Monday, February 28, 2011

A Field of Wildflowers, A Basket of Berries, A Totem of Love

Wilderness Conservancy
Rye, New York
October 2010

Psalms 65:13 NIV
"The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing."

Leigh released Travis from his leash, while I let Muffin follow. The dogs bounced after each other traipsing through the overgrown trails of the wildflower field that grew between a patch of wild blackberries to the west and a wooden fence beyond a tree line to the south.

The fence marked the beginning of one section of the 2,630 acre county park that bordered our neighborhood. Leigh and I headed toward the fence. A small opening between saplings was barely perceptible to an untrained eye. A path lay beyond the saplings, and a break in the wooden fence allowed us to hop with ease onto the park's trails.

The dogs enjoyed this leg of the hike as we were canopied by trees and followed a small creek to the campgrounds, where boy and girl scouts used the facilities. In fact, I had spent one weekend in a cabin there when I was younger. To create the illusion of an ancient forest, the park service had placed an indian totem pole in front of a cabin.

We found our log under the totem pole, sat down, and poured out our hearts to each other until it was time to return home. The dogs led us home as we dragged our feet behind them.

Leigh and I spent many hours walking and biking with dogs in tow in the field of colorful flowers, picking wild blackberries, running from a garter snake guarding the sapling trees, and sitting under the totem pole talking about our hopes and dreams.

We were 13, 14, and 15 years old and Travis and Muffin were our constant companions on these walks through the woods.

At the time, we talked about God, but we didn't obsess about Him. None-the-less, He was with us. He heard our hopes and desires. He must have delighted and sung with us as we ran after the dogs singing our own goofy songs. How wonderful now to think He was watching Little Leigh and Little Lori grow up, and He knew the plans He had in mind for our lives even then.

As is it happens, it was in our garden of wildflowers that Leigh told me when her dad finished his residency as a doctor they would move from Ohio. We took the news as friends do. We cried and then made the best of it. We continued our talks.

Even today, after all these years, we talk. It may only be a few times a year, but time stands still, and we pick up the conversation as if we were sitting under the totem pole or picking berries to take home to freeze. 

For me, joy is a summer day in a field of wildflowers with a friend I love while God watches over us.
Dear Lord, thank you for the joy of friendship in my life.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Walking in Sunlight All of My Journey

Floating in Sunshine

Ecclesiastes 9:11 NIV
"I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all."

In 11th grade I ran for class president for our senior year. At the time it was important to me, and my friends supported me. We made posters and campaigned. I forget how many others were in the race, but my friends assured me I was an easy favorite for the position.

Up to the end of the day when the announcement was made, my friends told me I had won the election. So, when the results were announced, and my name was not mentioned, I was devastated as only a sixteen year old girl can be. I replayed all of the day's events in my mind.

Where had I gone wrong? Then I wondered how God could have thought I didn't deserve this position and the responsibilities that would come with it. I just KNEW I would have been the greatest class president in the world.

Actually, it turned out to be a blessing not to have been senior class president. There are too many duties after high school, such as trying to organize class reunions that I would have been unable to fulfill. However, at the time, I thought it a great tragedy to lose.

Time and again I have found myself in this position of confusion about events in my life. I often don't understand  what I have experienced or observed or why these things occur.

Yet, this is the reality of life, and as the Preacher in Ecclesiastes mentions, the sun will shine on both the godly and wicked alike.

For my part, I need to capitalize on my time here on Earth. I need to focus on my relationship with God. I need to work on my prayer life. I need to reach out to others. I need to be more positive at home and work. Time is too precious to squander, and I have to choose carefully how I spend it.

Ben Franklin once wrote, "Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of."

Even though the wicked and the just receive the same time and opportunity here on Earth, how a person spends his or her time will make the difference for all eternity.

As for me, I choose to walk in sunlight all of my journey.
Dear Lord, let me finish the race, battle, and my time here on Earth by making you proud of me.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Woman Outside the Bathroom Window

A Rainbow
God's Promise of Love

2 Chronicles 32:7-8 KJV
"Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles."

The woman outside my house had screamed for at least five minutes. Long, shrill, high-pitched cries came from outside the bathroom window as I prepared for my bath.

Someone help that poor woman! Why isn't anyone helping her? I wondered.

It was January 1989, and I was lost in my own thoughts in the bathroom as I listened to the woman outside. My son, who had been kidnapped by my husband in December, had been missing for a month now, and we still had few leads in our search for him. 

My last four weeks had been consumed with trips from Georgia to Ohio and Kentucky to pursue leads, to consult with my detective, to talk to old friends, to see if I could find any clue to the whereabouts of my four-year old.

At night, I would search city streets in Lexington, Kentucky, looking in vain for our missing van and hoping to stumble upon the man I most and least wanted to meet in a dark alley.

