Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Gift for Jenny

Jenny was the last of our visits on the Friday before Christmas.  Some of the ladies from the church had prepared baskets for the shut ins and Larry and I had volunteered to drop some off at the nursing home for three of our former members. We didn't have a lot of time so we spent just a few minutes with each of the ladies, long enough to wish them a Merry Christmas and to say a prayer.  Jenny has no connections to our church, but there is never a time that we don't stop, speak to her for a few moments and then pray for her.   We first became somewhat acquainted with her when she was rooming with one of our ladies.  She was difficult and cantankerous back then and probably lonely. So we adopted her, kind of, and always make a point of stopping in, even if just for a moment.  

With the three baskets delivered we made a hasty entrance into Jenny's room.  This would be short.   She was alone, no roommate in sight.  She sat in her wheelchair looking straight ahead and seemed to be having a conversation with someone, herself perhaps.  Larry spoke first.  "Hello Jenny, we came to wish you a Merry Christmas."  She looked up at us as if surprised, not quite registering who we were. I never know if she recognizes us from one visit to the next.  I suspect not.  After the greeting Larry asked if we could pray for her.  I had taken her hand, and holding it gently began to rub it softly.  At the close she made the sign of the cross.  She had told me once that she had been Methodist but I wasn't so sure.   "I felt so peaceful when you prayed for me," she said softly.  Perhaps these visits did mean something to her.

"I wish we'd brought something for Jenny."  I'd felt something while holding her hand and was having trouble holding back the tears.  Larry started up the car.  "We can pick her up something and come back," he said.  I shook my head.  "No, we don't have time."   But as we started back down the highway I still saw that neat little room, completely devoid of Christmas.  A small plaza not too far from the nursing home has a Rite-Aid drug store with a couple of gift aisles and I knew what we needed to do.  Fifteen minutes later we were on our way back to the nursing home.  Time no longer seemed all that important.  

I don't know if she remembered that we had been there not even a half an hour earlier but that wasn't important.  I loosed the cream-colored fleece throw from its packaging.  We had searched the aisles for what we thought would be the perfect gift for her.  The moment I felt the plush softness of the blanket I knew.  This was Jenny's.

She watched me open then spread out the present we had brought her.  "Do you think you could fold it back up for me?" she asked.  I nodded but insisted that first she needed to let me lay it close so she could feel its softness.  I covered her with the throw and she began to run her hands through its folds as Larry opened the card and read to her.  It was time for us to go.  I asked her if she'd like me to fold it for her and lay it on the bed.  "Do you think you could leave it here on my lap for now?"   I tucked it in a bit deeper, glad that we had returned and silently praying that it would bring her a sense of comfort in the loneliness of that room.  

Larry reading Jenny her card as she holds her gift 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Jossy's Christmas Gift

Chuck is a busy guy living in upstate New York with a full-time job and running his own business on the side.  We knew him as a big, strapping teenager when he came to Honduras with a work team but had lost track of him a long time back.  Somehow his name came up in a recent conversation with Larry and on a whim I went to my facebook page and typed his name into the search bracket.  Voila, there he was!  Within minutes after sending him a friend request I heard back in the affirmative.  We had reconnected.  

Scrolling down through the comments a few days ago my eyes stopped at a Chuck post.  Seems that on top of everything else he's been playing Santa over the past few weeks.  Here's a bit of what he wrote:  "I've heard many different requests from kids for different things like Nerf guns, Barbie doll houses, puppies and Hatchimals (whatever they are.) But last night I met a little girl named Jossy. She ran right up and hugged me.  As she climbed up on my lap I asked what she wanted for Christmas.  She leaned in and whispered in my ear,  'Santa, I don't want any toys, I just want friends.'  This completely caught me off guard.  You see, Josie has Down's Syndrome."  Chuck went on to say how deeply moved he was by the little girl's request and whispered back to her that he would always be her friend.  Hugging his neck and with tears in her eyes, she assured him that she would be the same for him.

If I'd passed Jossy in the corridor of a mall holding onto the hand of her father, perhaps I might have noticed the markings of Down's upon her face, but I would never have suspected what longings lay deep within her heart.  She is a believer, however, and trusts this large man in a red suit and big black boots with her one desire.  So she opens her heart and asks for it.  "Santa, I just want friends."

