Monday, June 16, 2014

A Father's Feather

It was an ordinary Saturday. 

A ride to the country for a specific purpose was on the list of things-to-do.  It was going to be pleasant enough.  Still ... it was going to require a big chunk of time.

Outside the sun was shining ... unusually mild for a June day in Arkansas.  Perfect top-down weather.  However, on this day the trip was to be made top-up.

Top-up on a day like Saturday tends to rob a little bit of my joy.

The drive was nice ... especially since I got to ride ... instead of drive.  Seems that's all I do these days ... is drive.

Let me find something special ... in a random place today ... I whispered as we set out.
My heart couldn't help itself ... it wanted something more from the day ... something more than another to-do list with all of the boxes checked.

As we approached the gate, I noticed some beautiful orange wildflowers on the side of the road.  Little clumps of happy ... amidst the weeds.  I knew that I would have to have some when we headed home.

Simple as that.  Something special in a random place.  Sigh.  Nice.  But not soul-satisfying.

The trip to the country was to pick up one specific thing that was supposed to have arrived in the mail.  The mailbox was full ... of sale fliers ... campaign stuff ... various other types of junk mail ... and a few bills.

No sign of the envelope that was supposed to be there.

We went on up to the house to check on things since we were there and all.  Turns out he had a to-do list of sorts, too.  It was obvious that he was looking for a specific item as he rummaged through the drawers and boxes that held pieces of his past life.

"What are you looking for?", I asked.

"Your birthday present," he replied.

It was a sweet moment and it caught me off guard.

I had made an off-the-cuff comment earlier in the morning about wanting ... a stapler that works ... for my birthday.  Now He was on a mission to launch my birthday-season with
the-one-thing-I-had-asked-for as a gift.

Maybe the orange flowers weren't the special somethings in a random place after all.

After much poking around, he finally gave up.  Amidst all of his things, the simple stapler was no where to be found.  On a different day, I bet we will wander through to find it sitting on top of a counter or desk ... in plain sight.

Seems that's the way those stories go.

It was time to head back.  My list was calling.  So many things to do ... and never enough hours in a day.  I moseyed around outside ... looking for some of those wildflowers to pick ... thinking that there must be little patches of them ... everywhere.

But there weren't.

As we pulled back out onto the highway, I hopped the ditch and gathered me a small bouquet.  Orange wildflowers amidst the weeds ... finding special things in random places ... once again.

He didn't turn right at the crossroads.  Instead he headed straight down the highway in a direction I have never traveled.

"Have I ever shown you the cave that's up the road here?" he asked with a boyish grin.

He knew he hadn't ... or maybe he really thought that he had ...

Pull off on a wide shoulder, jump the creek and a make short climb up to the cave.  Actually, it was more of a grotto than a cave.  Still it was a very special place.

Getting across the creek was a bit of a trick.  The water was high and running due to the recent rains.  It was a balancing act across some pointy rocks with slippery spots ... to the other side and back.

Agility and grace aren't really my strong suits.  I often make up for a lack of coordination by sheer determination and courage ... ok, ok ... it's actually stubborn-hard-headness that gets me through most of the time.

For some reason I was unable to move my legs in a steady forward motion without some sort of support.  I didn't really need the support ... it was just my perception.  All I wanted was something to lean on as I moved from one rock to the next ... in case I lost my balance.

My inability to move ... without a prop ... wasn't amusing to him ... somehow.  I guess he thinks I really can do anything ...  when the truth is, I can't.

A hand.  All I wanted was a hand to steady me as I faced the challenge of crossing over.  He was sure that I was going to slip and pull both of us into the water.  Funny.  That outcome never occurred to me.

Just in case, though, I handed him my phone.  Then I lightly touched his hand ... that was all I needed to find the confidence to move forward.  I didn't need to cling or hang on ... I simply needed to know he was there to catch me ... should I stumble or fall.

Back in the car, we continued to travel along the scenic route.  It was pretty much the long way around.  It was now well into mid-afternoon ... and my list was virtually unchecked.

After all, what we had come to the country for in the first place had never materialized.

Along the way, he pointed out things of interest and as Lake Maumelle embraced us on both sides, he asked if I had ever visited the little park that was just ahead.

Maybe ... once ... a long time ago ... like in high school.

He turned into the shady area and parked.  There was a picnic table or two.  And some paths that lead to the water's edge at various places.

