Thirteen Chinese Bibles

th-2During the mid 80s, which seems a millennium ago, I spent a year teaching English at a university in Shanghai, China. Three years prior to my arrival, the Chinese government had surprisingly softened their stance against freedom of religion, and had made public statements to that effect. However, as foreign teachers, we still had to be careful and sensitive to the issue and were certainly not allowed to do any proselytizing. We were told we could share any religious beliefs pertaining to western culture and traditions in our classes, and that we could answer any questions relating to religious matters if the inquiries were initiated by the student.

I was on a team with three other Christian teachers, so of course we enjoyed sharing our faith and our cultural traditions during Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. One memorable experience I had was setting up a little cardboard nativity set and sharing the Christmas story. Afterwards, the students gathered around to get a closer look. They were just fascinated with the story, most of whom had never heard it before. I was amazed as they stood with reverent awe and pointed out the various characters and quietly reviewed their names.

One student began reciting, “These are the wise men, these are the angels, this is Mary and this is Joseph, Jesus’ father.” Another student immediately spoke up and corrected him, “You mean Jesus’ step-father!” I was pleased to see how they had absorbed the key elements of the story, and could sense a real hunger for God, but also a fear and hesitancy to even broach the subject. Even though there had been some significant relaxation on religious matters from the government, it was still difficult to purchase a Bible anywhere, and when you did, your name was registered, which caused some angst and hesitation.

During our holiday break for the Chinese New Year, my colleague Helen and I decidth-1ed to take a trip to Hong Kong. At that time, Hong Kong was still under British rule, so it was easy to find Christian bookstores and purchase Bibles. Both of us decided to purchase as many Chinese Bibles as we could possibly stash away in our suitcases. I purchased thirteen Bibles, and Helen about that many. We never had any fear about being caught, as we didn’t feel like we were doing anything illegal. We had never been told we couldn’t bring Bibles into the country.

However, when it was time to re-enter China, we had to go through baggage inspection, which was no surprise to us, but we still weren’t the least bit apprehensive – for some reason. At the train station we waited in a long line for baggage inspection, chatting away with each other and never did notice any other Americans in line ahead of us. The next thing we knew we were waiting behind two tall young men, who appeared to be American. I remember being surprised, because in our long wait, we had not even noticed them. (When you’re in a foreign country, Americans tend to quickly identify each other and strike up a conversation.) Their suitcases were being inspected rather thoroughly, and everything was being dragged out. The two began laughing, when one of them turned to the other and blurted out, “They must think we’re trying to smuggle in Bibles!” This was followed by more snickers and laughter. The guard/inspectors quickly replaced everything into the suitcases and waved them on. When Helen and I walked up they rolled their eyes at us, and waved us on as well, never inspecting our luggage. It was obvious they thought we were traveling with the two American men.

Upon arriving back in Shanghai, I carefully stored the Bibles in the back of my closet. Throughout the remainder of the year, I had exactly thirteen students come to me privately, asking for a Bible! I was so grateful that I was able to quietly honor their request. I’ve often wondered about them. Did they read their Bibles? Were their lives transformed? Did they share their Bibles with family and friends? One student did come to me later and ask, “What does ‘Emmanuel’ mean? I was happy to tell him that it meant ‘God is with us.’ Even though I lost contact with these students over the years, I know that God is still with them.

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The latest news out of China, in regard to religious freedom, is not good. Christians are suffering renewed and intense persecution, churches are being shut down, and Bibles are now being confiscated. Once again, the government is tightening their grip. It would be wonderful to know where those thirteen Bibles are right now. I am forever grateful Helen and I were able to get them into China when we did…and that God provided His protection and covering for us! I know the Word of God is powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and has the ability to tear down barriers and cut into the darkest corners of the world and spread Light.

A Treasured Photo

IMG_3255One of the most memorable experiences of my life was the year I spent teaching English at a university in Shanghai, China. Some of the Chinese, such as my students, became dear friends over the course of the year I was there. Others, total strangers, briefly crossed my path, but I was fortunate enough to capture their beautiful faces on my camera, and they now hang in the art gallery of my mind.

