Saturday, October 27, 2012

Japanese Maples and Me

                                      Japanese Lacy-Leaf Maple

I just read an encouraging article.  No, not in my favorite devotional book; but rather in my weekly gardening section of the newspaper.  It was all about those wonderfully colorful, dainty little trees known as Japanese maples.

They do not, as rule, grow very tall.  Neither am I.

They do not do well in full sun all day.  Neither do I.

(As it happens, we both sunburn rather easily.)

They have been cultivated for over five centuries, and thus they have an ancient heritage.

The Ancient of Days knew me "before I was formed" in my mother's womb.

Japanese maples tolerate drought well.  I have been in a spiritual drought for awhile now, and although I cannot say I am "tolerating it well" I am aware of it, and want to stay the course as best I am able.

If they are watered properly, they will put down deep roots in just a couple of seasons.  Otherwise, they can become off kilter in strong winds.

Just so.  I put down some pretty deep spiritual roots a few decades ago, and even so, God's grace is all that has kept me from being seriously "off-kilter" over the past year or two.

And Japanese maples are well-known as "corner bright spots" in gardens.  The sunlight brings out all kinds of hues and variations in their leaf color.  Cold produces red and orange, mild weather produces more yellow and pale green.

I truly hope to be a "bright spot" in my little corner of God's garden.

Japanese maples are frequently transplanted, and placed to greater advantage in a new spot.

I, too, have been a frequent transplant to a new place. While I had not moved in over twenty years, prior to our move here last year, in the twenty five years before that, we moved over twenty times.  It took a toll.

I am hoping that last year's "transplant" was, in fact, the last one prior to "moving on up."  But God knows best.

I planted a lovely little Japanese maple in a shady corner of my front yard a couple of weeks ago.  So far, it has been a delight to look at out my dining room window.

Hope someone can say I have become a good addition in the community garden in which I now reside.  In any case, it struck me that Japanese maples and I have a lot in common.
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Hope you are brightening the spot wherever you are this evening.  Until next time ...Marsha

Thursday, October 25, 2012

An Unforgettable Errand

I recently read a quote from President Woodrow Wilson, who once said:

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement.  You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget that errand.  
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What a marvelous sentiment - how lofty an ideal - and how utterly impractical.  

The world at large is just too big an assignment for any one of us.  
But I agree with the idea that we are here to enrich each other whenever the opportunity presents itself.

There are so many ways to make the life of someone else richer, and many of them do not require abundant resources, great talent, or even lots of time.  They only require that we be mindful of where we are and who we are with, and that we make the effort to offer even a small service or affirmation of one another.

A little over a week ago I attended a potluck luncheon in the lovely home of one of the women in the Bible study group I attend.  She did not prepare any great feast, but instead invited us each to bring an ingredient for a taco salad buffet.  So no one had to cook very much of anything.  It was a terrific luncheon and we all enjoyed her hospitality immensely.

I meant to send a "thank you" note the very next day.  But I did not. Phone calls came in, appointments had to be kept ... life moved on.  Thus, I thought, "I will be sure to thank her again when I see her next Wednesday morning at the study group."

But this past Wednesday morning she was not there.  Instead she is in a hospital far from her home, where they removed part of her lung.  She will be hospitalized, another week to ten days, and will be in unable to leave her house for another three months or more.  She will not be returning to the study group.
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She enriched about twenty lives last week.  And this week, I impoverished my own a little, when I failed to follow through on my good intentions to send that card right away.  Yes, I will send a card tomorrow, perhaps with some flowers.  But those small gestures will be tinged with the sorrow of what she is enduring.
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I forgot my "errand" of not just living, but remembering to enrich someone else as soon as I have the opportunity.

Hope someone took the time to make your day a little richer, and that you found a way pass it along to someone else.  Until next time ...Marsha

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What Do They See?

Three cupcakes with candlesShe was one of the prettiest little girls we had ever seen.  She had sky-blue eyes, corn silk blond hair, and a delightful little face.  I remember carrying her around as a baby, when I was a little old lady of eight years old, and thinking she was cuter than any of my dolls.

There were three of us girls and we each had our roll to play in the family dynamic.  I was the oldest, and was usually described as the "smart one".  My middle sister was generally referred to as the "nice one", and my youngest sister was always referred to as the "pretty one".

I often thought about that after we were grown.  What were these adults thinking when they gave us these labels that sunk so deeply into our identities whether for good or for ill?

Was the "smart one" neither nice nor pretty?  Was the "nice one" neither smart nor pretty?  Was the "pretty one" neither smart nor nice?  Honest to goodness, what were they thinking?

I cannot know what they were thinking, but here is what I do know. The pretty one grew up basing her entire value on her looks.  As a teen, boys chased her; as a young woman, men followed her around like lost puppies. By then, she not only liked the label, she owned it, flaunted it and traded upon it.

She wasted her youth on parties and alcohol.  She wasted her middle years on parties and drugs ... and alcohol.  I stood by her bedside praying for her and waiting for her to come out of a coma the first time she attempted suicide - at twenty-one.  The doctor said she had taken "enough pills to kill an elephant."  She survived and went to rehab, the first of many such trips.

