Wednesday, June 1, 2016

An Unexpected Guest

Once upon a time, an ordinary woman sat down at her ordinary kitchen table to eat an ordinary lunch. She had written an emotional letter that morning and felt sad and spent. Through the blinds and out the window, an extraordinary color caught her eye. That flash of light blue and white on top of the swingset-become-garden-structure didn't belong there. Had a fragment of someone's plastic grocery bag blown up there?

She parted the blinds to look and saw an extraordinary sight: a blue parakeet.

In another ordinary home in this ordinary neighborhood, an ordinary family's pet bird was out of her cage. Maybe her cage was being cleaned. Maybe she was socializing with her family. A door opened to the wide, extraordinary world beyond, and out she flew.

Out the door, over the fences, through the trees she flew, until she landed on this woman's swingset.

The woman went out to look, and the parakeet allowed her to approach quite close.

The bird wasn't sure if this woman were friend or foe. It tilted its head first this way and then that way. It took three side-steps to the left, then to the right, back and forth and back and forth. Then it flew away, but it didn't fly far.

The woman didn't want to frighten it, so she scattered some seed on the patio and went back inside to watch. The bird stayed in its new perch in the poplar tree.

After a while, when the other birds came to eat their lunch, the parakeet came, too.

The parakeet, which was showed by the white ridge above its beak that it was a girl parakeet, liked the woman's birdseed. It ate and ate and ate, and then it flew back to the top of the swingset and later to the tree.

When the woman's husband came home, he tried to make friends with the parakeet, but she wasn't sure about him either. This time she flew off into the crape myrtle, just far enough away to stay safe but near enough to keep an eye on him.

As the sun declined in the western sky and all the wild birds came to eat supper, the parakeet came too. She really liked the seed here.

She flew back into the poplar tree, and the woman wondered where she would spend the night. She had made some phone calls to try and find the pretty bird's family, but so far without success.

The next morning, the woman went back to the kitchen window when the sun rose. She was holding her breath to see if the parakeet had survived the night. When the cardinals, the finches, and the sparrows came to forage for their breakfast, the parakeet came too, then returned to the poplar she liked. All that day, and the next, and the next, the parakeet rested and ate in the woman's backyard.

It rained, and the woman worried, but the parakeet found shelter in the poplar and survived the storm. It turned cold at night, and the woman worried, but the parakeet survived the cold.

The woman decided that, as long as the parakeet was living in her garden, the parakeet needed a name. She said so to her husband. He was not surprised. He had lived with the woman long enough to know she loved finding names for things.

They considered Tiffany, because of her beautiful blue color, and Juliet, because of its elegance, but nothing quite fit. Then the woman knew.

"Lucy," she said. "We must call her Lucy, Lucy the Valiant, like the queen of Narnia. Our back garden isn't exactly Narnia, and she flew out an ordinary house door, not a wardrobe door. All the same, she left her comfortable, known, safe world, passed through a doorway, and entered a world with temperature swings, uncertain shelter and supply of food and water, and all kinds of dangers. She has survived thunder, rain, cats, hawks, and germs she couldn't have imagined before. Yes, Lucy. That will be her name while she's here."

For eight days Lucy the Valiant lingered in the garden, coming to the porch to feed whenever the doves and sparrows and chickadees did. The woman thought how this parakeet in a world of sparrows was a bit like the Christian in this life: in the garden, but not of the garden; a pilgrim far removed from her true home. Lucy's courage and grit encouraged the woman to be a little braver, too.

On the ninth day, the woman didn't see her in the morning or at noon, but Lucy returned in the late afternoon and evening to feed. On the tenth day, the woman once saw a bright, pale flash flying between two neighbors' trees, and that might have been Lucy, but she never came back to the woman's yard again.

The woman worried some but tried not to. The same God who had sustained Lucy through the early days of her pilgrimage, the same extraordinary God who saw an ordinary woman's heavy heart and sent a blue parakeet to lighten it, could sustain her still. She could have been reunited with her family. Lucy could have expanded her territory as her flying muscles strengthened and found a yard with a better supply of water as well as food. The woman may never know.

If Lucy ever returns to the woman's yard, however, she will have a friend there.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Juneau Town {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}

For the backstory, please see the post, "Courage, Dear Heart!" This post is mostly photos, so e-mail readers may prefer to view the Web version of Juneau Town {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}.

Of the Alaskan ports we visited last year, Juneau was our clear favorite, both for the town itself and for our whales-and-glacier excursion. Upon first introduction, the state capital with a small-town feel was shrouded in mystery.

Once ashore, the public art, flowers, and buildings old and old-fashioned charmed us immediately.

We didn't go inside, but Wyatt Earp's gun reportedly hangs over the bar here.

Sculpture adorning the public library

The streets of Juneau were full of flowers.
Then we met and fell a little in love with Patsy Ann. "Who is that?" you ask. Technically, we didn't meet her, but we did visit her memorial and read her story.

The English bull terrier Patsy Ann lived in the days before ship-to-shore radios and clockwork schedules provided details of ships' arrivals and docking plans. Although born deaf, she somehow knew not only when a ship drew within half a mile of the shore but also where it would dock. The sailors learned to let her guide their preparations. The sign next to her statue said that when she died, a small crowd watched as her coffin was lowered into the channel near where the statue now stands.

Juneau displayed a sense of humor we appreciated, too.

"Established: A Long Time Ago"

What's more, three of life's essentials were available in the main downtown area: coffee, books, and fudge.

This local roaster sells the best dark roast we've ever had: Black Gold.

Mom and I visited the lobby of the state capitol building, but renovations had closed it to visitors.

