Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Opal’s Recital

December 25, 2014 Leave a comment

A short story based in Bermuda.

I recognised her silhouette in the distance, down the narrow, tree-lined railway trail that I walked every morning before work. If I stick to my schedule and she to hers, our paths cross just after Cobbs Hill Road where overhanging branches form a leafy tunnel. There’s a wooden bench before the tracks open into the daylight again, and she often sits on it, resting. That Thursday, she held the back of the bench with one hand and her dog’s leash with the other. Corky pulled at his leash, eager to continue their walk, but his owner watched me as I approached.
“Hi, Mrs. Tucker,” I called out.
“Good morning, dear,” Mrs. Tucker said. “Another Bermudaful December day, isn’t it?”
I agreed. “I hope it will stay this way, so I can get in a swim or two at Elbow Beach over the holiday. Back home, I’d be building a snowman.”
“So far the forecast is clear and mild all the way to Boxing Day,” she reported.
I bent down to Corky, who wiggled and squirmed as I tickled his round belly. His excited doggie antics usually made me laugh.
“This will be my first Christmas away from my family,” I told her. “I just started my job, so I can’t get any time off.”
A white object caught my eye. When I stood up, Mrs. Tucker held it out to me.
“I thought so,” she said. “I wonder if you would humour an old lady and come for Christmas dinner. My daughter, Crystal, will be there with a couple of her friends and some others.”
She extended an envelope to me and I accepted it.
“Nobody should be alone for Christmas,” she said with a smile. Then she allowed Corky to pull her forward to continue their slow walk.


A few days later, I stood on the doorstep of Mrs. Tucker’s Warwick cottage, mentally debating over the simple action of lifting the knocker to announce my arrival. I was still unsure about spending the evening with strangers, and I had backed away from the door just as it swung open.
“How long were you going to stand there? The door was open,” said a woman wearing an apron with a red-nosed reindeer on the bib.
“Merry Christmas! I’m Crystal,” she said.