Jossy's story doesn't end on the lap of Santa Clause.  Dozens read and then shared the account with others.  One who read is not only a friend of Chuck's but knows this child's family as well. She sent the post on to them and upon reading and seeing the touching and affirmative responses of so many, Jossy's dad wrote, "My wife and I are overwhelmed.  We have had a tough couple of months and your encouragement and prayers are what we desperately need.  Thank you!"  

And so it continues.  Many have inquired about sending a note or card to this beautiful little girl,  and her family has graciously shared their address.  If you'd like to be a part of this special story, here it is:

Jocelyn Vinette
950 Altamont Blvd.
Apartment 13
Altamont, NY 12009
The 4 J's (Joe, Jennifer, Joselyn &Jayden).

And while you're at it, maybe think about including a card or note to the rest of the family.  They've obviously had some challenges and encouragement is one of the most beautiful gifts we can give each other. After all, it's Christmas, the time when we were given the ultimate gift from God Himself in the person of a Child.  What better way to honor the season than to love a child and her family in this small yet tangible way.  Chuck ends his story something like this: "Take a little time to love on people. Besides, you just don't know what kind of impact it might have on you."  It obviously did on him.   He found that out the night a little girl named Jossy whispered into his ear.

Santa Chuck with Jossy and her little brother Jayden

Friday, November 4, 2016

Watching the Cubs (A Thank You)

Those first few months in Costa Rica were especially lonely for me.  It was 1985 and we had moved to San Jose with our three young children for a year of language school. I had looked forward to this year with excitement, but I hadn't anticipated the homesickness.  That was something I hadn't known since my first year of college when I'd moved 900 miles from home.  I remember crying into my pillow at night while missing my parents and siblings back in New York.  But I was a grown-up now and had Larry and the kids, and even though I no longer cried into my pillow, I felt a sadness and longing for the things I'd left behind.  I missed my family and my church and the things most familiar to me. And in the midst of long vocabulary lists and Spanish conjugations, struggling to be understood in a new culture, I missed my language. I missed my English.

Larry didn't see the need for it much, but when one of the students at the language school posted that they had a small black and white television for sale, I asked Larry if we could buy it.  I had it in the back of my mind that if I listened to it enough it might help improve my Spanish.  We set it up in the living room, raised the antenna and plugged it in.   I don't remember how many stations there were,  just a few I think.  But as I turned the nob for the first time,  I was startled to hear the voice of an American announcer coming out of that square box.  I peered at the screen and there in the corner I saw the letters WGN.  I'd never heard of it, had no idea where it was coming from.  All I knew was that we had an English station and I felt like I'd received a gift from Heaven.

We never were able to find out who was responsible for giving us this one lone American station, but it became my lifeline to home.  Well, home as in Chicago, but that was certainly close enough.  Since my intent for buying the TV set in the first place had been to improve my language skills,  I'd sometimes watch the soaps coming out of Mexico in the evening.  But in the afternoon after my studies were over I'd often turn the dial to WGN and would watch the Chicago Cubs.

That year turned out to be one of the best of my life, an adventure beyond anything I could have ever imagined for me and my family. The day that signal first came into our Costa Rican living room connected me to those things that had felt so far away.  Everything seemed much closer after that.         

I hadn't watched a World Series all the way through in probably over 25 years.  Until now.  When I knew that Chicago was playing for the Title, I knew I couldn't miss it.  I watched all seven games and stayed up into the morning hours to celebrate with the team via my large flat-screen televised in living color, quite a change from thirty years ago.  I needed to do it, wanted to do it.  I guess it was just my way of saying thank you.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Scrapbook (Mom's America)

My mom loved this country.  If she heard the National Anthem played, it didn't matter where she was, she'd stand to her feet and lay her hand to her heart.  She was a huge baseball fan, and when the Star-Spangled Banner came over the airwaves, I remember her at times standing at attention in our living room, waiting out the duration of the song. Sometimes her chin would quiver just a bit, especially on the part where the music goes up an octave and talks about the flag still being there. There's no doubt about it, she loved this land.

I can't help but wonder how she would be handling the behavior of some of our professional athletes, refusing to stand at the playing of the National Anthem or the antics taking place on the eve of the next big election.  She wouldn't be pleased and would most likely pen a letter to the editor of her local paper, something she'd done on other occasions when she had something to say.  But mostly I think she would cry, grieving for a Nation that she would no longer recognize.

Recently I was rummaging through a box of old photos and came across a simple scrapbook that my mother had put together a very long time ago. On the front cover there is a picture of the flag with the caption America the Beautiful followed by several pages of pictures taken from magazines. Beneath each are the stanzas of the hymn, written out in her own hand. The rest of the scrapbook is filled mostly with newspaper and magazine clippings of mountains and rivers and farmland and tree-lined roads.  This was her America.   

