Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Quiet Life Realization

The most beautiful aspect of Christianity is walking in tandem with God and sharing discoveries each day. Sometimes your travels will take you far from where you're comfortable and other times, close by. You might be alone with Him or together in a crowd. I can guarantee you that if you travel with God, He'll take you to exciting locations you'd never see or experience on your own. Again, you have to be open to dark and dismal spots you need to pass through to get there. If you hold your best friend's hand, you won't get lost along the way.

Friday, February 26, 2010

God's Winter-Warmth

Before I came back to the United States, I struggled with the thought of facing winter. I wondered how I could bear it after living in tropical and desert countries for so many years. I hated the cold and had lots of fears about going through a whole winter at home. However, God showed me that not only could I bear it, He could make it something beautiful for me to experience. God used Buddy to teach me how to see the wonders of winter. Through prayer, God opened up my heart. I learned that He cared even about my fear of cold weather! My "heart journey" is reflected in the following poem.

Change of Perspective

Anchored for years in sun-splashed countries

my return to North America

meant acculturation to cold once more;

‘winter’ grew into a mountain-sized dilemma

overpowering my mustard seed-sized faith.

I crept about shunning the cold.

“Oh God, take away this fate!”

“No. Instead let me take you through it.”

He handed me three crucial tools:

a pair of boots, my dog and a new perspective

with all five senses heightened

to experience the winter I feared.

He planned to woo me

with a fresh, new love for winter

that I began to treasure.

God used Buddy to show me snow wonders!

God walked alongside us ...

Up and down hills, through the woods,

over fields chuckling at a bright-eyed dog

who delighted in his new world;

My prayer became, "God show me more!"

The overflowing fruits of God’s winter-warmth

soon burgeoned inside my heart.

-- 2/27/07 (rev 2010)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Elmo, Dad's Sidekick

Whatever happened to that pie-eating, parade-loving bear of a black lab named Elmo? Better known as Don Bovaird “The Tree Man’s” popular sidekick, Elmo did the rounds with him every day for four years from the back of Don’s 1939 Ford pick-up. “That dog never gets sick or tired of the road,” Don used to say, noting how Elmo played his role as ‘ambassador’ to the hilt, welcoming kids and adults alike to “Elmo’s Place.” They made a good team.

Not everyone who saw Elmo liked him riding in the back of the truck. Always the storyteller, Don used to talk about a woman who once criticized him, “That dog doesn’t even have any water!” Don quipped, “Neither do I and you don’t see me complaining.” Truth be told, that dog was treated better than most kids.

Not all tree climbers appreciated Elmo’s gusto either. Once working on a lake bank, a customer set out a large plate of freshly baked cookies. Don arrived on site. He started talking to the customer. Elmo was given a rare respite from the truck. "Let him run around," the customer invited. Elmo was having a good run when he spied the cookies. That dog gulped every single one of them down. "Ah maan," one worker moaned when he found out. "That's it! Tie 'em up. Let's throw Elmo over the lake bank!" another tree climber threatened in jest. Don shook his head, as he does when he is startled, "Get in the truck, Elmo!" He let down the tailgate and Elmo obediently jumped up. I picture him saying that with a touch of humor in his voice. It was the talk of our dinner table that night.

Dad took Elmo everywhere with him. Dad even made up a dog bed and Elmo slept in the truck at night. The next morning after his morning bathroom run, he'd get back up and they'd be ready to start the rounds again.

After my father passed away, my family thought Elmo should have a different kind of life. A corrections officer that my sister knew fell in love with him, and offered to take him in. She had a farm and other dogs for him to run with. It was a sad day for me when she came to pick him up a a few days after the funeral. It was another drastic change for me. Losing Elmo felt like losing a little more of my father. I wasn't ready to deal with that.

I think my father would be happy to know he's well-cared for, and often gets rides in a large van around town. I call his new owner from time to time to hear about Elmo's adventures with his new pack, and once I even got to see him.

Sometimes I imagine dad driving up to the farm in Cambridge Springs. He'd lower the tail gate of his truck and say in his matter-of-fact way, "Get in, Elmo." Elmo would be wild with excitement to see dad after so long. He'd leave the pack and jump on up into the truck. Their day would continue as if they'd never been apart. I love this scenario. But it does make me teary-eyed.

My father, always practical, would have seen the situation as my family did. Dad always looked forward. He might reminisce but never let sentiment cloud his enjoyment of living each day and appreciating what he could do with it. He moved on.

I'm trying to adopt that attitude.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tenuous Ties

A Short Story By Amy Bovaird

“I want to see my baby! My BABY! Don’t take it away from me even before I get to hold it!” The nurse whisked the preemie to a waiting incubator. She knew it was crucial to move the baby to a safer environment, even if it meant taking her away from her own mother’s arms. Fatima dropped her outstretched arms in defeat. That was nearly a week ago. She still ached to hold her baby, an ache that hurt more than the physical pain she endured to have her.

