Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Parking Ticket

I saw it as soon as I walked out of Angela's apartment,  the piece of paper secured beneath one of the windshield wipers on my green minivan.  Oh no!  I had been in there no more than ten minutes, just enough time to help her finish getting the kids ready for school and to grab them a quick breakfast to eat on the way.  I had never parked in that spot in all the years she'd lived there, even though it was directly in front of her place.  But I'd been in a hurry that morning and when pulling in hadn't thought much of the blue lines that set this particular parking space apart.  I just knew it was close and I was running  late. All these years without a ticket, and it had to be now.  I read the charge and then the amount I was going to have to fork over.  Eighty dollars.

It had been a difficult few months.  I had flown to New York in February to see my father who was not well,  never dreaming he'd die while I was there visiting.  During this same time Larry had become very sick and was losing a great deal of weight, becoming weaker by the day.  He was seeing several doctors and having every kind of procedure imaginable, even being tested for cancer.  But up til now we were still without answers.  On top of all this, we were going through some personal problems with a couple of our  kids.  One situation was especially serious, involving money and the courts.  I was worn out, frazzled.   And now I had this stupid ticket.  I knew that paying the fee wasn't going to break us, but it was the last of an accumulation, the proverbial straw that was about to break the camel's back. 

I mulled over that ticket for several days and finally determined that I was going to City Hall to fight the charge.  Sure, I had parked illegally. One time. But my record was stellar, and hopefully they would see that.  I'd go to that office that handled all the court fees,  promising it wouldn't happen again,  and ask if they would consider letting this one go.  So on Wednesday, the only day one could contest a ticket, I headed to town after finishing up my morning music classes, swinging by the church first, asking my ailing husband if he'd go with me for moral support.  He did.

As we approached the office, I was surprised to see such a large number of people already there, sitting on benches, standing in the hall or waiting near the window for their turn.  I looked at Larry disappointed, we were going to be here for a long time.  Suddenly, out of the office door came a young, slender, dark-skinned woman holding some papers. "I've been waiting for you," she exclaimed.  Then without warning she reached over and snatched the ticket out of my hand.  "This has been taken care of," and without another word quickly turned and went back through the door, closing it behind her.   

Stunned,  Larry and I walked silently back down the hallway and through the outer doors.  It wasn't until we were outside that we turned and looked at each other. "What just happened here?"  he asked.  I shook my head, bewildered. And then I started to cry.  God had taken care of my ticket!  And in that moment He spoke these words to my heart.  "If I can take care of your parking ticket, don't you think I can take care of these other things, things of much more importance.  Like your husband and your children?"

There were still several difficult and challenging months ahead for us.  Eventually Larry would find out that the infusions he'd been receiving for his Rheumatoid Arthritis had caused a horrible, almost lethal reaction in his body.  With a change of medication, his strength and weight came back.  And somehow I got through the rest of the stuff as well.  Yes, it was hard, even painful at times. But I was never again overwhelmed by the events that were happening in my life.  How could I be?

There are still times when hard things happen, scary things.   Like when the disciples were terrified of the storm, of drowning, even though Jesus was there with them, sleeping in the hold of the boat.  They woke him up and asked him if he cared.  Seriously?  So he asked them right back why they were so afraid.  They had just seen him do some amazing things, like feeding thousands of people with a couple of fish and a few rolls.  Geesh!  And then he asked them why even after all that, they still didn't have faith, how they could forget so quickly what they had seen and experienced.  But I probably shouldn't be so hard on those guys.  I do the same thing at times, especially when I am afraid.  Then God scolds me and reminds me of what He's done before, and asks if I trust Him to do those things again. 

By the way.  I'll never know for sure if that young woman who took care of me was an angel or not.  Larry had been at that office several times over the years and says he never saw her until that day and never saw her again.  But that isn't the most important part of this story anyways.  What does matter is that my Heavenly Father was concerned for me then and still is today.  And that means that whatever storms may come,  He still whispers, "If I can take care of a parking ticket, won't you trust me with the rest?"

