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On Pilgrims and Indians

IMG_0254It’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving and I am sitting at the piano in our little church on the reservation. We talked, last Sunday evening, about how the Navajo word for Thanksgiving was, for a long time, Little Christmas (Kishmish).  Our pastor says there was no understanding of the history of Thanksgiving and so it was seen as a precursor to Christmas, minus the presents.

He is a good and kind person and it shows in his view of life. He says he is grateful for boarding school because, even in the hardship, it was the place he first heard of God. He is grateful for his wife who followed Christ before him and helped to lead him to Christ and away from Native traditional religion. He is a gentle person and it is seen in how he treats those around him. I have read that after a few years, a church will take on much of the personality of the pastor and I see that here. There is a yearning to learn and a kindness which seems to flow from him and is seen exhibited in the church body as a whole.

We planned our feast last week. Jokingly, someone asked who would be a Pilgrim and I raised my hand, “I will!” We all had a good laugh over that and one of the ladies spoke of how the history of Thanksgiving is being erased because of political correctness. Yes, we live out here where many have only a generator and haul their water, and outhouses are not an unknown, but the reality of life helps one to see through much of the falseness of our present culture. 

On this special morning, our son and daughter-in-law sit by our side and shi nali, our grandson, sits on my husband’s lap. We sing in English and we sing in Navajo as the room continues to fill. My husband comes forward to play the guitar and I am blessed to sing with the pastor’s daughter – God Binahji’ Adaniit’e – Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. My heart fills with joy as our voices blend and we sing from our beautiful Navajo hymnal, Jesus Woodlaaji Sin. We have all been leaning on those arms and they are holding us now as we join in worship.

Our longtime friends have arrived from Window Rock. We have spent many Thanksgivings together. They look at our son and remember  aloud the day we laid him in his cradleboard, their gift to us at his birth. How did he grow so tall? They share his Navajo name with the others – Little Boy of White Clay Mountain – Ash Kii Glaesh Ni De Gai, the name given to him by one of  the men in our church there.  Of course he does not remember this, but he is the baby they cared for before he even knew them and they will always remember him brand new and wrapped tightly in his cradleboard.  It is a bittersweet moment as they are reminded of their own son in heaven awaiting them. Our hearts are closely joined, having experienced the joys and sorrows of life as we have traveled through the years.

The Pastor preaches and shares his thankfulness to God for many things – for His beautiful creation of each one of us, His plan for each life, His sacrificial death. He talks of how Christ loved us so. His life was not taken; it was given. He reads a Psalm of thankfulness and I look around and am filled to overflowing with thankfulness for this gathering. His words flow from English to Navajo and back again, making sure all understand. It is a beautiful scene, with the wood stove crackling cheerfully in a little church in a big desert.

We worship simply, there is no fanciness about us, but we are a family, united in the bonds of Christ. Time is given for testimony and several rise to thank God for their families, His provision, His work in lives.  We are thankful for the small things and the big things and we realize the importance of both.

After the service we gather next door to eat and fellowship. We have all been generous in our contributions of food.  There is everything — turkey, mashed potatoes, freshly made tortillas, homemade yeast rolls, olives, sweet potatoes, steamed corn and mutton. We visit and eat and enjoy one another just as the attendees at that first Thanksgiving. It began in 1621, when Pilgrims and Indians joined to Give Thanks.  398 years later we remain, Pilgrims and Indians, grateful for God’s provision and each other.

Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore. – Diyin God Bizaad – Psalm 133 

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Walk in Beauty

IMG_1859My husband and I often talk of the lives we’ve lived. Yes, I meant lives, plural, for we have journeyed much and been allowed the experience of learning different people and places. There is a distinct culture to every place. Each person has a tribe, not just those we think of as tribal peoples. We are all tribal to a certain extent, for we know our ways and our family’s ways and we find comfort in the familiar.  We know this, my husband and I, and we have talked of the differences and similarities of cultures. We have learned that people are different and people are the same. Some behaviors are everywhere and some behaviors are particular to certain places.  It is the nature of humanity.

Years ago, we began our foray into other cultures on the grand Navajo reservation. Our hearts were captured by this gentle and beautiful people. We delighted to see the sheep herder and to sit in a hogan drinking coffee while shi’ma spun her wool, spindle on her leg rolling back and forth, or shuttle sliding quickly on the loom.

It was years ago, full of child, that our good friend set up a loom for me and I sat cross-legged on the porch overlooking the Rio Puerco wash, weaving. My rug was rough, boring by Navajo standards, no Grey Mountain design for me,  simple stripes running across it, not evenly woven as the master weavers in their simple homes. I was the student and I learned to respect their art.

When our baby was born, the neighbor women arrived at our door, cradleboard in hand, and he was soon swaddled and safe in the leather thongs, wound firmly to keep him comforted. It was their tradition and we knew this was good.

That was a long time ago, and we wondered, when we moved near the reservation again, if things had changed, if the old ways still held true, if the culture we loved had vanished, if cell phones and technology had claimed another tribe as it has claimed ours. And so, we found ourselves, on a Sunday morning, headed out to the reservation just a few miles away, to join our people in worship. The road wound out into the desert and I gazed at the wide open country.

