We took a trip up to my home state a week or so ago to visit my family. It was a nice, long visit, and it was great to catch up with all my siblings and my mom. It was very cold though, and the rain decided to fall every other day, which, according to my mother, had been the norm for the entire summer. It was on a crisp, clear day that I decided to get out of the house so I could take a walk around the block, which was about a mile or two around the dirt roads of Vermont. There are a lot of memories along that route, and I was thankful I had my phone camera with me so I could take a lot of pictures. Vermont is a gorgeous state in the summertime, with all the green mountains surrounding you like sentinels safely guarding from any outsiders. I always feel safe in the mountains, and really miss them when I am away. My husband calls me Heidi sometimes, especially when I wear my hair in two braids. I always did want to go visit the alps in Switzerland...
Anyway, I wanted to share some of my pictures that I took along my walk, as well as some other haunts from around the area. Yes, I am a sentimental fool, but I don't care. It makes me happy. Enjoy!
As I finished my walk, I stopped by the graveside of my dad and sat down for a while to ponder and think about things. I wrote this letter to him and wanted to share it with you today in closing:
I just took a walk around the block, something I haven't done in years. I heard the sounds you loved, smelled the smells you loved, and saw beauty all around me...something you never grew tired of seeing. My legs burned as I climbed those giant dirt hills, gasping for air by the time I reached the tops, but I also gasped in wonder of God's country all around me. You passed on that love to me, the love for animals, for birds, for nature, for astounding beauty that lies just outside the door of your old home. Thank you for that incredible gift, because I will always have that piece of you safely locked inside my heart, to carry it where ever I go.
So as I sit here by your side today, visiting the spot where you are buried, I soak in the warmth of the sun, listen to the humming of the bees in the hydrangea trees, and watch the horses prance and sway in the meadow. A gentle breeze blows the green leaves that hide most of the mountain just peeking over the tops of the pines. It is breathtaking, and it is the view you will see when you rise up from the grave, when Jesus calls all His children home. And someday I will join you there in heaven, where nothing of this beauty will compare to what you see and waits for me. I love and miss you.
We are a cat family. We have always loved cats, and always have had many of them in our home. I especially love Siamese cats because of their amazing personalities, but we have had all kinds. Recently I wrote a story about our cat Jenny who we had when I was growing up in Vermont. (I thought I had posted it here, but cannot find it. I will post the story later.) After we moved she disappeared for three months. Every night I prayed that we would find her and God answered that prayer in an amazing way. I was only thirteen years old at the time. We had a similar situation arise recently that brought back all the memories of losing Jenny so many years ago. Again God answered our prayers in an amazing way and I want to share it with you today.
Currently we have three cats: Maysie, Kia, and Pinky. Kia is a short haired seal point and flame point mix, my beautiful, full of spunk and naughtiness, Siamese. Pinky is Kia's son, pure flamepoint with long hair, and I think he must have ragdoll in his genes because my son can carry him around on his shoulders, like a lamb, and Pinky does not complain. His story is another great story to tell because I nursed him back to life when he was on the brink of death as a little kitten. He holds a special place in all our hearts even if he is a little bit slow and awkward from his experience. It is what makes him such an amazingly gentle cat. Last of all, though she was one of the first cats we brought into our home, is Maysie. She is a long haired calico, though I believe she has Maine Coon in her blood too. That little M sits on her forehead, and so did her son Tiger, who passed away many years ago from a mysterious disease.
After living in a small apartment for five and a half years, we were finally told we needed to find a bigger place when I was pregnant with my fourth child. I do not blame the owners underneath us. Our tribe of children's feet running overhead probably sounded like thunder at times. We found a house not too far away and moved in on January 1st, 2004. Our cat Precious had passed away a few months before and we were catless for a few months. It was okay because we had lots of unpacking to do and a new baby to prepare for, so we figured after we were settled in we would search for a friendly feline.
Fast forward to April. Susanna was a month old and we were ready to find our new friend. We heard of a lady who took in strays. I took the children to go check out the kittens that were available. There were so many in her home! It was very hard to choose from, but JJ, my oldest, wanted an orange tiger cat. Francine brought out one of the litters and in the mix was a beautiful boy tiger. JJ fell in love and we decided he was going to be the one. Francine was happy to hear that we had chosen him, but she was concerned for the mother cat. She was still a kitten herself, not even a year yet. She was a beautiful calico, extremely friendly and she loved everybody. She purred happily as I stroked her fur as she laid on the floor with her kittens nearby. I asked what her story was. Francine explained that this cat had been found in an old abandoned shed in the woods with her six kittens. The mother cat was too friendly to have been a stray so she must have become lost when she was little after receiving a lot of love from her family. Maybe she could not find her way home and took shelter in the shed when she got pregnant. It was the only thing that made sense to us because she was too nice to have been given up easily.
"Please take her," Francine begged. "It's going to be very hard to place this mother cat because she isn't a small kitten anymore. You must take her and give her a good home."
