Snowball

Kitten4
My mother called me “mere-hearted, too sensitive.”  And she was right… I was “mere-hearted” when I was six. I am still and will, I am certain, be “mere-hearted” until I die.  This was never so true as many years ago, when a litter of kittens was born under the porch steps on my grandmother’s farm.  One of them had an obvious, deformity in her back legs and so I held true to my mere-hearted moniker.  I immediately took to the white kitten and she to me.  I called her “Snowball” and became her nursemaid.  I was too young to understand my older cousin when he snipped, “That cat has a snowball’s chance in …” My aunt elbowed him in the ribs before he could finish.

I wrapped Snowball in soft dish towels and fed her from a bottle.  Her mother had rejected her.  She was the runt of the litter and couldn’t fight her way through the other five kittens to nurse.  I, however believed Snowball could be healed and I was vigilant.  I would love her and God would heal her.  I stroked her back.  I smoothed her fur.  She slept in my lap for most of the two weeks I was on the farm but to my bitter disappointment, she wasn’t getting better.  She could not stand, let alone run or climb like her brothers and sisters.

When I said my prayers at night, I prayed with all the fervor a six year old girl could muster, “Jesus, please make Snowball all better!  PLEASE! Amen! ”Kitten3

When it came time for us to go home, I said a tearful good-bye to Snowball.  I was assured when I came back to the farm at Christmas, all would be well.  I prayed every night for her.

Fast forward to December.  After five months of waiting and five agonizing hours of “are we there yet?” my dad drove our station wagon over the cattle guard and up to his mother’s house.   I could hardly wait to free myself from the back seat and find Snowball.  I spotted her lounging lazily on the back porch.  When I called her, she ran to me.  Yes, she ran to me.

My kitten, now a mischievous “teenager” and I had a wonderful time over the next few days, chasing fallen leaves and climbing trees.  She followed my brother and me to the pond.  He fished and teased us with worms and baited hooks but Snowball sat calmly beside me while I made a pretend picnic for her and my dolls.  Snowball wasn’t terribly thrilled about wearing a fancy hat but she did drink water from a tiny teacup.Kitten2

Dear Reader please stop shaking your head.  Within a few months, my parents came clean and told me the truth that Snowball had not survived, that my grandparents had found another, close as they could get, white kitten to replace her and had mercifully let me believe Snowball had been healed.  Many a goldfish has assumed the identity of another to spare a grieving little boy or girl.  It’s what grownups do.

After Christmas and much pleading, we took “Snowball” home to our house.  She was my constant companion over the next ten years.  I loved her so much.  She watched from her pillow perch as my bedroom walls morphed from teddy bears and rainbows to teen heart throbs and memory boards.  She bore witness to all the charms of childhood, all the mayhem of middle school and all the soap opera drama of sophomore year.  She was there for slumber parties and sleepovers.  Birthdays and bad dreams.  She was there for long phone calls and forgotten homework.  But one sad morning Snowball simply did not wake and we buried her in the field next to our house.

I wouldn’t trade one moment of the years I spent with Snowball, the original or the copy.

But it got me thinking.   I know that God is not a slight of hands magician.  He does not trick us.  He does not lie; he cannot. But isn’t it possible that sometimes he gives us a blessing better than the one we thought we had?  The one we thought we wanted? The one we lost? The one we chose to let go?

Maybe the first love, who chose another and broke your heart, helped you know true love when he finally did come knocking.

Maybe the tiny miracle, the one that grew inside you and was born too soon, showed you just how precious all life is no matter how small.

Maybe the house that was denied you made you wait for the one that really was perfect, a home for  a lifetime.

Maybe the marriage that broke apart bore beautiful children and made enough memories to fill any void.

Maybe the job you lost led to another one in a whole different direction.

We can never know what God has in store for us.  We may think we see it and want it with all our might.  We may nurse it and pray for it and try desperately to keep it alive. It may, however, be the right thing for a season, only a season.  God may have bigger plans, grander schemes.  What he gives us instead is sure to be beyond our greatest imaginings.

