Saturday, October 21, 2017

Memories


October 21, 2017

A friend commented on yesterday’s post, kindly telling me that my scribblings have been helpful to him. I appreciated his words of encouragement; such words are always welcome. Whether it’s sports, life, or literature, people need encouragement, and usually respond better to it than to criticism. My friend went on to say that he wondered if the date for the past couple days was “in honest error, or to weed out those who are truly paying attention or bold enough to point it out.”

I assured him that calendar dates are among the many things I easily lose track of. I just know I have that book I need somewhere in the boxes in the garage. Once I looked for days for my Go-Devil. For the uninitiated, it’s the size of a sledge hammer, not exactly the easiest thing to lose. Like the saying goes, “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” Yep. That’s me! Linda says that someday it will all pay off; every time we see each other it will be like our first date. 

Memories often haunt us. Most of us have had experiences we would prefer to forget, but trauma has a neurological effect on our brains that hardwires it into our memories. Years ago, I talked with a WWII vet who had been shot down over Europe and interned in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. Knowing how many Vietnam vets suffer from PTSD, I asked him about it. “We don’t hear much from you WWII vets. How did it affect you?” Fifty years after his imprisonment, he told me of his wife waking him up in the middle of the night as he thrashed around in a cold sweat. Many of his memories were frightful things. I’ve listened to countless similar stories from adults who had been abused as children, or from people who had drifted into depths of depravity from which they later emerged, but not without scars.

When John Newton, slave trader turned Christian minister and author of “Amazing Grace,” was an old man, he could often be found walking the streets of Bristol, England. People would stop to talk with this now famous man, who inevitably would tell them that in his later years he had forgotten many things, but two things he remembered well: “I was a great sinner, and Jesus is a great Savior.” 

A friend told me of a woman who was suffering from dementia. Her daughter would faithfully come to see her, even though her mother didn’t recognize her anymore. It made all the difference when her mother told her, “I don’t remember your name, but I know I love you.” 


Some day, our memories will be purged of all that gives us pain and grief. Our God who forgets our sins remembers us, and loves us. And we will love him completely when not only the sin that divides, but even the memories of it, are no more.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Dirt and Diamonds

October 21, 2017

It’s been awhile since the table was full, but tonight, not a single grandchild was missing. We even added a couple—Emmanuel and one of Jo’s diving teammates sat in wide-eyed amazement as after dinner we were entertained with loud and rousing choruses of various Veggie Tale songs, followed by dunking for apples. 

The meteor shower tonight is a wonder of Creation, Thousands, perhaps millions of people will stay up late to witness the dazzling light show. There may even be a few “ooh’s” and “ahh’s,” but in this household, there is no star show as glorious as what we experienced around the table tonight. 


In writer’s group this morning, we were talking about the discipline of writing. It isn’t as easy as it may appear. Sometimes it takes time to think of something worth putting into words and sentences. Sometimes, I have to stretch for it; if I wait for inspiration, it would be a long time between articles. I know not everything I write has value, but it’s like mining for diamonds; you have to move a lot of dirt to get to the ore. There’s a lot of dirt and precious few diamonds in these lines. Most of what I write is pretty localized, which is why I titled my blog “Refrigerator Word Art.” Like a kid’s pictures that grandparents proudly display on the refrigerator, they don’t mean much to anyone else, but maybe, just maybe, these words will cause you to pause, look at your own refrigerator, and give thanks for what is uniquely yours.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Pinpricks of Glory

October 20, 2017

At 6:00 am, the stars were popping out of the blackness, pinpoints of light dotting the sky with their pointillist beauty. Thousands of years ago the psalmist sang, “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained; what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man, that you visit him?” Elsewhere he asserts that “The heavens declare the glory of God.” That glory was on full display this morning.

There may be many benefits of living in the city, but one of the liabilities is the light pollution that prevents many moderns from seeing the stars as the ancients saw them. Walking out the front door this morning, once the streetlight was hidden behind the big Norway spruce, I got a glimpse of that ancient glory, and it was majestic!

Later in the day, he stormed into the place of business where I sat, waiting for the work to be done on my truck. He appeared about my age, with a shaggy mane of snow-white hair and beard to match, but he was definitely not jolly old St. Nick. The shop hadn’t done the job the way he wanted it done, and he didn’t miss too many words in his profanity dictionary letting the receptionist know what he thought. I’m not sure he could afford losing the piece of his mind he was giving her before turning his sights on the owner. He was met with undeserved grace. It’s sad for someone to have lived so long and not learned that kindness usually gets you farther than anger. The receptionist and I talked. It’s sadly, not an uncommon occurrence.

This evening, we drove into our driveway to be greeted by the Christmas lights I had hung earlier and set on a timer. After having had lunch with Alex and Emmanuel, and having cheered on three granddaughters in their final regular swim meet of the year, seeing the lights made her squeal like a little kid on Christmas morning. Linda is easy to please. 


It was an Oreo day, blessings on each end, with a sad reminder of our fallen humanity in the middle. The good is all around us, waiting to be noticed, if we only have eyes to see. My sight is dimmer than I would like, but the more we live in the Light, the better we see. Even those pinpricks of starlight bear twinkling testimony to God’s glory, for which I give thanks this evening.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Free

October 18, 2017

I’ve been reading through the prophet Isaiah in my morning devotionals. Sometimes I take two or three chapters at a time, but chapter 55 stopped me in my tracks. There’s so much here that it’s going to take me awhile to get through it all. It begins with these words: "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” 

What an invitation! Free dinner; it sounds like church! If you want a surefire way to gather a crowd, offer free stuff. The crowd may disappear once the stuff is gone, but you’ll have them at least until the dessert is served. It’s the Paretto Principle, otherwise known as the 20/80 rule. Twenty percent of the people do 80 percent of the work is the way the business world configures it. At church, it’s 20 percent of the people eat 80 percent of the church dinner. 