Was it? It was. It was true. A beautiful sight met my eyes – a man herding his sheep and goats – and though others will not understand, to our eyes, it was a beautiful sight. It was our first gift of the day and we did not know that God had a plan and our cup would overflow with His goodness to us.

For fifteen miles we drove, until we came to a small town and found a simple church. Climbing out of our car, we looked at each other. It had been many years, but we wanted the simpleness of this place. We have been in many churches and heard many speakers. We have listened to men with many letters after their name. And along the way, we have wondered if somehow, there has been a puffing up with knowledge and a loss of wisdom.

Quietly, we stepped into the sparse room and found a spot to sit on the side. The pastor, an elderly Navajo gentleman, was just finishing his Sunday School lesson and the sound of the beautiful Navajo language fell soothingly on our ears. Smiles came our way and a woman showed us where the teacher was in the book of Romans. Another came and whispered that there was water, lemonade, coffee, and cookies in the back on the table. Help ourselves as we wished. A man came and asked my husband who we were and he replied we lived on a nearby ranch.

Soon it was time to sing and a beautiful elderly lady stepped forward to lead the singing.

“We’re going to sing in Navajo.” she told us. “You can join us.”

We were given a Navajo songbook. Our hearts lifted with the goodness of God. It had been years since we sang in Navajo, back in that little mission church so like this one. I found myself gulping back tears as we lifted our voices to sing.

Of course, our fellow worshipers noticed our singing and when it was time for testimonies, they called us forward.

“Come! Share a testimony with us!” and we stepped to the front and briefly shared our history – that we were so happy to be with them and we delighted to sing with them and that it felt like we had come home. They rejoiced with us and the pastor claimed us as one of their own.

Then he preached – going from Navajo to English and back for our benefit. The simple words of a man who trusts, who gets up every morning and simply trusts. These people do not have the luxury of going off to some school of higher education and it sometimes seems as if they, knowing they must rely on God for everything, humbly begging for His wisdom, are less full of themselves and more full of Him. I work in a world of educators, but I am not foolish enough to think these gentle, beautiful people cannot teach me many things.

As the service closed, one of the ladies motioned to me, asking if I could play the long unused piano. I stepped forward and as I stepped to the piano, the years fell away and I was back on that reservation of old, back with God’s blessed people, worshiping in spirit and in truth.  As two women prepared the frybread for the following potluck, my husband’s voice rang with joy as he joined the small group of believers in the last song.

The Navajo are known for hozho naasha – the belief that it is important to Walk in Beauty. There is much to this, including traditional worship. However, there is a respect for God’s creation and for His goodness that I believe is easily understood and exhibited by these gentle people because of this and is brought to fullness in their understanding of God. Their very view and expectation of life directs them to look for truth, for goodness, and for beauty….and that is found in Christ.

Last Sunday, we went to church and walked in beauty in a special place with special people.

 

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Late Night Reflections

IMG_3611C.S. Lewis once wrote, ‘ You can never find a cup of tea big enough, or a book long enough to suit me.’  At this late hour, with my cup of tea by my side, surrounded by my precious books, I feel a kinship with the great man.  It’s late, very late, and I  am tucked up in the quietness of our home office, my special place, the place that is fast becoming my thinking spot.

It is good to reflect in these quiet night hours. It is good to reflect on all things good and beautiful, on the blessings of the week. Tonight as I put the water on to heat and prepared the teapot, I thought of the many times through the years when tea was prepared in our home, taken to a birthday child, brought to a sick parent, lovingly embellished for an evening of Masterpiece viewing. Tea has played a large role in the lives of this family. It has given us comfort and enjoyment, encouraged a sense of oneness and given each of us a better understanding of beauty and goodness.

Tea is our shared experience. It is more than a beautiful cup, although that is important. It is more than a fine leaf, although that is also important. In our home, it is our remembered ritual. The making of the tea, the choice of blend, the careful picking of a special cup, the perfect teapot, the arranging of the tray just so, sugar cubes, cream….In the hustle and bustle of life, there will always be a hearkening back to those times, those precious tea times we cherish. It is a gift that each child has taken with them as they ventured out into the wide world. Nothing can take it away and, as each one has made sure, there will always be a teapot and lovely cup to transport the soul to a quiet place.

This week as I sat working quietly at my desk, the door quietly opened and there was our son, now an adult, and, thankfully, still a lover of beauty,

“Would you like some tea, Mom?”               IMG_3613

Lovingly, he carried a tray with hot tea, cream, and sugar and placed it on my desk. I gulped.

“Oh God, thank you for this kindness. This good thing.” I whispered in my heart. How quickly the hours flew, as I sipped my tea and continued my writing.

The next morning, busily at work again, our sweet daughter, again ever so quietly opened the door,

” Mom, would you like some tea?” IMG_3615

Oh dear Lord, thank you for this goodness. “Yes, that would be great.”

And again,another tray. A different teapot, a different cup, and crisp toast. God is good to show His goodness in the loving touches of our children. And so it continued. These lovely souls, children by birth, servants by choice, lovingly ministering to another. These are grateful moments, never to be taken for granted. 

