Thursday, December 16, 2004

A Merry "Simple" Christmas

A wonderful reunion took place at my house last week. Old friends I hadn't seen since last Christmas. We were all smiles as I greeted each one. In my over-active imagination, they all seemed anxious to get to their "spot." Some to their Victorian home in the plastic snow covered village, others to skate on their mirror pond.

As you may have guess by now, I'm refering to my Christmas Village. I also welcomed back my stuffed snowmen who reside on top of my cabinets and in my office. With so many smiles around, it is impossible to stay in a bad mood. That's the magic of Christmas, where the simple things delight. That is, if we let them.

The colorful lights on the square, hot chocolate with friends, listening to Frank Sinatra croon Silent Night, watching I'ts A Wonderful Life, are where memories are made. My remedy for the busyness? Simplify.

I get my remedy from the life of Christ. Jesus came to earth in a simple fashion. His nursery didn't have stuffed animals smelling of baby powder. He had the real thing that smelled of...well, you know. He lived life simply, as well. And, like us, He had many disappointments and difficulties. But, His expectations were set on His Father's plan. Life for Jesus centered around loving and serving others. Not what would be done for Him.

So, this Christmas, let's do the same. Let's simplify, celebrate relationships. Invite folks to our home. Put Frank on the stereo, serve hot chocolate and sugar cookies, laugh, sing, go for a drive and admire the Christmas lights. Make memories. And above all, have yourself a Merry Simple Christmas.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A New View

Tis the season for Thanksgiving. I have much to be thankful for, my family, my home, my health. These are things that comes to most minds when we count our blessings. However, after my last trip to Honduras, I came away with a new view of things I should be thankful for.

I go to Honduras to visit my dear friends, Henry and Cindy Lowman, who are missionaries and humanitarians in Yamaranguila and surrounding areas. In August I joined them and their team as they visited a poor family in a settlement outside of town called Buenos Aris. The family consisted of A grandfather and mother, a son and his wife, and four children, one was an infant. They lived in a 12x12 stick and mud home with dirt floors.

As Henry spoke to the grandfather, I watched the grandmother. She had something on her mind and worked her knarled hands together as if working up the courage to speak. Finally, she approached Henry and asked if he would pour a concrete floor for them. This is a luxury for these families, to get off the cold, damp, earth that is full of parasites and diseases.

Henry had to consider the logistics of getting trucks full of sand and gravel to a house so far off the road. He spoke with the grandther and they figured out a way. He returned to the grandmother and said he would pour a floor for her the next day. Her brown skin crinkled under her eyes and she thanked him again and again.

The next morning as we prepared to leave, a young man met us at the house. He was a recipient of a floor earlier in the year and helped at every house since out of great gratitude. As the team poured the floor, I played with the children. We sat on the ground and the kids clung to me with their dirty hands sticky with mango juice. Their dusty, black, hair crawled with lice. But who could resist such children. I couldn't, even though just the thought made my head itch like crazy.

One little girl decided we should play a game. She patted each of us on the head as she walked in a circle around us and said, "Pato, pato, ganso." The last child patted stood and chased her until he caught her. Hmmm, I thought, they are playing "duck, duck, goose." So when my turn came I said in english, "Duck, duck, goose." They stared for a minute then laughed. For the rest of the game they repeated, "Dook, dook, goose."

Thankfully, the game lost its charm. Perhaps the kids were concerned about my inability to catch my breath. We decided to help the team by taking empty wheelbarrows to the truck to be filled with sand and gravel. Of course, the kids rode. We passed the pond that was the source of the family's water. I looked at the stagnant water covered with green slime. The women used a stick to push it aside while they washed their clothes from the bank. Then they filled their pitchers. Cindy assured me they boiled it before drinking. I was still horrified.

When the team finished, we gathered around the family and prayed for God to bless them and their house. The young man who helped asked for a ride home and joined us in the van. On the way, Henry asked him if he'd gotton water yet. You see, the village of Yamaranguila has a well, and in order to get water from it a family has to build a concrete container, dig a trench to the nearest hook-up, and buy the pipe. They they must pay a $200.00 deposit. The young man said no. He'd built his container, dug a 1000 foot trench by hand and purchased the pipe. But he lost his job and couldn't save money for the deposit.

The people in that area are lucky if they can earn minimum wage there, which is $3.00 an hour. So for this young man to save $200.00 would take well over a year. Of course, this whole conversation was in Spanish. Cindy translated the conversation and two men asked how much the man needed for the deposit. She told them and they said, "as soon as we get back to your house, we will give you the money."

With tears spilling down her face, she told the young man he would soon have water. The man looked at the team in astonishment and cried "God will bless you, thank you, God will bless you." As soon as he arrived home, he jumped out of the van and ran to his wife, waving his hands over his head, telling her they would soon have clean water.

I don't mind telling you, when we got back to the Lowman's home, I made a straight line for the shower. As the warm water washed away the mango mud and prevented lice from setting up housekeeping, I thought about the family we'd just left. They would go to bed without washing.