I told her I would discuss it with Joe and get back to her later on. I left to go home, packing up my four children who I found had been very busy. (I know this may seem like a rabbit trail, but this is a very neat part of the story.) My two boys had discovered a motorcycle outside and had decided to sit on it to test it out. My younger one also found there was still a key in the ignition. He took it and tossed it into the grass of the yard and did not think anything of it. Francine's friend who owned the motorcycle discovered the key was missing. He asked the boys where it was and they told him in the grass. My heart stopped beating. I thought I was going to die. I marched over to them and took them aside. "You two had better start praying we find that key because if we don't you are in huge trouble!" Praying my own prayer I began walking around the yard searching everywhere for a silver sparkle that might be the key. JJ bowed his head and I watched him as he prayed. He began looking again and so did I, but before I took another step, I found the key right at my feet. It was like God put it there when our eyes were closed. I just had to share that part of the story because God is an amazing God!
To make a long story short, we decided to take Maysie and Tiger, and they settled down happily in our home. It was as if Maysie had always lived there. She flopped on our laps instantly, like she owned the place, and our house was now a complete home with our two kitties.
Fast forward 14 years...Maysie has outlived her son by 7 years already. We love her even though she is full of mischief, peeing on throw rugs, pulling her water dish across the kitchen floor, knocking down our trash barrel, eating broom bristles, tearing up papers left on the floor, begging for any bits of food we are eating, etc. We had to set up a system for the water and trash barrel that prevents her from pulling either of them over. Yet, she has never changed in her love for us, though she has tried to get out a few times. I think she still remembers being free as a kitten and the outdoor air calls to her. So, it was no surprise to find that after a friend of Ben's had left the door open that she had taken the chance to slip out and disappear into the nearby woods. I had noticed she was beginning to lose weight, even with the amount of food she was eating (or should I say stealing), and she was beginning to get a little aloof with us. A small bump had begun to form on her side too. After two weeks passed without any sign of her, I began to wonder if she had slipped out to pass away in the peacefulness of the woods around her. The not knowing was agony though, wondering if she was still alive, stuck somewhere, needing our help. We made some fliers that we put around the neighborhood in hopes that someone would give us a call if they saw anything. We prayed that she was okay and that God would bring her home to us again.
After the two weeks I received a call from a neighbor down the road. She had seen a little puffed tail go into the shed behind her house (Maysie had been trimmed with a lion cut so there was no mistaking that she was someone's cat). We raced over and called Maysie, looking everywhere for her little face in the middle of all the wood and junk inside the shed. Our search revealed nothing, so we left a little bowl of food on the floor and left. From that day on we began walking in the area every day, calling her, trying to lure her out. The food was eaten slowly, so we figured she was not starving. Then another call came...another neighbor saw her in the driveway, but we were away at the time. But now we knew the area she was living in and took great strides to search for her in the woods.
I still remember the day we saw her...it was about 7:30 at night and we were beginning to walk home disappointed again. Then I saw her face looking at me from the woods. I pointed and said, "Look! There she is!" Joe and I called, shook the bag of treats we carried with us, and he even sat down on the curb to see if she would come out. She simply stared at us, then laid down in the dirt with a look that said, "I am going to stay here. This is my home now." When we approached her she took off and disappeared into an old shed without a trace. We were in shock. Our cat had snubbed us and did not want us, or need us anymore. We decided to up our game. We got a have-a-heart-trap and set it out with some food in it. We only did it for a few hours because we did not want to catch a skunk or something unpleasant like that. The first day did not catch anything so we closed it for the night. The next day we did not open it, but a neighbor, who was helping us look, went walking and saw her sitting near the trap. He went home and got some food, setting the trap after she raced away from him. He went home and went about his business.
I was home getting ready to take the girls out. We had my niece and nephew here for the week and the girls wanted to go pet dogs at the pet store. "Before we go, let's take a walk and see if we see Maysie." They took off with Joe and a few minutes later the phone rang.
"We got her! She is in the trap!" Susanna yelled happily in the phone. We were a bit stumped at how she got in there, but the neighbor's wife told us her husband had set it. We were so happy to finally have her safe and sound! We got her to the house and let her out in the bathroom, where we could contain her. She cried, looking around with wild eyes, and hid behind the toilet for a while. She seemed disoriented and confused, and she was extremely skinny, weak, and shaky. She raced into the closet and hid in the blankets with her face peeking out. She let us touch her and talk to her. After about 30 minutes she came out of the closet, ready to leave the room. The wild look had left her eyes. She was our normal Maysie again. We pulled some gigantic ticks off her, put flea gel on her, and checked her over for anything else we did not want in the house. Satisfied with her condition, we let her out. She remembered where everything was, and was even happy to see the other cats, who did not know who she was and ran hissing out of the room. It had been three weeks, but now she was home again. I took her to the vet to make sure she was okay. It was an amazing blessing to find she did not have parasites (did she not eat while she was out there?), she did not have fleas, and though she did have a urinary infection, that was treatable. Everything else was fine, except for the large tumor that was found in her stomach. We knew of the lump, but did not realize how big it had become. So, my thoughts of her leaving were confirmed. She had left to die, but it was taking longer than she expected. Another week and she would have passed away from starvation and dehydration. She had gone from 12 to 7 pounds in those three weeks.
Even though the diagnosis was sad, we are glad she is home to pass away in the loving arms of her family. She seems well enough now, eating and drinking little bits all through the day. We don't know how much time we have with her, but we are going to enjoy every minute we have left. We are so thankful the Lord answered our prayers and brought her back to us. Amen!