So, the text tells us that God invites us to a banquet, a common biblical image of the overflowing blessings offered to us. Jesus spoke of a banquet he has prepared for us in the heavenly kingdom. We are invited to come, but also to buy. But how can penniless people buy anything? If I have no money, it doesn’t matter how cheap the menu; I can’t afford to buy anything. So how do we buy when we have no money? It’s really quite simple: We offer ourselves in return for dinner. God sets a banquet of forgiveness, peace, joy, hope, freedom, strength, and companionship. All that was bought for us at the price of Christ’s blood on the cross. But there is also a price we pay. We have nothing to offer; our righteousness is, as Isaiah says elsewhere, like filthy rags. We are spiritually broke; in debt, even. We have nothing to offer. So we offer the only thing we have: ourselves. And God accepts it, not because we have anything of value, but because he values us. Now THAT is something for which to give thanks!



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Small Things

October 17, 2017

It’s a small thing, really. After another busy day, Linda and I are sitting in the Millstone room, she watching her favorite tv show, and me writing. We gravitate to this room when we want to relax. The wood stove is still cold; as backup heat, we don’t need to fire it up quite yet, but the room is still a pleasant place to be. My usual evening drink is tea, or sometimes decaf coffee. I don’t like sugary drinks, so I don’t do the mochas and cappuccinos from Starbucks. Pour-over or a Quad espresso are just fine. 

Tonight, the air is crisp, the leaves littering the lawn. In a small window of down time this afternoon, Linda and I sat on the back deck watching the leaves float down the stream, drinking our coffee, and talking about our life together. It was a Hallmark movie time. Almost. Only it wasn’t cheesy. Apparently, we’ve aged considerably this past year. Used to be, we could drink coffee any time without losing sleep. Now, caffeine after six is a guaranteed sleepless night. So for the first time in at least a year, I mixed up a cup of sugary hot chocolate…just right!


After talking with a homeless man yesterday, small things like a cup of hot chocolate, sitting together on the deck or in our Millstone room, become treasures all the more precious by contrast. I am blessed beyond measure, and thankful for each one.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Homeless

October 15, 2017

This morning I woke up in a warm bed inside a warm bedroom. After a hot shower, I had a hot breakfast with Linda before heading to work. Since the thermometer was pegging around 45 degrees, I decided to drive the truck instead of my bike. When I arrived, people were already gathered, waiting in line for our Monday food pantry and clothing rack. Many of them are from the Puerto Rican community, and in the next few weeks, we expect many more as families arrive from the island following the hurricanes that devastated the island a few weeks ago. 

I try to make conversation with them, letting them know they aren't just numbers, trying to help them maintain what dignity they can while they are asking for help. One of them sat in the waiting area just basking in the warmth, something just an hour earlier I was taking for granted. It’s not easy for most people to ask for help. We don’t like to be dependent on others’ charity, so I try to make it a bit easier for them. I’ve taken to asking them for help. “I need to learn Spanish. Please speak to me in Spanish; just a simple sentence…SLOWLY.” They laugh and try to teach me. I forget easily, but bit by bit, I’m going to get it. And maybe along the way, they’ll get something too, from being on the giving side. It’s all about partnering together. Constantly being a recipient robs people of control and puts them in debt. Making them partners evens the playing field, maybe not much, but perhaps just enough that they will want to become partners in the great venture of following Jesus. I’m working on it; if someone even hints that they believe in God, I’m right there, asking them for help in designing a worship experience they can relate to. We have a long way to go, but we’re making a start.

Ben came into the office shortly before I was ready to leave for the day. Twenty one, tall and good-looking, he explained through tears that he was homeless, was bi-polar, and afraid that he will die when the weather turns cold. Right now, he’s squatting in someone’s barn, hiding the few possessions he has behind some boards, coming in late at night, and leaving before sunrise. He spoke of how when he was a kid, the only help he got for his condition was the drugs the doctors prescribed that left him like a zombie. He learned little, didn’t graduate, and has lost his Social Security card and birth certificate, and without a permanent address, can’t even apply for social services. 

I talked with him about Jesus’ ability to change his thinking, without which mere external help will only be temporary. He’s not ready to come to Christ, but allowed me to pray with him. What do you say to a young man who at twenty one has lost all hope? James says, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” 


Did I help, or hinder the Gospel today? We gave him some food and warm clothes, but I didn’t bring him home with me. Talking about Jesus’ love without doing something about his situation isn’t enough. I’m going to work on it tomorrow, but tonight, he’s sleeping in a cold barn somewhere outside of Dunkirk. I am thankful tonight for my warm home and bed, for a wife who loves me, children who are living responsibly, and for countless other blessings. But I know also that those blessings come with a price tag, and it’s called “responsibility.” I am my brother’s keeper, even though I often do a poor job of it. I hope tomorrow my gratitude can be turned into grace and giving in a more substantial way than I did today.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fits Right

October 15, 2017

Grandma Helwig was right. Nearly fifty years ago when she first met Linda, she said she just knew Linda was the right girl for me. Although I don’t remember it, grandma said that once when I was a little boy, she took me shopping for a toy. I chose a firetruck, but not just any firetruck. Apparently, I tried them out one at a time, putting each one under my arm until I found the one that fit right. She took one look at Linda standing by my side and said, “She fits right, under your arm.” 

This afternoon, I was talking with a couple. He stands taller than I, while she is tiny. If he held his arm out parallel to the ground, she would fit easily under it, which made me think of grandma’s comment so many years ago. I’ve been away from Linda for three days; when I walked in the door this evening, we embraced, and she fit. Not just under my arm, but also in my heart.