An Angel Named Mike


Our pastor’s words at the end of the church service struck fear into my heart.

“There is freezing rain out there and it seems to be icy. Please be careful going home, everybody.”

I live in the mountains of northern New England. I am well acquainted with winter but I really have had enough of it.

Driving in snow is bad enough but ice absolutely terrifies me.

Things didn’t look good when my mom and I exited the church and her car was completely encased in ice. Why we didn’t just turn around and go back into the comfy, warm church to wait it out, I’ll never know.

We took a million baby steps to the car and sat there for a good ten minutes until the defroster melted the ice so she could see to drive. She insisted on driving because she was concerned about my blood pressure. I have only had two accidents and they both involved ice. That feeling of having no control over my vehicle was terrifying and it still haunts me.

We started out very slowly and made the decision to take the road that runs along the lake rather than risk the main road where people go much too fast under any conditions.

All was fine until we rounded the corner and the lake came into view. Suddenly, the road was like a skating rink and all control was lost. The car started to spin and slide from one end of the road to the other.

To our horror, we began to hurtle toward the boat launch. Miraculously, we came to a sudden stop right before we would have slid down the boat launch into the lake! We also narrowly missed hitting a parked truck.

It took several minutes until Mom felt okay to put the car into gear and keep going. We did fine on the flat part of the road but trying to get enough traction to get up the fairly steep  hill that would lead us toward home was another matter altogether. Her tires spun and we began to slide backward down the hill.

Mom valiantly tried to back the car into a driveway but couldn’t do it. So, she attempted to pull into a driveway across the street, sliding all the way. The car  finally came to a stop, half on the sidewalk and half into the driveway.

Our hearts were pounding right through our chests and we tried to catch our breath now that we were stopped and in a relatively safe place.

If you are ever in a crisis situation, you would want my mom  there. She remains calm and is the picture of efficiency.

The person you do NOT want with you if you are in a crisis situation is me.

I was shaking. I was crying. I was a mess.

I called my husband (who didn’t feel well enough to attend church this morning) to tell him what had happened. He tried in vain to get me to calm down and finally told me he was going to call the police and report that we were stranded and get back to us.

I just felt so helpless so I started to pray. “Jesus, please take care of us and get us safely home.” We were literally less than five minutes from home but it seemed like miles.

No sooner had I finished that prayer when a man walked (slid) up to our car. He was around 60 years old, had salt and pepper hair, and a wide smile. He explained that his name was Mike and he lived across the street. He had seen our troubles and walked over to see if we were okay.

I couldn’t believe I was meeting the man who I had disparaged for the past 7 years that we have lived here.

You see, he owns a junkyard.  There are a lot of No Trespassing signs everywhere as well as a fierce looking German Shepherd standing guard. His house/business is on my path when I walk into town and I have always wondered who lived there, thinking what a shame it was that this eyesore is located in such an otherwise pretty area.

And now here he was right in front of me, nice as can be.

Seemingly unbothered by the freezing rain, he stayed with us for the next hour, chatting amicably, spinning lots of stories, and doing a wonderful job of taking our minds off our situation.

He shared his life story which has been filled with hardships; yet he remains a cheerful person who is willing to lend a helping hand to those in need when he can. He is a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee, fiercely independent and occasionally some salty language slipped through.

As I listened to his stories, I could feel my heart rate return to normal and my breathing came much easier.

At one point, he suggested that Mom pull up further into the driveway so any other out-of-control cars would not hit us.

Not even 15 minutes later, a truck that was coming down the road too fast lost control on the ice, hit the back of a car  just a little further up the road that had gone into a ditch, and slid crazily all the way down the hill  finally coming to a stop right where our car had been!

He would have certainly hit us and since he was traveling at a pretty good speed, I shudder to think of the damage that we were spared.

Eventually, a salt truck came by to treat the roads. Mike informed us that he thought we would be okay to  take one more run at the hill.

Then he saw the looks on both of our faces.

“Would you feel better if I drove the car up the hill for you?” He asked. “My nephew just came over and he can follow us and give me a ride back down the hill.”

Mom gratefully accepted his invitation and he helped her across the car and settled her into the passenger side with utmost gentleness.

He drove with ease to the top of the hill and took another look at my mom, who was white as a sheet by this time at the thought of getting back behind the wheel.