When I lay down to sleep, I was chased by nightmares fueled by my fears. Bloody images of my husband and son surrounded me as the story always resolved itself in my troubled psyche in tragic images of death.

I couldn't sleep; I didn't rest during the day, I had to try to teach when I was in Georgia, and when I was in Ohio with my parents, or in Kentucky looking for the man who would eventually become my ex-husband, my principal would call from Georgia to tell me he didn't know how long he could keep my job available for me.

I told him to do what he had to do. My son came first in my life, but then new fears arose in me.  How would I survive without a job?

Fear chased me all day for over two months during the search for my son. I didn't realize how much I had been broken by my fears and lack of rest and the stress and the pressure until the evening in my bathroom as I prepared for my bath and heard the woman's cries.

As I listened to her, I began to pay more attention to her voice. Then I began to pay more attention to me. I was sobbing. Sitting on the toilet, sobbing. Crying. Screaming. Outside of myself.

I was stunned when I realized I was the woman outside the window crying for help. I reached deep inside myself and pulled myself together as I prayed, Please, Lord, HELP me!

He did.

Fear is a horrible place to be in life. I know. I have seen its darkness. God helped me get through it. Now, whenever I get afraid, I look to God's hand first. I know now not to wait until I reach a breaking point to seek God for help.

I found my son a little over two months after he was kidnapped, but that didn't mean life was immediately a bed of roses for us.

God's mercy and grace carried us then and still carries us today.

I can't allow my fear to control me, and God has helped me fight fear through the years. That was a dark place in my life, and a night I rarely talk about; however, God is faithful and strong, and He can face whole armies.

What do I have to fear, if He is on my side?
Lord, thank you for healing and restoring the woman outside my house that fearful night in Darien.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Help! I've Fallen, and I Can't Get Up!

A Butterfly at Calloway Gardens

James 4:10
"Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up."

It's not everyday you're lying on your back pinned like a butterfly to cardboard to the high school's gym floor by uneven parallel bars.

I had time to reflect on how I ended up in that position as the girls' basketball team worked on their "suicide" drill in the middle of the court.

Coach Hill had told me the uneven parallel bars was a two-person job to set up and dismantle, but I, as manager, wanted to pack up early that snowy January night because I had to ride my bike home, and I still had homework to do. It was already nine o'clock, and I knew I'd be up late.

The girls were behind the bleachers working on Isotonic exercises for muscle strength, so they couldn't see me. I had put up the vault and balance beam.  All I had left was the uneven parallel bars, which were anchored into the floor by four cables.

I examined the cables and bars. I figured if I could loosen each cable, then gravity would help me gently set the bars onto the floor, and I'd be set for home.

I easily unhooked the first cable but immediately realized my arms weren't long enough to steady the bars as I unhooked the cable. The bars began to lose a little stability. However, I was undaunted. 

I released the second cable, opposite the first one. The bars rocked more. I became more concerned. I reached out and grabbed the lower bar to try to steady the bars.

Wow! I thought, these things are heavy. They were also unbalanced, so no way to retrace my steps and undo what I had done. I had to finish the job.

I released the third cable. As soon as I unhooked the cable, the bars lost all stability, and I learned what Newton had discovered about gravity.

As the heavy bars descended toward earth, I tried to stop them with both hands placed on the lower bar. However, the weight of the bars pushed me backwards, straight as a board, until I was buried by both bars.

I pushed with all my might to remove the bars from off my body to no avail.

Eventually, I had to call for help. The girls at mid-court running their suicides paused to look, then burst into raucous laughter when they saw me pinned under the bars.

Several of the girls came to my rescue. They helped put the bars in the equipment room, and, of course, the girls' basketball coach told my coach what happened.

I learned about humility that night. I had to humble myself before my friends and my coach. I learned I don't know everything, and I disappointed my coach, which I had never wanted to do.

God has seen me in many ridiculous situations in life, but I wonder how hard he laughed when I was trapped under the uneven parallel bars?

I'm also sure He helped dry my tears on that long, dark, snowy bike ride home after I got yelled at by my coach.   
Lord, thank you for loving me, even when I am so full of myself I can't see straight.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Runnin' on Empty

Kopet Dag Mountains
Outside Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Psalms 121:1 King James Version
"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help."

My senior stumbled into the classroom bleary-eyed with bent shoulders this morning. Granted, it was the first day back after a five-day break, but she shouldn't have been so exhausted.

"How are you?" I asked as she dropped her bags and books onto the desk.

She lifted her eyes to me in gratitude for the concern. She looked too young for the burdens she had on her shoulders.

"I got home at 3:00 this morning, Ms. Durham. My momma has been in the hospital in Brunswick for tests. They let her out last night, and I had to drive her home. I'm so tired. I barely got any sleep before school. After school gets out today, I have to take her back up there at 4:00, and they're gonna run more tests. I hope to catch some sleep in the room while they're working on her."

