Slow Down Therapy

“1. Slow down; God is still in heaven. You are not responsible forDoing it all yourself, right now.2. Remember a happy, peaceful time in your past. Rest there. EachMoment has richness that takes a lifetime to savor.3. Set your own pace. When someone is pushing you, it’s OK to tellThem they’re pushing.4. Take nothing for granted: watch water flow, the corn grow, theLeaves blow, your neighbor mow.5. Taste your food. God gives it to delight as well as to nourish.6. Notice the sun and the moon as they rise and set. They areRemarkable for their steady pattern of movement, not their speed.7. Quit planning how you’re going to use what you know, learn, orPossess. God’s gifts just are; be grateful and their purpose Will be clear.8. When you talk with someone, don’t think about what you’ll sayNext. Thoughts will spring up naturally if you let them.9. Talk and play with children. It will bring out the unhurriedLittle person inside you.10. Create a place in your home…at your work…in yourHeart…where you can go for quiet and recollection. You deserve it.11. Allow yourself time to be lazy and unproductive. Rest isn’tLuxury; it’s a necessity.12. Listen to the wind blow. It carries a message of yesterday andTomorrow-and now. NOW counts.13. Rest on your laurels. They bring comfort whatever their size,Age, or condition.14. Talk slower. Talk less. Don’t talk. Communication isn’tMeasured by words.15. Give yourself permission to be late sometimes. Life is forLiving, not scheduling.16. Listen to the song of a bird; the complete song. Music andNature are gifts, but only if you are willing to receive them.17. Take time just to think. Action is good and necessary, but it’sFruitful only if we muse, ponder, and mull.18. Make time for play-the things you like to do. Whatever your age,Your inner child needs re-creation.19. Watch and listen to the night sky. It speaks.20. Listen to the words you speak, especially in prayer.21. Learn to stand back and let others take their turn asLeaders.There will always be new opportunities for you to Step out in front again.22. Divide big jobs into little jobs. If God took six days to createThe universe, can you hope to do any better?23. When you find yourself rushing and anxious, stop. Ask yourself”WHY?” you are rushing and anxious. The reasons may improve yourSelf-understanding.24. Take time to read the Bible. Thoughtful reading is enrichingReading.25. Direct your life with purposeful choices, not with speed And efficiency. The best musician is one who plays with Expression and meaning, not the one who finishes first.26. Take a day off alone; make a retreat. You can learn from monksAnd hermits without becoming one.27. Pet a furry friend. You will give and get the gift of now.28. Work with your hands. It frees the mind.29. Take time to wonder. Without wonder, life is merely existence.30. Sit in the dark. It will teach you to see and hear, taste andSmell.31. Once in a while, turn down the lights, the volume, the throttle,The invitations. Less really can be more.32. Let go. Nothing is usually the hardest thing to do – but oftenIt is the best.33. Take a walk-but don’t go anywhere. If you walk just to getSomewhere, you sacrifice the walking.34. Count your friends. If you have one, you are lucky. If you haveMore, you are blessed. Bless them in return.35. Count your blessings – one at a time and slowly- author unknown

AUTUMN REFLECTIONS

It’s Fall now and once againThe warm days of summer are now at an end.And I ask myself, “What have I done,To share of my talents and love everyone?Have I spent extra time with parents, daughters and sons?Have I shown golden butterflies to sweet little ones?Have I laughed and cried with them, throughout joy and pain?Or simply existed, again to abstain.Have I taken the time to lay on the grassAnd look at the clouds as they gently slip past?Did I discover the stars twinkling brightly at night,Declaring God’s power, awed at the sight?Have I shared from my garden with families in need?Or have I wasted and squandered, succumbing to greed?Have I offered a hand to a stranger in lack?Or gait swiftly by him, not looking back?Summer was busy and some things had to wait.I hope for some deeds, it isn’t too late.Pondering. . . . . I pause for an inner inspection.When the Autumn leaves fall, I find time for reflection. — by Sue Burg

Angels Unaware

It was a rainy night in New OrleansAt a bus station in the town,I watched a young girl weepingAs her baggage was taken down.It seems she’d lost her ticketChanging buses in the night.She begged them not to leave her thereWith no sign of help in sight.The bus driver had a face of stoneAnd his heart was surely the same.”Losing your ticket’s like losing cash money” he said,and left her in the rain.Then an old Indian man stood upAnd blocked the driver’s wayAnd would not let him pass beforeHe said what he had to say.”How can you leave that girl out there?Have you no God to fear?You know she had a ticket.You can’t just leave her here.You can’t put her out in a cityWhere she doesn’t have a friend.You will meet your schedule,But she might meet her end.”The driver showed no signThat he’d heard or even caredAbout the young girl’s problemOr how her travels fared.So the old gentleman said,”For her fare I’ll pay.I’ll give her a little moneyTo help her on her way.”He went and bought the ticketAnd helped her to her placeAnd helped her put her baggageIn the overhead luggage space.”How can I repay,” she said,”the kindness you’ve shown tonight?We’re strangers who won’t meet againA mere ‘thank you ‘ doesn’t seem right.”He said, “What goes around comes around.This I’ve learned with time -What you give, you always get back;What you sow, you reap in kind.Always be helpful to othersAnd give what you can spare;For by being kind to strangers,We help angels unaware.”

Wisdom at the Water’s Edge


Sometimes you have to let go to see if there was anything worth holding on to.
~Author Unknown

The summer I turned twelve had every indication of becoming the lowest point in my young life. However, thanks to the wisdom of a dear aunt, and the beauty of a natural wonder, that particular summer provided me with a deep strength that I have drawn upon throughout my life.
Earlier that year, my parents had decided to end their fifteen-year marriage. The only home I had ever known would be sold, life with my father would be reduced to a weekend experience, and I would begin seventh grade in a new school. While all of these changes were terrifying to me, somehow that June, they didn’t seem to matter that much. What had disturbed me the most was foregoing our annual vacation to the mountains. Instead of spending the summer tucked away in the cool, verdant forest, I was going to spend the next ten weeks with my elderly aunt, who lived in a quiet seashore community. From what little I knew, the only friends I could expect to make were seagulls.
Needless to say, I did not want to go. I had never been a fan of gritty sand and salty surf, and though I did love my aunt, I hadn’t seen her in nine years. I barely remembered her, and I sincerely doubted she would be much of a companion to me. But I had no choice in the matter. My parents were breaking up, not only with each other, but also our home. The only thing they agreed upon that summer was removing me from the battlefield.
So despite my misgivings and protests, the very day school closed I found myself on a train heading south. Beside me were two canvas bags that held my summer clothes, my books and a daily journal I had been keeping since learning of my parents’ impending divorce. Traveling with me, too, was a heart so heavy with resentment, bitterness and loss I found it difficult to breathe.
When the train pulled into the station, I was the last passenger to leave my seat. The conductor must have sensed how desperate I was, because he patted my shoulder as if to offer assurances that things would somehow sort themselves out. But I knew better, for my life would never be the same.
Waiting for me on the platform was Aunt Olivia, who was actually my grandmother’s eldest sister. Demure, slender, and almost shy, she smiled at me and then hesitantly patted my shoulder in much the same manner as the conductor. I supposed I must have looked as forlorn to her as I had to him.
Listen to the Chicken Soup for the Soul Podcast Poor Olivia, I thought. She was as much a victim in this desperate situation. Her summer plans had not included a ten-week visit from a grandniece. I tried to force a smile for her, and I remember thinking how out of place she seemed at the station, almost like a young girl dressed up in her mother’s clothes. I was suddenly reminded of an old Highlights magazine from my childhood. Its theme was “what doesn’t belong,” and even to the most casual observer, Aunt Olivia seemed almost foreign standing in that station.
Hauling my canvas bags in the direction of the taxi stand, I trudged after Aunt Olivia, who moved with surprising grace and speed for an older woman. Fortunately, the line was a short one, and Aunt Olivia and I were soon seated in an old-fashioned checkered cab heading east toward the shoreline. In no time at all, the landscape started to change. With my face pressed against the window, I noticed the city’s tall buildings, traffic and people soon receded. Within a half hour, I sensed a hint of salty air, and viewed a series of ramshackle bungalows bearing signs like “Bait and Tackle,” “The Chowder Shack,” and “Boating Supplies.”
Three blocks from the ocean, Aunt Olivia directed the driver to stop in front of a small, pink cottage. As I dragged my bags up the seashell path to the front door, I remember thinking that the house looked like Cinderella’s coach, a transformed pumpkin. I tried to swallow the lump that was forming in my throat as I thought “this will be my home for the next ten weeks.”
Settling in with Aunt Olivia was much easier than I had anticipated. To her credit, she respected my privacy and sensed my need to be left alone. She didn’t try to distract me with useless activity or engage me in meaningless chatter. Because the cottage was so tiny, my aunt had adopted a very simple lifestyle, which was precisely what I had needed at the time. Since the dwelling was so small, I slept in an open loft, tucked in the eaves. Every night, as I climbed the ladder to my bedroom in the stars, I felt like Heidi. But unlike my storybook heroine, I had a view of the ocean, not the mountains which were familiar to me.
During the day, I used a rusty bicycle that had once belonged to my mother to get around. For the first few days, I purposely avoided the ocean and beach, preferring to exhaust myself pedaling alone into the town. At the time, I didn’t think that much about it, but in retrospect, I think there was so much anger in me, I was unable to even see, much less appreciate, the beauty of the shoreline.
By the fourth morning, I somehow found myself pedaling to the beach. It was a beautiful clear sunrise, and while I had always been partial to the mountains, the seascape before me held a unique beauty. When I arrived at the beach, it was virtually empty but for two lone silhouettes — one feeding the seagulls, the other fortifying a sand castle against the approaching tide.
Leaving my bike on the boardwalk, I ventured toward the sea. As I walked, I studied the figure feeding the gulls. There was something vaguely familiar about the stance. A natural grace, the fluid movements, almost an affinity with the sea. Then it hit me — it was Aunt Olivia. Dressed in worn jeans, a faded T-shirt, and a baseball cap, she resembled a young teenager from a distance. I recalled the dichotomy of seeing her in the train station, stressed, strained and out of place. Here, against the backdrop of the sea, pounding surf and beach, she looked at home.
Though she did not turn toward me, she sensed my presence. “Have some bread,” she said softly, handing me some crusts without taking her eyes off the pair of gulls she was feeding. As I crumbled the crusts, the sound of the gulls overhead, the scent of the salty air, and the sight of the young boy defending his sand castle effected a calmness within me. I had not felt such peace since learning of my parents’ impending divorce.
Long after the last of the bread was gone, Aunt Olivia and I continued to watch the boy. Finally, she spoke. “You have to admire the persistence in that boy,” she said softly. “He’s trying so hard to defend that castle. He’s decorated it with beautiful shells; he’s put his heart and soul into that project. But no matter how high the walls or how deep the moat he builds, the ocean is stronger and more powerful.”
As she spoke, I watched the boy. The closer the waves came, the more frenzied he became. His digging became manic; his face was marked with apprehension at each wave. Finally, Aunt Olivia extended her hand to me, and together we walked down to the water’s edge.
The boy looked up at us. At first, he seemed confused, but then I saw him smile. Aunt Olivia must have extended her other hand because the boy left his sand castle, stood up, and took her hand. As the three of us watched, a final wave crashed upon the castle, leveling it, destroying the walls, and flooding the moat.
As the seashells that had decorated the castle scattered, Aunt Olivia released our hands. “Let’s collect as many of these beautiful shells as we can,” she said. “These shells were actually the best part of that castle. Let’s gather them together. We’ll use them to build a new castle in a more protected area.” And that’s just what we did.
Throughout my life, Aunt Olivia’s words would guide me on more occasions than I cared to remember. That day on the beach would help me countless times as I fought to rebuild my life after forces beyond my control sent me into a tailspin. Years later, as I struggled to survive my own divorce, a corporate downsizing, and the death of a best friend, Aunt Olivia’s soft words would quiet my heart. And while attempting to rebuild my life, I tried to follow Aunt Olivia’s example by taking the best of my previous existence with me, to ensure that each new castle I erected was a little bit better, a little bit richer, and a little bit stronger than the one before.
~Barbara A. Davey