Over the next three decades I literally lost count of the number of trips in and out of rehab.  How many Sunday afternoons did I spend sitting in some drab room, surrounded by lost disheveled women, quietly talking to her about choices, and the fact that God loved her?
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Last year, after a devastating death in her family, she was not functioning at all.  Her daughter suggested that her mother might feel better if she got her hair done.  She had always had amazing natural blond tresses, of which she was inordinately proud.  So off the three of us went to the hair salon, where she had it cut to shoulder length, highlighted and styled.

The transformation was remarkable.  As we walked through an adjacent grocery store to pick up a few things, I noticed her gait was different, her head was up and she was looking around her with interest.

Suddenly, she turned to me and said, "Oh, I feel so much better.  People are looking at me again.  They notice me.  They see me again."

I was dismayed, stunned, appalled - and deeply sad in the face of such shallowness. She still identified herself only by her appearance and how others reacted to it.
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Last month, I briefly visited her at the long term nursing facility where she has been for many months since she nearly died after having two major brain surgeries, and multiple strokes. When I came to the door of her room, she did not see me; but I saw her.  She was  sitting on the side of her bed, staring blankly at a wall.  It was a heartbreaking scene.

She wore a helmet, to protect her head in case of fall, as part of her skull had to be removed to allow for the swelling of the brain after the surgeries.  Most of her hair had been cut off to allow for the surgeries, but one lock straggled pitifully from beneath the helmet.

Her eyes do not focus well.  Her speech and cognitive abilities are impaired.  Her right arm and leg are partially paralyzed. She is the very picture of a wrecked and wretched life.

Tomorrow is her birthday.  She will be 58 years old.  And I will be fighting off tears most of the day.
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Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Proverbs 31:30 (NIV)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Wearing A Fake Halo

The large sanctuary was filled to capacity this morning.  Not because we have had a sudden influx of new believers in our congregation, although that would be wonderful; but rather because we had only one service instead of the usual three.  

This change in the service schedule was not because the pastor has gotten too tired to deliver the sermon more than once, nor because we have so few attending each service that we needed to combine them.  Our pastor is well able, and each service is well attended.  So why the "everybody squeeze to the middle of the pew" routine?

The purpose was to encourage us to relate to each other as one large extended family, and to get to know one another better.  In order to illustrate the need for being "real" in our walk as believers, here came a .... wait for it .... a puppet.  Whaaaattt???

Now I will admit that I have never had any great affinity for puppets, even in "children's church."  They always seemed a little too cute for my tastes.  And to bring one on to speak to the grown-ups, well, let's just say I was in a less than receptive frame of mind.

When I am wrong, I am wrong.  His name (the puppet's) was Harold, and he was interrupted while watching his Sunday football game, to answer a couple of questions from the pastor.  Essentially, after a brief back-an-forth, he agreed to join us for the service but said he would need to excuse himself for a moment first, to put on his "church face."

Harold disappeared from the window, and quickly re-appeared with a smarmy smile plastered on his fakey little mug, and a glittering fake halo hovering over his goofy head.  Even I had to laugh.
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Where did we ever get this silly idea that we have to be something other than what we really are, in order go to church?

I don't know about those from other church traditions; but I have a pretty good idea about where it came from in my own church background.  It was the ubiquitous greeting that I heard every Sunday for many years, "Have you got the victory?"

The fully expected response was a vigorous affirmative.

There was even a joke in those days, wherein if a Christian was audacious enough to admit that they were "doing the best they could under the circumstances" the tongue-in-cheek response was, "Well, what are you doing under there?"

I still cringe when I recall those long ago days.  Yes, there was much of value in the former church traditions.  Much that I occasionally miss to this day.  But the ever-present need to be on top of things, always positive, wearing a victorious smile and a fake halo, well, those are not things that I miss.

While I cannot speak for anyone else, I can honestly attest to the fact that my own "fake halo" always felt like just that - fake.  Yes, I honestly loved the Lord, usually loved his people and even enjoyed teaching Sunday school classes much of the time. (Other times it was a real chore. Okay?)

But that cultural pressure to be "perfect" - to constantly appear to be above the earthly fray, that was wearisome.  For nearly twenty years as a pastor's wife, I generally taught a Sunday school class, helped with refreshments, often led the congregational singing, and then had people over for Sunday dinner after church.  

You were expected to be "present and accounted for" when you were sick, when you were exhausted, and when you were discouraged: you still showed up.  Two of my three children were born on Mondays, and one on a Tuesday - and in each instance I was back in church the following Sunday morning, sitting on the front pew, dressed to the nines and holding a five or six day old newborn.  I kid you not.
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So I know a little about fake halos.  And for myself, I am glad that we have come to the point that we can make fun of ourselves, and say, "Come on.  Could we just be real people, with real problems, and a real faith to apply to those life challenges?"

We Christians are not perfect. (This is not new information, I realize.) It is the God we serve who is perfect, not his followers.  What we are is forgiven.  And thankfully, quite a number of us have long since discarded our fake halos. What a blessed relief!
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Hope your Sunday is refreshing in a real way.  We are home from church, and currently watching the Packers trounce the Colts.  Hope  the team you are rooting for wins!  :)  Until next time ... Marsha