Short Stories Series: Three Stories about God and Giving

I know, no stories for a long time, and then three at once, and no pictures either. So use your imagination. You have one.

Story One

The first story is one that Robert Morris tells. He is a televangelist who writes and speaks a lot about his experiences with God as a giver. He will say with confidence that he has never been able to out-give God and this is one of the stories that he uses to illustrate that.

He wanted to give his wife a gift for her birthday and asked their daughter to find out what his wife wanted. After the daughter had talked with her mother she reported that she had been sworn to secrecy. Robert was determined to reward his oft self-sacrificing wife so he told his daughter she was released from her promise. His wife had talked about a certain purse that she knew was more expensive than she would ever buy for herself, and she really didn’t want her husband to buy it for her either. She figured he might try if he knew. That was why she made her daughter promise not to tell.

Robert says he was floored when he heard how much the purse cost. He evidently didn’t or couldn’t buy it and he felt sad and was wondering what he should do. A widow lady in his church enters his story next. She came up to his wife and gave her a gift. It was the exact purse that his wife admired and wanted. God’s message to Robert was simply “I wanted my daughter to have this gift.”

Hearing this remarkable story, I was struck with the thought of how it would feel to receive uncommon extravagance from God, how I would feel loved and valued. To feel like the daughter of a king…

Story Two

The second story is about my own experience with giving. I met Darnelle when he was about ten years old. He was in a struggling, single parent family, and we developed a friendship centering around music. I was teaching piano at the time and he wanted to learn so I gave him lessons. Over the years he was frequently in our home, mostly in times of need. He seemed to always be out of work, sometimes homeless and sleeping in his car, when he had one. We gave him money, helped him buy cars, fed him, and gave him shelter and prayed for him. Nothing helped for very long. Every call from him eventually got down to asking for money, and finally I was done. I said no. Rather than helping him, it seemed we were enabling bad decisions.

Recently, even though we now live thousands of miles from Darnelle, I received a text from him. As usual, he was stranded and out of money, on his way to a new job. He just needed enough money to get there. I didn’t see the text until an hour after he sent it and when I replied to it, there was no answer. He often used someone else’s phone when he didn’t have one so I assumed that was the case.

Two days later, the husband and I were praying, and it occurred to me to ask God for wisdom if Darnelle should somehow connect with us again. Sure enough, I got a text. He was desperate and asked me to “walmart-to-walmart” him some money. I didn’t want to stand in line forever at Walmart. I didn’t want to feel like I’d been “suckered in” one more time, but I knew I had prayed about this. I didn’t doubt that he was in some kind of need. God has been generous with me and I felt that he was asking me to be obedient and help Darnelle one more time. I sent the money, not because Darnelle had asked, but because God had asked. Everything belongs to God, including my money.

Story Three

The third story is, again, about giving. And about God. I have a daughter who is getting married, in a pandemic year when everything is a little bit crazy. She is a hardworking equine veterinarian and barely has time to wash the manure off her clothes, much less plan a wedding. But, she made time to try on dresses. The lace, tulle, and frills (at extravagant prices) transported her to a different vision of herself as a beautiful bride. In contrast, her practical self was staring at her school loans and numerous bills. She said “no” to the dress and tried to be satisfied with something less.

We had conversations about this decision. I knew it was not in her nature to spend thousands of dollars on a dress to wear once, ONCE. She wanted reasons to feel good about the lesser dress she was planning to wear and I gave her some. I told her she could choose to be satisfied with whatever decision she made. I told her that I was praying and trusting God to bless her, “his daughter”, with her heart’s desire for this special time in her life. And I truly felt that those were not just words. They were God’s message to her.

With the time growing shorter and tension mounting, Julia was feeling the weight of things that weren’t getting done, weren’t turning out quite as well as planned, weren’t what she had hoped for. I got another call. Things were more hard than happy. Right in the middle of the disappointments, I could see the dress, and I didn’t know what to do except to keep praying for her.

On the same day that I said okay to God and gave Darnelle $100, someone precious gave Julia a gift of a beautiful dress. It was one she had tried on and loved but didn’t feel she could buy.

