Friday, November 22, 2013

Four Days In November--The Assassination of JFK

Today I watched the clip of Walter Cronkite announcing to America that President Kennedy had died.  He is visibly shaken.  The consummate professional, he removes his glasses, gives himself a moment to compose himself, puts his glasses back on and continues.  But his voice breaks.  Shock.  Disbelief.  And I feel the lump rise in my own throat.  Again.  These fifty years to the day later.

That was when I understood grief for the first time.  A couple years earlier when a neighbor kid drowned in a local lake, everybody felt really bad.  My mom took us to the funeral home, and I saw people cry.  But nothing had prepared me for this.  

I was twelve, a seventh grader sitting in Mr. Deland's Science class when the announcement came over the intercom that the President had been shot.  I was in Study Hall when the speaker crackled once again and the Principal uttered those horrible words,  "I'm sorry to have to report that the President is dead."  There was stunned silence and then I heard someone sniffing.  Behind me, a couple of older girls snickered, obviously uncomfortable and not knowing how else to respond to the terrible news.     

For the next four days I,  along with the rest of America,  sat riveted to our black and white television sets.    There were only three networks at the time, and up until now there had been no such thing as twenty-four hour news coverage.  That changed.  I could hardly tear myself away, horrified by the events but feeling the need to be connected is this way.  We as a nation were reeling with grief, and even as young as I was,  I knew we were in this together. So I missed nothing, including the horrific moment when Jack Ruby shot Lee  Harvey Oswald as he came through that hallway.

I had never felt such sadness.  I remember the intense longing for the pain to go away, not quite believing it to be real,  hoping that this was just a horrible dream from which I would soon awaken.   But I never did, I only woke up to the reality that life is harder than I could have ever imagined.   And it changed me.

Following the funeral, a spirited black horse was led behind the caisson through the streets of Washington to Arlington Cemetery.  The symbolism wasn't lost on me, and if there had been any part of my heart that was still intact, the vision of that horse finished it off.  My heart was completely broken,  grieving for that little boy and for his sister and his mother.  And I grieved for me, for what I had lost.  And for us.  All of us.    



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Awful, Terrible, Very Bad Day

October 23, 1976
Larry and I are celebrating another anniversary today, number thirty-seven to be exact.  We picked October for our wedding, my favorite month of the year, and the 23rd because he was on break from seminary.  The day was perfect, everything went off without a hitch.  I've heard it said that a wedding isn't all that great unless something goes wrong.  Well, best I can remember, nothing did.  No, most everything that could have gone wrong actually happened before the wedding. 

Two days earlier we had made arrangements to meet someone at a warehouse in Buffalo to purchase the food needed for the reception.  A close friend of the Burkes,  Lorraine had offered to prepare the wedding meal.  It was going to be a big job, we were expecting about two-hundred people. But she was up to it.  She was the head cook at Circle C Ranch,  the Christian camp where I worked and where Larry and I had met. 

Lorraine had come with a list and the three of us immediately began to fill our carts.  She didn't look well,  but I knew she had chronic health issues, so I pushed my concern aside.   Until she suddenly collapsed on the floor of the warehouse.   As she was being lifted onto a stretcher she continued giving Larry last minute instructions as to what still needed to be purchased.  

"You'll need to drive my car," Larry said as we loaded the stuff into his vehicle. Lorraine had given him her keys on the way out to the ambulance.  "We have to take her car to the hospital. You just follow me."  I was nervous.  I had been hit by a drunk a few weeks earlier on the way to my wedding shower.  He had totaled the car and put my mother and sister in the emergency room.  I was still nervous about driving, and the thought of doing it in heavy city traffic made it all the worse.  "How far is it?" I wanted to know.  "Not too far," he insisted.  We were barely out of the parking lot when it began to sleet.  I tried turning on the wipers, but they refused to move.  Oh great.  I remembered that Larry had driven up from Kentucky a few days earlier without the wipers working.  He'd picked my sister Dawn up at college in Ohio and she had spent a good part of the trip with her hand out the window working those stupid wipers! 

To this day, I still don't like following Larry in another vehicle.  He hates red lights and will do everything he can to beat them, gunning through the yellow ones.  With no visibility and no wipers, I was expecting to get clobbered from the side every time I went through an intersection.  When he finally pulled into the entrance of a hospital after what seemed an eternity, I was totally engulfed in sobs.  He hopped out of Lorraine's car and ran back to check on me.  And I let him have it.  He wilted and then humbly apologized before telling me that he'd come to the wrong hospital.  I looked at him in disbelief.  "This is the mental hospital," he told me.  "But we're close.  Honest."

A few minutes later we were standing by Lorraine's bed.  She'd had a gall bladder attack and assured us that we need not worry, she'd be out by the next day and would have everything ready in time.  "You'll need to go to the grocery store tonight and pick up twenty chickens for the chicken salad," she instructed and mentioned a few other items as well. "And then go to the ranch and get the big pots and pans I need." 

A couple of hours later we were standing in the checkout line with our chickens when suddenly the lights flickered and went out.  The cashier looked up apologetically as she proceeded to add up our items by hand.  I looked at Larry and wondered if this day could possibly get any weirder.

It did.  It was snowing hard as we climbed the road that leads to the Ranch entrance.  Our tires were spinning as we pulled up to the dining hall.  I was anxious to get into the kitchen, gather up whatever Lorraine needed and get out of there before the roads got any worse.  But it was too late.  The backseat and trunk now full and heavy with supplies did nothing to prevent the car from sliding into a deep snowbank two or three miles back down that treacherously slippery road.  

It was late.  And dark.  I was tired.  And cold.  There was a farmhouse not too far from where we'd ended up, and in our shoes and thin jackets we walked down the road, climbed the steps and knocked at the front door.  A few minutes later a man answered, obviously aroused out of his sleep.  Larry explained our dilemma and asked if there was anyway he could pull us out.  "We'll pay you," he assured him.  Then my future husband looked at me to see if I had any money.  I pulled my last ten-dollar bill out of my pocket and offered it to the farmer.  He took it without saying a word and went for his tractor.  I don't know how late it was when we pulled into my parents' driveway that night, but I know that we sat in front of the furnace for a long, long time before we stopped shivering.

Two days later the snow was gone and the roads were clear.  Lorraine had been released from the hospital and prepared a sumptuous meal for us and our wedding guests just like she promised.  The day  really was  perfect.   Well, almost.   Come to think of it, there was the groomsman who showed up wearing white tube socks with his tuxedo.  That was rather tacky. And I can't say that I was overly pleased to find out that the photographer had put a roll of film in backwards losing several of our wedding shots.  Okay, so maybe not quite perfect.   