“You know what? I’m just going to go ahead and drive you lovely ladies home,” he announced, motioning his nephew to follow him. We only lived another half a mile away. He delivered us right to our front door.

“What can we do to thank you?” I asked as I shook his hand.

“Not a thing!” he waved his hand dismissively. “Just say a prayer for me the next time you go to church. I was happy to help.”

He looked at my mom and smiled. “She reminds me of my mama, God rest her soul, and I would have wanted someone to help my mama if she was in this same situation.”

With a cheerful wave goodbye, he climbed into his nephew’s SUV and off they went.

Jesus answered our prayers by sending us an unlikely angel in the form of Mike.

Sometimes He answers our prayers in the strangest of ways, but they are nonetheless beautiful.

We will be forever grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tears In The Soup Aisle


Photo credit: Flickr

Have you ever burst into tears in the middle of a grocery store?

I did that yesterday afternoon. Right in front of the soup cans, the dam broke and the tears flowed in aisle 3.

I live in a small town. On any given trip to that store, I see at least two people I know.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case right then.

I finished my shopping and headed out into the snowy day.

As soon as I closed the door to the driver’s side, the tears became sobs and I was grateful for the snow covering the windshield so no one would see my meltdown.

I cried out to Jesus for mercy. There was no lightning bolt from the sky, no voice from Heaven. Yet I knew He heard me. I knew He saw every tear that fell.

The Lord hears His people when they call to Him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles…You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered in Your ledger, each ache written in Your book. ( Psalm 34:17; Psalm 56:8)

I drove home and my head was pounding. In spite of my exhaustion, I began to keep my eyes and ears open because I knew He would speak to me. His heart is touched and moved by our pain and He always seeks to comfort us.

He didn’t wait long.

I checked my Instagram feed and one of the people I follow posted this Scripture: “…Hope in the Lord, for with the Lord, there is mercy (exactly what I had been asking Him for!) and with Him is abundant redemption. (Ps. 103:7). NO situation is beyond His redemption.

Shortly thereafter, a new post from one of the bloggers I read popped into my inbox. I clicked on it and could not believe my eyes. She used a verse that He had given me several times in the past few days: “Behold, I am doing a new thing! (He is at work, even when we can’t see it)….Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert!” (Isaiah 43:19). He always makes a way.

Each time we open His Word, we can hear His Voice ringing out in all its boldness, resounding with hope, shining light into our darkness.

The fact that He put those particular verses in front of my eyes was no coincidence. There is no such thing. He intended for me to see them because He knew I needed to see them. They were His message to me.

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This morning, I still wasn’t 100% myself.

So, He filled my day with more of His love notes.

I received a text from my best friend that was filled with encouragement. He speaks to us through His people and her words were very soothing to me. Friendship is a gift.

…There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. —Proverbs 18:24

The first Scripture I saw when I opened my Bible was this: “Let us not lose heart and grow weary in acting nobly and doing right, for in due time and at the appointed season we shall reap if we do not loosen and relax our courage and faint.” (Galatians 6:9).

There is a due time and an appointed season. This season will not last forever. There is no need for me to lose heart. No one stays in the valley forever. He always leads us out.

Later, my brother stopped by and caused me to laugh out loud with one of his stories. Laughter is good for the soul.

He will once again fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. —Job 8:21

As the sun went down, we received a bounty of His provision.

My God will liberally supply (fill to the full) your ever need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.—(Philippians 4:13).

At the end of a busy day, I was tired and wanted to relax. I clicked onto Netflix.

I found myself clicking on a Christian movie from 2010 called The Encounter. I didn’t have high hopes for it, as it started out a little on the hokey side. But as I watched, I was drawn into the story and Jesus had a tender message to me through one of the characters.

He saw my tears yesterday afternoon, heard my cry to Him, and set about speaking to me in a variety of ways through:

His Word
Instagram
a blog post
a friend
His provision
a funny story
and a movie.

Do you need to hear from Him? Listen to His Voice as you read His Word. Open your eyes and your ears and experience Him.

He longs to communicate with you and He is wildly creative.

Pay attention and let Him speak. You will experience a profound joy and He will fill your heart with His peace.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who trusts and takes refuge in Him. —Psalm 34:8

 

 

 

 

 

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A Broadway Revue


This past weekend, our daughter participated in “100 Years Of Broadway” at her high school.

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She had never done anything like this before and wanted to surprise us (which she certainly did).