The ritual of tea continues to unite us. In this fast paced, often coarse and jarring world, it is a comfort to know that the hours spent creating beauty and believing in goodness are not wasted. There are still children and adults who notice. Though the world may scoff at niceties, I make no apologies, for there is still a difference to be made. There is a loveliness to our ritual that is not necessarily the teapot or the cup. It is the caring and the giving, the kindness of time taken.  It is true and it is good and it is very beautiful.

Whatsoever things are lovely…think on these things. Phil. 4:8

 

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The Simple Kind of Life is Splendid

IMG_2927The sun shone brightly as we stepped out into the cold morning air. Silver slivers of ice covered the ground. We were headed out to do the chores, my granddaughter and I.   Lambs baaing, dogs barking, and goats bleating welcomed us in a beautiful orchestra of morning music.  I had slipped my daughter’s barn boots on before leaving the house and I was free to slosh through any mud, ice, or muck we met on this adventure.

“Come on, Nonna Kathy! Come see my pony.” and off we went on this wonderful, beautiful morning on the farm.  The sky was blue, the animals talked, and we laughed and turned our faces to the bright sunshine.  Soon the ice on the pony’s water was broken and I found myself with arms wrapped around a soft furry neck and memories pouring over me…..

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It was a school day, but that mattered nothing to my sister and I. We may have overslept and missed the bus, we sometimes grew wild as flowers, although very cultivated flowers. Children of older parents, ours was an extraordinary situation. Our parents loved us in a way only older parents can; appreciation of the beauty of childhood grows as parents age. They loved us so and we would not like to disappoint them but we knew they understood that we were not bad for having missed school. We loved music and books and that was the basis for a very good education, one in which thinking blossomed. Today was a day for leisurely learning, the kind that required being together exploring the great outdoors. Today nature would be our classroom.

We headed to the pasture to find our ponies, Big Red and Duke.  They were soon saddled and off we went to ride the country roads. There is nothing quite so enjoyable as ambling down a country lane, when one should be in school, one leg wrapped around the saddle horn, chatting and laughing together. That is just what we did, my sister and I.   We were young and free and completely oblivious to the fact that ours was a charmed life and that we were making memories that would last a lifetime.  The cliche of ‘living in the moment’ had not become popular yet and so we must have been ahead of our time.

Late in the afternoon we climbed happily off our trusty steeds and waved as the school bus passed by.  It was a day well spent and we would return to the stuffy old classroom refreshed and ready to hit the books in the morning.  We smiled at each other. We were pals in the best sense of the word.

All of these memories wandered through my mind as I followed my lovely granddaughter through her morning chores and around the farm.  My heart felt as if it would burst as the ponies ran to the fence to greet us and the lambs scampered across the pasture.  Somehow, in this crazy world of technological tomfoolery there is still a place where children learn in God’s classroom and young girls run free.  In a few years there will be sisters riding ponies together on the hills and smiling at one another and never realizing, yet somehow knowing, theirs is a charmed life. Sometimes the simple life shines in all its glory and we are blinded by its light and we know in our hearts that in that very simpleness there is God and there is goodness and it is, as my father would have said, Splendid.

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An Ark for Me

IMG_2816Driving along narrow country roads has never been my cup of tea. I prefer the wide vistas of Arizona to the narrow country roads of the east. But here I was. My job had called me to Kentucky and I was left with a free day, my plane not leaving until evening.  This was my chance to visit the much talked about Ark Encounter, a replica of the biblical Ark, built with the exact dimensions given in God’s instructions to Noah.

Rising early, I ate the rather artificial hotel breakfast — Were they real eggs? Probably not—packed my bags, and headed out for an adventure.  The trip was to take an hour and a half. I typed the address, 1 Ark Encounter Drive, into my phone, and started on my way. The drive seemed simple enough. The first hour was straight driving on the freeway; easy going with a smattering of rain.  I listened to the Kentucky radio station and hummed along.

And then, the British voice on my navigation system directed me to turn off the main road onto a lovely little two-laned highway…..for 15 miles.  The thin country road meandered through the Kentucky boondocks with steep hills, pastured cows, and as many twists and turns as it takes to make a stranger downright scared.  Where was I going? Would I end up in the proverbial ‘holler’?  I remembered a Reader’s Digest article of a traveler in Iceland who ended up miles from his planned destination because of his know-it-all GPS. My heart beat a little faster, but I talked myself back into a calmer state.  

As one does when one is driving down an unfamiliar road by one’s self, I began to think about life and the surprises it hands us.  Sometimes good things burst upon us and we are surrounded by joy.  Other life events leave us empty and hurting, not sure what to think, but knowing we are still called to follow the Instructor.   We start out with our grand scheme and somewhere along the way things happen and we wonder just where we are.  We would never grow in our relationship to our Savior without experiencing both blessing and burden. Yes, all of life is purely biblical, and even as I tossed up a quick prayer, I knew God was reminding me of this. 

On, I traveled, purposing that all was well and if I kept on I would surely find myself in the place I ended up!  My instructor (Oh why did I set that voice on the British accent? She has a way of making me feel a fool!) directed me to turn and turn again and I breathed a sigh of relief —- 1 Ark Encounter Drive.  