It's funny how time changes our perspective.  When I think back on that October, I go to that day in Buffalo and I realize something.  That awful, terrible, very bad day has become one of my favorites in this thing called life.  I don't remember if we laughed that night as we sat in front of that furnace with chattering teeth, feet outstretched trying to get the numbness out of our toes.  Maybe not, we were simply too exhausted.   But if not then, we are laughing now.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lost and Found

Larry is notorious for losing things.  I can't begin to tell you how many times we've had to search for his checkbook.  But the thing he seems to lose the most are his keys. Last winter he had an entire new set made because he couldn't for the life of him figure out where the old set had disappeared to.   Spring arrived and with the last of the snows melted away, the glint of metal caught the attention of someone mowing the lawn.  Actually, for us, it's not such a bad idea to have two sets of keys.  We both know that eventually he'll  most likely misplace or lose one of them anyways, which,  by the way,  he did a couple of weeks ago.  "I don't know what I did with that extra set of keys," I'd hear him muttering under his breath as he'd walk through the house peering into random drawers and containers.  

So yesterday he returned from his pastors' meeting in Corning with that same furtive look in his eyes, the one I've learned to recognize quite well, glancing about and into those those places where he stows his stuff.  "So what did you lose?"  This time it was his wallet.  After coming back downstairs after checking his yesterday's pants' pockets, I began to walk him through the events of his past twenty-four hours.  He was obviously concerned, it was his wallet after all.  He was also a bit testy.  "I've already done that," he responded.  "Did you check both offices at the church?"  He answered in the affirmative.  "How about the car?"  Again, in the affirmative.  "Did you look under the seat of the car?"  He left the house and I walked upstairs to check yesterday's pants one more time. 

An exercise bicycle takes up some considerable space in our bedroom.  I used it for a time, but because I find turning wheels and going nowhere considerably boring, I've not used it in over a year.  Okay, maybe two.  But that's besides the point.  It sits on Larry's side of the bed and I haven't the heart to get rid of it because he'd have nowhere to hang his pants and shirt from that day.  His rationale is that if there's a fire or other emergency in the night, he'd like to run out of the premises looking somewhat respectable.  But I digress.  There, lying beneath the bike was the wallet. Obviously it had fallen out of his pants' pocket while hanging from the handlebar or more likely, being draped over the seat.   

I found him getting out of the van as I came around the corner.  Victoriously I held the wallet up for him to see.  He had a look of triumph on his face as well as he raised his hand revealing a full set of keys.  "I found them in one of the pockets in the car.  I remember putting them there now."   And we celebrated by having lunch. 

I'm probably being a bit hard on my husband who would have been diagnosed with ADD if there had been such a thing fifty or sixty years ago.  I can't lay claim to that same condition, but I confess, I have lost a few things myself over the years including the diamond out of my engagement ring. The first time Larry found it in a vacuum cleaner bag.  The second time, nope.  Going back a few more years, after a hurricane flooded our home, I discovered that my class ring had disappeared, most likely thrown out to the curb in a water-logged container of some kind.  I always hoped that whoever found it would track me down through my initials inscribed inside the band, but it never happened.  It was probably pawned off or melted down.  

I don't know what it is with rings, but most recently it was one that Fawn had sent me for Christmas a few years ago.  I had taken it with me to Green Bay when she gave birth to her little boy last fall, but after returning home to New York, I couldn't find it anywhere.  I searched for weeks. I also didn't have the heart to tell my daughter that I had lost it.

One day this past summer we decided to take our grandkids to Letchworth State Park, one of my favorite spots, and not quite two hours to the west of us.  I grabbed my sneakers out of the closet and a pair of socks from the drawer before I left,  figuring I might be doing some serious hiking that day.  A few minutes after arriving, I slipped off my sandals and changed into the more sturdy footwear.  As soon as I stepped out of the car I felt something small and hard at the toe of my shoe. It took but a moment to discover that it wasn't in the shoe at all but in my sock.  Yep, now I remembered.  In a hurry, I had stowed that ring in the toe of that very sock before leaving Wisconsin.  I was convinced that I had lost it for good, but suddenly when I had finally given up looking for it, there it was!   

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible deals with lost things.  There's a story about this woman that searched everywhere for a lost coin, and when she found it, she invited all her neighbors in to celebrate.  Man, could I identify.  I gave a whoop and a holler, "I found it!  I found the ring Fawn gave me!"  And I felt as if Someone was laughing and rejoicing with me in the find.  I could almost hear Him cry out, "Surprise!"  I basked in that for the rest of the day.  Still am.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Last Letter

My mom would have been ninety-one today.  I composed a letter to her last year for her ninetieth,  one I wished I'd written while she was still living.  That's because my mom was a letter person.  One of my most vivid memories is of her sitting on the living room couch in the evening after supper with her writing pad.  I would be the recipient of many of those hand-written epistles over the years.  I have hundreds of them, most of which are stored in my attic.  

When my mother knew that she could no longer fight the cancer,  she very practically set about the task of getting things in order before she died.  She met with her pastor, planned the funeral, and did what was so characteristic of her.  She wrote a letter to be read at the service. But she wasn't done yet. There were things yet to be said, and naturally some of those things could be spoken verbally.  But she was a letter writer,  and so not long before she was too weak to do anything else, she wrote letters to those of us who were closest to her.  

Her letter to me was hand-written on an ordinary piece of paper.  It was short, more like a post script than anything, as if to say that she didn't have a lot of time but wanted to tell me just one more thing.   She was proud of me, I had pleased her.  And then she ended with this.  "You are pretty."  I was both surprised and pleased.  She'd never said that to me before, I don't even remember her saying those words to me on my wedding day.  So why in her last letter to me?  I'm not sure.  But I know it made me feel really good.  My mother thought I was pretty!  

It's been more than seventeen years since she wrote that last letter.  This morning as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, applying a bit of concealer, trying as best I could to cover the age spots that have taken up residence on my face, I remembered that it was her birthday.  And my thoughts went to that last letter and what she had written.  "Oh mom," I was talking to her in my head.  "I'm fighting a losing battle here!  It's getting harder and harder to stay pretty."  

I could almost hear her say as if she were peering into that mirror, looking beyond the imperfections of the temporal.  "Oh Marcy, that was just for a moment.  Why is that important to you now when there's so much more?"

A few months before my mother left for good, I flew out of Montgomery, Alabama to spend a couple weeks with her in New York.  My Aunt Ann had arrived from North Carolina a few days earlier.   Those days were to become wonderful for all three of us.  Of course we cried.  Some. We knew why we had come.  But we also laughed.  A lot.  The best memories I have of my mother and her siblings together are of incessant talking and wonderful laughter.  So even on this occasion, with the shadow of death hovering nearby, the humor and joy found in our storytelling could not be stopped.