She has always been very shy about singing in front of us. The only time we have ever heard her sing is when she is in the shower. We were watching TV one night when a most heavenly sound floated downstairs. I muted the TV and we listened, spellbound to the clear, beautiful voice coming from above. I even went to stand outside the bathroom door so I could hear better.

The haunting, gorgeous sound literally brought tears to my eyes.

We heaped praise on Julia when she came  downstairs but she was so embarrassed that we let it go. She has never been one to seek the spotlight.

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So imagine our surprise when she invited us to opening night to watch her perform!

She had decided that since this is her senior year, she would go for it and try something she had never done before.

Her solo was “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” with another cast member.

She was a revelation.

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Broadway-0140She was sassy.

She was bold.

She was fearless.

Her voice soared through the auditorium and we were amazed.

Later, she told us that person after person went through the cast line and said “I had NO idea that you could sing!”

Julia had broken out of her comfort zone and it was a beautiful thing to behold.

And as I watched her receiving praise, it reminded me not to sell anyone short, as we have no idea what talent might be lying dormant that will leave us stunned with wonder when it is finally revealed.

Let’s never think that we know all there is to know about our loved ones. There is always more to discover if we are willing to see, to listen, to ask.

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I experienced so many emotions during the show.

“Send In The Clowns” had me stifling laughter. Several decades ago, my family and I attended my cousin Bobby’s wedding. As soon as we opened up the program, my dad and I burst out laughing, right there in the pew. There it was, right before the processional: “Send In The Clowns.” 

This struck us as so hysterically funny that we could not contain ourselves. The harder we tried to stifle the laughter, the more we failed until we were red-faced and helpless to stop the mirthful tears.

“Stop it!” my mom hissed, mortified by our shenanigans.

By the time the bride walked down the aisle, we had managed to compose ourselves. But I can never hear that song without a smile breaking across my face.

“Try To Remember” brought a sweet ache to my heart. That was one of my dad’s favorite songs and I have many memories of him singing it.

And there was the joy of all those classic Broadway songs that had toes tapping and hands clapping. A true feel-good evening was had by all and the applause was prolonged and enthusiastic for these talented kids.

 

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Broadway-0269  Broadway-0351-2Two days later, Julia and I were driving in the car talking about the show.

She mentioned that she loved the song “Try To Remember.”

I told her that that was one of her grandad’s favorite songs. Then I mentioned that she must have inherited her amazing singing voice from him. (He was the only member of our family who could sing).

“I remember him singing all the time,” she said wistfully.

Julia was only 5 years old when her beloved grandad died so I’ve never been sure how much she remembers of the man who adored her.

I love that music still binds them together across the years and that a part of him still lives on in her.

 

 

 

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Think Before You Speak


One of my Facebook friends posted something poignant this morning.

She showed a photo of her son walking toward his plane on his way to basic training. He will be gone for 7 months and she wrote about how much she would miss him and that the tears were plentiful.

I got a bit misty-eyed reading her post and left a supportive comment.

My son just left yesterday to head back to college and the ache is real.

Josh-s Luggage-0005It was with great sadness that I read a comment one her friends left after mine.

It said, “Time to cut the apron strings.”

Those words struck me as unnecessary and cold.

Why in the world do we always feel like we have to give advice?

Why can’t we just let people feel what they feel, sit  quietly beside them, offer words of encouragement, or just say, “I’m sorry.” and leave it at that?

Yes, as moms, our goal is to work ourselves out of a job. We raise our kids to be self-sufficient and independent, fully knowing that there will come a day when they leave the nest to begin to live their own story. That is good and it is right.

However…the pain of them leaving is still very real. There may be regret over things done or things left undone. There may be sadness over how fast the time went and a longing for the days when they were young and you were their whole world. The quiet in the home may seem deafening at times. There may be concern about some of the choices the kids will make, driving us to our knees in fervent prayer. There may be that wish for the time to say just one more thing, give one more piece of advice, to experience one more hug.

There is nothing wrong with that!

It is not a place we want to stay indefinitely, of course, but for crying out loud let a mama be honest about the fact that she is going to miss her boy!

Let’s not be so quick to put in our two cents the next time someone shares their feelings with us. If your advice is wanted, it will be requested.

In the meantime, just give them the dignity of letting them feel what they feel and extend the beauty of grace in the midst of their struggle.

Then  your corner of the world will be a kinder place.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Moment In Time


This photo makes me all kinds of happy.

