Monday, August 31, 2015

Thoughts of Israel

Over the past few days, several things have happened that blended perfectly and sent my heart right back to Israel!

Although our trip took place over four months ago, I doubt I will ever be the same.  The sights, sounds, people, landscape, historical locations.  It all lives in me now.  So much more than a trip; Israel is an experience.

And thanks to our wonderful congregation, Frank and I experienced it together!

I had started reading a biography of Elie Wiesel, the great voice for those who survived the Holocaust.  "My goal," he wrote "is always the same: to invoke the past as a shield for the future..."

Banished to Auschwitz as a fifteen year old boy, Wiesel miraculously survived the horrors.  He went on to travel the world; warning of the extreme evil lurking in man's heart when unchecked by a true moral compass.

While reading, I found myself spellbound by the descriptions of Jewish life, traditions and faith.  As the author wrote about Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I could clearly see the places they mentioned.  Vivid memories of our own experiences washed over me.

Then a family friend came to visit over the weekend.  Chad is a bright young man who studies people and politics.  It's always fun talking with him; getting a peek into the thought processes of a young, twenty-something.

His first questions for me were about our trip to Israel.  He plans to experience the Holy Land himself some day.  So we spent over an hour excitedly discussing the April pilgrimage.

Aware that most people can only absorb so much of my enthusiasm, I would end each story with, "Okay!  That's enough.  I don't mean to bore you."

Then Chad would ask another question sending me off into "just one more story!"

The final marker was Frank's sermon on Sunday morning.  He talked of David who dared to take on the giant, Goliath.  It took all my "pastor's wife discipline" to keep tracking with the sermon.

In a split second, I was transported back to the hillside where Frank and I stood looking down on the Valley of Elah - the very location where the story took place.  I felt the breeze and heard the birds chirping.  Frank's voice rang clearly (in my mind) as he read the Hebrew/English version of "Hashiem's Divine Intervention." 

Perhaps it's time for me to share some stories of those marvelous memories here.  Brace yourself - I fear the dam of restraint may have broken!   

Friday, August 28, 2015

Two Smiles

Life has such sharp contrast some days.

Yesterday was one of those for me.

Madison did NOT want to sit in her cute little bouncy seat while dad finished getting Noah dressed.  So Noni rescued her and became the bouncy seat substitute.

I sat contentedly on the back porch; all the while, patting the object of my affection.  Singing.  Talking.  Listening to the traffic.  Praying.  Kissing the sweet bald head.   Making eye contact with Dad as he peeked in to make sure we were okay.

And just before she had to move on to her next appointment, Madi rewarded my patience with a HUGE smile!  She looked me right in the eyes.......and Smiled!

The kind of smile that melts the hearts of all grandparents.  The kind of smile that sends you scrambling for your money and asking,  "What does this angel need that I can provide?!"  The kind of smile that brings tears to the eyes of the recipient.

Deep contented sigh!  And the day rolled on.

About two hours later found me sitting by the bedside of one of our much loved church members.  We had received the call Wednesday after Bible study that Rev. Mulvaney had taken a turn for the worse.  Frank went right to the nursing home to be with the family.

Rev. Mulvaney and his wife retired many years ago from pastoral ministry.  They had even served as pastors at Garden Grove Church temporarily; long before we came on the scene.  Two of the finest people you'd ever want to meet.  So of course, we wanted to be there.

But Thursday, Frank had to be out of town for a conference.  And the family had stayed until late into the night.  So no one was there when I slipped into the darkened room of our dear friend.

By quietly moving a chair close to the hospital bed, I was able to touch his arm.  His once vibrant and mischievous blue eyes were open only a tiny bit; not moving or blinking.  His breathing was steady but shallow.   No response as I greeted him.

Research has proven that people nearing the end of their earthly journey lose their hearing last of all.  So Frank has taught me to sing or read scripture when we visit, even if the dying person can't acknowledge you.  They still hear you.

And so I sat contentedly, patting the arm of my friend.  Singing.  Talking.  Listening to the traffic in the hallway.  Praying.  I even put a kiss on his sweet bald head.  Making eye contact with nurses as they peeked in to make sure we were okay.

During one song, his chin moved ever so slightly; right in rhythm.  I knew he was singing the old hymn with me.  And I did see one eyebrow raise slightly; like an "Amen!" as I finished quoting Psalm 23.

But the most marvelous moment came just before I had to leave.

I began to rehearse aloud the joys that wait for us when we finally reach Heaven as believers.  The delight and awe we will surely feel when we meet Christ Jesus.   The majesty and wonder and gratitude that will mark those first moments.  How marvelous to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

And that's when it happened.

Rev. Mulvaney had laid perfectly still for nearly an hour.  His only movements were almost imperceptible.  But just then, his eyes shot open wide.  His mouth formed an "Oh!"  And he gasped. There was the slightest hint of a smile. 

