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.”

Full Circle

A nearly full moon hangs low on the horizon, buttery yellow and hung with the shred of cobweb clouds. My footsteps stir the tang of fallen leaves. Woodsy, smoke-scented shouts of distant children drift on newly chill air. I lift the lid on a carved pumpkin and inexpertly light the candle inside. This watershed event is witnessed only by a passing ghoul who is clueless to the fact that this is the first year I’ve been deemed grown-up enough to do this job totally on my own. But the significance isn’t lost on me. I importantly monitor the flickering flame inside the jack-o-lantern and feel suddenly grown-up. I’m ten years old and responsible enough to use matches unsupervised to light a pumpkin I carved by myself with a real knife. In a few minutes I’ll even be going trick-or-treating with friends and not parents for the first time in my life. Euphoria fizzes through my body. I lose some of my elation by racing, skipping and dancing around our front yard, safe in its familiarity but exhilarated by its transformation to shadow, mist and moonlight. I am giddy on the rite-of-passage incense of scorched pumpkin.Twenty-five years later, a nearly full moon hangs low on the horizon on a Halloween evening. I’m in a different house now, in a different state. Being “big” isn’t quite as exciting as it once was. But the smells are the same. Earth, dew, leaf, smoke, flame. The scents of nostalgia. As usual, I am the self-appointed lighter-of-pumpkins. And this year my own children are old enough to be interested in my ritual. They crowd around: two medieval princesses and a knight in shining armor, jockeying for a good view. “Can I do the next one?” one of them asks eagerly. A chorus of, “Me, me, I want to do it!” ensues. I inform them they aren’t big enough yet. “Well, when will we be big enough?” one of my three-year-olds want to know.”Maybe when you’re ten,” I say, remembering. “That’s forever!” Rapunzel wails. I know otherwise, but I don’t argue. Instead, I divert the conversation. “Hey guys! Who’s ready to go trick-or-treating?!” As one, the three of them jump up and down shouting, “I am! I am!” If they were any more enthusiastic, they’d wriggle right out of their skins and shoot up into the sky like tiny bottle rockets. Instead they start racing around the yard after each other, not straying far from the safe pools of shadowy light cast by the lamppost and the jack-o-lanterns. In the thrall of their excitement, I feel suddenly un-grown-up, suddenly ten again. There is that same surge of euphoria, and I lose some of my elation by joining my children in their mad dance around the front yard.Pretty soon we’re shrieking, laughing, howling, cavorting in the mist and the moonlight. “Mommy! Look how big we are! We’re not even scared of the dark!” one of them shouts exultantly. How big indeed.And they, newly big, and I, newly little, dance on in the shadows of our common ground, intoxicated on the smell of scorched pumpkins.

Reprinted by permission of Karen C. Driscoll

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.

That Day on September 11th

You say you will never forget where you were when you heard the news on September 11, 2001.Neither will I.I was on the 110th floor in a smoke filled room with a man who called his wife to say , “Good-bye.” I held his fingers steady as he dialed.It gave him peace to say, “Honey, I am not going to make it, but it is OK..I am ready to go.” I was with his wife when he called as she fed breakfast to their children.I held her up as she tried to understand his words and as she realized he wasn’t coming home that night.I was in the stairwell of the 23rd floor when a woman cried out for me for help. “I have been knocking on the door of your heart for 50 years!” I said, of course I will show you the way home – only believe in me now.”I was at the base of the building with the Priest ministering to the injured and devastated souls. I took him home to tend to his flock in Heaven. He heard my voice and answered.I was on all four of those planes, in every seat, with every prayer. I was with the crew as they were overtaken. I was in the very hearts of the believers there, comforting and assuring them that their faith has saved them.I was in Texas, Kansas, London. I was standing next to you when you heard the terrible news. Did you sense me?I want you to know that I saw every face. I knew every name – though not all know me. Some met me for the first time on the 86th floor.Some sought me with their last breath.Some couldn’t hear me calling to them through the smoke and flames; “Come to me…this way…take my hand.” Some chose, for the final time, to ignore me.I did not place you in the tower that day. You may not know why, but I do. However, if you were there in that explosive moment in time, would you have reached for me?September 11, 2001 was not the end of the journey for you. But someday your journey will end. And I will be there for you as well. Seek me now while I may be found. Then, at any moment, you know you are “ready to go.”I will be in the stairwell of your final moments. Remember…I love you.~God