The drive to the hospital is about forty minutes from where she lives. She's half asleep now. I ask if she needs me to meet her at the hospital since I live in Brunswick. She looks at me kindly and shakes her head no.

"No, Ma'am. I'm okay. I'll rest. They said it'll just take an hour or so this time. I'll sleep when I get home tonight."

I give her my phone number in case she needs me in Brunswick tonight.  She smiles and thanks me.

We're still reading Tuesdays With Morrie.  One of our themes today was the importance of family. I looked at my student and acknowledged her sacrifices for her mother, but, I added, I supposed her mother had also made sacrifices for her, or else she wouldn't be so willing to help her now.

She laughed and teared up a little. She told us when she had signed on the dotted line for the military this year, her momma had cried and carried on in front of the recruiter, and she had told her momma to stop making such a fuss over her cause she knew that once they left the recruiter's office she would find something to yell at her about.

We all smiled at that image.

It seems to me, God, like a parent, must also beam when we do something noble in life. 

Not only that, but He listens to our hearts, knows our fears and desires, and we don't need his phone number to reach Him in a time of need--all we have to do is talk.

He's right beside us holding us up through all our hardships.
Lord, heal the sick and give strength to caregivers. Thank you for supporting us when we're weak.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Bag and the Green Guy

Dressed in Green
Do I Still Look Like "The Hulk"?
(No Need to Answer--It's a Rhetorical Question.)  :)

Psalms 19:14 NIV
"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer."

In 1985 I was met in a classroom by two special education teachers, who consulted with me before my assignments as a brand new hospital homebound teacher for two students who had recently been suspended from school for the rest of the year.

One for frightening children at the bus stop; the other for attacking her special education teacher.

They illustrated how to defend myself if I were attacked and advised me of my rights as an educator. By the time they had briefed me on the students, I was scared to death.

The first student was a sixteen year old boy who had Tourette's Syndrome.

I found him to be a gentle soul as well as intelligent. Apparently his "offense" had been to walk his younger siblings to the bus stop to make sure they safely got on the bus. However, his uncontrollable twitches scared the neighborhood children.

Because he was a sensitive soul, the next day after the children complained about him, he appeared at the bus stop with a paper bag over his face. He was ordered to stay home for good at that point.

Throughout my time with him, he never experienced a Tourette's episode. He worked patiently with me, and his mother was a constant support to us both. I decided the teachers had described a different child to me.

The second student was a seventeen year old girl with the understanding of a kindergartner at best.  She was large and powerful; however, I was larger than she. I don't think I was as strong, but she was intimidated by my size.

I worked with her for two months but was unable to accomplish our educational goals for her. However, she never attacked me.

In fact, she called me "The Hulk".  At that time, Bill Bixby's show, The Incredible Hulk was popular on television, and she loved that green guy.

She identified me with him, which was fine with me. That was probably the one time in my life where my size worked in my favor.

After my duties were over with the students, the two teachers asked how the kids had been.

"Fine" I told them.

They couldn't believe their ears. They seemed disappointed I had no horror story to report. No gossip to add to their fuel. No label to put in their files.

I think back to those special needs kids and others I have worked with over the last twenty-odd years of my career, and rarely have I had problems with them. I try to ignore others who want to "tell" me about them. 

Honestly, there are many days I'd also love to put a bag over my face and hide from the world or turn into a big green monster and shout:

"Enough already with all this killing and fighting and protesting. Let's start loving each other again!"

Then I remember God is in control. He knows how all the madness will end. Everything will be fine in the end.

Furthermore, He knows me; he doesn't label me. He sees me just as I am through all the masks I put on for the world.

And by the way, if God were to label me "SPECIAL," I think I would feel really flattered.

Yeah, now I think about it, I want to be one of God's Special Kids.
Lord-Thank you for looking past my masks, into my heart, and loving me for who I am.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Variation on a Theme

A Bee
One of the Themes of My Life
Psalms 31:3 NIV
"Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me."

I'm crouched on the floor of the organ loft behind dad as he plays Tara's Theme for the fourth time. I spy from my elevated position on wedding guests, who slowly make their way down the aisle and out the door to the reception hall. 

Dad has already shaken the walls of the enormous sanctuary with Mendelssohn's Wedding March on the full pipe organ as the bride and groom stepped lightly down the aisle with radiant smiles for the cameras. Now he is ad-libbing variations on a theme until the last guest clears the church. 

My job is to tell him when he can stop playing. So far there is no end in sight as guests mingle with each other to talk about the wedding.

Lucky dad is such a talented musician or else Tara's Theme would have gotten old soon. He works it masterfully each time he replays it. He weaves it in new keys; he twirls it; the organ bellows and sings in ways I couldn't have imagined possible.

Finally the crowd finds its way out of the sanctuary. Dad and I are alone in the organ loft. I stand up, look over the wooden railing at the scene below where the wedding has just taken place, then turn to admire dad. He has nonchantly gathered his music. We leave together to join the others.

