Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Island Dreaming

The north wind doth blow,*
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then, poor thing.

   Do you remember that poem from childhood? There are a few more verses, but those are the lines I recall from childhood. Today I particularly empathize with the robin…poor thing…because I am just not liking the effects of this nor’easter here in New Jersey! (My computer tells me this is poor sentence structure, but this is exactly how I feel. I'm not liking it!)
   On a day like today my thoughts turn to sandy beaches, flip flops and a plateful of ackee. Yes, ackee, that delicious vegetable cooked up with salt fish (dried, salted cod), onions and hot peppers. And of course it must be served with bammy, avocado, and maybe a slice of roasted and fried breadfruit. On a day like today I am extremely jealous of my sisters and cousins who live in tropical climes. Oh to be on a beach.
   You could say I'm island dreaming again. That would be true. Unfortunately, since I  have a full schedule for the next eight weeks, a trip to Jamaica or any other Caribbean island  before spring arrives is out of the question for now. So I will settle for making my own version of island fare, turn to the travel channel on TV, crank up the central heat and dream.
   As I warned my husband again this morning, There’s an island in my future, dear. (He just smiled. He's heard that song before).

   By the way, I Googled the poem. The robin fares no better than I. Here's the rest of that stanza:

He'll sit in a barn,
And keep himself warm,
And hide his head under his wing, poor thing.

*The Robin, nursery rhyme, origin unknown.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Country Neighbors


Author’s Note:

One of the benefits of residing in New Jersey’s southern counties is the freedom for residents to develop mini farms or homesteads in their own backyards. Properties here are larger than in the northern counties, and there are few, if any, restrictions against using the land for growing vegetables or raising small livestock. It is not unusual for passersby to glimpse the occasional goat or sheep next to spacious residences, and signs on neatly manicured front lawns offering local honey or homegrown produce or quilts and other handmade crafts for sale. In these are reminders that New Jersey is aptly named The Garden State.


SUNLIGHT SEEPS THROUGH the blinds of the window above her bed. She blinks against the sharpness of the rays, and blinks again, slowly this time, squeezing the remaining fog of the night’s sleep from her eyes. A sense of contentment steals over her and she fights the urge to snuggle longer under the warm, welcoming blankets.  It is one of the pleasures of living in the country, this wakening to bright sunlight and the melody of songbirds outside her window.

   A deep breath, and she rolls out of bed, not yet fully awake, but sufficiently so to remember that she has a pressing mission that cannot wait for wakefulness. Without pausing to throw a robe around her shoulders, she stumbles to the front door, turns the lock, pulls the door open and conducts a rapid survey of the porch and lawn. She is afraid to see what she hopes isn’t there...and she is disappointed. The Mallard family has visited during the night and the front walk, the carefully laid path that she and her husband labored to build brick by brick, is dotted again with globs of stinky duck poop.

   For some reason the Mallards ignore the amenities provided for them in her neighbors’ backyard, preferring instead to nest within the meager pickings in her overgrown flower bed. They spurn their pond — a kiddie swimming pool that is faithfully cleaned and refilled by their keepers. They reject the handmade, straw-lined coop erected in the shelter of a copse of trees at the end of their own backyard, choosing instead to huddle in the dried-out mulch around her neglected rose bushes.

   And they poop on her walkway. Now what does she do?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

If 60 is the new 40, shouldn't somebody tell my knees?

http://ellenbcutler.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/60_is_just_a_number.jpgThe curious never fail to ask me what happened. The curious are mostly people I have never met and am not likely to see again, but noticing my uneven gait, they feel the need to ask. I don’t feel obliged to tell them, but propriety dictates that I respond, so I say I was injured while sliding into third base. Invariably they pause, eyes scanning me from head to toe (is my nose growing?) and then laugh, guessing my answer is too preposterous to be true. I join in their laughter, and we move on.

The truth is, I popped my knee just walking across the room. I say popped because that was the sound it made an instant before my leg buckled and I landed on the floor in an undignified heap. As I recall, I was wearing sensible shoes that day, not flip flops, not pointy toes or platforms, not high heels. In fact I was dressed in a manner well befitting my sixty-plus years.  

But nobody told my knees.

Knees are peculiar objects. They’re designed to bend in one direction, but only so far. They act as shock absorbers, protecting the body from jarring motions, bending at angles that enhance walking, running, jumping and jogging or they hold steady for standing, locked into place by the sheer will of the knee owner, and nothing else. Mine must have forgotten how to function, for they just buckled. I tore the meniscus in one knee, fell to the floor, and suffered yet another of the many indignities of aging.  