The Insignificant Prayer

Proof God knows our hearts and cares deeply about what matters to us.

By Susan Farr-Fahncke

I awoke at 2:00 a.m. To find my eight-year-old Noah in tears at my bedside. “I miss B.B.” He signed to me. Noah is deaf, and B.B. Is his best friend and his cat. She has slept snuggled up to him for the past four years, and only a few days after we moved to our new home in Kansas, B.B. Disappeared.

My heart ached for Noah, as only a mother’s can when she knows her child is hurting. The day we realized B.B. Had somehow gotten out of the house, we began right away to search for her. We searched the neighborhood over and over. We hung up signs and offered a reward and placed an ad in our city paper. We drove around our town and the kids rode bikes in search of her. And we prayed. Still no B.B. She had just vanished.

I felt in my heart that we would never see her again. In all the years we had had her, she had never, ever missed a single night of sleeping next to Noah. Noah seemed so lost and lonely without his faithful friend by his side. As the days wore on, it became evident that B.B. Was not coming home. A few phone calls in response to our ad brought only disappointment. Noah’s sweet companion was just gone.

With tears in my eyes, I gathered Noah into my arms and prayed with him yet again for the Lord to send B.B. Back to us. After tucking Noah back in bed, I felt restless and unable to sleep. I don’t think I can adequately explain how heart-wrenching it was to see my little blue-eyed boy so empty at the sudden loss of his dearest friend.

Noah is sometimes lonely because of his deafness, and his suffering physically hurt my heart. In his silent world, the softness, the gentle spirit, and constant company of B.B. Had always been a comfort to Noah. I have spent many nights in our new home watching out the window, repeatedly calling her name and hoping that she might somehow hear me and return to us. I knelt down again and begged the Lord to send this much-needed friend home.

I pleaded with the Lord, telling Him Noah had already experienced great loss in his life and he didn’t deserve this heartbreak.

His first cat passed away when Noah was tiny, but he still remembers burying her. Noah has also lost close family members, and gone through more sadness than any little boy should. I didn’t feel he needed any more “life lessons” right now. I begged and begged and prayed and prayed for B.B.’s return. I knew she was “just a cat” but the comfort and friendship she brought my sweet son were irreplaceable, and I desperately wanted this prayer answered. Time went by and still no B.B. Wherever we went, my eyes constantly scanned the countryside and neighborhoods for any sign of B.B.

I knew chances of her coming home were almost nonexistent, but I also knew that God could work any miracle, even one seemingly so insignificant.

I prayed and prayed some more. I watched Noah gradually accept B.B’s loss, but his heartache did not lessen. Noah still missed B.B., especially late at night when she should be cuddled up next to him, asleep on his back or next to him on the pillow. I prayed harder and more than I ever had in my life. For some reason, I just felt that I could pray her back. And every now and then, in the middle of the night, I would go to the porch and call to B.B., still holding a tiny spark of hope inside my heart that she would come running across the lawn and back to our home.

Whenever we passed the “lost cat” poster for B.B. On our corner, I saw Noah’s face cloud as he was reminded of this loss in his life. His loneliness for his little friend was almost too much for me to bear. It has now been two months. Two months is impossibly long when an animal is missing. Last week I learned that coyotes live in the woods only two blocks behind our house. With a sick feeling, I realized that this had probably been what had become of our sweet little gray cat. I knew if she could, she would come back to Noah. She adored him and I finally admitted to myself that she must be dead.

Tears of sadness filled my eyes at the horror of what might have happened to her. Still I prayed. I often thought of the scripture to “pray without ceasing” and even after two months, I continued my vigil of prayer. My heart still yearned to be able to bring B.B. home. And then the most unexpected miracle happened. Yesterday my daughter, Maya, appeared in the doorway where I was working and she could barely get the words out. “You need to take me to my friend’s house! I think she found B.B!”

I could see that she was almost in tears, she was so excited. My heart fell. I didn’t want any more disappointment, for either of us. “Oh honey, it would be an absolute miracle if B.B. was still around.” I said. “But I’ll take you there. Don’t say anything to Noah.”

Leaving the boys with their dad, the girls and I headed off to her friend’s house. As we drove across the highway, I knew there was no way B.B. could have gotten this far. It would have been too much of a miracle. After all, it had been two months! Maya told me how in school she overheard her friend telling some other kids that a gray cat had suddenly shown up in her yard and she fed her, so now she was hanging around her house. We pulled into the driveway and I tried to brace Maya for disappointment.

This had happened a couple of times before and it was never B.B., so it just couldn’t be now, especially after so long. Maya’s friend held up a pet carrier and we opened it up. A soft bundle of gray fur and green eyes tumbled into my arms. I held her up and immediately felt a jolt of sadness. She did look like B.B., but she didn’t have the white “bikini top” spots that B.B. had on her chest. But boy, she looked like B.B.—right down to those green eyes!

Then the funniest thing happened. I moved my thumbs to pet her face and suddenly I saw the “bikini top” appear where my thumbs had been! B.B. meowed her unique, very loud “Rowrrr” at me and the tears just fell as I held our beloved miracle kitty close. “Oh, it’s really you! B.B.! It’s you, it’s you, it’s you!” “It’s B.B.!” I told the girls. Maya giggled and said, “Yeah, we got that.” With shaking hands, I loaded B.B. into the car. “It’s just a miracle, an absolute miracle!” I told the girls.

Minutes later we pulled into the driveway and practically floated in the front door with our little gray miracle in my arms. The look on Noah’s face was the most sweet, joyful expression I have ever seen. He blinked back tears and signed, “Oh, B.B.!” and gathered her into his arms and just beamed. “Whew!” he signed. I knew just how he felt.