I have always enjoyed little children, I think. :) At least it seems that way. Maybe not at the very beginning when my little brother was born three days before I turned six years old. I had an older brother already, and we played well together, though I remember being chased quite a bit, and him scaring the heebie jeebies out of me many times. I got a little annoyed at having my baby brother tag along behind me, getting in the way of my "big girl" things, like wrecking havoc with my dolls or throwing all my books on the floor. Shortly after came my first sister, then shortly after came my second sister, and then shortly after came my third sister. (Shortly is a term I use loosely because when you are little time seems to crawl by, and so does being pregnant, but as you grow older times seems to fly faster then ever and before you know it, you've reached your 40th birthday and all the days behind you seems like it was a "short" time.) So, there it was, six children in the Pinkham family, two boys and three girls. I watched my younger siblings a lot, helping keep them out from under foot when my mom was making dinner or cleaning. I remember a few times my parents went out alone and though my older brother was the older one, I did all the work, cooking for the crew, cleaning up after them, giving them baths, and putting them to bed. I knew the process well and it worked for us. Little children were my norm in life.
I began babysitting when I was 12 years old and watched many children all through my teen years. I had regular babysitting jobs every week and made quite a bit of money. It became so common that some people in town never saw me without a child in tow. I was often called the "little mother." The children I watched were always ten years or younger and I was glad about that. I always did get along better with younger people than me, and all my best friends were a couple years younger too. So teens scared me. I did not know how to interact with them. Plus, I had heard teens are terrible at listening and those years are extremely difficult.
Fast forward a few years to my 20's and now I have a crew of my own. I had four children rather quickly, and life settled into the busyness of taking care of four toddlers, four years and under. I barely had time to breath, let alone think as I chased after my two boys and two little girls. A few years later my fifth baby arrived, making my number three boys and two girls. I would sometimes stop and think about what it would be like to have teenagers, and it scared me to death to even consider having that many teens all at the same time. I was much more comfortable with my babies. I knew exactly what they needed, I knew where they were at all times, and tending to their needs came naturally. I was an old pro.
Fast forward again to now...I have four teenagers and one 9 year old, who thinks he is 16 too. My oldest is 18, just graduated from high school, and the rest are steadily making their way to the same place, and do you know what? I am loving my teens and this stage of life! Yes, we have had some ups and downs as their brains reset around 13 years of age, when we have to begin at step one and retrain them in all that we thought they knew from the beginning, but some of it is not their fault. It is just the changes that puberty brings. The beautiful thing is they respect us, happily do what we say, and life is very pleasant in our home. (I will add that there are some training moments, and times when they forget to do certain things, but don't we all?) But, the other night we were all sitting at a frozen yogurt place after church...my five children, my niece and nephew, and seven of their friends from youth group, and I just took in the amazing site of so many young people getting together and having a good time. I love watching them interact together, and my heart swells with joy at how my children have such good friends, and can laugh and talk comfortably together. A group of twenty people, four adults and the rest teens, went out on two pontoon boats yesterday and we had a blast on the lake! Jumping off Chicken Rock which was 15 feet up in the air, and swinging into the water on the rope swing was the highlight of the day. I love how I can talk to their friends and have a comfortable conversation, and I no longer fear the days when the word teen is after their number age. I am a mother of four teenagers and I am proud of it. "Thank you, Jesus, for giving me just what I needed at the right time to deal with the children you have placed into our home. Keep these precious children safe and guide them as they grow up, and may they always live for You. Amen."
Last Friday night there was a banquet for the teens final gathering and the theme was the 50's. The girls had fun dressing in polka dot dresses and doing their hair up in pony tails and with curly ends. A lot of the boys had leather jackets on, jeans, and t-shirts, but in reality, they didn't look that much different than what I see today. It is funny how the styles come back around every few years or so. It was so much fun to watch the teens enjoy themselves, and a group of them went bowling afterwards. I just sat back and filled my heart with warm memories as I watched my oldest enjoy his last official teen activity before he graduates. The other children had a blast too, but there is something special in watching your oldest child blossom into a young man whom God is shaping to be someone like Him. I pray he will always seek the Lord in all he does, and puts God first. I have been so busy getting things ready for the big day that I have not stopped to focus on just what it all means. I have a feeling I am going to be a mess during the ceremony, but it is only because I love him so much and do not want things to change. But for now, I am going to post some of the pictures from the banquet. Enjoy!
She said she had been sleeping on the couch. The giant silverfish, which had taken up residence in her bedroom had chased her away. My husband, Joe, who is an exterminator, told her he would be happy to come and spray her house for her, assuring her that it would take care of the problem.
"Oh, no, I don't want you to spray him!" she told him over the phone. "That isn't necessary! Can't you just use a little trap to catch him and let him go outside?"
My husband paused for a moment. This was a request that he had never heard before. Using a 'have a heart' trap for a squirrel or even my son Caleb would be reasonable, but using one for an itty bitty insect, well, that was another story! I don't even think they make a trap that small! He was very kind to the lady, as he explained that it was not done that way. He told her that if the silverfish came back then she could call him again and he would come and take a look.
"You don't mind if I call again?" she asked him.
"No, I don't mind," he said smiling. If only all his customers were that easy to deal with. She certainly made his day. He came home and related this story to me and I could not help but chuckle over the lady's request. Trapping an insect in a tiny insect trap! If only it was as simple as that! All the work of equipment prep, careful chemical measurement, filling water buckets for mixing, driving mile after mile around Connecticut to get to his destinations, and hundreds of calls from customers with questions about mice, ticks, bedbugs, bees, ants, and other general pests. Thousands of hours go into this business and life is very busy and complicated with all the details.