Lately, I have thought about the themes of my life--how certain patterns appear over and over in new and different ways.

Just as dad wove and twirled and spun the music in the organ loft, God does the same with my life's journey. He shows me my direction by giving me signs I recognize: Patterns and themes that are meaningful to me.

If I follow the music of my life, there I will find God.
Lord, direct me, lead me, show me signs to the path I should be on.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Lost Year in Math

Allie's 7th Grade Math Project

 Scale Model
She Gets her Math Brain from her Dad

Psalms 96:12 NIV
"Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy."

I suppose I could solve math problems better if it hadn't been for the location of the desk in the large old-fashioned classroom with steam radiators nailed along the wall painted white just like everything else. Even the dying potted plants on the wooden window sills didn't liven up the room. 

Technically, the size of the window the desk was placed beside was a concern. The window stretched all the way to the fourteen-foot high ceiling revealing the whole outside world. 

Maybe the fault belonged to the ancient maple tree as it beckoned and waved to me outside the second-story window my desk was placed beside.

Or, it could have been the road that curved up the hill away from the school in Greenhills, Ohio, beyond the reach of the maple that captured my imagination and took me to far-away places around the corner of the bend.

Perhaps it was the swim club across the street from the winding road, where mothers brought their children in the spring for swim lessons.

Actually, I think the one-story shopping center, including the bowling alley and soft serve ice cream shop down the sidewalk from the library with wooden chairs and tables and a polished hardwood floor with a librarian who looked over her glasses from her desk and said "Shhhh" to me if I talked too loudly probably kept me from my math work.

It's not that my teacher wasn't good. She did a nice job with the overhead projector and black marker, and I could see the screen, even with my glasses from the back of the room. But the problem was the window. There were more interesting objects to look at outside the room than inside it.

Seasons unfolded with the maple.  I watched a fall cavalcade of colors fade to brown covered by snow and ice until spring thaw brought buds into colorful blooms and leaves. I watched a microcosm of life take place with the tree, the road, the swim club, the shopping center. I longed to be a part of it.

As the seasons passed me by that year, so did 8th grade math. But all was not lost. God used my weakness in math for a blessing later in life.

As I rushed to finish calculating grades for a college class, I added one wrong. Had I been a better math student, I would have caught my error; however, John Durham called me once grades were released to check on his incorrect grade in the class.

After clearing up the details of my error, he asked me a second question: would I like to go out with him?

The only request he has made of me during our almost twenty-year marriage is to let him do the math in the family.

That's fine with me! I'd rather look at trees anyway!
Lord, thank you for turning my weaknesses into blessings.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Joy of Being

Wedding Dance
Turkmenistan 2004

Psalms 149:3 NIV
"Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp."

I turned the street corner as I trailed behind my hostess and her son and discovered the source of the loud music and singing I had heard since we had begun walking down the dark alley.

On a narrow driveway between two homes, a massive wedding party was taking place. Strings of colored lights dazzled my eyes as they surrounded the platform where the bride and groom would soon take their places.

Opposite the bride and groom's platform about one hundred feet away was a similarly lighted stage for the musicians. Strands of flashing lights connected the two platforms.

I estimated five hundred people were packed into the small area. Some stood and others were seated at tables eating dinner. Several danced. 

Both men, women, and children performed traditional Turkmen dances. I was attending my first wedding party in Turkmenistan.

The women were radiant in beautiful handmade dresses of all colors and fabrics for the wedding. Girls wore scarves around their hair that cool October evening. Boys wore hats.

The children soon realized I was in the crowd and gathered round me to pose for photos. They were delighted to see the pictures I had just taken of them on the back of my camera.  They weren't shy. They asked for more pictures. 

Soon, teenagers began to point to themselves. I took pictures of them until my hostess dragged me onto the dance floor.

I was out of my comfort zone. The older women who danced the traditional dances pulled me into their circle and motioned for me to join them in the dance.

I am not a dancer; however, these women were compelling, and they smiled at me so lovingly, I could not resist them. I began to mimic their movements.

The women laughed. One woman in a purple vest and green scarf approached me to help with my hands and arms. She showed me how to move to the music. After several failures, I tried to forget myself and just BE. Once I lost the sense of myself, I was dancing with the women.

They smiled and nodded at me in approval.

God delights in us when we are joyful and share with each other heart to heart.

I could not speak Turkmen; she could not speak English, but we spoke the language of the joy of being.
Lord, help me to let go and BE more often in life.
Here is a sample of a dance at the wedding that night. Notice my friend in the purple dress and green scarf. Enjoy.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Facing Life's Challenges

My Great-Grandfather, George Washington Butler
Bravely Fought During the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)
13th Battery, Indiana Light Artillery

2 Timothy 4:5 NIV
"But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."

I had Ernest Hemingway on my mind today.

