Love

It’s getting close to Valentine’s Day so I can write a bit about love, can’t I? But this is a different twist.

Earlier this month, I had the delight of a trip to New York City for the first time to celebrate my 50th birthday with a dear girlfriend who is only two weeks younger. I had wanted to go for 24 years and the 2 of us had been plotting for almost 3 years about how we busy mothers might pull this off.

You see, we have referred to ourselves as Tig and Tig 2. It all comes from Tigger…that bouncy friend of Winnie the Pooh from the Hundred Acre Wood. We are the Tiggers in each other’s lives, bouncing in and out through the back door of each other’s home, into each other’s car or cell phone. Always unexpectedly.

Well, when I was in the Big Apple, I decided to go to the New York Public Library at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building to buy a baseball cap for my husband as a souvenir. It was pouring rain and the very nature of the drizzly day kept my eyes to the ground as I sloshed the two blocks from the Library Hotel to the Readers & Writers Shop at the library. When I looked down I began to see bronze pavers appearing every few steps with literary quotations that kept me entertained in the meantime.

While at the shop I had that unfortunate(?) moment when I had to lay my selections down and find a washroom somewhere tucked away in the marble halls. “What a waste of time!” I thought, as I rushed past the little clearance rack outside in the hallway. Soon I returned, and this time I took a minute to poke around on the clearance rack, looking for a memento for my friend of our visit to the city. There I found it! A poster of a rumpled old bear described as the original Pooh. Upon closer examination, I found another poster, also marked down on clearance, of a whole group of well-loved stuffed animals, with the familiar names of Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga and Piglet. Selecting one of those, I trotted back to the cash register, picked up the cap and a package of napkins with a map of the New York City subway and was ready to rush back to the hotel. After all, she would be there soon and we would be catching our cab back to the airport.

Back in the room I opened a brochure I had hastily grabbed and began reading about the Stephen A Schwarzman Library since I had wanted to tour it but did not have the time. There on the lower right corner at the bottom of the brochure I saw something that I could not believe. The original little stuffed animals were actually there in that building, down in the children’s section and I had nearly missed them!

Hastily, I texted my friend. “Where are you? There is a friend who wants to meet you. How soon can you be back at the hotel?” To which she replied, “I’m in the hallway. Please open the door because my arms are full.” As we flew around the room packing our suitcases I kept adding details about how excited I was to take her to the surprise.

New York Public Library

In the basement of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library, these little friends can be found tucked away in a display case.

A few minutes later we were on our way, tripping along under one umbrella, following the “yellow brick road” the two blocks to the library to see the surprise. As we entered the children’s section and the tiny room where the animals were displayed, I was touched by the quiet awe of the couple in front of us and of my friend as we stood there, a little teary with joy.

Sometimes it is the little things. They make us thankful and cause us to remember just how lavish is God’s love for us in this fallen world.

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Fear

It is so pervasive in my life at times. So like a vine weed like I would find in my garden on a hot, summer evening. How thankful I am that God used two of His children in the past three years to speak truly of its critical danger, into my ears and my heartCobblestone Street.

Where I have seen Fear’s most vagrant corruption is in stealing my joy while wasting precious time. The unfinished possibilities aborted by its white-knuckled grasp can choke the very life out of inspiration. How many ideas I have seen others carry to fruition that I gave up on out of fear. Fear of failure. Fear of someone’s displeasure. Fear of imperfection. When others choose to take a risk I can be found cowering in the seemingly safe shadows of fear.

And what is Fear’s antidote? Love. Because love is big, limitless and bold. I read in the book of 1 John 4:18, though archaic in its King James Version beauty, it still is tremendously true: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” And oh how terrible is that torment! Before in anxiety, during in suffering and after in regret. But just as we learn the physical law that something is best filled when it is empty or emptied when it is full, so perfect love is exactly what is strong enough to cast Fear out.

So what risk will I take today? When I awoke early in the dark of this morning, I knew the path for this day: run from fear and it’s near cousins of anger, shame and criticism. Just for today.

I am so glad that I did!

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Gifts

Irish Christmas Scones

Irish Christmas Scones

My Christmas gift to you, my readers, is a family recipe! But first, the backstory. You know Barbara by now…there is always a story involving a special person who has impacted my life.