She now focused on the four gray walls that surrounded her.
She gathered her thick, black hair to one side and let it drop. Through the thin, flannel gown, she felt the rough patches of her belly where monitors had been placed in her own hour of need.

Three days ago, she was strong enough to walk with her mother’s assistance to the Special Care Baby Unit, and peered into the incubator to see Noora, a tiny wrinkled form connected to tangled tubes and wires. Wafts of antiseptic nauseated her; and the trembling hum of the strange machines weakened her knees. Fatima reached through an opening and stroked a dry, chapped leg. “Allah,” she cried, as she reached out for her mother.

Ayesha took charge, “Bas. Enough.” She led her away. From that day on, her fears ate at her. Would Noora live? She must! But what if she didn’t? What would Hamed say?

recalled when she first met Hamed on their wedding day. She was eighteen. He cast an appreciative eye over her. She noticed a tall, broad-shouldered man with dark, intelligent eyes, a full beard, and a moustache that emphasized his firm mouth. He wore a gold linen thob, fancier than the white robe grooms sometimes wore. She thought him very handsome, and smiled shyly. Pleased, he reached for her hand.

She prayed that he would treat her with respect and they would soon find love. But more importantly, that she would bear him many children. After all, becoming a mother was every woman’s duty. To be a mother was to be a queen.

“Mama, why don’t they give me news about my baby? Tell Zafar to find the consultant,” Fatima pleaded. “After all, since Father isn’t here, it’s Zafar’s duty to carry out these things as the oldest son. Mama, I’m begging you! This is urgent!”

Ayesha rose, and issued a command and Zafar left the room.

Soon, the curtain parted and a nurse’s face poked through. “The consultant is here,” Fatima donned her headscarf and made sure the blanket covered her legs. “Let him come.”

After the traditional greetings, the doctor directed his comments to Zafar, as was customary.

“I hear Fatima has asked about her baby,” he began.

“That’s true. What is the news?”

The doctor cleared his throat.

“Please. Fatima is crazy with fear! Speak, man.”

’s eyes darted back and forth between the two men in front of her.

! May God protect baby Noora, Ayesha invoked, to prevent The Evil Eye.

’s rapid glances targeted each of the faces surrounding her. Everyone is so solemn. They’re not telling me something. Allah!

The consultant spoke. Fatima’s baby died yesterday morning. She had hemorrhaging to the brain and great difficulty in breathing. It’s to be expected.” He shrugged. “Some premature babies make it, but that’s rare.”

stared. Her dry-throated voice cracked. “…my baby … died?”

The nurses nodded. The consultant, a thin man with glasses, looked away.

“I see,” Fatima whispered, “I see.”

After the consultant left, Fatima let out a series of thin, cracking, high-pitched squeals and began to thrash in bed. Her worst fear had become reality.

Ayesha ran to tend to her daughter, “Call Hamed,” she urged her son. “May Allah grant us mercy.”

“Oh Mama, I caused The Evil Eye to fall on my baby. I was too happy. Who would be jealous enough to inflict this tragedy upon us? Fatheyya? Aziza? Nadia? How could this happen? Allah!”

Her mother shook her, “You mustn’t ever question Allah! Do you hear? This is God’s Will.”

Ay… my life lies in Hamed’s hands…” She began to groan and yank at her thick tresses until some hair came out by their roots.

Fatima, stop that!” Her mother stilled Fatima. “These are dark days, yes. But all is not lost. Rest.”

After Fatima fell asleep, Ayesha considered the consequences. “Allah, this could ruin her life.” She smoothed Fatima’s blanket, finally letting the tears fall.

The silence unnerved her after the commotion earlier. To fill it, Ayesha listed the positives. “Hamed loves Fatima. He is a fair man. Fatima is a dutiful wife. She’s strong, and will bear him more children, Insha’allah, God willing.” She pulled the prayer beads from her pocket to calm herself. The round marble beads slipped between her fingers and gave her strength as her biggest fear assailed her, “God forbid that Hamed divorce her.”

Ayesha was dozing when the hospital door swung open and Hamed stepped inside. “How is my wife? Thank you for seeing to her.” He dismissed his mother-in-law with a curt nod. Ayesha left at once.

Hamed sat down on the bed. “Wake up, Fatima.” When she saw him, she buried her head in his chest, unable to face him.

He lifted her face toward him, “Look at me,” he commanded. “It’s true then?”

She nodded, her face crumpling.

His eyes fell upon the raw spots where she had yanked out her hair. “What is this? What happened to your beautiful hair?” He knew then, the extent of her grief. “Never mind. I’m here now,” he whispered as he kissed her wet eyelids.

“Our baby is gone. I failed you.” Fatima whimpered.

He didn’t respond, so she braved her question, “Hamed, will … you … divorce me?”

He paused, as if thinking it over. “Don’t be silly. You are my wife. Get well. We will try again next month, and the one after that. However long it takes. We will have another. Insha’allah,” God willing.

