Thursday, December 18, 2014

Finding Christmas at the Dollar Store

She was sitting on the floor, her head resting on her knees, her face hidden.  I had just entered the store but not before noticing the small bus with a specific logo parked out front.  There are several agencies  in our area that work with adults with special needs and one of them was obviously on an outing to our local Dollar Tree.  It didn't take much to figure that this young woman hunched down within a foot of the checkout had to be from this same group.   Sitting quietly beside her was another woman.  I assumed she was her attendant.     

For the next few minutes I gathered up my items and then hurried back to the front of the store and the checkout line.  I was feeling a bit frazzled with so much to do.  The women's group from our church would be at my house for dinner the next night and I wasn't near ready. I had also promised to do the devotional and hadn't had an extra moment to think about what I was going to say.  

The girl hadn't budged.  There she continued to sit, her posture unchanged with her face still hidden. And beside her, unmoved, sat the other woman.  Quietly.  Patiently.  Even with customers coming and going, milling around and forming a line within inches of them both, she appeared unperturbed at the behavior of her charge.  She showed no frustration or anger. She simply sat there, close by. Just waiting.

The next afternoon as I finished up with the preparations for dinner that night, I thought of the devotional that I had yet to get ready.  I grabbed a treasury of Christmas stories off the book shelf and scanned the table of contents and then randomly opened to one of them.  Written in the 1940s,  it was the true account of a pastor who was feverishly finishing up his Christmas sermon when he had an interruption, one of many.  The church had a home for emotionally disturbed children, and one of the young boys had crawled under his bed, refusing to come out.   Frustrated and at his wit's end,  the minister did everything he possibly could to try to convince the child to come out from under the bed. There was no response.  Finally, he got down on his stomach and slid under the bed and with his face to the floor simply waited.  A few minutes later he felt a hand slide into his.  

The writer ended his story by saying that the pressure he had felt was no longer there.  He had his Christmas sermon. Though God had revealed Himself first through His creation and later through the prophets and the Law, it wasn't until He actually came to live with us that we were willing to reach out and take hold of His hand.

I thought of that broken woman at the dollar store and the person who sat patiently waiting beside her on that dirty floor.  As the pastor had his sermon, I had my devotional.  It was lived out for me in the dollar store that day, a reminder that Jesus came for each of us, as broken as we are. And He waits. Close by.   Ready to take our hand.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Angel With A Pickup

The noise started about 10 or 15 minutes into my trip.  I was traveling a back road heading home after a day-long meeting when I heard it.  Something wasn't right.  I pulled off to the side and groped for my cell phone.  Larry answered on the second or third ring.  "Something's not right with the van. It's shaking and making a horrible racket and I think the engine might be overheated."  I was pretty sure that was steam rising from the hood.   He had tried to get me to take our new car for the day, but I'd insisted on driving the vehicle that was pushing two-hundred-thousand miles and becoming more and more temperamental.  "I'll be fine," I'd told him that morning as I'd headed out.   "Where are you?" he asked.  I knew there was a church just a mile or so further down the road.  "See if you can get that far," he encouraged me.

I sat there for a minute or so longer.  Then breathing a prayer, I turned the key.  I knew as soon as I hit the pavement things were worse.  The van was shaking almost uncontrollably, but I pressed on a bit further until I saw a couple of houses to my right.  I stopped and pulled over as far as I could onto the grass, climbed out and walked around the perimeter of the car.  The front tire on the passenger side was flat, the rim completely exposed. Three kids were playing in the front yard and stopped to watch as a young man came flying across the yard from the next place over.  He took a good look at the damage.  "Looks like you could use some help.  I'll be right back."

I called Larry again.  This time he answered on the first ring.  "I've got a flat and I don't even know where the tire or the jack are in this thing!" But I needn't have worried, for at that very moment my rescuer was back,  driving a small tractor with the largest jack I'd ever seen sitting in its dump bucket. In a matter of just a few minutes, he had the car up, the culprit off and the donut on. "Just don't go over fifty going home," he said, "and you'll be fine."  

Turns out his name is Cory.  He lives with his dogs and races demolition derby.  He'd hit a deer a couple days earlier in his pickup and was out in his front yard working on it when I just happened to pull over in front of his place.  "I could hear you coming, " he told me.  "I knew you had a flat." He was a lot smarter than me.  If I'd known I'd had a flat, I wouldn't have budged from where I'd pulled over the first time.  But the One who watches over me had it all worked out ahead of time.  He had someone in place who is really into cars,  ready to help and to send me on my way.  He was my angel that day and I told him so.  He just shrugged as if it was no big deal.  But it was.  It truly was.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Safe Place

It was a Sunday evening and the last person had just pulled out of the parking lot of the church.  There was a viewing at Ridout's Funeral Home that several were attending, including Larry.  I said I'd join him there shortly, I just had a few things I needed to take care of first. 

I saw the vehicle as I was about to lock up the front doors, a late model SUV.  A young woman, I'd say in her late twenties, climbed out of the driver's seat as soon as she saw me.  I wondered if she was lost, maybe needing directions.  It was already dusk, it would be dark soon.  "Can I help you?"  I asked.  I don't remember her exact words, but in broken English she told me she had seen the church and that there were lights. She proceeded to open the back door exposing a car seat with a little boy of preschool age safely secured in place.  She released the buckle and grabbed the child up her arms.  She turned back to me.  "Please.  I need help!"

