Boy in the Backyard on a Warm November Afternoon

Fun, fun, golden sun,
Raking leaves for boys that run.
Pile wide and deep and high
So his eyes can’t see the sky
‘Til a blonde emerging head,
Blending in with yellow, red,
Orange, brown, twigs, and bugs,
Runs to give his mama hugs.

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Messy Changes

This article was written by request and first appeared in the Elverson Borough Newsletter, November 2015 issue.

Elverson has seen changes in its days. And I’ve certainly seen Elverson change in my days. As kids, my cousins and I used to trudge through the field, crossing invisible rows of beheaded cornstalks buried by feet of snow. Poppop built a bonfire, Mommom provided hot cocoa, and it was bring-your-own-sled. Today, in order to reach that sledding hill, you would cross Kennelwood and Homestead Drives. Wherever the popular sledding hill is now, it has been relocated.

Each year as December rolled around, the flea market held at the old fire hall doubled its customers. My siblings and I walked along the tired, old iron fence on South Chestnut Street, crossed Main Street, and lost ourselves among tables of vendors, searching for the perfect Christmas gifts to place under our tree. (Do residents of Hopewell Manor realize bartering took place in their community center?)

When I turned eighteen, I entered the voting booth for the first time in the tiny Boro Hall. I understand registered voters now enter the foyer of the church on Brick Lane to cast their votes. Elverson has grown enough that the Boro Hall can no longer accommodate its expanding population.

Now, that same church on Brick Lane, Community Evangelical Free Church, is also undergoing some changes. Maybe you have noticed if you’ve walked through its muddy parking lot (currently a labyrinth of patched pipe lines) or driven along Brick Lane, the eastern border of the boro’s one square mile, and seen (or heard) monstrous machinery guarding the premises. But it’s not the first time the church has experienced change.

In the 1970s, a small group of people began to meet together on Sunday mornings to worship in one another’s homes. It didn’t take long to outgrow their living rooms, and by the time I was school age they had moved from the Twin Valley Elementary Center (now demolished) and began renting a room in the fire hall right in the center of town. (Yes, that same room that held the flea market.) I am told the nursery and children’s Sunday schools were held in the Annex, now Warwick Bible Church.

Finally, in 1989, the congregation purchased property in the middle of a corn field and built its first building, a small brick colonial style church with a white steeple visible from Route 23. Once the first stages of Summerfield were complete and the trees grew to maturity, the steeple became invisible, but it has never moved.

The congregation continued to grow, and with it, the building. An education wing was added, and in 1999 the sanctuary walls were extended to seat more people as well as make the foyer larger. That is the current building many of you are familiar with as you enter your polling place.

Well, sixteen years and a few additional modifications later (more nursery space? Okay. More offices? Yes.), we are expanding again. The youth group has exploded in size and has required the use of space off the church campus. Two morning services have still occasionally necessitated additional chairs set up in the foyer. And if the ruckus of gurgling babies in the nursery gives any indication as to the numbers of the future, we’re in big trouble.

So, here we go again. The huge hole in the ground now marks the foundation of a new sanctuary, which will face east. More parking space has been carved out on the northeast corner, and the current  sanctuary will be utilized for the displaced youth group. We’re making room.

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My family at the groundbreaking ceremony

Sure, it’s messy. And muddy. And dirty. Just like the people who enter its doors on Sunday mornings. New people and returning people. People coming from Downingtown, Coatesville, Pottstown, East Earl, and Reading and places in between. They dress in heels or jeans, drive shiny Escalades or beat up Plymouth Neons, but they all come to seek refuge from their messy, weary lives. It’s not the people that make it a special place (although to me they are), and it’s not the building. It’s Who is taught and what about Him is taught there that makes it special. These people all come to a common place of worship to hand over their dirt to their God, their Creator, their Savior, Who is in the business of turning messy things into something beautiful.

Sometimes that takes a while. But it will happen. Just like the construction taking place. Thank you for your patience with our mess.

Autumn’s Gift

Autumn is a peculiar happening. A slight nip in the air and some mums on the front porch invigorate the senses and herald the arrival of the most royal of seasons. The season in which nature takes off its mask to boast its true colors. A season unveiling itself with the shedding of chlorophyll – an emerging beauty worthy of gasping and heart palpitations. A season that unabashedly dances before its audience, holding nothing back. Then with one last surge, having given all it is worth and more, having laid everything out at our feet, it lays down and gives its last breath.

This is the season of “It is finished.”

The warm colors of autumn’s blanket will be stripped, exposing cold, stark white sheets…

…Until the redemption of spring.

Without the giving of life, there is no death. Without death, there is no resurrection.

In this season, do not despair. Revel in its beauty. Gasp at its glory. Marvel in its gift – the giving of life itself…

…And then wait for its redemption. It will come. It always does. Indeed, it already has.

Footprints

This weekend my toes were curled in the sand. They burrowed, soft and warm, hiding from the wind which whipped my upper body, burrowed in a towel and crouched in a beach chair.

