The Other Children

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As a stunned world watched in horror, news unfolded last week of the shooting of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown , Connecticut, just days after a mall shooting near Portland, Oregon that left three dead.

“How could this happen, again?”

“What terrifying forces were at work in the mind of the shooters?”

“Are we safe anywhere?”

Our hearts break as we see photographs of primary-school victims with shiny eyes and gap-toothed grins. We try to comprehend the excruciating pain of parents who waited outside the school, only to learn that their child will not walk out to hug them. We don’t want to imagine the nightmares that will haunt the “first-responders” who were on the scene.

School children singing, Pie Town, New Mexico ...

We grieve that these lives ended too soon, that they will never know the joys of puppy love, or driving a car, or getting an A in a tough class. Our society is poorer because their contribution will be missing.

As I pondered this tragedy over the past few days, a question came to my mind.

What about the other children who were killed on December 14, 2012?

The Others…

On December 14, 2012, and on December 13, December 15, and every other day this year, more than 3,400 babies were killed in abortion clinics in the United States.

Those deaths did not make headlines, were not the topic of every newscast for days, nor did they prompt a Presidential appearance in a small town. Photos of these little ones will not appear in People magazine or be posted on YouTube.ultrasound pic (1)

These children will never learn to ride a bike, have a crush on the boy who sits beside them in Biology, or marry the girl next door. We’ll never know how they might have impacted our society. Our economy will continue to suffer because they, and the other 1,200,000 babies aborted this year in the USA, will never be in the workforce.

As we continue to grieve and pray for the families and friends of those affected by the tragedies of last week, let’s not lose sight of the fact that there are children dying in every community,every day of the week.

Will we mourn them also?

What’s stored up for you?

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The Stash

At this time of year, I often think of the special stash of gifts my mother kept ‘hidden’ on a shelf in a back closet of my childhood home. That’s where MoSTashm stored the special things she’d found on sale throughout the year and squirreled away for birthdays and Christmas. I’ve followed her example, and have always had my own special place to stockpile toys, books, and gifts I find that will bring pleasure to my children, grandchildren and friends.

The other day I was reminded that God also has a stash of good things for his children. Here are two versions of Psalm 31:19:

You are wonderful,  
and while everyone watches,
you store up blessings for all
who honor and trust you.
  Contemporary English Version

What a stack of blessing you have piled up
for those who worship you,
Ready and waiting for all who run to you
to escape an unkind world.
   The Message

We may have read this in the past and had a “That’s nice” response. But I believe God wants us to access those blessings, regularly! It would be silly for me to keep adding to the gifts on my shelf and never give them out. My joy is in the giving, not the stockpiling. In the same way, God intends for us to receive, open and enjoy his blessings. The clear message of Psalm 31:19 is that the blessings God has stored up are to delight us, and to show others that he’s a loving and bountiful Father.

The Key to the Storehouse

So how do we access the stash God has for us? I believe thanksgiving is the key. When a small grandchild wraps their arms around my neck and says, “Thank you, Nana!” I’m ready to head out shopping again.

It’s no accident that we’re encouraged to give thanks more than one hundred times in scripture. Giving thanks acknowledges God’s work in our lives, and shifts the focus from our needs to His supply. The more we acknowledge that all good things come from my Father’s hand, the easier the key turns.

At this season, when we acknowledge the Greatest Gift given to mankind, it’s my hope that you’ll access the unique storehouse of blessings that your Heavenly Father has been piling up for you. It will bring delight to you, to Him, and let everyone know his goodness.

nativity

The Cookbook

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“Go ahead, buy it!” said my husband.

I stood with Larry at the book table in a local warehouse store, a popular new cookbook in my hands. The cheerful red and white cover design appealed to me. I had read some rave reviews, and a quick glance through the pages confirmed my interest.

“But it’s so heavy, and it’s expensive, even here. I’m just not sure,” I replied, hesitating.

“It’s up to you,” he said, “but I think you should put it in the cart.”

The Shopping Trip

We were filling two carts with supplies intended to last a family of five for two years on the mission field. Uganda was now relatively peaceful, but shop shelves were still bare, and we needed to ship everything we might need for our assignment there. A special offering at our church had provided the funds; our shopping expedition was both exciting and overwhelming.

We piled the carts with life’s miscellany: shampoo, toothpaste, underwear, razors, towels, pens, pencils and markers for our school-age children. For the joy of living, we added a ten-pound bag of chocolate chips. With the basics selected, we browsed at the book table, wistfully eying the many tempting choices for a reading family. My practical side won out, and I put the cookbook back on the stack.