One photo was such a treasure, that I made a charcoal drawing of this beautiful face, and it has hung on the walls of my office for years, with the original photo tucked in the corner. For the Chinese New Year break, (back in the day), my friend and colleague, Helen, and I made plans for a trip to Hong Kong. On one of our stops, rather late at night and still quite a distance from Hong Kong, we stopped at a little corner dive for a bowl of noodles. We were pleasantly surprised when an elderly gentleman (with the look of a classic Chinese scholar) struck up a conversation with us in fluent English. More often than not, when we were approached by strangers, it was usually someone wanting to practice their English, and the subsequent experience became burdensome and tiring.

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With my friend Helen

However, this gentleman shared fascinating stories with us of his time in America when he worked on the railroads. It was such a pleasant visit, we totally lost track of time, and didn’t even notice anyone else around us. Realizing the lateness of the hour, Helen and I shared our farewells and gathered our belongings. As an afterthought, I grabbed my camera and asked the gentleman if I could take his picture. This made him happy and he broke out in a big, toothless smile. As luck would have it, I was completely out of film. (That was back in the day when you had to place film in your camera and wait to have it developed.)

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Guilin, in southeastern China

I apologized to the sweet man and expressed my disappointment. At that moment, a young lady walked up that had been a silent listener to our conversation. She introduced herself and told us she was from France. She, too, spoke fluent English. She very kindly offered to take the man’s picture for me, and told me if I gave her an address, she would be happy to mail the photo to me. I was surprised by her kindness, and gave her an address but couldn’t help wondering if she would actually follow through on such a generous offer to a stranger.

Several days later, Helen and I were walking the streets of downtown Hong Kong (at that time, a city of 6 to 7 million people)  bustling with New Year’s fervor and throngs of people. We were on a mission to find a good “western” restaurant and were in the middle of a difficult decision: steak, hamburgers, pizza, or spaghetti? At this point, anything but rice and cabbage sounded pretty good. This would be followed up with a hunt for a good dessert: chocolate cake or maybe apple pie, if we were so lucky. (We were craving western food and wanted to take good advantage of our stay!)  We were enjoying the shopping and the hustle and bustle of the street when, out of nowhere, up walked our friend from France! Helen and I were so stunned, we were totally speechless. The young French lady didn’t seem the least bit surprised. “Oh, Hi!” she said, as she casually opened up her bag and pulled out a photograph. “I have your picture for you,” she shared, as she handed me the photo and walked off. We barely had the time to thank her and say good-bye before she disappeared into the crowd.

Helen and I looked at each other in total disbelief. The odds were about 7 million to 1 that we could possibly have run into our friend from France on this busy street in Hong Kong; how close we could have come to missing her had we walked into any number of untitled_46restaurants. What were the chances she would have had the film developed so quickly? That made the odds even greater. We had no idea she even had plans to visit Hong Kong.

The whole experience was so amazing to me that I decided to memorialize it with a charcoal drawing of my Chinese scholar.  Such encounters just make you pause, wonder in awe, and cherish the memory for the rest of your life.

My Debut as a Movie Star

China260In the early years of my teaching career, while I was still single, I kept on the move. I never liked staying at one place for too long, always on the hunt for a new challenge and a good adventure. I was fascinated with the country of China; it held an aura of mystery about it that I was eager to explore and discover. I signed up with the Educational Services Exchange with China organization which trained and sponsored English teachers, sending them out in teams across the nation of China. My four-person team was assigned to teach at Jiaotong University in Shanghai. Recently I decided to type up my journal and get it stored on my computer. Just for fun, I thought I would share an excerpt from my journal of one very unusual, and delightfully fun day…which in reality, they all were:

