Autumn’s Fairyland

October –

the month of wood dances

and festivals grand

When the trees change their garments for

            laces of yellow and

            bonnets of red,

            blouses of crimson rust-

            browns trim the edge.

Tis gay to be cheery

Not a day to be dreary

While the sky like a canopy spans overhead – in her

            Deepest blue

                        Truest blue

                                    Richest most mildest blue

With a wisp of a horsetail tossed

Here and there.

            Soft as a feather

                        Like a dusting of powder

Oh the magic of raindrops

High high in the air.

Ah the mornings are crispy.

Makes a body feel frisky.

Gives new step after summer has drained all our strength.

Take a moment to savor

Fresh pumpkin’s the flavor

Or apple and nutmeg and cinnamon spice.

God in heaven – You’re awesome!

            Amazing and dazzling

Creator of Beauty – the Supernal Source!

And to think,

we marvel

at Your footstool.

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Trickling Thru the Centuries

How is that the faithfulness of a king four thousand years ago still inspires me today? Asa’s heart was loyal to the Lord all his days. 1Kings 15:14b Who will read my story a century from now and think, ‘She was true – I can be too.’

Why are we such creatures of persuasion? Why are we so easily influenced? Does it really matter what you do when no one notices? Recently my dad was recounting an object lesson on integrity that he had observed. The speaker had stacked a number of cardboard boxes and then asked a boy in the audience to remove one from the stack without felling the tower. As you may guess, this is almost impossible. And so with integrity, that moment by moment choice which develops habits and builds character; a tower with missing pieces can only rise so high.

Last week at school Mr. Stoltzfus encouraged the students to be courageous. A noble choice usually influences the peer beside you to also do right and so on and so forth.

When I was little and caught up in a squabble, my dad would ask three simple words to clarify the responsibility of all parties involved: “Is it right?”

May God help us live nobly that faithfulness may trickle through the centuries and inspire individuals in 6019.

Kaliedescope

This summer has been a huge gift. I don’t know where to start or stop, but some of you have been asking so I’ll write for a bit.

Frost has said it well, “As way leads on to way.” Conversations, places, people that I didn’t orchestrate and here we are.

A large part of the summer found me with school books and a pen again at Christian Light. My highest regards to the many faithful who plug away beyond the ten-week summer sprint to avail our communities to high quality curriculum year after year. Your halos shine bright. I wonder how long we will have the privilege to write our own school curriculum. What an incredible opportunity. Delving into these pages again awoke a passion that i care deeply about our schools and what we put into them-into our children. Thank-you for the brainstorming sessions we shared, the stimulating conversations in the office or over grilled burgers, the collaborating. This is much bigger than one can do alone. This is also pushing me to grow as an adult, to pursue classes that build writing skills, to stay alive as a teacher.

And then it was the end of July, and a plane whizzed off to Belize. Luckily, I was aboard. Running through airports is not fun, and I did it this time. Lesson learned-give yourself more time. :/ Having lived there for four years, I always go back and find a part of my heart. This year was no exception. No exception. Actually as friendships mature the ties grow stronger. I’m so encouraged to be faithful because I see the faithfulness of my friends. I see the faithfulness of young ones embracing Jesus and walking in His footsteps. I see faithfulness through very hard times. Little ones that were in my 2nd-3rd grade classes are now the leaders, teachers, and brides. The wedding was so hot. Outside under a pavilion, 400 strong we gathered to witness. While the warm breezes fanned us, we listened to the long-winded preachers and the lovely choir, then scarfed down delicious rice and beans and chicken with fresh squeezed lime juice and melting ice cream. It wasn’t an exotic trip, just a week with precious moments; it was bubble tea and tacos with my spanish friends, planting flowers, playing spot-it over cups of iced coffee with another and talking life and laughing. a. lot., barbecue and delicious tortillas, catching rides to visit others, bouncing over speedbumps and thru muddy dirt roads, catching up with a teacher from Guatemala, joining in the heartiest hymn sing your ever attended, walking one afternoon in the sweltering sun to see another long-ago-student of mine and her mother and to learn that she was just diagnosed with cancer, so we sat and talked and cried and prayed together. It was reading stories to the ‘neighbor children’ that used to call at the gate, now one of these-no-longer-a-child will teach school in the same classroom i taught in. God, give me faith to believe bigger and grander. It was reconnecting with former missionaries also back to visit, late nights and full days. And all too soon the plane zooms off and I had to be on, unluckily this time.

