In the last few days I find myself going back and looking at the picture of the dark billowing cloud of smoke in the eastern sky, as it reflects how easily it could describe the situation in our nation today. The snippet of story, “Sunrise in Winter” was written in February, 2018, two months after a serious head injury, while recovering. As I listen to the morning news, I could be dismayed but then as I pray I feel that courage rising from a life time of experiencing the God of the universe who never sleeps or slumbers, knowing he loves this great nation of America. God is standing in the Heavens hearing all the prayers and seeing all the tears.
I remember when I was a young girl growing up out there on those windswept plains of northern Wyoming, the winter mornings were cold. One would want to crawl down deep under the covers for warmth, but for our family we would be up early taking care of livestock before the school bus arrived. Although it was early morning, our father would be up drinking coffee watching the sunrise if there wasn’t a snow storm covering the sky.
I knew he very likely had already been out in the barns checking on the sheep flocks and other livestock. He used to tell me how much he enjoyed the quiet of the mornings as he would gather his thoughts for the day. Well, sadly he has been away from us now for many years, although we take comfort as we know he is in Heaven.
How I have wished so many times in my own later years that I would have just stolen away out of the comfort of my warm bed and gone in and sat with this man so full of the horse sense of life.
How ironic that in this season of my own life, as the hair has turned to grey, I find myself getting up way before the eastern sky shows a glimmer of the sun rising up into the heavens of the day before me.
You might be wondering why I chose to insert the above picture of a sunrise I saw a few days ago. As I saw the sliver of light in the winter sky during my quiet time of prayer I felt compelled to walk out on the deck. The first thing I noticed was the heavy cloud cover that seemed to press down close to the earth. As I stood there I suddenly realized I had not noticed the heavy black factory smoke rising up almost reaching the cloud cover. I picked up my camera and tried to take a clear picture, but I could tell it was out of focus. In just a few moments I was in awe as I watched the light from the sun rising higher in the sky. The brilliant glow of deep iridescent crimson mixed with yellow came up behind the black smoke and cast its rays all the way across the cloud cover of the sky. I had just been praying a few minutes earlier; asking God to somehow bring his glory into this world of dark confusion, anger and hatred.
It seems this picture, out of focus, very much describes what I have walked through the past few months. One night I woke up with heavy pain in my chest. I soon became very sick, fell in the bathroom and cracked my head on the bath tub.
I was to discover later I had a concussion, which left me confused, not being able to complete a sentence with extreme fatigue. I have had other types of situations where my faith grew deeper, but had never suffered a brain injury so this was going to be a new experience in courage. For some time I could not read or write and that can be a frustration for a writer. In the next few weeks, the blessing is that I never had a headache, never felt sad or depressed, but I knew this was not going to be a quick fix.
The personal journey I have had with God from the time I was a young child, has been an adventure. During my recovery my thoughts were like the photo above, confused and muddled. Fear was not my companion as I could look back over my life and through every trial and hardship I have come to know I could have faith in the assurance the Lord would never leave me alone. Somehow I knew and could feel that down in my sub-conscious mind and spirit the God of the universe was doing something beautiful.
The amazing realization is that in sickness or conflict, if we have learned the word of God, it comes to us in the night season. I would say this was one of those night seasons for me, as in the weeks to come I would wake again in the night and know Jesus was right there with me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light
become night around me.” even the darkness will not
be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. Psalm 139:11 & 12 NIV
As I look about me, listen to the daily news and sometimes just turn off the TV, I wonder what could I possibly do in this time of upheaval. I grew up in a community where the fathers were all war veterans of WWII. Patriotism was a very big deal. There were times when the national anthem was played I would see tears in my father’s eyes. Gangs seize upon this time of unrest to tear up businesses and make cities, once peaceful, a place of terror. On and on one could lament, as if all common sense has run amuck. And then there is God in all of his glory, loving every living creature regardless of color or race or place in society.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12 NIV
I cannot say I can explain this term called prayer. Why in the early morning hours do I find myself getting up to watch the sunrise and name all my family members in prayer? Why do I pray for our nation’s leaders and the hope for Israel? I just know the Bible assures us that God hears our prayers; he sees the tears when we cry for the hurting, and he loves our worship to him. Why would we pray so fervently, when just like the picture above, we see the darkness and confusion settling down over this nation and over the earth?