Last night, Zhang Zhong Xiang, director of Foreign Affairs at Jiaotong University called  to request a favor. A friend of his, a director with the Shanghai Film Studio, was in a panic. (Shanghai is considered the Hollywood of China.) They were scheduled to begin work on the movie “A Grain of Rice in the Boundless Sea,” and needed some foreigners who could pass as Europeans to appear in the movie. He didn’t know any foreigners and called Mr. Zhang hoping he could draft some teachers from Jiaotong. So, Mr. Zhang called me and asked if I could round up some teachers on the spur of the moment. He told me the movie was about the life of Liu Hai Shu, a famous Chinese painter. Mr. Liu is now quite elderly, in his 90’s, and they were wanting to film his life story while he was still living. As a young man, Mr. Liu studied art in Paris. This particular segment of the movie was to be a dance scene in Paris at a private party, and we were told they only needed us to appear in the background and we needn’t worry about any speaking parts. It was pretty short notice and I was only able to recruit six teachers, including myself. At 8:00 this morning the studio director came in a van to pick us up. Rollie was told to come dressed in a suit and tie. The five of us ladies were told we would be able to change into suitable clothing from the studio wardrobe.

As soon as we arrived at the studio, we were whisked off to the dressing room. We dressed and undressed a dozen times, but couldn’t find anything that fit! Being foreigners, we were considerably larger than the average Chinese and couldn’t fit into any of the clothes! I finally managed to squeeze into an ugly, old aqua-colored dress that was about three inches too short in the sleeves. The side seams in the dress were ripping out. I couldn’t find any dress shoes that fit, so I ended up having to wear my brown loafers. I was then told to go to the hairdresser to Margie_blog-001“have my hair repaired!” That was an interesting experience as my hairdresser had never styled curly hair before. I was feeling rather dowdy until I saw my “partner.” I was paired up with a tall, Swedish business man passing through town for a few days. He was spotted at his hotel, recruited, and whisked away to the studio! We were one motley looking crew and not feeling very Hollywood. Mr. Swede was forced to wear a suit about three sizes too small. They ended up taking the hem out of his pants, but they were still too short! We nearly split our sides with laughter when the Margie_blog-002others emerged from the dressing room. Kate was the only one fortunate enough to find a good-fitting dress. The others, out of desperation, were dressed in sweater-tops and make-shift skirts, made from dresses with the bodices rolled down!! Yikes! We were all walking around feeling rather sheepish, and grateful that we would only be appearing in background scenes, with no close ups – or so we were told.

Once everyone was dressed and had their “hair repaired,” the filming began with the dance scene. Swede and I were told to sit on the sofa, pretend we were sipping wine, and carry on an animated conversation. Fortunately, he spoke fluent English. The dance scene was shot several times and lasted about an hour. In the middle of this scene an elderly man walked into the studio and immediately filming came to a halt. Everyone gathered around to make introductions and Margie_blog-005shake hands. It was Liu Hai Shu, himself – the man whose life-story we were filming. He and his wife, and daughter stayed quite some time to watch the filming.

Once the dance scene was finished, the six of us got up and headed back to the dressing-rooms, relieved that it was all over. However, as I was walking down the hall someone grabbed me by the arm and said I had to come back, that I was in the next scene. Horrors!  It was a very minor scene, but nonetheless, I was front, and stage-center in my ugly dress and brown loafers!

I was asked to stand by the leading lady, keep my mouth moving and feign a conversation. (She spoke no English.) Then the leading man was to  walk up and ask her for a dance. They shot the scene five times before they were satisfied with the results. Not knowing what else to say in Chinese, I simply kept repeating the question “Ni de Margie_blog-003shemme mingzi?” –What is your name? The poor lady would politely nod and repeat her name for me. She did this about fifty times before it was all over. The worst part came in the second shooting. I had accidentally exposed some flesh in front of the camera, because of the growing rip in the side seam of my dress under the arm. The director yelled something, the cameras stopped, and in ran an assistant with needle and thread, whipped in a few stitches and the cameras continued rolling.

Soon after, we were told we would be taking a lunch break. All of the cast were to be transported by bus to a local restaurant a few miles down the road. By this time, we all just wanted to go home. We weren’t too excited about making an appearance in public in our dumpy clothes. To top it off, we only had a few minutes to eat a bowl of noodles before we were rushed back to the studio. By this time, we were all convinced the life of a movie star was none too glamorous.