 

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or imagine.” Ephesians 3:20        

           

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redhead moor

Fairy Tales and Heroes

Damsel in distress

He will not slay dragons for you

 

Highland queen

He will not draw his sword for you

 

Fair maiden

He will not scale the walls for you

 

Poor plain poet

He will not cross the moor for you

 

Indian princess

He will not sail oceans for you

 

Tribal daughter

He will not fight lions for you

 

He lives only in the world of

Once upon a time

 

Write your own story sweet girl

Be your own hero

 

 

Arlene Marie

 March 2016

Sadness

 

 

sadness

 

 

It is the milky sweetness in a china cup

Burning my lips and tongue

The tick tock in the midnight hour

Wasting away the darkness

The crickets on my windowsill

Disturbing my thoughts

 

The giggles in the back row church pew

Distracting

The book I can’t put down

Enticing

The lover I won’t leave

Smothering

The beast in my dreams

Terrifying

The wave that claims the shore

Unrelenting

 

Sadness born deep within my soul

Rising

Climbing

Overpowering

 

My eyes fill with salty pools

My cries fall on deaf ears

My arms embrace the air

Make it stop!

 

 

Arlene Marie

 March 2016

Sunny

sunflower   I will call her Sunny.  If she were a flower, she would have been a sunflower.  Tall and thin like the stem.  Long willowy arms like leaves outstretched.  Her face broad like the brown and gold petals of flower itself.  Her smile bright and beaming in the rays of a hot African sun.

 

We poured one by one out of the vehicle caravan into the heat. The red dust curled around our feet as we stretched and straightened.  We all took a preemptive swig from our water bottles and made our way through the crowd.  It had been a long, bumpy ride along little more than cow paths in corn fields all morning. We had survived sloshy bogs that almost swallowed the trailer and one scary hour or two where we were literally quite lost miles from nowhere in the bush.  Young men from the village finally arrived on bicycle to lead us in.  In my mind, where I romanticize everything, it was like a 1940’s adventure movie, native scouts saving the day.

The celebration that greeted us in the village took us all by surprise.   Singing, dancing and drums heralded our arrival.  The village had been told we were coming, bringing supplies and gifts for widows.  I think most of us expected gratitude but I don’t think we were ready for the sheer joy that ensued.

A woman in the tribal culture of this particular West African country has nowhere to turn if she is finds herself widowed.  She may be infirmed or too old to work in the fields.  She cannot own property and it is likely she has no skill other than being a wife and mother to sustain herself.  If she does not have an adult male in her family to care for her, her life is very difficult.  She is really quite destitute and she may be viewed as more a burden than anything else.

Widow1

 

So today, we were bringing a tiny bit of relief with our widow sacks.  The day before, we had carefully selected and purchased in the town market certain personal items and necessities we believed would help.  Toiletries, soaps, spices, some food stuffs and a pair of rubber sandals were wrapped to two lengths of brightly colored cloths known as pagnes.  We also brought straw mats and enough grain for each woman to receive four heaping bowls full.  We were told the grain would last about three weeks.

There would be speeches and prayers and more speeches and more prayers.  Tribal culture is very ceremonial and our American concept of time has no real meaning for them.  We were told over and over again that Africa time only measures event to event.   There would be an opportunity to distribute the gifts later but for now, it was a party and we were the guests of honor.  We took our places on the benches provided under some shady trees and soaked it all in.

Men looked on from a distance guarded and intense.  Women danced and sang out songs of praise in their native tongue.  Children watched us with shy, cautious eyes.  We smiled and clapped along. This was a good day.

And that’s when I saw her.  Sunny was about nine years old.  Her movements were quick and jerky.  Her arms flailed about and her feet took awkward, uncertain steps.  Her eyes wide with wonder. She groaned but she didn’t really speak.  Her smile was bold but her expression was somehow… empty.

And she didn’t have a stitch of clothes on her body.

Each time she approached any one of us, she was ushered away by a woman who seemed to be apologizing.  Sunny did not go willingly or quietly.  Yet, she was pulled away again and again.  And each time, we protested assuring her escort that Sunny was just fine and not to worry.  But the woman did worry. And so each time, she gripped Sunny’s arm a little more firmly and led her away.