Immediately, I spotted a can.  Collecting cans is something that we do.  It's a goodness that he has brought into my life.

So there it was ... a can ... a symbol of the balance we are striving to find between the vast differences between who he is and who I am.  It made me smile.

I find lots of cans ... and pennies ... and occasionally a dime ... as I visit gas stations all around the state.  And once, I found a ten dollar bill neatly folded by a rock in a side yard.  Ever mindful of the terrain, I pondered the possibilities as I wandered to the lake's edge.

Then came the nudge ... the whisper ... look for something really special in this random place ... and you will find it.

It was getting later in the afternoon and nothing much had been accomplished yet.  Grass mowing ... ant killing ... laundry ... dinner cooking ... all were still waiting for me back at the house.

He moves at a slower pace.  He never lets his to-do list take over his day. Some days his to-do list never even comes into play.

It was a not-so-subtle move on his part ... to take the wheel ... to take the long way home.  No doubt he knew that I would have told him that there was ... no time ... for dallying along the way.

Live in the now.  Enjoy the moment.  Slow down. Relax. Breathe.
These are the rhythms he brings to my life.

Sitting at the picnic table, we spread out the piles of mail we had picked up from the mailbox.  Carefully removing all identification and addresses before depositing in the trash cans, we sorted through each piece ... setting aside things that were important ... or possibly just interesting for a closer look later.

At the very bottom of the pile ... was the envelope ... the one we had driven all the way out there to find in the first place ... tucked up inside one of those silly advertising papers that come every week.

I could hear His laugh floating on the wind.  The day hadn't been a total waste after all.

We decided to wander around the little park ... down the trails to the water ... amidst the tree-shaded paths in between ... in search of any more stray cans ... saving the trash bins for last.

Down a narrow way I went ... getting as near as possible to the blue glint in the weeds ... that I was sure was a can.  It was steep and I chuckled to myself because once again I needed that hand to steady me ... as I manuevered my way from top-to-bottom-to-top ... but no one was there.

It wasn't a can.  Just a shiny piece of packaging off of a snack of some sort.  I had gotten myself over there on my own ... now the challenge was to get myself back to the parking lot.

Taking a deep breath ... I told myself that I was fully supported and there was no danger of falling.  As I began to move forward, I glanced down ... and there it was ... as promised ...
something very special ... in a random place.

A feather. Not just any feather.  A black feather.  It was dusty and a little cob-webby.  Whoever dropped it had been there way before me ... preparing the way ... securing the premises ... 
or simply waiting for me to arrive.

Feathers have only become special to me recently.  I have been enjoying a friend's stories of feathers found and what they mean to her.  Sometimes it's evidence of an angel present ... other times it's a reminder that loved ones are always at our side ... always it's a reminder that my best friend, God, Creator of the Universe knows exactly where I am and what I need at any given moment.

Since I've been collecting feather-evidence, it seems that I most often find the black ones.  I am sure that naysayers will state the obvious ... that black feathers are the most common ... and that there's nothing terribly special about them.

The very first time I found a feather ... it was a BIG black one. I am not 100% sure that it was an authentic one ... it seemed a little too crinkly and stiff to be real.  It, too, turned up in a random place ... with no explanation as to how it got there ... on the floorboard of my car.

Awestruck by the encounter.  I knew that it was ole R.J. coming along for a ride. The black hat with the black feather was always his icon on our card-playing score sheets.  Yeah, my dad,  he was way ahead of his time ... he drew icons before icons were cool.

My father had a great sense of humor. It would be just like him to leave a fake feather. Real feathers are for real angels ... and who would ever believe he was an angel ... for real ...

Each black feather found captures an intimate moment with my father ... usually followed by some message or direction or understanding that I hadn't been able to come up with on my own.

Something very special found in a random place.

All in all it was a wonderful day. Perfectly balanced between ... orange wildflowers ... and a gajillion things to get done ... a nice glass of wine ... and the lingering of the strawberry moon.

Not another thought was given to the little black feather.  It's purpose had been served ... or so it seemed. An unexpected Dad-moment ... nothing more, nothing less.

Sunday rolled around.  Drew was filling in for Del.  He told of the struggles he faced as he grew from a boy to a man ... his father was taken from him, you see, as he entered his teen-angst years.

