MY MOTHER’S HANDS

Holding mother's hands

It was Christmas and I traveled home to visit my mother. She was now in a long-term nursing care facility. Her mind drifted in and out of reality but she always seemed to recognize me and greet me with a smile. It was difficult to see her sit idle in a chair because she had always been so active and had such a strong spirit.
She was asleep when I got there, her head slumped almost to her chest. I sat down beside her and took her hands in mine and for a few moments just looked at this special woman who had been such a wonderful mother.
I looked down at her hands, now wrinkled and shrunken with age. I couldn’t help but think about how she had used those hands to embrace life and mold lives. In her hands I saw a mother who sacrificed and gave up so much in order to serve others.
I recall how those hands held me when I was small, picked me up when I fell, wiped tears from my cheeks, and rubbed my forehead when I went to sleep.
Those hands made favorite snacks and birthday cupcakes for me, and somehow created meals out of nothing when there seemed to be nothing in the house to eat. They sewed clothes when we couldn’t afford to buy them.
Those hands tied my shoes, zipped up my jackets, gave me a bath, and helped me put on my pajamas.
They helped me hold a pencil and write essays, poems, and do math for school.
Those beautiful hands helped me make play dough creatures, played board games with me, pulled me in the wagon, pushed me on a sled down a snowy hill, clapped for me when I was in the Christmas play at school.
Those hands received dandelions when I gave them as though they were the rarest of flowers, received my finger paintings as though they were masterpieces, and carefully and tenderly tucked away the Mother’s Day cards and birthday cards I made out of scraps of paper as though they were purchased from an expensive card store.
Those worn hands gripped my arm firmly when I misbehaved, guided me out of danger, held me tight and comforted me when I got hurt
Those hands lovingly held her grandchildren, carried food to friends and family members in times of illness and grief, served the needy, planted seeds in the garden, picked the vegetables and froze them for eating later.
Those hands decorated the Christmas tree, made gifts for under it, cooked delicious holiday meals that became family traditions, crocheted afghans, and constantly made little surprises that made my day.
Those hands were folded daily in prayer, turned worn pages in her Bible, selected songs in a hymn book to play on the piano at night while I lay in bed and listened before falling asleep.
May her beautiful hands, so full of a life well lived, be forever engraved in my memory. I’m so very grateful and honored to have held those hands in mine.

 

 

JESUS TAKES THE SUMMER OFF

ssummer worship hours

As Jesus walked around town in the middle of the summer he noticed signs in front of the different churches.
In front of the Main Street Baptist Church the sign said: During the summer there will only be one worship service. It is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. each Sunday. All welcome.
That’s interesting, Jesus thought. I wonder where the Baptists go all summer long.
Jesus walked a little further and noticed the sign in front of the Downtown Episcopal Church. It said: Summer hours for worship are 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. Regular four worship services will resume in the fall.
I guess the Episcopalians have decided to take part of the summer off as well, Jesus said to himself. I wonder if they go the same place the Baptists do?
Two blocks further Jesus saw a big sign in front of the Fourth Street Methodist Church. It said: One worship service only during the summer at 11:00 a.m. Also no choir during the summer.
I get the feeling that people must want a break from going to church during the summer, Jesus mused. This is quite a surprise.
On the corner stood the large St. Thomas Catholic Church. The glass encased sign in the front lawn said, Please note the reduced times for Masses during the summer. Regular schedule will resume in September.
Goodness, even the Catholics are taking time off, Jesus said. This is definitely interesting.
After walking through the rest of town and seeing one sign after the other in front of churches announcing reduced summer hours, Jesus decided to call his Father
Jesus sat down on a park bench, took out his cell phone and punched in his Father’s number.
When his Father answered, Jesus said, You’re not going to believe this, Father, but I’ve walked all over town and all the churches that I saw have reduced worship times for the summer.
Oh, I believe it, God said. It’s the trend. People want time off to do other things. Besides, if one church reduces its summer hours, the other churches have to reduce their hours as well or their members will complain that it’s not fair They keep a watchful eye on each other, you know.
Jesus sat and thought for a moment. I was wondering, Father, since I’m not really needed here in town, do you suppose it would be alright if I took the summer off. There’s a little place down by the Sea of Galilee that I would love to do some fishing and relaxing.
Go ahead and take time off, God said. I was thinking of doing the same thing. The things is, they’ll get in touch with us when they need us. You can count on it.