Yes, here it was.  I parked my rental car, slipped on my sneakers, grabbed my bag,and headed to the ticket booth. Stepping out of the shuttle, I  stood, amazed at the enormity of the Ark and all that happened in it. Despite the storm, Noah and his family and all of those many animals floated on to safety. 

Not all arks are made of wood. If we trust, we will one day top a hill and see our Ark.  It’s not a rainbow. It’s not a promise that all afflictions will vanish. It’s a safe place to ride out the storm.  It’s our Heavenly Father holding us tightly when we feel as if our world is falling apart.  It’s Elohim — The Strong and Faithful One. 

I stood on the second deck, surrounded by cages that would have rescued two of each kind. Looking up through the center of this massive lifeboat I could see  the open holes protected by the high roof, skylights of a sort. It seemed I looked straight up to heaven and I thought of my Savior, my Ark, who carries me safely through calm waters and raging storms, always knowing, ever present.

Driving back to catch my plane and wing my way to hearth, home, and husband, my heart overflowed.  It was appropriate that the heavens opened and I drove through  a torrent of rain as I traveled back over that tiny country road.  I hummed an old hymn to myself…The Lord’s our rock in Him we hide….a shelter in the time of storm….

Let the storms rage on. I’ve found my safe place.  I’m safe in The Ark.

 

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Christmas On The Mountain

Christmastime was a grand event at our little country church. Not grand in the way that our present culture counts grandness, but in a true and uncomplicated way.  We looked forward to the Sunday School program each year. Practices were held every Saturday morning in December and all children faithfully attended. Life was slower then. Church was important and the celebration of the birth of the Christ child took precedence over all else.IMG_2621

Our father drove us faithfully to practice each Saturday and we memorized our parts in preparation for the big day.  Each class had its turn and of course every child longed to  be chosen for the coveted role of Mary or Joseph. Even the littlest class had poems or scripture to recite and worked hard to learn their parts.

There was always a real tree donated by some church member and decorated by all. Under the tree, were nestled the gifts we received from our Sunday School teachers —– farmer’s wives, grandmothers, women who loved God and children. Each showed up for Sunday School equipped with lessons often taught with flannelgraph. Their images remain in my mind to this day.

How we looked forward to that special night. The gifts were simple, pencils with verses, and my favorite, the slide puzzles with a verse to be placed in order by sliding the pieces  to the proper spot.

At the end of the program the pastor would step to the front of the church and share a short message reminding us of Christ’s birth and the Father in heaven who sent His Son in the form of a baby to save the world. The story, spoken sincerely,  while lights twinkled on the tree and dear folks listened respectfully, was ever new and always old, just as God’s work in our life.  When the last hymn was sung, the happy congregation visited with one another as they filed to the back of the church. Waiting at the door were the Christmas bags filled with hard candy and a juicy orange, accepted with excitement and enjoyed thoroughly by grateful children and adults. We stepped out of the church to a cold winter night, often with a light snow floating down.

It was all so simple — a quiet church in a little vale, a country pastor, familiar Christmas carols, families seated in wooden pews, mothers holding babies, fathers smiling proudly as they looked down their row of children.  Families were larger in those days, a symbol of love and something to be admired.

Memories can sometimes be larger than life, and it is often a temptation, especially in the present age when life has become so cynical, to hear stories of the past with a wry expression on one’s face and a rolling of the eyes.  But I like to think that the important things in life are still going on, that there will always be a Christmas program in that little country church, that families still gather to sing the great old hymns of Christmas, children still hope they will be chosen to play the part of Mary, and that a pastor still tells the ever new and always old story of the Father who sent his Son to save us.

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The Strength of Tradition

 

IMG_2619Press it thinner.” my mother said, and I struggled to press the soft sandkaker dough into the metal form.  I knew that the dough needed to be just the right thickness in order for the sandkaker to bake properly.  My young hands worked hard, fingers pressing the dough to the sides of the metal tin, shaped like the outside of a cupcake.  It was Christmas and the krumkaker must be made.  

Tradition was important in our home. Krumkaker and sandkaker must be made, mixed nuts along with the nutcracker, bowls of mints, and of course fruit, must be laid out on Christmas day. All of these to nibble on while we waited for the special dinner to cook. 

The night before, Christmas Eve, we set out a tea cup and cookies for Santa because we knew OUR Santa drank tea. He also knocked on the stovepipe that ran up into the upstairs bedroom, and shouted Ho-Ho-Ho to our delight. We were all together on Christmas Eve, as tradition dictated all five girls must sleep together on that night in anticipation of the early morning when we would rise early, peek at our stockings, and make breakfast for our patient parents, who lovingly consumed burnt toast and runny eggs with courageous smiles.

Our stockings were filled with cupie dolls, chocolate bells, ribbon candy, and marshmallow Santas. Tucked in the toe was a lovely orange.  On Christmas morning there were no rules about eating. We gobbled our chocolate while taking turns opening our gifts. There was the year Dad donned each article of clothing he received which brought us great laughter as he stepped into his new winter coveralls and continued to hand out gifts.  