Once back at the studio, we were told that we were needed for several more scenes, and were asked to stay.  It was too late to back out. We were committed! Norah was asked to sit at the grand piano and play some music, which she managed to feign by running her hands back and forth across the keys. Rollie was plugged into several scenes with the leading man. They really liked his appearance in his (own) nice suit (which fit), and with his white hair he looked rather dapper and sophisticated.Margie_blog-004

As the afternoon wore on without a break, we began to get progressively more tired and hungry. At six o’clock we were served a delicious box supper of rice and meat sauce with pork. We were famished and managed to gulp down our supper between scenes.

Once again I was escorted to center-stage, asked to sit in an easy-chair, and was told a Chinese gentleman would walk up to me, bow and feign an animated conversation, to which I was to respond. The cameras started to roll. A very sophisticated man walked up, bowed politely, and began reciting the only thing he knew in English, the ABCs! So, I responded with the only thing I could think of in Chinese at the moment – the numbers one to ten …”yi, er, san, si…” We tried to look as animated as possible, nodding our heads and smiling a lot, and desperately trying not to burst out laughing as we repeated this over and over. The director seemed pleased and only shot the scene one time. Later, Karen asked me, “You two seemed to really be enjoying your conversation! What were you talking about?”

Finally, at about 7:30 in the evening we were told filming of the “dance scene” had been completed. Relieved and more than ready to head home, the director took us all to a back room and presented us with gifts of appreciation. We were each gifted with an original piece of Chinese calligraphy done by one of Mr. Liu’s pupils. He is also rather elderly, but quite well known in China. The calligraphy is considered quite valuable and certainly a treasure, but the memories of our “Chinese movie debut” were even more so. We shared quite a few laughs on the way home, and all we could say was, “Only in China!” Only in China could we have ever snagged a bit part in a movie on the spur of the moment! Once our claim to fame was officially over (eight hours, which topped the proverbial fifteen minutes), we all agreed we probably needed to keep to our day jobs!

The movie is scheduled to be aired on T.V. in April.

(It would have been interesting to see the final result of our movie debut, but we all left the country before its scheduled showing.)

Hitting the Panic Button

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I’ve always been fascinated with sheep. The Scriptures identify us as the sheep of God’s pasture, and for good reason. They are dumb creatures and have a knack for following the wrong crowd and getting themselves into trouble. They are skittish, and spook and panic easily. No wonder they need a Shepherd to look after them. I remember walking a country lane and coming up on a flock of sheep grazing on a hillside. I stopped to admire them and then decided to capture them in a photo. As I raised my camera, they stopped their grazing, and froze in place, watching me intently. I could see the near panic in their eyes. They weren’t sure what this stranger was up to.  All it took was the almost imperceptible click of my camera, and they all turned tail in mass and stormed down the hill in a stampede. I was rather amused at the entire scene, until I reminded myself that I, too, was “one of the flock.”

I always rather prided myself in staying cool, calm and collected in stressful situations, especially in my teaching career when I was given my own little “flock” to watch over. However, I do remember a few occasions when I failed miserably. One of my teaching assignments found me in Guayaquil, Ecuador teaching second grade English in a private Spanish school. Every day brought some challenge or other where I had to rise to the occasion, whether it was killing a scorpion crawling out of a student’s book bag, or chasing an iguana out of my classroom with a broom. (This was rather fascinating as I hadn’t realized that iguanas ran upright on their hind legs!) These things didn’t phase me. I was just grateful I didn’t have the classroom located by a grassy field. The teacher in that room had to regularly corner and catch a visiting rat, while her students stayed perched on top of their desks. She would catch the rat by the tail, take it outside, swing it around her head a few times and then hurl it as far as she could back out into the field. The rat always managed to find its way back! I’m afraid if that had been my room, I would have been on top of my desk with the students!

