And Coming in 2016....

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden," to be published by Cranberry Quill... an allegory for children of all ages, beautifully illustrated.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December 27, 2011 Fruit of the Loom

My life is but a weaving between my God and me
I do not choose the colors he worketh steadily.
Oft times he chooseth sorrow and I in foolish pride
forget He sees the upper, and I the underside.
Not til the loom is silent and shuttles cease to fly
will God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why
the dark threads are as needful in the skillful weaver's hand
as the ones of gold and silver in the pattern he has planned.

I was given that poem (author unknown) in a simple black frame some years ago from a long-ago high school boyfriend. We had maintained sparse contact over the years since he and his family moved out of the area but spent several hours one evening on the telephone catching up. There had been a time in both our lives when we were sure we would get married one day. There were other family members who were just as convinced.

Nice fellow. Handsome. Smart, funny. Good, solid family. Shared values. Mutual attraction, same interests and hobbies. He taught me to water ski; we refinished furniture together. Off and on for years, we would date, he'd break up with me, we'd date, he'd break up with me. Once, he called me long distance to propose, which may have been the proverbial straw. (To guys reading this who want to get an affirmative answer from their ladies: show up and do it in person. Just saying.)

The last time we broke up, I broke up with him and called him about a year later to tell him I was engaged. To someone else, a very different man then, a little older, a lot quieter. We went to the same church but had little in common --not that we really knew that then. We hardly knew each other! But we both had a gut-level knowing that we were meant to marry.

So when High School Boyfriend and I talked for hours, there was no wistful wishing we had taken the same road, but appreciation for the fact that our lives had progressed, apart, the ways in which they had. Married with kids, he had built a business and made it a priority to be the kind of dad he'd longed for growing up. Married with kids years ahead of him, ours were grown. I was a grandmother already. My husband and I had buried a son; High School had buried both parents.

There were times over the years, he told me, that he had grieved the loss of our relationship, but finally came to the conclusion that God had been at work through everything. He had focused on the tangled thread on the underside of the tapestry of his life and only glimpsed at the beauty of the intricately woven scene on the other side much later. Even the sorrow of lost loved ones -- whether lost through the choice of someone else through a break-up or divorce or door closed on a friendship...or the separation of death-- added, in the final analysis, to the final pattern. He had read a poem about it and said to look for a copy in the mail.

No one loses a friend or a love without wondering, from time to time, how life might be different now, but for things that happened or did not happen in the past. In the case of our high school romance, both the young man and I came to see that while we'd thought Plan A was (at the time) an excellent prospect, Plans B and C far surpassed it. Or maybe THIS is Plan A, and we came perilously close to missing it. Whatever. None of us is living the final version of our lives at any given point, anyway. There will be still many, many changes over time. Some will be sad, others will be ecstatic. We are each "in process" until our final breath.

The point is, as someone once said, don't "should on yourself." The shouldda, wouldda, coulddas of life will eat you alive, making it impossible to enjoy what you have now. We can relax and rely on one of the greatest promises of the Bible, found in Jeremiah 29:11-14a:

"For I know the plans I have for you,” 
declares the LORD, 
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, 
plans to give you hope and a future. 
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, 
and I will listen to you. 
You will seek me and find me 
when you seek me with all your heart. 
 I will be found by you,” 
declares the LORD.

Please note that it is the LORD who knows his plans -- not anyone else He is almost always annoyingly reticent to share his plans ahead of time. He asks us to trust him, to trust his love and his character, his sovereignty and his abilities, his mercy and his grace. It's not a bad arrangement: we trust the Creator of the universe to have a clue about what he's doing, we seek him rather than trying to run the show, and he delivers out of his own greatness. A good return on our investment of faith, wouldn't you agree?

I know -- life rarely resembles the Hallmark quality of the poem up there There is unspeakable and unspoken pain all along the way. A wife may suffer in silence for years before finding the courage to break away from an abusive husband. A child may grow up in anguish because of the neglect displayed. Betrayals and tragedies and addictions hold nothing of the perky hopefulness that poem conjures up. 

But.

This life is just a breath. Two seconds, twenty seconds, hardly more, compared with eternity. And look at all the moments of joy and love we can cram into such a tiny slice of existence! Of course, there are hiccups and tears, no even flow of happiness. But we can trust that even then, laughter will work its way back to us again. We aren't stuck with this particular dark thread in the shuttle forever.


Randy with Randy III fishing

P.S. I am very grateful for the "thread" in my own tapestry that is my son-in-law Randall Keith Blanchard, Jr. Today is his birthday, and I don't even want to think about what our lives would be without him in ours. Happy birthday, Randy! We love you very much.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

December 13, 2011 A Christmas Carol

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of participating in a Christmas show produced by RubyLynn Productions with three performances held at the Pineapple Playhouse in Fort Pierce Dec. 2-4, and two at First United Methodist in Hobe Sound. The cast sang, danced, did skits -- both venues supported local causes. "We hope we've jump-started your Christmas," director Ruby Lynn Baker told audiences.