Together they embraced. Fatima smiled as he held her in his arms. She was lucky this time. But for how long? She wondered what their future would bring. What if the same thing happened again? Would Hamed be as patient? Or would he blame her? Demand a divorce, or worse, take another wife? “Allah, please give me a strong womb, let me be a mother, a good wife… Ma’ash’allah. May God protect me.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tiled Walkways of Sapphire

Moses and Aron, Nadab and Abiju and the seventy elders went up and
saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a
pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. Exodus 24: 9-11 NIV.

I teach third-year high school Spanish at a Christian school in my area. Every week one of our activities is to read, discuss and ultimately, memorize various scriptures from the Bible in formal Castillian Spanish. When we put the English and Spanish translations together, the verses create a fuller, more vivid picture of that passage in God's Word. I always look forward to our discussions and seeing my students' eyes light up. This week we discussed how God revealed himself to Moses and some seventy odd wise Israeli leaders on Mt. Sinai. God allowed them all to eat and drink in His presence at that time.

In Spanish, "a pavement made of sapphire" is translated as "tiled walkways of sapphire" (some versions say "lapiz lazul"). For me, this depicts a vivid image of the brilliance and beauty under God's feet.
The NIV says that the walkway appeared as "clear as the sky itself" and the Spanish reads it was, "as serene as the heavens." This translation gives the sapphires a transparency and brings in God's absolute serenity. What a magnificent sight that would have been to behold! Whether in English or Spanish, it's as if I've seen these verses for the first time.

After living in the United Arab Emirates for a number of years, I put in a white tiled walkway. How smooth those tiles felt under my feet! The path lent an elegant air to my home and garden that transformed it in my eyes. I've also seen magnificent, glossy painted ceramic tiles from Palestine, Tunisia, and Morocco. How gorgeous these tiles look! Especially when the tiles are placed together to complete a scene. I brought one such picture of the women at the well with Jesus home with me. And how about jewels? I've been to the Taj Mahal in India. I've looked closely at precious stones inlaid in the walls! Being exposed to these experiences gives me a tiny, tiny glimpse of what I imagine that Moses and his entourage viewed that day. I share this with my students in simpler Spanish in hopes that they, too, can begin to envision this verse in concrete images.

In class I begin to realize that our God is a creator of enormous detail and beauty. Though this is not the first time I've thought or felt this, it hits me differently than other times. Perhaps it's the first time I've had concrete images to share when the thought has crossed my mind. I eagerly turn to my students for their input, and reflection.

One student says "In the Wizard of Oz" in the Emerald City, everything looked green and very beautiful." We talk about how Dorothy and her companions get beautied up when they follow the yellow-brick road to Oz in hopes of meeting the Wizard. Do they put on special glasses in which everything appears to be green? I move from these fictitious characters to Moses and his companions.We muse about what the experience must have been like for God to allow them to eat in His presence.

Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us a snapshot of your great beauty. Show us how to reach out for moments of clear serenity in our busy lives. Let us follow on that bejeweled road. We're headed to a place much more beautiful than Oz.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Don Bovaird of Girard Alliance has passion for game of basketball

By Bob Healy

John Sargent believes his standout basketball guard plays beyond his years.

That may be because of the company he keeps.

For the last few summers, Don "Dee" Bovaird of the Girard Alliance Christian Academy has spent a good amount of time playing basketball at the playgound courts in Girard Borough.

His teammates and opponents in the pickup games have included such former Girard High School players as Coltin Ferrick, D.J. Green, Mike Droll, and Jeff McDonald.

"I'm up at the courts a lot just trying to get in some practice and to get my game perfected as much as I can," said Bovaird, who is in his senior year at GACA. Playing with the older guys helps my game a lot, especially my defense. Defense is the key to playing basketball."

That experience has paid dividends.

"Don plays the game much older than he really is. He's a much more mature player," said Sargent, head coach of the Girard Alliance Boys' team. "He loves the game. He's eager to go at all times. He reads the court like an older guy, a college player, would. Most players his age don't have the experience he has. He's really focused. He's not just out there running up and down the court. He either knows what he wants to do or he's planning what to do."

Bovaird has been a tremendous scoring threat throughout his four years at Girard Alliance. He recently surpassed the 1,000-point career-scoring milestone for the Lions.

But he wasn't always such a firm advocate of defense being the key to playing basketball.

"He has always done really well shooting, but he had struggled with his defense the last few years," Sargent said. "He's really been working on that over the past year and has picked up on that. He's really become an all-around ball player."

While Bovaird has had to work on improving his defensive skills, other facets of the game have come more naturally.

"His jumping ability is just phenomenal," Sargent said. "People are amazed at just how high he can jump. Because he can get so high in the air, it's sometimes hard to stop him from scoring. He's also a left-hander which makes it tough to play against."

Basketball has been almost a lifelong passion for Bovaird. According to his father, also Don, Dee began playing the game at the age of five.

"I love the game. I love the teamwork," Bovaird said.