 

TEN THINGS THAT MATTER MOST IN LIFE

TEN THINGS

1. Be realistic about life. It’s not going to go on forever. There will come a day when you will see no more sunrises, no more sunsets. So make the most of every day. Focus on the things that are most important — people, family, friends. Connect with them as often as possible. Tell them more about who are and less about what you have done in life -leave them with memories of the real you.
2. Don’t just have dreams and hopes, go after all the things you want to do in life while there is still an opportunity to do so, because when your life expires, what you have left undone will expire as well.
3. Determine who you need to forgive and then let go of the hurts they have caused you. It will help you heal. Don’t take hurts, resentments, anger, and jealousies to the grave with you. Clear the air and rest in peace. And for those you’ve hurt, send them your regrets.
4. Spend more time giving and less time receiving, more time sharing and less time buying and collecting. People will remember you by what you gave in life, what you built, not by what you owned and collected.
5. Live your life in such a way that it is an example for others to follow — show compassion for others, especially those less fortunate, be willing to make sacrifices in order to help those in need, always demonstrate honesty and integrity, look for ways to encourage and inspire those who need a lift in life, love others unconditionally.
6. Focus more on what is good in life, the positives, the beauty, the little things that mean a lot, and less time on the negatives, the wrongs, the things that don’t really matter.  Take time to smell the flowers.
7. Believe in yourself. Love yourself. Don’t deny that you have abilities and interests, because you do. Take time to discover and nurture them. Be real, be genuine, be who you are.
8. No matter your situation, that you always have choices in life. Having a choice is a freedom that was given at the beginning of time and no one can take it away from you. But be wise in what you choose. And remember, you always have the right to say no.
9. Take care of your mind, body and soul. Feed them wisely with good nourishment. Be disciplined and exercise mentally, physically and spiritually on a consistent basis.  Give time to meditation and prayer.
10. Accept the fact that you are not in control of life. God is. Love him and be grateful for all that he has done for you.

 

 

THE MYSTERY OF THE MAN UPSTAIRS

Apartment-Stairs

I moved into my new efficiency apartment in late October.  It was on the first floor of a newly constructed apartment building and I knew no one and I assumed that few, if any, of the other residents knew each other.

 

I’m a loner.  I keep to myself and mind my own business.  Since I work from home on my computer I prefer not to socialize much.  That way I don’t have people knocking on my door and interrupting me.

 

I don’t go out much to dine or seek entertainment, nor do I sit by the apartment complex pool to soak up the sun.  Out my apartment window I can see the small lake that’s part of the complex and I often see people walking on the pathway around the lake for exercise.  I sometimes go out late at night when most residents are in bed and walk around the lake.

 

One evening after my walk, I returned to my apartment and found a plastic bag attached to my door with a Snickers candy bar inside and a note that said, “Enjoy.”  It was signed, The man upstairs.

 

I had never met the person who lived in the apartment above mine and assumed he was the one who gave me the candy bar since it referred to the man upstairs.  I had no idea how he might have known that I love Snickers candy bars and was sure it was a coincidence that he had picked my favorite.  I told myself it was kind of him but warned myself to not get involved in any friendship.  I needed my privacy.

 

I few nights later when I was on my walk around the lake I looked to see if there was a light in the apartment above mine, but there wasn’t. When I got back to my apartment there was once again a plastic bag attached to my door and another Snickers candy bar and note inside.  As before the note said, “Enjoy,” and was signed, The man upstairs.

 

I felt frustrated.  Who is this guy and why is he doing this?  What does he want?  There has to be a catch.

