming to a new-comer.  I flipped through three stapled pages until I found the correct date, time, and clinic address which read:  Thoracic, Elevator B, 9th floor, 9:15.  My heart sank as I quickly swallowed, took a deep breath and raised my head.  Under their seemingly dazed condition, I decided to personally escort them to their first appointment to guarantee they did not get lost in the maze of elevators and corridors, further adding to their anxiety.

On the elevator ride to the 9th floor, I learned that the couple was from Alabama and had just arrived in Houston the night before.  Obviously exhausted and frazzled to the last nerve, both were reserved in their conversation.  The elevator door opened and the three of us stepped off with me in the lead.  During the next twenty-five or so steps, I prayed for strength, peace, and a word of encouragement that I might offer to relieve the couple’s burden.  As we rounded the corner on the left, just above our heads was the official signage hanging from the ceiling, THORACIC.  Once again, I prayed, “Lord help me to be a comfort”.

The hospital has upgraded its check-in process to an iPad system.  It is pretty straight forward as one is asked to enter basic information.  However, for new patients, the sight of a computer screen in their already nervous, concerned condition can be very daunting.  The husband and wife looked at each other as if to question which one was going to attempt to sign in.  I chuckled with them and offered my assistance to enter her information to which they again gladly accepted.  After I pushed the “send” button, completing the process, I turned to them and said, “Okay, you’re good to go.  Just make yourselves comfortable until they call your name.  I want you to know that you’re in the best hands and you’re going to receive great care here.  I actually spent nineteen months in this very clinic with my mom.”  They both looked shocked and relieved to hear these words coming from me.  The woman asked, “What kind of cancer did your mom have?”  I replied, “Lung cancer.”  She responded, “Oh, that’s what I have!  How’s your mom doing now?”  With a smile on my face, I looked straight into her eyes and said, “My mom is beautifully healed”.   Her face lit up as she wrapped her arms around me.  Giving me a big squeeze, she said, “That’s wonderful!”  As I was locked in her arms, I glanced over her shoulder at her husband.  With tears in his eyes, he winked at me as if he understood. His wife was still smiling as she released her arms from around me and turned to take a seat in the waiting area.  Having completed God’s assignment, I headed back to the first floor to take my position at the front door.

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The Most Offensive Perfect Photo

I find great joy flipping through the pages of stacks of photo albums containing the colorful story of my now grown children’s lives beginning in preschool all the way through college graduation. This stack of albums, with each child’s yearly photo, is such a blessing to me. I can, in my empty nest state of being, revisit the photos and memories as often as I like. In this process, I thank the Lord for the beautiful blessings that he bestowed upon Bill and me by allowing us to raise three of His precious gifts. You see, in each of their photographs, a story of who they were in that particular moment in time is captured through the lens of a photographer pushing a shutter button. In an instance, the moment is frozen and I will always be able to review who my children were at that stage in their lives held in a single still shot, mounted neatly on the page of a book.

Beginning with my oldest daughter Lauren’s first preschool photo, it is evident that she had super curly, very unruly hair. For her photo, her preschool teacher thought it necessary to brush Lauren’s tight ringlets minutes before the photographer asked Lauren to sit on the stool and say, “cheese”.  Because her teacher did not have experience with naturally curly hair, she did not realize that running a brush through the curls would only make them expand into a very large mass of frizz resembling a light socket mishap. This photo is a true reminder of all of Lauren’s crazy hair days and freckled face follies, which match her personality so perfectly. To this day, the preschool photo is one of my favorite reminders of Lauren. The Lord knew she would need spunky hair and freckles to help her become a very fun-loving mom of four.

I opened our middle daughter Katherine’s album. Her sweet dress looked a bit disheveled and her big pink hair bow is catawampus on the side of her blonde head. It looked as though her photo was taken later in the day after she consumed a chocolate cookie and red punch. Katherine is the fashion queen in our family today and would not be found to have a red punch mustache in any recent photo – in fact; she probably doesn’t drink red punch for fear of it staining her mouth. I love this photo because it is a great reminder of a foot loose child with chocolate and red punch on her face that grew into a quiet, well put-together, lover of fashion, and anything artsy, creative mom of three boys.

Oh, my one and only man-child.  Ryan’s preschool photo is dear to me because the photographer captured the mischief in his blue eyes. When I look at his photo, I am reminded that Ryan would not allow me to comb his hair before school on picture day – he didn’t have time for that. He also pitched a fit because he wanted to wear a wrinkled shirt instead of the one I had ironed for his photo. Being the third child, and very strong willed, Ryan usually got away with such issues as I chose to pick my battles with him. His photo is a treasure because I am able to relish in the fact that Ryan’s personality that I fought hard against during his early years, has developed into a strong character trait. He solved his own hair issue by always keeping it cut short. He is a handsome young man who is married now with a career and is a strong leader among his peers.

Preschool photos that mark a passage of dependence, innocence, age, development, personality, and a much simpler time in the world are tucked back into the cabinet for a later day when I want to quietly ponder the goodness of our Creator. Putting away my children’s albums, I reflected on the change in our era. We live in a society that demands perfection – not in the eyes of God but through the eyes of man.