Bovaird played his junior varsity ball in seventh and eighth grade at Cranseville Christian Academy . When that closed, he transferred to Girard Alliance and became a starter for the Lions' varsity team in his freshman year.

This year, Bovaird is averaging 21.4 points per game for the Lions who are 11-6 overall and 8-1 in the New York / Penn League.

"Playing at a Christian school has its ups and downs," Bovaird said. "On the plus side, we have a good basketball program at our school. I have friends and teammates that I can share the experience with. There is a good Godly atmosphere here that helps me make the right decisions."

On the downside, small Christian schools hardly draw the attention afforded their larger public and parochial counterparts.

"Dee would like to get a shot at being able to play in college," Sargent said. "Unfortunately, we don't get a whole lot of scouts out here. Donny would be a good catch for anyone interested."

Basketball or not, Bovaird is considering taking physical therapy in college.

"Since I've taken health classes, it's interested me -- the muscles and how the human body works," Bovaird said.

Maybe in the future, he can explain his jumping ability.

February 4, 2010

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Upcoming Book Publication

Girard writer featured in upcoming publication

Book of 101 Facets of Faith features six devotionals from local resident Amy Bovaird.

Contact to order a copy. Books gladly signed by request.

Cost: $12.99 plus S & H

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Feast for the Senses

Each morning and afternoon I take my dog, Buddy, out for a long walk and, upon his insistence, we greet nature. I don't always want to go in the cold and snow but he ignores my cranky attitude. Even if I am reluctant to set out, by the time our walk is finished, I’m always grateful that I went. Buddy has a way of showing me how to appreciate these simple walks. I can tell that he views these walks as “adventures” by the way he wags his tail and how he explores when I let him loose. Winter is his favorite season.

Buddy was born in the United Arab Emirates and is, technically, a desert dog accustomed to intense heat year round. I worried how he’d take to the colder weather when I shipped him home. Turns out I didn't need to be concerned about how he would adapt to our Pennsylvania winter because from the get-go, he became my "snow dog!" This is one of our recent adventures.


Buddy and I always love the month of February. It's a small respite in the midst of longer, more harried months. Buddy, definitely decisive today, led us into the woods to savor a feast for the senses.

This morning as we set out, we listened to a busy woodpecker, the shhhhhh-ing of the wind as it rustled through my clothing and Buddy's fur and dissipated off into the trees. We heard a series of whistles of a distant train followed by hundreds of wheels set in motion and the groaning of metal accompanying it. I found my faded old boots sinking into the course, thicker snow from past storms. Buddy cocked his head and observed something in the woods I couldn't hear, or see. Somehow satisfied, he lost interest and moved on.

We slipped past an old now-rusted gate that had once been spray-painted silver and onto a footpath we'd worn into the snow. We walked alongside a chain link fence. I felt the thin, velvety carpet of new snow under the thin tread of my boot. A light curtain of snow fell on us as we hiked along. It felt soft on my face, and melted almost as soon as it touched Buddy's black fur. Buddy and I squeezed through a faded-white cast-iron gate with a sign welded onto the front, “No Dumping at any Time.” Buddy picked up the scent of something and strained against his leash to chase after it. "Whoa, Buddy! Slow down! I don't wanna fall," I scolded. Forced to slow to my speed, he burrowed his nose into the soft snow and it came up white. He wore a big, goofy grin on his face, and nudged me for a treat as I drew near, “You silly creature,” I couldn’t help but give him a quick hug and brush off the rest of the snow. “Oh, you’re getting gray, Buddy.” Otherwise, people would still call him a pup because of his short stature.

We continued on our footpath, surrounded by brown trees and snow, which stretched as far as my eyes could see. I felt cocooned by the rustic beauty. The air felt fresh. The snow looked clean. It was as if I'd just stepped onto the cover of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle box. What more could we want?

Buddy halted -- every muscle alert. Uh-oh! "Whacha lookin' at, Bud?" I followed the direction of his gaze. "Ohhhh, another dog. I get it." Buddy assessed the situation. We stood at one end of a softball diamond and they stood their ground on the other end. We eyeballed each other. "Ah, Bud! They've turned around. You didn't even bark. Good boy!"

We descended down a gentle slope and I spied the green paint of an outhouse, both doors which were trussed securely in place by a chain link lock. The outhouse stood out a short distance from the bare branches at the edge of the woods. “Ready?” As always when we reached this point, I let him off his leash. Together we sprinted to the fork in the road.

My heart thumped in my chest as I tried to catch my breath. He wagged his tail. He was totally in the moment and thrilled to be free and active. After he ran around for a bit, he nudged me for a treat. Seeing he was out of energy, I clipped the leash back on.

Time to head home.

I peered into the snow. “Look Buddy, deer tracks,” Indeed there were clear, well-formed hoof markings imprinted in the crusty snow. They indicated the deer had gone up the hill in the same direction we were headed. "D'ya think we're gonna see any deer t'day, Bud?"

Unfortunately, deer were not on our agenda.