The day did come when my bravado was tested. It only takes just one such experience to remind a person just how weak and cowardly they really are. It was ten o’clock in the morning and I was in the middle of teaching a lesson. I heard a distant rumble outside that soon grew louder. It caught our attention. Within seconds, all the louvered windows on the side of our room slammed shut and my little flock froze in their seats, their eyes fixed on their fearless teacher. I could see the panic setting in. Then the ground began to shake violently, and the students’ desks bounced around. This was immediately followed by a crack in a wall and falling plaster. Students on that side of the room were covered in dust. What followed next was purely shameful and weak on my part. I hit the panic button! I took out in a dead run and headed for the door at the back of the room. I made a beeline for the playground located just outside our classroom where I knew nothing could fall on me. I made it to the middle of the playground before I turned around and saw my entire class running after me screaming and crying. I honestly thought I was going to get tackled. They all huddled around me, clinging and not letting go. By then the earthquake was over. I looked past the playground and saw several Spanish teachers standing in the doorways of their classrooms laughing. I felt the shame fall on me in layers like the plaster dust in my classroom.

I calmed my little flock down and herded them back to our room. First order of business was to sincerely apologize for my cowardliness. I promised them I would never let that happen again; never again would I abandon them in the face of danger. We had been hit with a 5.2 earthquake which was considered moderate. Our classroom was the only one that experienced any damage at the school, but a few downtown buildings had collapsed, killing several individuals. Later, I stopped by to visit with the other teachers and asked them how they had responded to the interruption in our day. “We just bowed our heads and prayed,” they responded rather casually. Great! Why hadn’t I thought of that?

 I often look back on that day when I hit the panic button, just like that flock of sheep I stopped to admire on the hillside. It didn’t take much. From what I hear, courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to confront it and move forward. I experienced other earthquakes while I was in Ecuador, but never again at the school. Each time, I think I gained just a little more calmness in my response, and hopefully a little more courage. That day at school, however, I was reminded I’m just “one of the flock.”

My Taxi-driver Angels

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In my early years of teaching I decided I needed an adventure, so I took off and traveled to Guayaquil, Ecuador. I spent two years as a second grade English teacher at a private Spanish school. My goal of seeking adventure sometimes led me into some rather precarious predicaments. Guayaquil was listed by the UN as the world’s third unhealthiest city. They failed to mention it probably ranked as one of the world’s most dangerous, as well. Within the first week of my arrival I heard of two people in our church who had been murdered; one involved the robbery of a tape recorder and the other the robbery of a watch. I knew to be cautious and to always be on the lookout for stalkers. I grew an extra set of eyes in the back of my head. I could smell a piranha a mile away. I learned which parts of town to steer clear of, night or day. Being a single woman and a foreigner didn’t help matters. I was always running into total strangers who would walk up to me and warn me, “You shouldn’t be here. It’s very dangerous!” I also quickly learned (the hard way) never to travel with my colleague and best friend who was a blonde knock-out. However, none of this phased me. I had been born in Peru of missionary parents, and I was just thrilled to be back in South America, where every day was an adventure.

When our first school holiday break approached, my Ecuadorian friend, Yolanda invited me to spend a week with her, visiting family in the mountain town of Riobamba. Her six-year-old daughter and sister were also to make the trip with us. The trip by train was amazing, maneuvering miles of switchbacks through the mountains – a real feat of article-0-1EF43ABD00000578-337_964x712engineering. Yolanda’s family were sweet and hospitable, insisting I had to sleep in Grandma’s bed (the only bed the family had.) No amount of resistance on my part was given any consideration; Grandma was adamant! It was a delightful week, until the trip back, which turned into a nightmare. The train arrived at the station at 1 a.m. at which time we had to cross the river on a ferry. The river landing in Guayaquil was considered the most dangerous part of town, day or night. We were  beginning to feel a little uneasy.