Isn't that a lot like life? For a mother, whose job is 24/7, with no rest or breaks in her busy days when she has little ones, she finds that her days seem to last forever. Her children are always hungry and it seems like her cupboards are always bare, making another trip (with five squirmy children in my case) to the grocery store necessary. Toys lay scattered all over the floor and there is always that one her foot seems to find when she is walking the baby in the middle of the night. It is the work of all mothers: preparing their children for the next step in life; filling buckets of love and passing on wisdom and knowledge that they will need when they leave the nest; driving mile after mile to take her children to sports, church/school activities, jobs, and friend's houses, and hundreds of calls to grandmothers for advice about rashes, cough remedies, and what to do about pee stains in the carpet. Thousands of hours go into this business of raising a family and there are many details that cannot be missed.
In exactly two weeks from tonight, I will be the mother of a graduate, and a major phase of life will be over - well, at least for one of my five children. I cannot help but wonder if there are any details we may have missed in the raising of our first son. I feel bad because the first child is always the learning curve, the guinea pig of a family. As a new mom and dad, we really did not know anything about taking care and raising a child. God gave us wisdom along the way, and yes, we made many mistakes, learning tough lessons every step of the way. Yet looking back I see how God was shaping us, as well as shaping JJ, molding him, making him to be who he is today. He has great dreams of taking business in college, to learn how to be a successful businessman, and be a good leader. He was never one to want to lead, being an introvert, and wanted to live alone, work on his computer, and order pizza for every meal inside his home, never having to leave. Seeing this major change in him has been encouraging and exciting to watch as he has become the young man he is now. God is doing a work in his heart, which I can see as he asks questions, making the beliefs he has learned, and is learning, his own, and setting his mind to serve the Lord however He wants him to. I know our work is not over - it is only just beginning. We need to pray for him now more then ever as he makes some of the biggest decisions of his life. We need to pray that he will continue to seek the Lord for guidance and always have a soft, teachable heart.
Our five children are indeed a blessing to us. True, like I said above, sometimes we wish we had a 'trap' for one of our sons, who seems to have a knack for pushing all our buttons at once, but I would not trade any of them for the world. They are gifts from the Lord and it is days like these that I love listening to them play outside together, even as teenagers, enjoying the beautiful weather and sunshine. These are the times that I take and store in my heart as precious memories, knowing that they all will be graduated, grown up, and gone way too soon. So, don't take the easy route by using a little trap; take the extra time, make the extra effort, and put in all the work necessary to see a job completed the proper way. God will reward you in the end.
Everywhere I look around I see the big 4/10 glaring at me, reminding me of what the day use to be, and what it is missing now. It is hard to believe that is has already been two years since my dear dad passed from this life to heaven. Today marks the second birthday that he has missed here on the earth. Two years ago this day was a much bigger occasion, what with all the baking we did of eclairs, his favorite!, or of a chocolate cake or some other goody that always put a smile on his face. It was exactly two years ago today that I saw my daddy smiling for the last time, as I skyped him, while the rest of my family was in the room with him at the nursing facility. Though he seemed very weak, and a bit out of sorts, he was still my sweet dad, looking back at me through the phone, wondering at the technology that allowed him to see me and my children's faces looking back at him when we were so many miles away. I watched him relish his eclair, all the while praying that he would hold it down so he could for once enjoy a meal without feeling sick afterwards. He opened his presents and smiled at me when he saw the CD of music I had made for him to listen to in the quiet of his room. He was very tired afterwards so they said they were going to wheel him back to his room and let him rest. I said my goodbyes, letting him know I loved him, and hung up, not realizing that that would be the last time I would ever talk to him on this earth, that I would ever see him smile at me again. Oh, I tried to get there in time when my mom told me that something was going on and I should think about coming to see him. I wanted my children to say goodbye to their grandfather one last time. I wanted to kiss his bearded cheek and feel him squeeze my hand one last time. But for some reason God said, "No." I don't understand why. To this day I still struggle with His answer. All I wanted was to say goodbye one more time.
I have not been sleeping very well every since April began. I had no idea why, though I did have a slight cold, but I was not coughing or being kept awake by illness. Yes, I have had a lot on my mind, and my brain has been having a hard time shutting down, but it suddenly hit me as to why I have been struggling to sleep. Even though I have not tried to think about it a lot, my subconscious is alert and remembers the trials of April 2015. Not to mention the fact that I am watching my dear Pastor's wife go through a similar situation and hearing all the updates and what is going on with her brings all the memories to the forefront and it feels like I am going through it again. My Pastor and his wife are like my parents away from home - when they suffer and go through trials I feel it too. When they are away, their absence leaves a loneliness and a feeling that it won't be right until they get home. When they return I always feel like saying, "Daddy's home again! All is well!"
Today in the car I was listening to a sermon and the preacher mentioned how Jesus knew what it was like to suffer loss. Yes, he raised up Lazarus, someone He loved very much, but that is not who I am talking about. Sometime during His life with His family, before His 30th year of ministry began, He lost the man who had married Mary even when he knew others would look down on him. He had attended the birth of baby Jesus that night in Bethlehem, and he had raised Jesus to be a carpenter. Joseph had been carefully chosen by God the Father to raise Jesus, because God knew He could trust him with His Son. But somewhere in that time Joseph passed away. Jesus found out what it felt like, as a human, to suffer lose of a loved one, someone who had been close to Him, someone whom Jesus had sat on his knee and listened to stories. Someone who had held His hand when crossing a busy road, or just taking a walk through a meadow to talk about God's amazing creation. Jesus was there when His mother watched her beloved husband pass on to heaven. He was there to comfort her, to put His arm around her, and let her cry on His shoulder. I am sure He shed some tears of grief too. Though He was God and knew what Joseph was seeing at the moment he crossed into heaven, Jesus was human too and found out what grief feels like. This happened for a reason; so He could relate to my sorrow and grief and know how to comfort me too.