An encouraging word ... a simple touch ... a vote of confidence ... a solid validation that something is being done right ... a forgiveness for things that have not gone so well ... these are things a father brings to a life.

Love from a father ... makes all the difference ... no matter our age.

Drew told his story.  It hinted at hurts & regrets ... and hope.

 "No matter where I was, love always pursued me", he said.

And as I sat there in my seat, I knew He was speaking to me.

There was more ...

"Safety is not found in the absence of danger but in the presence of God."  I am not sure if Drew borrowed that from Brennan Manning ... or someone else ... or whether he turned the phrase himself.

It doesn't really matter.  Truth ... when spoken out loud ... brings out the AHA in each of us.

"Faith is the willingness to press on regardless of the situation ... regardless of the outcome''.

In that moment of reflection, I was overwhelmed by the warmth of His presence reminding me that there was always a hand ready to steady me ... within easy reach.  Just because I can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there.  And so what if I splash around in the water from a misstep from time to time.

Living a life fully alive is my heart's desire.  Safe isn't really an option.

I could feel His presence ... His support ... his love ... as Drew pressed on ... he was talking about ... fathers and their approval ... after all.

Maybe it's not so much that I need help when faced with challenges ... don't get me wrong, we all need help at times ... but in those moments of self-doubt ... when the voices chant
"you-can't-do-it-you're-not-good-enough-seriously-mj-you-can't-do-it" ... all I really need is a word of encouragement ... someone to believe in me as I face the giants ... the touch of my Father's hand.

And my father ... with his feathers ... to remind me of who I truly am.

Drew ... and God ... double-teaming ... to reveal to me the message ... of my father's feather" ...

"Through your wounds ... you can hear from God."
Ah yeah, you got this one, MJ!

(c) June 2014 

Monday, December 16, 2013

My Christmas List ...

Every year, for the last 7 years, I have made a list of 3 things that I want for Christmas.  Not things that can be bought ... or wrapped to be placed under the tree.  Three intangible things ... things that stir the spirit and cause my heart to leap with joy ... gifts that bring
the meaning of Christmas home.

I generally make my list early in December ... with the caveat that they will materialize by
New Year's Eve.  So far ... I haven't been let down or disappointed.

Everything about this Christmas is different.  And plans keep changing on a daily basis.  For real,
I thought I had already experienced all of the disjointed, dysfunctional holidays one could imagine.  Looks like there are a few more of them lurking around in ole Santa's bag.

Yesterday I realized that I hadn't made my list yet ... and I was running out of time.  It's important to allow enough time ... because generally my list is made up of things that aren't clearly defined ... or exactly easy.

It's ok.  God assures me time and time again that He's up to the challenge!

So all through the morning I pondered the possibilities.  After quite a bit of brainstorming, I came up with several things that seemed appropriate for this season.

For weeks, I had been planning to attend a different church on this particular Sunday.  There was a very special Christmas service planned ... it was going to be quite a production ... with lots of fabulous music.  And I really thought it was where I wanted to be.  God had
something else in mind.

We missed our time at Grace last week due to the ice storm.  It's very unsettling to Jessi & Donald to have their routines disrupted that way.  And I knew that the idea of going to a "different" church ... even though it's one that is very Jessi-friendly ...  was going to cause them some disappointment.

On the way to pick them up, I decided ... or maybe God decided for me ... that rather than let them down somehow ... the thing to do was to go on to Grace ... and forgo the special Christmas service.

As I settled in my seat, I decided to put my Christmas list on paper.  I opened my journal and wrote the following 3 things:

~ a little awe & wonder
~ a change of heart
~ an overwhelming of hope & healing

I chuckled as I wrote them out like that ... thinking ... there you go, God ... sure hope it's not too much to ask this year.

The service started. Del wasn't there.  It was shared that he had a very special baptism that morning ... a grandson in Texas.  I had to smile.  Obviously, I am not the only one who puts BIG things on their list.

So today the music and the message were going to be provided by two young men ... who always amaze me with their passion & purpose ... because I remember them as boys struggling to find their way.

There was no BIG production.  Or fancy backdrops.  Or anything like that.  As a matter of fact, at times, the worship music faltered a little and it wasn't always easy to sing along.  That's what happens when there worship is led from the heart ... and not practiced over and over until it's perfect.

It was real ... and genuine ... and exactly what my heart needed to prepare it for the rest of the day ... the rest of the season.