Momentarily my eyes would close and I would lift my face to the emerging sun to catch warmth before it quickly hid again, as if it were shy. The cloud covering was not unkind, but my toes dug in a little deeper, and my eyelids opened again to do a quick scan for the children.

A weekend is a whirlwind. A blur, passing as quickly as those sun rays before skittering behind the clouds. But like the sun rays, it can leave an imprint on the brain, a memory of warmth.

Not unlike the poem Footprints in the Sand, I picture a set of footprints – my own women’s size 7. But unlike the poem, there are not just two sets of footprints. There are many. A range of men’s sizes, women’s sizes, children’s sizes down to toddler sizes. Sometimes the children’s sizes are right next to the men’s sizes, and then the toddler size disappears. (A child has been scooped up to ride on the shoulders.) Sometimes the children’s footprints make imprints far ahead of the larger sizes. (Children run, of course.) Sometimes there is a divet from a soccer ball cutting through. Sometimes there are trampled crumbs from Apple cider doughnuts, or drips of icecream on someone’s toe.

In my vision of the poem, I have never seen only one set of footprints. This is the gift of a family.

But the thee year old observed his footprints this weekend. “They’re broken,” he said.

Everyone leaves a different footprint. Some are big. Some are small. Some are thin and some (pudgy toddlers) leave wide, fat ones. But in each one the toes are separate from each other and separate from the foot. Broken.

In my vision of the poem, there are a slew of footprints in the sand. But none of them are the footprints of Jesus.

In my vision of the poem, I start with a closeup view of these footprints on the beach. But as I move away, widening the picture to a bird’s eye view, and then farther through space, there is where I see Jesus, holding the world in his hands like a blue and green beach ball.

In my vision of the poem, instead of his footprints, it’s his fingerprints that I see. His fingerprints all over that beach ball, carrying our broken footprints.

The weekend is over. Monday is here. School has begun again. Work has resumed. The waves have washed away those footprints in the sand with the tide, and the footprints have scattered elsewhere, broken. But the fingerprints are still there, carrying that beach ball. Carrying those broken footprints wherever they have gone. And from the face of Jesus, a ray of warmth shines that has been imbedded in the brain and not forgotten, even if it is momentarily shaded by a blanket of clouds.

And remember, those of you with broken footprints: the clouds only cast a shadow when there is a closeup view. Remember the bird’s eye view, and then even farther through space. There, above the clouds, the Son is always shining, and one day he will trade in our broken footprints, the ones he has been holding together and carrying all along, for brand new ones. Ones that are not broken. And they will leave new footprints in the sand, unbroken footprints walking together, never to be washed away by the tide.

In my vision of the poem, that is where I see the footprints of Jesus. Having carried us here, he finally sets us down and walks with us, His unbroken family.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” -Revelation 21:4-5 

A Decade of Hope

Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina had ripped through the Gulf Coast. The levees barricading New Orleans could no longer hold back the torrential waters.

I remember well, because I watched stories of the aftermath unfold on the TV screen beside my husband’s hospital bed. For a week I drove to the old Fifth Avenue Parking Garage and, blurry-eyed, shuffled down the hallway route to his room. I waved to the nurses, prompting smiles shaded by piteous eyes. As I unlatched the closed door and passed the Isolation Room sign, I entered his room with a mustered smile that was hidden beneath a yellow mask. I was heavy laden with child.

A few days later he was discharged, weak and frail, but meningitis free. He returned to work on Monday and called off on Thursday to return to the hospital, this time to witness the birth of his second daughter. It was a hot September afternoon, and she arrived as gently as a near nine pound baby can. Ten years ago.

There were no gale force winds, no broken levees, and the hospital was dry.

Round cheeks, dark beady eyes, perfect little lips, and a tiny streak of blonde in her dark hair. The doctor wanted some tests run. So we took our beautiful baby girl home to reunite our little family of four, and we waited. Tests came back negative, but other findings prompted further testing and further waiting. I learned a bit about genetics and chromosomes. I learned a lot about loosening my grip to give my baby girl over to God. Then we learned she did not, indeed, have a heart defect and was as healthy as any baby should be.

Her name means hope.

Accidents happen, and she is the only one of my children (as of yet) to have broken a bone, undergone anesthesia (twice), and have had her head glued to close a deep cut. (The mysterious lump under her eye at age five was not a tumor and stitches have not been part of the repertoire.) But I believe her compassionate nature only grew stronger as a result, and I have learned a smidgen about compassion too.

I am told there is no word in the English language to describe the feeling of indentifying other’s suffering so much the heart hurts, but compassion must fit in there somewhere. In December 2012, I undertook a Pinterest project and proudly hung three newly crafted stockings from the mantle. Two days later, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting shook the country and shook me as 20 six and seven year old students and 6 staff members were murdered. Every time I walked down the steps, my seven year old’s stocking caught my eye, hanging front and center. (I wondered how many of those parents had hung their child’s stocking earlier that week.) Whatever that non-existent word is, I felt it, and I wept. And I hugged my girl close and often.