LABOR DAY MEMORIES- Ken Pierpont

The older I get the swifter time passes, especially betweenMemorial Day and Labor Day. One Labor Day stands out. It was the last Labor Day we were all together as a family under one roof. The next summer our first-born son Kyle would leave for a year of missionary service and then college a continent away. On that Labor Day evening, we drove to Grand Haven on the WestCoast of Michigan. In a resort town like Grand Haven the wholeAtmosphere changes after Labor Day. When we arrived it was cool and fall-like. The sun was droppingSteadily into the lake. We strode quickly trying to reach theLighthouse at the end of the pier before the sunset. As we walked,The sun touched the horizon and then steadily sank from sight. Everyone had gathered and waited to see the last sunset ofSummer and they were talking about how quickly the sun had set.Walking along I heard more than one person say, “That was over soFast.” All I could think about, walking out toward the sunset withMy precious first-born son, was about how quickly the sunset on ourLast summer together had come. The whole family gathered at the foot of the lighthouse on theEnd of the pier and watched the sky turn golden-orange. A few boatsGrowled into the harbor for the evening. A ship sat out on theHorizon moving imperceptibly slow going who-knows-where. GentleWaves lapped the rocks. Occasionally a bigger wave spouted up inSpray and mist. We all stood close to keep each other warm. ThereWas a sweetness in the air. My heart grew tender and alive to theWorld around me. My mind went back through the years with my son. They passedSwiftly. We went to a few ball games together. We camped outTogether a few times. Together we gazed into a few campfires.Together we floated a few rivers. We went fishing a few times. WeWashed the car together a few times. I taught him to tie a tie,Shake hands, and drink his coffee black. I taught him the books ofThe Bible. I taught him to ride a bike and a few days later I taughtHim to drive. Together we laughed and cried. We loved a couple of dogsTogether, buried them together, and together we hurt. A few times weWalked together under a full moon in awe at the wonder of God’sWorld. Together we sang and prayed and worshipped God. And soon, for the first time, we would go on — but notTogether. The reality of it settled in on me that night on the pier. As the purple of night pushed in on the pale blue and orangeTwilight we turned and made our way back. Kyle was holding hisLittle sister Hope. She was giggling over his shoulder at her motherWhen suddenly she said “Momma” for the first time. Lois was delighted and her eyes glowed. Hope looked back withThe same lively brown eyes… One child ready to go make his way in the world was carryingAnother just learning to talk. When we reached the boardwalk we all turned and saw theLighthouse and pier lights blinking red against the dusk. A stringOf white harbor lights lined the catwalk. The afterglow of the sunCast the lighthouse and the pier light in a sharp black silhouette. Stars appeared in the growing darkness overhead. Lovers heldOne another or walked hand-in-hand. Fishermen sauntered in withTheir gear along the lighted walkway. In an hour we had watched the sun set on summer and turnedToward autumn with a life-long memory in our hearts. I felt the painThat always comes with love and my soul whispered, “Breathe deep,Walk slow, hold tight to those you love, the sun is setting and itWill be over so fast.”

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.

An Unlikely Birthday Cake

Divine guidance leads a pastor’s wife to find the perfect way to regift an unusual Father’s Day present. By Becky Campbell SmithPastor’s wife, church secretary and minister of all things miscellaneous. That’s me. I’d been in and out of my office since morning, running here, running there, checking on one thing or another, solving problems, most of them minor, thank goodness.Now it was evening and I still had one more obligation. I swung by the office to pick up some papers before racing off to our monthly women’s group meeting in the church hall. I rushed in, grabbed a folder off my desk and…stopped dead in my tracks.There was something unusual sitting on my desk, amidst the usual piles of paperwork. A plain blue card on top of a cake box. Had someone left me a cake? I couldn’t imagine why anyone would. It wasn’t my birthday. Or any anniversary.The only upcoming holiday was Father’s Day, and that obviously didn’t apply to me. I went over to my desk and looked at the card. There was one word scrawled across the envelope and it was written in all caps: GOD.Was I seeing things? I rubbed my eyes. It had been a long day. Nope, the envelope was still there. The cake too. It wasn’t the first time I’d found some random thing left on my desk by a parishioner. Usually it was a pamphlet, a note, or even something for the lost and found.I’d never found anything like this before. What was the protocol for opening God’s mail? I supposed as the church secretary it was okay for me to read it. I tore open the envelope. A Father’s Day card, signed by two boys who occasionally attended our church with their mom.Their dad lived out of state and was no longer in their lives. I opened the box and— sure enough—found a cake. “Happy Father’s Day!” it read. For a moment I was confused. Did the boys think I could get the cake to their dad? Then I remembered the name on the envelope.The children had trusted me to get the cake to their father in heaven! I know you’re with those boys, Lord, I thought. And you’ve seen the beautiful cake they bought for you. But now I had a problem. What to do with the cake? God wasn’t actually going to eat it.And I certainly didn’t feel right bringing home a cake meant for him. Maybe I should call the boys and explain, I thought. But what would I say? Sorry, kids, God’s unavailable for Father’s Day? It would break their hearts!Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to come up with a solution just then. The women’s group meeting was about to start. I left God’s cake on my desk and hurried to the church hall. One of our parishioners was already standing outside. “Happy birthday, Miss Edith,” I said, giving her a big hug.I was frazzled, yes, but a pastor’s wife always tried to remember birthdays. By the time the meeting ended, I was exhausted. I wanted nothing more than to drive home, kick off my heels and relax with a good book. Then I remembered that cake and card in my office, demanding my attention.I still had no clue what to do with them. I packed up and carried God’s gift to my car. Maybe my husband the pastor would know what to do. I’d gotten a mile down the road when I heard it. A quiet voice from within. Invite Miss Edith to your house for birthday cake.I shook my head. That was ridiculous. I was way too tired to entertain guests. And this was a Father’s Day cake, not a birthday cake. Think of Miss Edith, the voice seemed to say. She was a widow and her kids lived far away.What if she’s alone tonight? On her birthday… I turned the car right back around, and entered the church parking lot just as Miss Edith was pulling out. I motioned for her to stop and hollered out the window, “Miss Edith, do you like cake?”She smiled. “I sure do!” “Well, then,” I said, “follow me.” We arrived at my house and I led Miss Edith to the kitchen. “I’ll be right back,” I said. If we were going to celebrate her birthday, we were going to do it right.I ran upstairs and explained the impromptu celebration to my 12-year-old daughter. “A party!” she said. That was all she had to hear. She rushed off to find candles. Meanwhile, I got out the birthday napkins and plates, and set the cake up on the kitchen table.My husband arrived home minutes later. “What’s going on here?” he said. I filled everyone in. “Well, I’ll be,” Miss Edith said. “It’s not every day you get to eat a cake meant for God!” We turned down the lights and sang “Happy Birthday.”Miss Edith said she already had her birthday wish with our little party, and blew out the candles in one big, energetic puff. Everybody clapped. God our father had received his gift, after all. And he made sure we knew who to share it with.