His gaze was fixed on something far beyond me.  The air was electric!  I don't mind telling you, I feel sure he was being given a glimpse of the great joy waiting for all those who die in Christ.

Such a holy experience!

It was over almost as quickly as it began.

Once again the eyes were still; the breathing shallow.  But tears stung my own eyes and the lump in my throat made it difficult to sing the next song.  His reaction to that glimpse, burned forever in my memory.

We just got the call an hour ago that our dear friend has gone to be with his Savior.  It's sad for us.  But we are delighted for him.  No longer sick.  No longer afraid.  

Two smiles.

One brand new.  One aged by many miles of life.  Yet both powerful in their own way.

Ah, the contrast in a day!   May you be blessed to experience life fully - Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Yard Work

Frank and I have spent most of our day working in the yard.

We've planted two trailing vines, an aloe and a few low shrubs.  (All snagged from the clearance bin in the garden center.)  We re-potted two plants for the entryway, trimmed multiple crepe myrtles and dug up a small tree that has refused to grow for six years now.   I painted a trellis to help waterproof it and Frank mowed the yard.

Doesn't it sound like a lovely, even romantic sort of day?

Don't you envision two people joyfully chatting away while they work together to beautify their home?  The workers - clad in crisp cotton shorts, garden gloves and floppy hats - smile at one another when they pause to sip glasses of water.

Perhaps you can even imagine a mint leaf floating in one of the ice cubes.

Yeah, well!

This is a blog written by a real person; not someone writing an ad for a gardening magazine.

Allow me to begin again -

Frank and I have spent most of our day working in the yard.

Even now, Frank is working feverishly on the final touches; racing a rain cloud that threatens to break open at any moment.  I'm typing with dirt so far under my fingernails it may be next week before they're normal again. 

We haven't been able to get to this job for weeks because of a crazy, busy schedule and because of unseasonable amounts of rain!

We're both displaying a few of the more minor symptoms of heatstroke.  It is August in Florida, you know. 

My feet are stinging from the ant bites I sustained while battling Antman's family for custody of my geranium pots.  And I'm not sure if I'll be able to accurately proof-read this because of the fumes I breathed while weather-proofing the seven foot tall trellis.

Top off all that excitement with the real truth of our oh-so-romantic gardening efforts......  Please remember that Frank and I are both pretty headstrong, leader-type people.  We both have a plan for almost any and all activities we share.

Those plans are seldom ever the same!

We started arguing about ten minutes in to our first task.

"Honey, I thought you went to Lowe's to buy post-hole diggers.  It would have made this so much easier for you,"  said the concerned wife.

"No.  The shovel was cheaper."  Frugal husband's response.  "Where do you want these vines?"

"Well, I thought you'd want to move the trellis from here so we can waterproof it first.  And won't that make it easier to plant the vines?"  Testy wife.

"Fine.  Just tell me what you want them and I'll do it."  Frustrated husband.

"Why are you putting the vine a foot away from the trellis, honey?  We want it to grow on the trellis, right?"  Snippy wife.

"Show me where you think the vine should go!"  Aggravated husband.

Frank and I managed to argue about each of the tasks I listed above.

 "Now, Sheri!  Surely you didn't argue over each and every one of the jobs!"

Yes, I'm here to confess to you, dear reader that we managed to find something we disagreed about with each one of the many yard-esque responsibilities needing completion.

Just how deeply do you place plants being re-potted?

Do you begin painting at the top inside or top outside of a trellis?

Is that plant already dead or simply dormant from lack of attention?

Is it really necessary to trim crepe myrtles completely to the branch?

Should one wash off the driveway or sweep the driveway?

And oh, my word!  The discussion we had about whether or not to give the uncooperative tree another year!  I'll leave that for your imagination.

But when I drug my hot, nasty self inside to get a shower, I remembered another gardening project.  And that memory melted all the frustration.

I remembered how my prized flower garden was lost in a freeze six years ago.  The loss was felt keenly because it happened the month after my mom passed away.

Then two weeks later, I made a trip to Pensacola for the funeral of a beloved friend.  My grief quotient was nearing its limit.

But when I got home, I discovered that the man who always seems to have a plan different from mine, also knows what speaks to my heart.

While I was away, he enlisted the help of a friend at church.  He spent far too much money and time.  But when I stepped out the back door, I discovered a brand new flower garden......complete with a lovely little fountain and garden chimes.

Bright colors and joyful sounds breathed hope back into my weary soul.  And I felt loved.

Isn't it wonderful when joyful memories overtake mundane life?  I think I'll choose to use the paintbrush of grace to cover the bickering of today.  Experience has taught me that marriages grow better that way.

Yep, Frank and I have spent most of our day working in the yard.  And we have good things to show for it.