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.

 

 

 

Disaster in Room Twelve

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For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
Psalm 90:11

Six years after teaching in a country school system with nicely updated, modern buildings, I transferred into an inner city school and was assigned to a building that was close to ninety years old. It was a classic looking, three-storied red brick. The classrooms had high ceilings with three rows of flimsy, outdated hanging lights. The building was desperately in need of remodeling, or at worse, closure.

A friend of mine had asked permission to bring his drama troupe and put on a performance for the school. Our school had always held its assemblies in the morning, but due to a scheduling conflict, the troupe had asked to come in the afternoon. It was to be our only afternoon assembly of the entire year.

After the troupe’s performance, I led my class of fourth-graders back to our third-floor classroom. We stopped at the door of the room and stood in utter shock and amazement. During the assembly, all three rows of hanging lights had dislodged from the ceiling and had come crashing down to the floor, covering all the desks and chairs. Plaster, hardware, metal, wiring, and shards of glass lay strewn everywhere. If it had not been for the assembly, we would most certainly have been in the room and sustained serious injuries. I gasped in horror just thinking how close we had come to total chaos, and the possible loss of life.

Was it a coincidence that my friend had requested that day for a performance? Was it a coincidence that the troupe could only come in the afternoon? I cannot help but believe it was all divinely planned by a loving, caring God who, behind the scenes, was carefully orchestrating events and keeping watchful care over a teacher and her thirty young students.

A Godwink

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A few months before graduating from college with an Elementary Education teaching degree, I sat down with a map and drew a circle encompassing a radius of twenty miles around my hometown of Springfield, Missouri. I then sent out letters requesting applications for teaching positions within the surrounding school districts. The response was overwhelming in that there was no response whatsoever. I just happened to be graduating during a year when there was an over abundant supply of fresh new teacher recruits across the nation. The market was glutted.

One day I decided to drive across town to the mall. At a stoplight I glanced over to the right and spotted a sign with an arrow pointing west to the town of Republic, Missouri which was 15 miles away. I thought nothing of it, and drove on. On my return home, it so happened that I had to stop at the same intersection. Once again, I glanced over and saw a sign pointing west to Republic, 15 miles. Sometimes we’re a little slow reading God’s signs, but this time the light came on. Republic! I hadn’t remembered sending a letter to that district and it was only 15 miles away, short enough distance for a commute. I went that same day and sent a letter requesting an application.

A few days later I received a phone call from one of the elementary principals in the district requesting me to come in for an interview. I found this rather odd, as I assumed they would want me to fill out an application first.

As I sat down for my interview, the principal wasted no time. “Congratulations,” she said, “you’re hired.”

“What? I am?” I blurted out in disbelief. “I haven’t even filled out an application!” She then handed me an application and told me I could mail it in to her later, and proceeded with my interview. “I want you to know,” she explained, “your letter is what got you hired.”

“It was?” I was still incredulous. I walked out that day as a brand new fifth grade rookie teacher.

I was blessed to begin my career with as well-behaved and pleasant a classroom of students as any teacher’s heart could desire. I was so grateful for that, as I had so much to learn my first year. And I will always be grateful for the amazing, and I might add, delightfully fun group of teachers and administrators I was privileged to work with. They were the best of the best, and I learned so much from them, as well, during my six years with the district.

Was it a coincidence that I saw that Republic road sign, twice? No. I would call it a Godwink.

By definition, a Godwink is an event or personal experience, often identified as coincidence, so astonishing that it is seen as a sign of divine intervention, especially perceived as the answer to a prayer.

Are you needing guidance, direction, or an answer to a prayer? Stay observant and keep your eyes open for those signs along the road of your life’s journey. They just might be a Godwink!

Terror in the Night

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It was one of the craziest, worst jobs I ever had. I’m not sure why I took the job, but when you’re young, you’ll take just about any kind of employment you can find. I was working the night shift at a laundry where I stood behind a huge laundry press and folded sheets and linens which were later delivered to local hotels. You worked with a partner and the sheets came flying out of the press about every five seconds.