The Night She Dined with Angels —Mari-Ann Mellville

I had just walked in the door after a long commute from downtown Toronto. The bus had been late, and I was tired. It wasn’t easy working three jobs and raising four active teenagers.Mine were good kids—three girls and a boy—but they were still a lot to handle. Especially for a single parent. I had hoped to come home and find them all quietly doing their homework. That was the deal. But they were running around with the five next-door neighbor children instead. I sighed.My oldest daughter rushed up to me. “Mom, can they stay for dinner?”I didn’t have much planned, just some leftover spaghetti with half a loaf of bread. And only six meatballs. I was already buying on credit from the neighborhood grocer. So a quick shop to fill out the meal wasn’t an option. I put down my things. Tonight of all nights, I thought. I had barely enough to feed my four, but all nine of them?I looked over at the neighbor children. I knew their family situation. They’d lost their mother only a few weeks earlier and needed all the warmth and support I could give. They needed a mother—if only for a night.Other people and prayers had seen me through bad times. A medical scare. Separation from myhusband. Finding a home to raise my children in. Angels hadn’t failed me yet, so I trusted them to get me through this too. I went to the kitchen and opened the cupboard. Please, let there be enough. I had a bit of extra pasta.“Well,” I said to the kids. “This will have to do.” They settled into homework mode while I triedTo work a miracle at the stove.I was still worried when we took our seats to say grace. I didn’t want to send anyone home hungry. At “amen,” the table erupted in a symphony of happy chatter and clinking forks. What a group! They had me laughing so hard, I forgot to keep track of who was eating what.By the end of the meal I felt so much better than when I had first walked through the door, burdened by my troubles. The children had licked their plates clean. We were all full and happy, and grateful for one another’s company. I moved to clear the table with my oldest daughter. My mouth dropped open. Two meatballs sat uneaten on the platter. How was that possible?My daughter put her hand on my shoulder. “What’s wrong, Mom?”“Did everybody eat?”“It was delicious!” the youngest neighbor boy said. “The best meatballs we ever had. If you have any leftovers, can we take them home?”I was astonished. How had I managed to feed everyone? Had the kids cut the meatballs in half? Maybe some of them had only eaten pasta. Or had had a big lunch. There was no logic to it. There hadn’t been enough food at the beginning of the meal, and by the end of it everyone was full. We must have had unseen company, I thought as I said goodbye to the kids. Angels had shared our dinner.That night left me with an overflowing heart and great hope for the future. I sent the leftovers home with the neighbor children for lunch the next day. Things were hard now, but they would get better. For us. For the neighbor children. Because when you dine with angels, there is always enough to go around.

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.