Eventually, Sunny kept away, skirting the outside of the crowd.  She was curious, so curious that she almost didn’t notice when Geoffrey, the missionary in residence, went to the vehicle, changed into another shirt and returned with the one he had been wearing.  He indicated that it was a gift and the village women set out to put the “shirt dress” on Sunny. Sunny

She did not like it… at first.  In fact, Sunny screamed and wriggled in such defiance we watched and didn’t watch with concern.  One would have thought she was in pain.  Perhaps she was.   Perhaps the material was uncomfortable on her hypersensitive skin.  Perhaps she felt too warm or too bound or too itchy.  But the village women persisted and though she tugged at the neckline like it was choking her, soon Sunny began to smile.  Everyone nodded in approval and her smile became bigger.

I was playing patty cake with a couple of other children who were sitting on my lap and close to me on the bench when I felt a small rough hand on my arm.  I turned to look and it was Sunny.  She was sitting in the dirt and she was resting her chin on my knee.

“Oh.  Hello there,” I said and smiled.  She smiled back. She reached up and touched my cheek and then my hair.  She took her finger and poked it into my eye.

I repositioned the toddler on my lap and motioned for Sunny to join us in our game.  She did.  For a short time, I am not sure how long, Sunny sat still and close and played patty cake with other children and a woman whose hair, skin, eyes and words surely puzzled her.

She reached for the beaded bracelet on my wrist and pulled.  It stretched and she pulled harder.  Fearing it would break but wanting her to have it, I pulled my arm away to unfasten it.  The woman, who I imagined was her mother, must have thought Sunny had done something wrong and reached for her.   Tears welled up in Sunny’s eyes and she screamed!  She kicked her legs and flailed her arms all the while she was carried away.

My heart ached.  It was just a silly bracelet.

But I got to thinking.  Our mission that day was to bring the gospel of Christ to those who hadn’t heard.  We were to be the hands and feet of Jesus bringing gifts to widows and orphans.  We were to love as he had commanded.  I think we did all that that day.

I don’t know if there were any salvation prayers said.  I am certain there weren’t any baptisms.    There was a collective prayer that seeds were planted and those seeds would one day grow into the faith of many believers.

But what about Sunny?   Had she heard?  If she heard, had she understood?

Had she received the gifts we brought, literal and figurative?  Did she know who they came from and the love they represented?  Had a seed been planted in her sunflower heart?

Do special children, children like Sunny whose minds may not be capable of the comprehension required to make an informed decision for Christ get the “golden ticket” to Heaven.

Of course, they do!   I believe she gets a move to the front of the line, no waiting ticket.  I believe that because I know our God is a loving God.  We are all saved by grace not by works.

“And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad – they will enter the land.  I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.” Deuteronomy 1:39

God loved Sunny when she breathed her first breath.  He has loved her every breath since and he will love her when she breaths her last.

If Sunny didn’t make a decision for Christ that day, it is okay because she didn’t need to.  Christ decided for her.  In Glory, I am certain she will have heard and she will have known and she will have said yes.

And her name will no longer be Naawin Yin Ma which means “It is as if God has forgotten.”  Her name won’t even be Sunny.  It will be Chosen.

Tarantulas

The people who know about these things say to Tarantulause caution when handling a tarantula.

Strangely, the word of caution is for the wellbeing of the tarantula, not the holder.  Sources say that a fall even from a few feet can cause the spider’s abdomen to burst.  And that if a tarantula’s tummy is ruptured, he will likely die within a couple of hours.

My first thought, who in their right mind handles a tarantula?  My second thought, how do they know?   My third thought … ewwwwwww!

Still, I do find it interesting that something that strikes fear into the hearts of most sane people, has such vulnerability.  I am told a tarantula’s venom is not deadly but it will definitely make you sick with fever and nausea.  To protect itself against danger, a tarantula “kicks” hairs he scrapes from his own belly at a potential predator.  These hairs may produce swelling and a painful rash on a perceived threat’s skin.   If the tarantula does bite, the result may be throbbing and aching at the site but the discomfort will likely subside in a few hours.

People, this is not a kitten or a puppy.  It’s not even a hamster.  It’s dangerous.

I am going to err on the side of caution here and say, “Don’t do it!”

There’s not enough money in the world…   Okay, well I might be persuaded to hold a tarantula in my bare hands for a cool million dollars.