We reached the base of our last hill. Halfway up the steep incline, Buddy paused. It was his cue to me that he wanted another dog biscuit. His lovely dark eyes followed my hand and I pulled out a broken biscuit from my coat pocket. His dark, moist nose bumped against my palm. For just a moment, he munched it down, and then moved forward once more.

I love these biscuit moments. I think it's because it reflects a certain bond between us. If I have forgotten to bring the biscuits, he gives me a long soulful, reproachful stare that cuts me to the quick.

An hour and fifteen minutes from the time we set out, we slipped back through the door of my garage. There, I opened the door to my apartment. Our routine began once again. I pulled off my dog-walking boots, plopped my hat and gloves into their proper basket and hung up my scarf and jacket on its hook.

"Buddy, time to eat!"

Today was a good day: Buddy made it up the stairs without limping. His ten-year-old arthritic joints didn't slow him down as they usually did.

Thank you, God, for your blessings this beautiful February morning. Lord, I especially thank you for hand-picking such a cheerful companion for me. Only You could transform a malnourished desert dog into the great snow dog adventurer that he has become here in Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dad's Winter Projects

Each of the four seasons gave my father a new outlook. Nothing ever got boring because he always had a new project around the bend. I think he even began to look forward to the winter months most of all because he and a few key workers would get down to work on his what emerged into his latest business--what he referred to as "The Limo Business."

This has to be one of my all-time favorite photos of my father. It encompasses so many of the elements of life that he loved so much: comfortable work clothes, his land, the trees, an antique car, the dog, and wintertime.

When he went to the land, HIS land, he met with his workers or he simply puttered alone. He was in his element. His barn or garage, whichever you want to call it, had three or four stalls. Part of his garage looked like a professional service station. he had a contraption to lift vehicles so that he could work underneath them.

His land served as so much more than a piece of land for his operation. It was a meeting point for the guys throughout the year. He bought fresh doughnuts and provided a pot of coffee every morning. It was truly a small town business, but built on old-fashioned values. Dad forged both friendship and trust with his workers. I always felt there was a special bond that existed with them that even the new guys picked up on straight away. Dad loved to be busy. He loved his work. And he loved cars. He shared his vision with the workers and they believed in it as much as he did. Not only did it provide work in the off-season, but it made them feel an important part of something unique.

Dad was always scouting around for the right vehicle to transform. Men around town would give him tips where he could the right parts. Everyone shared in his vision, actually, not just his workers. Once he solidified his ideas, and it grew cold, Dad would brief his men on what he wanted and they'd get right to work.

His longtime tree workers would become automotive technicians. They worked together to restore old vehicles to give them new glory. What one didn't know, the other supplied in experience. Frankly, my father knew a heck of a lot about cars. He had worked around them all his life. Dad had a natural curiosity for tinkering, and he had a no-nonsense approach to getting things done. If he could imagine it, he'd do it. Charley, Kirk, Donnie, Shawn, Rusty and a few others over the years tinkered all winter long. They cut through steel plates, soldered parts together, jacked up the vehicles, spray painted, oiled, greased, rebuilt engines and whatever necessary to get an antique fitted out with a modern engine but authentic antique parts. When that was all done, they'd set to work again, and s-t-r-e-t-c-h the vehicle. My dad could keep everyone dreaming about the finished work. He held them all together. When dad drove the finished vehicle off the property and onto the road, they all celebrated.

I don't know how to express the bonding that went during the winter months but I know that God brought it all together and made it possible to bring Dad's visions to fruition.
God just knows each of us so well that he brought the right combination of skills and personalities to work together in Dad's garage to restore these vehicles. Nothing is by chance. These men were hand-picked to be in my dad's life by our Heavenly Father. I thank Him.

God, thank you for bringing so many blessings into my family's life: the land that meant so much to my dad, two very special four-legged companions, the vehicles, his talents and skills, his optimism, the workers that he spent so much time with, a loving wife and children.
Thank you for creating him with a big heart for my town and for laughter and optimism and warmth. You loved my father so much that You provided all this for him and in him even when He didn't know or seek You out. How thrilling it must have been when dad realized how much You loved him - that You gave him the desires of his heart. Thank you God for my father and for loving him as you did. Thank you God for answering our prayer and opening his eyes to You.

We will all be in our elements in that piece of land one day and my family will be complete again.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bummed by a Baggie

"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (Proverbs 15:1).

I shrugged into my bargain, down-filled coat and slid into the car. “You might want to zip up and pull on your gloves; It’s cold out here.” My sister, Carolyn, drummed her fingers on the steering wheel as I buckled my passenger seatbelt, “The bank's on the other side of the street. We'll get it on the way back.”

I hate returning merchandise anywhere but I really feel funny taking anything back at a Dollar Store, of all places. But I didn’t need 3-gallon baggies. I needed dog biscuits. I would just have to go and make the exchange.

I stepped over to the counter. “Excuse me. I’d like to make a return.”