My mother felt well during those two weeks, as if the cancer had decided to go on leave.  So while she had the strength, there were more serious things she also wanted to say.  Her faith was paramount, so naturally she talked about what she was most looking forward to, especially seeing those of her family and friends who had gone on ahead. But she also spoke honestly of those things she was not eager to let go.  She had loved her life and she had lived each day completely.  She saw each one as a gift and rejoiced in the years that God had given her.  But more than anything, she had loved people.  Was it so wrong that she struggled with leaving, that a part of her didn't want to say goodbye? 

Cancer ravages.  I would see her one last time, just a few weeks before she would quietly step from this temporal to the permanent.  She asked me if I would help her get into the shower.  I think it was intentional that she should ask me.  Perhaps she wanted to remind me that these bodies are simply on loan, that eventually they will succumb to the inevitable and we're not to get too attached to them.

So once again as I peer into the mirror and grapple with what I see, I am reminded of what is so aptly written in Proverbs, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting."  Even if  I had lots of money at my disposal and could do what I wanted to prolong the process, the inevitable would still happen.   "Marcy,  don't strive for pretty.  Go for beautiful."  Today, on her birthday, her life still speaks to me, a reminder of  that which remains permanent, set in eternity.  For the proverb concludes, "but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."  That was my mother.  Truly beautiful.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Gift

Larry did a funeral this week for someone that we'd never met and at the last minute I decided to go along.  I'm glad I did.

The crowd was small, maybe thirty people or so had gathered there in the small chapel.   I was immediately introduced to one of the sons who in turn introduced me to his wife and two daughters.  I chatted for a moment and then asked a bit about his mother and if she had been ill for long.  "Ten years," he responded.  "She had Alzheimer's."

Alzheimer's.  My heart felt for this man and his family.  They'd not said their goodbyes just recently, they had lost her ten years ago. 

Right inside the doors of the chapel stood two easels displaying photos, a montage of this woman's life.  Some were just of her, one a black and white of a little girl in a short dress and another as a college graduate.  And family shots of course, several of them.  The son pointed out one in particular.  It was his mother just out of school,  standing with another young woman of about the same age.  "My mother decided she wanted to see the country, so she hitchhiked across the country with this college friend right after graduation."   I could still hear the pride there, sixty some years after the fact.  His mother, Lois the Brave, had trekked across the entire continental United States simply because she wanted to. 

The service was about to begin and I took my seat in one of the chairs off to the side.  After the opening prayer and scripture had been read, Larry asked if anyone had something they'd like to say.  Immediately a woman, casually dressed and sitting by herself in the back row, stood.   She introduced herself and fighting tears told her story.  Several years earlier her life was a mess and she had no place to go.  The woman being remembered that day in that little funeral chapel had taken her in, given her a place to live.  "I stayed there for the next six years,"  she continued.  "She was nothing but kind to me,  and I will always be grateful to her for what she did for me."  She could no longer hold the tears back. "I will always hold her dear in my heart." 

I was moved by the words of the grateful woman who had been so deeply impacted by the kindness of another. I looked for her after the service ended, but she was already gone.  An hour earlier I had known nothing of the lady whose funeral I was attending except that she and her husband had once owned a bicycle shop across from the church that Larry now pastored.  But the woman in the back row had given me another glimpse of who she had been, someone I would have felt privileged to have known. How difficult it must have been for the family, especially for the three sons that she raised, to see their strong, adventuress mother fading away.

But there is a bit more to this story that I was privileged to hear.  Three years before her death, seven years after the onset of the disease, this brave, kind woman wandered away from the facility where she was living, walking through an unlocked door into a frigid night.  They found her the next day, the harsh weather had taken quite a toll on her.  But ironically, during the next three days she was herself again.  She knew her family, calling each of them by name, remembered events and was aware of the happenings around her.  It was an amazing, joyful time for them all, something they hadn't anticipated.  And then suddenly she was gone, disappearing once again into that world that had been her companion for the last seven years.   "It was a gift," Larry said.  The son smiled.  "Yes. A Gift." 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dave and Jodi

Dave and Jodi Burtner at the recent wedding of their daughter
Larry and I recently traveled to Indiana to take part in a wedding.  David had come to Honduras on a mission's team more than 25 years ago and he and Larry had immediately hit it off.  He soon returned with another group and was good enough to bring his wife Jodi along with him.  Now these many years later their only daughter was getting married and we were invited to be a part of it all.

David's first trip to Honduras.  He's in the white coat. 
Ever since that first trip to Honduras, David and his family have remained proactive in staying connected with us.  They came to visit us in New York during our first year home from the mission  field, invited us to spend vacation time with them in the Poconos and after we returned permanently to the States, came from Indianapolis to Alabama to spend  many Easters with us. On Larry's fiftieth birthday they traveled the distance to help celebrate and when Fawn was married, they were there to see her walk down the aisle.  A few years later when we were living in South Carolina, they booked a place at Myrtle Beach and insisted we join them there for a few days of relaxation.   More recently while planning a trip to Niagara Falls,  they urged us to come join them there.  "We'll put you up for a couple of days at the hotel and take care of your meals," Jodi wrote.  Unfortunately we couldn't go, but I was reminded once again of the thoughtfulness and generosity of these good friends.

One Easter in Alabama

Another  Easter in front of our home in Alabama
And another one.  And yes, Jodi loves red.

So when Amanda contacted Larry and asked if he would officiate at her wedding, how could he possibly say no?  What was six hundred miles compared to the thousands that our friends have traveled to be with us over the years.

David was in his early thirties when he started his own business.  It's done real well and his family is able to live quite comfortably.  Several years ago he put a pool in his backyard and built a nice pool house alongside. Equipped with a small kitchen and bath and a place to sleep, it's perfect for guests. And it's private.  We've stayed there a couple of times and couldn't have been happier with all the amenities, including a well-stocked fridge full of cold drinks and a variety of snacks sitting on the counter.  Jodi simply thinks of everything.

David is a mission's guy.  For years he has traveled all over the world with ministry teams, working at both construction projects as well as relief work.  And that was in part why he and Jodi had decided to build the pool house, to make it available to missionaries and their families when they were in the Indianapolis area.   Many have enjoyed their hospitality over the years.

One day a rather stuffy missionary couple needing a place to stay arrived with their children to take up temporary residence.  But the accommodations were not to their satisfaction.  The pool, the large-screened television off the kitchen, the nice furniture, they considered it exorbitant.  So after a few days they packed up their stuff, gathered up their children who were having a great time, and left.  After that the missionaries stopped coming.  I'm sorry for that. 