The God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV
I wish I was a better photographer, as this picture below has not caught in full the beauty of the morning sunrise. As I watched the light coming up behind the black smoke and dark cloud cover in the eastern sky my heart was overwhelmed in thinking of God’s glory that would come over all the earth and dispel the darkness. In just a few moments the sky was full of light and I realized, the night was over and it was the dawning of a new day. Coming out of this season of recovery I am in awe of the beautiful experience that morning and yes I am challenged to just keep praying.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6
I sat looking at the two pans, thinking I would still have three pans under the shelf that were safe from being thrown away, but then later the realization came that the roaster would have to go as well. The pans were on my mind for several days. I knew I had to do this; the time for stalling was over. With a deep breath I presided to go out to the large brown garbage can, pull up the sacks of trash and place the much loved pans underneath away from view. For the rest of the day, my mind would fall into a pattern of survival for those two worn out pans. I could use the small one for my little dog’s water dish. The two quart would be perfect for outdoor flowers.
But alas, I knew that was only an excuse, for if they came out of the garbage can, with out much prompting they would be back on the shelf, being used daily for cooking.
After a few days I did go back out to the garbage can and dig them out. In the few days that ensued throwing away the pans and the story surrounding their thirty-three years of service began to take form.
I returned to the trash container, dug around in garbage that now had a strong odor, and pulled out the pans. Of course they would not be used for cooking, but I wanted to take a picture, so that later if I needed, it would be on file. I didn’t just want a picture; I felt the need to incorporate the summer flowers being planted in the lovely vases I acquire each year. They were busy days, and everyday the frustration grew, as I needed to get those flowers planted and the days slipped by, with those two pans setting there on the step of the back deck just off the kitchen. At least I had been courageous enough to not allow them back in the house. The pictures were finally completed, filed on the computer, and I could get on with life.
By now, you the reader are wondering, “what is the deal with these pans”, and so begins the remembering of the pans that have served me well these many years of my life’s journey.
We were newlyweds, pastoring in a small ranching community out in the eastern rangeland of northern Colorado. Everything about life was new and exciting. We drove an old black Plymouth, lived in a small framed house that could tell stories of its own. The rooms were sparsely furnished, but it was our place, and life wasn’t so complicated back than.
It had been one of those early spring thunder storms that had come upon that vast northern range of Colorado after the sun had gone down. My husband and I had stayed up very late, which was the norm in those early years of young adulthood. Before that late night, I had never given much notice to the window in the front door. Someone before us had placed one of those small bamboo shades over the window that could be seen through from the outside.
We were getting ready for bed when without any notice from a car driving into the driveway, someone began banging on our door. We were suddenly both frightened, as the knocking was with such force we couldn’t imagine who would be standing there on the porch at this hour. My husband had more wits about him and immediately stood up next to the wall by the door and was frantically telling me to go get his robe. I am sure looking back on it know, the banging had only gone on for a few seconds, but unfortuanly for my husband pinned up against the wall, bare-footed and not dressed appropriately to receive guests, I froze in my spot in front of the bamboo curtain and up from inside of me I began to laugh.
“Go get my robe!!!!” he said, now frustrated at my lack of ability to move from my spot squarely in front of the window. In an elevated pitch, “Get my robe!!!!” I ran to our bedroom closest, no robe in sight. I ran to the back bedroom, hearing the banging in my ears clear to the back of the house. There it was. A small blue robe, I don’t ever recall him wearing before tonight. I ran back, he wrapped it around as best he could, and opened the door. I was useless, as I stood in the back trying to stifle the laughter, as he stood there barefooted with robe several sizes too small wrapped around him.