I digress.  I guess everybody has a soft spot (pun intended) no matter how mean or scary they look on the outside.  Even an oversized spider with a face only a mother could love must be handled with care by humans.

Still, humans don’t always handle other humans with care, do they?  Invariably, those with soft spots on our bellies endure numerous ruptures of our tender spirits over time.   Eventually, the life is sucked out of us.

Those doing the handling may not even be aware of the damage.  The injured often crawl away and quietly succumb to their injuries.  No one is the wiser.

Unkind words. Clenched fists.  Raised hands.

Used.

Abused.

Ignored.

Unappreciated.

Unnoticed.

Belly flops, ALL.

So I got to thinking, about the fact that the only one with a pair of hands strong enough, wise enough, loving enough to hold us and keep us safe is God.

He made us, every inch of us.  He knows us inside and out.  He loves us, all of us with two legs or eight.  Spikey fur or smooth skin.  Beauty or beast.  Vulnerable or not.

He holds us in the palm of his nail-scarred hands and He’s careful to guard that soft-underbelly.  He protects it with His life.  He gave His life for it.

So the next time you feel your soft underbelly is exposed, simply rest.  Rest in His capable hands and know that all is well.  He won’t let you fall.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

 

Nostalgia

A young woman recently reminded her friends on social media that years ago here in San Antonio, Texas we used to call Frost Bank to get the time and temperature.  That Kitchen phonebefore this information was at our fingertips 24/7 on our cell phones.

It was probably one of the first times I remember my mom letting me use the house phone to make a call.  You remember what a house phone is don’t you?  It was that rectangular thing in the kitchen mounted on the wall. It had buttons with numbers and a long stretchy, curly cord so that you could sit on the floor in the hallway for privacy.

210-226-3232 Frost Bank Time set us all straight on the clock and weather.   This was vital to keeping synchronized time on our wind up watches and preventing hair frizzies when we got caught in the rain without an umbrella.  And it was just plain fun.

The thing is, until my friend mentioned this bit of nostalgia, I had forgotten.

It’s true, the world must move forward.  Things change.  What’s old is new.  Some things must go by the wayside with time, but I am the girl who prefers books to electronic readers.  Analog to digital.  Trains to planes.  Theatres to Netflix.  Wrapping paper to gift bags. Trails to treadmills.  I want a gift at Christmas, not a gift card.  I am elated to get a handwritten letter in the mail.  I think every kid should learn cursive writing if only to sign his name.  And everybody should bake at leas
t one cake in their lifetime that is not from a mix.  How many of you has sifted flour?

There are few things more reassuring than a lovingly and meticulously assembled scrapbook or a memory laden stack of black and white family photos.  It beats the heck out of 4,000 pictures on your phone or in a cloud somewhere that you will never see again.

Web searches have made us lazy. Auto correct has created a generation of bad spellers. We have smart phones, smart TVs, smart ovens and even smart dryers.  We don’t need to pay attention because we can rewind or start over.  If we are bored, we fast forward.  We don’t have to get up, we have remotes. All physical activity can be tracked, analyzed and recorded by a magical band on our wrist.

I am, however, thankful for my car’s global positioning system.  Folded road maps are just plain evil.  Calculators are good.  Printers and copy machines are good.  Does anyone remember carbon paper and mimeograph ink?  Debit cards reign supreme over checks. Direct deposit is a lifesaver.

The most popular stocking stuffers last Christmas were those pricey but intricately drawn adult coloring books.  Families all over America actually sat down across from one another, at a table, with a box of crayons and talked while they colored and sipped on hot chocolate.  I have just discovered that there is an IPad version of these coloring books.

Why?  Seriously, why?

I guess my point is that time marches on, change is constant and in most cases, that is a good thing.   The cautionary tale, however, is to not forget what was.  There may still be some worth in it if only to make you smile.

I smiled today when I remembered the automated voice at the end of the phone of my childhood telling me it was 12:47 p.m. and that it would be a sunny and warm 87 degrees all afternoon.

