THE GOOD OLD DAYS

My youth is fleeting.

I realized it for the first time a few months ago when I was out running errands. I needed to make a phone call and the battery in my cell phone was dead. Did you know it’s almost impossible to find a pay phone anymore? Since then, one incident after another has slapped me in the face with the reality that today’s world is not the world I grew up in.

I remember when you could stick a dime in a red Coca-Cola-only vending machine and get a real Coke, housed in an ice-cold, green glass bottle that tasted the way Coke is supposed to taste.

I remember when cashiers used to say the price of each item they rang up out loud, announce your tax and total, then count your change back to you, starting with the pennies.

I remember when the raciest thing on TV was the annual parade of Miss America contestants wearing modest, one-piece swimsuits and four-letter words were not allowed.

Yes, the world has changed. Thankfully, not all of it is bad. I’m grateful for computers, air conditioning, microwave popcorn and digital cameras. And so far, I’ve found ways to cope with the changes I don’t like. I’ve gotten used to drinking Coke out of a plastic bottle. I get a kick out of confusing cashiers by handing them exact change. And I limit my televison viewing to what is appropriate for my children to watch with me. And, when I can remember, I make sure my cell phone is charged up, just in case I’m away from home and need to make a call.

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BOBBLE JESUS

     When the weather is nice, my husband takes a walk in the morning. He gets his exercise for the day while picking up cans and watching the sunrise. He varies his route between back roads and highways, and while he’s walking he finds things. All sorts of things. And he brings them home. Things like credit cards, smashed cell phones, hubcaps, pieces of clothing, deflated balls, sunglasses, and run-over ball caps. Mostly useless things, like the day he brought home Bobble Jesus.
     I hated it the minute I saw it. Why would anyone make such a thing? Or buy it? Or bring it home from a walk? The next thing I knew, it had been affixed to the top of my refrigerator. In my kitchen.
     The kids got a kick out of leaning it over to one side and letting go to watch it bobble back and forth. So did the cats. I nick-named it Bobble Jesus and figured the thrill would wear off, hopefully by trash day, and I could get rid of it. But it’s been seven months and it’s still there. Here’s why.
     As I went about my daily tasks of fixing meals and folding laundry at the kitchen table, under the watchful eye of Bobble Jesus, the thing grew on me. It reminded me that the real Jesus promised to keep his eye on me. It reminded me of his constant presence in my life. That he was available 24/7 to hear a prayer, a complaint, or supply me with needed wisdom.
     At first, I hated it when one of the kids made Jesus bobble. I called out, “Stop it! Leave it alone.” But one day I realized that too often in this life we leave Jesus alone. We don’t touch him or make him a part of our day. We don’t interact with him. Every now and then, when no one is looking, I give him a nudge myself and watch him go.
     So Bobble Jesus is still on the fridge. Yes, it’s stupid and corny and silly, but I like it. I don’t worship it, but I do worship the one it reminds me of. And now when one of the cats sends Jesus into motion with a swipe of a paw, I laugh – and shoot up a prayer of thanksgiving for the reminder that Jesus is constantly on the move in my life.

THREE LITTLE WORDS

My husband, John, recently trimmed our giant weeping willow in the back yard. Everything went well until he climbed waaaay up to cut one last branch. He couldn’t cut all the way through because of the height of the limb and the awkward angle. He tried three different saws and finally had to leave it hanging by a thread.

The next night after work he tried again. He climbed and sawed, worked and worked, huffed and puffed with all three saws until dark, and the limb refused to be disengaged from the tree.

Last night he was at it again. Armed with new saw blades and renewed determination, he ascended the ladder.  The sound of serrated teeth chewing through wood inspired hope, but alas, the saw dust piled up as his energy waned. It wasn’t long before he climbed back down, muttering and shaking his head. In a last-ditch effort, he attached a rope to the branch and pulled and pulled. We heard the crunchy sound of ripping wood, but still, the limb hung on.

About that time, three little words our neighbor called over the fence changed everything.

John raised his head and saw our neighbor and his buddy coming through the back gate. They listened sympathetically as he recounted his failed attempts to separate the branch from the tree. The neighbor ran back home to get his magic this-thing-will-cut-through-anything saw and handed it up to his comrade on the ladder. He sawed and sawed, cursed the inadequate height of the ladder and climbed back down. The three of them brainstormed ideas and came up with a plan. The neighbor ran home again and returned with a rope and harness. He rigged up his best friend, who turned his ball cap around on his head as he narrowed his eyes at his bark-covered target. Game on.

