Thursday, July 31, 2014

Enemies

About eight or nine years ago my husband felt that we as a family should host a child from the country of Belarus for the summer.  The Chernobyl  disaster impacted Belarus, so many organizations sought to give the children a respite from the nuclear fallout by finding host families to take the children during a six week period in the summer.  Several families in our church had participated the year before and so we were somewhat familiar with the program.

We began our preparations into this endeavor.  Finally the day came that we received a packet of information on the child that we were to host.  He was 9 years old.  A boy with two younger siblings.  His name was Anatoly but  later we found out that his nickname was "Tolik".  We prayed more earnestly and wrote a letter introducing us to this young man and his family.

The day finally arrived and we headed for Charlotte with other families that were hosting with our group. The children traveled with a chaperone/translator.  Svetlana was our group's chaperone.  We waited and waited and then the kids began filtering down the long hallway into the arms of other families that had previously hosted them.  By this time the children had been traveling well over 30 hours.  Tolik had traveled by car to catch a train to catch a plane and then fly to Germany where there was layover.  Then they had landed in Washington Dulles and caught another plane to Charlotte.  That kind of travel is exhausting even for adults.  I can't image the physical and emotional overload for children traveling to a new country to be separated from their families for six weeks.  Finally a young blond boy emerged with a bag slung over his shoulder.  Josh, our son was there with me.  My husband had worked that day.  I was enthusiastic and hovering over this young man.  He was looking at me wryly but taking things in stride.

He was physically and emotionally spent when he finally arrived at our home.  He came in and used the bathroom and then fell into the bed.  He hadn't had time to familiarize himself at all with his surroundings. Some time in the early morning around four we heard a scream.  The lights went on and we found Tolik in the corner of the hallway covering his head, crouching and screaming Mama.  Our evil cat Midnight had him cornered and was growling at him.  Tolik woke up and being the strong spirited and brave young man, he tried to find his way to the bathroom without turning on the lights.  As he entered the hallway our cat's eyes glinted in the dark and she began a menacing growl.  He had no idea what kind of animal was in this  American home.

Being true to his nature, Tolik immediately recovered and began pulling presents for us out of his shoulder bag.  His English was broken and our Russian was horrible, but we managed.  Then he was ready to call his mama to let her know that he had arrived safely and was in his host home.

From that morning on Tolik had a personal vendetta against our cat Midnight which played itself out in many ways.  He hated our cat with good reason.  She has many schizophrenic tendencies.  Midnight's mama was a feral cat and the daddy was a long haired with a bad disposition.  Even as a small kitten she had a terrible attitude of hissing and spitting.  She would often climb the back of the couch so she could throw her little body with her outstretched claws into my scalp.

 After Tolik had been with us for several weeks we bought matching nerf guns for he and Josh to battle.  As soon as Tolik walked in the house he had his nerf gun poised for action and began calling "Midnight" in his high pitched boyish tone.  He never missed an opportunity to pay her back for the inhospitable way she had treated him his very first night.

When I think about Tolik,  I see a brave, resilient, strong, adventurous young man; and someone who recognized his enemies but wasn't cowed by them.  His response to Midnight was very enlightening.  Tolik may have been shocked and overwhelmed the very first night he was introduced to Midnight but that didn't stop him from fully embracing his experience with us.  He fought back and became the antagonist.  Midnight had picked the wrong Russian kid and she lived to regret it the whole summer.

 It is easy to be passive or to even run from our enemies whether they are people at work, our struggles with our health, family issues, or personal inadequacies.  The scriptures teach us that we are to love those people who make themselves our enemies but that doesn't mean that we are to be intimidated by them or let them control the situation.  We all  have a true enemy that hates us because we are made in the image of God and this foe seeks to kill, steal and destroy.  He comes like a roaring lion sometimes when we least expect it.  Just like Tolik in the dark and in the corner, things in our lives can seem to come out of nowhere. Our struggles are real but we have to arm ourselves and  engage in the right way to fight.

"Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having the utility belt of truth buckled around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and having fitted your feet with the preparation of the Good News of peace;  above all, taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word[a] of God;  with all prayer and requests, praying at all times in the Spirit, and being watchful to this end in all perseverance and requests for all the saints:"
Midnight - She looks so sweet!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Siren's Call from Eden


 I am probably at my most happiest when I am working in the garden.  We planted a garden every single year and so I grew up with dirt.   I don't relate well to people who are most comfortable being indoors. I suspect that they are some kind of sophisticated droid that operates best in a climate controlled low humidity environment.  I can spend a Sunday afternoon all shut up with the AC going and by the early evening I think my soul is drying up and I need to return to the sanctuary of the the earth and the outside air. Our parents original home design was a garden and we are made from the dirt. True children of Adam and Eve, wittingly or unwittingly are still trying to return to Eden.  

Some city dwellers become so Eden deprived that the only way to revive their souls is to spend the entire weekend on the trail hiking or out on a boat or the beach.  They are starved for their natural dwellings and sometimes unbeknownst to them they are actually searching the horizon or looking around the bend  to see if that "Special Someone" is there and willing to meet them.  

We weren't in that garden alone.  Adam and Eve knew their Creator.  The relationship with God was lost because of the rebellion of Adam who was the representative for us all.  So now we go about our business trying to deal with life on our own terms.  We refuse to accept our creature like state and we scream that there is no God, but all the while our souls are crying and longing for that broken relationship to be restored.  We can be so much like angry and hurt children that lash out but all the while it is because we are powerless to fix the mess.

The thing is - God through His Son Jesus came looking for us.  He calls Himself a shepherd and He searches for his sheep.  He wants to the restore the relationship and He sent Jesus to pay the death penalty for our sins.  I know that this message is very offensive to many, but for some with the ears to hear, it will be what puts them on the path of restored life.  Do you know that feeling of gnawing lonesomeness that you can have when you step out into the quietness of nature?   Someone is willing to meet you there and commune with you in the most secret parts of your heart.

 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

New International Version (NIV)


    









Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Daddy Drives a Fireball

After my mom passed away daddy got it into his head that he wanted to come down to SC and get an old car that had belonged to our sister.  He convinced his buddy Mr. Purvis to go down with him and drive daddy's car back.  On the way down Daddy got to talking and Mr. Purvis eased his eyes over to the speedometer to see that daddy was going better than 80.  Daddy would get quiet and the speedometer would  ratchet back to within the bounds of the law.  Mr. Purvis would start to breath again. The scenario repeated itself over and again so that the whole trip down the speedometer became a measure of how much and how loud Daddy talked.    The car they were going to pick up was a white 1976 Maverick with pin striping on the sides.  It was a loud running car even when it was new.  The car had been through it and had been setting out for quite awhile.  Someone had rolled all of the windows down, there was no antifreeze in the radiator because it leaked badly, and all of the tires had gone flat.  Daddy when he made up his mind had dogged determination and he came to get that car.   They put pepper in the radiator to stop up the leak and somehow got some old tires to get them back home.  The muffler was pretty much gone so now it was really loud.  Daddy put his little flat driving cap on and away they went.   Mr. Purvis was behind Daddy and noticed that the tail pipe was glowing cherry red.  A gasoline leak  eased its way down to the tail pipe and then Daddy was driving along with a fireball on the back of that old Maverick.  Daddy  unaware that anything was amiss was hunched down in that front seat like he was a teenager driving his first sports car.  Mr. Purvis pulled up by him and put the passenger window down trying to get Daddy's attention to pull off the road. Daddy looked over at him with a big smile on his face and hollared back to Mr. Purvis, "Yeah, its running real good ain't it!" and took off.    Mr. Purvis bless his heart finally got Daddy stopped.  Somehow they got things temporarily taken care of and they were back on the road.  It wouldn't  last long and Daddy would be driving a fireball again.  They made in home about 3 am on Sunday morning.  Mr. Purvis' wife refused to come get him and take him home at such an hour so he had to wake up his son in law who was more eager to please him than Mrs. Purvis obviously was.  The next day both of them characteristically were back at church on time that morning.  Daddy told me Mr. Purvis, "You know, I almost brought the Maverick this morning..."  Mr. Purvis just walked away.  He didn't want to see or hear anymore about that Maverick.