Hemingway is famous for living in Key West, Florida, and sometimes Cuba, and writing the novella, The Old Man and the Sea among other famous stories.

Hemingway's tales often have characters, like Santiago, the Old Man, in The Old Man and the Sea, who face impossible odds against them.

Hemingway was less interested in whether or not his characters won or lost their conflicts in life. He was more interested in how they conducted themselves during their tests. Hemingway's characters were to show grace and courage under pressure.

The test of character in difficult times shows what a person is made of. Santiago, for example, suffered extreme conditions on the sea after he hooked the big fish. As he tried to bring the fish safely home, he faced even tougher challenges. However, he did not whine or complain. He fought bravely. He fought to the death.

I have faced many trials in life--some serious and some less serious, and I have discovered the character of my heart as I  faced these challenges. I try to rise above the struggles and make God proud of me.

I know my life story is not unique, but how I face challenges reflects who I am.
Lord, give me courage to face life's difficulties directly and bravely.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A More Meaningful Life

One of Life's Blissful Moments
Lori, April 2010
Castaway Cay
Proverbs 13:14 NIV
"The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death."

My seniors and I are reading Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom, which chronicles the decline in health and death from ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) of his former Brandeis University professor, Morrie Schwartz.

My 17 and 18-year old students tell me how much they enjoy the book, and I have let them read at their own speed, although in the classroom I keep them together for the sake of discussion.
In the book, Morrie and Mitch talk about many of life's important issues such as aging, regrets, love, relationships, death, and living a more meaningful life.
I am always surprised that Morrie, a 78-year old man, can speak to the hearts of my seniors, but he always does.  Thanks to YouTube, we watch videos of Morrie, before he died, being interviewed by Ted Koppel on Nightline. 
Today we watched a video where Morrie cried over the death of his mother as he answered a letter from a school teacher in Pennsylvania who had a support group for students who had lost at least one parent.
She had written to Morrie for words of advice, but all he could tell her was he wished there had been a place like that for him when he was 8 years old and had lost his mother. He told the teacher she was doing a great thing looking after the children.
One year, when I taught this book, a student told my class she cried everyday she got up before school started because she missed her mother so much.  We all listened to her as she expressed her grief. Morrie's story allows the students to open up like that.
Finally today, to help my students understand better what Morrie was going through with his degenerative muscle disorder, I created blindfolds out of bulletin board border paper, and held them in place with masking tape.
Prior to blindfolding the students, I asked them to write their names on the front of a piece of paper. Then I blindfolded them and told them to use the opposite hand they usually write with to spell out their names.
They laughed and groaned, but they all tried it.  Some did better than others, but they struggled. One boy wasn't sure he had pencil lead in his pencil, and even though he kept touching the tip of his pencil, he still couldn't tell. So he gave up, felt for his ink pen, and used that instead.
They weren't willing to admit they felt completely handicapped, but I could tell they were out of their "comfort zone".
For a few minutes, I encouraged them to walk in someone else's shoes.
For my part, if the students learn to empathize with someone going through severe physical ailments, then reading this book will be worth it.
Lord, help my students learn lessons about life as they discuss serious issues contained in this book.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Listen to the Music of the Falling Rain

Smoky Mountains 1967
The Summer of Thunderstorms
My Sister, Teri, Brother, Rob, and Me
Job 5:10 NIV
"He bestows rain on the earth; he sends water upon the countryside."

I love the aftermath of thunderstorms. The air is electrified and I feel charged up. The atmosphere is light and fresh and the temperature cooler.

In Kentucky, there was an earthy smell that accompanied the end of a storm. In Georgia, the smell of ocean and salt water marsh mingle together. Both regions of the country have their unique flavors after a storm.

I recall a storm in the mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, when we were children. The thunder endlessly echoed off the mountains as I lay awake listening to the storm. Boom-boom. Boom-boom-boom like kettle drums in an orchestra. Beautiful.

In Terre Haute, Indiana, when I was snuggled up in the hide-away bed of my grandparents' couch sleeping with my sister, I remember the call of the trains as they rolled through town in the midst of midnight storms. Their whistles sounded forlorn and lonely on stormy nights.

I have heard about people hiding under beds during storms, but not me! I welcome their arrival. I enjoy burrowing under covers and sleeping through them if I can.

God knows we can't get enough rain in South Georgia, and the more storms that roll through, the better for the water table. There are many practical reasons for rain; however, I love the sound of storms for their own sake. For their own beauty.
Lord, Thank you for cleansing storms and the relief they bring on many levels.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Climbing Out of the Hole

Two Friends who Helped me Through the Hard Times in 1988-1989
June 2010

Psalms 71:22 NIV
"I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel."

I sit, defeated and discouraged, in the high school guidance counselor's office. I have just gotten off the phone with a credit card collector. I tried to make arrangements for payments on the card after my first husband left me with a pile of bills to pay.