Mysterious Encounter

A week after our shopping trip, Larry was walking to a local cafe with David, a neighbor. A man approached them, carrying a cardboard box. Without introducing himself, he looked directly at Larry.  Handed him the box, he said “Take this home to your wife.” As he walked away, Larry and David looked at each other in bewilderment.

When Larry came home, he handed me the unopened package. While he related the bizarre encounter, I opened the box to find the red and white cookbook. We looked at each other in awe and amazement; tears prickling in my eyes. I had told no one else, but my Heavenly Father knew of my interest in that particular cookbook.

In the following days cardboard cartons crowded our dining room. We removed every tube of toothpaste, razor and pen from its packaging and sealed them in zippered plastic bags. The cookbook went in a box with a giant Tupperware® bowl nearly filled to the brim with chocolate chips. A few days later, the boxes were on their way to an Africa-bound freighter.

Life in Uganda was challenging, with frequent threats to our health and safety. When I battled discouragement and homesickness, the cookbook was a reminder of God’s personal involvement in our lives. When I took it off my brick-and-board shelf, its message was, “God knows me!”

Twenty years later, the red and white cookbook occupies a prominent place in my kitchen. The pages are discolored and fly-specked, the dust jacket worn. A favorite recipe still shows penciled adjustments for Ugandan ingredients.

It’s an enduring reminder that God cares about the details of our life.

A Treasure from Grampa

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In a storage bin in a back closet, I recently found a thin beige box illustrated with vintage designs of bunnies, sailboats and other toys. Inside was my baby book from 1946.

I leafed through the pages, smiling as I read the sparse comments in my mother’s handwriting. “First began to sit up, 4 mos. Walk around furniture, week of Sept. 1. First word, ‘Ouch’, August 25.”

Then I unfolded the treasure I had never seen before, a note from my 81-year-old grandfather, written in his shaky hand when I was five months old. My throat tightened with emotion as I stared at the small piece of yellowed notepaper.  What was he like? Why would an old man write a message to a five-month-old baby? I wish I could have known him.

The Note

Portland, Mar 20 / 47

My Dear Carolyn

Now that you are growing to be such a big girl and are taking sitting-up exercises, I am sure you will find these pillows useful. They are part of your Gramma Waldron’s treasured possessions (and perhaps of your Great-Gramma’s). So I am sure they will surround you with lots of loving comfort, and I know that she will look down on you as you use them and rejoice that you have them.

With love from your

Grampa Waldron

Memories

I have vague impressions of sitting on Grampa’s lap, feeling safe and loved, as I searched his pockets for the small treat he always brought me, his youngest grandchild. I did not have the privilege of knowing Gramma Waldron, as she died during my mother’s pregnancy, and was unaware of my impending arrival. Sadly, I have no memory of the pink pillows.

Grampa with my mother and siblings, shortly after Gramma passed away.

Just days after my second birthday, he joined Gramma in heaven. He had caught pneumonia while camping alone near the Rogue River in southern Oregon. He ended his life doing what he loved best, panning for gold.

How Can We Connect?

Reading this treasured note, the question comes to mind: What simple things can we do to connect to those we love, now and after we are gone?

Peace with God

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New understanding bloomed in my mind like an unfurling bud as I read and reread the timeless words in Romans 5. “…we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Peace, with God?

The holy, majestic Creator of the Universe? The Giver of all Life? The One Who holds the universe together with a thought? The Ultimate Ruler of all mankind?

Peace?

Considering a peace-able relationship, concepts float into my mind. Comfortable. Accepting. Stress-free. No guilt or shame. No competition or restlessness. No weight of unmet expectations.

We know ourselves. We may be aware of selfish thoughts, impure motives. Un-considered deeds, unkind words and resentful attitudes can haunt our memories. While we may not have committed murder, sin is sin–it all separates us from God.

Because of Jesus, we can step out of the fraying cloak of our attempts at goodness, our misdirected efforts to please. We can walk through the purifying shower of Jesus’ atonement, and approach the Father without uncertainty or fear.

As we come near, we see the love in his eyes, and the welcoming body language as he leans toward us. Like a beloved toddler, we can clamber up into his lap and rest our head against his shoulder. His loving embrace settles us, we can relax.

Peace.

With God.

 

Breakage

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It really wasn’t a surprise when Larry showed me the broken branch lying across the sidewalk one morning this week. The east wind had howled down the Columbia Gorge and the wind chimes on our deck clanged all night.