For the next couple of hours I sat with her in the church nursery while her little boy played.  Hispanic, she was married and living in another Alabama town an hour or more from where we sat.  Her husband, an American, had become increasingly abusive, to the point where she was afraid for her life.  She spoke of the drinking and the guns with which he threatened her. She asked if I knew of a place where she would be safe until she could return to her family in Mexico.

Of all the churches in our city, and there are many, she just happened to pick ours.   My choosing to linger a bit longer, some might label that a mere coincidence I suppose.  But that I was also able to listen and speak peace and assurance in her own language, I've no doubt that was orchestrated by the Someone who led her there in the first place.  And that a couple of our members had just recently become involved in the ministry of a safe house in our county, a place of protection  for abused women and their children, that was not mere chance. She was placed there that very night. 

I never saw her again.  I don't know where she is or what might have happened to her.  I only hope and pray that she recognized whose hand it was that led her to our doors on that Sunday evening.  I hope she knows the One who led her to safety.     

Monday, March 10, 2014

Rockwell Hands

I was visiting a friend in the dining area of a local nursing home when I turned to the elderly woman sitting quietly to my left and commented on her lovely hands.  She was sporting a fresh manicure that had immediately drawn my attention to her long, elegant fingers. She smiled, obviously pleased.  My friend introduced me and then continued,  "She's related to Norman Rockwell."   I looked at my table companion.  "You're related to the Norman Rockwell?"  She nodded.  "He and my father were first cousins, their fathers were brothers.  They were very close, so he spent a lot of time at our home." I could hear the pride in her voice as she continued on and spoke of the cousin whose artwork had graced the covers of The Saturday Evening Post for four decades, the magazine that sat on my parents' coffee table when I was growing up.  We chatted for a few more minutes and then as I stood to leave she leaned forward, her eyes twinkling, eager to add one more thing.  "My only regret in getting married was that I had to change my name.  I liked being a Rockwell."

I could relate.  Though my name didn't carry near the recognition that hers did,  I liked it.  My father might not have been a world-renowned painter, but as a first-class meat cutter, he could wield a butcher knife with finesse and precision.  That was his craft and he practiced it well.  My mother was never able to attend college, but she exuded intelligence.  She was naturally curious so she was well-read and stayed informed about many things, most things.   Add to that her ability to articulate and it is no wonder that people knew who she was.  Yes,  I was proud of where I'd come from and the name I carried.  The day came, however, when I changed it.  I had fallen in love with a tall, dark-haired preacher boy who asked me if I'd like to change mine to his and I accepted the offer.  But even now, even though I've become quite accustomed to it, I never completely feel that it's my own.   

Before I left the nursing home that day, my friend Marianne told me that the woman I had met that afternoon  was also an artist.  I don't suppose I should have been surprised.  It was her exquisite hands that had prompted me to strike up a conversation with her in the first place.  It didn't matter what name she might go by.  Her hands said it all.  She would always be a Rockwell. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Singing Harmony

It's been awhile since I last flew to New York to see my doctor, one of the best throat specialists in the world.  Several years ago he got the idea that by injecting Botox into the muscles controlling the vocal cords,  it might give some relief from the spasms that come with Spasmodic Dysphonia, a condition that robs a person of their ability to speak without great effort.  It worked, and many of us who struggle with this condition have benefited greatly from the procedure, administered in my case by the pioneer doctor himself.  

But it's only a temporary fix of course.  Botox loses its potency generally between three and four months.  That's why I'm a bit boggled.  I haven't been to Manhattan for over a year, actually fifteen months and  twelve days.  But who's counting?  I keep thinking I might wake up some morning and find a word or two stuck in the back of my throat that just won't break loose.  But that hasn't happened.  Not yet.  I'm not quite to the point where I'm completely confident that the spasms won't return.  I've been there before, hoping that my voice was no longer broken, and then have had to deal with the disappointment.  But I am becoming more confident in the hope.           

This whole voice thing has been quite a journey for me.  The inability to speak was frustrating and embarrassing, but singing was what I had loved most of all.  So many of the happy, fulfilling moments of my life have been spent singing at the piano, often by myself, sometimes with others.  And suddenly it was gone.  For four years I could hardly sing a note.

Time helped as it often does.  I had came to terms with the loss which early on had been so devastating and  felt I was moving on.  Fawn had pushed me to do more writing as a way to express what I had done through music before.  And I was.  This blog came out of that time of searching in fact.  And then suddenly without warning it was back!  I opened my mouth one day and actual notes came pouring out.  It was as if a friend I'd not seen in a long time had peeked out from behind a door and hollered, "Surprise!" No anticipation on my part, totally unexpected.  At first I was not quite believing, stunned at how easily it came.  And then I simply sang.  For hours. 

The gift, however, wasn't exactly what I had before.  The Giver made it pretty clear from the start that I wouldn't be singing lead.  In my prior life I had done a lot of that.  Leading.  Performing.   But I could no longer get into the upper range, only the lower notes came easily.  It was as if He was saying, "Here you are.  Sing to your heart's content.  But someone else can have the lead while you do the harmony."   And so that's what I've been doing ever since.  Singing harmony.

Something hit my throat  a week and a half ago, just a few days before the weekend.  By Saturday I had a  touch of laryngitis, the first in a very long time.  I was pretty sure there'd be nothing coming out of my microphone the next day.  Sunday morning as I warmed up the worship team, I took a stab at the first hymn.  There it was, deep and amazingly strong.  The harmony.