My mother was facing surgery and a hospital stay. Not wanting me to come home late at night and be by myself, she arranged for me to stay with my sister-in-law’s parents. I had visited their home on occasion, but never at night. This particular evening my shift didn’t end until 1:00 a.m. As I made my way across town, I became disoriented in the darkness. I began cruising around what I thought was the right neighborhood when I noticed headlights in my rear view mirror. I have a sixth sense when it comes to sensing danger, and the trigger instantly went off. My heart was racing and the adrenaline was pumping. The chase was on. I decided to speed up and try to drop my pursuer. Then panic set in, and before I knew it, I was racing down a highway with the stranger in hot pursuit. Looking in my rear view mirror, I suddenly realized the lights of the city were disappearing behind me. “Dear God,” I cried, “help me!” I managed to find a little gravel road where I could turn around and head back to the lights. I didn’t want to find myself stranded on a dark country road. Fortunately, my stalker didn’t think about blocking me, which could easily have happened.  He turned around as well and continued following me.

By the grace of God, I managed to keep my wits about me long enough to find my way back to the house. I parked the car and momentarily hesitated. Do I sit here and lay on the horn or do I make a run for it? The stranger had pulled in behind me. I made a split-second, panicky decision, which was probably the worst thing to do, and scrambled out of the car, racing for the front porch. The stranger jumped out of his car and sprinted after me calling out, “Oh come on baby, don’t run away!”

It was now about 2:00 a.m. and my sister-in-law’s parents had fallen fast asleep. I was ringing the doorbell and frantically pounding on the door. My heart was stuck in my throat. I froze in terror and couldn’t even scream. I swung around to see a dark, shadowy figure approaching me across the porch. He was within arms’ reach of me when he stopped dead in his tracks. Suddenly, he did an about 180 and fled back to his car. He jumped in and sped away so fast I could hear the tires peel as he left rubber on the pavement. I stood there for a few minutes trembling in total shock at everything that had just transpired, thanking God for His protection. I never saw my angel, but I’m convinced the stranger did. Judging by his reaction, I imagine my guardian must be amazingly tall, very scary looking, and wielding a sword! Psalm 91 assures us that we will never have to fear the terror of the night, and that if we trust Him, no harm will ever befall us. His Word has certainly proven faithful and true in my life!

I’m very, very grateful for my Guardian Angel. He’s been on many life adventures with me and has earned his wings. I’ve kept him rather busy through the years. He’s a keeper!

 

A Lesson from Lobo

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For the first few years of our marriage, my husband Steve and I didn’t have a dog because we couldn’t agree on which kind to get. He wanted a big one, and I wanted a little one. Steve insisted the dog would have to be an indoor dog, so of course I was thinking of all the extra housework involved. One day I decided to give my classroom of fourth-grade students a writing assignment: Write a persuasive paper to try and convince Mr. and Mrs. Briscoe which kind of dog they should get.

That evening when Steve and I went out for pizza, I told him about the assignment. I happened to have the papers with me, and he asked to see them. I was a little hesitant, and for good reason. He took out a pen and started to grade them. Well, I knew what was coming. Every student who suggested a big dog, received and A. Everyone who suggested a small dog was given an F. Some students offered a compromise, and suggested a medium sized dog. They were given an average grade of C. Some went so far as to suggest we get a cat. They received an F! Needless to say, I was not in any agreement with these grades. So underneath every F, I wrote a big A+. Under every A, I wrote my F. Those who suggested a cat, received a double F! (Neither one of us are cat lovers.) I returned the papers the next day and assured the students the assignment was all in fun and the grades would not be recorded.

It wasn’t long after this assignment that Steve surprisingly walked into the house one evening with a very large, fourth-month old “puppy.” I took one look at the paws and instantly knew he was going to grow into a big, very big, dog. I was not happy. Steve hurriedly explained how this had all transpired. A friend of Steve’s had been driving down a dark country road one night and spotted a dog dragging its chain. He picked him up and took him to the pound where the owner was identified from the tags. The owner’s response from a telephone call was, “I don’t want him back. Do whatever you want with him.” Steve’s friend was told, unless he could find someone who wanted the dog, they would have to put him down. “I can’t take him. I already have a dog, but I think I know someone who would love to have him,” he said. And the rest is history. Steve agreed to take the dog, sight unseen.

My unhappiness lasted maybe a day or two, before I was completely smitten and won over. This unloved, castoff became a member of our family and given the princely Spanish name of “Lobo de la Noche,” Night Wolf. The name fit him well. He grew into a gorgeous, princely looking, loving dog. Steve always claimed Lobo was “his dog,” but truth be known, I believe that dog was sent into our lives at that particular time, for me!