I visited a friend after a miscarriage (another one), and she told me not to pity her, but to please please go home, hug my baby tight, and by all means thank God every single day for giving her to me. I did. I do. More weeping. That word again…

This middle child of mine brings delight. I don’t deserve her hugs every morning or her sweet love notes left on my pillow. (“I love you more than chocolate…”) I don’t deserve the joy she brings as she sings and reads to her younger brother and the tenderness she exudes as tears spill over the death of her older sister’s pet fish. I’ve certainly tightened my grip on her again many times over since that first “letting go”, trying to take back from God because what if we lived in Newtown, Connecticut, or what if that lump had been a tumor, or what if those chromosomes had been something bigger and I had never gotten to meet her? What if…? What if…? What if…? I don’t understand why I was shown kindness.

But I do know I was shown kindness. And I do know that God uses suffering to produce in us character, and character, hope. And whether that suffering is my own or my heart hurting for another’s, hope grew in me through the life of my second baby girl.

Oh, my hope is not in her. It’s not even in the hope that nothing bad will happen to her. No. My hope is in Christ alone, in his death and resurrection. My hope is in his good purposes, and that he will carry them out to completion. My hope is in his promises, especially the promise that he will make all things right.

Excitement and trepidation together overtake me as we look ahead at the next ten years. My fists grow worn out from clenching so tightly.

But that little ribbon of blonde that has streaked through my little girl’s hair since she was born – God put it there as His reminder of the Hope He has given me. A decade of mercy, grace, and hope.

Here’s to as many more as God will allow. My palms are open, my fingers unfurled. I know He will fill them with hope. Whatever that looks like, I know His plans are good.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

-Psalm 62:5-6

Secondary, Education

My daughters are entering the delicate, complicated, mysterious era called “middle school,” and this year they are experiencing life in the public school system for the first time. This is partly because this five-year lightly seasoned home educator has reached a threshold of ability to handle such delicacies and complications in a school setting, and mostly because, well, God moves in mysterious ways, does He not?

But back to the threshold of ability…

For five years I diligently drilled them on math facts, continuously reviewed spelling words, religiously read to nurture a love of literature, taught them that to live is to learn. But this responsibility has now been cautiously, willingly, forcefully, apprehensively handed over to their fifth and sixth grade teachers. (I never actually left the “complicated” stage, but don’t tell them that. I have higher hopes for these children of mine.)

It’s  a gigantuous responsibility teachers have, making us parents happy. After all, aren’t children our future? Aren’t they responsible for teaching the next generation of doctors, lawyers, law enforcement and congressmen (and women)? A love of learning can direct their paths. The right steps in sixth grade can lead to upper placement in high school and make straight the path for college grants, stable jobs and a comfortable nest egg. No pressure or anything.

The apostle Paul must have had prophetic gifts, (or God is once again moving in His mysterious ways), because his words to the Corinthians were obviously really meant to reach me in this year of our Lord, two thousand fifteen. In this century when education is an idol to this developed country. In this day and age when we believe that education is the key to the future. In this country where no child is left behind and everyone is given equal opportunity to achieve the American Dream. (Well, we’re still reaching to achieve in some ways, but it’s the thought that counts.)

But God spoke through Paul. And this is my interpretation of what he said:

If I speak with great vocabulary but have no patience with the hyper boy who sits across from me,  I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol. If I memorize my multiplication tables but show no kindness to the shy girl who shares my lunch table in the cafeteria, I am nothing. If I score well on the PSSAs or if I raise my hand in class and get extra credit but still envy, boast, and am prideful, I gain nothing.

“…Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Huh.

And I’m stuck on excelling in language arts and please don’t fail in math?

Please don’t misunderstand me. Literacy opens a world of treasure. Education is a gift. I do not want to take it for granted, and I hope no child truly does get left behind.

But this mother has not completely given up her home educating responsibilities. I still have the responsibility of teaching my daughters how to love, Whom to love, and Who is love.

And if they pass math, hallelujah! And if they get a college grant, praise the Lord!

But regarding education? Education is most definitely secondary.

And love? Mysteriously, love never fails.

Back to School

This morning my heart kissed me goodbye and up and walked out the front door. I tucked it in with a napkin and zipped it up in a cobalt blue Aztec print lunch bag. I hugged it and watched it head down the sidewalk with a brave face and bright new sneakers. I think it was secretly nervous.

This morning my heart rose with the alarm clock. I poured it into a coffee mug, snapped on the lid, gave it a kiss. It adjusted its tie in the mirror, grabbed its brief case and headed out the door with a brave face and worn black dress shoes. It may have been secretly nervous.

Summer just drove away, leaving me staring at the back of a big yellow bus and the tail lights of a ’98 Plymouth Neon with a 26.2 bumper sticker. Unlike my husband during that marathon, I didn’t pace myself. I didn’t know how.

Now it’s off to The Great Halls of Learning. One to teach. Two to learn.

As I sit here and the dust settles, I’m being taught to share. I’m being taught to trust. I’m being taught to pray.

Oh, I have so much to learn.