A page from mom's scrapbook

Today a portion of our society believes that they've been dealt a bad hand so they feel justified in expressing their disapproval in whatsoever way they choose. Now the divide between us is greater than ever, and the result has been a blow to the gut of our nation, putting us on our knees gasping for breath.  The idea of American exceptionalism is deemed to be offensive, and pride of country is being replaced with shame for supposedly exploiting nations and mistreating those within our own borders. Not exactly my mom's America.

My parents were not idealists.  They understood life's realities. My mother knew poverty when her father became crippled and could no longer support his family.  She grieved when her younger sister suddenly died and watched her mother sink into a life-long depression as a result of it. My father fought in the War in Europe and lived with chronic pain because of a serious injury. But they were proud of their American heritage and raised their five children to appreciate a nation that offered each of us opportunities like no other place on earth.  

A few months before my mother died I flew to New York to spend a couple of weeks with her.  One thing she said to me still stands out.  A woman of deep faith, she had accepted the inevitable and had no fear at what was ahead.  She also talked about how much she had loved this life, her family and friends and the simple pleasures that brought her enjoyment every single day.  Then at the end she paused for a moment, almost as if embarrassed to say it.  "But I'm having trouble letting go."  That was my mother, full of gratitude for the life God had given her.  And grateful to the nation that had offered her so much.        

Another page of "America the Beautiful"  

Monday, June 27, 2016


It was in the spring when Moshi found Joel.  He was just a bitty thing, a tiny bundle of gray and white who suddenly flew out from under a bush as Joel was mowing one evening. Nobody came around looking for a run-a-way kitten so my son claimed him as his own and gave him the name of Moshi.

It didn't take anytime at all to discover that the little guy had no intention of staying behind closed doors.   No matter where he was in the house, he had the uncanny ability to get to an open door before it closed shut. Those first several weeks we were either looking for him, chasing him around the yard or crawling under the shrubs trying to get to him.  He was the most determined cat I've ever encountered.  Nothing could stop him, he'd even worked his way out of one of our screen doors. So Joel figured he'd just lower the glass and raise the screen.  That didn't work either, he just climbed all the higher.

We have a nice walking track close to the parsonage, and Larry and I often take Rudy the dog for a couple laps in the evening. The first time I saw Moshi trailing along I panicked, concerned he'd not find his way back home.  But he always did.  One evening we had just left the park when a neighbor noticed him following close behind.  He asked if he was ours.  Kinda, I said,  and explained he belonged to our son.  He went on to tell us that he didn't care much for cats, but Moshi had been over there visiting on a few occasions.  "I really like this one," he confessed.

One evening Rudy and I were taking a walk down Charles Street.  He was especially excited, yanking at his leash, pulling me along at a pretty fast pace.  Just a few houses up from the parsonage a woman suddenly came bounding out her front door laughing.  "I'm sorry," she said, "but I have to say that seeing that little dog pulling you along and that little cat trailing behind you has to be one of the funniest things I've ever seen!"  I turned and sure enough, there was Moshi following at the rear.  Still laughing, my very amused neighbor headed back though the door as I made a grab for the cat.  But Speedy Gonzales wasn't about to let this outing end and he immediately flew out of reach. With a sigh, I turned Rudy around and we walked the short distance back home, Moshi not far behind. Following in a park is one thing, on a road at dusk is another.  

Some choose to live fast and furious.  That was Moshi, he had the DNA of a traveler, an adventurer. I always figured that as soon as he could crawl his way out of that birth box, away from his mama and siblings, that's what he did. Oh sure, he ended up living with us for a time and quite contentedly. He was small, but the motor-like purr that came out of him would fill an entire room.  He ate our food, curled up on our couch each evening, and crawled into one of our beds at night.  But when the sun was up, so was he.  There was no holding him in, he was ready to explore, to experience whatever and whoever he should encounter that day.  

Moshi was with us less than a year.  The very thing I feared is what took his life, the street.  Larry buried him in the back yard of the parsonage, right along the fence and placed a plastic bucket full of artificial flowers marking the spot.  That was a year and a half ago and the arrangement is still there. Larry asked me a few months back if I wanted it removed.  I told him to leave it.  There are some things worth remembering.  Moshi is one of them.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Valentine for Frances

Several adults with special needs attend our church.  Tim is one of my favorites.  After you read his story, I think you'll see why.