Mom and Josh-0005-3My son goes back to college tomorrow after a wonderful holiday break.

After dinner, he turned to my mom and said, “Will you rub my head for awhile?”

Ever since Josh was born, he and my mom have shared a very special bond. She rubbed his head from the time he was a toddler and he never outgrew it.

The fact that he is a college freshman and will be 19 years old in less than three months matters not at all. The unconditional  love they share is a beautiful thing and I was so grateful that I could capture this moment in time.

My mom’s favorite role in life is that of grandma. And she is a stellar one. (I love that she was even wearing her favorite “Grandma” sweatshirt. I couldn’t have planned it any better!).

Karl Lagerfeld once said, “Photographs capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.”

That is why I love what I do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Joy In The Midst


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So, our well pump stopped working on Saturday afternoon, leaving us without any water. Oh the joys of living in a rural area!

Why do these things always happen on the weekends?

A big storm was rapidly approaching, so Doug immediately put in a call to the emergency number for our local well company.

Apparently, “emergency number” means, “We’ll see you first thing Monday morning.”

Of course, they said they could come out on Sunday, but the price would be double what it normally is and it basically amounted to the cost of our son’s spring semester of college.

Clearly, we needed to weigh our options about where to stay until Monday. Eventually, it was decided that all five of us would descend on the very small home that my brother is currently care-taking while the owner is wintering in sunny Florida. (What a smart man).

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It is hard to detect tone of voice via text, but I definitely sensed a certain panic in Jeff’s reply. He asked me to give him a minute to see what he could do.

Long story short, he secured and paid for two lovely rooms at one of the many local inns in our small town, complete with wonderful lakeside view!

Problem (beautifully!) solved! (Our neighbor graciously agreed to watch Buddy for us).

Now, I would like to tell you that I handled this latest inconvenience with peace, calm, and joy.

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Not necessarily.

The fact that one of our businesses closed in November has made things very tight financially. (Not complaining, just stating a fact. He has provided abundantly for us in the midst of it all and we are grateful). So the prospect of having to get our well pump replaced felt daunting and a little heartrending; especially for my husband, who is very tired.

Before we knew how this would all play out, I was throwing some clothes into my luggage and trying not to cry as I talked it out with Jesus, “Really, Lord?” I asked. “You know how tough things are. I don’t get it. Why now? This is the worst possible time for something like this to happen.”

How quickly we forget.

Back in November, I read one of Ann Voskamp’s blog posts. She had declared November to the “November Niagara Of Thanks.” She challenged her readers to list 1000 gifts in the month of November alone, reminding us that the depth of our joy is directly tied to the depth of our gratitude.

She assured us that this was do-able. We just needed to list roughly 33 gifts a day to make it to 1000 by the end of the month.

I knew I needed to do this, as life was hard and a fresh perspective on all the ways He shows His love to me was much needed. I read that blog post on November 10th, so I was determined to catch up that very day. I simply needed to list 333 gifts in one day! So, I grabbed a fresh notebook and got to work!

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I wrote #333 before midnight that night…and completed the 1000th gift before Thanksgiving. I am still writing down all the gifts, and I am approaching #1500. Try it for yourself. Your joy will increase one hundredfold, I promise!

His Presence…and His endless, lovely, tailor-made gifts are everywhere. All we need are eyes to see.

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Despite the stress of that particular season, my joy and my peace were abundant because my prime focus was definitely not on my problems, but on the One who controls all things and loves me with a perfect, fiery love.

As I continued to pack, I resolved to still count my gifts, right there in the midst of a house with no water.

My mind cleared, my spirits lifted, and my attitude improved dramatically.

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Doug, Josh, Julia, my mom, and me threw our luggage into the car, got some takeout, checked into our rooms and had a carpet picnic for dinner in one of the rooms while the snow swirled outside.

The inn where were were staying was beautiful and cozy.

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Mill Falls-0030It was the perfect place to ride out the big snowstorm that blew through town. We were toasty warm, very comfortable, had plenty of running water, and best of all, we were all together.

Over the next two days, we talked, laughed, used the pool and the hot tub, and I had plenty of opportunities to take photos. What started out as a stressful situation turned out to be a sweet time in a lovely place.

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How He delights to give us good gifts, even the midst of the mess.

Each night, I fell asleep watching the twinkling white Christmas lights on the trees outside our window, counting my blessings and thanking Him for His lavish provision.

