Soapy Windows

As the summer drew to a close, there were other escapades with Clyde and Sharon, but none as harrowing as the broken window accident. With each passing year, our family’s level of poverty increased. There were no birthday or holiday celebrations. However, once a year our local fire department held a fall festival on Halloween night. The town’s children of all ages and income were welcomed for homemade chili, treats and a night of games and prizes.

My excitement had continued to increase from the moment I first heard about it until the day of the event. There was so little happiness in our family, but tonight would be a wonderful memory.  Little did I realize my excitement would turn to sadness within a matter of hours.

When Dad arrived home, he noticed soap on some of the windows. With Dad’s harsh interrogation, I readily admitted I was the guilty one. My classmates said they were going to soap windows as a traditional Halloween event. I wanted to be accepted as one of the “cool kids” in town.  I soaped only a few windows, enough that when queried the next day, I could exclaim I too had participated in such an adventuresome tradition.

Upon confessing to my crime, Dad hastened to deal with what he deemed a most dastardly deed.  As he immediately removed his large, leather belt, I knew the beating awaiting me. I thought the beating would be sufficient, but not to Dad.  Following my beating, I was forced to remain at home scrubbing all windows, including those not soaped. While my siblings and other children were attending the fireman’s party, I sobbed and pleaded for Dad’s mercy.

I carried the bucket of water from window to window; my hands numb and painful from the water and cold, northern OH night air. The few soaped windows could have easily been cleaned the following night, but Dad insisted I receive the maximum punishment that very night.

When my schoolmates passed by querying if I was attending the party, my moans and cries could be heard for several houses away. I continued to plead with Dad to go to the party. His word was law; “no.”  Only months earlier Dad tearfully stated I had assisted in saving my sister’s life. Now I was being unjustly punished for a childhood prank. No windows were damaged or broken. Nonetheless, my spirit and heart were shattered.

Such incidents reminded me my parents not only viewed me as someone that completed their household chores and tasks, but their refusal to accept me as their 8 year-old daughter that sought to be a child.  It was as though my siblings and I lived in different homes. They were free to play and relish their lives as children.

I can now reflect on those times realizing there would be more times of disappointment. However, I learned at a young age God was with me in all situations. He gave me the strength to endure iniquitous individuals and the disillusionments they bestowed and a reminder He would never forsake me.

Colossians 3:21 NKJ, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

 

 

Stay Here

How I yearned to be a child; to enjoy my life as all the other children. Yet as a missionary friend of our family’s cited frequently, “Janie, you were born an adult. You were never permitted to be a child.” I now realize that God was preparing me for a life filled with challenges beyond comprehension. Had I not learned to be self-sufficient and a care-giver at my young age, when the tempests of life came, I would have been unprepared.

During those years in OH as our family moved from house to house and town to town, there were several memorable incidents. One of the most paramount was  during a summer in the 1950’s. As the eight-year-old care giver of my siblings, I was fulfilling my role as the family laundress on the first floor of our house when I heard an agonizing shriek coming from upstairs. I left the hot iron and ironing board, vaulting up the stairs to discover my brother awe struck while my three-year-old sister stood on the bed, a bloody hair brush in her hand, blood pouring down her arm, as the sun glisten off a jagged, broken window.

Certainly, at age eight, I had no training as a nurse or doctor, but God imparted me with the calmness and knowledge to do what was necessary in this dire emergency. As my brother and sister were jumping on the bed, the hair brush which Sharon held in her hands, was thrust into the window. Still grasping the brush, as she pulled her arm into the room, the window tore a large and deep gash in her upper arm. I clutched my younger sister grabbing a blanket from the bed as I raced down the stairs into the kitchen. I gently sat her on the blanket on the kitchen floor, while dashing to grab a towel and tightly wrapping it around her arm. At age four, my brother understood the urgency as I screeched, “you stay here with Sharon, while I run to get Mom and Dad.”