In between and among these two paragraphs…

there was a camp-out on Skyline with girlfriends. We go back to school days…that night still makes me smile!!! So good. When it began to drizzle, we were offered shelter by a neighborly camper along with beer and cigars. 🙂

there was a family reunion….i think we number thirty-seven…where do all these people come from some wonder. i do too. tents, rain, campfire bombs, singing, good food, a covered bridge excursion and a random ride on a Amishman’s haywagon….so much fun with nieces and nephews…

another sunday afternoon with a friend by a creek, sharing life and wisdom

another afternoon with a sister and the kids in the pond and more sharing life and wisdom

another afternoon with a friend on a downtown mall in Pittsburgh…it turned into a progressive supper, starting at a French bakery, ending with tofu and blackberry tea, and a variety of other mushrooms and cheeses in between. oh yes, and a parking ticket.

garden goodies the days I stopped in at Mom’s house—always good food and company there

another sunday at Lake Huron…so, so pretty….so, so fun. such good friends.

Now it’s August. Teacher’s week at FB was again such a gift. we gave. we took. we came away inspired.

I was impressed this summer that God knows exactly where I’m at. And he really cares about me. Story one. I’m half an hour from home, sitting at a gas station, texting before I get back on the road. I jerk up to see if the car pulling alongside is going to sideswipe me. The driver motions me to roll down my window. He looks trustworthy so i cautiously put my window down. Is he lost? What does he want? We converse and he says he’s a mennonite and noticed I’m one too. Do I have a baby in the back, he asks. Um, no, it’s my luggage, i’m on a two-three week stint. oh, more conversing…a few more mennonite connections. After a few minutes he says he just wants to bless my trip; he tosses a couple of twenties in my window and away he goes. What is this startled woman supposed to do but keep on her way, thank God for the extra cash, and watch for more angels!

Story two. I’m flying from Atlanta to Pittsburgh but have a six hour lay-over in the Atlanta airport. I go to a Delta desk to see if i can go stand-by. “That will be $75, ma’am.” And besides the plane was full so no chance. Good luck. I wander to the approximate gate since my flight doesn’t show on the departures screen since it is too far off and I begin to kill time; catch up on social media, observe the milling millions, and all the good things one does in an airport while waiting. After about two hours i sling my backpack over my shoulder and head back to a departure screen again. Still no update. hmmm. Find a different Delta desk. “Ma’am, could you tell me which gate I’m leaving from so that i could at least sit at the right gate?” “Sure,” she replies, punch, punch, click, click on her computer. “Would you like to go stand-by on an earlier flight?” “Um, yes.” Then I gave her the previous story. “Oh, her manager just said there is bad weather brewing and they may put people on stand-by at no extra charge, because should a storm set in, they don’t want a bunch of extra people sitting in the airport.” So with a few more punches and clicks, she spit out a new boarding pass for two hours earlier, rerouted my luggage, (no guarantee your luggage will make it on the earlier flight she warned) and I went back down the long corridor amidst the milling millions, ate a bowl of rice and beans, and we were soon boarding. The skies were clear and my luggage was one of the first pieces off at the other end and it was so nice to get to my friends house at ten-thirty instead of twelve-thirty that night.

Of Father & Son

They amble down the beach – he, tall, dark hair,

broad of shoulder. Son, little – trit-trotting in front

curly locks tousle his brow. Father, son, little, big

mesmerized together – spotting a shell here,

a tide pool there – stopping – bending low – gathering

memories among the suds left from the

last whitecaps.

Suddenly he’s done – the little one

arms outstretched runs back to Father’s open arms.

Father hoists him high, then higher still – mounts him on his

shoulder. Now son is above and beyond Him- yet

sustained – grounded – carried by the Father’s strong frame.