My husband steadied the ladder. The neighbor manned the rope attached to the limb. The fearless friend at the top of the ladder attached the harness to the limb behind him–just in case. In the fading light, he stood on the top rung of the ladder with one arm wrapped around the tree for support and cut away. I held my breath.

Moments later, the branch hit the ground. The tension in the air dissipated as a brief celebration broke out. Then, the hero climbed down the ladder. The neighbor packed up his saw, his rope, his harness and went home. John put away his ladder and saws, closed the garage door and came in to wash up for supper. For the first time in days, he had a smile on his face.

What three little words did our neighbor call over the fence? Just the three most encouraging words my husband could have heard at that moment.

The next time you see someone struggling, make their day by calling out those three little words:  “Need some help?”

PHOTO OOPS

     We don’t have Kodak moments at our house. We have near misses, disasters, and fish stories. We often sit around the dinner table recalling the ones that got away.

     “Honey, remember the one of Zachary holding Sarah the day we brought her home from the hospital?” my husband reminisces.

     “Oh, yes.” I nod my head, remembering. “That was precious. Too bad the camera battery was dead.”

     We have no pictures of our daughter feeding herself cake at her first birthday party because the flash wasn’t turned on. I can’t show my son the photo of him winning the sack race on Field Day in Kindergarten because I left the camera at home. And a picture of me, posing with a very handsome Canadian Mountie, never made it home because my husband dropped the film when he was changing rolls and it went over Niagara Falls. He still swears it was an accident.

     When we finally got a digital camera we thought things would change. We have striking photos of our trash sitting at the curb, me coming out of the shower, and the cat using the litter box. The kids took those.

     Occasionally, I miss not having pictures of Christmas morning, the day the cat had kittens, and the time we were on vacation in Colorado and saw the double rainbow. But somehow, there are pictures in my mind of all these important life events. Many are probably in sharper focus and more beautifully framed than the photos would have been. They are stored away where they can’t be destroyed by flood or fire. There are no fingerprints on them. And I don’t have to spend hours putting them into albums to enjoy them. I just close my eyes.

CLIMB ON

     The other day I was helping a five-year-old boy learn to tie his shoes. He kept telling me how hard it was so I encouraged him to keep practicing. “Don’t give up,” I told him. “You can do it if you don’t quit,” I said over and over. Every time I followed one of his mistakes with one of my encouraging comments, he looked at me like I was forcing him up Mt. Everest with a whip.

     Fortunately, I’d been through the torture of learning how to tie shoes before, both as the learner and the teacher. I remembered learning to tie my own shoes, despite the criticism of peers who had already mastered the skill. It was hard, but I learned. And it wasn’t too many years ago that my own children clawed their way up that mountain. We had a few squabbles and ended up putting the shoes in the closet for a while. At times, I was tempted to give up and buy the children slip-ons, but we got through it.

     As I watched this kid fumbling with his shoe laces, I felt guilty. Maybe I’d pushed him too hard. Expected too much. He’d only been in kindergarten a few weeks. Most kids his age would be in tears by now. Should I tell him to take a break? Go play? He had plenty of time to–  He tapped me on the arm and pointed at his feet. His smile told me the news before I saw the bows on his laces.

     “I did it!” he yelled. We exchanged high-fives.

     I think this boy will go far. Already, at the tender age of five, he’s learned a deeper lesson than how to tie his shoes. He learned that the view from the top of the mountain is worth every inch of the climb.

What mountain are you climbing at the moment?

I REMEMBER WHEN

     One day when I had time to kill, I wandered into an antique store. I felt out of place since my only connection to the world of antiques is that my children think I am one. But once I started looking around, I spotted a Roy Rogers Chow Wagon lunch box like the one my older brother had in grade school. The matching Thermos had a picture of Roy seated on his horse, Trigger, reared up on his back legs, just like on the TV show. I also found a Crissy doll like the one I’d gotten for Christmas one year, a big seller because of the button on her tummy that allowed the length of her hair to be adjusted. And I smiled to myself when I saw the collection of Little Golden books, many of which my mother had read to us as children.

     While I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, it bothered me that all the items looked brand new, as though a child had never carried a baloney sandwich to school, braided the doll’s hair, or thumbed through the books with sticky fingers. Perhaps someone, with an eye for what might be considered valuable in the future, saved these things in their near-pristine condition in order to sell them in an antique store some day. Maybe they were just gently used. I don’t know. But I’m glad my brother had the fun of pretending to be a cowboy while carrying his lunch to school. The Chow Wagon sustained its share of dents and scratches along the way, but if I catch my brother in a nostalgic mood he still talks about the joy he had eating lunch with Roy Rogers every day. And I still remember how I stumbled onto Mom’s hiding place for wrapped presents the year I got the Crissy doll. Everyday, for two weeks before Christmas, I took her out of the box and stroked her shiny red hair. She became one of my favorite dolls. I broke the mechanism that adjusted her hair long before I tired of playing with her. And I can still remember the pictures of The Three Little Pigs and Pinocchio in the taped-back-together Little Golden Books Mom read to us at bedtime.

