воскресенье, 31 марта 2013 г.

One Click

By Molly Fedick

Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends whom we choose.
~Tehyi Hsieh

Students of every color and rung on the socioeconomic ladder came together to receive a faith-based education at my high school. Many of my St. Ignatius classmates were the Spanish-speaking children of immigrant parents. We had a higher percentage of African Americans than any other private high school in Chicago, and our valedictorian lived in Chinatown with her grandparents, who barely spoke English. In addition, a large percentage of students were awarded full-tuition scholarships or substantial financial aid. I was happy to go to a school with a diverse community, and graduated with the belief that never again would I learn among students of such differing backgrounds.
My first year at Boston University forced me to reassess my definition of diversity. I realized with shock that I had never attended a school with a large Jewish population. In fact, my experience with the religion was limited to a two-week unit in high school religion and frequent ingestion of Jewish deli food. Somehow I doubted my affinity for potato latkes made me any more culturally adept.

During the chaos that is freshman year move-in, my dad, ever the chatterbox, discovered that one of my Claflin Hall floor-mates, Danielle Chelminsky, had spent the past year living in Israel, during which she voluntarily went through basic training for the Israeli army. I had been a BU student for less than twenty-four hours, and already I couldn't believe that while I had been hanging candy canes on a Christmas tree, my future best friend was learning how to shoot an AK-47 in a Middle Eastern desert.

A few weeks into the year, Danielle introduced me to her friend Thalia Rybar, who, despite growing up in predominately Catholic Guatemala, was also Jewish. Although she speaks fluent English, her first language is Spanish. Grabbing dinner in the dining hall with Thalia, Danielle, and other "Latin Jews" at BU was always riveting. Perhaps my major, journalism, played a part in my intense curiosity — for the longest time, I took on the role of Dinner Interrogator. I wanted to know everything.

Thalia and her friends never ceased to entertain me with tales of growing up in developing countries. I learned that while there are a sizeable number of Latin Jews around the world, each country's individual community tends to stick together. The low cost of living means nearly all Latin Jews employ a full-time staff that includes maids, drivers, landscapers, and sometimes bodyguards. The maids, non-Jewish natives, must learn to prepare kosher meals. The bodyguards protect the families from kidnappers, who take wealthy members of the community for ransom. Sharon Malca, from Colombia, endured six months without her mother when she was taken hostage in the Colombian mountains.

Junior year, I moved into an apartment with Thalia, Danielle, and another friend, Pamela. By this time, aspects of Judaism that had once seemed foreign now felt commonplace. I learned the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, the proceedings of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, countless Yiddish terms (chutzpah is a favorite), and the important role of Israel in the Jewish community. I attended Passover Seder at Danielle's house twice. Her family invited me to read the haggadah, or book containing the Passover story. Normally I would feel like an idiot stumbling over Hebrew words, but the overwhelming sense of encouragement I felt made me realize what an honor it was to be included in the tradition.

Thalia and her Latin friends often talked about their weekly get-togethers, which they call "Latin Shabbat." Shabbat, the Hebrew word for rest, takes place each Friday, and includes a special dinner. At Latin Shabbat, all the college-aged, Spanish-speaking Jews in Boston congregate for a huge meal. When Thalia invited me and Danielle, I had no clue what to expect — I had never been to any Shabbat dinner, much less a bilingual Shabbat.

If you think you've seen it all, work up an appetite for challah bread and attend Latin Shabbat. When I say I felt like a foreigner, I mean it. I was the only natural blonde, I don't speak Spanish, I didn't know the etiquette, the night's schedule, the words to the prayers, the lyrics to the songs, or even how to toast. I couldn't believe I was a mere hundred yards from my own apartment.

Hanging tentatively behind Thalia and Danielle, I entered the apartment. Immediately, the unfamiliar bombarded each of my senses: the strong scent of just-out-of-the-oven brisket mixed with red wine and expensive European perfumes and colognes. Loud, loud, Spanish, my gringa cheek being pressed against those of strangers in the customary Latin air kiss greeting. Thalia's stiletto-clad friends quickly maneuvered around folding chairs and tables to welcome me. What did I want to drink? Could they take my coat? My purse? I barely had time to respond before I was being ushered by five glamazons to meet David, the host.

Thalia, Sharon, and two other friends, Karina, and Sarah, spent the next ten minutes teaching me to salsa. I am admittedly a pathetic dancer — the type who bops to the right when everyone else is boogieing to the left — but I was a novelty to these girls, a project. We salsa-ed until we were all on the floor with tears in our eyes.

The dancing, the Spanglish banter, the delicious smells — I was having the time of my life, and for the first time in my life, I was the minority.

I left Latin Shabbat feeling exhilarated and full of energy, liberated at such newness. That night and many days after, I thought about what had been most special about that night, and why I had reacted so strongly. It took several days to realize that my amazement stemmed from the reverence and seriousness with which this group protected their religion, traditions, and culture.

Amidst the eating, the games, the goofing off, the drinking, and more eating, David stood at the head of the table. Instantly, the group silenced. In English, David earnestly thanked everyone for coming, specifically praising the girls, Thalia included, who had spent all day cooking the massive trays of brisket, potatoes, rice, chicken, salad, and desserts. I knew Thalia and her friends cooked for Shabbat every week, but I hadn't realized the extent of the meal. Like their mothers and grandmothers at home in Guatemala, Mexico, or Peru, and great-grandmothers in Eastern Europe and Israel, my friends were maintaining a tradition, and taking on a role. It was beautiful to see a group of modern, well-educated young women embrace their history.

Next, David read a prayer in Hebrew. It was flawless, not only in his delivery, but in his sincerity. I attended Catholic school for twelve years and had not once been to a gathering in which someone my age stood and recited a prayer. I can't even think of one friend who brought a Bible to school, let alone read from it on a regular basis. David's reading, and the subsequent explanation of its meaning, made me reassess the importance of organized religion. I have, at times, been skeptical of Catholicism. Suddenly, I felt compelled to embrace it.

Opening myself to the experience of another religion and culture has been the single greatest decision of my college experience. There is so much to learn, so much to absorb, so much to take away. Living with Thalia and Danielle was the result of a simple click on the housing website. That one click altered my worldview forever.


By Kathryn Roberts

Be grateful for the home you have, knowing that at this moment, all you have is all you need.
~Sarah Ban Breathnach

I am the daughter of a master gardener. My mother kneels, dirty, digging, knowing not only where to plant and what, but why. Each spring and summer she nurtures the relationship of soil and seed and sun. Some years I watch, wondering at the work — the weeds and water and endless cultivation of earth. I marvel at the transformation she culls from the depths of half-dead potted plants salvaged from the clearance rack at the nursery. I don't understand this garden, this patient plucking and pruning for fleeting beauty. I don't understand her.
Growing up, I avoided the invitation to sit beside my mother as she planned her plots, as she leafed through catalogs of seeds and stems months before breaking ground. As a late spring frost caressed the stems of the upcoming grass, and I bemoaned the prolonging of winter, my mother prayed the bulbs she planted last year would withstand the weather and the ground would thaw to release life and allow her hands to help it along.