The Christmas tree was always decorated on our brother Steven’s birthday, the 21st of Dec. We trudged to the knoll or above the shale pit  –  there was a name for each field on the farm –  to cut down a homegrown tree.  We dragged it home to be decorated with glass ornaments, being careful not to break the little glass church and other special pieces. Candy canes came next and lastly the tinsel, always with the warning to hang it one strand at a time, for tinsel hanging is an art. Compared to the lights we use today, the lights on our tree were big, even a bit garish, but we loved them and all their bright colors.  

Maybe it was because our grandparents were immigrants or maybe it was just the time in which we lived, but our Christmases seemed to be ordered by old world traditions that I have come to appreciate more and more with each passing year.  Perhaps this is why I find myself setting my special Christmas books out, placing the pine boughs over the living room archway, hanging those special ornaments on the tree, insisting the tree should be decorated on Dec 16th, my husband’s birthday, and filling two stockings.

The children are grown and there is no need to continue the traditions, but my mother taught me something long ago as I pressed the dough in the krumkaker forms.  It is important to establish traditions for they form the structure on which we hang our lives.  Life is fragile and often changeable, but tradition is strong and helps to strengthen our connection to all that is good. In the rush of everyday life, the getting ahead, it is a comfort to know that certain things will always be. 

On Christmas Eve we will gather for our traditional Christmas Eve pasta and sauce followed by the candlelight service. Christmas morning is different now, with only the two of us.  We rise late, enjoy our coffee, open gifts, and travel to our daughter’s home for dinner. Shouts of Merry Christmas will greet us, little voices will tell of their Christmas morning in a house filled with wrapping paper and toys. They will be full of chocolate from their stockings and they will have left cookies for Santa.  They will be too full to eat a proper Christmas dinner, but I hope they have room for the sandkaker.

 

 

Today He Sent Me Bluebirds

                                                         He sees the sparrows when they fall.     

He hears the righteous when they callIMG_0303 (2)

He counts the hairs upon my head.

By Him all living things are fed.

If God so clothes the grass and flower,

He surely cares for me each hour. 

He surely cares for me each hour. 

I need to be getting ready for church but the bluebirds are flying and I must stop and watch them. I wasn’t expecting this. Years ago, when our family moved to the great Navajo reservation, I met my first bluebird. In a little settlement in the Pine Springs area, in a small hogan church, we sang songs and taught Bible stories to beautiful little children attending the nearby boarding school. They were there out of choice. The families lived a distance from the day school and so had chosen to send their children to the boarding school each week. And it was here, among the juniper trees that I saw my first bluebird, the color of turquoise flitting in and out of sight, beautiful and bright and capturing my heart.  

There is no falsity about a bluebird. Their color stands out boldly against the brown of the desert or the green of the juniper trees. They do not hide. They cannot.  God has made them bright and blue as if to say, ‘There, see now what I have done. I have given you a thing of beauty.’ 

I have been waiting for the bluebirds for six months, ever since I moved back to the high country. In the quietness of my mind, I have thought of them and hoped to see them, for they remind me that God deals with us individually, not simply in general terms. There are those who view God with a faraway understanding. They see Him as an impersonal God who directs things from afar and has no time to minister to the individual. But God is not like that. 

 Many times, as I ran down the cinder road, these past months, I would ask God to show me a bluebird. It was not just for a pleasant memory, but a sort of reassurance that in this chaotic world certain things remain untouched, that bluebirds still fly in the high country, and God still ‘deals in the affairs of men’. It’s the knowing that in our greatest joys and our deepest sorrows, God remains. 

And then, in the quietness of a Sunday morning,  he sent me bluebirds, flocks of bluebirds, flying about and perching on the water trough. I stood and rejoiced and knew that yes, my God cares. He sees me, standing alone in the desert and He sent me bluebirds. 

“Oh yes! Thank you!”  I spoke it aloud and tears ran down my cheeks. I thought of the happy blessings He bestows and was thankful and I thought of the sad times  He allows and was thankful. I thought of the people I rejoice to see daily and those I long for, of those I am privileged to hold tight and of those I yearn to hold. I stood, near the corral, looking at all the bluebirds, thanking God for every one.

Walking to the house, I mulled over the goodness of God in ministering to me on this beautiful Sunday morning. Into the kitchen I went and poured myself some coffee. I was alone this Sunday morning which was unusual. Usually my husband and I are getting ready together and chatting as we do. But he was spending special time hunting with our son and I was happy for them. I walked to the kitchen door which leads to the back verandah. I would look out on the Painted Desert this morning.  I opened the door wide to let in the morning sunshine—–and there he was.

Standing outside my door, preening in the light, was my very own bluebird. I could hardly believe my eyes. God surprised me again. He gives so generously – ‘in good measure, pressed down and shaken together and running over’. My heart swelled with gratitude. My Heavenly Father loves me. Today He sent me bluebirds.

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Behold, the fowls of the air, they sow not neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? …Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin. Yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Talk to Strangers

Her name is Mary and she is my welcome home committee when I return from my travels. I remember the first time I met her, climbing into the airport shuttle after leaving my car in East Economy.  I waited at the curb and she pulled up, swung open the door, and welcomed me with her bright smile.

“I’ll get that for you.”