A story was told to me recently that kind of sums up my thoughts: a woman was coming out of a building, where next door was a bunch of construction vehicles and workers. She saw the tall lift truck, but didn't know if the guy inside the bucket knew she was coming out to cross the street. She hesitated to go, not wanting to get hit, and heard someone say, "I see you, sweetheart." The man inside the bucket high above her head had seen her pause and wanted her to know that he saw her and was watching her cross. It made her think of God looking down at her in this midst of a busy world, and saying, "I see you, sweetheart, and I am watching over you." It comforts me too, to know that God is looking down at me from heaven, with my daddy is not far away. Someday I will get to join him up there and I will be able to hold his hand again, and worship Jesus with all my loved ones.
Save a Seat at the Table
by Brian Free
I pictured you there where
you wanted to be
finding your chair and then
taking your seat
at the table where the marriage supper
is about to begin.
I imagined the banquet
that's waiting up there
that the saints of all ages
together will share
and how I dream of that moment
when I'll finally see you again
And I know they’ll be millions of millions who've gone on before
and together we'll sit down to feast
with our savior and more
and I know you will be
there looking for me
and I believe that somehow
if you're able
you'll save me a seat
right next to you
at the table.
I've heard it said that being a servant brings joy to your heart. That giving unto others is always better than receiving. That sacrificing for others has its rewards. Yes, there is truth in all of those quotes, but there is another side to the story, just like anything else. Like a mother, always letting her children take the last of the meal or special treat baked for her family, or letting them use up the last drop of warm water for showers before showering herself once they are squeaky clean and dry. Moms have a way of putting themselves last, making sure everyone else is taken care of in her home. Motherhood is an excellent show of sacrifice. But so is fatherhood - he is the one who carries the burden in his heart, watching his wife, knowing she is putting herself last for the sake of the family. If you have a wonderful husband like mine, he will go the extra mile after working a long, hard day and help with the dishes or anywhere else that needs attention in the home. He is also good at getting the children to step up to the plate and set them into motion to help out where needed too, when Mom's patience seems to have vanished.
Yet, the sacrifice I am talking about is stepping out of the home and going beyond the expected. Helping others when they need help, no matter the toll it takes, knowing that this too shall pass. Simply being the tool in the Master's hand. Letting Him guide me through life, down the road of being like Him, giving of myself in a Christ-like manner. Yet, even machines wear down and need recharging. Even the pencil I hold when I am writing wears down to a dull tip and it is not sharp anymore. That is when I reach the point (no pun intended) where I feel like my giving is not rewarding; my heart does not feel joy, and I wonder if it is worth the extra effort to do what I am doing. I feel like I am just the pencil that has become dull and incapable of putting out anything worth while any more.
I have had some very strange circumstances occur these past few months, which caused me to step out of my comfort zone and help others in need, not because I wanted to be a hero, but I felt that gentle prodding in my heart from the Lord to be His pencil. A mother and her four children needed a place to crash for the afternoon so we invited them to come and join us for Sunday lunch, and the little ones played with my own children all afternoon. After church that evening, she was preparing to take them on a four hour trip home, but I could not see her doing that after such a long day. We had the next day off from school, so after some shifting around from my own children, whom I am so thankful for their servant's hearts and selfless attitudes, the mother took the girls' room with a couple of the children and the boys shared a bed in the boys' room. I saw them off the next day after breakfast and showers, and felt very overwhelmed at what had just happened. I felt happy for helping them while I could, but I felt like I had not been the right one to give advice or help in the way she needed. I was exhausted from trying to be the tool in the hand of the Lord and needed some recharging.
Over and over again things have happened this year that has shown me why the Lord wanted me to step away from teaching last year and be a tool for Him. I made the mistake of praying once last year that the Lord would allow me to be needed somewhere, so I could feel useful during a lull in my life. Be careful what you ask for. God will answer that and then some. I remember specifically asking that it would not be due to sickness (thinking of subbing for teachers out sick) and well, He answered that prayer. I simply forgot there are all kinds of other situations out there that can arise where people need help and so I have been swamped by all kinds of needs around me. I am not complaining, and for anyone reading this who needed my help, please understand I was happy to help you. I love helping where I can and being that pencil in the hand of the Lord. I will not go into details here about everything, but I have subbed for teachers, been the lunch lady (I enjoyed this the most!), and watched babies for mothers who needed a sitter for the day or even for four nights when one mother had twins. That was the most recent one. I am afraid I came down with the cold that the little (if you think 42 lbs of baby is little!) boy had and lost a lot of sleep listening to him stir off and on all night. It all hit me last night and so I went to bed early, around 8:15, and slept about eleven hours, something I needed to help heal and recharge. I feel so much better today and this past week is already a distant memory. I feel for the little boy's mother, who has to deal with a two year old and two sweet little twins. She is going to be the one who is going to need a nice long sleep soon, to recharge from being that sacrificial mom. I needed my recharge so I can be ready to step in and help her out again if needed. The Bible says that the Lord will not give us more than we can handle in life, but He allows trials to come our way so we remember our need to call on Him, that we cannot do this ourselves. He is always there by our side, guiding, helping, and giving us the strength to continue on. So, I remain His tool, the pencil in God's hand, ready to be stripped of my dullness in His sharpener; to be sharp and pointy for the next task at hand. If there is one thing that I have learned in life it is that this too shall pass and it will only be a distant memory tomorrow. All I need to do is look at my children and see how true that statement really is...it may not be a joy at the moment, but it will bring great joy in the end.