The bill collector on the other end of the line didn't care I initiated this conversation and has decided to tell me exactly what she thinks of me. I explain I have called in good faith to pay my debt and am attempting to work out a plan with her.

She berates me. She complains I should never have taken the credit card to begin with if I couldn't afford it (forget that at the time the credit companies were handing cards out like candy to children) and I was essentially the scum of the earth for having gotten myself into credit debt.

I tried once more with her, kept my emotions at bay, but before I could make any progress with her, she hung up on me.  I was left holding the line after unsuccessfully trying to pay my debt to the company.

The first year or two after my divorce was a dark time in life.  I especially didn't know how to climb out of the financial hole by myself, but God lifted me out of it little by little, and He never once hung up on me when I talked to Him.

He never once called me names or made me ashamed for how I had gotten into the hole.  In fact, He even climbed in the hole with me and held me and comforted me until I could get free of my dark prison.

Back then I thought a lot about the children's song, "Jesus Loves Me".  Those words got me through dark days.  I didn't know many people in Georgia back then, so Russell and I depended on each other and God to see us through.

We read books. We sang songs. We played games. We went for walks. We went to church when we could. But through it all, I knew Jesus loved me.

Without God, my folks, and a handful of friends holding us up, I don't know how I would have made it through the first two years in Georgia. 

They all showed me I wasn't "scum," and I could rise above my circumstances.
Thank you Lord, for meeting me where I am in life, lifting me up, and not tearing me down.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

All Through the Night and Day

Full Moon
April 2010
Matthew 25:36 NIV
"I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

Many of us in South Georgia have had sick children the past few weeks.  Mothers and fathers have missed countless hours of rest tending to the needs of their kids and worrying about their health. 

Our exchange daughter has strep throat right now, and this weekend I finally went to the doctor after fighting my "head cold" for a month to discover it was a sinus infection and wouldn't go away on its own without antibiotics.

Last night, with the help of the prescription medicine, I slept better than I had in weeks.

Whenever I get sick, I think back to when I was little and the comfort I felt when mom or dad would come to check in on me and give me medicine to help me sleep.

There's an old Welsh folk song titled, "All Through the Night" that captures the sentiment for me of the comfort a child has while being watched at night.

These are the first couple stanzas:

Sleep, my child, and peace attend thee
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee
All through the night.

Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loving vigil keeping
All through the night.

The song can be found on this YouTube link:
"All Through the Night"

It's well worth a few minutes to listen to the lullaby.

These days, besides the comfort of my family who continues to watch over me, and mom who calls from Ohio to see how I'm doing, I know God cares about my welfare.

It's reassuring to know I have a Heavenly Father who cares about me not only all through the night but also all through the day.
Lord, thank you for your love when I am sick and not feeling well.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tied to the Piano

One of My Signs from God: A Rainbow

Nehemiah 9:17 NIV
"But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love."

I sat in front of the ancient, upright piano horrified as I tugged on the cord wrapped around my robe. Somehow, the fringes on the bottom of the braided cord had gotten tangled in the inner workings of the piano behind the pedals.

There was no backboard behind the pedals, and the cord had twisted itself around the metal gears of the pedals. Every time I had stepped on a pedal, the cord had wound itself tighter around the mechanisms.

I was tied securely to the inner parts of the piano.

I was currently playing piano during an inspection of an organization I belonged to in high school.  We wore long white robes held together with braided cords. We looked rather angelic. We each had offices and positions with speaking parts and duties to fulfill.

Mine was musician. I was the only one in the group who could play the piano, so I had been musician for a long time. This was the first time I had been tied to the piano. Luckily, the piano was located in a far corner of the room, and I wasn't clearly visible to the audience.

We had inspections twice a year, and, of course, everyone we knew was invited to attend. We were graded on how well we performed our duties. I was sure being tied to the piano during inspection was not acceptable.

My dad, who had taught me how to play, was our Music Director.  He was the adult in charge of the musician, so his chair was placed next to me. 

I tried for the longest time to free myself, but the more I tugged, the tighter I made the connection of the cord to the piano.  Finally, I had to get dad's attention for help.

"Dad-dad!!" I whispered as loudly as I dared.

He gave a look to shush me and turned away.

"Dad!" I tried again.  

This time he moved in toward me. 


"I'm stuck to the piano!"

"Lori! What have you done?" He laughed as he tugged on the cord.

"I didn't do anything! It just happened!"

Dad got out of his chair and onto his hands and knees and crawled under my legs to look into the hole behind the pedals. I could hear him muttering under his breath as he untangled the cords.  He laughed at my predicament as he tried to free me from the old piano without anyone seeing us.

Finally, dad released me. We suppressed our laughter as best we could, and I think we escaped without anyone noticing our problems.