I learned yesterday that the preschool where my daughter’s children attend, hired a photographer who under his own distasteful discretion, “edits” or “photo shops” what he deems to be imperfect about each child. I imagine in my grandmotherly indignation that this photographer sits on a throne wielding a scepter and rules where the wild things are. My mind leads me to believe he emits flames from his tongue as he flashes large, pointed, gnashing teeth. Sitting on his throne, he edits away at each innocent child’s image. In his superiority, he has an ideal child image in mind. As he chips, chips, chips away, red, yellow, black, and white all become one color, and each child takes on a perceived perfectly created image. After all, this photographer has the power to create the most offensive perfect photo – a click of the mouse, a backspace here, a backspace there, and whah-lah!

Consequently, my grandsons, ages eighteen months and three years, received photos of themselves that did not resemble their God-given unique characteristics. The older of the two had the creases removed from his cheeks and around his eyes that are a very strong trait on his father’s side of the family. The second grandson has a very distinct strawberry birthmark on his little cheek. He has a pinker complexion with strawberry blonde hair. The photographer chose to remove the pink pigment from his skin and also removed his birthmark from his cheek. Neither of the boys looked like the boys that we know and love.

I am stunned today as I think about the message that is being sent and received on all fronts in life. One must have a perfect house, perfect spouse, perfect car, perfect address, perfect job, perfect well-bred pets, perfect health, perfect wealth, and now, perfect preschool photos that do not even resemble the child. Is it any wonder that our eighteen year olds struggle with their self-image when we send a school photo home with an eighteen month old edited to resemble the world’s definition of perfection? I despairingly wonder about the children with more evident birth defects. How must these parents feel who struggle daily to have their children accepted and loved? I cringe to put myself in the position of my daughter and son-in-law who upon receiving preschool photos, had their own impressions of their children shattered based on one photographer’s ideal image.

Reopening the cabinet and once again pulling my old album out, I wrapped my arms around it and pulled it to my chest thanking God for my imperfect house, imperfect spouse, imperfect car, imperfect address, imperfect job, imperfect pets, imperfect health, imperfect wealth, and my most cherished imperfect preschool photos that serve to remind me of my PERFECT gifts, created in His own image that are bestowed upon me.

Genesis 1:27  – “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

1 Samuel 16:7 – “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

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The Spider Bite

I was visiting with my dad at his home one day in September, 2014. It was a beautiful, bright sunny morning. The dew was still fresh on the ground. The leaves glistened on the trees, and the birds were singing their morning praises. Dad and I slowly strolled around his yard as we usually did when we were together.

This particular morning was no different. Quietly and without much purpose or direction, we both meandered through the yard, Dad in his boots and me in my most comfortable pair of grungy flip-flops, sipping a cup of hot coffee and reminiscing. As we passed through an area of the yard less traveled, I suddenly felt something engulf my big toe, almost as though I had scuffed my foot under a large leaf or glop of mud. It wasn’t heavy but I certainly had the sensation of a foreign object on my toe. As my brain registered this feeling of oddity, a deep sting penetrated my skin. In a split second, I looked down and caught a glimpse of something scurrying away beneath the wet grass. At that moment, the pain was so severe; I did not care what the culprit was that had just injected my body with its poison. My total focus became the horrible stinging and throbbing on my appendage.

In my lifetime, I have been stung many times by arthropods such as wasps, bees, and fire ants. While never pleasant to endure, I consider myself very tolerant of any of these bites knowing that within a few minutes, the burn subsides and life goes on. However, this time was unique. I was aware that I had experienced a new sensation that was so extreme compared to past bites and stings that all I could do was hold my toe and cry as though my tears were going to wash away the trauma. Rapidly my toe swelled and contained a noticeable red dot in the center of the bite.

wolf spider.2

Over the course of the past eleven months, I complained regularly to any family member and at times, an occasional friend who would lend an ear to the sad story about my poor toe. Because no one really seemed too concerned, I decided it was not worth a visit to the doctor. After all, I was still alive and girls who grow up in the country have a reputation of enduring more than most. Pride can be empowering! However, every time I wore a shoe, my toe ached and swelled. Recently, I grew weary of the discomfort. I decided that although the bite did not appear to be anything other than a raised dime sized circle on my toe, out of curiosity, I would use a needle to lance it. Lancing the bite certainly could not be a worse consequence than what I was already enduring daily.

Wolf Spider

Upon the first prick of the tiny needle, a substance began to emerge that was not normal. Words simply cannot describe what came forth. Disgustingly gross! It was obvious to me at that moment that my toe was filled with the poison from what must have been a venomous spider. Looking from the outside, I had no idea what was concealed within. As the poison oozed from the wound, I felt immediate relief.

I am constantly in awe and wonder by the different ways God gets my attention. He sometimes uses small, common, and at times very painful circumstances to teach me life lessons.  I believe the Lord allowed me to carry the obtrusion on my toe and the poison within for all the many months in order that I might ponder the poison in my heart called sin. The spider bite was a poison to my body that was largely unseen by others as it was hidden beneath my shoe. Most people were unaware that the bite existed. However, the ache from the bite interfered with the way I walked, felt, interacted with others, and generally altered the way I lived out my daily life. Sin in my heart has the same effect as an ugly spider bite. Although unseen, sin hinders my relationship with God and others. Sin changes my countenance and how I view the world and myself. It is not until I lance the sin, by confessing it to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness, and allowing the poison to emerge, that I experience relief and renewed love for God and people, as well as renewed joy.

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