THE JOY OF A SUMMER’S RAIN


At first the summer heat was just mildly uncomfortable. Next it
became tiring, and then, oppressive. By July, it felt a lot like
working in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day — like standing in front of
a hot oven for six straight hours. Yet the temperatures continued to
rise, until finally, in the dusty, dried up days of August, the rain —
at last — came.
After day upon day of parched summer heat, the rain was such a
welcome relief! The children shrieked with joy and begged to go out in
it. I said “No” at first, almost automatically. But one look at their
crushed expressions and I reconsidered. It had been much too hot to
play outside lately — how could I say no now?
“Well… OK,” I said with a grin. “But stay on the porch. And
keep an eye on your little sister!”, I called to the back of their
heads.
As they headed out the front door, I felt an almost forgotten rush
of glee. Smiling to myself, I ran to get the towels and umbrellas and
soon joined my children on the front porch. There, they danced and
giggled, and leaned out as far as they could, catching the rain on their
hands. They squealed in approval whenever the wind blew the rain their
way. Only Abby was timid. She stayed safely near my side, and when the
wind tickled her face with moist spray, she shivered and clung tighter
to my hand.
After a while, I timidly stepped out from under the porch roof,
safely beneath the protective waterproof fabric of the umbrella. I held
my navy parasol in one hand and Abby’s drippy little fingers in my
other. Finally, I couldn’t restrain myself anymore.
In a burst of childlike impulsiveness, I tossed my umbrella aside.
Feeling like a kid again, I gathered my two-year-old and headed out into
the downpour. She blinked and scrunched up her wee nose in
disapproval. Before long, however, she was tilting her face to the sky
and catching raindrops in her mouth.
“Come on!” I called to the boys. “Come out here with us!”
Daniel and Thomas looked surprised (like Mom had gone a little
mad), but they didn’t argue. Eagerly they grabbed the big black umbrella
that had been their grandfathers. I watched them as they struggled to
raise it, and as they fumbled trying to share the handle. They squished
together, trying to make themselves fit under the very center of the
dome.
Something about my funny little boys and that big umbrella made my
eyes unexpectedly fill with warm tears, which ran unrestrained down my
already soaked cheeks.
The rain intensified. Still, we stayed. The gutter in front of
our house had become a small stream. It actually bubbled and rippled as
it grew and tumbled toward the water retention basin at the end of the
block.
Suddenly inspired, I sent the boys inside for a few supplies. In a
jiffy they returned from the house with a grocery bag holding the simple
construction supplies they had procured from the kitchen.
For the next hour we made makeshift tinfoil boats. Then we sailed
them, skippered by toothpick-and-scotch-tape men. Abby giggled with
glee as she watched her brothers and I race our shiny little vessels
down the river of rain.
Later that night, after warm baths and a nourishing dinner, I
tucked my children into their beds with a heart full of joy.
It had been an unforgettable day, thanks to a little inspiration
and a summer’s rain.