The famed career dims in the glory of Father and son

together gathering memories. It dims in the joy of prodigy

seated high – this namesake; one that will carry on

long after Father is gone. It dims in the lore of family,

this friend conceived by his sweat and blood; one who will always

come back the way eddies circle and tides race back to deserted inlets,

who will love you, not despite your idiosyncrasies, but because of them.

One isn’t a Father without a son – this coursing desire of humanity. Is that

why God created me? Without sons He would be Majestic,

Creator, Redeemer. But not Father. And so he bears children to

stop. bend low. collect memories. To share love in dna. To go

beyond His footsteps, but be carried by His frame.

He, tall, dark haired, broad shouldered,

Son, lithe, tubsy, blond

trit-trotting across white sands, collecting moments

among the shells.

The Worser Choice

To be a brick,

                A hard cold brick,

                A stoic brick with no heart or soul.

Or a lump of clay,

                A crumpled lump,

                 A crushed and dashed and broken lump,

                But a shard of pulsing clay.

Three E’s: A Teacher’s Dilemma

In the classroom one strives to maximize excellence, efficiency, and education.

 “Today I’m going to tell you about an excellent resource that will enlighten all your writing assignments and expand your vocabulary,” she beamed holding up a three-inch-thick tome. Paging to glad students jaws dropped, amazed at the forty-three options: enraptured, transported, felicitous, gleeful, congenial, ecstatic, cloudless, painless, and on and on. Grins grew as Johnny read: blessed, blissful, content, overjoyed, entranced, delight, satisfaction.

The assignment was then to find three new adjectives to describe a cake, a shoe, and a book. Let’s just say a thesaurus is not efficient, neither is learning to use a thesaurus efficient, albeit more so than learning to use a dictionary. The second hand ticked. The minute hand tocked. Language period rushed to an end. Fascinated, fourth graders stilled pored over the thesaurus. But they had concocted delectable cakes, read medieval books, and wore antiquated shoes. The teacher glowed.

A few weeks later she described another writing project. The students had exactly twenty-five minutes to be traumatized, to dramatize, or create. The minute hand ticked and the second hand tocked. Pencils clicked and erasers scratched.  Then Johnny’s hand waved. “May I use a thesaurus?”

“Absolutely.” She swallowed her chagrin. True to pattern –three descriptive sentences an hour later Johnny’s hand waved again.

When striving for efficient education, do not whisper thesaurus.

The Crisis of One Percent

“Only thirty percent of the U.S. population is eligible to give, and only six percent of those eligible give. If only one percent more would give, there wouldn’t be a blood shortage,” Richard said taping the IV to my wrist.

“If you’ve visited or lived in Europe for a combination of more than five years, the liability of Mad Cow Disease knocks you out for the rest of your life, well, until they find a test for it.” He went on evenly, “The only way to tell if someone has it is to split their skull open and test their brain.”

“You mean an autopsy,” I tried gingerly, not sure whether to gasp or laugh.

“And now they’re believing that it’s genetic, so if it’s in your family history, you’re out of luck to be a donor. Ever. Take a deep breath. Squeeze. Don’t move.” With the deftness of a pro that giant needle hit a vein, unlike the previous two times when the nurses had poked and prodded until we all wondered if that arm thrived, dry.

As the blood ran red, I pulled out McCloskey but he was trite, weighed against heavier lines coursing through my head.  Just one percent would make a difference. Three-hundred-thousand people. Where were they?  Why did I care? Then I realized that I can’t give blood anymore without thinking of my dad. He gave gallons, one life-saving pint at a time. Today he still gives, but they dump it down the drain.T

Dad has been a dutiful donor as far back as I can remember. It was not unusual to see him come home from work sporting a round red and white sticker on his shirt pocket which said something like, ‘Be kind to me, I gave blood today.’ That’s why I thought it normal to give it a try as soon as I was old enough. In God’s sovereignty, this sole habit is why he is still with us. Traveling pastors are hard to catch at home, but Red Cross called one day and true to his appointment he showed up. When the blood slid out thick as pancake syrup, nurses’ eyebrows shot up. “You need to see a doctor. Now.”