It seemed like a huge task ahead of us...to move an entire storage unit of boxes filled with cards and other collectibles to a new storage place. I had lots of better ideas about how I could spend my Saturday afternoon. I did not look forward to being out in the bitter wind that January day, carrying heavy boxes from an unheated storage unit to the car, but it was a job that needed to be done. Cutting back on expenses for the family is always a good thing, but sometimes it takes a lot of team work to make these cutbacks come to fruition.
Joe and Caleb went on ahead and began loading the back of the truck and it was already full when we arrived in our Pilot. Susy and JJ were with me, having left Ben and Alaina at Grammy's house. Alaina's job is cleaning so she already had her work cut out for her. Ben was just going to hang out in the warm living room, watch movies, and stay out of our way so he would not get run over. I was hoping that with all these helping hands the job would be quick and easy.
Well, I was quite surprised to find that the unit was inside on the second floor of one of the buildings. I had assumed it would be one of the large doors outside in the front, easily accessible and no stair climbing, but I was wrong. Not to mention that some of the boxes had collapsed during their stay in their metal hotel making a complete mess inside. So began the trips up and down the steps, though some of the times the guys used the freight elevator. I found it to be quite a pain in the neck because it was faster to carry more boxes down down the stairs than it took the elevator to move one load. Back and forth we went, until both vehicles were completely filled with boxes, leaving just enough room for the passengers.
We drove to our destination and began to unload. We had quite the assembly line going: the boys dropped the boxes down a board where Susy caught them and stacked them so Joe could wheel them over and I could Tetris them on the pallets near the wall. It worked until my back finally began to give me warning signs that I should stop before it gave out and then I would no longer be of any use for the next week. It took three trips back and forth, a half an hour to load, then another half an hour to unload. Three hours went by and we were looking forward to getting the job finished soon. On the last trip through the gate, the thought crossed my mind that we might get locked in since it was getting close to closing time. I brushed the crazy thought away. The gate had been open all day and even though the office had been closed since noon, I was sure there was an easy way to get out if the gate did close.
While the children finished up loading the vehicles, I cleaned up the lose items that had tumbled down in a great avalanche of boxes and baseball cards. The final step was to sweep the unit and we were finished. Exhausted, grimy, cold, and hungry, we climbed into the cars and made our way to the gate only to find it shut tight. I was ahead of Joe so he told me to drive up to it, as close as I could go and it should open. I inched close to the metal and nothing happened. We searched for a button to push, a pressure point to drive on, or anything to open the gate so we could pass through. By now it was dark and we realized there was no getting through the gate without help. I cannot begin to describe the strange feelings that began to wash over me, of desperation, fright, and helplessness. I looked around at all the doors that surrounded us, but none of them could help get us to our destination. Even if we had the combinations to open them, they would lead us to no where. There was only one way to go if only we had the key to get through.
It turned out to be the greatest illustration for my girls in Sunday school class the next day...how there is only one way to heaven and that gate is closed until we get the Key, which is Jesus Christ, Who will come live in our hearts if we only invite Him in. There are all kinds of other doors that we think may be the way to go, only to find they lead us nowhere, and may even trap us with their enticements that lie behind them. I think they understood my story, though it was a bit embarrassing to tell people that we had been locked behind the gates.
I am sure you are wondering how we got out...Joe called the number on the door of the office, but never received a call back. He decided to call the police and see if they could come to our rescue. We really did not love the idea of sleeping in the car all night long, locked behind bars. It was not a pleasant thing to think about at all. After about a half an hour of waiting, hoping, and praying for help, a truck drove into the lot and stopped at the other side. We watched with anticipation as the gate suddenly began to move and without hesitation I drove through and hollered, "We're free!"
I had thought he was coming to rescue us, but he was simply coming to get something out of his storage unit. He had a key to open the gate, something we did not have, and I have no clue why. Maybe it was because of the size of our unit, or maybe its location, but Joe had never been given a key to unlock the gate when he rented it a few years back. Joe canceled the call to the police and we finished our drive with humbled hearts and unloaded the last of the boxes, then ordered out for dinner. It was an experience I will never forget, but an experience I never hope to repeat anytime or anywhere.
Have you ever had a memory pop into your head at the strangest time? It never ceases to amaze me how at the oddest times something will spark a memory in my mind, bringing a smile to my face, or a tear to my eye. It is like a hidden file, deep inside the recesses of my brain, that gets opened by some secret hand inside my head. A smell, a song, a taste, even a thought can send that electric current shooting through my brain and cause me to remember a person or event that occurred in my life. And of course, that happened to me recently while I was washing the dishes...dishes from breakfast time, after eating eggs...eggs that were stuck to plates that had to be scrubbed off. The memory came crashing through my head setting off a series of thoughts that put a smile on my face and kept me chuckling all day long.