Of all the trees in our yard, I knew this “October Glory” maple was most vulnerable. When we chose that variety to replace the Russian olive trees in our parking strip, we anticipated graceful shape and vibrant fall color. We had spent extra time at a local nursery finding two young trees with similar size, shape and branch structure.

The nursery helper was sure he could get them in our sedan easily with the back seat folded down. Unfortunately, when he put the second tree in, top-first, he broke off six or eight inches of the growth tip.

“You broke it!” I said. “Now it’s damaged.”

“Don’t worry, it will grow other branches. It will be fine,” he replied.

I should have paid attention to my instincts, and refused to take the broken tree. But we had already paid, and didn’t want to take more time to look for another tree to match the undamaged one.

Within two years, it was obvious that the broken tree was never going to match its companion. Instead of the rounded shape, with one central “leader” branch, the broken tree grew several trunks, and developed a more linear shape.

Now, in the strong fall wind, one of the large vertical branches had snapped, and was hanging down to the ground. At first, looking up at the break, it appeared to be a healthy branch. But when Larry sawed it off and we dragged it into the back yard, I noticed that there was a significant discoloration at the branch junction, indicating unnatural separation. That slight separation made it susceptible to disease, and vulnerable to the windstorm.

Since we first planted these trees six years ago, they have been a metaphor of life for me. Even with significant brokenness in early growth, the tree was still healthy, strong and beautiful, especially in its brilliant fall color. No one else would notice the difference in the two trees; only we knew they should have had matching shape. The breakage had not kept it from being beautiful.

Jesus said, “But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted… This brings great glory to my Father.” John 15:7-8

All of us have broken areas in our lives; we live in a fallen world. God can redeem the brokenness, if we give it to Him.  Breakage becomes a threat only if we allow separation from our Source. If we stay connected, we can have healthy, strong lives, and produce a beautiful display of His glory.

“October Glory” maples, Fall 2011

On the river

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“Okay, Larry, you take the tiller,” said Russ. “If you want to go right, push the tiller to the left.  To go left, steer right. It’s opposite what you’d think. Keep your eyes on that dark warehouse on the north shore, and aim the bow toward that.”

The angled autumn sun warmed us, while the slight breeze on the water kept us comfortable without jackets. The greeny-brown smell of the river was pungent; we could hear the distant rumble of freight trains on the north bank, and the occasional squawk of a misplaced seagull. We headed east against the current toward the graceful S-curve bridge and Mt Hood, swathed to its chin in clouds.

We were in my nephew Gary’s trim 25-foot sailboat on the Columbia River. Knowing how much Larry loves being on the water, I had requested the excursion as a gift for his birthday, and Gary had generously agreed. The feel of the boat on the water, the lovely weather, and the congenial company put us in high spirits–this is the abundant life!

After motoring from the marina into the main channel, Gary raised the main sail while Russ, his first mate, manned the tiller. The tide was in, bringing the water level up several feet, but they had to navigate cautiously past a sandbank, with Gary keeping an eye on the depth gauge.

We hear about solo sailors in the news, but during our short voyage, I appreciated the value of someone experienced to steer while Gary manned the sails. “This boat has been at sea,” he said, “but to be safe on the ocean, I’d want three experienced sailors.”

Larry kept us on course for quite a while, and as the breeze slackened, Gary put up the jib sail to keep us moving east. “We watch what other boats are doing,” he said. Many of the boats near us had both sails up, some with colorful spinnaker sails ballooning. The wind was just enough to put a pleasing curve in our sails. Going against the current, we traveled at a leisurely pace, our movement perceptible only when we looked at the shore.

“Okay, now it’s Carolyn’s turn.”

Russ handed me the tiller, and I instantly felt the pull of the current on the rudder. The responsiveness of the boat surprised me—the bow swung widely with my first movements. Following instructions, I kept my eyes on a shoreline landmark, and slowly began to feel comfortable keeping the boat on course.

After a bit, I handed the tiller to Gary, gathered my courage, and made my way to the bow. It was a lovely feeling to sit on the edge, with the hull quietly cutting a V in the water, the breeze softly rustling the sails. I wanted it to last forever.

All too soon, it was time to turn around, and I clambered back over the deck to the padded cushions in the stern. Heading west to the marina, we watched a dozen boats racing, circling bright yellow buoys. Many had high-tech Kevlar®  sails, their olive-drab color contradicting their expense.

Stepping off the boat, I gave Gary a grateful hug, and we reluctantly made our way up the gangplank.

While on the boat, the pleasure of sailing filled my mind. Now with my feet on the ground, several thoughts come to mind.

