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Learning to Love Words – A Legacy

Maresy-doats and doesy-doats and little lambsy-divy.

A kid’ll eat ivy too – wouldn’t you?

This was one of the nonsensical songs my mother would sing to us in our childhood. Of course we would chuckle for we knew the next line was coming, which would explain the first.

If the words sound queer and funny to your ear, a little bit jumbled and jivey,

Just say mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy….

Words were our parents’ toys and it was only natural that we became comfortable with language early on. Growing up in a home that eschewed the television because our father could see into the future to a time when the box at the front of the room would draw the attention from all else, we were left with ‘only’ words — the written word, the spoken word, and the words that were joyfully sung.

A flea and a fly in a flue were imprisoned

So what could they do?

Said the flea, Let us fly!

Said the fly, Let us flee!

So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

Oh, how I remember trying to learn this little wordplay as a child. With all the homonyms, it certainly made a young child’s mind think! And think we did. We wrote poems, sang songs, read books…

We never noticed the great thing our parents were doing in equipping us with a love of language. We did not think it odd when our mother would tell us to clean up because we looked like ‘The Wreck of the Hesperus’. We knew that was a Longfellow poem about a shipwreck and we must do just as she said. I once referred to this in a class I was teaching and the poor unfortunate souls looked at me in confusion. For all the ‘progress’ of enlightened, modern education, their lack of knowledge took me by surprise. I thought everyone grew up surrounded by Jabberwocky and walked down the beach with the Walrus and the Carpenter.

The language of hymns lifted our vocabulary and increased our understanding of words as we sang:

Though the angry surges roll o’er my tempest driving soul,

I am peaceful for I know, wildly though the winds may blow,

I’ve an anchor safe and sure, that shall evermore endure.

And it holds, my anchor holds

Blow your wildest then o gale,

On my bark so small and frail,

By His grace it shall not fail,

For my anchor holds, it firmly holds.

At Christmastime, we learned history as we sang the words of Longfellow written during the dark years of the Civil War, struggling with his sadness at the division of the country and expressing his hopefulness when he writes –

And in despair I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth I said.

For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Then rang the bells more loud and deep, GOD IS NOT DEAD NOR DOTH HE SLEEP.

The wrong will fail; the right prevail with peace on earth goodwill to men!

Oh, it was so easy to believe when we were surrounded by this goodness, this beauty, this use of language! Chesterton, that great British author was not afraid to speak about words:

Our generation professes to be scientific and particular about the things it says, but unfortunately, it is never scientific and particular about the words in which it says them. It is difficult to believe that people who are obviously careless about language can really be careful about anything else.

Our dear Chesterton is correct – and to think he died in 1936! Ah, but he was a man of words and could see what was truly coming down the pike. He knew that standards in speech are important and one of the ways we establish order in a society. When language falters, we are less likely to understand one another. Without rules of speech we do not present ourselves well and this often leads to coarse or underdeveloped use of words. Without an ability to converse, chaos reigns.

There are arguments that can take place peacefully. We call them discussions. However, without the ability to communicate clearly we will never be able to have them! Chesteron notes this also, when he says:

What is the good of words if they aren’t important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn’t any difference between them? If you’re not going to argue about words, what ARE you going to argue about?

Ah! This man is speaking my language. How many nights around the dinner table did talk reign supreme with opinions freely given – very freely given, for we were raised to speak our minds and we certainly did. Man or woman, boy or girl, each had words to say. Our parents viewed us with the respect granted a child of God and we would never take advanatage of that. We knew there were times to be seen and, respectfully, not heard, but that we would also have our time to speak.

My father’s last words to me arrived in a card a few days after his death. I treasure those words. They are worth more than any amount of money. The words we exchanged over tea, the everyday discussions of what flowers or vegetables he would plant in those last years of his life, are precious and gentle remembrances of time well spent.

Now, whenever I sit in a crowded room or around a table and hear conversation flowing around me, whenever I am part of that conversation, I am reminded that my wise parents presented me with a feast of words, a love of language, and I am reaping the benefits daily. That, my friends, is what we call a legacy.