Following my Dad’s recovery from his injury, my parents opened a drapery installation business in the town where we now resided. It seemed as though I was running for miles to alert my parents of Sharon’s accident. Upon arriving to the security of realizing my parents could now come to take care of her, I screamed, “come quickly, Sharon was badly hurt.” Returning to that house and town, years later, as an adult, the home was at least two miles from my parents’ business. I then realized why it seemed like such a long distance for an eight- year- old in distress.

When my parents returned from the hospital emergency room with my sister, my father was crying. It was the only time in my entire life Dad was sincerely appreciative of my actions. As the tears washed his face, he said “Janie, if not for your actions, the doctor said your sister could have bled to death.” Before the summer ended, there were other mishaps, but I was grateful, not as serious as my sibling’s gymnastics on their bed.

I Timothy 5:8 ESV, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

What Is Your Impression?

I will occasionally deviate from the journey of my life and the gifts of God’s love to share topics which may be an encouragement and/or inspiration to you; my readers.  Don McMinn shared a subject, which I also have strong opinions about; the last and enduring impression. As Don mentions and we all know, making a good first impression is important, but isn’t it often the last impression which remains with you?

I think of my own personal experiences and sometimes there is great joy, while at other times the last image or impression was one which leaves me with great sadness. Have you taken a trip where the last memory of the trip was a departure dinner or gala? As Don mentioned in his blog, it isn’t always about the weather or the “oops” moments on the trip, but the last event before people shared their hugs and good-byes.

What about the service person that enters your home? Do you offer a “thank you” as they depart?  How about offering them a bottle of water to continue on their journey? I’ve always desired to be the customer they recall that was kind to them.

My daughter and I went on a trip last year; our first together and one which has lingered in my heart and mind for these past nine months. Our last evening together was in Canada and I both cry and smile when I think of some of her departing words to me, “Mom, the smile has never left your face.” She is right. If I had died that night, I trust my smile and the love I have for her is what she would have remembered.

When I last saw my mother, the sadness still fills me with tears.  As I held her tiny, frail face in my hands, I told her I loved her and I would see her again. I told my mother often in her life that I loved her; always hoping to hear her words of love for me. It never happened.

I don’t know if my mother did love me, for she refused to articulate those words.  Yet, as I bid her farewell with a promise to see her the following month, that moment would be our last.  Days before her 89th birthday, God called her home. My last image was that of my mother with stage 4 colon cancer, telling her I loved her and yearning to hear the same.

There are many sentiments I tried to instill in my children, but one which I spoke over and over is that we can “never travel this way again” and “what if”, that moment with someone was your last? The impression you leave may be a gift or an offense.  Don McMinn states, “think carefully about how you end all relational encounters…A well-orchestrated ending can make a significant difference.”

Do you want your last encounter with someone to be one they cherish or a memory which causes them to be sorrowful?

Luke 6:31 NIV, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

Pack It Up

As I shared in my last blog, at age five, I understood roller skating to my neighbor; Auntie Alice was a respite from the chaos of my home. Due to my father’s injury, my mother had become the sole financial provider for our family of seven.

As a result of my grandmother’s extreme mental illness when she was not a patient in the state mental hospital, her care was shared between my mother and maternal uncle. As a child, my heart ached to see my grandmother’s mental and emotional condition, sobbing when visiting her at the hospital.  Although young, I understood these patients’ dignity and self-respect were striped away. They were treated only slightly better than a family pet.

Therefore, even though Grandma was a challenge, I was always happy she was with us. She didn’t always grasp her surroundings, but I did. With Grandma’s illness and my father’s injury, neither of them could care for us children. I was designated the day-time care giver for my brother, less than two years of age and my sister, an infant.

This was not discussed, but mandated. As my mother departed daily for her employment at the local green house,  she left bottles of milk for my sister and instructions to change her diapers often. I was also instructed to prepare lunch.

Mom’s arrival home was seldom pleasant. Her mood was agitated. Now as an adult, I realize the burden of caring for our family of five, plus the challenges of her mentally ill mother and the addition of my uncle, was solely on her tiny, frail shoulders. Mom never had the life she had desired. Thus, her unfulfilled dreams also altered my life as a child and later as an adult.