My mother tried to include me despite my disinterest. She bought me an orchid to grow inside. I photographed it and soon forgot it. Each February and March she left the catalogs out where I could browse them, knowing I loved the roses and iris best. When I wanted to arrange flowers she indulged me, allowing me to cut the stems despite my inattention as she tried to explain the flowers and their features. Still, I was indifferent. Gardening was her passion: her dirt, her insects, and her identity... not mine.

As I aged I lost interest in our family's traditional Mother's Day tour of nurseries. I begged my father to let me stay home, to hide in my room with my music. He refused, reminding me of the respect I owed my mother, imploring me not to ruin the moment, the day. I trudged along, unable to understand the allure of the seven varieties of the same plant and how different they could possibly be. Pick one, I thought, and we can go home. What does it matter what you choose?

This year I turned twenty-four, the age my mother was when she married my father. I envision her then as a young woman, free-spirited, with her soft brown eyes concealing a spark. Now I see her in her early eighties, wearing polyester and big-rim glasses that she puts away when she sings, her voice carrying across the living room she shares with my father — a sad but satisfied aria speaking to the dreams she loved but passed up. In the evening she is content to share dinner with a husband who loves her beyond this world, so deeply he'd ask twice for her hand. And at night, when she lies in bed, her creativity simmers below her sleep, seeking an outlet that will augment the life she's chosen.

This year I go to my parents' lake house, where they are readying the rooms and grounds for rental. I know the final rush is relentless, with days and nights of cleaning, repairing, and prepping. The sky is blue when I arrive despite the sprinkles that followed me for the full forty-five minute drive. My mother is gardening; I grab gloves and stand next to the flowerbed, not knowing plant from weed... not understanding. She says I don't have to, uncertain from years of my avoidance, my apathy. I want to, and I begin to yank the dandelions from the ground, the only weed I recognize as such. She smiles and points out another weed, explaining its invasive roots run as a vine under the surface. As we work, she tells me of dividing plants and the miracle of yielding four or five from one. She shows me how to loosen the root ball at the base of the plant to encourage it to grow; tells me how you have to release the roots to teach them to spread.

As I watch my mother at home in her garden and mimic her movements, I finally understand. I am the daughter of a master gardener. My mother digs deeply through the soil as she cultivates her spirit, her perfectionism put to bed with the bulbs and blossoms, her desire to nurture fulfilled in the foliage of a variegated hosta. She still sings, accompanied by a chorus of clematis and columbine, of black-eyed Susans and Siberian iris and goat's beard. She is a master gardener and her hands have left her heart in the earth and in the roots — and in me.


Mike Huckabee

Former Governor of Arkansas, presidential candidate, and host of Fox News Channel's Huckabee

The darker things are, the more even a small light will stand out and make a difference.
~Mike Huckabee

In 1972, the Expo '72 evangelistic conference was held in Dallas, Texas, sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. It was a weeklong evangelistic training for youth from all over the world, and 100,000 people were gathered there. I was one of them. I was fifteen years old, and I went with two other kids from my high school. Every day we would go out and be trained, witnessing and sharing our faith, and then every evening we would go to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas for big rallies. Dr. Graham was the speaker on the final night, a Friday. The next day there was a big outdoor rally with a quarter of a million people in attendance, and he spoke there as well.
Even though I was young, I already knew about Billy Graham. I'd watched the crusades on television and seen many film clips of him preaching. I admired him not only because he spoke with authority and compassion, but because I never sensed that he was trying to impress me with how smart he was. He just wanted to introduce me to the Christ he knew. He spoke with such clarity that even as a boy I could understand every single thing he was saying. He didn't try to lead me into some theological thicket. He just focused on the simplicity of the Gospel and its availability to me.

So on that Friday night, it was especially thrilling for me to be in a stadium where Billy Graham would be preaching. Since I came from a little bitty town (Hope, Arkansas, population 8,000), I had never thought I would be able to see him in person.

As we entered the Cotton Bowl that night, we were all given a small candle and told to hold on to it. When Billy Graham spoke, he told us about how one person can make an impact and that every life matters. Right at the end of his message he spoke of the power of the Gospel, saying that if you let your light shine, and shared it with someone else, that power would be extraordinary.

All the lights in the Cotton Bowl were turned off, so it was dark. Then Billy Graham lit his candle on the stage. A few moments later he lit the candle of Dr. Bill Bright, head of Campus Crusade, and then they both turned and lit the candles of two other people, so the two became four. The four in turn lit four more candles, and so there were eight. And this went on, multiplying all the time. Within a very brief period of time, as people lit the candles of the people next to them, it was as if a fire had started moving around the Cotton Bowl. It was astonishing how fast this happened because the amount of light was doubling every couple of seconds. Within a matter of minutes, you could see an orange glow emanating from the Cotton Bowl. It was so overwhelming that people living in the neighborhood called the Dallas Fire Department and told them the Cotton Bowl was on fire. And it really was, but not in the way they had supposed.

What made this such a powerful moment was not just the 100,000 candles and how quickly they were illuminated. I was seated quite a distance from the stage, and what stunned me was that in this total darkness, once the lights were turned down, even the one little flame from the stage penetrated the darkness all the way to where I sat. Important and powerful as it was to see 100,000 candles, it was the power of that one candle at the beginning to penetrate all that darkness that was such a revelation to me. It was a visual affirmation of Billy Graham's message that the darker things are, the more even a small light will stand out and make a difference.

It wasn't difficult for anyone to understand that Billy Graham, the most influential Christian, probably, since the apostle Paul, could stand on that stage and have an impact on people. That was easy to see, but what I learned was that even my tiny little insignificant light could still make a difference. That was what made it so powerful. And that's why I'll never forget that night at the Cotton Bowl. It was one of those incredible, life-changing moments.

Since then, in talking to people, I've often used this story as an illustration. I tell them, you may consider yourself insignificant, that you're not a very bright light, that you don't have great training or theological degrees, or wonderful human gifts, but if you will be faithful in the life you have, you will stand out, and it will have an impact.

In a dark world, like the one we are living in now, that is something worth remembering. And I am grateful to Billy Graham for first showing it to me, all those years ago, when I was a fifteen-year-old kid at the Cotton Bowl.


The Ugly Pupling

By Angel Di Benedetto

In the spring of 1980, I was living in Woodstock, New York, when my Tibetan terrier dog, Shadow, had a litter of six puppies.
The one pup I couldn't sell was considered homely. Tibetan terriers are known for their lustrous double coats. The underlayer of their coat is thick and cottony, while the outer layer resembles human hair — silky and shiny. This combination makes for a very fluffy look. People also prize their well-proportioned faces. This pup had neither trait. She had a rather long nose and a terribly unattractive coat. She had no underlayer, and this made her topcoat look thin, flat and wiry. It gave her the appearance of a tramp just coming in from the rain. People who came to see her would say, "She seems like a pleasant dog," they'd say, "but she looks kind of scraggly and ugly." No one wanted our little friend, not even for free!