That night we had some serious “thank You” prayers, rejoicing that not only had God brought this little miracle back to us, but He had completely protected her for two months. She was soft, healthy, and exactly the way she was the day she left.

I looked at her, curled up next to Noah, and I wonder where she had been, what had happened, but I know that she was in God’s arms, and He heard and answered a mother’s prayers. A gentle reminder that He hears all of our prayers, even the ones we might fear are too insignificant for Him. He knows our hearts and cares deeply about what matters to us. No prayer is ever insignificant and no miracle too small for Him.

The Mysterious Old Woman


A strange, elderly lady repeatedly appears to a young woman with life predictions, advice, and even warnings
WHO IS THE strange old woman who keeps appearing to Raven H., both in her dreams and in her waking life? Raven doesn’t know her, doesn’t know her name or where she’s from, has never really met her in any personal way. Yet this woman seems to know Raven intimately, giving her messages and warnings about future events.
Who is this mysterious woman and how is any of it possible?
THE FIRST PREDICTION
The encounters began in 1989 when Raven was 15 years old. She was eating a meal at a local fast food restaurant with her older sister, who was about seven months pregnant. They chatted about this and that, sometimes speculating on whether the baby would be a boy or a girl. Raven’s sister could have found out from her doctor, but she wanted it to be a surprise.
The sisters finished their lunch, cleared their table, and headed out the door. Just outside, an elderly woman was walking past – just another stranger whom neither of the girls knew. Raven happened to make eye contact with her when the woman glanced down and noticed the swollen abdomen of Raven’s sister. Her eyes lit up.
“Oh, look at that!” the woman exclaimed. “You’re having a little boy!” She touched Raven’s arm and said, “You’re going to have a beautiful nephew, young lady!”
Raven and her sister just smiled and nodded to the nice old woman and continued on their way down the street. Just a few steps away, Raven glanced back over her shoulder and the woman was nowhere to be seen. “Wow… Creepy, huh?” her sister said.
It was a harmless little encounter, but the sisters were both startled by the woman’s assumptions. First, how did she know they were sisters? Okay, she might have noticed a family resemblance in this brief encounter; perhaps she was just very observant. But why would she assume that the baby would be a boy? Perhaps that was just a lucky guess; after all, she had a fifty-fifty chance of being right. Most people probably would have asked if it was going to be a boy or a girl, but this woman seemed to know. It turned out she was right. Two months later, Raven’s sister gave birth to a boy – a “beautiful nephew” for Raven.
THE SECOND ENCOUNTER
The incident was tucked away in Raven’s mind as just one of those odd things that happen. Then, about five years later, Raven was surprised by another “chance” meeting with the woman.
Raven was attending a beauty school on the other side of town. “It was my first week on the floor,” Raven says. “When you start beauty school, you spend months in the classroom learning, and then they put you out in the salon where you work on actual customers and where you are monitored by an instructor.”
On this particular day, Raven was called to the front desk by the salon’s receptionist. “You have a request,” the receptionist said.
“Who could be asking for me?” Raven asked, puzzled. “I just started working out here.”
The receptionist gestured toward the customer waiting area. “She’s over there and she asked for you by name.”
Raven turned and looked. Her jaw dropped when she saw it was the same elderly woman from years back who predicted the outcome of her sister’s pregnancy. Raven escorted the lady back to her station and sat her in the chair. At this point, because the woman asked for her by name, Raven began to wonder if maybe she should know who this woman was. Perhaps she was a friend of her mother’s that she had met long ago and had forgotten. “I felt awkward,” Raven says, “like I should know who she is. I waited and waited for her to clue me in, but she didn’t.”
As Raven was working on the woman’s hair, the woman finally spoke up, blurting out a strange non-sequitur: “You need to use lard.”
Raven stopped and looked at the woman in the mirror, confused.
“You know,” the woman continued, “my late husband and I owned a bakery when we were young in Austria. When you make a pie crust, never use butter, use lard.”
It was a strange thing to say, but it actually carried some meaning for Raven, and it made her nervous. “Over that past weekend,” she says, “I had attempted to make my first pie, and it was a disaster. The crust -made with butter – kept falling apart and the pie tasted horrible.”
As Raven finished the woman’s hair, there wasn’t much more conversation. But when Raven took off the protective haircutter’s cape, the woman leaned forward and said in a low voice, “Never pick at that blemish. It’s going to leave a scar on your pretty face, young lady.”
Raven was again taken aback. She had a tiny pimple under her lower lip, and she was amazed that the woman could even see it. “And yes, I picked at it and have had a scar for the past 20 years,” Raven admits.
The old woman walked out of the salon, leaving Raven completely bewildered.
IMPORTANT ADVICE
Moving ahead another five years, Raven was now married and seven months pregnant with her own baby. As many pregnant women experience, Raven was having a good deal of back pain. She had complained about it to her doctor, but he told her that it was just the weight of the baby and nothing to worry about.
Raven wasn’t so sure. “The pain became unbearable over the following days,” she says. “I didn’t know what to do. My doctor seemed annoyed, like I was being a whining pregnant woman. I didn’t want to go back again.”
One afternoon, Raven fell asleep on her couch and began to dream, and in that dream the elderly woman appeared. She looked at Raven and said, “You need help now! Go to the hospital!”
Raven bolted awake and called her husband, who took her to the emergency room. An examination revealed that Raven required immediate surgery. After the operation the next day, her surgeon told Raven that if she had waited much longer that she likely would have had permanent nerve damage and a leg brace for life.
Somehow, even in Raven’s dreams now, the mysterious old woman knew.
ANOTHER WARNING
Raven’s most recent encounter was at Easter time, 2012. Again, Raven had closed her eyes for a quick nap when the elderly lady once more appeared. “The girl is going to ruin it for herself after she hurts you,” the woman said enigmatically.
Raven had no idea what the message could mean, but kept it in mind.
Raven was now working at a facility for junior offenses. While at work the next day, a young teen threw an object at Raven, resulting in a minor injury. The owners of the facility, however, transferred the girl to a very strict, no fun, juvenile detention facility. The girl would have had all the opportunities in the world had she just followed the rules.
Once again, the elderly woman’s predictive warning came true.
WHO IS SHE?
Who is this mysterious woman and how and why does she seem committed to watching, advising, and even protecting Raven? “I am not sure if this elderly woman is some type of spirit guide,” she says, “or just a lady’s image that I keep stored in my mind, who comes in my dreams during difficult times throughout my life.”
Why did the woman stop appearing in person but continue to advise Raven in her dreams? Did the old woman die, and Raven’s dreams were the only way she could still make contact?
Could Raven’s experiences merely be chalked up to coincidence? Or could the woman really be Raven’s spirit guide? The ghost of some watchful ancestor, A psychic, A witch? Or could she even be Raven’s future self, traveling back through time and space to help herself in time of need? It will be interesting to know if she continues to appear to Raven.

Never Miss a Sunset By Nancy Loucks-McSloy

The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.~Henry Miller

Growing up with the golden sands of Sauble Beach at my doorstep, I realize now how rich we really were. Fondly referred to as the “Daytona of Canada,” Sauble Beach, Ontario is famous for its eleven kilometres of pure, golden, sugary sand, embracing the warm, clean waters of Lake Huron. When I visited my relatives in the “city,” I envied their beautiful houses, their stylish clothes and even the cookies that came out of a bag instead of the oven! As I take a nostalgic look at the past I now know that what we had money could not buy.We lived on a modest farm on Silver Lake Road, just a mile or so from “the beach.” My parents had grown up during the Depression, so frugality was a way of life. On the other hand they were so generous and giving. My dad would grow a huge garden to feed us throughout the winter and there was always enough for the “city” relatives to come and visit and take fresh vegetables home.We seldom went out for a fancy dinner or to a movie, but one thing that we did from the time the weather turned nice in the spring until the snow came and the lake froze over was to go to the beach. My father always said, “Never miss a sunset.” In the early spring we would sit at the beach, watching the icebergs as they moved in and out, and of course watching for that beautiful sunset. As spring turned into summer, we would go to the beach and swim until it was time to watch the sunset. Summer would turn to autumn, when the evenings were chilly and the water would begin to get rough. As we watched the waves, listening to them hit the shore, we would wait for those last sunsets of the season, knowing that soon it would be winter and we would be waiting for spring to once again watch the sunset over the lake.I grew up, married and moved away from the beauty of the lake and its breathtaking sunset. My parents retired and looked forward to summer when our children would spend summer holidays with them. Our children are now grown with children of their own, but they still talk about the days when Grandma and Grandpa would take them to the beach to swim and how Grandpa always said, “Never miss a sunset.”During his golden years, Dad would spend his time in the spring puttering around, making maple syrup and preparing to plant his garden. He would come back from the sugar bush in time for dinner and to take that short drive to watch the sunset. During the summer, he would work in his garden, or relax under the beautiful twin maple trees in the side yard. Evening would come and he would say to Mom, “We better go for an ice cream cone and eat it while we watch the sunset.” Autumn was no exception. He still took that short jaunt to the lake shore most evenings.Dad had lived there from birth; the only time he had been away from home was during World War II when he was in the army. He always said, “There is no place like home.”It was early spring. Dad called with some urgency in his voice, asking us to come and visit for the weekend. We went and helped him do a few things around the farm. When we finished our work he said, “We better go and watch the sunset.” That was the last sunset that I watched with my dad. A week later, we got the call. Just the night before, he and Mom went to the beach and watched their last sunset together. Suddenly he had been called to another home. The news was devastating and our next trip home was for his funeral. Spending the next several days at the farm, grieving and not knowing what to do with myself, I would wake up early, drive to the beach to watch and listen to the waves. I felt as if Dad were with me. Every evening, I would say to my family, “If Dad were here he would say never miss a sunset,” and off we would go to watch God’s artwork, reminiscing about a wonderful husband, father and grandpa.The memories of the sunsets of the Lake Huron shores have never left my heart. No matter what season I am travelling in the area, I feel an urge to be at the “beach” for the sunset. The spiritual healing that I have had just sitting on the beach, watching the sunset is more than money could ever buy! Living in our crazy “rat race” world I have learned to “take time to stop and smell the roses” and to “never miss a sunset.”

