Saturday, March 27, 2010

When God Puts Us Where We Need to Be

Once again, I see how God puts me where he wants me to be. My constant prayer is to be less self/family-centered and reach out more to others, and he is answering that prayer.

As I was heading for home yesterday, I suddenly had the idea of stopping by Macy’s to buy some Clinique and get their bonus gift. I argued with myself (I thought—maybe it was God I was arguing with) that I really didn’t need it, but I exited and drove into the parking lot next to downtown Macy’s.

While I was congratulating myself on the excellent skill I showed by backing into the parking space, a young woman, beautiful but teary, approached me. She said, “I am so sorry to bother you, but you remind me of my aunt and I’m in a terrible fix. I’ve lost my wallet and need $4 to get out of the parking garage. Believe me, I wouldn’t humiliate myself for $4, but I really need to get my car.”

I said, “Let me see what I have. I know I have a fifty, but I can’t give you that.” I pulled out a dollar bill and gave it to her. “But I’m going into Macy’s to get one thing. If you want to go with me, I’ll get change and give you the other three.”

She reiterated her anxiety and embarrassment and said she was a student at Xavier but readily agreed and we started toward the store. As we crossed the street, I said, “So what was in your wallet? Driver’s license? Credit cards?”

She laughed. “Only one credit card. I’m a student—remember? My driver’s license and some money, but just about $35.” We talked about her last hour of retracing her steps.

At the door to Macy’s, she stopped and said she would wait outside. I said, “Well, if you’re gone when I come back, I’ll know you got the money from someone else.” It occurred to me that if this was a scam, she might not be allowed in Macy’s.

The clerk was accommodating but slow. Even though I wanted to stop to look at some sale items, I hurried back outside. When I didn’t see her, I assumed she’d gotten her money elsewhere. But then there she was, talking on her cell phone. As I approached her eyes lit up and she said, “Oh, you came back!” Then into the phone, “She did come back. She looks just like Aunt Bo. I’ll talk to you later.”

I pressed four more dollars into her hand, hugged her, and went home. I don’t know if her story was true or not; I only know that I went out of my way to give five dollars to Jesus yesterday, and I’m glad I did.

And this morning I cut my walk short (29 degrees is nippy) and felt like a wimp, but there was a reason. Two blocks from our street, I saw Cindy who lives across the street from us. She was picking up her son after an overnight, and we chatted for a moment. Then, casually, she said, “Did you know I have cancer? They found it about six months ago.”

I was shocked. We never see each other much in the winter, but surely I should have known about this. I pray for her nearly every day since she’s a single mom of four. But here was my neighbor and friend, and I’d unknowingly neglected her for months. We talked about her chemo, and she kept cutting her eyes over to the 8-year-old with her so I understood that she was cleaning up the experience considerably.
So again God put me where I needed to be. Now how will I respond? Responding to a need for four dollars was easier, but this is more important. I will pray for her healing, but I want to do more. With God’s help, I will.

When has God put you where you needed to be? And how did you respond?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Miss Eurie

In our Sunday class we discussed childhood mentors within the church and how they had impacted our lives. I immediately thought of Miss Eurie, who loved me and encouraged me throughout my growing-up years. (We pronounced her name “you-REE,” and in the South respect demands "Miss" before any woman's name, married or not.)

I don’t recall how we became so close, but part of it was that she and her husband Elmer were always there. Three services a week, dinners, VBS—whatever was going on, there they were. Since my family was on the same routine and our church on Sunday morning was only about a hundred people, we were together a lot.

Another reason was that she loved to laugh. Children are drawn to people who enjoy life, and Miss Eurie did. They had a tiny, modest home and very little cash, but they were rich in friends, family, and faith. She made witty comments and could see humor in many situations where other adults would frown.

And she talked to me. She didn’t grill me with the typical “How’s school?” type questions. Her questions and comments were real. They dealt with my family, my friends, my activities, my interests in 4-H and academics and earning money in her brother’s strawberry patch. She shared her own life interests with me.