We knew that taxis in Guayaquil quit their runs by nine in the evening, mainly due to safety concerns. We breathed a quick prayer, and sure enough, a taxi came breezing down the most dangerous back street in the city. It was a small taxi which could sit four people comfortably, including the driver. No sooner had Yolanda, daughter and sister climbed in than the driver took off, leaving me abandoned in a cloud of dust. Yolanda leaned out the window and yelled back “See you at church, Sunday.” If I don’t get myself killed first! How could they do this to me? I was in a state of shock. I looked back at the row of trees by the river and noticed several shadowy figures giving me the stare down. I knew I needed a divine intervention, and fast! God, please send me another taxi! Miraculously, I saw headlights coming around the corner. I waved down the driver, and opened the back door. “Please,senorita, get in front with me!” Keep calm. Keep calm. Don’t panic! I had heard way too many horror stories about single women and taxi drivers. Just get in the front and stay cool. It was going to be a long ride clear over to the other side of town “So what are you doing here in Guayaquil?” Thus began a pleasant conversation about my job as a teacher. Out of nowhere, God had blessed me with a friendly gentleman of a taxi driver who took me safely to my destination.

This experience had been bad enough, but the one to come was even worse. My apartment mate, Susan, had just arrived from the U.S. to be a teacher in our missionary school. She didn’t speak a word of Spanish, but was eager to see the sights and talked me into going with her to visit the Doulos. The Doulos was a ship that traveled the world Doulos-pcselling Christian literature, and sharing in social services and evangelism. We thought it would be an interesting evening outing. We had been browsing around the literature display for awhile when a friendly young lady came up and introduced herself. She happened to be on staff and asked if we would like a tour of the ship, and to see the room where she bunked. Of course, we were delighted. We were having such a good time, it never dawned on us how late it was. It was past nine o’clock. How could I let this happen again? I kept chiding myself.

We walked out into the darkness of the port. At that point, a young couple from Ireland walked up and asked how they could get to town. They also spoke no Spanish. They had made the same mistake. “You can go with us if you don’t mind hitchhiking.” I managed to wave down a pickup truck. The driver told me he was only going to a certain area of town. I figured that was better than spending the night at the port. The four of us climbed into the back. True to his word, the driver got us to town, then yelled back to us that was as far as he was going. We thanked him and jumped off. Of course, it was a dark, abandoned street. My three cohorts looked at me for some guidance. I noticed a lone, solitary light down the street. “Let’s go down there and see if we can find someone to ask for directions.”

What followed was a scene right out of a horror movie. We found the one establishment with an outdoor light and walked in. The large room was dark, filled with smoke, and the shadowy walls were lined with caskets. In the center of the room was a group of men sitting at a round table, smoking cigars and playing poker. One small light bulb hung overhead. We bravely walked up and as politely as I could, I asked if they could possibly give us directions to downtown where we might be able to find a taxi. One man stood up, got in my face and sneered, “Get out of here before we kill you!” I had come face to face with a piranha! I backed up, said “Si, senor!” and did a 180. When we got outside, my friends asked what the man had said. “He said we couldn’t find a taxi around here!” I didn’t want anyone to panic. As it was, I was rather impressed with how calm the three were staying. Perhaps they were just masking their panic, as I was at that point. Please, God, send us a taxi! Right at that very moment a lone taxi came down our dark street. We all got safely home that night. It turned out that our taxi driver said he was a member of one of the local churches. Was he really? Or was he an angel on assignment?

Looking back, I often wonder. Were these two taxi drivers for real? Where did they come from? Right at the very moment we needed divine intervention, they miraculously appeared out of nowhere in the dead of night. I am left without answers for right now, but someday I intend to find out. If you ever happen to visit South America in search of an adventure, just remember to double-check your bus and taxi itineraries, and keep on the lookout for piranhas! And…oh yes, it helps to know how to pray!

 

 

Serendipity

horse-1421529__480Serendipity is on my list of favorite words. A few definitions read as follows: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way – “happy chance” or “happy accident;” the action of making happy discoveries by accident; the act of ‘stumbling upon something’ good or fortunate; something that makes you happy.

I’ve had various serendipities in my life, but one in particular stands out as a favorite memory. I’ve always loved horses and dreamed of having my own. One day, as a young, pre-teen, I shared with my brother my plans to save my allowance and buy myself a horse. He just laughed — as he always did — at my hair-brained schemes. Of course, I never quite saved back enough money, and my dream slipped away into oblivion. I always enjoyed riding, and did manage to get to the riding stables from time to time, but being a city girl, those experiences were rare.