What amazed me was that no one recognized this dog's rare quality. She was by nature always very happy, and although most puppies are happy, she had an unexplainable inner joy about her, a sixth sense, a certain spiritual presence, as if she could read your mind and move you to a more contented place.

In June, I still had the pup with the perpetual "bad hair day." I was going back to school in less than a week and I felt hesitant to leave without finding her a proper home.

One night an idea came to me. There was a Tibetan monastery about a mile from my home, and I'd been there a few times to participate in their meditations. I'd even introduced myself to some of the Tibetan monks living there. Maybe someone there would be willing to adopt her. It was worth a try.

The following morning, I took my little friend to the monastery. When I arrived, a lot of cars were in the parking lot. I thought, Gee, this place has always been so quiet. I wonder what's going on? I got out of the car with the pup in hand and went up the stairs to the familiar front doors. I entered the foyer and found people lined up wall to wall, apparently waiting for something to occur beyond the hand-carved interior doors. Then I saw a familiar face — one of the monks I'd met on a previous visit. When he saw me holding the dog, he gave me a wide grin and said, "Ah, follow me now!"

He pulled on my sleeve and dragged me to the front of the line. Using what appeared to be a special code, he knocked on the door. The double doors swung open and we were greeted by another monk. The first monk whispered something in the second monk's ear, then the second monk also said, "Ah." With that, the pup and I were pulled to the front of yet another line of people, all bearing gifts of fruit, candy, plants, odd bowls and handmade crafts.

I turned to face the front of the room and there before me was a very bright and cheery-eyed fellow, dressed to the hilt in red and golden-yellow velvets. He glanced at my puppy, then directly at me. Then he put his hands out, fingers open, and said, "Yes, yes. Oh, yes." This magnificent-looking person placed a red string around my puppy's neck, sang a foreign chant, and proceeded to place a second string around my neck. He continued his chant while slowly lifting my puppy from my arms. He carefully embraced her within his velvet robe. He then nodded and bowed, saying something in a foreign language. He tapped me on the head and turned around as he walked toward his chair, still holding my puppy in his arms.

The monk who brought me into the room now quickly ushered me out. In the foyer, met by other monks, I was swept through the halls, pup-less and out the front door of the monastery. I was asked to stand at the top of the steps and wait until further notice.

At this point, a wave of maternal concern moved through me. Where is my dog and what will happen to her? I thought. Turning to a Buddhist onlooker for understanding, I related the events of the last fifteen minutes.

He smiled and explained that I had met the "Karmapa," a monk who is quite high in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition — second only to the Dalai Lama. He told me that I was very fortunate because today the famous and beloved Karmapa was here from Tibet to bless this monastery along with its surrounding land. People from all over the world had come to pay him their respects, but rarely did anyone enter into his private receiving room. To enter there and be blessed by His Holiness, and then for him to accept my generous gift, was an auspicious event, one that rarely happens in a lifetime! He shook his head, "You must have earned a lot of merit in past lives; you are very fortunate, my dear." Closing his eyes, he pondered for a moment, then added, "Then again, perhaps it is your dog's good fortune!"

At that moment the door flew open again, and this wondrous Buddhist monk exited from the building and down the red-carpeted exterior steps, holding his head up high while greeting the people. Women and children gathered around, holding baskets of flowers to throw at his feet.

I was so caught up in the magic of it that I didn't notice her at first. But then to my surprise, I saw my pup — the pup that was considered ugly — now looking like a beautiful star! The Karmapa held her up high with what seemed to be the greatest of pride, and the crowd roared with delight. I would swear that the puppy appeared to be smiling, too.

From that point on, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. They continued down the stairs. Slowly they entered the waiting black limousine. Through the closely-hovering crowd, I caught my last view of the dog and the monk, glimpsing them through the tinted-glass windows. Something in the way they sat together told me she was going to be all right. It wasn't just that she was with the Karmapa; it was the way she sat on the lap of the Karmapa. They seemed to have gained a great deal of respect and trust for one another in a short period of time. The limousine drove them away, leaving behind a path of colorful rose petals.

After that, the monks at the monastery kindly kept me posted on her adventures and whereabouts. Over the years, I heard that the Karmapa traveled all over the world with his Tibetan terrier. The sight of her funny face always brought him and others a feeling of joy, and therefore, he gave her a name that translates from the Tibetan language as Beautiful Happy One. She became his friend and devoted companion, and they were rarely apart during her entire lifetime.

Once considered an ugly puppy, few appreciated what she possessed, yet from the moment she was born, she emanated happiness. It was as if she knew she'd eventually meet her wonderful friend, the Karmapa, who would recognize her true beauty and love her great soul.


Blind Faith

By Gayle Mansfield Irwin

For we live by faith, not by sight.
~2 Corinthians 5:7

My blind dog Sage and I walked slowly down the school's newly tiled hallway toward the boisterous classroom. The voices of seventy third-graders mingled with chairs dragged across a wooden floor. Sage paused in the doorway and cocked her head to listen. The children's whisperings grew louder, and when they saw her, their delight manifested itself in enthusiastic squeals and jumps on the hardwood floor. Sage flopped to the floor and flattened herself horizontally. I bent down and whispered to her gently as the classroom teacher calmly spoke to her students. A moment later, Sage rose again, stuck her nose in the air, took a deep sniff and moved two steps forward, her feet following her nose. Having been her companion for nearly nine years, I knew Sage's long black muzzle helped her understand her surroundings, capturing the multitude of scents filtering through this room, from the youngsters seated in chairs to the lunches in their backpacks.
I tapped my leather boot on the floor as I often did when we visited new places, helping Sage realize I was nearby and signaling her to move closer. She obliged, using her senses of hearing and smell to guide her. I had come to understand during the past nine years that a blind dog in an unfamiliar setting uses her other, more acute senses and her faith in her special person to conquer her fear of the unknown. After Sage sat next to me, I began my presentation to the students.

I often marvel at Sage when we visit classrooms or other new places. Blind for almost eight years, she hesitates only slightly when we walk into unfamiliar buildings, following the sounds of my voice and footsteps with trust. When we reach a classroom filled with strange noises, as we did on this particular day, Sage pauses in the doorway and uses her nose and ears for navigation. I keep her on a leash while in the classroom for, within a few minutes, fear of the unknown subsides, her curiosity peaks, and she explores. The strangers' voices, though somewhat loud, make her inquisitive -- she wants to meet the people in the room. She trusts me to lead her through the crowd, avoiding head-on collisions with the sturdy desks or the children's bodies. She greets each child with a wagging tail and sometimes a nuzzle to a soft cheek. We walk among the crowd as I talk about disabilities and answer questions about my dog's blindness. This routine is repeated numerous times throughout the school year.