I don’t presume that God spoke to the generous benefactor in an audible voice, or that he even presented himself as God. I’m pretty sure the generous benefactor knew nothing about the backstory of Darnelle and obedience in my life. But I have seen and heard that God is always at work in ways that are so complicated they can only be described as mysterious. Somehow he can bless Julia, he can bless a man stranded on I-95 with no gas in his car, and he can bless me with answered prayer, all connected with the same circumstance. I know he will also bless the person who cared enough to dress a bride in a beautiful dress.

Waving Goodbye

It’s kind of a rule with some, that you wave goodbye until the people leaving can’t see you anymore.

It’s 2020, the year of the pandemic and other notable events. Our “pod” as I’ve come to label it, has been decreased by four significant persons. With that comes the strangeness of loss, and of uncertainty. What is life going to be like with all these changes?

Our small community consisted of my mom, my brother Dennis and his wife, their two children, myself and the husband. It expanded when my sister-in-law’s parents moved into a newly built house down the street. My brother designed it as a retirement home for him and his wife- for “someday”. But for now it was going to be convenient for Mary Pat’s parents to be close, so she and Dennis could help them when needed.

Unfortunately, it was Mary Pat who needed the help. Breast cancer returned with a vengeance. It has been only eight months, and now she is gone. It has been a difficult last few weeks. Both sides of our families have gathered to help and to mourn. Houses have been full. Schedules have been disrupted, and it was hard. She was at home when she died and we were with her. It was a little like waving goodbye until she could no longer see us.

Our pod also included a trio of women who we call “the sisters”. They have become like family to us over the last 25 years, included in our family reunions, our weekly sabbath gatherings, and countless festive occasions. Michelle is the elder sister, being almost 94. Judith and Susan are in their 60’s now, adopted as young children from Vietnam. Retiring from their daycare business led them to buy a house in a warmer climate and they have been planning their move for months, it seems.

Our “pod” plus a few extra visiting family members.

Nevertheless, there has been a lot of stressful preparation during this last week before their trip. They left this morning, with another one of my brothers driving a Penske truck loaded with the things they needed to set up housekeeping. Moving is always a big, stressful affair, especially when you have been a long time in one place. It is safe to say that the week’s work has left us all tired and a bit emotional. We are praying they have a safe trip. We waved goodbye this morning.

I know I will recover, but right now I am somewhat disoriented. There has been so much to do in so short a time. I didn’t feel like writing even if I’d had the time, which I didn’t. I move toward simple tasks, with clear cut goals that take my mind to a different place for a period of time; organizing a closet, doing a puzzle, cleaning the kitchen, taking a walk.

Life in 2020 has not been what any of us expected, and certainly not what I expected for my family. It has been an exercise of faith, and like most exercise, it has been strenuous. It doesn’t always feel good while it is happening, but there is a sense of it being worthwhile and useful. I have felt God’s watchfulness and his care in many ways. He has listened to my questions and complaints, and received my anger, confusion and exhaustion with great patience. I have felt loved.

I hear you, Mary Pat. You weren’t afraid and I won’t be either!

This is one of my favorite pictures of Mary Pat that was handed out at her memorial. It is testimony to her faith in God’s goodness, and mine as well. When you know God is good and in charge, there is no need to be dominated by feelings of fear. The crazy weirdness of 2020 becomes opportunity to exercise faith, grow stronger in trust, and remain hopeful. That’s where I’m at. I will not be afraid, just sayin’…

Small Stories Series

Life produces many small stories. Being small doesn’t make them “less than”, except maybe in word count.

Static Electricity (or What Is That Doing Out Here in the Field?)

I will start by saying that I don’t have a clothesline so I dry our laundry inside with an electric dryer.

It was about a week ago in early spring, so early that neither Mom nor Dennis, the husband, had been outdoors much. We were a month into the COVID 19 pandemic and tired of it already. Snow had just melted and the fields were bare, but it was a warmish , breezy evening.

We had just finished a “tea party” with family and weren’t quite ready to quit having fun. In a rare burst of energy the husband decided he wanted to walk down past the barn and to the pond to see whatever could be seen. Off he went.

Mom and I had the golf cart out for the first time of the season and we headed out past the pond to tour the wetlands and meadow. It was exhilarating, partly because the wind was still chilly. We did one big circle and headed back. I could see the husband had passed the pond and was making his way toward some neighboring condos. He had been in one of those “do it myself” moods so I decided to get Mom home first and then come back to see if he was tired and wanting a ride.

