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.

 

 

 

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!