Friday, March 9, 2012

Rena's Sweaters

I was in a bit of a panic.  I had read for the lead in a community theater production and the director called the next day to tell me I'd won the part.  I felt honored and flattered that she thought me good enough to take on the role. But to be honest, that wasn't the character I had hoped to play when I went to audition.  I had really wanted another role, a crazy lady with some of the best lines and far fewer than what they were asking me to learn.  But it wasn't just about memorizing the extra pages of script.  This particular character was a knitter, a skill required for the part, and something that I had never attempted to do or was even slightly interested in.  It was later that summer while on vacation in New York that Larry's mom and sister put a pair of  knitting needles in my hands and slowly and patiently instructed me on the basics,  enough so that I could pull off the character and convince the audience that I knew what I was doing.  But if I hadn't been careful to hold what appeared to be a scarf-like object close to my lap as I flashed those needles,  it would have been seen with all its dropped stitches and gaping holes.  I knew just enough to fake it and to have a brand new appreciation for those who are much more adept at this than I am. 

Like Charlene for example.  She knits the nicest gloves and hats and donates them to organizations in the area who help the poor.  Lisa likes to do afghans and gives them away as gifts.  I have been one of her beneficiaries as has every young child in our toddler church of which she is the director.  And then there's Faith. She likes to do scarves, and yes, she gives them away too.  That seems to be why the ones I know do what they do.  They love to bless others with their creations.    
Rena VanAmburg
And then there's Rena.  I haven't known her all that long, she started coming to the church a little over a year ago with her daughter and son-in-law. She twinkles, so naturally I liked her immediately.  It wasn't too long after, that Larry and I decided it was time to pay a visit to her little house on Sherman,  just a few streets over from us.  We found her in her easy chair knitting. "I knit sweaters," she informed us.  I probed a bit, asking who they were for.  She set her project aside and looked directly at me.  I could see her eyes sparkling behind her glasses, as if she had a wonderful secret that she was eager to share with someone."  I send them to World Vision." she answered.   I know World Vision, one of the best-known and most effective Christian relief organizations in the world.

I called Rena one afternoon this week and asked if it'd be a good time to stop by.  I wanted to know more about her sweaters, her story.  I grabbed my camera as I headed out the door.  I found her knitting a small pink one.  I felt the yarn, it was particularly soft, perfect for a baby.  "How long have you been doing this?"  I wanted to know.  And she began her story.  Her husband was ill and pretty much confined to his home.  "He'd sit right here, in this chair where I am now," she said.  "I didn't dare leave him but needed something to do.  So I started making these sweaters."  It had been around five years or so that she'd been at it.  She handed me a small stack of yellow notebook pages, folded and clipped together with a pen.  I opened them to find a list numbering each sweater and its color.  My eyes went to the bottom of the last page.  The number 425 was written there and a description of her last completed sweater.   "You can take the pen and write in number 426 for me," she said.  I did and then wrote in the color.  Pink.

Rena holding number 425
Did I mention that Rena is eighty-eight years old?  I'm pretty sure she's on a limited income, but somehow she always has enough yarn to do another sweater.  Her first supply came from a rummage sale at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester, New York.  A friend got it for her and it provided enough yarn to get her through the first couple of years.   In fact, all the yarn for her sweaters has come from rummage and yard sales.  And because everything she does is for children,  there's always enough on a spool for one size or another.   

But she does have some concerns.  Her fingers are getting numb and she doesn't know how much longer she'll be able to keep at it.  "But I'll be knitting until I can get my garden in, and that won't be until Decoration Day."  She had earlier pointed out the little pepper plants on the window sill in the kitchen that she had started.  Gardening is as big and as enjoyable a project for this remarkable lady as is her knitting. But that's a subject for another day.   I silently calculated.   Decoration Day, now called Memorial Day.  That would give her almost three more months of knitting.  That adds up to several more sweaters helping to clothe and warm even more children.  Being touched by a woman who finds great joy and purpose in her life even at eighty-eight.  And it simply doesn't get any better than that.