Daddy's Proper Motivation

Daddy was a procrastinator his whole life. If he didn't see the need or there wasn't enough immediate pressure then he wasn't going to do it. He was a hard working man but he had some quirks about doing certain things. For something to be done Ralph needed the proper motivation.   When they moved into their house in the 50's there wasn't an inside bathroom. Mama flat out refused to use an outhouse for the rest of her life. Mama and her temper were enough proper motivation, so they installed a bathroom.

 But there was one little unfinished part in the bathroom that had access to the plumbing under the house. Mama wanted Daddy to take care of it but Daddy didn't really see the need. I guess mama knew she had won a big enough battle just getting the bathroom put in so she didn't push as hard to have that last little piece of finishing work done. I remember as a child splashing around in the tub and getting a whiff of that musty under the house odor coming from that little space.   Everyone just got used to that open space near the bathtub.

The girls grew up and one by one we went to college or married and moved away to our lives. Mama and Daddy had some empty nest years together and really seemed to be doing well, but the bathroom still wasn't fixed. I can imagine Mama probably mentioned it to him a time or two but Ralph just didn't have the proper motivation.

Mama passed away in 1985 and still that bathroom wasn't fixed.   Mama had been gone for more than 15 years and Daddy didn't have the proper motivation to do a lot of housework. In his mind everything was just fine. He made his bed, washed his dishes and his clothes and would mop the entire house when the thought struck him, but that was about it.

 He hated worse than anything to throw away a single card, letter, or bank statement. There were letters telling him to call now to confirm his free trip to County Music Hall of Fame. Advertisements to Hardee's were faded out on his dresser. This paper trail of his life was stacked in every nook and cranny. But it wasn't just paper he hated to throw away, it was everything else. Daddy had lived through the depression and he just had a hard time departing with anything that might have a little good left in it. He had a powder blue leisure suit from 1977 still hanging in his closet and a olive green plastic radio from the sixties that would not play. Falling off of every conceivable space were crafts of glitter pine cones, mice in walnut shells, and birds made out of pipe cleaners that he had made at the senior center in town. Walking into Daddy's house was like walking into some kind of time warp museum amusement park combination. You tried to make some logical connections but there weren't any really so you just had to wait for your brain to idle down and accept the situation.

 One day Daddy saw something slither around the bathroom while he taking his bath. He was pretty sure that he saw a snake. He told me on the phone that he had a snake in the house but I really had my doubts. One day at our house he thought he spotted a snake but it was just a string being blown by the ceiling fan. He had all of that stuff setting around and I thought he was just imagining something.

 He kept on talking about the snake that he was seeing different times in his house. He was becoming a little obsessive about it. One night he called his friend Mr. Purvis up and told him to get over to his house. Mr. Purvis tried to calm him down but Daddy was so worked up he wouldn't even tell Mr. Purvis what was wrong. When Mr. Purvis arrived all Daddy would say was “you can just have it”! It turns out that Daddy was sound asleep in his bed. His house was always cold because he didn't have good insulation and he never would install central heat and air. He used a heating blanket in the years after he didn't have Mama to snuggle with. Daddy felt something nudge against his backside in the bed and his eyes popped open. Then he felt something nudge him again. That snake had crawled in the warm bed with Daddy. Daddy jumped out of the bed hollering and wouldn't go back in his bedroom until Mr. Purvis got there.

 They turned the house upside down but couldn't find any snake. Mr. Purvis thought Daddy had just been dreaming.   He walked in his bedroom a few days later and "saw"a  snake on the back of his easy chair.  This time he called my sister Gail and she tore the house up looking for the phantom snake.  None of us really believed that he saw a snake and really were a little tired of the snake scares.