It wasn’t long after I shared my dream with my brother, that a friend invited me to spend a week with her on her grandparents’ farm in the little hamlet of Hilda, in the hills of southwest Missouri. I’m not sure that Hilda still exists today. At the time, the official sign by the side of the road boasted a population of two: my friend’s grandparents, salt-of-the-earth, hard-working folk. They ran a little post office/general store miles from nowhere, frequented by the common passerby in search of a bottle of ice-cold Coca Cola right out of an old-fashioned cooler. The quaint little store had everything and anything a person could possibly want on a hot summer’s day, from bubble gum to watermelon. I enjoyed listening to the gentle, friendly banter of those who stopped by to exchange a little country gossip, and the pleasant sound of the front screen door banging shut as they left.

The white-framed farmhouse stood a half-mile down the road.  The old-fashioned kitchen boasted a ceramic pitcher and basin where you could wash your hands. Now, the best part of this kitchen was the fragrance of fresh baked pies that were left to cool on a window sill. An old upright piano that had seen years of good playing,  stood proudly in the welcoming living room. The old farmhouse even had an amazing attic –  good for hours of exploration and snooping around of old photographs and diaries. The farm itself nestled in beautiful country acreage with a vintage barn and an old mare grazing in the pasture. For some reason, my friend, along with her brother and I, found great enjoyment jumping out of the loft of the old barn; a feat I don’t think I could survive today. Most of our time was spent outdoors, even camping overnight in the woods. That was my first exposure to “chicks and tiggers.”

black-and-white-2807644__480 Only one cloud hung over the farm; the mare was so old we weren’t allowed to ride her.  This is where the serendipity comes in. Our first day at the farm, we discovered a beautiful black horse had broken into the pasture overnight and made himself at home, grazing with the mare. My friends and I decided we would make his acquaintance with an enticing bucket of oats, which he enjoyed with relish. Appearing to be rather gentle, we decided to put a bridle on him and ride him bareback. No one knew the horse’s owner, but we were happy he had chosen our farm to visit. We named him Black Beauty; not the most creative of names, but it fit him well, nonetheless.

That entire week we rode Beauty around the country lanes, down wandering cow paths, and down to the General Store — basically enjoying the time of our lives. We couldn’t have asked for a sweeter, gentler horse. For me, it proved to be one of the most delightful vacations ever. I was young, and would not have been able to articulate this at the time, but I truly believe my Heavenly Father planned this special week for me. My mother had been in the hospital and we had come dangerously close to losing her. (Truth be known, my brother and I had lived in fear of becoming orphans.) It had been awhile since I had experienced any time away to relax, unwind and have a little fun. I don’t know if I should really even call this a “serendipity.” Was it all just by chance, just a happy little accident that Beauty broke into our pasture that week? Or did I have a wonderful, loving Abba Father who wanted to give me a little getaway that would make my heart sing? He knows what we love. He knows the desire of our hearts, and He knows what we need. As the week came to a close, I rode Beauty down to the General Store for one last visit. At the very same time, a man pulled up, jumped out of his truck and came running over.

“That’s MY horse you’re riding! That’s MY horse!” he kept yelling, as I quickly jumped off and apologized. “I’m sorry, but he broke into our field and we didn’t know where he belonged; we’ve been riding him all week. You have a wonderful horse!”

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“You don’t understand,” the man responded, “that horse is WILD! Nobody’s ever been able to ride him!” He stood there incredulous, as I handed him the reins. I patted Beauty good-bye and hoped that his owner would be able to eventually develop a relationship of love and trust, and treat him with the patience and respect he deserved.

Was Beauty’s one week visit luck, mere chance or serendipity? Maybe not. I took one last look at Beauty, at his beautiful, gentle, big brown eyes, and I knew God had gifted him to us for the week. What a delight it was to spend a few, brief days on a little farm on the side of the road that took me back to a nostalgic time; a time when summer meant a bareback ride down a country lane on a really fine horse. Call it serendipity, or not, sometimes God’s gifts come to us in quite unexpected ways!