We had just crossed the bridge when I saw something on the ground ahead of us. It didn’t look like debris and it hadn’t been there when we passed by earlier. It looked like clothing of some sort.

Coming closer, I thought it looked like underwear! How strange, I thought.

And closer still, it was underwear, and in fact, it was MY underwear. What!?

I swerved over and snatched them up, and once again I noticed the husband in the distance, his pant legs flapping wildly in the breeze. There was no other way those panties could have made their way out into the field except he must have had them. They must have been stuck inside his pant legs and the wind had shaken them out as he walked. He never noticed them stuck in his pants and never noticed when they left either. His “do it myself” mood had started earlier when he had taken his shower and had chosen his recently washed and dried pants to wear. Let’s just say he’s not a real careful dresser. (But I would so have noticed if someone else’s underwear had been stuck inside my pants…)

For a minute it looked like Mom might fall out of the golf cart, laughing as hard as she was. I figure with the pandemic and all going on, God knew we needed some comedy and decided putting something common in a very uncommon place would fit the bill. (At least it was some of my prettiest underwear…)

Yep, right out there in this grassy field…

The Least Favored Soup

The Least Favored Soup

They kept coming, wave after wave of people carrying backpacks, looking a bit dazed, numb. They were hungry and they needed food, warm liquid, salt, calories. They had just skied 29K in below freezing temperatures. This was the Kortelopet and Prince Haakon races of the American Birkebeiner. https://www.birkie.com/ski/events/kortelopet/

Our small town hosts this winter event every year in February, unless there is no snow or the temperatures are deadly, rare situations. The number of people in town goes from the usual 2500 to 40,000 for the two days of races. It’s a pretty big deal for people who like snow. It takes nearly the whole town volunteering to pull it off. This is my second year of helping in the food tent, where all the skiers congregate after crossing the finish line.

The International Bridge which all skiers cross to reach the finish. It is erected over the main highway and covered with snow.

My brother is one of the race chiefs, heading up the serving of food and all the volunteers who help him. The menu is simple – soup, bread, bananas, cookies and drinks. The challenge is doing it in a tent, set up on a vacant lot where everything you need has to be brought in by someone. All the soup arrives frozen in gallon bags and has to be thawed before being warmed to serving temperature. It takes a crew of several men to keep filling the warming tanks, opening the bags and emptying them into the cooking pots, then transferring the hot soup to the serving tables inside the tent. All this is done outside.

“I ski the Birkie every year just for the chicken soup,” one man tells me. I don’t believe him, but the soup is really good. Volunteers inside the tent ladle it into serving cups as fast as they can for hours. Chicken noodle soup is the favorite but there is a choice. The tomato vegetable soup was my station and it is also a good one, perhaps a bit more nutritious too. However the chick/noodle is favored two to one.

I’m guessing that the pots are filled with about seven or eight gallons of soup at a time. I emptied seven of them – I can’t even imagine how many servings that was. It helped that I was tall. Scooping into the pot is easy when it’s full but as the level goes down, it gets more difficult to reach the bottom, and messy, especially when doing it fast.

The (least favored) vegetable soup

It was cold in the tent before we started serving the first finishers. The wind would lift the tarps and blow cups and table coverings off our tables. The ground also is frozen and cold, which is why we stand on rubber mats. After we got really busy I forgot all about my feet feeling like frozen blocks of ice. Watching the people come in, young ones, elder ones, men, women from all over the world, all I could think was “why would they want to be this cold and still call it fun?”

We fed over 3,000 today, and this was the smaller of the races. Tomorrow’s crowd will be twice as many. I hope to be there again, serving up the least favored soup, just sayin’…

Small Town Chronicles

Grocery Shopping with Mom

It is dead of winter in this small town in the northern part of the Midwest, which is synonymous with saying not much is happening from day to day, except trying to keep warm. Our weekly excitement is going grocery shopping at Walmart on Friday mornings.

We go on Friday so we can plan a pleasant sabbatical rest day on Saturday. Eating good stuff always makes it special. We go early to avoid the Friday rush. The parking lot is not full yet at 8 am – we usually have our pick of the handicapped spots. It is also nice to avoid crowds since we have an immune suppressed person in our family to consider. We just don’t need to be around coughs and sneezes.