     I loved seeing those mementos of my childhood, and I’m glad to see that someone still sees value in them. But I wouldn’t trade the wear and tear we put on those well-loved possessions for their current prices. My memories of wearing them out are worth far more.

BIG JOBS

Near my house, two men are painting the water tower. They’ve been working on it for weeks. I stopped the other day to watch them work. Surprisingly, they’re using what appears to be a roller no bigger than what I’d use to paint a bedroom. 

What must they have thought on the first day when they got out of their trucks, craned their necks skyward and saw the height and girth of the tower? Did they feel overwhelmed? Perhaps they thought, “This is impossible!” But they didn’t get in their trucks and drive away. Instead, they opened cans of paint, grabbed their rollers and got to work. Stroke by stroke, they’ve worked for weeks to transform our dingy white eye-sore into a fresh, sky-blue beauty. And now, after only a few short weeks of diligence and perseverance, they’re almost done.

 As I begin work on a new novel next week, I’m going to keep these painters in mind. Writing a book is a huge job, but if I work at it faithfully, day-by-day, I’ll see progress. And eventually I’ll be able to stand back, admire my work and say with pride, “I’m finished!”

Let’s get to work. What big job will you be working on?

LET US PREY

In our family we pray together at dinner time. It’s supposed to be a reverant time to take a moment to thank the good Lord for all the good things he’s done for us – to show our gratitude for his blessings. But I noticed lately that we often rush through the prayer, as though it’s simply a ritual that must be endured before we get around to why we really came to the table in the first place. Especially if we’re eating in front of the TV we’ve been known to dive in to our food so we don’t miss any of the program and squeeze in a prayer during a commercial. It hurts to admit this, but it’s true. In short, often we show more enthusiasm for our preying than for our praying.

So here’s what I decided to do about it. Tonight at dinner, there will be no TV. Instead of having the family sit down with a plate full of food in front of them, I’m going to have them sit at an empty table. While stomachs growl and mouths water, we’re going to talk about what it would be like if our pantry and refrigerator were empty and we had no money to buy food. I’m going to ask my kids to imagine going to school hungry, or having no sack lunch to eat. I’m going to share with them that I’ve noticed all four of us falling into an attitude that lacks sincerety when it comes to showing God how grateful we are to him for what we have. We’re going to ask God to forgive us and then we’re going to thank him, sincerely, for our evening meal.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE:  The family looked at me like I was a little strange when I called them to the table and there was nothing on it. They complied when I asked them to sit down, but they looked like I might announce the death of a close relative or reveal I had been diagnosed with an incurable illness. I explained my conviction that we’d gotten off track with our mealtime blessings. Their faces grew sober as I told them about my post today and asked them to join me in a sincere apology and prayer.  One by one we told the Lord we were sorry, asked forgiveness and thanked him for the privilege of having plenty to eat before enjoying our dinner. I think they got the point. And I pray there will be a renewed sense of gratitude here at the Allen house.

OH, DEER!

Up until recently, we had an old minivan. We knew we needed to replace it sooner rather than later, but we didn’t have the money to run out and buy a new one. We’d been praying for months about the need for a new vehicle for our family, but we could not have imagined how God planned on meeting our need.

On July 19, on his way out of town at a pre-dawn hour, my husband hit not one, but three deer. He broke both headlights, smashed the radiator and left a trail of antifreeze all the way to the airport. The good new was that he wasn’t hurt, but our insurance company didn’t hesitate to declare our beloved and well-used minivan to be a total loss. That was bad news because with our squeaky-tight budget we knew we didn’t have the money to replace it with anything other than a junker. But God had a plan in mind!

My husband received a bonus at work. We had just refinanced our house and didn’t have to make an August mortgage payment. The insurance company paid more than we expected for our van. And because my husband had been traveling on business for several weeks, he received extra money for that. Suddenly, we had the money we needed to pay cash for a good, used car. God provided for our need at just the right time, and we believe he determined the right time for us to replace our eleven-year-old, oil-leaking van. We bought a white Toyota Highlander and we love it!

Here’s what I learned:  never doubt God’s ability to put money in your hand, if he so chooses. Tell God what you need and wait for his provision.

 I’d love to hear your story. If you’d like to share it, leave me a comment.

-Cora