Short, stocky, with a frizzy perm and wire-rimmed glasses, she was nothing like the women I admired in magazines. But her bright brown eyes lit up when I came near, and her sturdy arms were quick to give me a tight hug.

She had no deep spiritual philosophies on which to expound; she did not talk about her faith at all. She just loved me for me and let me know it again and again. Even now I get a warm, joyous feeling when I remember Miss Eurie.

At our church, I’ve followed the growth of Emma and Kayla from when they were newborns, just as Miss Eurie did me. Now that I’ve analyzed what I loved so about Miss Eurie, I have a better idea of how I can be Miss Eurie to Emma and Kayla. I’ll start right now while they are still in elementary school, laughing with them and hugging them and talking with them whenever I can.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day Trip Recommendation

This week is Steve’s official spring break, but due to other responsibilities, we took Thursday/Friday for a little getaway trip and called that his Spring Break. It was lots of fun and gave us a chance to relax in a way that we cannot do at home.

We drove to Madison, Indiana, where we checked in at the Clifty Falls Inn at Clifty Falls State Park. We stopped by at noon to check on our reservations and they let us check in immediately. They even said that since they are running a spring internet special that they’d refund us $25! Now that doesn’t often happen, so we were impressed right away.

We had lunch in Madison at The Downtowner, where they serve delicious sandwiches and salads. The food was tasty and the service efficient. Then we visited some of the shops there. We were especially impressed with the The Birdhouse, an extensive bird and garden store, on Main Street. Their inventory is extensive and beautifully uncluttered and well-organized, making for easy shopping. We’re always on the lookout for good hummingbird feeders and books, and they had a good supply of both.

I was delighted to find The Little People’s Boutique, also on Main Street. They carry both classic and novelty children’s clothes, preemie to size 14, and each outfit seemed more adorable than the last. It was great to see babyish clothes for babies—not small versions of adult clothes. At the other extreme, they had matching slickers, umbrellas, and boots that would be a big hit with any child.

The state park is beautiful with extensive trails, some quite rugged, but pretty well-maintained. We drove around Thursday afternoon and hiked Friday morning. Without leaves on the trees, everything is so clearly visible that it was very interesting.

Our dinner was at Bistro One, an odd name for a restaurant with a Greek chef, but we’d talked to him that afternoon and his promise of the “best food in town” was verified by the owner of the bird store, though, tactfully, he did also mention Franco’s and the Red Pepper. We started with Saganagy, a hard Greek cheese that was brought to us in flames and was delicious on their warm rolls.

Our entrees, shrimp and grits for me and pork tenderloin medallions for Steve, were outstanding. The price included a salad and a skillet of pasta and vegetables—carrots, potatoes, and broccoli, a good value.

Nick, the chef, came out to see if we liked our food, and mentioned a nearby gentleman who eats there a lot. The man said he’s from Frankfort, but was working in Madison for a few weeks. Since Bistro One is only open Wed-Sat, he eats there every Wednesday and Thursday night. His highest recommendation was for the soups that we could have had instead of salad. He raved about every kind he’d tried and was looking forward to bringing his family to Madison some weekend just so they could eat at Bistro One.

On his recommendation, we ended with tiramisu, and it was just right—a light, tasty slice that met our standards.

The Inn served a good breakfast menu on Friday morning, and we especially enjoyed the “fried biscuits” that we’ve always loved in Nashville, Indiana. If possible, these were even better than we remembered.

When we left Madison, we took Indiana 56 along the river to Markland Dam and crossed back into Kentucky there. We had made the most of our “Spring Break” and came home refreshed. If you’re in the Cincinnati area, I’d really recommend a day trip or more to Madison. It’s charming and has fabulous food,and it's only about an hour and a half from Cincinnati.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sharing a Birthday with Mr. Jess

Mr. Jess and I didn't have much in common. We lived in the same small Tennessee community, his farm and ours equally poor. I was a teenage girl and he was in his seventies; I was quick and agile and he was feeble and slow. I talked fast and heard everything; he talked slowly and had trouble hearing anything. But we shared a birthday.