She reached down and firmly took my suitcase from me, placing it in the holding rack.  Yes, that was the first time I met Mary and I’ve been meeting her ever since.

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Society says we shouldn’t talk to strangers and does everything it can to promote a distrust of those we don’t know. Children are raised to avert their eyes from others, unless they are acquainted with them. But not Mary. Mary talks to strangers and sees her job as shuttle driver as a way to visit with people. She does not know that her work in the world is important, that people need to be welcomed. She has no agenda. 

For almost three years now, Mary’s been welcoming me, a friendly face when I return from places where there are lots of strangers. We are different and we are alike. She is in her seventies, African-American, raised in Texas. I am me – a fair skinned, Italian/Norwegian, grandchild of immigrants, raised in upstate New York. Mary has no family here in the heat of Phoenix. She lives alone but she likes to go on cruises and tell me about her latest trip in our short rides around East Economy parking. I have children and grandchildren and am often surrounded by family, but I like cruises too and we meet at that point. 

I rarely talk about my work trips to Mary, answering only where I’m returning from. I like to listen to her. Last time I climbed aboard Mary’s chariot, she had both good and bad news for me. She had just returned from visiting her dying brother. He had had a long battle with cancer. Mary was philosophical about it. He had been sick for a long time and though she hated to say goodbye, she also hated his suffering. She had said her goodbyes an

d returned to Phoenix. This is how Mary sees life – one must do what must be done. 

She came home and was now waiting to see if she would receive the loan she needs to buy a small home in Sun City. I hope she does. Mary’s a worker. She asks for nothing and smiles at the hardships of life. She greets everyone with a smile and offers friendly conversation to all. When she moves to her new home, she’ll cut back on her work days. Selfishly, I hope she won’t cut back too much. It will be lonely to climb on board and see a different face.

Sometimes I miss Mary’s shift and a man with a memorized talk tells me about the airport. I know about the airport and I turn my mind off and sit with a frozen look on my face while my mind goes to other places. I can’t wait to get to my stop, then. All I can think is that he’s not Mary and now I have a long drive home without the pleasure of our short visit. Mary always makes the drive better.

We need more Marys in this world – more people to greet us with a smile and ask how our trip went, to make us realize the world is not always frightening and that an airport shuttle can be a place of comfort.  In the busyness of life, we tend to overlook the importance of lifting one’s face from the downward looking at the phone and smiling at others. We need more Marys to show us it’s okay to talk to strangers.

The Story Of The Blanket

It was hot, very hot, in the northern Arizona desert. The traveler wandered slowly along, serape draped over his shoulders, bare feet blistered and burning. The intense heat of the IMG_1168(2)sun had surprised him. He never expected the Navajo reservation, located so far north in the state, to be as inhospitable in its temperatures. The Navajo had taken pity on him and offered him butter for his burnt feet and a blanket to throw over his reddened shoulders.  Foolishly, he had slathered the butter on and now paid the price as the heat of the burn drove inward.  

His stomach ached with hunger and he looked for a place to find some food. There wasn’t much in this remote area, but he’d been told by the natives he met, that the missionaries at the house up ahead might help him.  Shading his eyes with his hand, he gazed toward the mission house. It stood tall, its red porch standing out among the white rocks of the mountain behind it. He readjusted his blanket, a gift given by strangers to a stranger.  His heart overflowed with gratefulness as he thought of the goodness he had encountered in this lonely place.

Heading toward the house, he stumbled up the steps of the red porch and threw himself on one of the empty benches by the porch railing, his buttered feet leaving oily footprints. The door opened and a tall man stepped out. His face showing his surprise at the source of the sound on the porch.

“Do you need help?”

Was there more goodness in this place? His heart leapt. If only he could get to the nearest city where he might find a rescue mission, get some food, some sleep, some  hope to begin again.

“I need help, yes. I need to get to Flagstaff.” He might as well put it out there and ask; he had no choice.

“I can do that. I can take you to where you can catch a bus and I’ll buy you a ticket to Flagstaff. Sit right there, I’ll be back in a minute.”

The traveler leaned back against the porch and rested.

“Would you like a drink and something to eat?”

Opening his eyes with surprise, the traveler looked up into the face of a woman. It must be the man’s wife. He found a cold drink placed in his hand and looked down as a thick sandwich was handed to him.  What was this? Another kindness? He drank the drink thirstily and quickly gulped down the sandwich.

The tall man was his hero now as he eagerly scrambled into the waiting truck. Together, they headed down the highway and the traveler soon found himself settled comfortably on the Greyhound bus headed for Flagstaff. He reached to pull his blanket around his shoulders. Wait! Where was it? Where could he have left it? His gift from the reservation was gone! Ah! The porch. In his excitement, he must have left it on the porch. Well, alright.  The tall man could have it. Maybe he could use it. It felt good to be the giver for once. Bless that blanket. It had been a long time since he’d given a gift.