The journey began when a genetic disease robbed Sage of her eyesight at barely two years old. Trust increased as her vision decreased. The first ride on an elevator and the first night in a hotel room showcased her apprehension of the unfamiliar, but also her faith in me and in the words she had learned. I taught her words and phrases that I thought would help keep her safe, like "no," "sit," "come," and "stop," as well as "step up" and "step down" for navigating stairways and street curbs. Nearly a decade later, Sage still walks with confidence, trusting the one who guides, cares for, and protects her.

In many ways, Sage helped build my faith. Her trust and her perseverance have provided great lessons. Her faith in me as her guardian taught me more about trusting God, and her perseverance through numerous collisions with the furniture modeled for me patience through my life's obstacles. The first time I watched my blind dog leap from the floor onto the bed not only caught me by surprise, but reminded me of the numerous times God has called me to a leap of faith. Fear can prevent us from stepping into the unknown, yet Sage courageously jumped from the solid floor into the air to land on a piece of furniture she could not see.

My blind dog constantly shows her faith in me as her caretaker. She cannot see me, yet she trusts me; can I also trust the One who cares for me yet I cannot see? Wading through uncharted waters of economic stress, stumbling amidst uncertainties in job situations, fumbling around dark caverns of loss in the death of special friends, and wavering among the new realities of my aging physical body, I need to trust that God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-providing. Yet, I often doubt, I often question, and I often become discouraged.

Biblical writers remind us that faith is not in what we see, but in what we do not see. The author of Hebrews says, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1). Sage embodies the idea of blind faith. Her sightless eyes cannot see the one who feeds her, walks her, or pets her, but she trusts me completely when I guide her down the steps, along the sidewalk, or through the hallways of a school. She trusts me to care for her well-being and her safety. And she bravely walks down a sidewalk and leaps onto a bed she cannot see.

When I allow life to discourage me through fear, suffering, loss, and other hardships, I need only to look as far as the sightless dog lying at my feet to be reminded of the importance of blind faith in the One who really loves me.


Christ in a Stranger's Guise

By Marla Bernard

We should not forget to entertain strangers, lest we entertain angels unaware.
~Hebrews 13:2

One unseasonably snowy April in the mid-Giuliani era, my teenage daughter, Amanda, and I had the great fortune to take a whirlwind trip to New York City to see a Broadway play during her spring break from school. This was not just a trip, but a "storming" of the Big Apple, with all expenses paid by my employer for recognition of a successful project, complete with first-class airfare, two seats to Phantom of the Opera, dinner at Tavern on the Green, and two nights at the Plaza Hotel. Someone should have notified the unsuspecting storekeepers in Manhattan that we were converging upon their fair city to perform some serious power shopping!
Having never been to New York, we were warned by family and friends to keep purses hidden, not look anyone directly in the eye, and act as though we were hardened Brooklynites so as not to give away our true identities as two unsuspecting ladies from the Heart of America, the consummate "out-of-towners." Our strategy was to keep only minimal pocket change and cab fare handy and our purses inside our coats as we kept stride with veteran New Yorkers.

The Plaza Hotel was a contrast in extremes. Outside, the doormen greeted us at the taxi door, gesturing a welcome to the grandest hotel off Central Park. The streets were blanketed with snow and snow-white blankets from some charity covered the homeless lying atop the grates to get a bit of warmth. We nearly had to hop over them to navigate the sidewalks. What a silent but resounding statement it made about wealth and poverty.

Amanda was aghast as I hurried her up the canopied stairs, into the mahogany and crystal halls of our evening sanctuary from reality.

The next morning, after a hearty and pricey breakfast (I'd never paid $35 a plate for French toast before!), we bundled up with purses fastened securely under our coats and pockets filled with assorted one-dollar bills and coins for the homeless panhandling on what seemed to be every street corner. Off we headed on our parade down Fifth Avenue.

The pocket change and single bills were the result of hard negotiating on Amanda's part. She was determined that we would not pass even one street person without tendering some benevolence upon those who did not have the tremendous fortune of staying in such wonderful surroundings. She wore me down with my own reminders to her over the years that "there but for the grace of God" go any of us on any given day. My years of collecting Charles Dickens books and dragging my kids to our local repertory theater's A Christmas Carol every year had apparently impacted her in ways that were coming back to me in aces. Orphaned birds, lost dogs, "Charlie Brown" trees, and misfit toys were staples in our home. If you didn't have anywhere to go at Thanksgiving, you came to our house. My husband and I tried to raise our family to be civic-minded, law abiding and generous. It apparently worked.

What occurred next is truly unexplainable, but I swear that the events I'm about to share did happen.

We started down the street and quickly picked up the stride that swept "fellow New Yorkers" down the street in a wave of humanity that was thirty people deep. The phrase "huddled masses" had new meaning as we crowded among them at traffic lights, laughing, "We're walkin' here!" as we stood in the cold.

Amanda clinked coins into every box she saw outside the cardboard huts shoved up against the professional buildings and glitzy storefronts. Her pockets emptied somewhere in the vicinity of Macy's. As we weaved our way in and out of stores, she hit me up for money to give, dollar by dollar, to every grate-sitter we passed. I reluctantly handed her my last single and scolded, "That's it. You're done. No more. My pockets are empty."

As we approached another crowded corner, we passed a cardboard shelter with a sign that read, "Homeless and have AIDS." A hooded figure sat motionless in the box with a blanket draped from his head down his shoulders. He never looked up. As we walked past him toward the traffic light, Amanda began to cry. I reminded her that I was out of cash and shoved my hands in my pockets in frustration. I felt the crunch of paper in my right pocket. As we waited for the world's longest light to change, I pulled out a five-dollar bill. Five dollars! No way! I looked at the money and then at my daughter's tears. "Aw, geez… here."

She beamed as she grabbed the money from my hand and started to disappear back into the crowd. I hollered, "Wait!" terrified that she'd vanish into the thin, cold air that was now cutting through my very soul.

I turned and ran toward her and the figure in the box. I watched to my amazement as he lifted his head to her in a gesture of thanks as she set the money in the box by his side. His face, almost illuminated, had nearly transparent skin and he had the palest of blue eyes. I think he may have had blond hair at the edge of the hood he wore, but I can't tell you for sure. I was just mesmerized by those eyes. He seemed to look right through me and the chill that I'd felt seconds earlier evaporated from the warmth of his expression. I felt as though I was in the presence of someone not of this world. As I wondered how I would ever explain this to anyone, a crazy thought ran through my mind. "I found Jesus... and he's in a cardboard box on a street in Manhattan."

I took hold of Amanda's hand and we turned to make our way back to the corner. We walked across the street and looked back once again toward the stranger.

There was no one there.

No box. No sign. No silent figure.