The Case of the Miraculous Flying Quiltby Daniel Kessefrom

The quilt on Lenice Hansen’s guest bed really brought the room together. Something about the cheerful floral pattern, the fine hand-sewn stitches, and that deep ruby-red border felt homey and welcoming. It invited you to curl up and get cozy with a book and a hot cup of tea or simply take a catnap.

But the quilt didn’t belong to Lenice. It had ended up at her home in the oddest way–it had flown there.

On February 5, 2008, an F4-category tornado cut a 122-mile-long swath of destruction from Atkins, Arkansas, to just past Highland, where Lenice lived. 

It was the longest-lasting tornado to ever touch down in Arkansas–and among the most devastating. The recovery would take years, both physically and emotionally.

The day after the twister hit, Lenice checked in with her sewing group at church. The tornado hadn’t touched her home–but not everyone was so lucky. The members of the group got together and talked about how entire neighborhoods were uprooted. 

Survivors stumbled out of storm shelters to find that their houses had been flipped upside down and shaken out.

Their most precious possession photo albums, baby books and cards and letters, priceless keepsakes–were destroyed or lost forever, scattered to the winds or buried beneath debris in other people’s yards. Was there some way the sewing group could help?

The women gathered around one item dropped off by another member of their church, Mark Hoosier, manager of the ALCO store in town. He’d gone to take a look at the debris that had settled on the store property. One thing caught his eye immediately. A quilt.

It was filthy from the storm, still damp, and a tree branch had torn a small hole in it–but Mark couldn’t throw it away. If someone restored it, the quilt could be quite beautiful. Perhaps the sewing group at his church could fix it up and send it overseas for its quilt-donation program.

Lenice had been making quilts all her life, a skill her grandmother had taught her. She knew a fine hand-sewn quilt when she saw one. “Someone loved this quilt,” Lenice said to the group. “We can’t send it overseas.”

Everyone agreed. Lenice offered to clean it up, mend its snags, patch the hole, and hold onto it until its rightful owner could be found.

“The flying homeless quilt”–that’s what the group called it in an ad they placed in the Villager Journal, a local newspaper with a circulation of 2,300:

“There’s no way to know how far this patchwork of fabric pieces traveled before landing in our small community. After surviving such a journey, it deserves to find its way back home.”

Lenice posted a photo of it–black-and-white, so she could test any caller claiming it was theirs; the true owner would know the quilt’s colors. But no one called. 

Lenice put the ad in the lost-and-found section of Country magazine, a publication with a much larger reach. Several people called, but none knew the right colors.

It seemed more and more unlikely that the sewing group would find the owner. They couldn’t afford to keep running ads. Lenice put the quilt on the guest bed, and there it remained. Someday, maybe someone would come for it.

Around the first anniversary of the tornado, Highland was hit hard by another storm–an ice storm. The quilt helped keep Lenice and her family warm all week as they were stuck indoors without power. 

The minute electricity was restored, the phone rang. “I believe you have my grandma’s quilt,” the female caller said. “I saw your ad.”

“What is the quilt like?” Lenice asked.

“Well, it’s made of floral squares, has a cream-colored backing, and it’s all hand-stitched,” she said. “Oh, and the border is ruby red.”

Lenice and her daughter spent the next day preparing for the owner’s arrival. They made sure the quilt was clean, and Lenice labored over a pot of chicken soup for lunch. 

One question nagged at her. How, after all this time, had the owner discovered that Lenice had the quilt? Her ad hadn’t run in months.

“You don’t know how happy I am to get this quilt back,” the woman said when she arrived. “A year ago, my husband and I lost just about everything. The house, my husband’s mechanic shop. We could rebuild those things, though. I’d never be able to re-create my grandmother’s quilts.

“All the quilts were special, but there was one I treasured most. The first one Grandma taught me to make. She sat in a chair at the quilting frame and sewed a stitch on top, passing the needle down to me, sitting on the floor.

“I’d take care of the stitch underneath and pass the needle back up. It was this quilt. My grandmother chose the color of the border to match my name, Ruby.

“I stumbled on your ad by chance. I don’t normally read The Atkins Chronicle, but my husband had a copy on his desk.”

The Atkins Chronicle? The sewing group had never run an ad there. Why would they? The town was 140 miles away, a three-hour drive. Lenice had never even heard of that small-town paper.

Ruby showed her the page: “Last week, several Chroniclereaders brought us a feature from Countrymagazine. The picture of the quilt accompanied this story…” Lenice’s ad was reprinted below the article. 

None of Lenice’s friends had any idea who would pass along the year-old advertisement. It was as unfathomable as the quilt arriving practically unscathed from 140 miles away.

But there was something about this quilt that brought everyone together. A grandmother and her granddaughter. A church sewing circle. Readers across the state of Arkansas, and the communities of Highland and Atkins. 

Each patch had been chosen, each stitch made, with love. Strong enough to survive even the most powerful storm.

A Farmers Prayer

The Miraculous Answer to a Farmer’s Prayer
by Nadine Pfotenhauer

In July 1973, when I was 17, a drought struck my family’s farm in Burnsville, Minnesota. It began with several days without rain. Normal for summertime. But the hot, dry days stretched into weeks. Our farm was our livelihood. We counted on the profits from the corn crop to get us through the year, and the corn was dying before our eyes.

My father was a man of faith. He prayed before every meal and firmly believed God would look out for our family. Each day, Mom and I would get up, hoping for rain. Each day, Dad would expect it, even though there wasn’t so much as a wisp of a cloud in the harsh blue sky.

Around the one-month mark without rain, Mom, Dad and I sat down to lunch one day and bowed our heads in silent prayer, as usual. Mom and I looked up, ready to eat. But Dad didn’t move. We waited so long that I asked if he’d fallen asleep. “Hold on,” he said. “I’m not done yet.” I looked at his hands, calloused and cracked from years of farm work, his nails permanently stained by dirt. They were clasped together so tightly that his knuckles were white. I’d never seen Dad pray so fervently. I knew it was about the drought.

After lunch, Dad returned to the fields, wandering through the yellowing stalks, doing what he could to try to save the corn, which was only a couple of weeks away from being ripe enough to harvest. He stayed out there while Mom and I had dinner. I finished my chores, wiping the sweat off my brow, desperate for a break from the stifling heat. I opened every window in the house, hoping to coax a cross breeze. The air was stagnant, save an occasional hot, weak puff. I sat in our living room, fanning myself and thinking about Dad, a man at the end of his rope.

I needed something to distract myself. I looked at my wristwatch: 7:55 P.M. I was expecting a call from my older sister, Celeste, who lived on her own. She’d promised to call for an update on the crops after she got home from her church choir rehearsal, which ended at 8:00. Hearing her voice would be a comfort.

Boom!

The noise startled me. The house shook. I jumped up and ran to the window. I stared in disbelief. It was pouring rain! My mom and I ran around the house, closing all the windows. Dad came running in, his shirt soaked, his boots caked with mud, beaming from ear to ear.

“Look!” he said, pointing out the front door. “There’s no rain anywhere but on our farm!” He was right. In the distance, on all sides of our property, the skies were clear. There was a rainstorm only over our crops. Eventually, the rain let up. But not before the corn was saved. Dad said the stalks would be healthy by morning.

Celeste called as promised, and we told her about the miracle rainstorm. “You’re not going to believe this,” she said. “We finished choir class a few minutes early. The director asked if anyone had a request for a song we could all sing in praise together. I asked if we could sing ‘There Shall Be Showers of Blessing.’”