This morning, it only took two hours for our well to be fixed.

It was glorious to have fresh, running water once more! I will never take it for granted again!

By 11:00, we were all home.

At 1:00, one of my crowns was pulled right out of my mouth after I ate one of my son’s sour cherry gummy bears. I have an appointment with the dentist on Wednesday morning.

At 4:30, our daughter came into the house and announced that her car would not start.

Is it 2016 yet? :)

 

 

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The Many Faces Of Buddy


Ten years ago, we got a puppy named Buddy.

He is a Bichon Frise and he was 5 pounds of furry, white cuteness.

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He was playful, fun, sweet-natured, and energetic. He may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but we all love him.

All of us except my husband, who tolerates Buddy at best.

Guess who Buddy loves more than anyone in the world?

My husband.

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As cute as he is, Buddy can be temperamental. When we are gone for longer than Buddy would like, he leaves us little “presents” as a sign of his displeasure.

Every morning without fail, he picks up his favorite toy, a blue rubber barbell, and walks all around the house whining loudly as if he has lost his best friend. This goes on for at least ten solid minutes.

The first time we left for a vacation, we innocently packed our bags and left them in the foyer to load into the car in the morning. Buddy promptly took one look at the luggage, somehow knew that that meant that we were leaving, and had a nervous breakdown. He drooled copiously. He vomited. He tried to attach himself to one of us, any of us, so that he would not be left behind. We assumed he would be fine once we left.

My brother (who was watching Buddy for us) called two days later, sounding exhausted. Buddy was such a nervous wreck that Jeff had barely gotten any sleep. Buddy was refusing to eat or drink. He was not sleeping. So, Jeff was forced to take him to the emergency vet ER, where they had to hook Buddy up to IVs to hydrate him and prescribe tranquilizers so he would sleep.

(After getting the bill, it was my husband’s turn to have a nervous breakdown).

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When we lived in Florida, my brother thought that Buddy might enjoy running on one of the beaches that welcomed dogs. He was absolutely terrified of the sand and ended up vomiting everywhere…including all over Jeff’s truck.

Buddy never went back to the beach.

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Buddy is wearing a cone here because in a fit of neurosis, he would not stop licking his paw, and all the fur was gone. This was our only remedy. (Well, that and some more prescribed tranquilizers).

Buddy always slept with our son until he went off to college. We assumed that he would then be happy to sleep with our daughter.

Not so.

Buddy whined. Buddy scratched at the door.  At one point, Julia left her door open  and Buddy made a beeline for our room, only to be returned to his rightful place. He sulked.

Finally, one night, my daughter appeared at our bedroom door, clutching the white furball, declaring that she was desperate for sleep and could we please let Buddy sleep with us from now on?

We reluctantly agreed.

We haven’t had a good night’s sleep since.

Every single night, Buddy leaps into our bed and proceeds to lick Doug’s face and wag his tail, so delighted to be with his beloved. The more Doug protests, the closer Buddy tries to get to him. He literally just sits there and looks lovingly at Doug, completely obliviousness to the hostility. Doug’s very existence seems to be his reason for living.

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Despite being only 20 pounds, Buddy emits the heat of a furnace. He also tends to sleep sideways, taking up a large portion of a queen size bed. I have woken up more than once clutching the very edge of the mattress while Buddy snoozes away, blissfully unaware of the discomfort he is causing.

He also seems to think that my bright orange earplugs ( that I have to wear in order to continue to sleep in the same room with a husband who snores) are some kind of tasty snack. He literally stalks them. I will find him at various times throughout the day on my side of the bed, straining to reach them on my nightstand, then looking extremely guilty when he realizes he has been caught. Every other week or so, I forget to move them and discover they have vanished when it’s time to go to bed.

Still, with all his neuroses and ridiculousness, I adore this dog.

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This afternoon, Julia decided to give Buddy a good brushing, which  is his second greatest love.

I grabbed my camera and decided to capture those moments. I swear, it was as if Buddy saw the camera and started posing (It is too bad that the groomer left his ears so long, which gave him an unfortunately girly look).

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Buddy-0006See? He is ridiculous, but I love him.

I posted these photos on Facebook and one of my friends wrote, “I hope he’s doing great. He sure is cute.”

My response: “Buddy is 10. Bichons can live to be 20. Doug is full of despair. I, however, love him.”

That about says it all.

 

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