Amanda and I just looked at each other. Neither of us spoke for several blocks.

Finally, we said in unison, "Did you see Him?"

Soon we found ourselves climbing the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral. "Let's go light candles, Momma," Amanda said. "It's Good Friday."

So it was, and so we did.


Kathie Lee Gifford

Co-host of NBC's Today show and co-founder of the Association to Benefit Children's Cassidy's Place and Cody House child advocacy centers

In a sense, I owe my physical life to my mom and dad, who brought me into this world, and my spiritual life to Billy Graham which will lead me into the world beyond.
~Kathie Lee Gifford

I was a young teenager when I saw The Restless Ones, one of the first movies produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It was about a young girl who was at a crossroads in life. She questioned which path to take: the world's way or God's way. Seeing that movie was truly a defining moment for me. I distinctly remember hearing an inner voice say, "Kathie, I love you, and I want to make something beautiful out of your life. Will you trust me?" I then made the most dramatic decision of my life. I went forward in that little ramshackle movie theater in Annapolis, Maryland and I asked Jesus to come into my heart. It is by far the most important, the most profound, and the best decision I have ever made. In a sense, I owe my physical life to my mom and dad, who brought me into this world, and my spiritual life to Billy Graham which will lead me into the world beyond.
It has been a great privilege to become friends with Billy. I thank him every time I see him, for his faithfulness, which, in turn, brought me to faith. Billy has impacted millions and millions of people's lives. My whole family came to know the Lord through him and we are all deeply grateful.

A few years ago, a pianist friend of mine went to North Carolina to play a concert at the Montreat Conference Center. I asked him to please give my love to Billy and Ruth, who live nearby. When my friend returned home, I asked him, "Did you see Billy and Ruth?" He answered, "Kathie, I didn't see Ruth, but I saw Billy." Then I asked, "Well, how is Ruth doing?" With a look of concern, he explained that when he had asked about Ruth during his visit to Montreat, Billy had answered, "Oh, dear Ruth. She's not doing that well and is having a really hard time, so we continue our romance with our eyes." I was so deeply touched that soon after I wrote a song for Billy and Ruth's sixtieth wedding anniversary, "Our Loving Eyes," and later recorded it.

The last time I saw the two of them together was when they were both given the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor that the United States Congress can bestow upon a civilian. The service was in the Rotunda at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. It is a magnificent hall filled with busts of America's founding fathers, including Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. During his acceptance speech, Billy said something like, "Look all around you. We're in this auspicious hall with all of these incredible busts of amazing people. Do you know what they all have in common?" We all sat holding our breaths. "They're all dead," he continued. "In spite of their accomplishments and in spite of the place they hold in history, they are all dead. And do you know what everyone of us has in common?" Again, we held our breaths. "We're all going to die," he said. It was so profound. Then, after a moment of silence, Billy asked the questions, "Where are you going, and what have you left behind to impact the Kingdom of God?" That day, after all, for him was not about Billy Graham getting an award. It was about using every opportunity to turn people's eyes to what mattered, their personal relationship with the living God.

That evening, while changing for the black tie event to be held in honor of Billy and Ruth, I watched the news on television in my hotel room. The reporter said, "Billy Graham received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor today." I then heard myself scream at the television, "So did Ruth! She received it, too!" Billy has said to me on several occasions that he could never, never have done what he did without Ruth keeping the home fires burning while raising their children at a great personal sacrifice. Sadly, she died not long after.

What will we have to cast at the feet of our Lord? It will be how we have loved others and served others. In Micah of the Old Testament, it says "To do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). As far as I'm concerned, Billy did exactly that. He did what was right. He loved the mercy and compassion of God. And he was a giant, a lion of a man, and yet he walked humbly with his God and he did it with a twinkle in his beautiful blue eyes. He brings out a lot of tears in me, tears of joy and tears of sadness, because we will never see the likes of him again.

Billy has said, "Every one of us has a calling from the Lord, but most of us don't respond to the call." Billy doesn't count how many lives he has affected. Instead, he looks for the next opportunity to share the love of God with someone who is hurting or lost. He doesn't look back. He looks forward. And now I'm happy for him that he's closer and closer to living in Paradise. If anyone has earned a place there, it's Billy. Ruth will be waiting for him, and they'll continue their romance with their loving eyes. I love you, Billy, and I am "eternally" grateful.

Our Loving Eyes
We looked at one another so many years ago
And found something special in our eyes
We vowed to each other that
There would never be another
For if love is truly real, then love never dies.

Now here we are
Weathered by the years
Strengthened by the trials
Tethered by the tears.

No need to speak of all we share
It comes as no surprise
That we'll continue our sweet romance
With our eyes, our loving eyes.

No need to speak of all we feel
We know what's true, we know what's real
And until we whisper the last of our last goodbyes
We'll continue our romance
With our loving eyes.

We've dreamed our dreams together,
We've walked the narrow road
We've shared every burden side by side
And as we turned each corner,
We turned to God above
Depending on His grace to sanctify our love.

Now we sit by the fire
Weathered by the years
Strengthened by the trials
Tendered by the tears.

No need to speak of all we share
It comes as no surprise
That we'll continue our sweet romance
With our eyes, our loving eyes.

By Kathie Lee Gifford and Phil Sillas
Written for Ruth and Billy Graham in Celebration of their 60th Wedding Anniversary


My Worst — and Best — Easter

By Natalia K. Lusinski

Easter spells out beauty, the rare beauty of new life.
~S.D. Gordon

They always say, "You just know, and it will happen when you least expect it," but I never believed them. Especially in L.A. In ten years of living there, dating was among my favorite — and least favorite — of hobbies.
After yet another handful of bad dates — which included a guy who told me he does coke ("but just quarterly"), a guy who said he is getting better in regard to his last break-up ("though we might get back together"), and a guy who proceeded to flirt with everyone except for me at a party I took him to ("I had a great time," he said — little did I know I had set up a speed dating event — just for him) — I had had enough. And that was all in the same week. And, in L.A., this was typical. Quantity, not quality, and I was tired of it. Having grown up in the Midwest, where were all the guys with Midwestern manners? I had the best boyfriend ever before I moved to L.A. and was convinced all these bad dates were payback for my breaking his heart ten years earlier.

"They" also say to meet someone through friends. But guess what? The above three examples prove "them" very wrong.

This last date, the speed dating one, took place on Easter, with a guy from church at a post-Easter brunch. And I didn't think of his behavior as anything more than un-Christian. The previous year, I had given up dating for Lent; now, I wondered why I hadn't this year, too.

Easter night, a group of my non-Christian friends were meeting for dinner as they did every Sunday night. After the above, being in another group situation was the last thing I wanted to do. But since I was all dressed up and had nowhere else to go, I thought, "Why not?"

For the next hour, I sat parked in front of the restaurant, on the phone with my friend Courtney debating whether or not to go inside. At the time, it was more fun to complain about my day and why not to go in.