This particular Friday I loaded up our trash and recyclables because we take it all to the dumpster on the way. We always take Mom’s SUV because it’s easy for her to get in and out and has lots of room for all the stuff we buy. It’s also a significant blessing to have this SUV in a heated garage. We never have to feel the freeze when it’s below zero outside. We just get in our seats and off we go.

I say that we shop at Walmart, but that’s really the last place we go. We know what’s there most of the time, so we check out the other grocery store in town to see if they have different/better stuff on sale. I pulled into the parking lot at Marketplace Foods and looked for good parking. I was just planning on how I would park so we could wheel our carts right up to the lift gate, when I remembered that we had forgotten to stop at the dumpster. The back of the car was full of garbage.

Another wonderful thing about living in this small town is that everywhere we go is within five minutes drive of home. So we extended our outing a few minutes and drove back home to the community dumpster. Good to get rid of that stuff and have room for groceries, yeah.

The rest of our shopping trip, through the two grocery stores, dealt with the details of finding a boneless turkey roast – not just any turkey roast, but one with both light and dark meat. It involved tech skills on smart phones and researching the store we hadn’t yet shopped. It resulted in a large white meat roast and a package of turkey legs, bone in, at the first store and the kind of turkey roast we wanted at the second store. In short, research was ineffective. Way too much turkey.

That’s it folks. That was the excitement last week in Hayward, for us. But before you label us totally lame, know that this coming weekend 40,000 people are showing up in Hayward for the American Birkiebeiner (ski race) and it will be enough excitement to last us until spring. I get to help feed hot soup to this crowd after they knock themselves out skiing 40k through the woods. This is not something one sees every day, not in this small town.

The soup crew (me on the right)
How we cook soup for a crowd with no kitchen.

P.S. There actually was more shopping excitement last Friday. Mom is redecorating the living room and we also have two furniture stores in town… but that story is for another thrilling post, someday. I don’t want to throw all the adventure in one post when it’s really worth two. Just sayin’…

I Shall Start

Why? Why is it that for nearly 60 years I have written letters to friends and relatives, written in journals, and written my blog posts? I’ve always told myself that it was for my family – so that someday they would have a book. Someday they would be able to read what it was like for their mom/aunt/grandma to live in the last half of the 20th century. I have relatives who have done this for me, and I have been grateful.

I seem to have found too many reasons for putting off the task of compiling this book, in spite of promptings that I would say have come from God. Yes, God wants me to write and I feel his partnership in this project. This is the year that I will do something, every week, every month until there is something to show for it.

I’m starting by reviewing and reposting old blog posts that are still meaningful to me. I didn’t have many readers back in 2012 and most of you have not read these. Here goes…

Furniture

February 2012

I don’t normally give furniture much thought – my house is a decorator’s nightmare – but I love to rearrange what I have. Really, tell me that something is too big and heavy to be moved and I will rise up from my death bed to prove you wrong. And it’s tricky work so you want to wait until you have little to no interference. When I’m in the middle of a complicated move the last thing I want is someone second guessing my strategy, the only exception being someone who is a kindred soul and has a good sense of humor.

 I started young and probably learned furniture rearrangement from my mother. She moved things around a lot to avoid boredom and because it was cheaper than buying new stuff – you just put it in a different place and it looks new, kind of.  I always loved it when things got moved around and required new patterns of sitting, walking, etc…  The only drawback to rearranging is that you have to give people a little time to get used to where things are, and even then, if it’s night and they’re half asleep they might make a mistake and dive into a dresser instead of the bed (sorry Dad, had to tell it).

Yes, Mom was a kindred soul and a mentor to me.  I came home one summer when Mom was “rearranging” and wanted to move an old mahogany dresser out to storage. It was slightly smaller than a compact car and nearly as heavy, and it was on the second floor of our old farmhouse. Many times since I have looked at those 20 steep steps and that narrow stairwell and wondered how we did it without being permanently injured.  My clearest recollection is of being stuck part way down in a very awkward position and having to wait until we stopped laughing to continue.

Carpet and other floor coverings are in much the same category as furniture. Changing what is on your floor can be liberating, and I have been liberated two or three times in my career. The same farmhouse, a downstairs bedroom with old wall to wall carpet with stains and probably at least fifteen years worth of dust mites… I found some decent looking wood floor under a corner of this carpet and decided to get rid of it one day when my husband was out of town. He is not a kindred soul.