It wasn’t long thereafter, that Steve accepted an assignment to work in Iraq and I was left alone for many months at a time. Lobo became my constant companion and buddy who kept me entertained and kept me laughing. It’s amazing, really, how many life lessons a dog can teach us. I remember one in particular, with great fondness. There were times, late at night, that I would be at my computer typing an email to Steve when Lobo would quietly enter the room. He would walk over and lay his muzzle in the crook of my arm and look up at me with these big, brown, pleading eyes. Of course, I knew what he wanted. He loved going for walks at night. His name fit him well. However, even though we lived in a safe neighborhood, I was not a big fan of going for walks at midnight by myself. I would simply look at Lobo and say, “Not now, Lobo. We’ll go later.” I was always amazed at his response and how he always seemed to understand my human utterances. He wouldn’t linger, continuing to beg, he would simply walk quietly out of the room and return to the love seat in the living room, which he had claimed as his domain. He didn’t get what he wanted, but he never fussed about it, or demanded his way.

Sometimes when I pray to God and ask Him for something, I’m reminded of the lesson Lobo taught me. Many times, we don’t get our answers right away. There’s usually a reason for that, and often it’s because the timing is not right, and only the Master understands that. Sometimes I have to stop and check my attitude and my response. Do I stand before God and demand my way? That can have disastrous consequences. Or, do I just quietly and lovingly accept the answer of “No, not right now.”

Sometimes I would watch Lobo walk out of the room after being told “no,” and be so impressed with his quiet acceptance and sweetness of spirit. It made me love him all the more, and of course I had great plans for the two of us to go for an early morning walk and a run in the park only a few hours later. I really, truly enjoyed giving him the desires of his heart. I loved seeing the joy dance in his eyes. I’m so glad I learned to love a big dog. He taught me so much.

So, I often remind myself, when I pray to God, to be careful of my response. I need to remember His timing is perfect, and that He does have the most amazing and wonderful plans to share with me, if only I can be patient. I know, in my heart of hearts, that He also loves to see the joy dance in my eyes.  And so, I wait. I know He’s watching my response. I hope He’s pleased.

The Canvas of our Lives

I love to paint in watercolors and oils. Some years ago I was asked by friends to paint a picture for their home. I chose a simple watercolor landscape with a tree, and water and sky in the background. Just as I finished my last stroke, a drop of black paint fell off my brush and landed square in the middle of my tree. I cringed at the thought that I had ruined the painting. Watercolors are so unforgiving, more so than oils. I stared at my blotch in disgust and unbelief. How could this happen? Why had I been so careless? Then I thought I glimpsed a familiar shape. With a careful stroke here, and a little stroke there, the blotch was turned into a bird, a “happy little accident,” as Bob Ross would describe it. The accidental little bird ended up adding some mystery, beauty and intrigue to the scene.

When my mother saw the painting and heard the woeful tale of the bird, she was captivated and asked if she could have it. I told her I was sorry, but it had already been promised to my friends. I was surprised at how many times she referred to that painting over the years. One evening, out of sheer coincidence, I was with my mother at a restaurant when we ran into the friends to whom I had gifted the painting. I had totally forgotten the gift, and evidently, so had my friends who gave my mother a glazed look when she asked them about it. I had to smile at the thought that the long-forgotten painting had probably disappeared years before in the abyss of a garage sale.

In retrospect, I wish I had given this insignificant piece of art to my mother, simply because when she looked at it, she understood the story, the true significance behind the work. She would have cherished it. You see, my mother related emotionally to the painting. She could relate to the blotch, the stain, the accident that attacked the painting of her life with a vengeance, trying to snuff out its beauty. She totally grasped the analogy of the forgiving hand of the Master Artist covering her dark stain with love and a few masterful strokes and turning the painting of her life into a masterpiece of His love.

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Every life is a work of art in God’s eyes, to be loved and cherished, not to be cast away or discarded because of the blotch and stain of failure, fear, past mistakes, hate or rejection. Every great artist eventually learns that colors of light shine the brightest against the dark, somber tones. Let us cherish each and every painting for its true worth, its blotches and yes, the amazing story behind the strokes.