"I'm not dating anymore," I told her. "It's too hard. I'm just going to focus on my writing," I added. "Yeah, but that's hard, too," Courtney said. "Yet you keep doing it." True, I thought. "Just forget about them, truly forget about them," Courtney added. "You know that everything happens for a reason, and there is someone better out there for you than a flirty guy who wants his ex-girlfriend back and does coke quarterly," she said. I couldn't help but laugh; I knew she was right.

I decided to go into the restaurant, only to realize I had left my driver's license in a drugstore across town, one that was closing in a half-hour. I drove back to get it, then drove back to the dinner, wondering if it was even worth going in anymore, over an hour later.

Outside the restaurant, I saw a guy at the valet, Tyler, whom I had known six years prior, one whom I had had a crush on. He asked if I wanted to go have a drink. Though it was tempting, I knew my friends were waiting for me, and I wanted to see them, so I declined. I secretly thanked God for the ego boost as I stepped inside.

Once there, I saw another guy I knew, Paul, one I had met a couple years ago, one of those people you meet and have chemistry with, yet neither of you are single, so you say you'll stay in touch, but don't. Yet here he was, alone. We talked for a few minutes, and he told me he would find me before he left. Fair enough.

I thanked God for the second ego boost, and finally met up with my friends. After we caught up a bit, a guy and girl whom I did not know joined our table. The guy, David, was sitting next to me, and we soon started talking... and talking... and talking. A few minutes in, I started to like the guy — he was just so... normal, didn't flirt with everyone in the room, and had no ex-girlfriends or coke habits to speak of. I couldn't remember the last time I had clicked with someone so immediately.

However, I had no clue if the girl David arrived with was his girlfriend. I certainly didn't want to talk to him so much if she was, like the speed dating guy had done to me. I asked David about the girl: they were just friends. Phew.

David and I then remembered we had first met eight months prior, at a friend's birthday party. I had even taken a group photo at the party, with him in it. We also discovered that we had been at the same Halloween party months before, yet never saw each other at it (back then, I had a boyfriend, so checking out other guys wasn't on my radar). Finally, David and I realized we shared a best friend, Jeremy.

I suggested we each text Jeremy to tell him we had met. I had given up texting for Lent, so this was my first post-Lenten text. Jeremy wrote right back. I opened my phone for David and I to read at the same time, without reading the text myself first. It said, "Hey, I was thinking of setting you two up. :) He seems like your type." I don't know who turned more red, me or David. "This will be a good story someday, of how we started dating," we said in unison, a little perplexed, yet intrigued.

Jeremy had also texted David, asking how we had met. "J-Date," David wrote back jokingly. The funny thing was, just the other week, I had told Jeremy I was going to go on J-Date, for another Christian girl I know went on and ended up marrying a guy from there. Little did Jeremy know that David was kidding. (If you are reading this now, Jeremy, I guess the secret's out.)

Jeremy then texted me, saying "You're on a J-Date even though you're Catholic? And on Easter? Is that allowed?" "God has a great sense of humor," is all I thought. After all, Easter is a time of rebirth.

Now, hundreds of dates later, "they" were right. You do just know, and when you least expect it. After my long-term, Midwestern college boyfriend, I never thought I would find love like that again. But after meeting David, I realized that I could. And I had. A few months after we started dating, I told David, "Thanks for being at that non-Easter dinner." "Thanks for being," he replied.


воскресенье, 24 марта 2013 г.

Gardening with My Son

By Conny Manero

You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt.
~Author Unknown
In the weeks following my divorce, my once neatly tended garden turned into a near jungle. The grass stood at least a foot high, the flowerbeds were overgrown with weeds, and the whole place had a dry, deserted look to it. Looking out the window one morning, I saw two of my neighbors huddled together, looking at my garden, talking, and shaking their heads with disapproval. I knew my garden was a mess, but then, so was I.

Even though the marriage hadn't been the happiest one, and I should have been relieved that the fighting was finally over, I felt sad and desolate. When we married we had loved each other so much. We had been together for nearly twenty years. What had happened to us?
Five years into the marriage we had bought a house in a newly developed area. The house itself was beautiful, but the garden was atrocious. By any stretch of the imagination it couldn't even be called a garden. Over the years we had planted and sowed, weeded and watered, until at last our garden was the envy of the neighborhood. And now it was a shadow of its former glorious self.
"Mom, we have to do something," my fifteen-year-old son Dieter said halfway through May. "We can't have the place looking like this. Let's clean up the garden and plant some things. Everyone has tulips and narcissus and those purple flowers — what are they called again?"
"Right, irises, and we have nothing."
"The garden is a mess, honey," I said. "Nothing will grow in there now."
"Then let's clean it up," he said. "We'll do it together."
I wanted to, but it seemed like an enormous job and I didn't feel up to it. I didn't feel up to anything. Some days it was an effort just getting showered and dressed.
Seeing his anxious face, I agreed to the job, but I wondered how the two of us were going to manage turning that wilderness into anything halfway decent looking. The grass was so tall and there were so many weeds. It was going to take weeks to get everything done.
"Don't look at the whole thing," Dieter said when we were outside. "Pick a flowerbed and concentrate on that. I'll get started on the grass. Whatever we don't finish today, we'll finish tomorrow."
So I did. I got a bucket and a trowel from the garage and got started with a flowerbed nearest to the house. As I dug, Dieter mowed.
It was hard dealing with just that one flowerbed, but seeing Dieter so hard at work I knew I had to keep going. We were going to do this together, so I had to do my share. After a while I found that I started to enjoy myself. Smelling the scent of fresh cut grass and feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin was a welcome change to watching TV all day.
At noon the lawnmower fell silent. When I looked up I noticed that a good portion of the grass had been cut.
"Done for the day?" I asked Dieter.
"Time for lunch," he said. "Aren't you hungry? I am."
As a matter of fact, I was hungry, which was also a change. More often than not I skipped lunch because I didn't feel like eating.
"You got a lot done," I said over cheese and tomato sandwiches.
"So did you," Dieter said. "That flowerbed is starting to look good."
"It's just soil," I shrugged. "Without flowers it's not even a flowerbed."
"For now, yes," he said, "but we could go to the garden center and get some flowers."
I nodded. "We could."
Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive
"Do you want to take a nap or shall we carry on?" he asked, putting our plates into the sink.
"Let's carry on," I said, and found that I was actually looking forward to going outside again. "I want to finish that patch today."
Every day we did a little, and once all the grass was cut, Dieter joined me in the flowerbeds. Some days we only worked an hour, some days we worked the morning, and some days — when Dieter was back at school — I found myself working alone.
I can't say that I went through the days singing, but I did get up in the morning with more enthusiasm. I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner because I had an appetite again, and at night I slept like a log.
At the garden center I bought roses and dahlias, asters and daisies, freesias and gladiolus, and my all-time favourites, pansies.
There had been a time when I couldn't stand the sight of pansies, when their cheerful faces mocked me and I much preferred the company of a weeping willow. Not anymore — now I was attracted to pansies again, and I was going to plant them on either side of the driveway. They were my "Welcome Home" flowers.
Sometime in June I was outside watering the roses when one of my neighbors came outside and smiled. "Looking good, my dear," she said. "You and Dieter have performed a near miracle. You really brought that garden back to life."
As I glanced over the trees, shrubs, and flowers I noticed the pansies bobbing their yellow and purple faces in unison.
I felt good, for the first time in a long time. I actually felt like my old self again. I wondered, had Dieter and I brought this garden back to life, or had it brought me back?