Carpet requires as much or more skill to remove as furniture. Think about it. You either have to move all the furniture out of the room, or you have to move it all to one side, roll up the carpet and then move the furniture over the roll. No small matter. I don’t remember which I did because it was so awful, my mind erased all the memory of it in self defense.  Furniture amnesia is what keeps me doing these things. Once rolled, carpet is very stiff and surprisingly heavy. I could barely lift one end of it and there was no way it would bend around a corner and out the doorway. I had to go out the window with it, and it was a serious rival to the “dresser in the stairwell” for being ridiculously funny and somewhat dangerous. Most people probably don’t remove wall to wall carpet until they’re willing to cut it up in small pieces, and that is the way I have done it ever since.

And all this came to mind while I was moving furniture today. Twenty years ago we bought our first really good set of living room furniture – a large, heavy Lane sofa with recliners on each end (still in the living room) and a rocking love seat with reclining function also.  The love seat has been in a rental unit and has seen better days … kids, dogs, garage storage have all taken a heavy toll and I’ve decided at least twice to put it out by the road on it’s way to furniture heaven. But it was still in the garage and recycling is so “in” now that I decided to give it another chance. I pulled two pencils, a TV remote and a dirty sock out of the cracks, vacuumed and scrubbed the fabric with carpet cleaner and cleared the way through the house.

 I use physics principles when I move furniture; levers, friction reduction, and obstacle avoidance. And I have plastic sliders, which my mother never had but I could not live without. When I made it through the first doorway, I knew I could get it all the way into my bedroom on the other side of the house. It was really a pretty piece of work, especially since the recliners kept unfolding and rocking kind of like a ship at sea. I had to stand it on one end to get it through the narrow places.  It’s now sitting at the end of my bed under the ceiling fan, smelling like a dirty dog as it dries from the scrubbing.

All this to say that it may not stay there long.  It makes the room seem more crowded, and my designer friend, Arlette, says I never should have gotten furniture more than 37 inches deep in the first place. Who knew? If I don’t like it I can always get rid of it, and just like carpet, I may have to cut it up in small pieces this time.

Give Me a Hand, cont… Distractions

November 1, 2, and 3, 2019

Life was going on smoothly with my new, blue cast, for a few days at least. We had a good, but short visit from the North Carolina daughter and another surprise visit from a distant cousin. Events like this are good distractions and I am easily distracted when pain is chronic and below a certain level. And then came Friday, with a totally new distraction.

I had an early morning appointment with the ophthalmologist (tempted to just write eye doctor) and was surprised to see the husband up and reporting to me that his leg had bothered him during the night. He thought it was swollen and felt different. I often don’t agree with his assessments, but I always check to make sure. It did look a little swollen and was slightly warmer. I sent a quick email to our doctor and she recommended we come to the clinic and see what was up. So we were there by 11:30, the husband being examined by a PA.

There was the possibility of a blood clot, a DVT, short for deep vein thrombosis. She ordered an ultrasound of his left leg and we set off down the hall to radiology. Halfway there, Dennis could not go any further. He was leaning against the wall and holding on to the handrail, looking scary. I ran for a wheelchair and helped him sit. He was weak and sweaty. At radiology he was feeling better so the ultrasound was done. I watched the screen as the tech worked and although I find it hard to know what I’m seeing, it was evident that something wasn’t right.

From there we were ordered directly to the ER and met with a whole squad of RN’s. They hooked him up to EKG, put in an IV and started monitoring his vital signs. It didn’t help that his blood pressure was 200/104. The ER doc sent him for a CT scan of the lungs and it showed multiple clots in both lungs – significant was the word they used, as opposed to massive. He was started on anticoagulants and admitted to the hospital. That’s where he spent the next two days until his blood pressure stabilized and his blood thinners had reduced the risk of additional clots.

I don’t remember thinking much about my hand the whole time this was going on. That is not to say that I’m recommending medical emergencies as therapy for chronic pain.

Writing and Discouragement

I love writing. It’s like talking to people, except I don’t have to find someone who has time to listen to me. Much easier. I enjoy being a blogger.