Dad was great that night. He handled the situation with humor and grace. We often laughed about that moment we shared with each other.

Thankfully, God is like that. 

There are times I get tied up in a mess I'm not sure how I got into, and God helps me get untangled.

He sends someone to advise me. A sermon to inspire me. A sign to lead me. A book, song or message. He reintroduces a person into my life I haven't heard from in years. God always helps me find my way out of the maze of life's piano gears.
Lord, Thank you for untying my cords and freeing me when I get into trouble in life.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Backyard Beauty or Bus Stop Wonders

Backyard of Wainwright House
Rye, New York
October 2010

Genesis 1:31 NIV
"God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the sixth day."

One summer when I was in high school, I traveled by Greyhound bus from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Marquette, Michigan, to visit my friend Leigh for a week.

I'd never made such a long trip before by myself, and the adventure by bus was exciting. I encountered people from all walks of life and talked to several nice folks along the way.   

I saw Amish in their dark clothes (and women in their starched white bonnets) ride the bus as we passed through parts of Indiana and Wisconsin and uniformed soldiers as well.

I cringed as the boxes shipped by bus were man-handled at every stop we made in small towns throughout Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. I particularly remember the men throwing the box labeled "FRAGILE" onto a pile of boxes in the warehouse. Hope that worked out okay.

Finally, after about 24 hours, I safely arrived in Marquette.

Leigh's dad was a doctor, while her mom stayed active in the community. They lived in a beautiful home in the woods not too far from a river.

One day we canoed on the river, and I looked deep into the crystal, clear water wondering if I could reach straight down and pick up a smooth stone from the riverbed. However, Leigh told me the water was ten feet deep. The river was so clean and magnified the stones so well, they looked like we were only a foot above them as we paddled down river.

Once we spent a day at Lake Superior. I remember the water, sand and breeze. Waves broke on the lake. There weren't many others on the beach and the sea breeze blew wildly through my hair. We ran up and down the beach and in and out of the water.

Her front yard was filled with mint. I'd never seen a field of mint before. When she reached down and picked one to give me to try, I had no idea what to do with it. It was cool and fresh in my mouth.


She lived in an incredible part of God's world. Woods. A clear, cool river. A lake and beach.  Edible plants in her front yard. I loved the time I spent with her. There were new adventures each day.

There are amazing places throughout the world. God created many delightful regions. That's why I love to travel. I want to witness new and different aspects of God's world.

However, I don't have to travel far to witness nature's beauty.

God's wonders can just as easily be found in my own backyard as they can at the end of a Greyhound bus ride. 

They are all around me; I just need to open my eyes to them.
Lord, thank you for your beautiful world.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

From Washcloths to Togas

This Isn't the Bathroom I was Locked Up In.
(Too Bad!)

Psalm 20:1 NIV
"May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you."

It's Saturday evening, October 21, 1978. I'm locked in the bathroom in a hotel room in Cave City, Kentucky, with "Apple Betty" Lawson.

The boys pound on the other side of the door and shout, "Toga, Toga, Toga" as loudly as possible, while we wonder if the door will break or hold firm.

We have just stopped for the night after the Eastern Kentucky-Western Kentucky football game in Bowling Green. (I don't remember who won because I don't care about football.)

We are in the band, and our trumpet player nearly got us killed today.  He had one of the red Hilltopper washcloths (sorry--I'm from Eastern--don't know their proper name) hidden in his band jacket. During the half time show, while we were on the field, he had a solo and stood at the 50-yard line where everyone could see him.

He blared away on his trumpet and did a great job. If he had just stopped there! 

However, in the arrogance of youth, just before he went back into formation with the rest of us, he ripped the red cloth out of his jacket, waved it over his head, threw it on the field, and stomped on it with both feet several times.

The boos filled the stadium. I had never heard such a racket.

We had to run for our lives to the buses when the game was over because angry Western fans chased after us. I thought we'd be safe on the bus, but the crazed Hilltoppers started to rock our bus back and forth to tip us over. 

Our driver finally managed to inch the bus through the angry mob until we broke free of them. (I hope he was paid well for that trip.)

When we arrived at Cave City, I thought I was safe from harm. Unfortunately, this is the season of Animal House, and toga parties are all the rage. College coeds now roam the outside balcony of the two-story hotel in stolen hotel bedsheets. They have also taken over the outer lawn, including the pool. 

Since I don't see the band director or his assistants anywhere, I figure we are on our own to protect ourselves. Betty and I have been raised in church and conservative families, so we are determined not to be pulled out into the mayhem we are gawking at through the window of our room. 

Once access to our room is breached, we react the only way we can think of: we lock ourselves in the bathroom.

We were 18 years old and had never seen a drunken party like the one we witnessed that night. I think we eventually calmed down, left the bathroom, and sat in our room with a trusted friend.