I get the feeling it’s expected that the twenty-first century, sixty-year-old should be able to see as clearly, work-out as strenuously, eat as sparingly, move as nimbly, speak as fluently, sleep as peacefully, love as passionately, and laugh as heartily as the forty-year-old of past decades.

Not so!

I knew it would be a challenge to maintain my activity level and general lifestyle when I achieved the big Six-O. In fact, I started making adjustments to my lifestyle the day I turned forty. Today my heels are lower, my glasses thicker, and my fingernails shorter. I dare not indulge in a glass of iced tea or mug of cappuccino after four o’clock in the evening for fear of sleeplessness. I wear little eye makeup as I no longer can see well enough without my glasses to apply the darn thing without smudging. The nodding acquaintance I had with Miss Clairol in my forties has blossomed into a full-blown, love-hate relationship. And as for shedding hair – well let’s just say if I have to listen to my husband complain one more time about the hair on the bathroom floor, that dear balding partner is likely to be on the receiving end of a mighty thump in places better left unmentioned.

Still, there are small mercies: The plumbing functions well, even if I have to schedule relief sessions or run the risk of springing a leak; my heart beats out a steady cadence unaided by medical devices; the LDL, HDL and A1C are at appropriate levels; and, (wonder of wonders) I can still touch my toes. Once.

No sixty is not forty – it never was, it never will be - but sixty isn’t so bad. And in spite of an occasional early-morning twinge, these sixty-year-old knees still have the ability to whomp a soccer ball past a grandchild of sprightlier age. And that’s good enough for me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Angel Unaware?

I couldn’t remember her name.

     She shouted at me from the far end of the food court in the crowded mall. It didn’t seem to matter to her that I was checking the price and cut of a really nifty linen jacket hanging on the sale rack outside the boutique. She just kept calling my name until she had my full attention. That had always been her way. Having set her sights on something of interest, she went after it with dogged determination. Like a racehorse with blinders.

     I set aside the jacket and waited for her to come closer.
     I greeted her with a smile. Had she been less determined to hold my attention, she would have noticed that my bland smile said, your face is familiar, but for the life of me, I can’t remember who you are.  

     “I want to thank you for helping me with my baby,” she panted, her breath coming in quick bursts after her uneven run-hop dash across the mall. “You’re an angel.” She leaned into me and threw her arms around me. “You made me have my baby.”

     Her words should have given me a clue as to who she was, but I was still coming up blank. I stared back at her, riffling through my memory for one tiny hint of our connection, while attempting to keep my face from showing the bewilderment I felt inside.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Emulating the Good Samaritan

She marched toward me, her steps short but deliberate. Her path was hampered by the bustle of shoppers in the local convenience store, people jostling for a place in the checkout line while precariously balancing containers of coffee and juice, bagels and donuts. It was the morning rush hour, but unlike those customers, I was heading out of state for a weekend vacation and was in a pretty laid-back frame of mind. That might have been the reason she zeroed in on me. 

Our eyes met. I gave her what I thought was a courteous but unengaging Good Morning smile. She smiled back. Balancing my coffee and cinnamon roll in one hand and my purse in the other, I attempted to side-step her, but she blocked my path. 

    “Can you give me a ride home?” she asked breathlessly. 

I was caught off-guard. I had never met her before and I was pretty certain she didn’t know me. She must have sensed my confusion because she added, “Your daughter said I should ask you.” I looked around for my daughter who stood halfway down the aisle. Her shoulder-shrug and perplexed eyes told me she didn’t know the woman either.

In twenty-first century, crime-ridden America, do rational, safety-conscious people approach total strangers and ask to be taken for a ride in the strangers’ car? Do rational, safety-conscious people comply with that kind of request and assume the responsibility of transporting a stranger to an unknown address?  I didn’t think so.

     “I’m sorry, I can’t,” I said without further thought, and moved away.  

Besides the safety issue, I had good reason to refuse her request. My daughter, grandson and I were only twenty minutes into a six-hour drive that would take us across four states to see my granddaughter perform in her first stage play, Peter Pan. She was playing Wendy. We had promised to be present for opening night. Our tickets had been purchased. A detour would have blown our schedule. Walking away from that stranger was justified on so many levels.    

The woman followed me to the checkout line. From behind me she whispered her story: She is diabetic. She had walked from home in the early morning to keep an appointment with Social Services and, in her hurry, left her medication at home. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw her hands tremble.  Was her story true, or was she just a very glib con artist? I offered to buy her a container of orange juice to temporarily stave off a diabetic crisis. She declined, saying she had just eaten a piece of candy.   