I knew the song well. “There shall be showers of blessing / Precious reviving again / Over the hills and the valleys / Sound of abundance of rain.”

They were singing right when the rain started. Years later, the events of that day remain my strongest reminder of the power of faith. Dad’s dedicated prayer was followed up with a whole choir, and God answered with showers of blessing.

Halloween Hermit- Lou Dean

It was a week before Halloween when my new stepmother, Anna, called us into the kitchen of her house in Purcell, Okla., and laid down the law:”You kids stay away from the rent house. That old Indian man who moved in there is crazy.” Anna looked right at me as she spoke. She might as well have sent me an engraved invitation.I was 12 at the time, angry and rebellious. My mom had left us when I was seven. Since then, I’d experienced my parents’ divorce and custody battles in court. I’d been chief cook and bottle-washer for my dad and younger brother, David, on our Oklahoma farm. I spent any free time between school and housework riding our horse, Maybelle, across the meadows with my dog, Shorty, running alongside. I imagined I was Geronimo, and Shorty and I were the last of our tribe.Then in late August 1960 Dad sat David and me down and told us gently, “I’m marrying Anna. We’re selling the farm and moving to her house in Purcell.”The day of the farm auction, I’d watched my beloved Maybelle disappear in a cloud of red dust, her eyes wide and wild in the back of the horse trailer.I’d stumbled off to the far side of the farm, where I couldn’t hear the voice of the auctioneer or see the people leaving with our animals and cherished possessions. I painted myself and Shorty with pokeberry juice and sang an Indian chant. Before we left for Anna’s house in Purcell, about 150 miles away, I cut my hair with pruning shears in a straight bob that resembled Geronimo’s.Anna and I got off to a very bad start in Purcell. The first day, she took me to her beauty parlor and said, “Do something. Anything!” Then, in an attempt to help me adjust to my new life, she took away my cowboy boots, Levi’s and the special Indian war paint and “potions” I’d mixed in mason jars and brought from the farm.So, that fateful morning the week before Halloween when Anna warned us about the old Indian, I perked right up.”His name is Mr. Tyree,” she said. “He’s a hermit. Stay away from him and the rental house. Both of you.”Dad, having rented the house on the edge of Anna’s property to the old man, had spoken to him several times. He laughed when Anna called Mr. Tyree a crazy hermit. “He’s just a lonely old man. A little eccentric, maybe.”Words fascinated me, so I ran to the dictionary. “Hermit: one who retires from society and lives in solitude.”That made my heart pound with anticipation. I’d had about all I wanted of society. Every night I cried myself to sleep, thinking about the farm and my old life. I’d already considered running away with Shorty and living alone on the Arkansas River. My long-standing romance with Native American history made Mr. Tyree all the more appealing. Somehow, I had to meet him.For days I watched the rent house, letting David’s baseball roll close enough to peek, or walking Shorty down the sidewalk past it.Mr. Tyree was an owl, never coming out during the day. He didn’t have visitors. The mystery surrounding him seemed to blend nicely with Halloween, so I decided that night was the perfect time to make my move.David was trick-or-treating with friends as the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, and Anna told me to dress up as Dorothy and go along with them. At the end of the block I stopped and eyed the rent house. “You guys go wherever you want. Meet me back here in an hour.”The Lion looked at Mr. Tyree’s dark yard and then at me. “What’re you gonna do, Sissy?””Go get you some candy and courage,” I said, pulling his tail. “Don’t worry about me, little brother.”I held my dog in my arms, like Dorothy, when I knocked at the door. Except for the full moon over my shoulder, everything was black. The rent house was the only one on the block not lit and decorated.I admit I was a little apprehensive. My first knock was feeble. I strained to hear any stirrings from within. Nothing. The second knock was stronger, but still no reply. I banged my fist until the screen door slapped loudly against the frame.Finally the door creaked open and a pair of cloudy brown eyes stared down at me. “What is it?” a voice barked.”Trick or treat,” I said, trying to get a good look at the old man while holding Shorty in a death grip.”What? What’s that you’re sayin’, girl?” He spoke loud and with an impatient edge.”You know,” I said, swallowing my fear, “it’s Halloween.”I saw the uncertainty in his eyes as we stared at each other. I began to explain. “All the kids dress up in scary costumes and go around to everyone’s houses and say, ‘Trick or treat. People give them apples and candy and stuff.””I have not candy,” he said. “Not apples.” He slammed the door. But before I could turn and leave the porch, the door cracked open again. “I do have juice, home-canned.”I accepted with an eager nod. “I’ll have to bring in my dog. He goes everywhere with me.”The door opened wider. What if the stories about him were true, if he were crazy? I said a little prayer and stepped inside.”Come on,” he growled, and motioned for me to sit. He had a wooden table and two spool-backed chairs, the only furniture I could see in the gloom.I told him how I’d read everything I could about Geronimo. He smiled and poured me a glass of juice. For a long time we sat in silence. Then, finally, he spoke: “Checkers?”That night when I curled up in bed, I didn’t cry. I wasn’t thinking about the farm and all the animals and the friends I’d had to leave behind. My mind was on an old Indian man who wore moccasins and had gray braided hair. The only thing mean about him was the game of checkers he played. He said four words to me when I left his house.”We will be friends.”A few days later, Mr. Tyree appeared on our front porch, banging his cane against the door.Dad was home. “What can I do for you, Mr. Tyree?””Where’s that girl?” Mr. Tyree demanded. “Said she’d come again and play checkers.” His voice boomed through the house.Dad shifted his weight, turned around and frowned at me. He knew Anna had forbidden us to go near the rent house. “Well, Mr. Tyree, I suppose that would be okay, as long as you two sit outside on the porch.””When were you over there, young lady?” demanded Anna later at dinner.”Halloween night,” I said. “I knocked on his door. He invited me in for some home-canned fruit juice, and we played checkers.”Anna shrieked and dropped her fork. “It’s a wonder she didn’t die of botulism.”Dad laughed, and a discussion followed about the impropriety of my befriending the old Indian. Dad, knowing I hadn’t made a single friend in Purcell, knowing how homesick I was for the farm, finally persuaded Anna to agree to the front-porch-only rule.My friendship with Mr. Tyree blossomed during the warm autumn afternoons, sitting at a rickety card table on his front porch playing checkers while Shorty napped at my feet. I told him all about the farm and how I felt I had the spirit of Indians in the deepest part of my own self.Mr. Tyree grinned, his gold tooth gleaming in the sunlight. “You have the gift of story,” he said, and he encouraged me to tell him more about the farm. Gradually living in Purcell became less painful, as if my time of mourning the farm was over. More and more, Mr. Tyree told me tales of his own, and I could tell he was enjoying himself too.On Thanksgiving, Anna fixed a huge platter of food and allowed me to take it to my new friend. Shorty and I helped him eat it, sitting on his porch and rocking together in the golden rays of late-autumn sun.Mr. Tyree died peacefully in his sleep many years ago. I think of him often and have come to believe that my knocking on his door that Halloween night was no accident. God knew how lonely and afraid I was, and that I needed a friend in the worst way.This year on Thanksgiving I’ll be sitting out on my porch with my dog, being grateful for the time God sent an eccentric old man to comfort me. I’ll remember how I’d considered closing myself off and becoming a hermit-and instead learned the value of opening myself up to friendship. And I’ll smile and whisper those four magic words that I too try to tell people who I sense may be lonely and scared:”We will be friends.”

MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN James Colasanti, Jr.