  1. To keep on course, it’s critical to maintain focus outside the boat.
  2. Like handling the tiller, doing the right thing is often counter-intuitive.
  3. When you’re heading into rough water, make sure you have some extra support available.
  4. If you ever have an opportunity to sail, don’t pass it up!

Question: How would keeping our eye on the destination instead of the boat make a difference in our journey?

A 45-year Adventure

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When the RV came around the bend in the road, I ran out to the driveway. Larry opened the door, stepped out, and wrapped me in a bone-crushing hug. Sixteen weeks of Vietnam-era Army training had toned and tanned him, and he didn’t know his strength. I was laughing, crying, and gasping for breath all at the same time.

We hadn’t seen each other in six months, and were getting married the next day. It was exciting, wonderful, and just a bit scary.

Larry was a California boy; I was born and raised in Portland. We met at a church service in July 1966, while he was in Portland for a weekend. At a picnic the following day, we discovered how much we had in common. I quickly sensed that he was a man of integrity and character; his primary goal in life was to serve God. He told me later that I matched everything he had listed to good friends a few months earlier.

September, 1966

Six weeks later he returned for a conference at the church, and we spent time walking each afternoon in the residential neighborhood around the church, talking about life. He was heading back to California to start his first job after college, I was soon returning to college for my junior year.

On the third night of the conference, Larry said, “I know we haven’t really known each other very long, but we don’t have much time. I want to spend my life with you. Will you marry me?”

“Yes, of course I will,” I answered. “We both know this is God’s will for us.” It wasn’t an infatuation, but a deep, settled knowing that this was the right thing for us.

In the next six months, we saw each other twice—in December when he returned to Portland with an engagement ring, and in March, when I flew to California during spring break to meet his family. During our lengthy separation, we each wrote a letter nearly every day.

Now it was September, and our wedding was scheduled in less than twenty-four hours.

September 23, 1967

The following day, we said our vows in a rustic log church in Brightwood, near my parents’ ranch. Sunlight slanting through the stained-glass windows created a glowing atmosphere as we pledged our lives to each other.

Army red tape had reduced Larry’s leave to 72 hours, allowing no time for a honeymoon. After a brief night at Timberline Lodge, we caught a morning flight back to California, where we started married life near Fort Ord.

That was forty-five years ago, September 23, 1967.

Our life together has been an amazing adventure. Like all marriages, we’ve had our share of joys, trials and challenges. We’ve lived on three continents and had the great joy of ministering to God’s people in many settings. We’re blessed with four children, a dozen grandchildren, and many wonderful friends. With God’s grace we’ve endured devastating disappointments, chronic disease, and cancer.

Through it all, I can honestly and gratefully say that my very human and comfortably imperfect husband has obeyed the scriptural command of Ephesians 5–he has consistently loved me, encouraged me, and unselfishly “given himself up” for me. If I could do half as much for him, we’d easily make it another forty-five years.

Thank you for loving me, Larry David Wade. Happy Anniversary, Darling!

September 23, 2012

Who’s in control?

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“Put your feet firmly on the pedals. The bottom of the pedal turns the plane on the ground; the top of the pedal is the brake. Your hands on the yoke turn the plane in the air,” said Tony, the personable flight instructor next to me in the small plane. After explaining the purpose of the many dials on the instrument panel, he was giving me more specific directions.

Is he thinking that I’m going to help fly this plane? Is he kidding? I struggled to coordinate feet and brain as Tony said, “Okay, let’s taxi to the right. When I take over, I’ll say, ‘My controls’.”

Tony kept giving me directions, occasionally adjusting a dial or pressing a lever, and within a few minutes, we were smoothly lifting off the runway. The morning sun was at our backs as we flew over picturesque Fort Vancouver, and northwest along the Columbia River. While I knew Tony was piloting the plane, I was also uncomfortably aware that he was expecting me to do some of the things he had told me.

I had given Larry a birthday gift of a thirty-minute flight in a small plane from Pearson Airfield. I knew he was very pleased, but he said, “I flew in a small plane years ago; I want you to sit in the front seat next to the pilot this time.” Neither of us knew that the pilot would be in teaching mode.

Now in the air, I wanted to look out the window, but Tony said, “Keep your eyes on this dial in relation to the horizon,” and “Push in that lever to put the nose down a bit.” After about ten minutes, he sensed my hesitation, and said, “Do you want to look out the window and have me fly the plane?” “Yes, please,” I replied gratefully. “Your controls.”

Tony smiled, “My controls,” and I relaxed.

