New Life

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly." Richard Bach

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kettles aren't just for cooking

Recently, I was given the opportunity to be a bell ringer through our church,  and thought it would be a neat experience for my kids.

Isn't it funny how we end up being the ones blessed?

It only took an hour or so of our time.  It was no great feat.  It wasn't a huge inconvenience.  We had fun.

And it was an interesting experience.  They managers of the Wal-Mart couldn't find the bells.

How can you be a bell ringer without bells?

So we bought some bells, strung them on a necklace, and made our own.   (Incidentally, the necklace was a bell necklace that belongs to my four year old and had been left in my car.)

Jessica strung them on one by one.

Did I mention it was freezing cold!?!

Between all of us we made enough bell ringing noise to attract attention to our kettle.   And hopefully made a difference.

"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:17-18 

Years ago, when my mom was still alive and not doing well health wise or financially, the Salvation Army sent her a check for an obscure amount of money.  It was something like $27.42.   I will never forget that.  I was struck by how much it meant to my mom.  Ever since then I have always donated to the bell ringers at Christmas.

"A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor." Proverbs 22:9

The Salvation Army bell ringers have been around a long time, beginning with the desire to help feed the poor and destitute during Christmas.  Click here for the Red Kettle History.

 The history of the Salvation Army began in 1852 and has been making a difference ever since.   It started with one man, William Booth,  and his wife.

"Booth was reading a printer's proof of the 1878 annual report when he noticed the statement "The Christian Mission is a volunteer army." Crossing out the words "volunteer army," he penned in "Salvation Army."..."

"...he attracted followers who were dedicated to fight for the souls of men and women."

Isn't that what we are called to do?  Isn't that The Great Commission?

Soon after volunteering, I heard a piece on NPR  about being a virtual bell ringer.  So I signed up.

I decided to do it in honor of my mom.

Click here to donate, sign up, join my team, or just to check it out......  Even just a dollar.

 "If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." Isaiah 58:10 

Because it will change lives.

Thank you for considering.  And blessings to you and your family this Christmas and New Years!

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in." Matthew 25:35 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My big brother

My big brother is extraordinary.    
I realized just how much this Thanksgiving.

Both of our parents died within a year of each other.  They were young, just in their 60's.  It  has been over 11 years since mom died.
I never thought of our relationship as close until they passed.  Most of our growing up was done apart; he with one parent and I, the other.  Divorce tore us in two.

We are much closer now.   Death does that I guess.  We had to learn to depend on each other.   I can honestly say that I need him now.  He and my aunt are all I have left of my family.

I remember when our dad died and he and I experienced the year of going through our dad's things, the unexpected death,  as an opportunity to learn and grow closer instead of seeing it as a hardship.  I learned a lot about life that year.

Starting out homeschooling 10 years ago, Harry supported me when most everyone else didn't.  I think he is my biggest fan.  He is the reason I started blogging in the first place and he even encouraged me to become a pen pal.  He stretches me.

Encouragement is a powerful force in this world of ours.  You never know the difference you can make in someone's life.

 "You need to be aware of what others are doing, applaud their efforts, acknowledge their successes, and encourage them in their pursuits.  When we all help one another, everybody wins."  Jim Stovall

He believes in me.  Really.

There aren't many people I can say that about.

I admire him as only a little sister can.  However, Harry is very accomplished in his own right; his skydiving career stretches over 20 years,  an amazing aerial videographer , photographer and sports announcer, he helped found several organizations dedicated to jumping;  performed a lead role in the play, Arsenic and Old Lace, a student of communication, and of course; a writer and blogger.  He even wrote the forward to a base jumping book

And he has cool hair :)

But what happened this Thanksgiving is what really makes him a hero.  My daughter was chewing food long after dinner.  My littlest (four year old) had apparently made cud of her chicken.  She tripped over something in our rec room (we later found a gash on the back of her arm) and screamed.  I knew that it was a really hurtful scream and I ran into the room and was holding her asking if she was alright.  She never exhaled from her scream, screwed up her face, and became limp and unconscious in my arms.  There was only a second that went by as I yelled to my oldest to call 911.  Literally 3 seconds tops.   There was no time to even peruse all the CPR instruction and classes I have taken.  And Harry swooped her up, gave her the Heimlich and literally saved her life.  Right in front of my eyes.  I am still not over it.

He never hesitated.

"Not the glittering weapon fights the fight, but rather the hero's heart." Frederick Jezegou

He has always been a risk taker.  We are about as different as two siblings can get.  I am the safe one; shooting for two weeks paid vacation a year,  a rung on the corporate ladder and a white picket fence.  At least right out of college.  Now I am content and most grateful to stay home with my kids.  I am boring in comparison.

Harry is different.  On the other extreme, his life is measured in the risks he takes and the adventures he makes and all the people he meets.  He was crossing the country right out of college.  He is the kind of guy who finds sea manatees off the beaten path while tourists go to the 'tourist traps' to see them in tanks.  He is the one who says 'wait' when everyone else says go.  He follows the beat of a different drummer.

He is a modern day Thoreau.

"Be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you...Explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one's being."  Henry David Thoreau

I worry about him and pray constantly.  I  don't really want to hear he jumped a dozen times a day from a perfectly good airplane.   Where will he be on Christmas Day?   I choke up just thinking about it.

(Now, if I can just find him a good Christian girl...:)

When he is on his deathbed (although I can't imagine that) he won't have the regrets most people have.  "I wish I would have....."  His whole life has been a bucket list.  He has crossed the country more times than I know and has traveled abroad as well.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover."  Mark Twain 

We are blessed to see him once a year, if we are lucky.
Usually in the fall.   My girls always start looking for him when the leaves change colors.