There's a story in the Old Testament about a woman of prominence and wealth who decided to add a small furnished room on the upstairs of her home so that the Prophet Elisha would have a place to stay whenever he was in the area.  He was so appreciative of her hospitality that he asked what he could do for her.  Her response was selfless.  She needed nothing, she insisted. But a year later God revealed his pleasure by giving her the one thing she didn't dare to believe she'd ever have, a child. 

Wiring our new home in Alabama
When we had our first house built after moving to Alabama, David insisted on coming down and wiring it for us at his cost and wouldn't charge a cent for labor.  Some years later we decided to pull up the carpet and replace it with vinyl flooring.  In the middle of the living room was a floor receptacle that David had installed that had to be taken out.  When Larry removed it, he found a hand-written note underneath with the following words:  Bless all who enter this home in the mighty name of my Lord Jesus.  Thank you Jesus for all you did for me!  And all you continue to do constantly.  I love you.   Grateful.  As we are for you dear friends.  Thank you.  

Friday, June 14, 2013

Miracle at Sinai

"I lift my eyes to the hills--where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." Psalm 121:1-2  

I was cleaning out a drawer this week and came across some pictures that Larry shot during his last visit to Honduras almost 13 years ago.  He was there as a liaison for a relief organization that was building homes for those who had been devastated by Hurricane Mitch, a storm that killed thousands and uprooted entire communities in that small Central-American nation.  Most of the photos are of smiling families standing in front of their newly constructed cement-block houses, obviously grateful to have homes once again.   

There were a few other photographs, however, that especially caught my attention.  One shows the stuccoed exterior of a large building, unusually ornate considering its rural surroundings.  Larry described seeing this place for the first time as something like a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie.  The adventurer pushes his way through the jungle with the sounds of insects and monkeys screeching in his ears, reaches out to move some heavy branches aside and suddenly a huge temple looms before his eyes.  But this was no jungle.  This was a ghost town.  Once alive with children and laughter and song, there was only silence.  And though the shells of former homes still stood, it was the temple that towered conspicuously above everything else.     

I had first heard the story of this place when we were in Honduras a few months earlier. We had visited a  Christian community where several new homes were being built and a new church erected.  It was called Nuevo Sinai (New Sinai).  A community completely comprised of Christians, these were the ones who had lost everything in their original settlement, Sinai.  As the flood waters from Mitch receded, several feet of sludge covered everything making it impossible to rebuild there.   So they found land a few miles away, perhaps a bit further from the river that had turned on them.  It was there at New Sinai that I first became acquainted with them and their amazing story of survival.

Mitch began its assault against the mainland of Honduras during the last days of October in 1998.  Hurricanes wreak horrible havoc when they move quickly, they're far worse when they hardly move at all.  That's what happened with Mitch.  It sat in the Caribbean just off the coast and refused to move.  For six days it barraged that poor nation with its torrential rains and winds.  By the time it was over, an estimated  15,000 would die in that country alone, far more than any other nation impacted by the monster storm.  That's what makes the miracle at Sinai all the more amazing.

Even though several families had already left Sinai for higher ground, there were more than a thousand people who had stayed behind, never believing that they were in danger from the storm.  But Mitch would eventually dump seventy-five inches of rain on the coast, and as the waters began to rise around their homes,  the good people of Sinai realized they had no escape route.  Their only hope was to get to the hill, the highest point in their village.  It also happened to be where the tabernacle sat.  

Robert Callejas with World Hope and Miguel, one of the Elders

I wish I had been there to hear the story from Miguel, the man who told Larry the story of what happened next.  He was an Elder in the community and had seen and experienced first-hand those terrifying hours and days that would follow.   The flood waters were already pouring onto the ground floor as all the remaining people from the town swarmed inside.  Some went for the choir loft which sat above the sanctuary.  It was a large church, able to hold twenty-five hundred or so on a Sunday morning, so the loft was good-sized.  But there were hundreds more that needed to be saved.

Another picture shows the inside of that church.  The floor is crumbling.  Plants are growing up through the cracks and coming through the doors and windows,  now devoid of wood and glass.  The roof and ceiling are gone as well, only the rafters remain.   And that is where they found refuge, the only place high enough to keep them away from the flood waters swirling below.  They reached for and clung to the rafters.  

Even though it had been almost two years since they had been ravaged by Mitch,  the man still found it difficult to speak of those terrible days when the people of his beloved Sinai waited out the storm in the rafters of their church.  Many of them were able to tie themselves in place so that when they fell asleep they wouldn't fall into the muddy waters below.  There were times, however,  when individuals did slip from their perches.  But there was always a rescuer to pluck them from the waters and to help secure them back in their place once again.  

The waters would crest at eighteen feet before they slowly began to recede on the third day.  At that point, some of the men were able to retrieve a few boats and began to gather fruit off the tops of the trees. It was the first food anyone had eaten since the nightmare had begun.  I don't know how much longer the people of Sinai stayed in that house of refuge, but eventually they were able to make their way out of the rafters and to gather their families together. Not one person had been lost.  

Sinai no longer was.  The buildings that remained would never be used again.   As for the beautiful tabernacle that had brought them together as community time and again in worship, they had gathered there for the last time. 

If I should have the opportunity to return to Honduras, I'd like to visit those people again.  I'd be curious to see how much growing they've done since that monster Mitch blew in with such fury,  bent on destroying them all.  But their determination to outlive the vicious storm revealed them to be a people of strength and unshakable faith.  They knew to cling to the rafters until the storm was over.  Yes, I believe they're doing just fine.   

Sunday, June 2, 2013


We got the news last Sunday morning that Chris had died sometime in his sleep on Wednesday.   I was stunned.  I had seen him just a week before, I never thought for a moment that it might be for the last time. 

Chris had been coming to church for maybe seven or eight months.  He lived in a group home with a couple other guys that the church van picks up every week.  I'm not sure what it was that got him coming but I do remember being surprised when he actually returned for a second time.

You couldn't miss him.  He was tall, towering well over Larry's six foot three frame. But he would have stood taller yet if he'd been able to hold his head up, it just lay to the side which made him look a bit odd.  His speech was a bit slurred as well,  I'd wondered if maybe he'd had a stroke. I heard rumors of some drug problems in his past, so maybe that had something to do with it.  I wish I'd taken time to find out more about him.   

Chris wasn't at all shy, and he certainly wasn't afraid to let you know what he wanted.  The last thing he ever said to me was that we were out of coffee.  I suspect one of the reasons he came was that he liked to eat.  He never missed a men's breakfast and took full advantage of the snacks that people brought into our Sunday school class from week to week.  One time he cornered me and said he wanted doughnuts the next time he came.  I explained that I wasn't scheduled for the following week so it wasn't really up to me.  He looked very disappointed.