Irish Christmas Scones

Irish Christmas Scones

Since Mamma is from Ireland, my daddy has taken her back several times to visit her homeland. She gave me the original recipe for Irish Scones from a bed and breakfast in which they stayed on their last visit, 23 years ago last spring. The recipe was a challenge for this young bride back then because the original wording was a bit vague: 1 cube margarine or butter (how much is a “cube”?); 2 eggs beaten in a jelly jar (how big is the jar?); fill jar with milk to within 5/8 inch of rim (how b–….Nevermind. I wanted to call and hear her voice today anyway!!)

As I added some seasonal stir-ins this morning for my early-morning praying moms who meet every Thursday at 7:30, I decided to take a picture and share it with you as my Christmas gift of love and memories. While I was setting up the picture, I added other little pieces of my History with Friends and each one caused me to remember.

The original recipe card with all its notes. The sweet apron Elise handmade for me 30 years ago, back when I was single and living in Colorado. The plate from Fran, a dear 83-year-old woman’s cupboard when she moved to a retirement home; she taught our 14-year-old a work ethic by allowing her to regularly clean her home. The handmade card and centerpiece tray from Lynne in Belfast, Ireland. The grapevine wreath from Ruth’s backyard surrounds the new candle received last year. The mug of steaming tea which Mark and Jody gave me at my first job when I was so lonely and afraid in my new world at Compassion International, Inc. Many gifts that have been given down through the years that are still so important to me. Why? Because they represent the people behind each one. Whether it was something they picked up at a gift emporium or harvested from their own back yard, each one is very special to me because of that person and what their friendship and love has meant to me in all my life phases.

So as you are thinking about giving or receiving gifts this Christmas, don’t stress about how expensive or valuable it is. And if possible, though sometimes it is most sensible, don’t give in to the easy temptation to purchase gift cards for the person who may have everything and need nothing more. Remember. It is the expression of love that counts, no matter the occasion, no matter whether you made it or bought it or gave from your own supply, that token will always remind your friend of the lasting gift you equally share: friendship. And isn’t that truly the most valuable gift of all?

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Treasure

Worn Boots

Photo courtesy of Corbis Images.

We all have a different definition for something of infinite worth. Sometimes I think mine is this MacBook because it has opened up so many worlds for me from writing to education to the ability to work and earn money or preserve family memories with photography. However, this past week I had a special moment when I was reminded of how treasure can vary with people depending on their backgrounds.

My parents are approaching their late 70s and invited me to help them drive to the northern part of West Virginia to visit my father’s sister. We had just arrived and were settling in while standing in the bedroom where my grandfather had slipped away to heaven 13 years ago this past summer. We were talking about the portraits on the walls and the various faces that represented our ancestors, particularly  my father’s maternal grandfather, Harry Winfree.

Right then, a smile spread across my aunt’s face and she said, “I’ve got something for you! Remember those shoes that Mother always kept that had belonged to her dad? She had them for 70 years and finally, just this year when I picked them up to move them, they literally fell apart from dry-rot. They were completely worn out.

“I reached down inside them to pull out the socks that had been there all these years, memories of the night her young father died at 54 years of age. He had been a very hard worker in the coals mines and died with lung cancer. There in the shoe one of the socks felt heavy, like there was something in it. Reaching down inside I found his pocket knife.” With that she walked to her room and returned with a small pocket knife and placed it in my daddy’s hand. He smiled from his heart, warmly, and tucked it into his pocket. My mind quickly flashed from Oregon to Tennessee where this past winter my husband had said goodbye to his own father and has kept his wallet close to him at all times because of his love for this father who also had passed away.

Returning home this weekend I came by way of a youth retreat at our church. Vitality and a sense of rush was all around me for the last 3 days as we hung out with about 150 students between the ages of 12 and 18. In particular, I was enjoying the vibrancy of a small group of 8 freshmen-in-high school girls in the beautiful home of one’s parents. Her father is a hard-working physician.

As I delighted in the exquisite architecture and delightful blending of color and design throughout the home I was in culture shock. One room was specifically devoted to the serene beauty of a private studio for painting freely on canvas with a multitude of various brushes. Throughout this girl’s home every detail had been carefully considered from the hue of paint selected for the walls to the style of built-in espresso maker in the kitchen cabinetry that provided fresh cappuccino or espresso with the push of a button. There were treasures everywhere in this home, too. But different ones. Different than the daughter of the coal miner up in the hills of West Virginia who kept her daddy’s shoes for 70 years with his pocket knife hidden in the toe.