Then came the message.  Drew speaks to us from time to time ... when Del's not around. He is always sharing a truth that is working on his own heart.

He opened with a simple prayer ... that he asked us all to pray individually ...

Show me something new, Lord.

I sighed.  And prayed right along with him ... the something new prayer.  Then my heart whispered ... Show me you are near.

Drew fidgeted a little there on the platform.  He's always a little nervous ... until he gets started ... then the good stuff just comes pouring out.

Taste The Wonder

That's what he said he was going to talk about this morning.  I sat up a little straighter so I wouldn't miss anything.

There was something up on the screen ... as he continued to speak. It said something about the "Awh and wonder".   I had to smile ... as I did a double-take.  No way it actually said that ... it had only been minutes since I wrote those very words down.

,.. and the whisper came ... "Seriously, MaryJane, how much time did you really think I would need?!?"

Life has a way of beating the awe and wonder out of us.  That's what Drew said ... and he's right.   He went on to say that God did not intend for us to be spectators in our own lives.  Drew had a lot of powerful things to share. (It's worth a listen ... Taste The Wonder)

Psalm 34:8 Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Taste ... means here .. and now.  Living in the moment.

Living in the moment is somewhere God has been leading me throughout this year of changes & transitions.  Woven into Drew's message were the themes of a changed heart ... that bears the fruit ... that comes from ... TASTING ... the goodness of God.

It was very cool.  God tapped into my "awe & wonder" idea ... it was His way of letting me know He was near ... showing off a little with the whole answered prayer thing.

Drew was on a roll.  Overwhelmed, he said.  It's one thing to be right ... it's another thing to be overwhelmed.

His words ... took my breath away.

God does what He's got to do .. to interrupt our lives ... so that we may SEE the awe of Him.

"A little awe & wonder, MaryJane?!?" chuckled my best friend God, Creator of the Universe affectionately. "Get ready ... for something new!"

(c) December 2013

Sunday, September 1, 2013


A hummingbird flew up ... just outside of the patio screen.  It seemed to be attracted by the colorful spinning wheels ... of Icky riding in the wind. 

It darted ... and hovered ... until it had captured my attention.

Isn't there an old hummingbird feeder out in the shed?!? I asked myself.There's bound to be one out there somewhere ... we had so many ... once upon a time.

So on a day ... in a week ... when everything in my life seemed to be stalled ... I became overtaken by the idea of a hummingbird feeder ... 
outside my patio door.

Nothing I have done ... or attempted to do ... in the last two weeks ... 
has panned out.

Things I cook so routinely that I could do it in my sleep ... have ended up burned or somehow not right.  Appointments made ... randomly cancelled.  Activities started ... but somehow not completed.  Things placed ... only to be discovered in a misplaced place.  Conversations with clearly spoken, carefully crafted words ... misheard and misunderstood.

It took two days to get around to it. I've been a bit distracted ... by kittys ... and drops ... and other people's dreams.  All in a good way.

The shed is a sad, scary place.  Even though I've attempted to clean it out a couple of times over the last eight years.  Gosh!  Has it really been that long?!?!

A few minutes was all it took to find what I went looking to find.  In keeping with the tempo of my life at the moment ... turns out it was only a partial hummingbird feeder that was hiding there.  That's the reason it was left behind, no doubt.  It was missing something essential.

I carried the glass bottle inside and washed it up.  There was the bottle with a red cap-like thingy on top that made the hanger. And a screw on thingy that once held the nectar dish in place.

Problem was ... there was no nectar dish.

Immediately, I felt defeated.  It was just one more thing ... in a string of things lately ... that just wasn't going to happen the way it was 
supposed to happen.  

And it was such a simple thing.

The next day ... when once again ... my plans to pro-actively & productively do something that was at least a little bit tied to my work ... were scrapped ... I wandered back to the idea of a hummingbird feeder.

Surely it couldn't be too hard to adapt the partial hummingbird feeder ... or even to make one from stuff around the house.  I said that outloud .. then allowed myself to be distracted once again.

Several times throughout the day, it was mentioned.  "Have you gone online to see about making a hummingbird feeder, MaryJane?" or "I bet there are videos out there to show you how to put one together, MJ?"

Intended to be supportive and encouraging, the suggestions were more like the frantic waving of a red flag in front of a bull.  Motivating me, yes, but not necessarily in the intended way.