So every year, during the week of our birthday, Mother would have Mr. Jess and his wife Miss Etheline for a birthday dinner at our house. Since that was in the days when banks gave gifts for opening or adding to a savings account, Mr. Jess had a great way of getting me a gift. He'd deposit some money and be given a place setting of silver plate. I wasn't too impressed, but coming from a couple who had always eaten with mismatched, lightweight flatware, I should have been.

I was never thrilled at the prospect, but endured it because my parents said I should. "You mean a lot to Mr. Jess," Mother would say. "This is the least you can do to please an old man."

We'd started this tradition when I was ten, and it ended when I was 16 and had just received my sixth place setting of Oneida silver plate. Little Mr. Jess looked at me across the table and said, "You remember me when you use this silverware. You'll be feeding your family and I'll be out under a tree somewhere, dust returning to dust, as they say. And you can think of me, and think, 'I sure do remember when Mr. Jess gave me this silverware.'"

And he's right--I do. When we have several people for dinner and I turn to the six settings of silver plate to finish the table, I think of Mr. Jess and his prophecy. He's been dead well over 40 years now, but every time I use that silver, I do think of him; I remember his kindness to a disinterested teenager who was nudged by her parents into doing the right thing "to please an old man."

And then I'm prompted to wonder about myself: When I've been dead 40 years, will there be anything anyone remembers about me, or what I did, or what I said? What am I doing that will make a difference to someone in 40 years?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

It's About Time!

“It’s about time!” Have you ever said this to someone who had done something good? I’ve been guilty myself of saying it. What a negative remark about something positive! It occurs to me that if we said, “That’s terrific! I’m so glad you did that” each time we want to say, “It’s about time!” our relationships would flow much more smoothly.

Appreciation is the key to strengthening relationships. “But that’s his job!” you might say, when your husband takes out the garbage or your boss has a focused agenda and a well-run meeting. Yes, it is, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be appreciative for it.

Selfishness, it seems to me, is the root of all sin and misery in this life. Appreciation takes the spotlight off me and puts it on the other person in a positive way. I can feel good about reframing the thought, and the other person feels good about what he or she has done and about my reaction to it.

Everything from political corruption to divorce seems rooted in selfishness. I see it in myself whenever I take time for self-analysis related to a problem I’m dealing with. I notice it particularly in marriages—mine and others.

I have a lengthening list of married couples I pray for. About six years ago, I began praying that all of us would be unselfish and thoughtful and appreciative of each other. Praying this daily is a good reminder to me to show those characteristics to my own husband Steve. But such prayers, as it turned out, have their rewards to me personally.

The reason I know it was around six years ago is a gift Steve gave me a few months after I started praying that we’d all be more thoughtful and appreciative. Usually birthday gifts from him are lovely but are what he likes. This time he sent me on a trip with my two favorite cousins. How selfless of him! It was a marvelous present.

Months later, I realized that that trip was an answer to the prayer I’d been praying for all those couples, including us. He couldn’t have been more unselfish and thoughtful than with that particular gift.

People might at first be startled at your positive comments. “Thanks for emptying the dishwasher” or “thanks for giving the kids their baths” or “thanks for doing a good job on that project” might be in that “it’s about time you …” category, but will be accepted as long as the tone is genuine. (Remember—sarcasm negates the effort!)

Just thinking about the ten commandments, isn’t selfishness the root of each “Thou shalt not”? Murder, steal, commit adultery, covet. Even not honoring our parents is rooted in selfishness.

Obviously physical problems cause great suffering and are not connected to selfishness or unselfishness, though the way we react to them can be. If you can think of other miserable situations that are not the result of selfishness, do comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.