 But a couple of weeks later Daddy found a snake skin in his underwear drawer. A few nerve wracking days later he went in the living room to check on something and laid across his mantle piece was a five foot long black snake just all stretched out like a decoration. Daddy called around until he found somebody who would come get that snake. A young man who worked at the pet store walked in snatched the snake up and stuck it in a bag.

Daddy had finally found his proper motivation to finish the bathroom!!!!! Mama would have been so proud. I believe she would have caught a snake and brought it in the house years before if she knew it would have given  Ralph the proper motivation.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Simply Good?

kitchen windows
I grew up in the country. We lived in a small white frame house with big popular trees in the front yard. We had blue hydrangeas by the front steps and around the the side of the house. Five acres of land gave us space to have a pasture, barn, cornfield, gardens and a wood lot. Mama, Daddy and my three sisters shared a house with our grandma.

 She was my dad's mother. Grandma was a deeply religious woman with an will of iron, but her hands were soft as well as her demeanor. I was the youngest child so when the other girls were in school, I had special time with Grandma. She often cooked my breakfast when I awoke long after the school bus had whisked the other girls away. The sun streamed through the condensation on the kitchen windows giving the impression that all was safe in the world. Grandma fixed me a soft egg and toast served on the kitchen table covered with a flowered plastic cloth. She would pour steaming coffee from the aluminium percolator that she boiled on top the stove into a china cup with a saucer. She added lots of milk so that I was having more of a poor man's latte. I would pour the coffee from the cup to the saucer to cool it down.

hydrangea from homeplace
 I have no real recollection as to what my day might have looked liked other than the fact that I was expected to entertain myself which I did with antics such as jumping from the door way of one room into the next room just to see how far I could jump. I would flip the rocking chair in my Grandma's bedroom backwards and land on a small settee that she had by the front window. No one ever scolded me for this behavior or told me I was doing something unsafe.

 We didn't have a television in those days but we did have radio. Grandma listened to preachers on the gospel station. I grew up to the rhythm of their voices and the rhythm of the wringer washing machine that was on the back porch. We always had animals about the place. I had a deep gray\blue cat that we called "Gray". This tom was a traveling cat so he showed up and stayed when he was a mind to. We had Rouser the dog who was a big old white and burnt orange collie dog. He was old and good natured. Linda my oldest sister when she was learning to ride a bike and didn't have good brake control rode right over him. He never got upset, just got up and moved. Eventually he went off into the woods and never returned home. I think he was just an old considerate gentleman and knew that it was his time to die and he didn't want to upset his girls.

We had chickens that we would call free range these days. They pecked around the yard and woods and then in the evening were locked back in the chicken coop. I learned to watch my step a little closer after stepping barefoot in warm soft chicken excrement. We had a cow named Betty which my dad milked out by the barn. All in all it seemed a good life for a little girl.

 My parents weren't flighty people who fell out of love and moved on to something else. They stayed the course even through the tediousness of every day life when the dishes had to be done, laundry was never ending and the plant called my dad to working two shifts instead of one.  My grandma never complained about how terrible growing old was or even made a big deal out living with six other people in a five room house where there was no privacy.

 Honestly, we do have so much more now materially but we are so extremely impoverished in other ways. As a child I woke up when I got my sleep out and ate hot food at my own table. I had my mama and my grandma watching over me. I was allowed to be a child. I had the security of both parents living in the house with me. I was given the freedom to explore and I ate lots of organic fresh food. I never had to have the talk about strangers kidnapping me or people using wrong touch with me. Decency was commonplace then not an extraordinary occurrence. Perhaps it is time to reexamine where we missed the turn in our culture because we are obviously lost in our progressive enlightenment. Our culture's evolutionary mindset deceives us into the idea that we are progressing and that there is nothing we can learn from those in the past.

  Yahweh says, “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, ‘Where is the good way?’ and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.