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Once Upon an Evening

As any family, in our grown up years we find ourselves scattered across the country and sometimes across the world. But every once in a while we feel the need to gather– to hear the familar voices of our siblings. We’re an opinionated bunch, most large families are. We learned early the old adage, speak now or forever hold your peace. and believe me, we can speak! And so we found ourselves one weekend smack dab in the middle of the country…

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.

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Growing People

When I was a little girl, I helped my father plant a garden. He was a master gardener, not in the sense of taking a course, although he held a degree in agriculture. No, he was a master gardener in the fact of loving plants, and loving the process of gardening from beginning to end. Before the seeds were planted, the earth must be tilled, the little tractor pulling the plow, disturbing the rocks that grow so well and turning over the soil.

My father knew the ground would need to be turned over several times, that fertilizer must be mixed in. He measured each row, tying string to stakes at each end to ensure the rows were straight. Each row was hoed just deep enough for a seed to be planted, but not so deep that the seeds could not grow. I walked along dropping corn kernels in the row, strategically placed, two at a time. I loved the bright pink color – at that time corn was treated before planting. We must be careful not to put the kernels either too close or too far apart. Cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins were different. THEY must be planted in small mounds and given freedom to roam. We worked together, the children doing their part, my father leading the way. This was his specialty and my mother was nowhere to be seen. She loved her music. He loved his plants and books. They poured their seeds of music and nature into our lives and, though we never noticed, they were growing us all the time. We were just some of the things they grew.They found great solace in escaping city life, in buying a simple country home, and surrounding us with music, books, animals, and large vegetable gardens.

We looked forward to the time when the corn grew high and ripened, tassels turning brown and a summer evening consisted of shucking the ears, boiling the corn, slathering it with butter, sprinkling it with salt, and feeling the soft kernels pop as the juice ran down our chins. The room was full of laughter and talk and life was simple and good.

It was August and school would not begin until after Labor Day. It was a distant thought. As children, we did not realize the beauty of this experience, foolish as we were. We did not realize these days would be treasured in years to come – and that was just as it should be, for children do not need the burden of being made to appreciate the everyday-ness of life. They must be allowed to live each day fully and memories will appear in their older years, when they are needed.

During the winter months, in between reading Solzhenitsyn or Louis L’Amour in front of a roaring fire, and journeying with us through the Little House books, our father studied his seed magazines and planned his garden. The gardens grew as the years went by, to include three separate glorious spaces. Gourds were grown simply for their beauty, laid out to dry, and then to be shellacked to a lovely shine and shaken with vigor by certain children to hear the seeds rattle. These were used purely for decoration and enjoyment.

As I look back on this now, I realize this was not an unusual experience for the time and area in which I grew up. Families often planted their gardens together and children seldom had time to contemplate the boredom that is so rampantly expressed in our present age. There were weeds to pull and, later, vegetables to pick. Summers days of wandering through the fields, a stalk of Timothy grass hanging from one’s mouth, feet and head bare, were the norm. Sunscreen was unheard of, a burdensome invention yet to come. We felt the sun warm our bodies and lifted our faces for its blessing.

Without television or screens of any kind, I wandered happily over the hills never realizing the charmed life I’d been granted. And yet, I did not disdain it. There was a joyous feeling to picking tiny wild strawberries with my siblings in the middle of a wide, open field. All in all, life was good, free of worries, full of hope. We did not choose to be grateful, we simply were.

Now we live in the terribly enlightened year of 2022. Screens abound. Children must be instructed to play in the fresh air. Social media has taken the place of kitchen table discussions. Friends are too busy to drop by. Strawberry fields have given way to housing developments. It’s a brave new world where twenty-somethings exchange looks of disdain for their elders’ lack of wokeness and breathe a sigh of relief that we have escaped the gentle life of all that was truly good and beautiful. Now, we must schedule our times of reflection if that is even to be.