Polycythemia Vera was the verdict. A stealthy killer that you often don’t know about until it’s too late. Thankfully we live in an age of modern medicines and ancient tonics, so that Polycythemia Vera can be a condition held in check.

The pint was filled. Six minutes and fifty seconds. “Firm pressure on the swab, arm straight up for thirty seconds.” Just a pint, a mere drop in the pool of humanity. But maybe it will be the drop that gives a second chance. A drop toward the crisis. The crisis that could be staved off by just one percent.

Books

“Books are long enough to change you.”

This quote comes from Randy Alcorn’s blog and he wasn’t sure who said it. Fascinating nevertheless.

At the onset of 2018, The Book Whisperer appeared on my kitchen table one day, like manna fallen from heaven. Thank you, Rachel. It was the shot in the arm I needed to get through cold January, gray February, and muddy March. In The Book Whisperer a teacher tells her story of how she reels her children into the Enchanting Land of Books. And she goes on to say how she reads and reads and reads herself, one challenge being the one-hundred-book-in-a-year challenge. I was swooned and dove in.

At the end of 2018 my list said ninety-nine completely read, four audio books listened to, and fifteen books skimmed or started. Always have more than one on the go. 🙂 Keeps life exciting. And all the ones you didn’t finish at the end of last year just roll onto your 2019 list.

Along the children’s line, I’ll list just a few old favorites:

  1. Amos McGee’s Sick Day
  2. The Mountain That Loved a Bird
  3. Grandpa’s Teeth
  4. Miss Rumphius
  5. Thank-you Mr. Falker
  6. Bread and Butter Indian 
  7. Underground to Canada
  8. Anything by James Herriot
  9. Anything by Jean Fritz
  10. Most books by Patrica Polacco
  11. Most books by Eric Carle
  12. Books illustrated by Barbara Cooney

A few new ones that I’ve stumbled across this past year and added to my favorites:

  1. Millions of Cats
  2. We Were Tired of Living in a House
  3. Blueberries for Sal

It’s hard to categorize favorites among the others I read so I’ll just list the best ones in no specific order other than alphabetized – CDO bites sometimes. These stories have grown my heart, painted my perspective, and changed my world-view. I am not the same.

  1. Anything but Simple-Lucy’s Memoir
  2. Clutched in the Talons
  3. Gladys Aylward-Missionary to China
  4. God I Love
  5. Not Without My Daughter
  6. One Child by Torey Hayden
  7. One Thousand Miles to Freedom
  8. Stolen Life
  9. The Book Whisperer
  10. The Heavenly Man
  11. The Power of Prayer in a Believer’s Life
  12. The Robe
  13. The Treasure Principle
  14. Titanic Survivor
  15. Turn Your Love On
  16. Unseen, The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed
  17. Wasting Time With God
  18. Wounded Trust

Social media is rewiring our brains, shrinking us with frighteningly short attention spans. It is chilling to think how this will affect our children. In her recent book,  Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World (Harper, 2018) MaryAnne Wolf says, “We, their guides, do not realize the insidious narrowing of our own thinking, the imperceptible shortening of our attention to complex issues, the unsuspected diminishing of our ability to write, read or think past 140 (now 280) characters. We must all take stock of who we are as readers, writers, and thinkers.”

Challenge for 2019: set your phone aside, pick up a good book, and start inhaling.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Reading makes a full man, meditation a profound man, and discourse a clear man.”

What books do you suggest for the rest of us?

Light-bulb Moment

I Have –

What a billion people want.

A circle of friends – close enough that we sit and laugh one moment and the next share hard stuff with tears washing our faces!

 

I Have –

What a trillion people madly pursue every day.

Peace. An incredible gift that can’t be bought or earned or achieved – only accepted.

 

I Have –

What everyone on this broken planet needs—a heart washed by the blood of Jesus. Redeemed from Satan’s grip.

 

I Have –

What all mankind hopes is true.

The promise of life – forever.

 

Thank you, Jesus. Amen.