“Yeah. Uh--these baggies are the wrong size. I wanted small ones, but there weren’t any.” In fact, I thought they were the small ones when I bought them. It had been an impulse buy. I definitely needed the biscuits more badly.

The cashier gave me a measured look over the top of her glasses. She reluctantly held out her hand to take the unwanted merchandise. I handed it over, quick to dispense of my burden.

“Do you want the small size?”

“Uh, no., not t’day, thanks.”

“We do have the small size,” She peered at me over her glasses again.

“Uh, nooo, well, okay, maybe.”

I could see the cashier's lip curl. She locked her register to get a small box - one I didn't want.

I made a quick run to the dog treat section. Maybe I’d have enough to buy both, depending on the price of the small baggies.

She arrived with the smaller box. “There are others to choose from--”

“No, no, no. These are fine.”

“I’ll have to do it over here,” she gestured to a second register and turned away. “I’ll be right with you” she mouthed to the next customer. She made it clear who she felt was the real customer. I bit my lip.

The clerk tapped in some numbers then handed me a receipt to fill out with my contact details.

“Do you want this, too?”

“No, no, I just want those.” I replied.


I jumped at impatient tone of her voice. Did she think I was a cheeky five-year-old buying chewing gum with pennies or something?

“Just those—uh, the…”

“Do you want the baggies?”

“Yes. That’s all I want.” I narrowed my eyes.

She thrust my change back at me, “Why are you so grouchy?” I challenged, but only my sister heard. Or maybe the clerk did, too. I don't really know.

I shoved the bill into my pocket, then promptly forgot it.

“If you need some more money to buy the dog treats, I can give it to you,” Carolyn offered.

“No, I have to learn to live within my budget.” I snapped.

My sister headed for the door, but I didn't follow. "What are you waiting for?"

"The rest of my change." I crossed my arms.

“She gave you the right change."

How could that be right when I saw only six pennies in my hand? I continued to stare at the clerk.

A customer kindly pointed to my coat pocket, "Dear, you put it there." I reached in and found it.

A perfectly terrible end to a bad transaction. The clerk never once acknowledged me in this twist of fate.

God, why???

I had twenty minutes to sit at the deli at the grocery store next door and ponder this situation (after all, there is no charge to sit down). I felt embarrassed and angry. God, she was so rude. I didn’t even want those baggies.

Go and apologize to her.
I could feel God nudging me as I sat there. Me? Could I do that? I wasn’t the one who had become demeaning. Could I humble myself? I tried to imagine the scenario. She would think I was a lunatic. “Amy, just go and do it!” I wrestled with my conscience.

I will never know what God had planned for this situation because I am sorry to say that I didn’t return or apologize. I could have joked with her, and turned the situation around, perhaps cheered her up. When will I put my pride aside to let God work through me?

That night in my daily Bible reading, I came across Proverbs 15:1. Could God be any more pointed? Forgive me, God. Teach me to obey you only and always at your promptings.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mulberry Blessings

As I deal with the snow each day here, I find myself recalling the days when I had no snow. My house was surrounded by beautiful trees that bloomed all year round. Soft, ripe dates littered the ground beneath my feet. Jasmine and frangipani petals perfumed the air along the driveway and permeated throughout the tiled walkway leading up to my door. Bougainvillea splashed pastel colors along the front passage.

Best of all were the mulberry trees on my property. I had two by the corner of the house and one large one in the side yard. These were not bushes. They were actual trees. I was astonished to discover mulberries grew on branches and not vines!

Over a number of harvesting seasons, I saw that God used the mulberry trees to minister to me.

We moved into our house the first year after our twins died. That’s when I saw my first mulberry harvest. The largest tree, laden double with mulberries, stooped down like an old street vendor carrying every good he could sell on his back. The tree, like the vendor, seemed to call out to those who passed by.

The berry's long, uniform "druplets" felt smooth against my palm. It cried out, “Eat me!” That I did. I’d never eaten a mulberry before so I plucked the longest, heaviest, deepest purple berry that I could find. It tasted sweet, much like the blackberries I’d picked as a child near my house. But my mulberries tasted better than those scrawny blackberries. These were firmer, sweeter and juicier. More berry to savor! Right away I envisioned a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with a bunch of mulberries. Wasn't I the luckiest person on earth to have these trees?!

I was only working part-time that year, and the berries were so plentiful that early morning and late afternoons would be filled with harvesting the berries. Soon I became an expert fruit picker. I got to know the amount of pressure I’d need to separate the berry from the slender green stem that held it fast to the branch. My berry-stained, sore fingers attested to the work I put into this task. But the ripest ones simply fell into my hands as I reached for the branches. I had to tend to these ones carefully so as not to mash or drop them.

“There’s many on the ground” my housekeeper observed, “Why don’t you put a sheet or tarp down to catch those that fall?”

“That’s a good idea,” I agreed. It gave me great pleasure to gather these up and add them to my booty.

I had a small wooden step ladder I used to reach the higher branches. I’d drag it from spot to spot under the tree and up the stairs and onto the driveway to get clusters of berries at the tops of the branches.