A Little Hand Up

y Cynthia Hamond, S.F.O.

Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.
~Mother Teresa
I bundled up my six-year-old daughter, Renee, against the Minnesota cold and a forecasted snowstorm for her short walk to school. Snow pants, coat, scarf, gloves, and her new wait-until-payday boots, all princess pink and a half size too big to allow for growing. Renee was so excited about her new boots that she had worn them in the house all weekend, only giving them up for bath and bed.

It pleased me to slip her feet into them, knowing each precious toe would be warmly nestled into the deep soft lining. It pleased me almost as much as throwing out her old ones with the sticky zippers. They definitely hadn't made it into the box of freshly laundered and packed clothes that Renee and I had spent Saturday morning sorting out of her closet for her younger cousin.
Kissing Renee on her eyelids, the only uncovered part of her body, I opened the front door. Her two big brothers tossed me a kiss and a "Love you, Mom," as they each grabbed one of their sister's hands and run-skipped the block to the crossing guard.
I poured myself another cup of coffee, turned on the radio and began mentally checking my things to do. I wasn't too far into dance-cleaning the kitchen before "Get up and Boogie" was interrupted by the happy news that school was closing early due to the snowstorm.
Within a few minutes, my boys exploded into the house and out of their winter wear. They gave me a "Yippee!" high-five and headed for their game system.
Renee wasn't able to wiggle-dance out of her winter bundling.
"Mommy, I'm stuck all over," Renee said, doing an off balance, toe to heel, boot push move until she plopped to the floor, thankfully cushioned by the seat of her snow pants.
I bent over to help her. "Renee?" I asked, surprised at the grimy boot in my hand. "Where are your new boots?"
"These are my new, new boots," she smiled at me.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Parenthood
"No, honey, these aren't your new boots. Look, they're dirty. The clasps are broken and the snow got in through the hole in the side."
"Yup," she agreed, not realizing the implied question in my statement. "My friend's clothes are all like that and these boots were too small for her."
"But what happened to your pretty-princess boots?"
"Mommy," she smiled at me, "My friend needed boots. She outgrew hers and her feet were cold. My boots were warm and they fit her, and she looked pretty in them. She was happy and that made me happy too. She gave me her boots as a hand-me-down and I gave her mine as a hand-me-up."
Suddenly, the ugly boot in my hand became as beautiful as the fabled glass slipper. The simple clarity of truth filled my heart. I had felt generous setting an example for Renee by giving away outgrown and no longer needed clothes because it was the right thing to do.
But, not only had Renee done the right thing by giving her new boots to someone who needed them, she had done it the right way. She was a cheerful giver. She reminded me that God hands us down His blessing so that we may cheerfully hand-me-up His abundance to others.


My First Dinner Date Disaster

By Christine Dixon

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
~Harriet Van Horne
As a child, I'd always heard the way to a man's heart was through his stomach. I believed it. What I didn't realize at the time was that the food had to taste good to get there.

When I started dating my boyfriend Tony, I made the mistake of bragging about how great a cook I was. I failed to mention that most of my gourmet meals consisted of peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and toast. I could go through half a loaf of bread before making edible toast.
I should have known it wasn't in my genetic makeup to be a great cook. My mother's favorite meal was boiled ground beef, pasta and cheese slices melted into the concoction. I don't know what I was thinking, offering to make lasagna for my Tony. Anyone else would have known better but I was determined to get into Tony's heart and stay there. Did I mention he was Italian and he loved his mother's cooking?
I shopped at the grocery store for everything I was going to need. I bought everything the recipe called for. I even bought garlic bread — the kind you just throw in the oven and heat up. I got home with several hours to spare before Tony was supposed to arrive.
I prepared everything perfectly and popped my tray of lasagna into the oven. I figured I'd wait and heat up the garlic bread just before we ate so it would be hot and fresh.
I ran upstairs to get ready. It took me almost an hour to do my hair and make-up and choose the perfect outfit. Just as I sprayed the final touches on my hair, the oven bell rang and I knew the lasagna was finished. The box had said to bake for an hour. How could I go wrong?
I pulled the lasagna from the oven. It smelled delicious. I popped the garlic bread into the oven and set the table.
The sound of the doorbell set my heart racing. Would Tony love my cooking? Would he compare it to his mother's and declare mine the winner?
I opened the front door and for a second I couldn't breathe. He stood there, gorgeous as ever, holding a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of sparkling grape juice. It was so romantic.
"I'm really looking forward to this," he said as he stepped toward me and kissed me on the lips.
"Me too," I said, or squealed. I'm not sure.
He followed me into the kitchen and helped me put the flowers in some water. I watched him carry the vase into the dining room. I felt so proud of myself. My very first romantic dinner. It couldn't be any more perfect.
Tony walked back into the kitchen and gave me a soft lingering kiss. The sound of the oven bell rang. "It's ready!" I said.
I pulled the garlic bread from the oven, cut it into pieces and carried it into the dining room. Then I brought the lasagna in. Just as I was about to start cutting the lasagna into pieces, Tony walked over and took the knife gently from me.
"You worked so hard, let me serve it at least," he said sweetly.
It was too good to be true. No, seriously, it was too good to be true. He tried to cut through the beautiful tray of lasagna, and all we heard was the sound of knife hitting hard pasta. I was horrified. Okay, maybe it was just that noodle. He moved the knife to another spot, and again tried to cut through.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Teenagers
After several unsuccessful attempts, he set the knife down and turned to me. "I think maybe you forgot to cook the noodles."
My eyes must have grown so wide at that moment I probably scared him half to death. Then the tears. Those terrible tears that erupt whenever I don't know what to say or do.
He grinned. "It's okay."
"No it's not! I wanted this to be perfect," I said as I tried not to break into a full-out cry.
He sat me down in my chair and poured a glass of sparkling grape juice for us both. He sat down beside me and told me a joke that finally got me to stop being sad. We ate garlic bread and laughed and ended up having a super date despite the ruined lasagna.
A week later he invited me to his parents' house for dinner. His mother cooked up a delicious Italian meal. I felt silly for thinking that I could have made a better lasagna than her.
As we sat down to eat, she motioned for me to sit next to her. "Tony told me what happened with the lasagna," she said.
I was embarrassed all over again. Why did he tell her?
She smiled at me. "That's nothing. The first time I cooked a meal for my Anthony, I burned everything. I was so nervous, I set the temperature too high and nearly burned down the kitchen."
We laughed about our cooking fiascos and then his mother and father told us a whole bunch of stories about all the crazy things that happened to them over the years. The way they smiled at each other with each memory made me realize something — the way to a man's heart may be through his stomach, but you'll only stay there if you can laugh together.