A box of Rena's sweaters ready to be shipped to World Vision 

A Post Script:
If you'd like to know more about this project that sends sweaters to children around the world, check it out at

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mary's Mattress (And Other Bedtime Stories)

I've been having some trouble sleeping lately.  Dozing off isn't the problem,  but all night long I dream crazy dreams and wake up tired.  Actually, it's not that I mind the dreams so much:  Queen Elizabeth and her entourage recently showed up for church, Denzel and Pauletta Washington came for dinner one night and Howie Mandel helped put extensions in my hair.  I've been meeting some pretty interesting people as of late!  But I'm also waking up with an ache in my lower back, not fun, and that makes the mattress suspect.  Periodically we flip it over, and this last time I got stuck with a pretty large indentation on my side from Larry's two-hundred pound body.  When I strip off the sheets in a couple of days, we'll turn it in another direction to see if that helps.

I've always liked a firm bed, in part because I like my space when I sleep.  We have a king;  I don't want anybody else's body heat as I generate enough of my own.  And I'm not a snuggler,  I occasionally will give Larry two or three minutes to make him happy or to get my feet warm, but then I'm back to my edge.  And as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing worse than meeting your spouse in the middle of a bed because of a sagging mattress.  I would rather that be of my own prerogative. 

When we were first married,  Larry's folks had the guest room right next to theirs.  It held a metal-framed bed with an old mattress that sunk in the middle.  Whenever we visited, I did everything I could to stay out of the center and get to the edge.  But not only was it quite uncomfortable,  it squeaked.  Terribly.  I never slept well in that bed.  Either I was trying to crawl out of the abyss in the middle or waking up every time a slight movement caused the frame to creak.   And being the newlywed I was,  it was a bit awkward sleeping in that noisy bed with the in-laws on the other side of the wall.  Sigh.  I was never quite sure what they thought and was too embarrassed to ask.   

When we packed our barrels for Central America, we enclosed a water bed mattress.  We thought it'd be easier and possibly less expensive than tracking down a large mattress set when we got there.  So shortly after we arrived in Honduras, we had a frame built and filled up the large bladder-like thing with water.  We loved it, using it the entire six years we lived there.  The only problem was that when we had to lift the bed for any reason at all, it was a pain to move and lots of work.

The first time was one afternoon when the kids were in school and Autumn was taking her afternoon nap.  I had spent two or three hours working in the kitchen when I heard her stirring in her crib.  As I walked into the bedroom to get her up, I was met by several inches of water creeping up the walls and the sound of water pouring out of the sink that sat outside our bathroom door.  I had been washing brushes and had carelessly forgotten to turn the water off when the kids had left for their afternoon classes.  Larry arrived home not too long afterwards to find Autumn happily scooting down the river in the hallway in her walker while I tried to mop up what I could   The hardest part was emptying the mattress so that the frame could be raised to dry out.   But all in all,  the bed worked well for us during our years in Central America.  And when it was emptied, the kids never tired of rolling over it to squeeze out the excess water, or when it was filled, to roll over it to get the bubbles out.

Hanging out with the kids on the waterbed in Honduras

We liked the water bed so much as a matter of fact that we went back to using one after returning to the States.  But after Larry was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, it became increasingly difficult for him to get out of the low-framed bed.  He needed something much higher and firmer.  So we gave the bed away and went back to what we now have, a large king-sized set of the regular variety, though with a nice soft pillow top.  Which unfortunately is beginning to settle.

That does, however, remind me of one more mattress.   Back in the Seventies,  Gene Barrett was a pastor, a late-night host on a Christian radio station out of Buffalo and chaplain to the Buffalo Bills. He was also a good friend.  We had worked together at Circle C Ranch in Western New York, and after I became engaged,  I asked if he would officiate at my wedding,  which he did.  His wife Mary had been ill for several years and was bed-ridden.  But while sick, rather than simply wait to die, she ministered to people from her bed, encouraging and praying for them over the telephone.  A few months after we married we got the news that she was gone.  When we arrived at our first pastorate in Bradford County, we had no furniture except for a dining room table sans chairs.  Gene contacted us, asking if we could use Mary's bed, mattress included.  Those first couple of years in Pennsylvania we slept in that bed, on that mattress with the slope in the center where Mary had lain.  And prayed.  And encouraged.  And for some reason, I always slept just fine.