A Cup of Tea with Mom

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Some of the best life lessons I ever learned happened over a cup of tea with my Mom. It wasn’t just any cup of tea, mind you. It had to be mint tea! The tea was served piping hot; none of this lukewarm business. ‘Lukewarm’ didn’t happen to be a word in my mother’s vocabulary. Everything she did in life was done with heart; with gusto and passion. If you ever served her tea, she wanted her cup filled to the brim. None of this half-way business. If you were going to do a job, do it right, not with a halfhearted spirit.

Mom and I shared the ritual of tea time my entire life, from the time I was old enough to hold my own tea cup. She would tell me if I caught the floating bubbles before they burst, it would bring me wealth. Of course, that was a traditional little joke between us, but the real wealth came in the wisdom learned just sitting down for meaningful conversation with someone whom I dearly loved. There were always cookies and delicious little goodies on the side, and the table set with lace and flowers. Having grown up during the Depression in a family of thirteen children, in a rustic cabin in northern Idaho, her friends often wondered where she learned to appreciate such elegance and refinement. She figured since she had some British ancestry, she came by it rightfully. We had the most amazing conversations. Oftentimes we were just doubled over in laughter; other times we managed to solve the world’s problems and set all the politicians straight. As friends and family came to visit, they were always invited to pick out their favorite cup and join in the ritual of tea. They still talk about it to this day, cherishing it as a fond memory.

Mom had quite the collection of fine bone china teapots and teacups. (I never saw her put plastic or Styrofoam on the table – not ever!)  My brother once dreamed she had so many tea cups she had to hang them all from the ceiling! Whenever Mom traveled, she always picked up a tea cup as a souvenir and she received many cups as gifts. I remember her special shadow box that held her favorites and hung in the dining room. (One day it dislodged from the wall and came crashing down, shattering all of her most treasured cups. She was just heart broken.)

Mom’s favorite teapot and tea cup were graced with pansies. Pansies were her favorite IMG_9675flower because – as she taught me, from the time I was a child – pansies stood for thoughtfulness. Mom always instilled in me the importance of thoughtfulness and kindness even in the smallest of details, and that simplicity was the heart of true beauty. I learned that a cup of hot tea could bring love and warmth into the darkest and bleakest of days. All of these lessons served me well into my adulthood.

I remember one particular experience I had with a neighbor on a cold winter’s night. She and her husband had managed to flee their home in time before it completely burned to the ground. She had barely managed to jump out of bed, grab their baby out of his crib,  snatch a coat, and run barefoot out into the ice and snow. Her parents had been called to the scene, and we stood together for some time watching the firemen in their desperate attempt to stop the flames. A large crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle. It was all so terribly heartbreaking. It was then I noticed my neighbor standing barefoot. She and her mother were shivering and crying. I simply reached out to them and asked if they would like to come over to our house for a cup of hot tea. They seemed grateful, relieved to get away from the scene of total devastation. (They had also lost their two dogs in the fire, which was even more heartbreak.)

When we sat down for tea, I discovered my neighbor and I just happened to wear the same size shoe, so I went to my closet to find her a pair of socks and some comfortable shoes, along with a pair of fuzzy slippers. That night I was able to put into action one of the most important lessons I had learned from Mom; there are times in life when words are not adequate, but sharing a cup of hot tea can warm and soothe a broken heart and wounded spirit like nothing else can. It expresses a caring and empathy that words can’t touch.

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There were so many lessons learned over tea: the importance of sharing friendship, hospitality, grace, beauty, love, compassion, and empathy—but most importantly, the gracious art of listening. These are just a few of the treasured memories and lessons learned from my sweet Mom.

Have you ever wished you could spend just one more day with your Mom? I have, so many times. Every Mother’s Day it hits me pretty hard. When I find myself getting sentimental, and really missing Mom, I’ll sometimes just sit down with her pansy teacup and have some hot tea – and yes, it has to be mint tea – and I feel the warmth of her presence again, and my spirit is soothed.