As her husband headed off in the truck with their latest visitor, the woman sighed. Living just off I-40 with only a few curio shops and truck stops nearby, she was used to having travelers stop in. There weren’t many places to go for help when stranded in this part of the country.  She’d fed other weary travelers, people finding their way. Picking up the plate and glass left on the porch, she noted the footprints left by their recent visitor. That was odd. It looked as if he must have had some sort of oil on his feet. Well, she’d seen all sorts here.  Something flapped in the wind, and she noticed a striped Mexican blanket laying on the porch seat. She picked it up. After a good washing, it would be pretty handy and the colors were pretty too. 

Over the next few years, the family — the man and woman had six children in the span of time — moved from the Navajo reservation in the northeast corner of the state to the northwestern side of the state, living now in a little town, still far from cities and the rush of life. The blanket moved with them. Sometimes it wrapped toddlers and kept them warm while swinging on the new porch’s swing. Sometimes it laid decoratively on the back of the couch, reminding all who came that they were in the great Southwest. The blanket traveled with them wherever they went, stored in a cupboard or used on a daily basis. Few knew its story, a story of giving from one person to the next, but the tall man and the woman remembered.

When one of the last daughters married, the woman gave her the blanket to take to her new home. Blankets are always needed and indeed this one had weathered the storms of life very well, and still looked almost new. The daughter took the blanket to her new home and settled in.  It was put away for just a little while as the couple prepared for a baby. Along the way, the daughter was given a gift of a rocker. Purchased at a thrift store, it lacked pillows. Someday, she decided, I’ll make pillows for that rocker.

And then one day the daughter had an idea. She opened her wooden chest and took out the blanket.

“Perfect!” she said to herself, and smiled quietly. This was her project for the day. Without hesitation, she cut and sewed and hummed as she worked. When her project was finished, joy filled her heart as she looked at her handiwork. Yes, yes it was just as it should be. That old blanket looked as good as new. The rocker was ready and she picked up her little boy and sat him in it. He looked just right. Now to tell her mother of her accomplishment…..

“Mom, you know that blanket you gave me? Let me send you a picture of it now.”

IMG_1167(1)

“Do you know the story of the blanket?” said the woman. “Let me tell you….”

And so, the blanket continues its work, begun on a remote reservation by generous people who did not know the journey the blanket would take, protecting a weary soul, making homes more welcoming, holding sleeping babies, and providing comfort for a new mother. Hope revived is precious, a kindness is never too small and goodness is never out of fashion.

 

 

 

 

Tonight I Ate A Cannoli

The house is brimming with boxes. The rooms are looking bare. Closets have been emptied and my body is worn. The emotions of leavinCannolo_siciliano_with_chocolate_squaresg this house of memories insist on rising to the surface and my eyes overflow at the slightest provocation. Change, they say, is good, but I find as I grow older that it is also hard.

When we are young, we jump into new challenges with the fierceness of a young tiger, and that’s as it should be. It is the time for such things.  But when we grow a little older, when life has tempered us a bit with it ups and it downs, its hurts and its helps, its joys and its judgments, we become a little more hesitant. It is at these times that we hearken back to our youth, to the parents we miss and the comforts of the known.

And so, this morning, while on my early morning trip to U-Haul for a few more boxes, I found myself stopping off at the bakery to pick up a cannoli. When all the packing was done for the day, I would sit down and have a cup of nice, hot coffee and enjoy a cannoli as I thought of mom and dad and life in general —- of changes and growth and not letting one’s self become stagnant. Of stepping out of our comfort zone and seeing what comes up on the other side of that.

I thought of my parents, of their adventurous move to the country, leaving their known for the snowy winters of upstate New York, the comforts of the city for the discomfort of the country. Many considered it a poor trade, but I don’t think they did —-no, I don’t think they ever did. They taught us so much with their adventurous spirits and as I sit here, drinking my coffee and eating my cannoli, I am still learning from them.

Josef Pieper, in his little book of essays, Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation, states that ‘man’s ability to see is in decline’. He is right and he made this statement over sixty years ago. It is the price of a culture full of so many ‘advantages’ that we are unable or unwilling to step off the precipice and let God catch us. We fool ourselves into thinking we must be and always are in control.

Tonight I ate a cannoli and as I did, I stepped off the precipice, following my parents and other adventurers into the world of the unknown, the world of change, leaving the familiar to step delicately and carefully into new experiences, new surroundings, new challenges, not because I needed to, but because I chose to, falling headlong into the future and whatever it brings.

 

Once Upon An Evening

Here we are, all together in one place, sitting on my niece’s bed which she has so kindly provided for this weekend. I am looking at my older sister and listening to her talk.  My brother sits next to me as our little sister leans against the pillows.  It is late and we have traveled far. We are friends, borne of family and choice and we are savoring every moment of this night as we laugh and talk and catch up on each other’s lives. We are children grown up, laughing and talking and chiding as children do.

There was no plan for this late-nigrockwell parents with childrenht meeting.  It is a serendipitous moment seldom found in the rush of adulthood. We were unaware when we stepped off our planes and hugged each other, that after all the chatter of the evening we would drift into this room to renew our acquaintance with the past.