During part of the show, cast member Don Brown told the story of Silent Night's origin. I looked up the story on the internet and found several accounts with slightly different details, but Don's story was the first I'd heard, and so I choose that version of the truth:

A priest, Joseph Mohr, was unsure what to do. The organ in his Oberndorf, Austria church -- appropriately, the Church of St. Nicholas -- was damaged, and it was Christmas Eve, 1818! He was in a meditative state as he made his way home. New snow covered the countryside, and the beauty of the night brought to mind a poem he had written years before. If only there was music, what a fitting Christmas song! He went to Franz Gruber, asking that he write accompaniment. There may not be an organ to play, but Gruber was a gifted guitarist as well. Christmas Day, the church's little congregation heard the first performance of Stille Nacht, translated now as Silent Night.

Today, it doesn't matter whether or not Father Mohr was well-liked by his congregation, or whether or not he was a gifted priest. The words he penned have kept his thoughts alive for almost 200 years. It is sung in 44 languages, has been recorded by 300 artists. Bing Crosby's version sold over 10 million copies. Neither Father Mohr nor Franz Gruber could possibly know the tremendous impact their little song would create.

Perhaps you are guessing that I will turn this into a neat little Christmas present-feel good-story. I'd originally planned to segue from the story of one Christmas carol to cleverly (!) sharing about significant Carols in my life: Carol Creech, one of the few friends I remember from Cullowhee, North Carolina; Carol Bryan, dynamic Christian wife, mother, and mentor from my teenage years and beyond; fellow flutist Carol McNees Johnson    whom I saw again this year and who invited me to Toastmasters -- what looks to be a great training organization I'm planning to become more involved with in the future.

Instead, I'm going to go another way altogether. It struck me, looking at the various accounts of Silent Night's origins, that the details do not always matter nearly as much as the outcome. "The devil is in the details," as they say (which, interestingly, was originally "God is in the details") and details are important. But as we see with Silent Night, whether the organ was damaged at all, or who sang it first, or if someone found the original and had it marketed years later...who cares, now that the entire world is familiar with the song?

How much time do we spend fretting over details that don't really matter? As we approach Christmas, is our time actually better spent stressing out over recipes and menus that will be soon digested and forgotten, or should we spend that time on activities with eternal significance...or, barring that high expectation, activities that will bring a smile to someone's face today?

Peace is a rare commodity in a household such as ours, and it saddens me that I am often one of the stumbling blocks to its presence. It is easy for women, especially, to become entrenched in the details of life, perhaps because we are so often judged by others based on those details. Numbers (age, weight, bra size, amount of time we exercise regularly, times we've failed in the past), degrees (level of education, level of housekeeping abilities, vicarious success - or not - through our kids and grandkids), emotions (perky today? PMS-ing?  nurturing or not so much?). Details.

Proverbs 31 doesn't help, you know. Details surrounding the definition of a Good Wife ramble on and on for almost the entire chapter, each verse a potential stab to the heart of many a good woman who reads it and immediately recognizes how far she falls short of the ideal. Details can wound. Kill, even, the hopes and spirits of those of us still "in process" who haven't attained the full measure of our worth. 

My Christmas wish for such women, who are striving each day to be the Perfect Wife or the Perfect Mother, or the Perfect Size, or the Perfect Christian, or the Perfect Whatever.....relax! It's not about you. It doesn't depend on you...and if it does, it shouldn't. Do your best, obviously. Develop your talents and skills and abilities, certainly, so that you are able to do what you do better. But know this: two hundred years from now, the details will not matter. You will not be around to know this then, of course, so learn it now.

The best we can be is to be the person God created us to be. He might have seen to it that I had different weaknesses, but we are all born with them. He might have arranged for my hopes and dreams to be fulfilled long ago, and yet hope is still, at 53, very much alive. Others may focus on the negative details they see all too prominently displayed in my life, but the God I trust and love, loves me just the way I am. The person I am now. The person I was yesterday. The person I will be tomorrow, and next year, and 10 years from now. That's a lot of details.

So I'm going to give that Christmas gift to myself as well. Peace is more important than plans. Relaxing in the joy of the season will matter, in the long run, much more than buying just the right gift or baking enough cookies.

All is calm, all is quiet....may that be true in our hearts this Christmas, and beyond. I am reminded of  Robert Frost's wonderful poem Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening: 


Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow. 

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year. 

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake. 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Promises, like details, are important, but take some time this season to enjoy the woods...or the beach...or laughter with someone you love. Probably no one else will notice if you're a little late, but I'll bet they'll appreciate the added peace and joy you bring when finally you arrive.