 

About a week later I thought I heard a knock on my door.  I opened it but no one was there, however there was a small bag attached to my door.  I expected another Snickers candy bar but instead there was a $25.00 gift card to a local restaurant in the bag and a note that read, You might enjoy getting out a bit and enjoy a nice meal.

 

I sat down in my apartment and tried to figure out what was going on.  Why would some man upstairs, a stranger, want to be kind to me?  Why would he be so generous with no apparent strings attached, no conditions?

 

I wasn’t used to this.  I had a rough life growing up and was used to fighting for everything I got.  Nothing was free and nothing was handed to me.  I learned to not expect anything from anyone and I chose not to be giving away to others what I worked so hard to get.

 

About a week later, after a long hard day at the computer, I was tired and hungry and decided I would use the gift card and go have a  nice meal.  As it happened, the restaurant was a small mom and pop Italian restaurant and the meal was delicious.  My favorite food is Italian and I couldn’t help but wonder if the “man upstairs” somehow knew that.  The thought intrigued me.

 

As I left the restaurant, I noticed an elderly man sitting on the steps of a church next door to the restaurant.  The man noticed me and waved.  I waved back.

 

“Could you do me a favor?” the man asked.

 

He looked a bit disheveled and I immediately assumed he was going to ask for money.  “I don’t have any extra cash,” I said.  “Sorry.”

 

“No, no, I don’t want cash,” the man said. “I want to go into the church but I feel too intimidated.  You see, I’ve not been in one for a long time.  Would you mind going in with me so I could light a candle and say a prayer?”

 

My first instinct was to say, “no,” but there was something about the man that made me say, “Okay, but keep it brief.”

 

He said, “Thank you for your kindness,” and we walked up the steps. He used a cane to help him maneuver the steps.

 

The light inside the church was dim.  We walked to the table where several candles were burning and others unlit.  I felt uncomfortable and sensed he did too.  He picked up a match that was on the table, lit a candle, then handed the match to me.  I shook my head but he kept holding the match.  I didn’t want him to burn his fingers so I took the match and lit a candle.

 

I could hear him speaking in a whisper and assumed he was praying.  I stared at the candle I had lit. For some reason, I blurted out, “Lord, I don’t know why I’m saying this, but help me be a better person.”

 

As I turned to leave the elderly man turned also and we walked down the steps together. A cold, brisk Autumn wind greeted us.

 

“Can I give you a lift?” I asked.  “You don’t by chance live in the West End Apartments where I live, do you?”

 

He stopped, smiled and said, “No I don’t and it’s kind of you to offer a ride, but I have nowhere to go.  I have no home and it’s too late for me to get a bed in the shelter for the homeless.”

 

We just stood there in silence for a moment looking at each other.  He seemed a bit unstable as he steadied himself with his cane.  Why would a gentle old man like this not have a home?”

 

Again, words came out of my mouth that didn’t sound like me.  “I have a small apartment but I do have a sofa you could sleep on just for the night. It’s a bit cold to be sleeping outside.”

 

“That would be very generous of you,” he said. “I promise I’ll be gone in the morning.”

 

When I woke up the next morning he was gone just as he said he would be.  I got dressed, had a cup of coffee, and then decided to do something I had been wanting to do.  I went upstairs to the apartment above mine and knocked on the door.  No one answered.  I knocked again and  rang the doorbell.  Still no answer.

 

One of the maintenance men appeared in the hallway and noticed me knocking on the door.

 

“There’s no one in there,” he said.

 

“What happened to the gentleman who lived there?” I asked.

 

“That apartment hasn’t been rented yet.” he said.  “No one has lived there since these apartments were built.”

 

I was stunned, mystified.  I walked back down the stairs and when I got to my apartment I noticed a plastic bag attached to my door.  Inside was a Snickers candy bar and a note. It simply said, “Thank you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A SERMON FROM A SOLITARY TREE

Solitary Tree

Have you ever heard a sermon from a tree? I have. And I stand in awe of the inspirational messages that trees deliver.