I know God had His hand around me that Saturday. In one long day He rescued me from an angry mob, and he protected me from a drunken one.

When you are too young to understand what is going on around you, it's nice to know God is there to bridge the gap.
Lord, thank you for continuing to watch over me each day.
(p.s.- I looked up the score of the game against Western. EKU lost 16-17.) 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Gentle Giant

Angel Statue
Brunswick, GA 2010
John 15:13 NIV
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Police Specialist David  H. Massel, age 37, of the Woodlawn Police Department, a suburb just north of Cincinnati, Ohio, was my friend.  I worked at a convenience store at the intersection of three police districts on Springfield Pike in 1985. Often I worked 3rd shift, and that's where I met David.

David and other officers on duty would meet at my store around 11:00 p.m. to talk about their shifts, drink my fresh coffee, and finish up any of the stale donuts I had left over from the day.

We had a great time from about 11:00-11:20 talking to each other. We caught up on each other's families, we teased each other, and we became friends.

David worked hard in the community during the day. He was active with youth groups and was a role model for young people. He went into schools and worked with kids. He was the pride and joy of his mother.

The community called him the "Gentle Giant" because he was a big guy with a heart as large as his laugh. He was a gourmet cook and loved to have friends over to his house to eat.

He covered for a friend of his on the night of February 8-9, 1985, twenty-six years ago. 

I was also scheduled to work that night.  By 11:00 p.m., the officers had not arrived at my store. At 11:30, they were not there. I worried. They'd never been this late before. 

Finally, after midnight, one of the officers from Wyoming's district arrived at the store pale and unnerved. He broke the news to me that David had been hit head on two hours into his shift by a drunk driver speeding 100 miles an hour over a hill.

The driver crossed center and plowed into David as he was driving 25 miles an hour along the road with his lamp focused on businesses making sure they were safely secure for the night.

David's life and death has inspired me to speak out against driving while drunk. Throughout my career, I have been involved in school groups to discourage students from drinking and driving.

I have always remembered David and his sacrifice for the community he loved so much.

My husband works with law enforcement officers, although he is not one himself.  We have friends who are in the law enforcement field. I respect them and value their sacrifices for our community.

God knows there is no greater love than to give your life for a friend, but police officers are also willing to lay down their lives for complete strangers.

Unfortunately, some of them, like my friend, David, don't make it home to their families at the end of their watch.

This is a link to a memorial site for David:
Specialist David H. Massel
Lord, protect those whose job it is to protect us. Bring them safely home to their loved ones.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It Takes Life to Love Life

My Niece's Birthday Cake

Isaiah 3:5 NIV
"People will oppress each other-- man against man, neighbor against neighbor. The young will rise up against the old, the base against the honorable."

Many years ago as a graduate student, I researched a topic in the media center, and I was skimming through old newspaper articles on the microfiche reader.  As I made my way through the papers, I encountered a political cartoon from the early 1900s that caused me to stop and reflect.

The cartoon depicted an old man dressed in late-1800s style clothing sitting on a stool. He had a younger man over his knee whipping him with a belt strap. The younger man was dressed in more "modern" early-1900s clothes. As the old man beat the younger one, he yelled about the latter ruining society and destroying decent values.

That was the gist of the cartoon: The younger generation was destroying the values the older generation had established.

When I saw the cartoon, I glanced again at the date of the newspaper as the complaint was so modern.

Edgar Lee Masters, in his Spoon River Anthology, also expressed a similar point of view through Lucinda Matlock's monologue. She ended her speech with this question for her listeners:

"What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you --
It takes life to love Life."

Wow.  If "she" didn't ask this question in 1915, she could be talking to any of my students in my classes at school right now.

Both the cartoonist and poet looked at the younger generation and worried about the future, but somehow, the youth rose to the occasion. They even produced the "Greatest Generation," the men and women of the World War II era.

Perhaps God had a hand in this?  Maybe the cartoonist and poet left out a piece of the equation when looking ahead to the future trying to predict the potential of people's lives.

While it's true there are notable problems among young people today, and the media is quick to point those out, there are good, decent kids in the world who are rising to leadership positions.

Somehow, someway, despite the fear of their elders, they will persevere and make the world a little better off because they were here.

I like to think God is the answer to the equation, and He is the one in control.  Before our generation writes off the next one behind us, we should give God a chance to work with them and refine them.

For example, as I consider the students I teach, sometimes I worry. However, when one of them turns in an answer like this: "Julius Caesar defeated the gulls,"  I shouldn't worry.

Instead, I remind myself this student needs help with spelling, and, so far, all the seagulls on the Atlantic Coast have been spared from Roman Legion attacks.

God has sent me to help this student learn how to spell, and in the process, I will remind her the Gauls were the ancient French. 

I'm a teacher. It's what God wants me to do--help the kids, not tear them down with my words.
Lord, lead and protect our youth who are growing up in difficult times.