Yet, before I even attempt to tell the story, which my older brother can do so much better than I can, I want you to remember that every family has crazy moments; things that happen in a lifetime that makes the your family seem so different than any other family you know. At least you think it is different, such as the conversations that always pop up during dinner time and you would be completely mortified if a stranger walked in at that very moment causing you to want to crawl under the table and hide forever. You always think you are alone in life's ups and downs and that the event is unique to you, but as life unfold and you learn more about people, you find out that every one is really the same in more ways than one. You learn that you are not alone in life's events. There is nothing new under the sun.
As I was scrubbing the plate that had egg yolk stuck all over it, the thought crossed my mind that I better clean it so well that nobody can tell we had eggs that morning. When I say tell, I do not mean just being able to see the egg, but clean it so well so that nobody can even smell the egg afterwards. I drifted back to that Saturday so many years ago, when I was a teenager. We had a guest over that night for dinner and as we all sat down to eat he looked around at the food and commented on how good it all looked. Then he set his napkin on his lap and as he did I noticed he leaned down to the plate and put his nose over the top and gave a sniff. "I smell eggs! Did someone have eggs for breakfast today?"
I know my eyes widened like saucers at his comment and I felt like crawling under my chair, but that would make it completely obvious that I had been the one to do dishes that day. And, yes, we did have eggs that morning. The entire family sat rooted to their chairs for a second, not sure how to react to such a comment from our guest. Once the initial shock wore off, one of us jumped out of our chair and hurried to retrieve a new, cleaner plate, possibly sniffing it on the way over to make sure there was no smell of egg on the new plate. We did not want to cause our visitor (or my mom!) (or me!) any more undue stress over dinner.
It was this incident, as well as a few others that occurred over the years of our knowing this gentleman, that sparked the events that caused my family to do a pretty crazy thing. My mom had been sick and was laid up for a week or two. A few people from church decided to make our large family of eight some meals to help out, so this kind gentleman decided he would jump in and sign up. I am not sure if he gave it to us at church or if he came all the way out to our house an hour away, but somehow the gigantic pot of casserole ended up on the counter for our family to enjoy. We did enjoy it, and we ate to our hearts' content, hardly making a dent in the large pot. The next day we ate it for lunch, and my dad probably brought it for lunch at work the next day too. And the next day...and the next day. The more we dug down into the pot, the more it seemed to miraculous expand. It was like the miracle of Jesus when He fed the 5,000 on the hill. The food kept multiplying until all twelve disciple were carrying around baskets, handing out bread and fish to the people until their hungry tummies were full. I could picture all eight of us carrying around eight gigantic pots of casserole, trying to find more people to feed. It was like eating turkey after Thanksgiving... there comes a point when you feel like you have had enough and cannot eat another bite of the stuff. At this point my mom was feeling better and was quite ready to get her kitchen back. It was time to go shopping so she could restock the fridge with food for her family. Yet, we had a problem. A huge problem. A giant pot of casserole type of problem. It took up the entire shelf or two inside the refrigerator and we had no idea what to do with it.
"We can't eat another bite of that stuff!" the children complained to Mom.
"But we need to finish it up! We can't waste it! What would Mr. Q think?" Mom said. She hated wasting food anyway. Remember, there are starving children in Africa who would love to eat that casserole.
"But we've been eating it all week long and we're tired of it! Can't we throw the rest away?"
Mom would not hear of it. She was adamant about not throwing it out simply because she did not want to have to tell Mr. Q that we had thrown his casserole in the garbage. He would never forgive us!
"We don't have to tell him we threw it away!" the children argued. "He won't ever know!"
"Remember the plate incident?" she asked us. "Trust me, he'll find out somehow. Or he'll just ask us and we can't lie to him."
"What do you think he'll do?" Dad asked Mom. "It's not like he's going to go looking through our garbage for it."
My older brother smiled. "I can just see him now, running into the house with a mask and cape on yelling, "You threw it away! I just know it!" and with an evil laugh he'll go sniffing through all our garbage until he finds every last bit of casserole and make us eat it until it's gone!"
This comment did not help my mother's decision. "No, we can't throw it away! We just can't!"
"Then what should we do with it?" all the children asked.
"We'll bury it!"
We looked at each other. "Bury it?"
"Yes! He'll never come out and ask us if we buried it so we should be good with that." She told my older brother to get a shovel and go dig a big hole. He stood looking at her still unsure if she was serious. She was. It was growing dark outside by now which seemed a good time of day to dig a hole to secretly bury a casserole. A little while later my brother came in from behind the house and announced that the hole was ready. Without further ado, we took the giant pot outside and dumped the contents into the ground and watched as he covered up the never ending casserole. After he patted the earth smooth we quickly went inside and washed the pot. We would return it to the kind gentleman the next time we saw him at church a few days later, and we could rest in the knowledge that we had not "thrown it away" if he asked.
The lesson learned from this event is never make someone a casserole in a giant pot...put it in a small pan that is big enough for one, possibly two meals, because the person eating it may just bury it so they don't have to tell you that they ended up throwing your delicious, but enormous amount of dinner away. And of course, always doubly wash your plates after a meal of eggs, for that, my friend, is a lesson we all could benefit from.