Stray cats and the squawking of excited birds overhead surrounded me as I labored. The cats lazed in the sun and kept me company. The birds had no business there. “Shoo! Hey, get outta here! Fly away!” I’d pause and wave my arms to scare away the birds; they seemed intent on swiping morsels from the sweet fruit on my trees. “You’re not gonna steal my mulberries!” I had plans for this fruit.

Every few days, the pungent smell particular to black berries filled the kitchen as I simmered pot after pot of mulberries on the stove. I added some sugar, and then stirred the lumpy mixture with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching. Soon I had a thick, luscious syrupy mixture that I spooned into cobblers and pies and baked in my American oven. I looked up jelly recipes on the Internet and attempted them, too. That year I became a favorite at the college with my “Amish” cobblers and ice-cream topped desserts.

As I threw myself into this work, I realized God’s plan was to distract me from thinking so much about the loss of my twins. God outstretched His hand, touched the sun and ripened a crop full of berries over and beyond what I’d ever dreamed of. People told me they had never seen a harvest so plentiful. I was astounded.

The next year, there were slightly fewer berries in the harvest and the birds found more of them. I'd gone back to working full-time, so I wasn't as driven to pick every single one of them. I started to think, "These berries are God's blessings and who am I to choose who gets them? Do I need all of them? Perhaps I can share with the birds.”

That also brought to mind the sharing of myself. Why did I choose who to give my friendship to? Why didn't I just let God open doors for me and embrace whoever God brought to the door, open it and receive them? So I prayed that I would be more open and accessible to others instead of limiting myself to those I felt most comfortable around. Again, God used the mulberry trees to show me how He desired for me to respond to His voice. I was humbled.

The following year there were fewer berries than before. The berries on the two trees by the corner of my house literally dried up. Now that I was adjusting more to my loss each year, I wondered if God was taking away my dependence on these physical blessings to nurture my faith in the unseen. I believe God used that tree to show me how to grow my faith and enjoy those fruits as much as I had enjoyed the berries earlier. I was grateful.

That next year a new gardener started to work for me. I pointed out the mulberry trees and told him how I’d eagerly waited for them to ripen.

"Now I just have one tree. I think it's dying though. It didn’t have so many berries last year. So many of them shriveled up." I remarked.

"Let's wait and see," he replied “I’ll do what I can.”

My gardener nurtured that remaining tree. He watered it every day and planted fresh dirt around its base. He cleared it of any weeds. One day he surprised me by picking some berries. We both got excited by the results of his careful attention to my favorite tree. I looked forward to fresh berries, pies and cobblers again. But by now, I was so busy that I rarely made the pies and cobblers that I used to bake. I gave most of the berries away. Once I even forgot to take a bagful of berries into the house. When I found them hanging on the doorknob the next afternoon, I noticed they had a funny smell. They'd spoiled. Useless fruit--along with the efforts of my gardener--all wasted. My intentions were sincere but I didn't use up all these precious resources.

It reminded me that I wasn't even close to appreciating God’s blessings in my life, or using them for His glory. I started praying about the wasted fruit and efforts, and God led me to see another area of my life where I needed to improve.

When I asked God to do His work, and the opportunities came, why didn’t I jump in and carry them out? Was it doubt? Or did I get too busy to see the opportunities before me? Once again, God used His mulberry tree--that day to convict me of my carelessness in harvesting His fruit. That rancid bag reminded me that along with our blessings came the responsibility of doing something with them. I was sorrowful.

God used the mulberry trees to minister to me throughout many seasons of my life in the Emirates. I will never think of fruit in the same way again. It shows me that God is imaginative and specific in the way He handles our hurts and develops our Godly character.

I now try to be more appreciative of God’s abundance and I make myself look around to become aware of the opportunities God places before me and to use them. I also ask God to help me have an open heart to share myself with others. Most of all, I ask God for His vision to gather the best of His fruits from my own mulberry tree - me!

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Precious Life

Linda. I remember her: a tall, slender woman with long blond hair parted down the middle. Fastidiously clean. No hand-me-down clothes or blankets, nothing that could have any germs from a previous owner. Life was such a struggle for her. She lived here. There. A trailer. Nothing permanent. Finally, she sold the few possessions she had. She chose to be homeless. Or, rather, she lived at a homeless center. She paid for her board by cleaning the building. It gave her a kind of satisfaction. She knew how to do her job, for sure, she told herself.

She liked living that way, working alone...didn't run into two many people. "Just keep doing what you know best," and even though it tired her out, she knew it was by far the best kind of work for her. Other jobs gave people too much power over her. Didn't like that at all. They always wanted to keep her back. Down. Be mean. Cold outside in the winter, too.Too long 'a walk to get to a job.

She kept to herself."Don't like nobody to know my business. Too many busybodies and that ain't good at all." She didn't know when it all started but little by little, she cut off even those she had trusted. Betrayal did that to ya. Somehow ya end up in prison overnight or locked up in a hospital. "Don't want no medicine. No way I'm gonna be drugged up. I got a daughter." They take everything you love away. Who can you trust?