Meanwhile, Dad and Amore hiked up the hill a ways to visit the oldest Russian Orthodox church in North America, named for St. Nicholas.

If I should forget all the rest of the town of Juneau's appeal, however, this last experience is the one I would wish to keep. Before gathering at the meeting point for the whale-watching excursion, we ascended the Mount Roberts Tramway.

You recall, of course, how mist-veiled and overcast the city was throughout the morning. As the tram climbed, we broke through those clouds, and glory greeted us.

The brilliant blue sky and sunshine had been present all along, but we couldn't see them looking from below the clouds. We had to move through them and gain a higher perspective to see the light.

At the time and often since, even this week, this has vividly illustrated to me an aspect of the Christian's earthly life. In some seasons, our souls are overcast and all we see are mist and clouds and grey from horizon to horizon. Life may feel bereft of color and light. At least, that's all we see and feel if we're looking around at our circumstances and up to the limits of our human vision.

If we enter the "tram" of God's Word, however, it shifts our perspective up, breaking through the clouds to behold heavenly spiritual realities. The Holy Spirit shows us the sun is still shining, the mountain peaks still stand, and the color and beauty are still real and present, even when we can't see them from below.

The apostle Paul wrote of this phenomenon in his letters:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4 ESV).
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV).
Feelings and sight can yell so loudly that this seems impossible. It does require effort and intentionality, but the effort to yield our earthbound perspective to the Lord's eternal one in Scripture will not go unrewarded. Even brief, regular glimpses of the truth and glory hidden in the living and written Word can sustain us through the mists and clouds.

If you too are in a grey season, dear Crumble, may the Lord encourage you and fortify your spirit to set your mind on things above, on the glorious, unseen, eternal realities of life "hidden with Christ in God."

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"With Blazing Hope"

"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,
for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life,
which God has promised to those who love him" (James 1:12, ESV).

Sometimes a fairly routine definition check yields buried treasure. Such was the case this morning when I checked the Greek word behind "remains steadfast" (transliterated to our alphabet, hupomeno). Its most basic meaning is "to endure. to stay under [an affliction or load]." One of my favorite Greek tools fleshed out the sense this way:
It is not the patience which can sit down and bow its head and let things descend upon it and passively endure until the storm is passed. It is the spirit which can bear things, not simply w. resignation, but w. blazing hope (Reinecker/Rogers, James 1:12).
May God grant us in grace to remain steadfast in this triumphant way, "with blazing hope."

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Dear Mom, Thanks


Dear Mom,

Do you remember all the Easter/birthday/back-to-school dresses you made me? And how I inevitably picked the most complicated pattern but you made it anyway? Homecoming and graduation dresses, I'm looking at you.

Do you remember all the music lessons, medical appointments, and school events you drove me to? And all the plans you changed to stay home with me when I was sick?

Do you remember all the summer days we spent together with your mother, driving her on errands and visiting your dad after she could no longer care for him at home? I loved those days.

Do you remember taking me to the Merle Norman store and Clinique counter for makeup pointers when I was trying to figure out this growing-up thing?

Do you remember "rafting" the Delaware River?

Do you remember all the sister squabbles you settled?

Do you remember all the school paper ideas I bounced off you in the kitchen while you prepared supper?

Do you remember the many places we've shared afternoon tea? In fact, do you remember initiating me to the pleasures of tea and morning oatmeal to begin with?

Do you remember the many, many, many notes you placed in my lunch bag or suitcase, just in case I thought you forgot me while I was at school or traveling? My husband benefits from that training, by the way.

Do you remember all the Revelation! choir tours you chaperoned?

Do you remember all the Bible studies, retreats, conferences, and simulcasts we've attended together?

Mama, you are amazing, and I don't tell you often enough. For all this and more, thank you. I couldn't ask for a more loving and generous mother. I love you! Happy Mother's Day!

Love always,
your Sonshine

Now... Same smile

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ketchikan {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}

For the backstory, please see the post, "Courage, Dear Heart!" This post is mostly photos, so e-mail readers may prefer to view the Web version of Ketchikan {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}.

Our first port of call on our Alaskan cruise was the island town of Ketchikan. This was a short day in port, so we only had enough time to capture the look of the city and buy warmer clothes and family gifts before our excursion. The contrast of brightly colored buildings against the mizzle and mountain background made my eyes happy.

Our first eagle sighting was atop a light pole.
My parents, Amore, and I spent most of our Ketchikan time on a small boat viewing eagles, totems, and a lighthouse. At least, those were the billed attractions. A few other critters joined the party to add to the fun. The drizzle continued the whole time, but it didn't dampen our spirits.

Humpback whale fluke

The juvenile bald eagles lack the white head and golden beak

Two juvenile bald eagles with their breakfast
The locals call the structure in the next photo "The Bridge to Nowhere." The state government canceled funding mid-project but didn't authorize a demo budget either.

Grey heron

Eagles' nest, center frame
 Next we sailed past the Totem Village, where tribal meetings still take place:

Our guides told us that "low man on the totem pole," taken literally, is actually a compliment. The importance of the person represented decreases as you go up, not down.

Eagle's nest hidden amid the foliage
 Scattered houses dotted the shoreline.

Next we came upon the lighthouse and more humpback whales:

Coffee and hot chocolate was a must in the cool, wet weather

A colony of harbor seals surprised us. Their coloration blended in with their rocky hangout, so that they almost looked like additional rocks themselves.

A few sea lions poked their noses up nearby, too:

On the way back to the dock where we started, we passed more eagles' nests.

As we sailed away in early afternoon, the sun came out and dappled the hills while we watched Orcas play.

All in all, it was a beautiful day.