I can still remember my 80-year old mother working at the Kitchen table the day after my father passed away. That fragile, diminutive lady sat in her chair crocheting a Scarf. Time and devotion had made this her domain. She had lived in This very same house for most of her adult life. Because she was Hearing-impaired, she didn’t look up from her work when I entered the Room. However, I could tell that it was here that she had found Peace with the world. In retrospect, it wasn’t our old rooster that woke me early Sunday mornings, even though he contributed loudly to the harmonics Of the dawn. It was the pungent aroma of the garlic and oregano from The smorgasbord unfolding in my aging mother’s kitchen. The smells wafted up the steep staircase to my bedroom. Their Essences then crawled under the door space and permeated the room. I immediately threw off the bedclothes, the cold tempered with The warmth of the culinary sensations. Next, I heard my mother yelling (sometimes in Italian, sometimes In English), “James, get up and get ready.” Neither needed Translation. Being Italian and Catholic, 8 o’clock Sunday Mass was a Weekly necessity — attendance required. Down the stairs I flew. On the kitchen table — a red and white Formica topped 1950’s piece — my cup and spoon would be waiting. I Had been allowed to drink coffee from a very young age. Although Meticulously clean, the white-painted plaster kitchen walls had a Shiny, almost greasy, patina from the years of perpetual cooking. Jars of spices and home-grown herbs circled the kitchen counter tops. On the wall facing the table was a 5-foot ceramic rosary with “beads” an inch in diameter — a Mother’s Day gift from me. It was Her prize possession. In her kitchen she could cook, and if she felt the urge, she Could pray. She knew her thoughts had to be heard by any available Saint on a rosary that big. My mother, already 39 at my birth, had Her graying black hair pulled back severely into a bun. She always Dressed in her housecoat while working in the kitchen and a flowered Red apron covered the housecoat for added protection. At dinnertime, my father, my mother, my Aunt Tina (my mother’s Sister), and I gathered together, but my mother always made enough Sunday dinner for an army. The dining room table was set with the Good China and the good silverware, and the extra place settings were Always stacked on the sideboard — just in case. Amazingly, friends and relatives knew to drop in (uninvited) at This particular time of the week. Flavoring the extra sauce was a Conglomeration of meats — big beef bones (one for the dog), hot pork Sausages, and a variety of chicken parts bubbled slowly in the big Dutch oven on top of the gas stove. Below, several loaves of bread and the main course, the lasagna, Baked happily away. Each layer of the lasagna was infused with a Variety of Italian spices (garlic, basil, and oregano), ground meat (both veal and pork), ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, home-made Tomato sauce, and a top layer of parmesan cheese. Although my mother was not the animal lover in the family Because she had been scared as a young child in Sicily by a pack of Stray dogs, she was in charge of making sure everyone was fed, Including the animals. On the day I was born, my parents received a small black and tan Puppy from a perceptive family friend who knew every boy needed a dog. Mother always spoiled Butchy and there were many days when I Thought Butchy was actually the favored child. As a baby, I would Lay in my cradle and Butchy, still a puppy, would curl up next to me. If I cried, she would lick away the tears, and if there was a Problem, she would “yap” for my parents. Because she knew the dog was my guardian and my protector, Mother treated her accordingly. And on Sundays, mother always fixed A plate of lasagna and an extra large beef bone especially for Butchy. Butchy was my first dog, and she was also my first best friend. Butchy was the very first in a long line of canines to teach me what I have experienced so many times. We don’t get over losing the dogs Who have been a part of our lives. We just get used to living Without them. In everyone’s life there are moments when a family shares a joy And everything seems to have a purpose. Those memories of Sunday dinners forged from love remain with me — lots of great food, good times with my family, and the animals With whom I grew up. And most of all, my mother.

James Colasanti, Jr.

~Brief Encounter~

Several Saturdays ago I was cleaning my car at a do-it-yourself car wash. As I vacuumed, I noticed a few wisps of yellow dog fur.I stopped my cleaning. I picked up the fur, placed it in an envelope and put the envelope in the glove compartment. The fur belonged to Buddy. As I went about the rest of the day, I couldn’t help but think of the brief encounter with Buddy and his “family” just a couple of days before.It was a Wednesday afternoon. I had just gotten off work. As I passed a truck stop, I noticed a man with a large backpack. There beside him was a dog on a leash sitting in the grass strip that separates the entrance and exit to the interstate. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon and quite hot. I stopped a few feet away and walked up to the man. “You and the dog okay?” I asked. I guess he was a little startled. “I’m not breakin’ no law sittin’ here, am I?” he asked.”No,” I replied, “I just wanted to make sure you and the dog were okay.””We’re okay, just a little hot.”I noticed a handwritten cardboard sign beside him saying something about working for food. My guess was that he hadn’t had a good meal in some time.”Look,” I said, “here’s a twenty – make sure you and the dog get a good meal tonight.””God bless you, sir,” he said as he accepted the money. I walked back to my car. As I turned around, the pair were headed under an overpass to the westbound side of the I-78 ramp. Somehow I felt I should have done a little more. I went into the truck stop, bought a large hoagie and soda for the man and a couple of hot dogs and water for the dog.As I approached the ramp, they were gone. I figured someone had picked them up. I got back on the freeway intending to get off at the next exit. There were my two “friends.” I pulled over. As we spoke, I gave pieces of the hot dogs to the dog along with a few sips of cool water. The stranger wolfed down the sandwich in two minutes.I asked the dogs name, it was Buddy.I don’t usually give strangers a ride, but I just couldn’t let them walk down the busy freeway at night. I offered to give them a ride, and they accepted. He instructed Buddy to get in the back seat, but I told him it was okay if Buddy rode in the front. Buddy put his head on my lap as though we had been friends for years. I knew he enjoyed the cooling breeze of the air conditioner. He very quickly fell asleep, as I occasionally petted him on his head.Buddy was a beautiful, noble dog, some kind of mixed breed although the man said he was a sheltie. His fur was soft and surprisingly well kept. The man was a drifter.He told me bits and pieces about his life. He said he didn’t have any sort of identification. He told me he had lost his wallet a few weeks back. My guess was he was about forty. He was tall and lean, with a beard. His piercing blue eyes seemed to hold pain, but he was a gentle person. He was born in Oregon and traveled around always looking for work, he said.I asked him about Buddy. He told me he found him in Alabama as a puppy about a year and a half before. From that day to this, they had always been together.There was a pause in the conversation and I asked him whether the dog was ever a burden to him, with all the traveling around. I would have gladly offered a great home to Buddy. There was a long silence. From the corner of my eye I could see tears rolling down the man’s cheeks.”Sir,” he said to me, barely above a whisper, “old Buddy is the only family I got. Some days, when food is scarce, I’d gladly go without, so long as Buddy has somethin’.”There was no doubt he spoke the truth. I felt embarrassed that I would even think of offering to take the man’s only worthwhile possession.The ride was all too short. I pulled over and the man got his backpack out of the back seat. Then Buddy hopped out. The man began to slowly close the door. Buddy turned, looked up at me and wagged his tail a couple of times. I’m certain it was his way of saying “thanks.”I turned around and headed east. I had one last look at Buddy and his “family.” As I drove off I was disappointed in myself; I didn’t even ask the man his name.That night I was out late watering the flowers. I looked up at the heavens. I wondered why it is that sometimes these brief encounters make such profound impressions on my life. I said a little prayer asking God to please watch over them in their travels, and to say thanks for just the few brief moments I was able to share with them.Without their knowledge, the two “world travelers” had enriched my life, touched my soul and heart. The wisps of fur will always be a reminder to me of the summer afternoon that I encountered Buddy and his companion.

Beautiful Flower In A Broken Pot

Our house was directly across the street fromThe clinic entrance of Johns Hopkins Hospital inBaltimore. We lived downstairs and rented theUpstairs rooms to out patients at the clinic.One summer evening as I was fixing supper,There was a knock at the door. I opened it toSee a truly awful looking man. “Why, he’s hardlyTaller than my eight-year-old,” I thought as IStared at the stooped, shriveled body. But theAppalling thing was his face, lopsided fromSwelling, red and raw.Yet his voice was pleasant as he said, “GoodEvening. I’ve come to see if you’ve a room forJust one night. I came for a treatment this morningFrom the eastern shore, and there’s no bus ’til morning.”He told me he’d been hunting for a room sinceNoon but with no success, no one seemed toHave a room. “I guess it’s my face… I know it looksTerrible, but my doctor says with a few more treatments…”For a moment I hesitated, but his next wordsConvinced me: “I could sleep in this rocking chairOn the porch. My bus leaves early in the morning.”I told him we would find him a bed, but to rest onThe porch. I went inside and finished getting supper.When we were ready, I asked the old man if heWould join us. “No thank you. I have plenty.”And he held up a brown paper bag.When I had finished the dishes, I went out onThe porch to talk with him a few minutes. It didn’tTake a long time to see that this old man had anOversized heart crowded into that tiny body.He told me he fished for a living to support hisDaughter, her five children, and her husband,Who was hopelessly crippled from a back injury.He didn’t tell it by way of complaint; in fact, everyOther sentence was preface with a thanks to GodFor a blessing. He was grateful that no painAccompanied his disease, which was apparentlyA form of skin cancer. He thanked God for givingHim the strength to keep going.At bedtime, we put a camp cot in the children’s roomFor him. When I got up in the morning, the bed linensWere neatly folded and the little man was out on the porch.He refused breakfast, but just before he left for hisBus, haltingly, as if asking a great favor, he said,”Could I please come back and stay the next time IHave a treatment? I won’t put you out a bit. I canSleep fine in a chair.” He paused a moment and thenAdded, “Your children made me feel at home.Grownups are bothered by my face, but childrenDon’t seem to mind.”I told him he was welcome to come again.And on his next trip he arrived a little after seven inThe morning. As a gift, he brought a big fish and aQuart of the largest oysters I had ever seen. HeSaid he had shucked them that morning before heLeft so that they’d be nice and fresh. I knew his busLeft at 4:00 a.m. And I wondered what time he hadTo get up in order to do this for us.In the years he came to stay overnight with us thereWas never a time that he did not bring us fish orOysters or vegetables from his garden.Other times we received packages in the mail,Always by special delivery; fish and oysters packedIn a box of fresh young spinach or kale, every leafCarefully washed. Knowing that he must walk threeMiles to mail these, and knowing how little moneyHe had made the gifts doubly precious.When I received these little remembrances, I oftenThought of a comment our next-door neighbor madeAfter he left that first morning.”Did you keep that awful looking man last night? ITurned him away! You can lose roomers by puttingUp such people!”Maybe we did lose roomers once or twice. But oh!If only they could have known him, perhaps theirIllnesses would have been easier to bear.I know our family always will be grateful to have knownHim; from him we learned what it was to accept theBad without complaint and the good with gratitude to God.Recently I was visiting a friend, who has a green-House, as she showed me her flowers, we came toThe most beautiful one of all, a golden chrysanthemum,Bursting with blooms. But to my great surprise,It was growing in an old dented, rusty bucket.I thought to myself, “If this were my plant, I’d put itin the loveliest container I had!”My friend changed my mind. “I ran short of pots,” sheExplained, “and knowing how beautiful this one would be,I thought it wouldn’t mind starting out in this old pail.It’s just for a little while, till I can put it out in the garden.”She must have wondered why I laughed so delightedly,But I was imagining just such a scene in heaven.”Here’s an especially beautiful one,” God might haveSaid when he came to the soul of the sweet old fisherman.”He won’t mind starting in this small body.”All this happened long ago — and now, in God’s garden,How tall this lovely soul must stand.