As for me, I’m holding on to gratefulness. I’m choosing the wide open country and walks into good books. I’m looking for wild strawberries and kitchens full of friends and neighbors. I’m hoping the Wendell Berry life is still available and I want to invite all who wish, to come away with me. There are still so many lanes to wander, so many trails to explore. I want to grab the hands of all those woke disciples and lead them to the land of plenty — no shoes, no hats, no sidewalks, just the good fresh air and the folks you love. I dare any screen or tight schedule to compete with that.

Hope in the Midst of Chaos

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Back in the saddle again. Out where a friend is a friend, where the longhorn cattle feed on the lowly jimson weed, back in the saddle again.                                                                      

Out on the range once more, totin’ my old .44, where you sleep out ev’ry night and the only law is right, back in the saddle again.

The words of this old western ballad caress my ears as I rock my grandson. The music of the rocker sings along with Gene. It’s the end of a busy week and a busy day. As we rock I listen to those words, words that are foreign to the ear in these days. Few people listen to cowboy music – not country music, mind you – true western music….ballads of life in the great western parts of our nation. They are filled with the stories of men riding the range, fighting the weather, living a life in which dreams and reality collide. 

As we rock I sing along and look into the true blue eyes that are looking up at me The words of the song speak to me more deeply than they have in earlier times. In this unhappy world, full of violence and illness, with the strain of society tripping over itself to find answers, I hear the clean music, the gentle voice, the words that speak of true friendship, of the peacefulness of an agrarian life, of a time when guns were not  something to argue over but simply a tool to use and the public was thankful for the rule of law.

I don’t think it is just my age that causes me to return to the old things, the good things, though it is true, or should be, that as we grow older we learn to appreciate the goodness of the old, rather than forsaking it. In our restless society, it has become more important to be ‘woke’ than to be wise. There is a great pressure to ‘keep up’, to be savvy, as we used to say. That was when people understood language more fully, read whole books rather than this blog of 500 words. 

There is no time now to study history and read deeply. We are too busy fighting and making sure we are not pushed around by others but instead WE do the pushing. Could it be, could it just be that those simple songs and simple times that are thought of as so naive and far too innocent, lacking the reality of skepticism and full of blinding hope were actually better? 

It was not a bad way to live when people were polite, when families sat around a nicely set table laden with food made by loving hands, and talked and laughed and cherished each other. The father at one end of the table, the mother at the other. Prayer was offered and all was just as it should be. A knock at the door was not feared, rather another chair was added to the table and food was passed.  This picture actually offends so many now; the thought of anything so picturesque must be eradicated. The present age of tomfoolery has no time for beauty, preferring instead to focus on how to make the world uglier.  Would that we could return to the days of love and understanding, of affection and kindness, of politeness and respect.

These thoughts meander through my mind as I watch my grandson’s eyes flutter and close, I listen to the lilting western ballad and my heart is encouraged that there are still some who live far away from the noise and there is hope that this child will not see the destruction of our society that is going on in the false name of justice. I hope that he, a white boy, or any of our other grandchildren – black and brown included, will not be judged by the color of their skin as so many seem to think is appropriate in these progressive times. 

The world has taken a turn for the worse; what was evil is now seen as good and what was good is now evil. The beauty of life on the range is unfamiliar to the angry protesters and to much of our society.  With blinded eyes, most could not see the goodness of a life lived outside the fog of mediocrity that is all the rage, where no one can do well and all must settle for the lowest denominator. In such a society, there is no use for beauty or striving for excellence – all must be the same.

Mock me if you choose, I prefer to follow a higher calling. Yes, head in the clouds, I will cling tightly to hope.  I choose to look up and to think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, full of virtue, praise-worthy. It’s peculiar, I know. But who wants to follow the madding crowd? I’m happy coming out from among them, living high on a mountain, listening to beautiful music, and generally  being a peculiar person. Wow – that sounds, well, almost Biblical.

II Cor.6:17    Phil. 4:8

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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 

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 six 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 and 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 our phones and smiling at others. We need more Marys to show us it’s important to talk to strangers.

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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.

 

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.”

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“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.