Chris was different.  That wasn't an issue with us, our church is pretty diverse.  But he could be overly pushy and demanding and had a way of getting under your skin.  Larry's usually pretty good  at dealing with people, but Chris had a way of pushing even his buttons.  One Saturday during a men's outing, Chris had been particularly annoying,  much like a child on a long trip who asks every five minutes if you're there yet.  Larry returned home a bit uptight.  Yep, Chris had definitely been pushing his buttons. 

Part of the problem was that Chris liked to talk, too much.  Though I never rode the van with him, I heard his vocabulary could get a bit salty and that especially irked the other guys from the group home who had invited him in the first place. Because he was so talkative,  he would ask numerous questions or make comments during Sunday School.  Early on, most of what he had to say wasn't even related to the lesson.  But as time went on, I noticed that he was starting to stay on point. The last Sunday he was with us, Larry even commended him for an observation that he made.  Maybe he was actually starting to get what this Christianity stuff is all about.   I hope so. 

Larry immediately made contact with the group home to inquire about funeral arrangements. There had been no funeral and Chris was already buried.  And when he asked about family, he was informed that Chris didn't have one.  A few days later he drove to the cemetery and found the grave site, identified only by the freshly dug dirt.  There were no flowers, no marker, no name.

Larry's planning on a small memorial service for Chris in church on a Sunday morning.  He's also going to do what he can about checking into some kind of marker for the grave.  After all, it's only right that a grave has a name telling who lies there.  It's the least one can do. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Bouquet for Jenny

The shrill voice from the other side of the curtain had come abruptly, unexpectedly.  We were visiting with our friend whose husband of sixty some years had recently been laid to rest.  "Would you shut your big mouths," the voice practically screamed.   "I'm trying to get some sleep over here!"  I looked at the clock.  It was five in the afternoon. 

I have been in nursing homes many times over the years and this was the first time I felt genuinely uncomfortable, but especially for our friend.  She is soft-spoken and gentle,  confrontation probably doesn't come naturally.  But she spoke up, addressing the voice that had come from the other side of the curtain.  "It's five in the afternoon," she retorted.  "You shouldn't be sleeping right now anyways.  Nighttime is for that." And then she added,  "And besides, this is my room too."

But the voice continued on, throwing in a few expletives as well, determined to let us know that she was not at all happy with her situation nor that her roommate had noisy visitors.  It was nearing suppertime, time for us to go.  Besides, all the enjoyment had suddenly gone out of our visit.  I saw the tiny hunched figure of the woman with her back to us as we left the room. 

Eventually, upon the insistence of her family,  our sweet friend would be moved to another room, one with a nice view out her window and a much more pleasant roomie.  But I couldn't stop thinking about the angry little woman and what had prompted the contempt that had poured out of her mouth.  Upon inquiring a bit about her, I learned that she was difficult to everyone, staff as well as residents, and that she didn't get many visitors. 

"I think we're supposed to visit Jenny next time we're over there," I told Larry. "And I think I'm supposed to take her a little something, a gift of some kind."  But how to just show up at random and give a present to someone we didn't even know without an explanation, especially one with the temperament of this particular resident,  it made me a bit nervous.  I'm not particularly fond of being on the receiving end of someone's vitriol.   
It was a couple weeks later on a Friday we decided to return.  It had been a full day, we'd run several errands in the morning and that afternoon Larry had dropped me off at the mall while he did a committal service in a nearby cemetery.   I still didn't have a gift and even after walking through the various stores I came up with nothing.  Maybe this hadn't been such a great idea after all.

Larry looked tired when he returned a couple of hours later.  "How about we not go today," I suggested.  What would another few days hurt.  I was tired too, ready to go home.  Or maybe I was just wanting to put the whole thing off just a bit longer.  He looked relieved and nodded his head.  Yes, the nursing home could wait.  

It was at that very moment the daughter of our nursing home friend suddenly appeared, calling out a greeting as she approached us.  We chatted for a moment, and then I asked about Jenny. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "I saw her today and it's her birthday!" I looked at Larry.  I didn't have to say a word.  We both knew that we had another stop to make before we headed home. This chance meeting in the mall was not by chance at all. It had been orchestrated  by the One who was reminding us that we had an appointment to keep.   
Party City sits conveniently on the other side of the highway from the mall.  It only took a few minutes to pick out something that was especially fitting for a birthday.  A short time later we were outside her door peering in at the tiny woman who had verbally blasted us only a few weeks before.  "Jenny, I don't know if you remember us," I began, "but we heard it's your birthday."  She nodded her head, "I remember you."  Then we sang to her and presented her with a bouquet of  balloons that we had brought to recognize her on the most special of days, her birthday. 

We have been back a few times since then, and we always make it a point to check in on her.  When I asked if we could pray for her one day, surprisingly she didn't hesitate.  "I forget,"  she said.  "Pray I won't forget."   I bowed my head and asked God to help her remember the things that she so desired to not forget.  I looked up as she made the sign of the cross.  Well, at least I knew she wasn't an atheist!  Before I left I leaned over and kissed her gently on the forehead.

I was there again this week, and naturally, I checked in on Jenny.  It was the day after Mother's Day, and we had brought her a rose and a small gift from the church.  She doesn't have a new roommate yet, I suspect that bed will stay empty until there is absolutely no other in the entire place.  After all, she is known to be difficult.  And unlike many of the other residents who prefer to sit in the public areas where they can be close to others, she is usually in bed.  She obviously prefers to be alone.

"Jenny," I roused her out of her sleep. "I haven't been here for awhile.  Do you know who I am?"   She looked at us from her pillow and shook her head.  "We brought you the balloons for your birthday."  She shook her head again, "I don't remember."  I wished her a Happy Mother's Day, gave her the gift and and found a vase for the flower.  Larry had by now left the room and was heading towards the lobby, but I lingered a moment longer.  "You asked me to pray for you Jenny, that you wouldn't forget things."  She didn't say anything.  "It must be scary," I continued, "to not remember."  She slowly nodded.  "I'm still praying for you,  I just want you to know that."  She looked up at me once more.  "Thank you."  Her voice was soft, nothing like the first time I had heard it.  "That's very nice of you."  I reached over and lightly touched her face before I left. 

I'll get back in a couple of weeks and check in on her again.  I don't know that she'll ever know who I am, if she'll remember me from one visit to the next.  That's not all that important.  I just know that God has laid a cranky little lady on my heart to pray for and to extend kindness to in whatever way I can.