A Perfectly Timed Hymn

A Perfectly Timed Hymn Helped This Postman
by Jeffery Taylor

Overworked and stressed, he worried about his future until he heard a beloved song coming from a house on his route.

Finish this shift, get to the next job, study for midterms, practice the sheet music for church, tuck Matt into bed….

I walked from house to house, delivering mail and tallying the long list of things I needed to get done that day. There was no way I could do it all.

I was an undergrad at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, working two jobs to support myself; my wife, Angie; and our young son. One in the evening, doing retail inventory. The other, working part-time as a substitute postman. With midterms looming, things were piling up. I felt stretched thin. Even my church commitment was complicated these days. Our worship team was pushing the congregation to embrace some contemporary hymns I’d learned on the piano, but folks were reluctant.

I slipped a stack of letters into a mailbox and continued on my route. I had hoped my shift would give me time to sort things out as I walked, but all I could do was worry.

As I walked up the path to the next house, I heard something familiar. Music spilled from the house’s open windows and screen door. As I got closer, I realized it was the same new hymn we had been teaching at my church. I lifted the lid on the mailbox and peeked in through the screen door. A group of young people sat together, singing in harmony. An older man and woman led them, the man playing along with a guitar. It must have been a mission house for the local college.

I lingered on the porch for a second. The music washed over me. Their voices lifted my spirit higher and higher until I was singing along with them. I figured they were too engrossed in their praise to notice. As I sang, the stress I had been carrying subsided. for the first time in months. I felt calm and reassured. It was so perfectly timed, as if this moment had been set up just for me. The song ended in a final, resounding chord.

I quietly left the porch and continued on my route, still humming. My worries would return soon enough, I knew, but in that moment I was free.

The years passed, and with hard work and study, I completed college. After graduation, I continued working for the post office and eventually moved into management. A transfer relocated my family and me to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. But with that came a whole new set of worries.

The cost of living in Pennsylvania was higher than what we’d been used to. We were in temporary housing until we found something permanent, but our searches had proved fruitless so far. And we still needed to find a suitable high school for Matt. He’d taken after me with his love of music and become an accomplished saxophonist. Unfortunately, the school system where our temporary housing was located had a terrible music program. Matt was getting discouraged and thinking about quitting.

Once again, I felt weighed down by worries. Had we made the right decision moving to Pennsylvania? Would this place ever feel like home? I hoped that finding a new church would offer some stability. But that was proving difficult too. After visiting nearly a dozen, we still hadn’t found one that felt right.

“Let’s just try one more,” Angie said, looking at our list.

“Okay,” I said, feeling discouraged.

The pastor and his wife showed us around after we attended a few services. The church was nice enough, but I still wasn’t certain.

“How about lunch?” the pastor offered. “We can get to know each other better”..

As we ate, the pastor got on the subject of moments when God shows up in our lives. It felt like ages since I’d experienced something like that. Then I remembered that day on the porch in Birmingham, all those years before.

“I had one of those moments once,” I told the pastor. “A long time ago.” I told him about working as a mailman in Birmingham and how I’d stood on the front porch of a mission house. How the worshippers had sung a favorite hymn of mine, and how singing with them helped me during that difficult time.

“It was just a small thing, but it was a perfectly timed blessing,” I said. Actually, I could use another one of those now, I thought.

I stopped, confused by the look on the pastor’s face.

“Well, I used to work at a mission house in Southside Birmingham,” he said, “and I still remember the day, 11 years ago, when I heard the postman sing with us from the porch.”

GOD’S MOUNTAIN GARDENBy Bertha M. Sutliff

The best place to seek God is in a garden. ~George Bernard Shaw

I grew up on a farm in the mountains of northwest Arkansas. As children, my brother and I roamed every inch of the little mountain facing my parents’ house. We knew where every giant boulder and animal burrow was on that little piece of mountain bordering my dad’s farm.One day, my grandpa came to visit from his home several miles away. We sat on the front porch swing looking at the mountain, and he began to tell me a story. It was a delightful tale about him and me living in a little cabin on the mountain.”Can you see it?” he asked. “It’s right there by that big acorn tree. See it?”Of course I saw it. What eight-year-old child wouldn’t see what her imagination wanted her to see?”We’re gonna live in that cabin. We’ll catch a wild cow for our milk and pick wild strawberries for our supper,” GrandpaContinued. “I bet the squirrels will bring us nuts to eat. We’ll search the bushes for wild chickens and turkeys. The chickens will give us eggs, and we’ll cook us a turkey over the big ol’ fireplace. Yep, we’ll do that some day.”From that day on, every time I saw my grandpa, I asked when we would go to live in that little log cabin on the mountain. Then he’d once more spin the story of how the two of us would live in the cabin with the wildflowers and wild animals around us.Time raced on; I grew into my teens and gradually forgot Grandpa’s story. After graduating high school, I still saw Grandpa and loved him dearly, but not like that little girl did. I grew out of the fantasy of the log cabin and wild cows.Before long, I married and set up my own house. One day, the phone rang. When I heard my daddy’s sorrowful voice, I knew my grandpa had left us. He had been in his garden behind his house and died there, his heart forever stopped.I grieved alongside my mother for my dear grandpa, remembering his promises of the cabin in the woods with all its animals and flowers. It seemed I could once again hear his voice telling me the fantasy we shared. I felt my childhood memories being buried with him.Less than a year later, I went to visit my parents’ farm. Mama and I sat on the front porch admiring the green foliage of the mountain. It had been ten months since Grandpa had passed away, but the longing to hear his voice one more time was still fresh in my soul.I told Mama about the story Grandpa had always told me, of the cabin in the woods, the wild cow, the chickens and turkey. “Mama,” I said after I had finished my story, “would you mind if I went for a walk by myself?””Of course not,” was her reply.I changed into old jeans and put on my walking shoes. Mama cautioned me to be careful and went on with her chores.The walk was invigorating. Spring had come to the country, and everything was getting green. Little Johnny-jump-ups were springing up all over the pastures. New calves were following their mamas begging for milk. At the foot of the mountain, I stopped. Where did Grandpa say that acorn tree was?”Straight up from the house,” I thought I heard him say.I began my journey up the little mountain. It was steeper than I remembered, and I was out of shape. I trudged on, determined to find that tree.Suddenly the ground leveled out. I was amazed to see what was before me. Soft green moss covered a small, flat clearing. Dogwood trees, smothered in pastel blooms, surrounded it. Off to the side stood a tall oak tree ? Grandpa’s acorn tree! Scattered among the tufts of moss were vibrant colors of wild wood violets. Green rock ferns and pearly snowdrops were scattered about as well. I could hardly catch my breath.I don’t know how long I stood there ? several minutes, I suppose. Finally I came to my senses and sat down on the moss. In all my childhood wanderings on the mountain, I had never seen this magically beautiful place. Was this what Grandpa meant when he pointed out our special spot on the mountainside all those years ago? Did he know this was here?A squirrel darted in front of me. He had a nut in his mouth. I watched as he scampered up the oak tree. No, I didn’t see a wild cow or chickens. But in my heart, I knew they were there somewhere.I decided to go tell Mama what I had found. She would want to see it, too. Before I left I took one more look. It was the most beautiful place I could have ever imagined.It didn’t take me as long to get back to the house. I burst into the kitchen babbling about the clearing on the side of the mountain. Mama calmed me down enough so she could understand what I was talking about. Daddy heard the conversation and tried to convince me there was no such place up there. He knew the mountain and had never seen anything like that.On my insistence, he and Mama decided to go see the amazing place I was raving about. Once again I climbed the mountain straight up from the house. Before I knew it, we were at the top.”We must have missed it,” I told my dad.He just nodded and we retraced our steps. We searched for over an hour for that little place on the mountain. We never found it. I was devastated.On the way back home, Mama put her arms around my shoulders.”Sissy,” she said, “you know what you saw, don’t you?””Yeah, I know what I saw, and I know it’s there somewhere. We just missed it.””No, sweetie, it’s not there anymore. You saw God’s garden. Only special people can see that. Your grandpa loved you so much, and he knew you were grieving inside. Hold that memory in your heart.”I’m fifty-two years old now. Every time I go back to Mama’s house and sit on the porch, I remember the secret garden Grandpa told me about. But I no longer go out and look for it. No, I know just where it is.