The charming house in northern OH which Dad built himself, would become a mere memory. For my parents, it was the last home they would own until almost twenty years later. Our residence there was short-term following Dad’s accident. In less than five years, our family of five moved six separate times.

Because I had been given the role of “care-giver”,  I was also assigned the task of maid and chef during my mother’s absence. As the boxes were moved into an aged, rented farmhouse, I was instructed to unpack all the kitchen items and place them in the cabinets. My memory is as vivid today as then. I had to walk on the counters to reach the tall cabinets, but my task was completed without breaking even one glass or dish.

What a tremendous disappointment when less than 72 hours later, my Dad announced we were moving from that house into another. All the work of unpacking was now left to me to repack. This would be the saga of moving in and out of homes in four different OH towns over the next four years.

Hebrews 6:10 NIV, “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

The Key To Take Flight

As I hung the skate key around my neck and strapped on my roller skates, it was my way to “take flight” from the reality of life. The house at the end of our tree-lined street in northern Ohio was a “safe haven”; a place for me to find a hug and always a treat. Auntie Alice, as I fondly called, Alice Sharp was a neighbor, full time house wife and mother of a young adult son and a daughter whom had drown in Lake Huron when she was five years of age, several years earlier.

Auntie Alice became a surrogate “mother” for me and I,  a substitute daughter for her. Our friendship remained for many years, but the frequent moves of my family diminished the friendship as I could no longer “drop in” for those sweet times of fellowship. I now realize Alice comprehended  my life was more of a challenge than any five-year-old should endure.

Her 1940’s home with the large wrap around porch possessing a wicker swing, seemed like a fairy- tale castle to me, filled with treasures my young senses had never experienced.  Her parlor was laden with beautiful tapestry chairs and love seats, but the showpiece was the player piano. When hearing it, I longed to learn to play the piano, but it would be years before the dream became a reality.

Aromas filled the air which I desired for our own home; fresh flowers and home baked cookies, breads or cakes. These sweet treats were always enjoyed with lemonade or a cold glass of milk on Auntie Alice’s sunny screened in porch or her garden filled with the fragrant flowers which bedecked her home. I was also intrigued with the beautiful summer cottage in Auntie Alice’s garden. The cottage had a fireplace and furniture with gorgeous, floral cushions, which appeared to have been freshly picked from her garden.

The large garage was designed with an upstairs apartment, which I deemed would make a great hideaway where I could reside.  This young girl was convinced Auntie Alice truly lived in a castle. Our home at the end of the street, built by the hands of my skilled, carpenter father was new and lovely, but modest compared to Auntie Alice’s fine home.

With seven family members residing in our two-bedroom, one bath house, it seemed smaller than it actually was. It did however have a basement which had been my parents’ home before Dad built the primary residence. Our immediate family of five consisted also of my paternal, teen-aged uncle and my widowed maternal grandmother suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

Tragically, my father sustained a broken back when falling from a second story scaffold while working in his profession as a carpenter. This fall left my father partially incapacitated for several months. This was a tremendous setback for the family, but also for me as a child. My life as a care free child ended the day of my father’s accident.

I learned at a young age that life would never be one of joy, but God would be with me.  Jeremiah 29:11 NIV, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you…”

Do We Deserve This?

Did you experience grace today? I’m sure most of you did, even if you didn’t recognize it as grace. Christine Hoover cited “receiving an e-mail that said, thank you for giving me grace.” She noted hearing that phrase “a thousand times but, for some reason, this particular time stuck with me for several days.”

Christine continued by saying she hadn’t done anything significant to receive a thank you of grace. As I shared previously, what does it mean to give grace to another. Recalling Chuck Swindoll’s words “to show grace is to extend favor or kindness to one who doesn’t deserve and can never earn it”, so do any of us deserve grace? Have we been so special, so wonderful or outstanding that we deserve a kindness from others? Probably not!