Oh, and by the way.  On that day we took Jenny her bouquet, she said something before we left.    Her voice was soft and I just barely caught the words, "God is good to me."  And then she smiled. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Alabama Wedding

Fawn's Alabama/ Greek Wedding
It was seven years ago today that we were having an Alabama wedding.  If I had known what was involved leading up to the event I might have encouraged Larry to take that church he was offered in Montana twelve years earlier.  I guess I'd better explain.   

We moved to Prattville when Fawn was in the seventh grade and it didn't take her long at all to acclimate herself to the new culture.  Twelve years later she became engaged to an Alabama boy from an Alabama family and we couldn't have been happier. We loved the boy and we loved the family.   But I was soon to discover that this would be no ordinary wedding and that there is a certain protocol among some of the more genteel in the South land,  especially where weddings are concerned.    

Fawn doesn't know simple.  An ordinary wedding in her father's church wasn't for her.   Besides, the sanctuary wouldn't have begun to hold everyone on that guest list anyways.  Not only does Fawn not know simple, she doesn't think small.  Between the two families, invitations were going out to well over 600 people. So she had decided on an outdoor wedding and the place she had chosen was in a Greek garden over in Wetumpka,  about a half an hour or so from Prattville.  And it turned out that the only Saturday available happened to fall on Easter weekend.  That would give us only about four months to plan this thing.   This was going to be intense.

The banquet hall

I had one major concern about an outdoor wedding.  Weather.  I asked the proprietor of the place if there was someplace we could have the ceremony if by some horrible chance it actually might, you know, rain.  He led us up the steps to the balcony that overlooked the banquet room and dance floor and he pointed to a far corner.  We'd be lucky if we could get a hundred people up there.  I looked down over the balcony to the setting below with its columns and Grecian artifacts.  I had to admit it was nice.   
The musicians for the ceremony

The next several weeks became a blur.  There was the shopping for the perfect wedding dress, securing the right photographer and videographer, selecting the appropriate music for a garden wedding and finding musicians who would fit perfectly into that serene setting.  And then there was the need for a DJ and ordering the wedding cake and picking out the flowers and hiring a caterer and finalizing the menu.  Oh, and I needed to get a dress for me and the right accessories and to fit in an appointment with a particular hair dresser who was going to use a special rinse to bring out the color in my otherwise dull hair.

Fawn's Bridesmaids
Zac's Groomsmen

I think I mentioned something about protocol, especially where showers are concerned.  I had no idea that a girl could have so many different kinds in the South.  Not only was there the normal kind  of bridal shower where you get things like mixing bowls and kitchen towels,  there was also a couple's shower, a lingerie shower (which thankfully she insisted I not attend) and a Bridesmaids' luncheon.  Nine events in all.  I was whooped.  And getting grumpy.

Larry escorting me down through the 400 chairs

Larry did amazingly well through all this. Well, except for the business with the chairs. The Garden didn't provide them and he couldn't understand why we couldn't just haul some metal ones from the church. There wouldn't have been enough anyways, and besides, you need white for the ambiance and to match all those white statues hanging around without arms or legs or clothes.  We ordered four hundred of them from a place in Montgomery and I 'm sure I saw his hand shake as he wrote out the check. Fawn asked why we didn't order more as we were expecting another hundred guests.  But he stood his ground, insisting that the last people to arrive could stand at the back and watch or sit on the nice grass.  I think it still bothers him, renting all those chairs for an hour of sitting time.

The setting for the rehearsal dinner

But somehow we survived those frenzied months and the time for celebrating was about to begin.  The night before had been magical as Fawn's future mother-in-law Deborah reserved and created a fairyland in the banquet room at the top of one of the towers in Montgomery.  And as if in anticipation of the morrow's happenings, there was the most exquisite sunset overlooking us all that night.

The sunset that smiled on Montgomery that night 

The next day dawned full of promise and it did not disappoint.  Larry and I consider it one of the best of our lives, absolutely perfect.  The setting, the friends and family, the cloudless sky, the music and dancing, and above all, the radiant bride, our Fawn,  and her handsome groom Zac who vowed to love and hold each other for the rest of their days.  We would change nothing and we would do it all again.   

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A House for Nicolasa

Nicolasa and me together at the Mission House
We had only been back in La Ceiba for a few days when I heard the familiar rattle of the gate.  I peered down from the slatted window at the front of the house and immediately recognized the woman standing there.  It was Nicolasa.

We had often helped this woman when we were serving as full-time missionaries.  She wasn't from La Ceiba, she would travel in by bus from her home, wherever that might be.  It seemed uncanny that she should show up at the gate of the Mission House after all this time, these seven years later.  We were no longer living in Honduras but had taken a two-month sabbatical from our church in Alabama.  Hurricane Mitch had devastated much of the country several months earlier in October of 1998 and we had come to do what we could to help in the recovery.

We had seen many visitors at our gate during those years in Honduras.  Most I wouldn't have remembered, but this particular woman was the exception.  Though she was herself  illiterate, she had come several times to ask for help with school supplies for her children.  She would speak with pride of their accomplishments, how far they had progressed in their studies.  She was a refreshing contrast to another woman who often came to our gate needing food or money.  We knew that unlike Nicolasa's, her children were not in school;  they were in the streets begging and searching through garbage cans.  So it was never an imposition to fill a bag full of notebooks and writing utensils for this Nicolasa who,  with tears in her eyes,  would thank us profusely on behalf of her children.

And now she was back. She didn't act in the least bit surprised to see me as I approached the gate.  My Spanish wasn't the best after seven years, but I understood enough to grasp that she once again needed school supplies for her children.  How many children did she have I wanted to know.  There were four in her home, there had been six she explained.  But two had recently died.  It was in the spring, a boy and a girl.

It was probably another week and a half before she returned for the bag of supplies that we had purchased.  My Spanish was getting stronger and I asked her about the two children who had died.  They were lost in a fire she explained, a five-year-old niece and her 14-year old son.  A neighbor had been drinking heavily through the night and had set the blaze, her house just happened to be in the way.  It was Easter morning.

It would be two weeks before I'd see her again.  She was wanting to rebuild her home and asked if we might be able to help with the money to hire someone.  I told her I'd talk to Larry and asked if she could return in two or three days.  Here's what I wrote in my journal two days later:

Nicolasa came this morning   She was here two days ago asking if we could help her with the cost of getting the walls up on her house.  It turns out others have been kind to her.  Someone gave her money to buy the wood and another person bought her nails.  All she needed was money to hire the gentleman to put it together for her.  Larry asked how far it was to her home because we had discussed the possibility of doing the work for her.  It turns out that she travels an hour and fifteen minutes by bus then walks four hours into the mountains to get to her home.  I thought at first I must be misunderstanding her, but she repeated more than once that it takes four hours to walk from the bus stop to her home and that is walking rapidly.  Larry asked how she had gotten the walls to her home, and she said she used a cart to get it all up the mountain.  She told us that the man who had agreed to the work had already begun, in faith believing that she would be able to pay him.  After hearing her story, Larry told her that we would give her 300 lempiras for the labor (about $20) and another 100 to buy food for her family.  She asked if she could use 60 of those lempiras to buy some rope.