As we passed over Vancouver Lake, I smiled at the row of houseboats, like blocky beads strung on the dark green slough. Flying north, we could see cargo ships and grain barges on the broad ribbon of the river; ostentatious McMansions squatted in huge yards, facing the mountains.  Smoke from distant forest fires screened our view of distant snow-capped peaks.

All too soon we were heading southeast again, and the runway was just ahead. Tony put the plane down with less jolting than most airliners we’ve been on, and we taxied to our parking spot. It had been a brief but unforgettable journey, both exhilarating and disconcerting.

Our flight was a metaphor for challenging circumstances in life. We don’t always know at the beginning what we’re getting ourselves into, or if our actions will have a significant effect on the outcome. It’s an incredible comfort to know we can breathe a prayer to God, “Your controls,” and know that we can enjoy the ride and land safely.

Flying Standby

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“You’ve got the last seat, you can go to the gate!” Larry gave me a quick hug. “Pray that I’ll get on the next flight.”

The gate agent waved me through the door; it clanged shut behind me. Blinking back tears, I walked down the passageway to the plane. With only one seat left on the plane from Seattle to Washington, DC, my husband had sent me ahead while he waited five hours for the next flight.

We were beginning a long-awaited trip across the continent to spend time with our daughter and family. A generous friend and airline employee had offered us guest passes for our flights. Although using the passes meant we would be flying standby, we thought, How bad could that be? We would use the 50% savings for more fun with our Baltimore family.

We had made the 5:30 a.m. commuter flight from Portland. But sitting in the Seattle airport, we had watched our names continue to drop to the bottom of the standby list.

Now on the plane, I fought anger and panic. This isn’t how it was supposed to be! The worst part was that Larry and I wouldn’t be able to communicate while I was in the air—I’d have to wait until the end of the day to find out whether he made the next flight.

I pulled out my e-reader and scrolled through my library. The title that caught my eye was Indescribable, by Louie Giglio and Matt Redman.

As I began to read of the wonders of the universe, peace settled over my spirit. The God who created the heavens was my friend and constant companion, and on the screen of my life, this glitch in our travel plans was barely a blip.

My flight was uneventful, and when I turned on my phone when the plane landed, I was relieved to hear Larry’s message, “I got the last seat on the 2:40 flight!”

As a contingency plan, we had booked a hotel room in Washington, DC. I called Rebecca while I waited for the hotel shuttle. After considering options, she decided to drive to DC to keep me company and wait for Larry’s 10 p.m. arrival. She came with hugs and snacks, the perfect antidote for my stressful day. A quick check before leaving to pick up Larry showed that his flight had been delayed almost two hours because “The pilot couldn’t make it, so we had to call in a substitute.”

It was after 11 p.m. when I hugged Larry curbside at Reagan Airport. “We’re too old to deal with this kind of stress,” I laughed.

The day before our flight home, we changed our afternoon reservation to early morning, hoping to have more options. We hugged Rebecca good-bye at 5:00 a.m. and joined the congested Baltimore/DC traffic, enjoying a last conversation with Ben.

This time, we were better prepared emotionally for the frustrations of standby travel. Again, when it came down to the departure, there was just one seat left on the morning flight to Seattle. It was Larry’s turn to go first—he had to be at work the next day. After he left, I changed my reservation to re-route through Los Angeles, where the passenger lists were lighter.

By mid-day, Larry and I were both on the West Coast, stuck in separate airports waiting for our last flights home. We kept in touch frequently, and we watched our names drop to the bottom of the standby lists.

As the afternoon passed and Larry missed seats on several flights to Portland, I called AAA and booked a rental car for him. Eventually I got a seat on a flight to PDX from LAX. By the time I landed in Portland, Larry had driven down from Seattle, been met by our son Josh, and had even managed to unpack his suitcase. He picked me up at the curb, and our ill-fated journey was at an end.

When we added up all the extra costs—hotel in DC, extra fees to re-route, and the cost of car rental, the savings from our standby tickets had evaporated. But we had a good story to tell, and the wonderful visit with Rebecca, Ben, Charlotte and Gideon more than made up for the inconvenience and stress.

Now, looking back on our challenging standby adventure, my thoughts turn to an eternal perspective. How many people are not sure if they have a confirmed reservation for eternity? They spend years of their life waiting and hoping, wondering if they’ll get to the destination they’re believing for.

Their gut-wrenching uncertainty is unnecessary—a reserved seat is assured if they simply choose to trust Christ’s loving sacrifice.

He gave up his seat in heaven temporarily so that we could have a guaranteed place with God. We don’t have to wait and wonder, the ticket has been purchased, our place is secure. That’s truly good news!