Letters of Hope

By Shelley McEwan

Hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them.
~Vincent McNabb
"Love is patient, love is kind.... It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (1 Corinthians 13:4,7). Our Gran Lindsay, who lives in Burlington, Ontario, has this scripture printed on a magnet on her fridge. To visitors it is only a magnet; to our family it is a gentle reminder of a cherished family story.

It all began with a message in the town newspaper: "For Lindsay — Darling, I am well. Hope you and the children are fine." The year was 1943. A ham radio operator had picked up the fragmented message and directed it to the small-town newspaper.
Martha Lindsay had waited thirteen long months for word from the Red Cross that her husband, William Lindsay, had survived the sinking of the HMS Exeter on March 1, 1942. She did her best to stay busy with the children, always keeping William in her prayers. One afternoon, the Red Cross finally contacted her with the news that she had been praying for — a William Lindsay had been located and was currently a prisoner of war.
Martha's heart soared: William was alive! She had never given up hope. The Red Cross told Martha to begin writing messages to William — short messages, no more than twenty-five words, on a plain, white postcard — and forwarding them to Geneva. From there, the Red Cross would try to get the postcards to William.
Only one postcard a month was permitted. Martha began by telling William about the antics of their children, Billy and Catherine, who had been babies the last time he saw them. She also did her best to express her love and devotion to her husband on the small, white postcards. In just twenty-five words, she kept reminding him that he was loved. Two and a half agonizing years came and went without receiving an answer from William, but Martha's faith and hope never faltered.
One September morning in 1945, as Martha was getting ready to take the children to school, the mail carrier delivered a small scrap of paper through the mail slot. It had no envelope and no stamp. As she turned the paper over her heart began to pound. Soon her eyes filled with tears as she recognized William's handwriting: "Martha, I've been released. I'm coming home."
On a beautiful day in October 1945, William Lindsay returned home to his family. After their tears and joy had subsided, Martha asked William if he had received her cards. Sadly, she learned that not one card had found its way to him in the prisoner-of-war camp.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith
Shortly after William's return home, there was a knock at the door one day. Martha answered and found a young sailor standing in the doorway.
"Excuse me, are you Martha Lindsay?" he asked.
"Yes I am," she replied.
"Was your husband a prisoner of war?"
"Yes," she whispered.
With tears in his eyes, he introduced himself. "My name is William Lindsay. I was a prisoner of war, too." He reached into his pocket and, very gently, handed her thirty tiny white postcards tied in a ribbon.
"I received one of these every month," the sailor told her. "They gave me the hope that helped me to survive. From the bottom of my heart I thank you."
Martha just as gently placed the cards back in his hands, and he held them to his heart.
"Love is patient, love is kind.... It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Corinthians 13:4,7).


Sassy Was a Lady

By Joyce A. Laird

Always the cat remains a little beyond the limits we try to set for him in our blind folly.
~Andre Norton
My next-door neighbors were in their mid-seventies and very much into a healthy lifestyle. Part of their regime was a five-mile walk every day. One spring day, while out watering, I saw them striding toward me, heading for home in their blue-and-white jogging suits. They walked to my front gate and handed me a very small gray bundle of fur and told me that the kitten had been following them for at least six blocks, so they decided to bring it to me.

We have a huge area about a half a mile from the house that is designated for community gardens. They told me that the kitten saw them walking past the gardens and jumped out of the bushes and ran to them meowing. They tried to put it back inside the garden fence, but it kept coming out.
They walked away briskly, figuring that the little fur ball would give up and go back inside to its surely wild mother, the gardens being full of feral cats. It didn't. The tiny paws beat the pavement as fast as they could to keep up with the pair, mewing all the way. Finally they relented and decided to bring the little vagabond to me.
I didn't want another cat since I was on the road a lot with my business, but my daughter said she would help with the kitten. The neighbors also traveled a lot, but they said they would share in her upkeep if I would let them take her to their house when their granddaughters came over to visit. I agreed.
Although very tiny, she was completely weaned and eating regular food. She immediately showed my old tomcats who was boss, and she walked right up to my Husky/Samoyed mix Lady, like a flyspeck on the nose of an elephant, smacked her away from her food, and started chowing down on Lady's meal. We laughed and named her Sassy.
The first thing we did was to take her to the vet. After a full checkup and her shots, the vet gave us bad news. Sassy was FIV positive. She would need special care, and even immunizations would not help her. Her first germ could be her last. He recommended we put her down, rather than go through the stress and expense of trying to keep her healthy. After a short confab, my daughter and I decided she was worth the risk. Sassy fought to find a family and we were not going to deny her.
Sassy was no ordinary cat. She got a kick out of alarms, particularly the stove timer. As soon as she was large enough to jump, she figured out how to move the timer dial on the back of the stove to make the timer alarm go off. She'd delight in setting it and jumping down to wait for it to go off so she could watch someone rush into the kitchen to turn off the noise. She was so persistent that I had to put duct tape over the dial.
Sassy visited the neighbors whenever their granddaughters came to visit. The girls would come over and ask if Sassy could play, and I'd hand her over. Sassy was always gentle with the girls. At the end of the day, they'd bring her back. I often wondered if being with the girls and watching them taught her the best trick in her bag.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Cat Did That!
Sassy started avoiding the cat box. I cleaned it and so did my daughter, and we both noticed there was less to clean. We started searching and sniffing around the house, and within days we tracked her down. She was using the toilet in our front bathroom. My daughter was first to figure it out, and I didn't believe her.
I'd heard of people potty training cats, but had never heard of a cat potty training itself. But sure enough, my daughter pulled me to the bathroom door, and as I peeked in, there was Sassy, poised over the commode, doing her thing. Afterward, she walked daintily around the toilet seat, scratching at it as if she were covering up her deposit with cat litter.
I went into the bathroom and flushed the toilet, figuring it would scare her away from the toilet and back to her litter box. It didn't. She sat on the rim of the seat and watched as I flushed.
After that day, we tried to keep the front bathroom door closed, figuring it would force her back to using the litter box. We only got a messed up paint job on the front of the bathroom door. Sassy would stand, scratch at the doorknob and meow until someone opened the door for her. Then she would rush in, jump on the toilet and relieve herself. She would paw at the handle to try to flush it until someone came in and did it for her. From the time she was two until she passed away in her sleep at seven years old, Sassy refused to use a cat litter box and only used the toilet.
I hope the toilets in kitty heaven are easier to flush than down here.