— Natalie Whitlock Walker

Rolling Down Summer’s HillsBy C. S. Dweck

We run through the August night with only fireflies lighting our way, feeling the freedom of time that only children of summer ever know. The echo of our laughter sails through darkness, while we chase each other in tag. Soon we become silent, hunting through the tall, damp grass punctuated only by the beating of our hearts. A hand pierces through the night, grabbing me. Our two bodies fall entwined into a huddled mass of legs and arms with her gaining the upper hand because I let her. She pins me down upon my back, her hands holding mine outstretched upon the moist grass. Straddling my chest with her knees, I sense her head slowly growing ever nearer. We’re so close that I can feel the ins and outs of her breath upon my lips. She covers my mouth with her own and I am lost in the newness of my first kiss. Before I can speak or think, she pulls away. Running off, she leaves me there dazed. That was how the night ended; this is how it began.It’s the summer of my thirteenth birthday, and I’m enjoying these majestic Pocono days. Our cabin overlooks the endless rolling hills carpeted by sweet-smelling grasses and black-eyed Susans. My younger brother Mikey and I climb to the highest point and then, lying down on our sides like two bowling pins, we close our eyes rolling wildly down to the bottom. It’s a dizzying sensation to feel the world spin around and around this way. Sometimes I lose control and go careening off into some unplanned foreign destination.And so it is when I first see Carly, hanging out among the other girls at Lake Wallenpaupack. I didn’t know then that I’d go careening off sideways and smack straight into her world.She hangs with this group of thirteen-year-old girls who’ve teamed up more out of convenience than common interest. Her long black hair falls in waves against her pale white skin, and she has this unique ability to smile at me with her eyes.My posse looks like an odd assortment left over in some thrift-shop clearance box. First off, there’s me. I had a major growth spurt this summer, and my limbs feel way too long. It’s weird to suddenly tower over your own mother, the person you’ve looked up to your whole life. Now a good three inches taller than she, I can easily pat her on the head. Yet no matter how much I eat, my pants hang low on my gangly, 105-pound frame. Everything is changing around me and inside me. I can’t even count on feeling comfortable in my own skin, which is now riddled with acne.Then there’s my ten-year-old brother, Mikey. He hasn’t found any other kids his age around, and appears to be going through severe Nintendo withdrawal. It’s my responsibility to watch out for all four fast-moving feet of him. We make an unlikely pair. Although only three years come between our ages, almost two feet separate our heights.Finally there’s Ron, who’s fourteen, a full year older than I and so much more wise in the ways of the world. He shoves his Mets cap low on his head to shield his eyes from the sun and any parent’s watchful gaze. In his left ear he sports a fake diamond stud, which denotes the coolness he envelops.Ron and I sit on the dock, dangling our feet in the water’s edge, while Mikey floats carelessly in his black inner tube. Once in a while we have the nerve to dart our eyes over to the girls who are taking turns diving into the water in their bright bikinis, giggling and trying to peek over at us as well.Ron shares his experiences with women and I wonder how much of it is really true, but I listen closely just in case it is. Some of his stories are funny, and others are just really gross, but I tuck all of what he tells me safely away in the annals of my mind for future reference.My only other experience hearing about sex was back in health class, and there it seemed like such a crude joke. There was this one jerk in the back of the room who’d laugh whenever the teacher mentioned anything sexual. He was the same guy who’d repeat over and over that there was going to be a “teste” on Monday and then die laughing at his own wit.At home, my parents speak in strictly medical terms. The way they tell it, the whole thing sounds more like a painful procedure for wisdom teeth removal than a pleasurable experience. Here, sitting on the dock with Ron, it seems a lot more real. I watch Carly in her red two-piece. Her shining black hair reflects the noonday sun, and I wonder what it would be like to kiss those peach-colored lips. So far it’s taken all the courage I can muster just to say hi as we pass each other every day at the lake.Soon, night falls and Dad calls us around the dinner table to have an informal family meeting. He says he wants to talk about our “future.” The cabin is hot and noticeably un-air-conditioned. The sweat on the back of my legs causes my skin to stick to the vinyl-covered dining chairs.My dad sits at the head of the table with his elbows resting on the yellow Formica. He hasn’t shaved since we arrived here, and the gray stubble on his cheeks and chin make him look old. My mother sits at the other end of the table still wearing the same swimsuit she wore earlier today down by the lake. She pulls the seat of her suit down over each thigh, fidgeting more than her usual calm demeanor allows. Mikey sits lazily dipping his Oreo cookies into a large glass of milk and then sucking them down over his wet lips.My dad tells us he’s been laid off from work – straight out with no beating around the bush. I can’t say I’m shocked; we all saw the writing on the wall. Dad’s a textile man, and the industry is dying. I know this because I’ve heard the hushed conversations between my mom and dad. With most labor now going overseas, there’s just not enough work to keep the U.S. sewing factories alive. It’s not as if Dad has a profession where he can just slip comfortably into a new opportunity. Finding another job at forty-six years old is rough.Mikey just keeps sucking down his cookies. He’s too young to understand that there is no magic that will make everything better, and that Dad doesn’t have all the answers.In between frantic thoughts, I hear Dad saying something about our home; using words like “scaling down” and “tightening belts.” All I keep wondering is, How is this going to affect me? Will I still be able to afford to go to the movies with my friends, or will I be left at home? And where will my home be? I hear Dad saying something about our horrendous taxes and the possibility of moving to a smaller apartment.I want to grab him and yell, “Stop! Don’t you know you’re ruining my life? I can’t move . . . this is where all my friends are . . . this is where I go to school. We had a deal, remember? You would take care of me, and I would never have to worry about these kinds of things, because I’m just a kid.”And then this feeling gives way to a sickening rush of guilt for being so selfish. I look over at my parents who seem small and vulnerable. Who are these pathetic imposters whose words change everything for all of us, and how should I react to these strangers that I love so much? Should I lie and tell them everything will be okay? And is that what they need to hear, or is that really what I need to hear? I suddenly feel like the parent.That night I run out to play tag with all those kids whose lives are still unchanged. I run through the night hoping to knock the wind out of myself – running to forget about my dad or maybe to stumble onto an answer that will save us. That’s when Carly’s arm reaches out to grab me. She kisses me, and I forget for one moment about all the uncertainty.Then she’s gone, and I lay there in the pitch-black darkness with my head spinning the same way it did when I rolled down those long summer hills. I feel that same dizzying disorientation lying there alone in the darkness, and I realize that sometimes there are no real answers, and life goes on.