Last winter and spring, my writing path led me to join a community of writers for encouragement, support, direction, all that good stuff.  I had no clarity about what might be next.  I wasn’t sure being a personal blogger was the endpoint for me. It sounded like hope*writers could help me sort that out. I got pretty excited about moving ahead – enough that I made a commitment to attend a conference. I actually bought the ticket and made a hotel reservation months in advance. Did I do this just to make sure I would go?  Not consciously.

And then life happened. Summer took some unusual turns. For weeks my husband struggled with his diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia. The anxieties and fears he battled had us moving from place to place. I didn’t stop blogging, but I did stop listening to the podcasts, doing the writing exercises, connecting with my support group. There wasn’t a lot of time for that and, honestly, I just lost heart. It’s been hard.

As summer faded off, I found I was having a lot of pain in my hands, especially the left thumb joint. Arthritis had been coming at me for a while, but now it was time to stop living with the pain and regain use of my hand. I had surgery a week ago and have at least six weeks of recovery, in a cast, before I can start therapy.

Back to the writing conference, which is now only two weeks away. The deadline for selling my ticket to someone else has passed. I’m now contemplating whether it is even possible for me to get to Charlotte, NC to attend. The expense of travel, my impaired condition, my husband’s need for help, all seem like hurdles, like roadblocks. Will it be worth the effort to make this happen? I don’t know. It’s not like me to throw away an expensive ticket for an event  I was once pretty excited about.

Believe it or not, i can still type with a few of these fingers.

So, my hand is starting to hurt again as I peck away with two fingers on my computer. I’m feeling a little teary, but I know I have to write in order to think things through. That’s what writing does for me, and that’s why I love to write. Does anyone out there understand this?

A Night at Intercontinental MSP

Picking up the daughter flying in from Seattle tonight – it only made sense to stay overnight instead of driving home till 4 am. It’s been quite a while since the husband and i had a special night out. This is it.

This is a new hotel, and the only one right at the airport. Two restaurants, beautifully appointed rooms, the feel of luxury. We are enjoying it immensely, although feeling a bit out of place.

There is a wedding party upstairs – and what an easy place to gather for guests flying in just for the celebration.

There is a TSA checkpoint right at the hotel that gets one into the airport via a skybridge. Its only staffed during peak morning hours, but facilitates an easy get away for those early flights.

Very modern, beautiful place with friendly staff. You do pay a price for the convenience but there are times it would be worth it. Just sayin’…

Countdown, Three Days Left…

Today I was thinking of all the things I might not feel like doing for a week, or more (lots more) after the surgery.

There was the furniture moving, for instance. There were some heirloom pieces stored in the barn that I wanted in the house. They were things I’ve wanted to look at and enjoy for a long time – but it was unreasonable to get them to Florida. But now, I’m right here where they are so it was time.

One is a dresser that was in my grandmother’s bedroom for her whole life, I think. The other is her cook stove, a woodburning Monarch that weighs a ton even though it looks small. Years in the barn meant they were dirty. The cook stove even had ashes in the ash box from the last fire – I can only imagine when that was. Doing this kind of cleaning and handling of heavy things is probably why my hands hurt tonight and probably why they are in such bad shape overall. But isn’t work what hands are for? In my world, yes.

I did laundry. I shopped for groceries for next week. I talked on the phone to the pre-op nurse who asked me a lot of questions she already knew the answers to and told me to be at the hospital by 7 am on Monday. The surgery is at 9. I hope that means there aren’t too many people ahead of me, and that I will get home before the day gets late.

I’ve read a couple different accounts of how restricted I will be after the surgery. The video even showed how my hand will be wrapped up and cast. My doctor indicated that I will be in a splint of some kind until my first post-op appointment, when a hard cast will be put on. That will stay on for the next three or four weeks and then I will get a softer, removable cast for another month. My thumb will be immobilized but I think the rest of my fingers will be free to wiggle.

Initially the pain will be eased by the nerve block given during surgery. It must last a day or so, after which I will be switched to oral meds. So no driving while on pain medication. I will be dependent on my daughter to cart me around, if I feel like going anywhere.

One video I watched said that driving would be permitted as soon as I could grip the steering wheel with both hands. My doctor didn’t say differently, but she added that if there were to be an accident, my insurance might not cover it. I would be considered an “impaired” driver because of the cast. I’m thinking I will be less impaired than many others on the road – not going to worry about that.

Three days…