When we brought the money out to Nicolasa, she was standing with her eyes closed, hands raised, praising God.  I know that God had answered her prayers for her house to be completed and he had used us in part.  I felt humbled.  We gave her a bit more money for food and a bag of clothes for her family. 

Nicolasa thanking God for providing the means to rebuild her home

The last time I saw Nicolasa was three weeks later, just a few days before we were to fly back to the States.  The house was built, all it lacked was doors.  A friend would build them for her at no cost, but she needed the wood. Until the doors were in, she confessed, she was afraid to live in the house with her remaining children.  That day I sent her off with a bag of my clothes, some beans and rice and 200 limpiras to buy wood for the doors that would complete her little home in the mountains.  I ended my journal entry with these words:  Nicolasa does not read or write, but I can't help but admire her.  She's industrious, gets her kids to school and does what she can to survive.  
I still wonder about her sometimes.  Life in Honduras is not easy for those who are poor, so I suspect that if she is still alive, living on that mountain, the challenges have continued.  But more than anything, I hope that her children have brought her joy and not disappointment, recognizing the tremendous sacrifices she made for them. The treks up and down the trail, the long bus rides, the continual gathering of school supplies and hauling that cart full of wood for several hours up the mountain to rebuild their home, it was all for them.   All for them.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Remembering Keyoe

The Escort in its earlier days in our driveway on Hollybrooke Lane

I heard the crunch and saw the side view mirror to my left bend and break as I backed out of the garage.  I couldn't believe it.  I'd moved that little Ford Escort out of that same spot time and again and had never come close to hitting anything. I turned off the engine and went into the house to tell Larry what I'd done and that he'd better come and take a look.   He followed me outside, walked over to the driver's side and surveyed the damage.  Then in typical Larry fashion he assured me that it wasn't all that bad.  I stared at the poor dangling mirror and wondered if he really knew what he was saying.  "Well, it didn't fall off," he said consolingly.  "And besides, I almost did the same thing a few days ago." Well, almost isn't quite the same as actually doing it.  "I think we can piece it back together," he continued and then proceeded to push the broken parts together. "I think it'll be fine to get you to the store and back." I looked it over skeptically.  A few minutes later I left in the white minivan.

It's not as if the car was in pristine condition.  It's been in our family for ten years and during that time it's had a few altercations, most of which, I admit,  involved me.  The first incident was an encounter with a small tree.  That time I lost the side-view mirror on the passenger's side.  It was shortly thereafter replaced.  Another time I rear ended a truck that was pulling out of Walmart.   Pete the Pickup didn't appear to have a scratch on him, but my poor little Escort's hood was scrunched up something terrible.  That required a visit to the junkyard for a part and a new paint job.      

Not too long ago I was sitting at the traffic light waiting to turn onto Main Street when I saw it.  A car of the exact same make and color as mine was preparing to turn left off of Main onto the side street where I sat.  I watched closely as it turned in my direction and noticed the driver peering at my vehicle just as closely, our eyes locking for a moment as she passed.  I turned to get one more glimpse before the light turned green.   Her car was in much better shape than mine, everything appearing to be still intact.  She'd obviously never rear ended a tree.  After that last little incident in Alabama,  Larry had figured it was hardly worth the money to get the bumper replaced.  It was, after all, just an Escort, not exactly the most expensive car on the road. But seeing that tidy little vehicle that morning, I felt a twinge of regret. And nostalgia. 

This story actually begins eleven summers ago.  The large moving van had come once again, stopping and unloading at the house two doors down on Hollybrooke Lane.  We were accustomed to seeing the big trucks,  the place was rented out every year to the families of officers who had come to study at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery.  Unfortunately, with the new neighbors continually changing and never settling in for long, we barely got to know them.  Oh sure, there was the occasional wave and the short, casual conversations as we passed by during our evening walks, but before we knew it, another year had passed and we'd see the big May Flower parked at the curb once again.

We had seen the latest occupants coming and going a few times, a mom and dad and two young boys.  We assumed that we might get an occasional nod or hello but probably not much more than that.  But we would all soon discover that this move was going to involve much more than just a year of officers' training for the Major.  He was about to face the greatest crisis of his life, and his family's being in that house was no mistake, directed by the hand of God Himself.  

I was in the kitchen putting the final touches on dinner when Larry walked in somberly and told me that he had just come from talking with the new neighbor.  He had noticed him pacing at the end of his driveway, visibly distraught, and had walked over to see if he could help. "He just found out his wife has breast cancer.  He's not sure what to do or what this all means.  He's scared."

Those in the military are accustomed to living away from family, but there are times when that separation is felt more acutely.  This was the case for both of them, but especially for Keyoe whose family lived in Japan, so far away.  The cancer was aggressive and treatment was to begin immediately.  Dwayne's course of study would be terribly demanding as it was, and to have the responsibility of a family while his wife was undergoing the chemo and radiation was daunting. 

So we became their family.  Sometimes it meant watching the boys, other times they came for dinner.  Women from my Community Bible Study group and others from the church filled up their freezer with meals.  But most importantly, they knew someone was close by who cared for them,  and that also meant Larry being available to offer an ear to a young husband and dad who needed a friend and confidante during that time of uncertainty. 

Though Keyoe was a Christian before she moved next door, that year in Alabama was a time of growing into a deeper faith.  A friend of mine who had lived in Japan for a time just happened to have two copies of the Jesus Film in Japanese and passed one on to her.  Keyoe was quite fluent in English, but watching that movie in the language of her heart touched her profoundly.   

Keyoe's health seemed to be improving as the days drew closer for their departure.  We were not looking forward to their leaving, we had grown to love this family as if they were our own.  But we knew that in the same way God had led them to us, He was still revealing His care for them through Dwayne's next assignment.  They were being sent to Japan. 

We would eventually receive the news that Keyoe's illness had come back with a vengeance.  An emergency trip from Japan to a clinic in Hawaii did not reap the hoped results, there was nothing more that could be done.  How grateful we were that God had placed her near her mother during those last months of her valiant fight.  One morning Larry felt impressed to call Duane in Japan.  He  dialed the number.  A voice he didn't recognize picked up, it was Dwayne's brother.  He was there for Keyoe's funeral. 