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

Black Jellybeans By Margie Seyfer

I’ve never read an official study on the matter, but I’ve Noticed that in animal shelters, black cats are the most overlooked. Black seems to be the least preferred of cat colors, ranking below All combinations of white, orange, gray, spotted and striped. Black Cats are still stereotyped as Halloween cats, creatures of bad luck, More appropriate on a witch’s broomstick than curled up on your Pillow. To make matters worse, in cages, black cats become close to Invisible, fading into the dark shadows in the back of a stainless-Steel cage.For eleven years, starting when I was ten years old, I Volunteered at an urban animal shelter. It always struck me as Particularly unfair that, time after time, I’d get to know Affectionate, adorable black cats, only to watch them be passed over By adopters merely because of their color. I assumed there was Nothing that could be done.One day, many years into my work at the shelter, I spent a fewMinutes petting a sweet, black half-grown kitten, who had been found As a stray and brought to the shelter. The slender thing purred Warmly at my attention, gently playful as she patted my hand with one Paw. I thought about what a shame it was that the kitten was already Too big to be adopted on baby-kitten appeal alone, and so solidly Black that most people wouldn’t even pause in front of her cage. I Noticed there was no name written on the informational card on her Cage. Since volunteers were welcome to name the strays that came to The shelter, I thought for a moment about what I could name this Black kitten. I wanted to think of a name that could give the kitten The kind of appealing “color” that might encourage an adopter to take A second look. The name Jellybean popped into my head, and I wrote It on the card, just as I’d named thousands of cats in the past.I was taken entirely by surprise when, later that afternoon, IOverheard a woman walking through the cat room say, “Jellybean! What A wonderful name!” She stopped to look more closely at the kitten, Now batting at a piece of loose newspaper in the cage. She asked me If she could hold Jellybean, and, as I opened the cage, I sheepishly Admitted that the kitten didn’t know her name, as I’d named her just Hours before.I lifted her into the woman’s arms, and the kitten leaned into The woman, looking up into her eyes with a purr of kitten bliss. After a few minutes, the woman told me that she’d like to adopt this Black kitten, and, when the paperwork was approved a few days later, She took Jellybean home.I was pleased, of course – adoptions were always what nourished My soul – but I chalked it up to a lucky break for one black kitten, And moved on.I was surprised again a few weeks later when the woman came back To the shelter. She found me refilling water bowls in a cat room and Said, “You were the one who helped me adopt that black kitten a few Weeks ago, remember? Jellybean? I know you were the one who named Her, and I’ve been wanting to stop back to thank you. She’s the Sweetest thing – I just love her to pieces. But I don’t know if I Would have noticed her if she hadn’t had that great name. It just Suits her perfectly. She’s so bouncy and colorful – I know that Sounds crazy. Anyway, I wanted to say thank you.”I told her I was touched that she had stopped by and thrilled to Hear that Jellybean was doing well in her new home. Then I explained How I thought black cats were often unfairly overlooked and admitted The name had been my conscious attempt to get someone to notice a cat Who would probably not have been adopted otherwise. She said, “Well, It worked! You should name all the black cats Jellybean.”I smiled politely at the suggestion, thinking to myself that thisWoman knew nothing of the harsh realities of animal shelters. JustBecause I named one kitten Jellybean and it had gotten adopted didn’t Mean anything – it had just been a stroke of luck. Black cats were Still black cats, after all, and most people didn’t want them.As the day went on, I kept thinking about the woman’s advice: “You should name all the black cats Jellybean.” As crazy as it Seemed, I decided I had nothing to lose. Pen in hand, I walked along The cages, looking for a black cat without a name. There was only One, a small black kitten alone in a cage, sleeping. I Wrote “Jellybean” on its cage card.Later that afternoon, someone came along and said they’d like to adopt that little Jellybean. Well, I thought to myself, that wasn’t really a fair test – it was so cute and tiny.A few days later, a nameless black cat came along, fully grown. I named it Jellybean. It was adopted. Days later, another. Adopted. The process repeated itself enough times that, after a while, I had to admit that maybe there was some magic in the name, after all. It began to seem morally wrong not to name black cats Jellybean, especially ones who had a bounce in their step and a spark of joy in their eyes. Although I’d usually refrained from using the same name for more than one cat, after a while, my fellow volunteers ceased to be surprised when they came across another of my Jellybeans.Of course, we’ll need more far-reaching solutions to ensure thatevery cat has a home. But for my black Jellybeans, sitting in sunnywindows, sniffing at ladybugs walking across the kitchen floor, snuggling in beds with their adopted people, a name made all the difference.”Jellybean” allowed some humans to see beyond a dark midnight coat into the rainbow of riches in a cat’s heart.