Trees stand powerful and majestic in groups and groves but even more so when they stand alone. Strong and sturdy, weathering the winds and storms of time, the stance of the solitary tree speaks volumes.
There’s something almost holy about a deeply-rooted, beautiful, strong tree. The blizzards rage against the tree, the cold winds bite and freeze, the summer sun sends rays of intense heat and drought, but the solitary tree stands firm. Its leaves do not wither. Its boughs reach upward toward the heavens, its leaves whisper a morning prayer, the birds of the air find refuge in its limbs, and the beasts of the field find comfort in its shade. It is a solitary tree but not unto itself, It stands to serve. It stands to give.
The tree’s sermons are sweetly spoken. “Be still,” the tree says. “Be still and know your Creator. Trust him for he abides in you. Stand tall, Stand firm. He will give you roots, strength, and perseverance to face life’s challenges. Be prepared to bend, but do not be afraid, for you will not break. You must stand alone, for no one can stand for you, yet you are not alone. The family of trees, the groves, are always near. Remember who you are and from whence you came and you will be comforted.”
We can only hear a tree’s sermon if we listen. We can only be inspired by the tree’s example if we observe. We can only appreciate the spiritual nature of the tree if we remember its Creator.
Poet Joyce Kilmer once wrote, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree….poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.”

I WONDER IF THEY’LL REMEMBER

Old man in chair

My birthday.  Number seventy-five. They don’t mean much anymore.  Just another long lonely year crossed off the calendar. I guess I’ve had too many to really care much about them.

When my wife was alive they meant more.  She had a way of making them a special occasion, something to celebrate.  And she always made that same delicious lemon chiffon cake, my favorite, and I think hers too.

She would spread the white lace tablecloth that she had crocheted on our small table, place her hand embroidered napkins on plates once owned by her grandmother, set a hot pot of tea on the table along with cups and saucers, light a candle, and serve a big slice of her chiffon cake.  We always gave thanks for being blessed with another year.  We would enjoy the cake, sip the tea, and talk for a long time, usually until the candle burned down and went out.

Oh, how I miss those talks and how I miss her.  It’s been two years now since she joined the heavenly choir that she and I often talked about.  She always said that she didn’t want to go without me and I said the same about her, but as it turned out she went first and I wish it had been me. Somehow I think she would have adjusted to being alone better than I have. I’m lost without her and I can’t seem to get over having her gone.

 She had a way of making every day bright and the future optimistic.  During all the years when we had to squeeze pennies to make ends meet, she always had a smile, she always made our meals seem like a banquet.  We couldn’t go out much, so she would play beautiful songs on the old upright piano and get me to sing with her.  We would usually end up laughing and talking about how meaningful the words were and the day would end on a bright note.  She brought so much joy into my life.

The old upright piano still sits where it always did.  Her favorite songbook is still open to the page of the song she last played.  It just happened to be our wedding song, “I Love You Truly.” She was ill and weak, but she played it for me one last time. 

Sometimes late at night I think I can hear her playing and singing those old familiar songs.  I think I can smell the soft scent of her perfume.  I keep waiting for her to walk into the room and smile and speak in her soft voice.

Memories flow through my mind as I sit in the quiet of my small apartment, and I think about all the good times we had with our children and grandchildren.  We were blessed to have such a wonderful family.  We had so many good times together. 

I wonder as the clock nears midnight if the children will remember.  I wonder if the phone will ring.   It’s okay if it doesn’t.  Birthdays don’t matter that much to me anymore.  They’re just another day.  I sit in my chair listening to the clock tick.  It seems so loud.  And memories keep flowing through my mind….all the good family times.  I wonder if they’ll remember.

 

 

THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH

Imogene 

  No one knows how or why twelve year old Imogene Ridley was so smart and knew the things about people that she did.  Some people said it was uncanny, others said it was miraculous, still others said it was the work of the devil.  But everyone agreed that it was best to stay clear of Imogene because she just might reveal something about you that would embarrass you to death or possibly cause you to  be locked up behind bars.