License to Smile

A cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition.~William Arthur Ward

Anyone who knows me well would almost certainly label me an optimist. I believe in embracing hope and finding something positive even in the most difficult circumstances. My own optimism stems from a strong, personal faith in a loving God who I believe is very interested in the personal details of our lives, not just the “big stuff.” I also believe that things happen for a reason and that if we keep our minds and spirits open, our invisible God often becomes visible, sometimes in ways that are quite humorous!With that being said, even optimists can temporarily lose hope. This was the case for me on a particularly cold and gloomy January day. I felt overwhelmed by the painful challenges I was dealing with in my personal life. Marital, health, and financial struggles had joined forces to create a tornado of emotion that threatened to crush my spirit. I felt angry, frustrated, burdened, and distanced from the presence of God. The weather seemed to reflect my mood—the gray sky blocked even a single ray of sunlight. As I drudged through my workday, I just couldn’t shake a sense of hopelessness and despair.About midway through the day, I left work to get some lunch. Still feeling pessimistic and negative, I noticed that the sun had come out for a brief moment. I began to think about my negative attitude and reminded myself that I was responsible for choosing my state of mind. While I could not ignore the pain I was going through, I could choose to dwell on the negative or I could choose to shift my thinking to a more positive focus. Even as I consciously reminded myself of this truth, I felt incapable of making the shift. So I gripped the steering wheel and prayed an honest, heartfelt prayer. “God,” I cried, my tears ready to spill out, “where are you? I don’t want to feel this way but I am miserable and hopeless today. Please lift me out of this dark, gloomy place!”As I stopped at a red light, I looked at the car directly in front of mine. The personalized license plate caught my eye—it read “SUNZOUT.” This brought an immediate smile to my face. It felt like a reminder from God that the sun was shining after all, and in the midst of the longest, darkest, coldest winter in years, this in itself was a blessing. But then my eyes moved to the car that was perfectly parallel to the SUNZOUT vehicle. The license plate on that car read “GROUCH.” So as I read these two license plates side by side, I said out loud “SUNZOUT, GROUCH.” This brought more than a smile to my face as I laughed out loud! Seeing the two very opposite license plates right next to each other at that exact moment in time also strengthened my previous recognition of my ability to choose my outlook despite my circumstances. I felt my spirits and mood lift as I made the conscious decision to choose a positive attitude.I returned to work and shared my story with several co-workers who responded with warm laughter at what I referred to as my “message from beyond.” I learned that day that when we are feeling too discouraged to bring ourselves out of a state of negativity, relief is only a prayer away!~Julie A. Havener

Stairway to Heaven-By Sylvia Gardner

When I was growing up back in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, Mother prided herself on preparing us kids for anything life might send our way. Her own mother had suffered a massive stroke when she was only five years old. As the oldest of four children, my mother professed that it was hard work and a strong faith in God that got her through those rough years. She was a shining example of Yankee faith and fortitude, and she passed along those values to each of us.

Still, nothing could have prepared me for the void that Mother’s death on October 14 would cause. She’d lived 96 healthy years and passed quietly in her sleep after enjoying a wonderful visit with the four of us. I was grateful for that. But now the person who’d helped me get through everything was gone.

Never again would I dial her telephone number after a difficult day on the job as a nurse practitioner at the VA Medical Center. Never again would I hear the dearly familiar pearls of wisdom that had shaped my life.

Sometimes when a patient was going through a trying time, one of Mother’s little sayings would come to mind and I’d share it with them. I remember the first time I met Mr. Sampson, a World War II veteran with emphysema and arthritis.

I’d just moved to Appalachia from upstate New York, and my accent quickly branded me as a northerner and the new kid on the block. Mr. Sampson wasn’t at all happy I’d been assigned to his care. “I’m short-winded and can’t get around good anymore,” he practically barked at me. “It takes me twice as long to cut the grass as it used to. And then they give me some foreigner like you.

After an introduction like that, I said a quick prayer, and all of a sudden a memory of Mother and me on our dairy farm back home came surging back. The minister had stopped by for a visit; our big black and white Berkshire pig that thought he was a watchdog had gotten loose from his pen and wouldn’t let the minister out of his car. Mother and I leaped over the barbed-wire fence to catch it. I didn’t quite make it.

I had a six-inch gash in my left knee after my attempt. Mother rubbed some of the same Bag Balm we used on our cows on my cut, taped it up just so, and pronounced me as good as new.

“Can’t someone else milk the cows, just for today?” I pleaded.

“You can do it, Sylvia,” Mother replied in her no-nonsense voice. “It may take you a little longer, but you can still do it. The angels will help you.”

The message was simple, and it had gotten me through more than a few hard times in nursing school.

That memory of Mother and the Berkshires was all I needed. I shared the story with Mr. Sampson and even showed him the scar I still have on my knee.

Turned out, he, too, had been raised on a farm and had a mother whose practical faith was a lot like my mother’s. When he left my office, he was still laughing about that pig and was reciting Mother’s words and promising to put in a garden.

Next time I saw him, he was loaded down with tomatoes and green peppers for our entire department. The only thing he requested in return was another installment of Mother’s faith-filled counsel.

But with Mother gone, her words of wisdom seemed empty. The evening of her funeral, my husband and I drove through a misty rain just as the sun was setting below the trees somewhere between Chambersburg and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I felt completely overwhelmed. “God, where are You?” I prayed.

“Please let me know that Mother is with You.”

All at once, the rain stopped and the most spectacular neon light show arced across the sky. Vibrant red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple—the colors were every bit as brilliant as the highlighter pens I used to mark points I needed to remember in my nurse practitioner journals.

The display reminded me of a time when I was nine years old. Mother was driving us kids to the Eastern States Exposition to show our Holsteins when this huge, beautiful rainbow lit up the sky. She pulled our 1936 Buick off the road, and exclaimed: “Kids, whenever you see a rainbow, that’s God’s angels dropping down His stairway to heaven for someone who has died.”

As I recalled that unforgettable day, tears fell down my cheeks, blurring my vision. I did a double take, stunned by the sight, for there was not one, but two, rainbows spread across the sky. It was so spectacular that cars began parking along the side of the road to take pictures. My husband and I kept on driving, seemingly forever, toward Mother’s double neon staircase and God’s unmistakable sign for her doubting daughter.

When I returned to work after Mother’s funeral, one of the nurses tapped on my office door. “There’s a man out in the waiting room,” she said. “He keeps telling everyone he’s got to talk to Sylvia.” She pointed to a gray-haired man in khaki slacks. I recognized him right away, Mr. Sampson. I hadn’t seen him since he moved several years earlier and he looked terrible. He must have gotten some really bad news, I thought.

When I called his name, he looked at me and began to sob. I wrapped my arm around him and led him to a chair in my office. “My mama died October fourteenth,” he told me. “I came back home for her funeral and to get the farm ready to sell. She was my best friend in all the world, Sylvia. I know how you loved your mother, so I knew you’d understand.” Tears glistened in his eyes as he fixed his glance on an educational poster hanging on my wall. “I’ve got to have one of your stories, Sylvia . . . one of your mother’s sayings about God’s angels.”

My words came out barely above a whisper. “My mother died the very same day as yours did, Mr. Sampson. But there’s something she used to say that I believe might help you.”

When I told him what had happened and Mother’s angelic philosophy on rainbows, Mr. Sampson’s face lit up. “You’re not going to believe this, but I was driving to my mama’s funeral that same day. And there were two rainbows in the sky for me too. I didn’t know rainbows meant anything. I just thought they were pretty. I guess God must have thought He’d better send us a pair of them, as hardheaded as we can be. Huh, Sylvia?” He paused, his eyes filled with peace.

“Can you imagine what a great time our mamas are having in heaven right now?

While we’re down here worrying how God’s going to take care of us. We’ve got to start living what our mamas taught us. We’ve lived off their faith long enough.”

And that’s what I’ve done ever since. For I know firsthand that no matter how far away we are from our loved ones, God and His angels are always near. And whether by a spectacular show in the sky or a whisper to my heart, He will find the perfect way to send me a mother’s comfort and guidance when I need it most.

Until my time on earth ends, and His angels drop down His stairway for me.