It was a beautiful day outdoors. Sharp sunrays glinted off the mirrors of cars lined up in the parking lot. But clouds whipped across the bright blue sky the result of a brutal wind reminding me of Al Roker’s morning forecast of 11 degree temperatures and intolerable wind chills. I knew it would be dangerous to walk a long distance in that kind of weather.  

I was reminded of a story Jesus told: A man was attacked by robbers as he was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. A priest and a Levite saw the beaten and broken man but walked away, probably out of fear for their own safety, or maybe out of cold-heartedness. But a Samaritan bandaged his wounds, took the man to a safe place and paid for his stay. Jesus asked his audience, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”[ Luke 10: 30-37-NIV] 

 I wonder, is it still possible or even wise for an ordinary upstanding citizen to be a “Good Samaritan” in this era of random attacks on unsuspecting citizens, or, like the priest and Levite, would it be more prudent to ignore this plea?  Was there a way for me to go and do likewise without risking life and limb?

How easy it has become to be caught up in the fears of this world and forget that we are sheltered by the One who protects us in every situation. How quickly we latch on to the advice of the overly cautious naysayers who say Stay away, when Jesus clearly says, Go... and I go with you.

I decided to grant her request - first taking some precautions:

I asked her point blank if she was carrying a weapon. I had to let her know I was a little suspicious. She said no. (Yes, I do realize she could have lied.) Next, I asked to see photo identification. She complied without question. Then I texted her name and contact information to my husband along with a description of how she was dressed. Finally, I had her ride in the front passenger seat while my daughter drove. I would be able to watch her every movement from behind.  

It goes without saying that the ride was uneventful. In fact, it was quite pleasant. We delivered her safely home without crisis. We arrived at our out of state destination with time to spare. Most important, we acted on faith, trusting God to keep us safe, and in doing so, were able to share the love of Christ in a simple, tangible way.  

So this little blog post is to remind you that you need never succumb to the fears of this world. Be prudent, yes. Take reasonable precautions, yes. But never neglect the opportunity to be the Good Samaritan, the helping hand that Jesus intended us to be. He left us here to be his arms to provide comfort, his feet to go into the dark places where others are reluctant to go, and his heart to show real love to those who are loveless.

Keep the faith,

Monday, February 17, 2014

Are you having a problem seeing?

Rev. Carroll Bickley, retired.
Guest blogger

      My grandfather went blind in the 1930’s. He underwent surgery in the hope of restoring his sight but was only able to distinguish between light and dark, and only for a while. He had to sell his farm, house, animals and all farming equipment.  He was only in his 50’s.  Several years ago I began to have difficulty seeing as a result of cataracts.  Remembering my grandfather’s ordeal I went to the ophthalmologist who recommended surgery.  Technology has improved since my grandfather’s day and I can now read most of the newspaper without glasses. 

     In my 60-something years in the ministry I have discovered there are many people who can’t see – not because they have aged or have an eye-related illness, but because they don’t use spiritual eyes. They are the ones “who have eyes to see but do not see” (Matthew 13:13).

     Some experience myopia – near-sightedness. They only see things that are close to them. They have lost sight of their spiritual destination because they are so caught up in present-day things. They have become intolerant and lack discernment.  

     Others experience presbyopia.  No, that is not a disease of Presbyterians. These people lose their ability to see things that are close up; they view everything from a distance. They lose the fervor and joy that once motivated and inspired them to be happy today.

     Yet others have astigmatism caused by the eye being out of balance. What is seen is distorted. They are unable - perhaps unwilling - to see the whole picture and listen to God’s voice in every situation.

     Some experience macular degeneration where their vision is impeded by blind spots. God shows them His Word and His will, but their blind spots cause interference.  (I have a freckle in the back of my right pupil; it resembles macular degeneration and interferes with my vision.)

     But the biggest problem is the one that most of us experience from time to time. It is the whole “I” problem - our self-absorption, our arrogance, our conceit.  Paul cautions in Romans 12:3  - “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”

     God has been dealing with me over the past several months, allowing me to see myself more clearly.  What I see disturbs me. But God also reminded me that He still loves me, that He went to the cross for me, that I am covered by His shed blood.

Thank you Pastor Carroll for sharing your experience and your heart.

Readers: Are you experiencing a seeing problem? Or an "I" problem?
Were you able to see past the apple core in the picture above? Step back and look again.
I’d like to hear your "sight" story. Please leave comments below.