Tim rides the church van on Sundays.   Physically he's a man, mentally he's a child.  Frances, not without her own challenges, often rides the van as well.  "Frances isn't here today," he told me one day last February, looking disappointed.  He'd been noticeably watching for her from his usual place in the front pew, his head turned, eyeing the back doors that lead into the sanctuary.  "Maybe she and her mom are just running late," I said hopefully.        

I hadn't realized how much Tim liked Frances until the previous Sunday, the day after Valentine's Day.  He held up a small Walmart bag as I walked into the Sunday School classroom that morning, eager to show me what was inside.  It was a homemade valentine made out of a paper doily.  "It's for Frances," he told me proudly.  But Frances didn't come that morning.  She'd had her tonsils out that week and was recuperating.  And now a week later he was once again watching for her, eagerly hoping, still clutching onto that same Walmart bag.  But she didn't come that morning either.  I approached him after the service. "Why don't you let me take the valentine and I'll get word to her mom that I have it. Maybe she can pick it up for Frances."    

I peered into the Walmart bag after Tim left and couldn't help notice how rumpled the doily was by now.  That extra week in its confines had been hard on it.   But I sent word to Mom that I had a special delivery for her daughter and would she mind stopping by for it when able. Within hours Tim's homemade valentine was in the hands of dear, sweet Frances, still not feeling the best after her recent tonsillectomy.

Frances returned the following week.  "Did you get your valentine?" I asked. She nodded shyly with a touch of pink blushing her cheeks.  She obviously wasn't quite sure what to do with the attention. Tim sat close by smiling.  Frances was back and she had acknowledged his gift, his valentine.  It was but a simple homemade heart.  Much like coloring pages mounted by magnets on refrigerator doors, Tim had created out of childlike innocence something special for Frances, the girl that he thinks about and looks for when he comes to church each Sunday morning. And his heart was full.  

One particular Sunday as I was sitting at the keyboard leading worship, my eyes fixed on Tim, sitting there in that very same front pew.  As the song was concluding, he raised his head, closed his eyes and put both hands to his heart.   In simplicity, in childlike abandon, giving all he had, his heart to his Creator. The one who made him.  Exactly as he is.   And my heart was full.   

Friday, January 15, 2016

Thank You for Asking

The Macy's store located in our mall up at Big Flats is closing. That's big news here.  In fact it's so big that it was Breaking News the other day on our morning broadcast which irked my friend Mary considerably.  I can't remember her exact words, but it amounted to something like, "I can't believe with everything going on in this world, the closing of a store is breaking news!"   I tend to agree with her. Some things in the realm of information and news should definitely receive that distinction, but at times I scratch my head and wonder how other things make the cut.  Who decides what qualifies certain information to be deemed Breaking News anyways?

So back to Macy's.  I discovered the store a couple of years ago.  Well actually, it had been there all along, but I discovered its clearance racks a couple years back and was kicking myself for not walking through the doors earlier.  So when I heard the news that liquidation was starting this week, I headed for the mall.  A footnote here.  I rarely buy anything at full price.  I understand the principle of markup and know that overpriced items will eventually come down.  So I watch. And wait. And when the prices are slashed at no less than half with an extra twenty or thirty percent off, I hit the racks.  And that's what I did on Tuesday of this past week.

Tuesdays are relatively dead at the mall and the Macy's store was no exception, liquidation or not. There were shoppers and a few clerks attending them, but it already felt as if the life had gone out of the store. A couple of girls in cosmetics were chatting back and forth, and a few of the shoppers were conversing over pieces of clothing.  But it felt eerily quiet, a hush seemed to have settled over the place.  I carried a blouse to one of the scanners to check on the price. It was gone, already pulled off the wall.  Someone was certainly in a hurry to get this place closed up. And then it occurred to me. There was no music coming from the speakers.  Even that had stopped.

I was looking through some blouses on a long rack when I noticed a middle-aged woman wearing a name tag hanging a few items on the other end.  "Is this hard for you?" I asked her.  She looked up and after a moment nodded her head.  "Yes it is," she responded quietly.  And as she started to walk away she turned back towards me.  "Thank you for asking." 

I still think Mary was right.  In reflecting upon the horrific events taking place in our world, the closing of a store seems pretty small.  But to someone out there, it's anything but small.  I know nothing else about that clerk, how long she'd been working there or how much she relied on that paycheck coming in.  But I do know one very important thing.  She appreciated my caring enough to ask.