 

 

Shoes

Toms shoes

The Gospel of Mark tells the story of a man healed by Jesus who had been set upon by a legion of demons.  The man had suffered an agonizing existence.  He lived naked and among the dead.  Given to fits and violent tantrums, he could not be restrained, even with chains.  When the man heard that the Lord was coming, he ran to meet him and begged for help.  

 Jesus commanded the demons to leave and cast them into herd of pigs nearby who in turn, raced to the edge of a steep cliff and fell to their deaths.   When the people of the village came to see what had happened, the man was sitting fully clothed and in his right mind.  Everyone was amazed.

 The healed man was so grateful, he immediately pleaded with the Lord to let him leave his home and join Jesus and the disciples in their travels.   But Jesus gently refused him, saying “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

 

A few days ago, I was making room in my garage for more stuff.  I reached up to retrieve my travel backpack stored on the top shelf.  There was something in it, and I brought it down to see what.

“Oh, there they are! I was wondering where they went!”  I said to no one but my cat, who was “helping” me. I smiled.  And yes, there they were, wrapped in a cloth, the shoes I wore all over the bush, villages and towns of Burkina Faso, Africa last summer. The soles were still caked with the rich red clay from a land more than four thousand miles and two time zones away.

Once a cute and might I say, quite expensive pair of canvas slip-on shoes, they had lost their shape and most of their color.  I had worn them every day I was in Africa, sloshing around in the mud.  It was the rainy season in Burkina, a time of year no one complains about because eleven months of blistering heat and drought will surely follow.

And I had worn the shoes home and tucked them away in my backpack.

I wondered why.   Why hadn’t I left them behind?  I guessed I just wasn’t ready to let go.  Africa left a mark on my heart.  A deep appreciation and a fondness for the lessons she taught me will remain  for the rest of my life.

They say mission trips change you.  I can safely say they, whoever they are, speak truth.  We in the mechanized, technology crazed, excess driven Western world can never know or understand Africa until we see her with our own eyes.

For fourteen days I was moved by the desperate need all around me; intrigued by the simplicity of lives lived; honored by the hospitality and captivated by the faces of the children in Burkina, the fourth poorest nation in the world.  I knew I would see my own world much differently from now on.

I wanted to stay.  I wanted to do whatever I could to help.  I wanted to share the gospel.  I wanted to serve. I wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

But I had to go home.

So, I thought about the man who had been healed by the Lord, freed from the evil that held him and the chains that bound him.   I thought about the charge that Jesus had given him.  Was I really much different from the man?  Evil had once held me; chains had bound me.  I had been healed.  Jesus had shown me grace, mercy and love.

“Go to your home.  Tell them about the mercy I have shown you,” Jesus said.

It was clear I had already brought home some of Africa on soles of my shoes. Over massive seas and sprawling continents, I had carried a tangible piece of her beauty with every step.

Perhaps, my unexpected find that day in my garage was a reminder to share the stories.  We use words like “amazing” and “life-changing” when asked about mission trips.  That’s just not enough.  I think Jesus wants us to tell stories about the grace and mercy he has shown us.

So what stories shall I tell?

The story of the little girl carrying a baby on her back, picking up loose gravel along the road?  She will sell whatever she finds at market.

The  elderly widows who stoop to pick up dropped kernels of gifted corn?  No one cares for them.  They survive any way they can.  Nothing must be wasted, not even a kernel of corn.

The story of a man whose smile nearly covers his broad face and how he regularly welcomes visitors into his home, a clay hut deep in the bush?  How he does so with the hospitality and grace of a Southern gentleman, serving up glass after glass of sweet tea brewed over an open fire?

The story of a woman who after long hours of labor in a bush clinic and the subsequent birth of twin girls, called us to her bedside, and smiled entreating us, strangers, to name her newborns?

The story of an entire village who came out to greet us with song and dance gloriously happy and oh so thankful for the wells that would bring clean water to their village for the first time in five years?  No more brown, diseased filled water.  No more long treks to gather water from a neighboring village.

The story of orphans with bare feet, torn clothes and runny noses waiting patiently in line for a meal?  And how when they are served  a mound of plain rice on a large metal platter, they sit on the ground filling their bellies with dirty handfuls of whatever they can grab?  It would be their only meal of the day.

All these stories and more need to be told.

So come along with me as I shake the dust from my shoes…