I listened to their early morning bustling as they prepared to head out to New York City for the day. Hats, gloves, and warm coats were pulled out as they gathered everything they would need for a long day in the cold city. The weatherman said it should get up to a whopping, wonderful, warm temperature of 43 degrees today, but we know how the weatherman can lie. Besides, the ride on the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty will be mighty cold, especially in the brisk winds of December. So, they left with all their gear, nervous about what the day held, excited to explore a place that is gigantic and unlike our little town of Wallingford. We know crowds and traffic here in town, but Alaina will get the experience of her lifetime today, seeing the buildings, yellow taxi cabs, people, World Trade Center Memorial, people, the Statue of Liberty, and more people. It has been over eight years since Alaina went to New York. I was pregnant with Benny at the time, VERY pregnant, and it was quite the challenge walking those streets with my huge belly, the size of Minnesota as I often called it. Susy and Auntie Mickey also came along on the trip and we went to visit the American Girl store, where they got their Itty Bitty Babies. It was a fun day, but Alaina does not remember any part of it except the train ride and sitting at the table with the dolls in high chairs as we ate lunch. So this will be a completely new experience for my almost fourteen year old daughter.
So, I said goodbye, heard the truck drive away, and then the tears came pouring out of my eyes. Tears of joy mixed with tears of sorrow. Joy for the fact that Alaina and her daddy can go out and spend the day together, laughing and building memories that I hope she will hold close to her heart and treasure forever. Things will happen today that only they will be able to laugh about, to connect with, to carry as an inside joke that only the two of them will understand. Tears of joy also flowed for the memories that I hold near and dear about my own Dad taking me out on day trips like this that are forever etched in my mind. The early morning preparations were always hard for me, seeing that I was not a morning person and always felt quite ill for a while after getting up. That feeling always evaporated away along with the dewy mist after the sun came out to dry up the grass.
Tears of sorrow came also, because I knew that what I once had is gone and I will never have another day with Dad. Tears of being on the other side of the spectrum - growing up, leaving home, being the responsible one and not the child, of being the mom, the spectator, the one who has to say goodbye and watch them go and make those memories....it is all another side to the story. A story my mom must have read so many times during my lifetime. Yet, she never complained. She knew what it meant to my dad to tie those heartstrings with his six children, so she smiled, waved goodbye, and watched time and time again as the children took day trips (and sometimes overnight camping trips) just to spend special time with Dad every year. It was something he took pride in. He started it when I was about five years old, when we went to the IBM park to swing, and then watched the planes land at the airport, and finished with a meal at Lums restuarant. It was our yearly custom, to pick a place or two that we wanted to go, and he would plan and save for it until finally it was time and off we went. We called it our day with dad. I found it heart touching that each one of my siblings who spoke at his memorial service recounted those special times like they were highlighted with a big, yellow marker on their hearts.
I think this one particular trip hits a chord with me because of the fact that Joe and Alaina are taking the train down to the city. The train...I remember it all so clearly, like it was only yesterday. Standing on the platform next to my dad, waiting for the conductor to tell us to get on. We were on our way up to La Ronde in Canada, to spend a day at the aquarium and amusement park. It was early, and I had had one of those mornings where I thought I would not make it because my stomach felt so queasy and yucky. I should have known by then that it was early morning blahs and that it would fade away, but stuck in the moment of feeling ill sometimes can feel like forever. So, I waited, excited for my first train ride, nervous about what the day held, butterflies fluttering around in my stomach making me still feel a bit queasy.
"When can we get on, Dad?" I asked.
"The conductor will tell us when to board," he answered.
We waited some more. The man never said anything. "Why isn't he saying, "All aboard!" Isn't it time to get on?" I was scared it would pull out of the station without us.
"He'll tell us soon," my dad said.
Well, we waited some more and nothing happened. Then the air brakes popped, the whistle blew, and the train pulled away out of the station leaving us standing there on the platform. Never once did the man call for us to board. He must have thought we were waiting for someone, or maybe just observing the train pull in and out so early in the morning. My mouth must have fallen to the floor in shock. I think my dad's did too. I looked at him and saw his brow furrowed as he watched the train disappear down the tracks. He took my hand and led me back inside to the office where the gentleman in a hat worked behind the counter. He looked up quite surprised.
"What are you doing back here?" he asked, perplexed.
"The train left without us," my dad replied.
As he went about getting his money back for our tickets, I stood off to the side and felt the tears burning my eyes. My day was ruined. We weren't going to get to go to Canada and spend a fun time watching penguins swim around and around behind the glass, nor would we get to bounce around on the high roller coaster together and eat lots of junk food. But, sometimes God has a different plan for our lives and we need to learn to be flexible and go with it anyway. My dad gave me the option of waiting for another day to take the train, or still go that day in our own car. I chose to drive up in our car and so we did. I still do not know why we missed that train that day, but feel God had a good reason, even if it was to teach me a lesson I needed to learn. To this day I still call that particular day, "The Train Ride I Never Took."
My mom and sister were cleaning out the house, getting it ready to sell someday in the future, and one of them found a little cross stitched piece of work that I had made for my dad many years ago. It is two people standing side by side, with a train in the background, symbolizing that day that I will never forget. I really hope that does not happen to Joe and Alaina today. I hope the conductor hollers loud and clear, "All aboard!" and they get to climb on and take the ride of the year. I hope they treasure every moment together so that one day in the future, Alaina will be able to share with her children the wonderful memories she made today during her day with her dad.
Update: Good news! They got on the train! :) Now to wait and hear more about their adventures in the big city.