Years ago we ran together through the fields of upstate New York, towheaded and barefooted, skin the color of gently roasted marshmallows. We climbed up high in the barn for the tomboy contest and swam in our old pond, murky as it was. In winter, we dragged our trusty toboggan up the big hill to come flying quickly down, piled one behind the other, screaming with fear and enjoyment. We walked through tunnels of snow, dug from our house to the road, to climb on the school bus during those cold, dark winters, and picked apples in the back field at the end of beautifully sunny summers. We picnicked at the creek and picked out Christmas trees from our own fields.  We savored wild strawberries, their tiny size betraying nothing of their enormous flavor. We delighted in our own names for our own fields – the flat, the hill, the harp, the knoll, the pool table, the lane – we knew them all. We knew the best place for blackberries and became experts at stringing raspberries on tall Timothy grass.

We learned to state our opinions at our kitchen table where our parents encouraged us to think and talk. We learned to sing around the piano and did not fear the sound of our own voices. We grew strong and confident never realizing the depth of relationship developed over those glorious years. And, as most children, never noticing the great work our parents were doing in our lives every day. Now, as parents ourselves, we are kinder and more understanding of our own parents and we love them even more as we understand their lives and their decisions.  We are now them. They are seen in us.

We have gathered in the middle of the country to celebrate many things, our parents, our connection to one another, a triumph of health…..there is a gratefulness to us in this meeting. We have learned, over the years, that our gatherings are never to be taken for granted and so we treasure every moment together.

Yes, here we are, thankful children, talking late into the night, with no mother to scold us or father to direct us. Yet we know, if there is a way to see us from that heaven up above, they are smiling and enjoying their children gathered together under one roof again.

 

 

The Best Day Ever

IMG_3559They say the best writing is done when you are either euphorically happy or in the depths of despair. I think they’re right, whomever they are, because whenever I remember this day, I feel I want to write forever. You might think the title doesn’t match the experience when you begin reading, but stick with me. I think you’ll feel the same way. I think you’ll agree —- it was the best day ever.

It was cold, bitterly cold, as I sat in the rain, bundled up in my daughter-in-law’s coat and gloves, sneakered feet tucked inside the tapaderos that hung from the sides of my son’s saddle. It was years since I had looked at the world from the top of a horse. And here I was, joining this group of cowboys, my son included, as they moved 300 head of cattle to spring pasture. 

I had just completed a week of school meetings in Utah and journeyed on to southern Idaho, where our son and his wife were working on a large ranch and farm enterprise. Talking to my son a few days before my arrival, he expressed disappointment that he was due to work during the only day I’d be there. It was spring and cows must be moved to higher country.

“Unless you’d like to ride along, Mom. We’re driving the herd about 10 miles up into the mountains.”

Hurrying busily between school meetings in the city, heels nicely polished and makeup on, I quickly tossed out a reply,

“Well, sure! It’s been a long time. Let’s do it.” 

The words were out now and there was no backing down. 

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. It’ll be fun.”

Poor boy. I’m sure he was worried, and to tell you the truth, as I stopped at Target that night to pick up a pair of jeans, I had a little bit of concern myself. I had no fear of getting on a horse, but I wondered if, after a day of riding, I might not be able to get off!  My bravado slipped just slightly before I pulled my sense of adventure quickly out and brandished it courageously.

So, here I was. The day had dawned, foggy and rainy and cold – 45 degrees cold. My daughter-in-law did her best to wrap me up warmly, tucking heating packets in pockets and making sure snacks were ready. I chuckled to myself as I thought of the day before when, in heels and office attire I had visited schools and shared educational philosophies.  Well, they wouldn’t recognize me today. 

As we trailered our horses out and met the others, I wondered just what they must be thinking. But all was well, the cowboys having been instructed to be careful of how they spoke (this I found out later when one of them slipped and another corrected him). And of course they knew the cowboy way; be respectful, especially to ladies. There is a gentleness and kindness that runs straight through the middle of the life of those who live close to the land. It is something the Washington politicians could learn from but will never understand. There is a quiet confidence that is born when one touches the land and lives by its rules, experiencing the force of the elements and understanding how small mankind is in relation to creation and the Creator. 

As I climbed onto a nice palomino, the rain began to fall in a steady torrent and my son apologized for the weather. I didn’t care. It was as it should be. I was living the cowboy life, if only for a day. Let the rain come and the wind blow. My hands might have gotten a little cold, my knees a little stiff, but I was a cowboy and I would not complain. 

Riding along I thought of that little boy who mimicked the Lone Ranger and crawled along the living room rug and fired his silver bullet. This was the boy who gave us that awful fright when he was five and took off to go hunting with his bow and arrow in the huge BLM pasture in western Arizona where we lived. When his father finally found him — hunting the bull, whose name must have been Ferdinand, because he was just too friendly—- he breathed a sigh of relief and brought him safely home.  And this was the son who spoke to the other cowboys to tell them his job today was to make sure his mother was well taken care of.  

Surely, this is the story of parenthood. We care for our children, worry over them, pray constantly, seek to protect them.  We see them go off to live their grown-up lives and work through the loneliness of not seeing them every day, reminding ourselves that this is good. We would not choose to hold them back. And then sometimes, we have that golden opportunity to be beside them for a day and our hearts are gladdened. 

My horse plodded along on the muddy road as I rode behind the herd. 

“Mom, are you warm enough? You doing okay?”

“I sure am. This is the best day ever.”