Grace isn’t a free pass that allows us to throw off all restraint under the guise of Christ. Grace, the unmerited favor of God poured out on us by our faith in Christ, is a compelling change agent that, when received, teaches us how to live. Tim Keller says, “The gospel devours the very motivation you have for sin. It completely saps your very need and reason to live any way you want. Anyone who insists the gospel encourages us to sin has simply not understood it yet, nor begun to feel it’s power.”

When I went to the doctor yesterday for my post-op appointment, I mentioned to the nurse that I was so hopeful I could drive sooner than three weeks. She smiled and said, “did you think you were special?” That was a “gotcha” moment…no I know I’m not special, but I was hopeful.

I’ve done nothing special to have my friend from church transport me to the hospital and return me home which consumed her entire day. I’m not special that she again picked me up and took me to the doctor for my follow up appointment. Her grace for me was a gift.

Grace can be hard to give, if we don’t have a heart for giving and certainly don’t desire to forgive. Michele Mayer cites How People Grow by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend. Our ability to offer grace to others, “comes to us through the grace of God as He loves and forgives us.”

Michele continues, “most of us, even operating in our own inner strength, seem to have the ability to extend grace to someone we love, but who occasionally does something to upset us. Nobody’s perfect, right?”  Yet, there are members of families whom even though state they love another, refuse to offer that person grace. Grace and forgiveness are gifts we offer ourselves as much as the other person. It allows us to be free of the bitterness and resentment we carry toward another.

What would happen if every person opted to give grace to just one person that day? Can you imagine the impact it would make on our lives?

I Cor. 15:10 NIV, “but by grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect…”

Given or Received?

I prepared for the 2-3 week recuperation; off my feet totally. I built my “nest” of reading, writing and knitting, to fill the long days of being alone. Then “wham” as often happens with post-surgery recovery, there was a setback.  Now what? It’s time to watch the numerous recorded movies for a “rainy” day and in this case a “sick day.” When the recordings were depleted, there were the subscription channels.

“Feel good movies”! just what I needed when already a little melancholy about being in isolation for several weeks. There is always a lesson to be learned with every page of our lives. These past few days were no different. I experienced almost every emotion while viewing these quality movies; some based on true life stories, other movies reminding me of blessings of our lives.

One of my favorite movies was Grace Card. What is grace? We all hear about it and know the greatest gift of grace was from our Lord as He sent His son to give us eternal life. Yet our fellow mankind speaks often of grace to others. Bible scholar, Donald Barnhouse cited grace as, “love that goes upward is worship; love that goes outward is affection; love that stoops down is grace.”

Chuck Swindoll describes grace this way, “Jesus never used the word grace. He just taught it and, equally important He lived it. Understanding what grace means requires…going back to an old Hebrew term…to include the idea of “condescending favor.”

Chuck continues by saying, “to show grace is to extend favor or kindness to one who doesn’t deserve it and can never earn it. Every time the thought of grace appears, there is the idea of its being undeserved. In no way is the recipient getting what he or she deserves. Favor is being extended simply out of the goodness of the heart of the giver.”

Have you received grace? Do you offer grace? Have you spoken an unkind word against another and yet refused to apologize or seek their forgiveness? Yet, when you saw them, they chose to greet you with a smile and perhaps a hug. That was grace.

Perhaps on the contrary you have reached out to someone that harmed you physically or emotionally.  Less than two years ago, I became aware of someone who brought me tremendous, emotional pain eight years ago, by taking someone from my life whom I loved deeply.

I realized the relationship she chose to begin was not solely her choice, yet I desired to offer grace. I attempted to talk to her, to let her know I didn’t blame her alone for the unfathomable agony I was experiencing. After attempting to speak with her in person and on the phone, she refused all opportunity for me to extend grace. Is this still grace if the recipient doesn’t accept it? TO BE CONTINUED

I Cor 15:10 NIV, “but by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect…”