A rather tall distinguished woman, I would say in her fifties, stood between us and the meager screen. With dismay in her voice she began to apologize for disturbing us at such a late hour, as it was around midnight. She was obviously terrified by the storm. She was on a business trip and had gotten disoriented, and thus was very lost, and said she just couldn’t go on. We lived in a very small town, population, around fifty. Our house was the only one she could see from the highway that still had lights on. She asked if she could spend the night with us. Of course we took pity on her and invited her in. I quickly got the second bedroom ready for her. She was the picture of exhaustion, so we were ready to retire for the night in a brief amount of time.
The house became quiet once again, and I fell into a deep sleep, only to be awakened by the most terrifying screams, that would raise anyone right up to a sitting position. Sheepishly I became aware that the dreadful clamor had come from me. My dreams tend to be in Technicolor, and if a flavor of nightmare is thrown in, the color takes on a misty dark hue. My husband shushed me, and I was obedient, but sleep did not come to me for a long time after that.
She seemed like a pleasant enough lady, but that can get one into trouble. As I had dozed of that night, my mind kept up the question, “Who is this Woman?”
Then without any warning of her approach, there she was, arm high in the air, with a butcher knife ready to pounce on us. Her face had changed, it was full of rage, and in the shadowy darkness I could see her eyes, deep set, full of fire.
But than it was over, thank goodness, as my heart was pounding wildly. My throat was sore, as to my great embarrassment I had been screaming with a force that could wake the dead in any cemetery. There was no one standing at our bedroom door, only the quietness of the night.
The next morning, I couldn’t look at our guest directly in the face, as of course how could she have missed the screams. And what was I was to say, “Oh by the way, last night I dreamed you escaped from a mental institution, and you were about to murder us both in our bed.”
Although, I had grown up cooking for hired men, eggs had never been my specialty, basically because the smell of eggs frying always made my stomach turn a notch. I pulled out a cheap little Teflon pan and did the best I could, but the fried eggs were dark crispy and hard around the edges.
Now this dear lady, who we had so graciously taken in for the night, and by the way had caused me such a night time fright began to criticize my frying pan. I thought that was touching on a bit of rudeness, but was quickly to discover her reason.
I will have to fill in some details before going on with this story. In those first few months of marriage, my husband was finishing his last college classes for graduation. One evening we had attended one of those demonstration dinners, where a meal was prepared with very special stainless steel waterless cookware. Well of course the set of pans was very expensive. Oh my goodness, I just fell in love with those pans.
That semester was soon over and now we were living out on the prairies of eastern Colorado in a very small hamlet. Although we were a young married couple, we were already entertaining a great deal.
So now I am trying as best I can after a sleepless night to prepare this stranger a meal with cheap Teflon pans. She started out by telling us how much she appreciated us taking her in for the night. She told us her story of how she was a traveling sales person demonstrating pans. By now you have guessed it. Yes, they were the same pans I had dreamed about having, knowing the price was far beyond possibility. I just couldn’t believe it. She wanted to sell us an entire set for a minuscule price of what she had paid for the entire set. Even that was a stretch for us, but we did it.
Those pans were my treasure. I was so proud of them. There would be no way to ever estimate how many meals had been prepared down through the years with those pans. As the years came and passed, the handles began to fall off because of so much use. I managed to maneuver them out of the oven and off the stove without burning myself.
When I came back to Michigan and began having those big family dinners for my children and grandchildren, my sons and daughters began to complain about those pans. What was the matter with them, but I soon realized, the pans were an embarrassment to them. Plus, add the component of the possibility of a grandchild hurting themselves was realty. Christmas presents began to come in the form of bright new shining pans. Now these pans were not cheap Teflon. They were very nice expensive pans.
But you see they just didn’t have that emotional tie to me, I became aware of my sentimental feelings for those pans. So many memories of life of cooking for family and friends would surface. If those pans had a voice they could tell so many stories of our family history of Mom expressing her love by cooking and baking.
So here I was in the predicament of knowing what I had to do. Those pans had to go. They had been replaced. They had sat out on the steps for about two weeks. I could hear the garbage truck down the street. I went out and put my much loved pans in the dumpster.
When I think about those pans and how difficult it was for me to throw them away. I can’t help but think how that so portrays one’s life and the seasons that seem to come much too quickly now. It is so important to hold onto those memories and pass them on to the next generations. There is also the value of letting go of those former things that no longer serve a purpose so that we can live in the present.