"Thwarted. I refuse to be thwarted!" I mumbled to myself.  And in an instant, I realized that I had been grappling with that word for ... 
some time.

Thwart.  To defeat the hopes or aspirations of ...

My mind immediately raced back a month or so ... to the day when gathering up limbs in the yard ... we stumbled across a lunar moth ... resting on the ground.  It was being very, very still ... hoping to blend in with the grass.  So still, that we thought it was injured.

Turns out, it was not injured. Just hiding.

We attempted to assist it by nudging it ... hoping to help it fly.  Once it realized that we weren't going to let it be ... it spread it's wings and took to the air ... racing headlong into the inevitable.

A huge bird shot out of nowhere ... and took it in one smooth, swift swoop ...  Just like that.  Poof!  Into thin air. 

In the blink of an eye, it was gone!

The lousy feeling ... of having prodded the moth ... to its demise ... has lingered.  A graphic visual of ... thwart.

It's not enough to stay positive ... to keep the faith ... to focus on the tiny baby steps as you march towards your dreams.  Or so it seems.

I watched a couple of videos on how to build hummingbird feeders.  A fairly elaborate one ... and one so simplistic it was laughable.  Cut holes in a red solo cup ... punch two holes at top ... run a piece of string through them ... tie a knot ... fill with sugar water ... and hang it on a nail.

And after a failed attempt at adding a bottom to the existing feeder, I did exactly that ... with a red solo cup.  Frustrated ... and with a bit of attitude ... I strung up the iconic red cup ... and just hung it out there.

Refusing to be thwarted.  That's what I said about it.

Setback ... has followed setback ... in all things MJ.  Laughing in the face of adversity on all fronts has been the tangible indication of a shred of hope & promise at the end of each day.

Paradoxically, success ... after success ... has burst forth in the lives of many who are important to me.  Results of staying positive ... keeping the faith ... and taking those tiny baby steps ... proof positive that the MJ walk-the-talk ... is the ticket.

The ticket ... for everyone else ... not me.

On more than one occasion, I have been busted out for having a victim mentality.  An o-woe-is-me-Eeyore attitude.  Each time, I had to laugh. I don't feel like a victim ... nor do I share Eeyore's pessimistic view of life.  

Maybe it's more like Pig-Pen ... from Peanuts ... perpetually wandering around in a cloud of his own dust. Dust that he has come to accept ... finding a sense of pride and ownership in the cloud comprised of dust from ancient, lost civilizations.  Swirling about ... at all times ... attempting to obscure whatever joy is to be found in the moment.

Thwart.  It's a test of some sort ...or possibly an attack.  I am not really sure which ... either way ... I refuse to let it get best of me.

A sponge ... that's what I was after when I entered the hardware store.  It was easily found and on the way to the checkout ... the solution to the hummingbird feeder design presented itself.  It was random ... as all things worthwhile in my life seem to be ... the thing that I saw that triggered the creative response.

Back at home, I secured the flat lid of a small plastic container around the drip hole of the glass bottle ... and punched a few holes around the edges. 
I added a bit more sugar water and some red food coloring ... then snapped the bottom of the container in place ... and hung it just above the witchy yard kite.
In a matter of seconds the first little hummer discovered the spot.  Flitting in and out, it hovered over the lid and drank of the sweet nectar.  Then dashed off to tell the others.  Soon there was a parade of hummingbirds ... some drinking in groups ... others darting in for a quick sip ... off again, on their way.

Overcoming the odds and difficulties ... with a positive result. Victory. That's what it felt like.  And it was good. The not being thwarted. 

Over coffee ... the open-ended conversation continues ... joy found in a litany of good things happening to good people ... clouded by the murkiness of MJ obstacles.  A mathematical exercise ... brightened by the presence of the hummingbirds ...

"Don't become discouraged, MaryJane.  
He is saving the BEST for last."

Simple words.  Not a whisper this time.  Spoken words ... offered up as a soothing balm ... an encouragement ... a hope ... to go with the smile ... that I cling to ... and tend to hide behind ... lately.

So what could I say?
What could I do?
But offer this heart, O God, 
Completely to You.

Sometimes on a day during which nothing seems to happen, MaryJane, everything gets way better. ~ so saith the Universe

 (c) September 2013