This visit was different.  It is a new start.  And he came as a brother, Unkle, and professional.

We haven't had a family portrait since before our littlest came on the scene four years ago.  It has been six years.  She looks at our old family portrait hanging on the wall in our den and asks pitifully, "Where am I, momma?"

There are advantages to having a photographer as a brother.  The girls learned and helped with a real photo shoot.  We all learned.  He is quite talented and so absorbed in the moment, I don't think he knew I took his picture.

It has been many years since we spent Thanksgiving together.  And it was wonderful.  I am thankful for him.

The girls think he hung the moon.....  He is a pretty cool uncle.  Loves playing video games and held his own at chess with a 10 and 13 year old..  Even passed the Toxic Waste candy test.

(He is gonna kill me for this picture.)

I am very proud of him.

Before he left, he had a heart to heart talk with the two oldest, packed up, and then was gone.

I hated seeing him go.  I love him to the moon.

We are all going to miss him....

..............But I can't wait to hear about his next adventure.

Be safe big brother.

"So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
Isaiah 41:10

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Blessings in disguise

Can being broken be a blessing? 
photo by

I initially found this story of the Lost Horse in my new favorite book, Sabbath.  He entitles it as, The Story of the Taoist Farmer.  I am finding , however, that it is an ancient tale known throughout the world.

In Japan,

Ningen banji saiou ga uma means,  'Inscrutable are the ways of Heaven. An evil may sometimes turn out a blessing in disguise.' 

It's literal meaning is: 'All human affairs are like Saiou's horse.' 
It comes from this old Chinese folktale:
photo by Neecie Herndon

A man who lived on the northern frontier of China was skilled in interpreting events. One day, for no reason, his horse ran away to the nomads across the border. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, "What makes you so sure this isn't a blessing?" Some months later his horse returned, bringing a splendid nomad stallion. Everyone congratulated him, but his father said, "What makes you so sure this isn't a disaster?" Their household was richer by a fine horse, which his son loved to ride. One day he fell and broke his hip. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, "What makes you so sure this isn't a blessing?"

A year later the nomads came in force across the border, and every able-bodied man took his bow and went into battle. The Chinese frontiersmen lost nine of every ten men. Only because the son was lame did the father and son survive to take care of each other. Truly, blessing turns to disaster, and disaster to blessing: the changes have no end, nor can the mystery be fathomed.

(Huai Han, Tzu, early Han 2nd Dynasty B.C.)

I am finding that this is so true in our own lives.

On a small scale.....Not being able to do something I wanted to do opened up an opportunity for something else even better.

On a larger scale.....The tree that fell on our home provided us with a new heat pump at little cost.  

On a huge scale.....My husband's diagnosis has brought us all closer to God.

I would never before have been grateful for these things.  And although hindsight is always 20/20, I am pondering about making quick judgments on 'bad' things that happen or trials I find myself in when I base it only on what I can immediately see, reason, or perceive.

As I write, my aunt faces discouragement after four botched hip surgeries for a hip replacement that was supposed to improve the quality of her life.   She faces not being able to walk without aids, or do what she used to be able to do, constant pain, and another surgery.   One last chance.  Where is the blessing?
As I hold her while she sobs, I wonder.  And I think about the son who fell and broke his hip.

Our church offered a class on The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis this fall.

 "The story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, a junior tempter named Wormwood, so as to advise him on methods of securing the damnation of a British man, known only as "the Patient".  In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis provides a series of lessons in the importance of taking a deliberate role in living out Christian faith by portraying a typical human life, with all its temptations and failings, as seen from devils' viewpoints."  (Wikipedia)

The instructor introduced The Law of Undulation which states that humans have spiritual peaks and valleys that we go though during our lives.

 un·du·la·tion  n.
1. A regular rising and falling or movement to alternating sides; movement in waves.

Screwtape mentions it in Letter 8 when telling his nephew Wormwood that 'the patient' may not be falling away from his faith but that it may be the natural part of the life of faith.....
Thus the law of undulation.

The life of faith?  Hmmmm.....

Screwtape writes about God, ("our Enemy" is referring to God; remember this is a demon talking)
"Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the trough even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else…It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayer offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best…Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round on a universe from which every trace of Him has vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
C.S. Lewis "The Screwtape Letters"

The trick is to remember the peaks when you are in the valleys.  And to know that the valleys will soon give way to the peaks.  And to trust.

Just being aware of this is so huge.....  So you don't get stuck.

My girls and I are almost finished memorizing The Beatitudes together.
There is nothing quite so breathtaking as hearing your 4 year old recite scripture that is being imprinted upon her heart.

Matthew 5:2-12
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Wayne Muller  in Sabbath,
"He said blessed are.  Not "they will one day be blessed, "  but they are blessed right now.  The poor are blessed, even in their poverty.  Those who mourn are blessed, even in their grief.  The meek, the merciful, even those who are persecuted--blessed, blessed, blessed.  Not later.  Not when their trials are over.  Not when they are fixed.  Right here, right now.  There is a blessing for you here, now, in this very moment."

I am finding that I am considering blessings and trials differently now....
And my aunt's hip?  I can't wait to see how God plans to bless her through this. 
I think the key lies in the looking, waiting, and expecting.

James 1:2-4

 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 34 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 

My prayer for you...

Numbers 6:24-26
"The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace." 

Continuing Simple Praises.....
#325- Finding the story of the Lost Horse
#326- Learning about the Law of Undulation
#327- C.S. Lewis
#328- Being able to hold Sandy on Thanksgiving
#329- being broken
#330- the life of faith