It all started when Imogene exposed her Aunt Nettie’s cheating habits.   Imogene came right out and announced in front of the whole bridge club that Aunt Nettie was cheating and explained exactly how she did it.  Aunt Nettie practically had a hissy-fit right there on the spot, followed by self-induced heart palpitations that caused quite a scene.  But getting little sympathy, she abruptly stormed out of the bridge club meeting.  She said she had never been so humiliated in all her life and that she would never darken her sister’s door again, at least while Imogene was there.

Imogene also exposed Uncle Elmer, how he secretly smoked cigars behind Buster Bradley’s garage in the company of Della Simpson, one of the town’s rather unseemly characters.  Uncle Elmer’s wife, Pearl, upon hearing of the expose, promptly whacked Uncle Elmer over the head with an iron skillet and he’s been dizzy ever since.  He also has a loud ringing in his ears that makes him say “What?” all the time and Aunt Pearl is sick of having to repeat herself.  No one knows what Aunt Pearl did to Della Simpson, but Della has not been seen since Aunt Pearl went on her skillet swinging rampage.  People think Della promptly left town.  Of course, the refined ladies of the town were appalled that one of their very own female citizens would stoop to smoking cigars especially in the company of Elmer Whipple who was as nutty as a fruitcake and should be committed to the mental health ward on the seventh floor of the hospital.  According to hearsay, some people felt Elmer had previously been in the mental health ward and that was where Pearl met him when her hormones  wacky and she had to spend a few weeks there.

Of course, everyone wondered how Imogene could know things about people without being in their company.  It was definitely uncanny.  Her revelations, one right after the other, became quite disconcerting to the townspeople.  It just didn’t seem right that some of the most righteous citizens were being exposed and people were getting mighty nervous.  They couldn’t help but wonder who was next. 

As it turned out, Pastor Obadiah Fuddles, of all people, was next.  On Sunday morning he got up and gave a fiery sermon on how it was an out and out sin for some certain individual in the town to be making things up about decent church-going people and that the wrath of hell would surely reign down on such a tale bearer if it didn’t stop.   Imogene was sitting in the front row of the choir listening to the sermon.  Everyone said she couldn’t carry a tune in a bushel basket but they needed people in the choir so, much to the choir director’s dismay, Imogene volunteered.  She looked almost angelic in her choir robe, with her long strawberry blond hair neatly braided, her large blue eyes, and her shiny freckled face.  They say she had more freckles than Millie Birdwell’s polka-dotted dress that she wears every single Sunday, rain or shine. But when Pastor Obadiah was carrying on about sin he kept looking over and giving accusatory glances at Imogene.  Imogene’s blue eyes grew large behind her dark rimmed glasses as the pastor kept emphasizing sin and tale-bearing. 

Then right in the middle of Pastor Obadiah’s sermon , right when he was about to make his most fiery point, Imogene jumped up and as she did her chair fell backwards and banged the church organ and Pansy Percy, the church organist, who was half asleep, inadvertently played several ungodly chords on the organ.  Members of the immediately choir stood up thinking it was time to sing “Bringing in the Sheaves,” people in the pews sprung to their feet thinking it was time to sing something, though they knew not what , and Henry Fultz, the town drunk, jumped up and started shouting “Hallelujah.”  At least a dozen people in the pews, who had been asleep, sprung to their feet, saw Imogene in the pulpit, and thinking they were about to be exposed, trotted down the center aisle and knelt at the altar hoping to be forgiven.  All of this served as a perfect prelude to Imogene’s newest expose.

Imogene walked over to the pulpit and peered at Pastor Obadiah.  As they say, he froze in his tracks, turned white as a ghost, and began sweating like a stuck pig.  It was as though he knew judgment day had arrived in the form of angelic Imogene Ridley.  His plump body began to tremble even before she spoke, and his head, round and smooth like an over-ripe cantaloupe, was drenched in sweat. 

 As Imogene moved to the microphone, gasps were heard throughout the congregation as they all suspected another one of Imogene’s exposes was about to happen. 