Potato Salad and PicnicsBy Nancy B. Gibbs

Life is like potato salad; when it’s shared it becomes a picnic. When my three children were young, my husband Roy and I were very busy. He was working on his masters degree while working three jobs and I had three jobs of my own. There was very little time that wasn’t crammed with stress, busy-ness and term papers. “Can we go on a picnic, Mama?” my six-year old daughter, Becky begged. “Please.” I had said no so many times in recent months, I decided the usual Saturday morning chores could wait. To her surprise, I agreed. I prepared a few sandwiches and filled a cooler with ice and drinks and called Roy at work. “Meet us at the college pond for a picnic at twelve o’clock sharp,” I said excitedly. My eleven-year-old twin sons loaded the cooler and the picnic basket in the trunk and off we went to spend some quality time together as a family. I glanced at the kitchen counter just before heading to the car and spied a package of stale hamburger buns. I thought about the family of ducks living at the pond. We stopped and picked up a bucket of fried chicken at a fast-food restaurant on the way. Becky and I spread the tablecloth on the cement picnic table while Brad and Chad tossed a football back and forth. In no time flat the ducks joined us. Becky squealed with delight as the ducks begged for breadcrumbs. About the time I got the lunch spread out on the table, Roy arrived on the scene. We joined hands and bowed our heads. As the wind blew and the ducks quacked, he thanked God not only for the food but for our family. That was one of the happiest meals we ever shared together. The gentle breeze God sent our way caressed my face, as the sunshine warmed my heart. The meal was graced with giggles and laughter. We felt a closeness that had been hidden by work and school-related responsibilities for so many months. Once the food was consumed, Roy and the boys skipped rocks on the lake. Becky continued to feed the ducks and I sat quietly on the picnic table, thanking God for blessing me with such a wonderful family. Too soon, Roy had to go back to work. The kids continued to play together while I watched. I put the many things which I needed to do on the backburner of my life and simply enjoyed sharing the day with my children. Seeing the joy on each of their faces made me smile. When we got into the car to return home, Becky crawled in the front seat with me. “Here Mama!” she exclaimed. She was holding a tiny yellow wildflower. Happy tears came to my eyes as I reached out and took it from her. When we arrived home, I put the tiny flower in a toothpick holder and placed the remaining food into the refrigerator. That night as I tucked our children under their covers, I kissed their cheeks and realized what a wonderful life I had. “Thank you for the picnic,” one of the boys whispered. “My pleasure,” I whispered back. As I walked out of the room it dawned on me that even the busiest lifestyle could become a picnic when it’s shared it with the ones you love. Even though the kids have now grown up and moved away from home, I can still remember how I felt that day while sitting on the picnic table. Maybe today would be a good time to cook potato salad, call all of my grown kids, feed some hungry ducks and throw a few rocks into the lake. Since life is like potato salad, let’s make it a picnic.

The Old Man & A Bucket of Shrimp

It happened every Friday evening, almost without fail, when the sun resembled a giant orange and was starting to dip into the blue ocean. Old Ed came strolling along the beach to his favorite pier.. Clutched in his bony hand was a bucket of shrimp. Ed walks out to the end of the pier, where it seems he almost has the world to himself. The glow of the sun is a golden bronze now. Everybody’s gone, except for a few joggers on the beach. Standing out on the end of the pier, Ed is alone with his thoughts…and his bucket of shrimp. Before long, however, he is no longer alone. Up in the sky a thousand white dots come screeching and squawking, winging their way toward that lanky frame standing there on the end of the pier. Before long, dozens of seagulls have enveloped him, their wings fluttering and flapping wildly. Ed stands there tossing shrimp to the hungry birds. As he does, if you listen closely, you can hear him say with a smile, ‘Thank you. Thank you.’ In a few short minutes the bucket is empty. But Ed doesn’t leave. He stands there lost in thought, as though transported to another time and place. When he finally turns around and begins to walk back toward the beach, a few of the birds hop along the pier with him until he gets to the stairs, and then they, too, fly away. And old Ed quietly makes his way down to the end of the beach and on home. If you were sitting there on the pier with your fishing line in the water, Ed might seem like ‘a funny old duck,’ as my dad used to say. Or, ‘a guy who’s a sandwich shy of a picnic,’ as my kids might say. To onlookers, he’s just another old codger, lost in his own weird world, feeding the seagulls with a bucket full of shrimp. To the onlooker, rituals can look either very strange or very empty. They can seem altogether unimportant …. maybe even a lot of nonsense. Old folks often do strange things, at least in the eyes of Boomers and Busters. Most of them would probably write Old Ed off, down there in Florida . That’s too bad. They’d do well to know him better. His full name: Eddie Rickenbacker. He was a famous hero back in World War II. On one of his flying missions across the Pacific, he and his seven-member crew went down. Miraculously, all of the men survived, crawled out of their plane, and climbed into a life raft. Captain Rickenbacker and his crew floated for days on the rough waters of the Pacific. They fought the sun. They fought sharks. Most of all, they fought hunger. By the eighth day their rations ran out. No food. No water. They were hundreds of miles from land and no one knew where they were. They needed a miracle. That afternoon they had a simple devotional service and prayed for a miracle. They tried to nap. Eddie leaned back and pulled his military cap over his nose. Time dragged. All he could hear was the slap of the waves against the raft.. Suddenly, Eddie felt something land on the top of his cap. It was a seagull! Old Ed would later describe how he sat perfectly still, planning his next move. With a flash of his hand and a squawk from the gull, he managed to grab it and wring its neck.. He tore the feathers off, and he and his starving crew made a meal – a very slight meal for eight men – of it. Then they used the intestines for bait.. With it, they caught fish, which gave them food and more bait…….and the cycle continued. With that simple survival technique, they were able to endure the rigors of the sea until they were found and rescued (after 24 days at sea…). Eddie Rickenbacker lived many years beyond that ordeal, but he never forgot the sacrifice of that first life-saving seagull… And he never stopped saying, ‘Thank you.’ That’s why almost every Friday night he would walk to the end of the pier with a bucket full of shrimp and a heart full of gratitude.