On the flight home, I thought about how blessed we are in the United States. Then it occurred to me how such blessings also carries a the great responsibilty. We must be faithful to the poor. To hoard for ourselves and waste so much time on silly things is a shame. To complain about our country and to endulge in self-pity because we think we deserve more is a disgrace. How much better it is for all if we spend time thinking about how to help those sleeping on dirt, bathing and drinking filthy water. Even those with clean water will never know what a warm shower feels like. Theirs will be cold.

So this Thanksgiving, as I am surrounded by my healthy family, I will think about the Honduran people and ways I can help them, I will be grateful for a hot bath in drinking quality water.

I will thank God.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Don't Mess with My Nest

The most profound lessons I’ve learned came from observing nature. Just as there are seasons in a year, there are also seasons in life, each with its own hardships and hopes. Each requiring changes in thoughts and habits.

One year I suffered a “fall” season of life in the middle of April. Just like dead leaves, all my efforts to sell our house fell flat. My life resembled a windup toy that crossed the room, hit a wall, then turned to run into another. For two years I tried to make our house more appealing to perspective buyers, and often cleaned on a moments notice—not an easy thing to do with five children.

One morning, after another unsuccessful home showing, I needed to breathe some fresh air, listen to the voices of nature, and calm my spirit. I sipped a cup of English breakfast tea and rocked in my glider. Daffodils perfumed the breeze, birds sang their mating tunes, and little by little my body relaxed.

A sudden flutter startled me. Two tiny wrens flitted around my barbeque grill. The male disappeared under the grill, rousing my curiosity. Soon he reappeared and they flew off. I went to the grill and looked underneath. The only thing I saw was the tiny air hole to regulate the flame. I went back to the glider and watched.

Soon, they returned and perched in my fern, then hopped on the grill, chirping back and forth. Obviously discussing something important. Days later, I opened the grill to cook supper and saw the beginning of a nest. Ahhh, so that’s what they were up to. House hunting.

The grill was an obvious choice. The tiny opening underneath would protect them from cats and preditor birds. Plus, the cover would keep their nest dry and shelter them from strong winds. It all seemed so perfect. However, there was a problem. Something two little wrens could never understand. But I did, so I scooped out the partial nest and placed it in the fern hoping they would finish it there.

The next day I found the nest in the fern untouched and a new one in the grill. The birds, undaunted, felt secure in their choice. Once again, I scooped out their nest. To be sure this wouldn't be an everyday occurance, I also covered the hole with duct tape.

Mr. and Mrs. Wren were all a-twitter when they came back. Once again something had swept away their home and this time plugged up their door. They flitted and fussed, but finally contented themselves with the nest in the fern. Hidden under the fronds, Momma Wren seemed satisfied even though it wasn’t her first choice. I stole a peek at her and whispered, “If only you knew the danger of your first choice, little one.”

My words reverberated within me. Wasn’t that the source of my current frustration? My nest of hopes was consistently destroyed and the doors of opportunity seemed to be duct taped shut? Maybe we weren't supposed to move. For some reason, unknown to me, it wasn’t the right time to buy and sell.

I decided to follow the example of the wrens. My focus changed from making our home attractive to prospective buyers to making it comfortable for my family. I settled in my nest, contented.

Several months later, our house did sell and we built a new one. When closing for the new house my husband and I were surprised to learn the interest rate had dropped to an all time low. If we had sold our house right after putting it on the market, our interest would have been several points higher.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Finally, It's Autumn

After six months of hard work, Mother Nature can finally let her leaves down, kick back and enjoy the fruits of her labor. She dons a colorful dress and sports a cool air, intoxicating me with the spicy scent of mums. I play tag with her while walking amidst the swirling rust and golden leaves. During fall evenings when the breeze is like velvet on my skin, I enjoy rocking on my front porch sipping hot tea and watching the deer venture from the darkness of the woods. As they quietly nibble acorns in the yard they occasionally check to make sure I'm still in my chair. We all seem to sense the same thing. It's time to relax.

It is times like these that I find myself in a reflective mood. Today I'm thinking about my past year. In the ebb and flow of life, there have been good and bad experiences. Life has delivered deadly blows, but I believe it is up to me on how I view them. Will I let hardships darken my life, or will I let them deepen me? The choice is up to me and I choose to view life from the position of gratitude.

I cannot do this on my own. Having eternal perspective helps me with this choice. You see, I'm just passing through this world. My real home is with the Lord. But, I'm not alone, He is with me, just as He promised. And there is nothing I've experienced that He hasn't. He understands my pain and walks me through it, giving me the ability to see things as they really are.

I admit, healing from life's assaults takes time. It is a process. How do we keep emotional and physical scars from disfiguing our souls? I've found that helping others who are suffering the same things I've suffered is the most healing thing I can do. Picture a leaf falling to the ground and incorporating back into the earth. In death it gives back to nature by creating a nourshing place for new life. In the same way, if we allow our trials to create compassion in us for others, if we show our scars as evidence of a wound healed, we too give and nourish hope in our fellow man.

Ahhhh, Autumn. I will enjoy you to the fullest and anticipate the coziness of the fire during winter. Thank you Lord, for giving me this time of refreshment.
Linda Apple