When it comes to those memories we so hold on to, it is interesting to listen to how siblings from the same family can interpret past experiences. For those of us who tend to be the peacemakers in the family we tend to lean to the positive aspects and then others remember the worst of the worst but, of course, there is a balance in this life journey.
There are the memories that bring us sorrow and pain and then there are the memories that bring a smile and laughter. As I pen words to the page early this morning, my thoughts go back to times in my own journey when faith in “just the goodness of knowing I would make it through a difficult situation” seem to be coming to the surface.
There is a memory I cherish of when I was very young. My mother had a beautiful lyric soprano voice which I loved to hear on Sunday mornings as she sang in the choir at the local Methodist church. The words of the beautiful old hymn, “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” have followed me all of my life.
I can recollect those times when life was a challenge for me; I tended to search out one of my favorite singers, “Mahalia Jackson.” Knowing her own journey had its challenges, I would listen to her voice and the message of the song, and somehow, no matter what I was facing, my spirit would be renewed with buoyancy that would come from that deep place in my soul. My favorite verse of the song I would play over and over, until peace would settle over me.
There Is a Balm in Gilead
Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
I don’t think it is possible to ever be able to completely forget our past. I have found in my own life, just facing a memory, no matter how painful, and then praying for the grace to forgive and glean the lessons of wisdom and character for future challenges gave me that tenacity to just keep marching. Having the capacity to take our memories and place them in a safe room with Christ so that we can enjoy today and also face the future with hope is how I have interrupted this scripture for ever so long now in my own journey.
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Yes, those old pots and pans were thrown away several years ago. At present I cherish the collection of pans I use over and over as I prepare once again meals for family and friends.
As I have written this snippet of a story of my past memories I have gone into my kitchen and taken a moment to look at my present collection of shiny clean pots and pans. And yes, there is a smile on my face as I understand the love that has been expressed from my children as they have given them to me.
This is a memorable day for me, as it has been just one year since Edna Mae McClaflin, my precious mother, took her last journey and now she is with her Heavenly Father. She missed her 100th birthday by thirty-seven days. I had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration with my family yesterday. They asked me if I was okay. Of course I miss my Mom, but when I think of her having to endure the isolation of the Covid-19 shutdown, I am grateful she is in Heaven.
You might be wondering why I have inserted the picture of the wool dress I made for my Mom so I will briefly explain and fill in the blanks at a later time. I think the thoughts of designing dresses began early with the creations I sewed for my kittens as a very young girl. Later the designs would be embellished with beads, silk ribbon and died silk flower bouquets.
I had flown back to Wyoming to see my Mom, now in a nursing home. It is not a surprise that I would be fretful about the dress she would wear at the memorial service. I don’t think I told the rest of the family much about this, but began designing a dress. As most of my creative projects begin, at some point, they seem to take on a life of their own. Thus was this creation from my stash of beautiful colors. I realized I was getting a bit carried away, but often creativity is a way for me to cope with sorrow.
My Mom was getting so old, and the times I got to see her were much too rare. I won’t reveal how long I spent sewing the dress, but love and devotion were sewn into each stitch.
I prayed many times that I would be able to give my mother the dress. Last June when I arrived along with life-long friends for her special party, my friend Linda caught the look on my mother’s face when she opened the box.
The look on her face seems now to have captured the essence of this amazing woman. The morning I left her, I had to fight back the tears, as I seemed to know this would be “The Last Good-bye.” As I put my arms around her frail little body, my mother prayed the most incredible prayer over me. Looking back now, I understand it would be a prophetic message that would unfold in just a few months.
My Mom had so longed to have my book, “Beloved Homeland, Growing up on a Wyoming Homestead,” completed before she passed away. Our family had a week together planning her memorial service. My son Craig was even able to come and be part of the ceremony. Everything was beautiful about that day. As I looked at her for the last time, somehow that wool wrapped so gently around her frail frame and the delicate silk creation soothed my aching heart.