Lemon Pie Love


If God had intended us to follow recipes, He wouldn’t have given us grandmothers.~Linda Henley

Many years after my grandmother passed away, I received a gift in the mail from her. I was about to turn thirty and my mother sent me an envelope. “I know this isn’t her famous lemon pie,” my mother wrote, “but it is the next best thing.”Everyone eats cake for their birthday, right? Well, not our family. All we asked for was Grandmother’s famous lemon pie. This was the one thing she wouldn’t teach anyone, not even me. She was tight-lipped with this recipe. When asked what was in it she would say, “A little of this and a little of that.”Inside the envelope was a small index card. My throat tightened as I viewed the handwriting. “Famous Lemon Pie” was the title. Measurements were scratched out and rewritten. Clutching the card, I went to the kitchen to call my mom.“Where did you get this?” I asked when she got on the line.“I was cleaning out the attic and found a small box of her things. From the looks of it, she wasn’t even sure what she put in that pie,” my mother said.My grandmother was famous in her circle of friends. She was known for her handmade crafts, her acre garden that all the neighbors helped with, but most of all she was famous for her baked goods that she shared with everyone. The best thing about my grandmother is that she taught me everything she knew, almost everything.When I work on a craft, I feel her words of approval tickle my ears. Tending to my small but rewarding garden, the sun kisses the top of my head and I can feel her happiness wash over me. However, I never feel her presence more than when I am in the kitchen whipping up one of her favorite desserts.Now I was determined to have her lemon pie for my birthday. I lined up all the ingredients on the counter and began to work. The first pie was soupy and sloshed in the crust when I pulled it out. The second pie began to burn even before it was cooked through.I made lemon pie over and over, observing every little thing she scratched out and recalculated. By the time my husband got home from work, the kitchen was a minefield of defective pies. It looked as if each and every ingredient had abused me. I lost control when I saw the look on his face.“What happened here?” he asked.“I just want lemon pie for my birthday!”“I will buy you a lemon pie.”He didn’t understand. I left the kitchen and ran upstairs with a dusting of flour trailing behind me.I went to bed that night with the feeling of defeat. Why did my mother have to send me that recipe? I drifted off to sleep with pieces of crust still in my hair and lemon scent on my hands.My dreams were filled with memories of my grandmother and that pie. I kept trying to see what she was putting in it but she hid it behind her back. “Please tell me what is in that pie,” I begged. She smiled as the dream dissipated.I trudged to the kitchen the next morning and all the pies had been carted out to the garbage. The counters were spotless. It was as if the pie incident had never happened.The next day would be my birthday and all I wanted was lemon pie. I pulled the ingredients back out of the cupboard. “I can do this,” I whispered to myself. There are two things I pride myself on. First, I am the best baker in my circle of friends. Second, I don’t give up.I started mixing the ingredients and when I got to the cornstarch I couldn’t scrape enough out of the box for the pie. Doubt was creeping into my thoughts. “I can do this. I can do this,” I repeated to myself as I grabbed my car keys.I stood in the aisle looking at the multiple brands of cornstarch. What was I doing? I felt like I was having a mini meltdown over a pie. I pulled a box off the shelf and rolled it around in my hands as I walked to the register. My eyes settled on the recipes on the back. Lemon pie. Maybe I should use this recipe. I looked closer. It couldn’t be.I rushed home to view the precious index card sitting on my counter. I scanned the ingredients as I looked from card to box and back to the card again. Impossible! Was it this easy? I could see my grandmother smiling as I figured out her secret recipe. It seems it wasn’t a secret to anyone who had bought this brand of cornstarch.For my birthday, I made not one but two lemon pies. I was so pleased with myself as everyone inhaled the pie and dished out the compliments. Now I have a famous lemon pie recipe, but I’m not sharing!~

Helen R. Zanone