“I hate saying this as much as you hate hearing it,” Imogene said, “but I need to speak the truth. Pastor Obadiah has been stealing cookies out of the Girl Scout room just down the hall from his office and devouring them every day at noon. Sometimes he eats them in mid-afternoon.  As you know the Girl Scouts meet in classroom 102 and keep all their Girl Scout cookies stored there.  They knew boxes kept coming up missing but they had no idea who was taking them. Now they do.  Pastor Obadiah did it.” 

Having been exposed in front of the entire congregation, Pastor Obadiah began to tremble out of control, staggered backwards, lost his balance, and fell head first into the baptistery.  He immediately began to yell and splash in the water.  Some say they heard him use several cuss words.  He thought for sure he had fallen into the pits of hell because the water was scalding hot.  It just so happened that Eddie Godfrey, the meanest and most mischievous boy in town, had slipped into the church the night before and turned the baptistery thermostat on high hoping to see a really hot baptism.  He was sitting in the back pew with an ornery grin on his face and was thoroughly enjoying Pastor Obadiah’s squeals.

Pansy Percy began playing “Shall We Gather at the River” to drown out Pastor Obadiah’s screams and threats.  He kept yelling that he was going to get even with Imogene  if it was the last thing he ever did.  The refined women of the congregation whispered that his stealing the Girl Scout cookies was one thing, but now taking the Lord’s name in vain in front of the whole congregation was simply blasphemous.  They immediately began drawing up a draft to have him promptly removed as pastor.

The whole town was now in an uproar.  People were saying that Imogene’s exposures couldn’t continue.  It simply wasn’t proper to know all about the unrighteous things that righteous people were doing.  It made things too transparent which made everyone uncomfortable.

The straw that broke the camel’s back took place at the town’s annual July 4th celebration in Crestview Park.  As usual, the whole town was in attendance to enjoy the festivities, including several hogs donated by Mayor Gilbert Graft and roasted over an open pit, providing plenty of meat for the entire town. 

No one knows how Imogene Ridley got on the program to sing the Star Spangled Banner, but there she was, plain as day, standing  on the stage, braids and all, dressed in a red, white and blue dress, waiting for Bugsy Lambert to play some chords on his keyboard so she could get started. 

The whole crowd went dead silent, dreading to hear Imogene’s off-key singing, but mostly fearing what she might say afterwards since she would have the mic at her disposal.  Ornery Eddie Grodfrey was the only one who wasn’t silent.  He laughed and said, “I can’t wait to hear the fireworks that Imogene sets off when she gets done singing.”

Imogene didn’t disappoint.  After a painful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, she stood on the stage before the entire town and said, “Everyone should know that while they were suppose to be on the job,  Mayor Graft and three of the town’s commissioners got drunk down at Cider Pond yesterday and went skinny dipping and dear old Bertha Hamilton was out riding her bicycle on her 80th birthday and saw them. She was so rattled that she fell off her bike and broke her hip and is in the hospital.  I just thought you should know that before you eat the Mayor’s hogs, and you should also know that the whisky they drank was paid for out of  the city budget.”

Mayhem followed.  The Mayor, his face as red as a ripe tomato, immediately huddled with the commissioners.  Townspeople broke into small groups and whispered.  The consensus of all the groups was the same —  it was time to stop Imogene before she completely ruined their quiet little town.  No more exposures would be tolerated.  None.

Imogene walked over to the food table, calmly took a piece of water melon in one hand, her mother’s hand in the other, and said, “Come, mother, we need to go home.”

Because of her special abilities, Imogene knew she was no longer welcome or safe in Castle View.  She knew that an angry mob of townspeople led by the Mayor and the commissioners would soon be knocking on the door.  They were going to demand that she move out of town or else.  They liked what the town was like before all her exposures and wanted it to be that way again.

Imogene and her mother did not tarry.  They packed their bags and moved.  And the town of Castle View returned to its old ways, just the way the people wanted it. 

“It’s too bad she had to go,” the Mayor said, “but she knew too much.”