As I flew home that day after the memorial service, I knew I had to somehow get the book published. The next morning I retired from my job and immediately began the arduous journey of preparing the manuscript for publication. In the next few months, isolated from family because of the Covid-19 precautions, I prayed through every phase of how to learn all the technical skills in the 76th year of my own life. When it seems that I would be so weary I just could not do one more task, I would remember that prayer my Mom prayed and it would give me the buoyancy I needed to just keep going.
I am at peace today as I think of my Mom. What has been on my mind for these past long months are those families with parents and grandparents locked away from them alone? Knowing how much my own mother’s funeral meant to our family and friends, I have been torn at the loss for so many other families not even able to have a funeral for their loved one that had to be canceled. All across our nation the size of the Thanksgiving gatherings were scaled back, so I am sure many were spending the day alone.
Now, thoughts will kick into getting ready for the next holiday but it is different this year. As I have mentioned, creativity is very much a part of my life. As has been documented in the “Beloved Homeland” book, the importance of family and community in creating a “Sense of Time and Place,” has most likely never been more important than now. I will close with a verse in II Corinthians and trust that you also will find creative ways of being the one who comforts those around you.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
"WHAT IS IN YOUR HAND"
The thoughts have come to me for days, knowing I just needed to sit down and write. One would think after all these years, it would be most natural, but then there is always that trepidation. How can I say what is do deep in this heart of loving this nation that is in such a grip of fear and anguish?
This morning, I once again read the account of Moses in Exodus 4:1–14, as God was speaking to him of the roll he would play with his people, the Jews. I have read these words countless times down through the years, and here I am again wondering of this man who lived so long ago. He is known today all over the world as the great leader, but at the time for him in those early stages, not having any idea of the challenges that lay before him, he did not see the qualities of leadership that God had been developing in his character for many years.
I briefly pause and share with you this tree bursting with leaves with my favorite color chartreuse. For those of us in Michigan, we wait all year for that perfect week in the fall when the trees are at their peak of color, so magnificent.
This year has not been like the past. For over eight months we have been in lock down. The pandemic has swept throughout the world causing panic and fear coupled with isolation and sickness.
In just a few days, our nation is going to have an election that very likely can shape the direction for future generations. I ask myself the question, “If I had not spent time in Russia teaching in a university, coming to love the Russian people, and yet remember what it was like for them after the throws of communism, would I feel such an urgency to pray in faith and courage. Would I be writing today, taking the time to look at the splendor of this fall tree wrapped in God’s glory of color and light?
I don’t think that those feelings Moses had of his limitations are that much different than most of us would acknowledge. The rod was not a magnificent work of wooden carving, but rather I would imagine a very ordinary walking stick rough and worn at the edges. Yet, in just a short while that walking stick would be used to bring great faith to a nation.
So the Lord said to him, What is in your hand?”
He said, “A rod.” Exodus 4:2
It would be natural to say, “but I am not a Moses,” I have nothing significant I can do or become in this crucial time in history. For myself, in my early life, it never occurred to me that one day I would be an author, and now as I am way into my seventh decade of life, as I write, I feel like a young woman loving life and humanity with a longing to somehow make an impact on a world so full of sorrow pain and sickness.
Just a few months ago, right in the middle of the shutdown, the book I had spent years writing was finally published. “Beloved Homeland, Growing up on a Wyoming Homestead.” When I recall the beautiful words so many sent when it was announced, I am just in awe. I could spend a good deal of time listing all those events and trials that preceded the completion, but who needs that. The outcome of all of this is that all those years ago God put a seed of hope and destiny into my heart that never left me. No matter what happened, I felt I had to do my part. I had to take up that rod that had been placed in my hand, knowing that the research and writing would have never been completed if I had not chosen to have a courageous heart.
Referring back to the picture of the fall tree, I often tell my family and friends my favorite color is chartreuse. I always incorporate it in my quilts and garden flowers because it complements the other colors and brings out the beauty in each.
In closing, I encourage you to take a few moments and look out on nature as there are still come fall colors to see and let that silent voice of God encourage you in your own path of life to help you identify the rod in your own hand that can add beauty to another passerby in their journey.