So what does all of this have to do with that little Escort?  Not too long before that big moving van had once again made its way down  Hollybrooke Lane to load up his family's things, Duane gave us a call.  We were needing a second car and he said he'd like to sell us the one he had driven back and forth to the base, the little silver Escort.  It didn't have all that many miles and the price he quoted was unbelievably low. "Why, Duane?" I  remember asking. "You could get more than you're asking from us."  He simply stated, "I want you to be the ones to have it."   

Duane is remarried now.  A few Christmases back we received mail from an address we didn't recognize.  I opened it to find a picture and short note enclosed inside the card.  I shouted out loud when I realized who I was seeing.  It was Duane with not only his two boys, but with a new wife and two more children. I studied his face.  He was good.   

I think he would be pleased to know that we still have the Escort, even as battered as it might be. It's the car that we lend out to those who don't have wheels but need to get to the doctor's or pick up some groceries.  And it shows.  The interior's not the best either with all the traffic it's put up with over the years.  Recently we thought about selling it and putting the money towards a pickup, something Larry's always wanted.  But Bruce our mechanic looked a bit quizzically at him when he mentioned it.  "This is still a good car," he told him.  "It's got a good motor and there's no rust.  I'd think long and hard before you decide to sell it."  He was right.  So we'll hang onto it until it refuses to go another mile.  Besides, it has a story to tell.  One that we don't ever want to forget.                
Duane with his two boys
Our last outing with Duane and Keyoe at Peach Park in Clanton, Alabama  

Friday, February 22, 2013

The House that Coxes Built

This is the brand new house that was waiting for us.

We hadn't thought too much about where we were going to live after our first four-year term on the mission field.  We knew we'd like to find a place to stay back in the community we'd pastored in Pennsylvania before leaving for Central America.  And even though we'd been away for almost three years, we still thought of beautiful, rural Bradford County as home.  Our kids had loved it and our dearest friends were there.  But our returning to the States for a year of furlough was still over a year off.  We'd find something when the time came.  We hoped.

The Wesleyan Church in Herrickville had been Larry's first pastorate.  He was fresh out of seminary,  full of passion and seemingly limitless energy.  Therefore, it wasn't at all surprising that before long that little country church started filling up with young couples and their families.  There was one  guy in particular who stood out with his red hair and amiable personality.  He had shown up with his wife and two kids one Sunday morning in July and didn't waste any time in giving Larry a call and inviting us over for a visit.  I guess they liked us enough because they started coming regularly and soon became members.  They also became two of our closest friends.

Nioma and Dennis directed the children's ministry in those early years.
Here they are with their own two kids and a few extra. 
I don't remember if it was written in a letter or if the news came through a phone call. It was from these same friends, the Coxes, informing us that there was no need to look for a place to live when we returned stateside for that year.  They would have a place ready for us, a brand new house.  And they were going to build it.
Nioma and Dennis with Autumn a year before they started on the house

A couple of  weeks ago Larry and I were in Bradford County.  We ended the day by having supper with Nioma and Dennis in their home, an old farm house that they had renovated and moved into some years back.  We sat at one end of a very long table that runs the entire length of a very long room where hospitality is practiced freely and often.  But it was getting dark and we had a bit of a drive, so Larry looked at me and said, "What do you say?"  I'm not sure where that expression comes from or why he uses it,  but that's the cue to start gathering our things and say our goodbyes.  

Nioma handed me a disc as Dennis was packing up a bag of venison to send home with us. She'd  been busy transferring their old videos over onto DVD and had decided to make two copies of this particular tape, one for them and one for us.  It was labeled, Building Marcy's and Larry's House.  "The quality's not the best," she warned me. "But I thought you might like to have a copy."

Dennis and Nioma in Honduras

Dennis with our neighborhood children in Honduras

A couple of nights later I carefully set it into the tray of our DVD player and then sat back to watch a story that had been written for us exactly twenty-five years ago.  It begins in the spring of one year and ends in the summer of the next.  During the course of two hours, what starts out as a bit of cleared land grows into a lovely two-story structure, a home.  And with each scene, from the slab being poured, the walls being raised, the roof being built, electricity being run and sheet rock going up, individuals come and go.  Some are strangers, but most are not, people who were a part of our lives back then, all contributing in some way to the house that was being built for us.

No matter where we've lived, Nioma and Dennis have been there.
This was taken in 1999 during our "Alabama" years.

The last fifteen or twenty minutes are especially poignant.  Larry's dad had traveled over from Western New York to spend a few days on the house that would soon be home to his oldest son and family and Nioma films him several times working on the interior.  A few weeks later my father is there in one of his favorite caps and familiar suspenders hauling a large roll of carpet up the stairs.  My mother's voice suddenly comes from the bottom of the steps and for a few short seconds  the camera catches her before she goes out the door.  I found myself wishing she had stayed a bit longer. 

The last scene of the story is my favorite part of all.  The house is finished,  waiting and ready for the travel-weary family that is on its way to take up residence there.  Nioma is by herself.  The place seems oddly quiet after the months of  hammers and saws and voices calling out to each other. She begins to move from room to room, now filled with furniture,  and tells the story of where each piece came from.  The beds, dressers and tables, couches and chairs, pictures on the walls and even the nicknacks on the shelves, all provided by our families and close friends who have been anticipating our coming back home for a time.  And then hearing the sound of a car, she moves with her camera to the large sliding glass doors overlooking the balcony just in time to see a station wagon slowly making its way up the dirt road towards the house.  In anticipation she moves back to the stairway and waits.  Moments later the sound of the door opening below can be heard and she calls out a welcome as the heads of children suddenly appear at the top of the steps, eyes wide, curious, anxious to take it all in.  And then the tape runs out.

Dennis and Nioma with Autumn, Fawn and me before we returned to Honduras
I sat there for awhile afterwards thinking about what had gone into making that house.  I must have known back then all that had taken place to have it ready for us.  But as time goes by,  there's a tendency to get caught up in the happenings of now and to forget what has come before.  I hadn't remembered to what extent our friends had worked and sacrificed to have a home ready for us.  An old video tape from a quarter century ago reminded me of that, and I feel humbled and grateful and blessed all over again at the gift. 
After our return to Central America, Nioma and Dennis sold their old place and moved into our house.  That was fine, we were no longer there to enjoy it.  A few years later they bought and remodeled that old farm house I mentioned earlier and that's where they've been ever since.  But things are soon to change.  Dennis will be retiring in a few months and there's talk of selling this last place and  spending more time with their kids out of state.  But more than anything, they're anticipating the adventures that God still has ahead for them.  They've always enjoyed that, living a good adventure.  And besides that, the bigger the challenge, the better.  I suppose that's why they built us that house. 

This was taken a few years ago at Fawn's wedding.
It's hard to imagine greater friends than these, the best gift of all!