Tossing these contrasts around in my head I became convinced that what really matters are relationships and the value we place on them in whatever setting provides that opportunity. When I thought of the generous mother’s heart that provided a home for 8 high school girls and their 2 leaders I don’t see much difference between her commitment and service to others from that of my my grandmother up in West Virginia who gave her 84 years in constant service to others cooking, cleaning, and permanently leaving school in the 3rd grade to care for her brothers and sisters, remembering that hard work could bring great reward.

Same spirit. Different canvas and brushes.

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Burlap

It has lots of uses this time of year and many of them charming and seasonal. The scarecrow with his stuffed torso. The bag of potatoes being heaved into the rootBurlapcellar. The craft project of a trendy stuffed owl.

But yesterday I saw a use for burlap that was unsettling. Very unsettling.

Crossing North Roan Street in the middle of the day while the sun hid behind low, gray clouds and rain showers intermittently pounded the city, a lone man walked across the street where there was no crosswalk. I slowed to watch him pass while my heart sank with him into the shadows of the mission for the homeless to which he walked.

Clad in heavy boots and a coat made of burlap with hair to his shoulders, they drooped and I hurt with him. Hurt for the life he may have had or the one he may be missing. Hurt for his aloneness and wondered where he got his covering. I thought that was only used on a continent far away such as Africa or India; not in the little town of Johnson City in the beautiful Appalachian mountains where we live, work and play.

I’m still thinking about him today. Where did he sleep last night? What did he have for dinner? Most importantly, did he have a meaningful human interaction in the last 24 hours that made him know that he is created in God’s image and of infinite worth?

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Stuff

We really get caught up in our things, don’t we?

I am amazed at how it can get ahold of us so tightly sometimes without us even realizing it. Yesterday I was looking at a popular video that was on Facebook with a humble artist sitting by the side of a road painting a most beautiful picture. He had no pallette or easel. Not even a paintbrush, but with his hands he was creating a scene far away that could only have come from a memory or imagination he had of a little cabin in a field by the set back away from a winding country road which passed a waterfall and moved towards a splash of sunset color. As he mixed the paints, he used his finger on the back of his hand and used the corner of a dirty rag to paint the branches of a tree or smudge highlights.

What would happen if everything you had was taken away from you and you sat on the side of a road with a canvas, some paint and a rag? How important would the stereo or new bedspread be then?

 

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Discipleship

What is discipleship, really? We hear about it so much and I say I am doing it on a weekly basis with a small group of 9th grade girls whom I have the privilege of serving at Grace Fellowship Church, but what would Jesus say if He joined us this week at 6:30 pm and we spent the next hour and a half together? This year we are studying lessons about knowing Jesus and later some practical topics from Live Curriculum.

This is what I want for my time with them to do. I want it to point them to the Bible as the first place to look for answers to life’s perplexing questions. I hope that they see Jesus as an unfailing and dependable friend. I desire their lives to be lived under the consciousness that God is watching and has plans prepared in advance for them to do.

I remember what growing up felt like when I was in my teens. I often wondered how to have a good relationship with my family members. The best gift I received from others during that time was the encouragement to trust and honor my parents because they were worthy of that as they encouraged me to follow them as they followed Christ.

One of the things that I enjoy the most is spending time with the girls at the activities that occur in their daily lives. A volleyball game, a play at the theater, a band recital at Christmas; these moments to be with them help me understand and appreciate them so much more. I am most thankful for the countless times the Holy Spirit brings a specific girl to my mind to pray for her during that very moment. I never know what she may be experiencing during those times.

When twenty years have past I want to be remembered as the lady who loved them fiercely, prayed for them faithfully and constantly pointed them to the wonders of God’s word.

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No energy bars needed!

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” I Corinthians 11:1

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Selfishness

It is such a gift to learn that all things are not about me! How many years I have spent concerned about what people think and how it feels to be slighted. Learning how all of my value is based in God and the gifts He has given is truly freeing. I realize how I exhausted myself in trying to live up to my own and other’s expectations.

When I keep coming back to a familiar place I am reminded of how I have changed while the place has not. For that, I am thankful.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17 (NIV)Kathleen's Rainbow

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