Brittany. She thought of her daughter. Severely handicapped. But her joy. "Well, I got my pride but I will bend that pride for a phone card to call Brittany." It was the only thing she would bend it for. They took her baby away when she got too big to care for. So hard to lift her. They said she couldn't care for her properly. Or didn't. How would they know? She'd lost track of who sent her away. The State? The neighbors? It didn't matter anymore. She knew they all got it wrong. How did they know what she could do, or just how much she loved her daughter? When they did that, a part of her died inside. The phone was her lifeline. She called Brittany every week to the special home where she'd been taken. She would call her every day if she had the money to buy more phone cards. Sometimes she dreamed that she did.

Nobody understood her. She had to rely on herself. Just herself. "I can trust me." Well, she did let a few into her life. Carolyn. She wouldn't hurt her. She knew she cared. Came from a good family. She brought phone cards, and took her out for a bit. Sometimes to the grocery store. Sometimes to the 7-11. She brought phone cards and money for smokes. Sometimes she tried to convince her to take hand-me-downs but she kept her standard up, and refused. She didn't hold it against her though. She knew Carolyn just wished her to have a warm coat ... or pants ... or sturdy shoes.

She called Carolyn once a week. Woulda called her more but she knew that Carolyn was busy with her own family. Didn't want to be too familiar. "I like my freedom," she'd say but whenever Carolyn came she found herself feeling happy, and relieved. Wouldn't have to walk all that way to the store. Just a short drive. Some cigarettes and a phone card. Callin' ya soon, baby girl. Sometimes hard to remember her baby was almost thirty.

Sometimes the sister came too. Lately she started bringing a cane. Had some kind of a vision problem. Not too bad, though, mostly dropped her off at the library while she and Carolyn shopped. She didn't always feel that way. In the beginning, she didn't like her coming and intruding on her time that way. But little by little she got used to her. Kinda reminded her of the mom, who'd helped her in the past.

Life went on in the same way for some time. Then, everything changed. Suddenly, the pain came. Terrible, horrible pain. She wanted to scream and scream with the pain. She kept it inside when she could. But called Carolyn. She would know what to do. The pain felt so bad, she started calling her three or maybe six times a day, depending on the pain. Somehow she could make her feel better. A little bit anyway. When Carolyn came, she felt she'd been given a lifeline. Things just seemed more in control.

They said it was blood poisoning. And bone cancer. Never felt anything so terrible before. She called and called. Only Carolyn. "No, not leaving my place at the homeless shelter." Can't you see this is my home? Don't have any family. She did but had closed herself off from them. Couldn't trust 'em. Carolyn helped, did what she could. When she came, she could close her eyes. She felt safe. At last.

I remember seeing Linda shortly before she died. Thin, gaunt, but fiercely independent. "They keep on cluttering my place up," she'd motioned to the area around her hospital bed at the county home, muttering darkly. I wondered if she considered my Christmas ornament to her part of the clutter. She didn't want the Christmas tree, nor the television, nor a radio. She wanted it all be neat and tidy. She wanted nothing. Nothing but Brittany. And her continued privacy. She chose who to let into her life. "Those people at the shelter--they are not my family. I don't have any family. Don't call them that," she said sharply. "I don't want anyone calling Brittany either. This is my life. My. Own. Life."

That day the pain made her burst into tears as my sister, Carolyn, tried to bring circulation into her legs. She thought Carolyn bumped something integral to her catheter. I had to leave. I felt that I would burst into tears myself. My heart broke for Linda who longed for the old control over life -- but would never have it again. She was used to ordering people about. But now she was at the mercy of my sister's schedule to receive her caring ministrations. Whether she knew it or not, Carolyn had become her closest friend-no, even more--her family! Linda let down her guard, let her tears flow, didn't monitor her words--everything one does with family when she was around my sister. I stepped out of the room to stop the queasiness in my stomach and get a grip on my emotions. I couldn't break down now.

That was the last time I saw Linda.

She held the hand of an employee at the Geriatric Center as she passed away this past month - her hand in the hand of a stranger's hand. My sister couldn't be with her the day she died and this made me feel the saddest of all. I knew that was a hard choice for my sister as she had to travel with her husband. But I wonder what Linda felt that last day. And I wonder how my sister felt.

I like to think the prayers my sister, her husband and I prayed with her would lead her to put her hand in the Master's hand as she crossed over to be with Him.

I choose to think that's how it was. My heart now sings for her. The day before when she admitted to being afraid, my sister's friends told Linda, "You don't have to be afraid if you're God's child." She nodded and allowed them to pray for and with her. It seems that for the first time in her life she had come to a place of calm, which allowed her at the end of her life to slip paranoia, no distrust, simply calm.

I cry only for myself and those who loved her because we never could reach her. She never realized how precious she was... and she touched me sooo.