She linked her arm into mine and escorted me to the dining room where the other guests were already seated at the long table. Mrs. Tucker had collected a hodgepodge of acquaintances and friends. When she made the introductions, she included the stipulation that we must call her Opal from then on. We shared the common element that we would have spent Christmas alone if not for Opal’s gentle persuasion. Among the group was a widower from her church’s choir, a newlywed whose husband worked in a hotel restaurant, a nurse, and Evan, a quiet man of no fixed abode.
After Crystal brought the last dish out from the kitchen, Opal stood to say the blessing. Without prompting, we each sought out the hands of our table neighbours to form an unbroken chain. Afterward, conversations resumed as we passed each dish family style until we had loaded our plates with selections from Opal’s extensive menu.
Leaning toward Opal, I asked, “Haven’t you ever wanted a white Christmas?”
“I’ve spent every Christmas of my life in Bermuda,” she answered, “except for one when I thought I should go somewhere else for a change. Somewhere with snow or neon lights or crowds.” She shook her head. “Not for me. I missed playing for the church cantata and carolling door to door. I love helping with the Christmas hampers and teaching my grandchildren to make cassava pie and sugar cookies. I used to love the smell of cedar trees but I’m used to these imported ones now. Besides, gombeys don’t dance in snow. Whenever I heard those drums in the neighbourhood on Boxing Day, I would follow them all over the place.”
One story led to another throughout the meal until Crystal shooed us from the dinner table.
“Follow me, everyone,” she said, leading us to the tree. As animated chatter swirled around the cosy living room, Opal cast a wistful eye toward her beloved instrument. A beautiful baby grand piano dominated the far corner of the room, its ebony lid supported a deep red poinsettia. Corky’s little, plaid dog bed was nestled under the piano, but he had abandoned it for parts unknown at the noise of our entrance. I wondered if what Opal most missed about Christmas was playing carols on her piano. She had dedicated her life to the performance, and then teaching, of music until her arthritic fingers restricted her ability.
Opal distributed the gifts, a small memento of our Christmas together. I unwrapped a CD by Bermudian musicians, a fitting gift from the former piano teacher.
“But we didn’t get anything for you,” Nina protested. The petite nurse seemed distraught that Opal gave so graciously but had not received.
“Your company is enough,” she answered with a gentle smile. The discreet action of rubbing her hands in her lap did not escape me, and I wondered if the rigors of preparing for her guests had pushed her joints beyond comfort.
For a few strained moments, we sat in motionless contemplation. As a recipient of the woman’s hospitality, I felt humbled and warmed. Crystal looked around at the sombre group, crossed the room, and sat on the piano bench.
“Remember my favourite song, Mom?” Crystal called out, glancing at her mother before turning her attention back to the sheet music. She gathered a willing quartet of guests around the piano and led them in a medley of carols. The group sang heartily while the rest of us joined in from our seats.
“The first Noël the angels did say,
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay . . .”
From a floral wing-backed chair, Opal nodded to the music, her foot tapped as if pumping the pedal feet of the piano. Away in a Manger followed It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, and then we giggled our way through an improvised Bermudian version of The Twelve Days of Christmas which changed the mood from meditative to boisterous. What would we have been doing if not for Opal’s invitation and open doors? A group of homesick strangers now well fed, joyous, and familial, surrounded by flickering candles and blinking tree lights.
“What’s your favourite song?” Nina asked Opal.
There’s a Song in the Air,” she replied without hesitation.
“There certainly is!” Nina answered. She turned back to Crystal, expecting her to play a prelude.
“I never played it as well as my mother,” Crystal confessed, flipping through a book to find another song.
“And I’m, well, a little out of practice,” Opal said with a stilted laugh. She lifted her fingers to show her knotted joints. She shrugged in resignation. “Old Arthur’s got me.”
Evan leaned over and covered the woman’s hands with his and studied her disheartened expression.
“Give it a try,” he coaxed. “I know you can play it this once. Have faith,”
Except for the appropriately placed ‘thank you’ and ‘please’, it was the most Evan had spoken all evening. Opal did not protest but pushed herself from the chair and walked to the bench. Her daughter stood and the two women changed places. Opal closed the song book and neatly stacked the music in a small pile on the edge of the bench. She paused for a moment, spreading her fingers over the keys, and the room filled with our anticipation. She played the first three notes gingerly as if reuniting with a friend after a long estrangement. No one sang. We waited.
The retired piano teacher—the virtuosa—delved into the song, forgetting her fingers’ stiffness, her apprehension and even her audience. I listened, hoping that, in this moment, with her fingers moving expertly across the keys with miraculous dexterity, she felt as happy as she had made me feel all evening.
And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!
When she touched the final key, we stood and applauded loudly, pleading for her to play another song. All of us except Evan, who had slipped away unnoticed. As I pondered over Evan’s sudden disappearance, I remembered my mother’s admonishment when I was a child. Always show kindness to strangers; by doing so, some have entertained angels unawares. Opal opened her heart to strangers and received an unexpected blessing. She was unaware that Evan had been a special guest. Not that she would have done anything differently.

What a Miracle Looks Like

October 24, 2013 Leave a comment

What is a miracle? I really wanted to know.

1 : an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs

This week I have been thinking about miracles. When I think of miracles, I always think of Jesus first. Jesus performed many miracles when He walked the earth in physical form. He healed the sick, raised the dead. He touched people and they were made whole. He created a banquet with loaves of bread and a couple of fish, and all were satisfied.

That was then; this is now, you say.

Are miracles events that only religious people subscribe to? Merriam-Webster provides a second definition for the word miracle: 2 : an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.

How does this story stand up to either dictionary definition?

A young boy is knocked off his bike by a driver who was driving too fast. The paramedics who attended to the boy on the side of the road worked feverishly to treat his injuries and stabilize his condition for transport to the hospital. Because of the serious head trauma he suffered, the doctors put the boy into an induced coma while they treated the swelling to his brain. His parents stayed at the hospital by day and night, hoping the boy would recover, but it didn’t look good.

When I heard about the accident in June, I put the boy’s name on my prayer list even though I did not know him personally. Countless others prayed, too, I imagine. By August, not only had the boy had been released from the hospital but he had also resumed many of his former activities. The grateful parents thanked the doctors, hospital staff and all who supported them during this grave crisis. They had almost lost their precious son.

Later, as the boy’s father related the story of this dark, frightening experience, he commented, “If I believed in miracles, this might have been one.”

Was it luck or coincidence? Was it the skill of the medical staff that saved the boy? Or was it a miracle?

Log Bridges and Persistence

August 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Our second day in North Carolina found us making a repeat drive from Bryson City to Cherokee to the Smoky Mountain National Park in the hopes of getting better pictures from Clingmans Dome. The seven-mile drive from the visitor’s center was just as picturesque as it had been the day before, except that the hour was earlier. We agree to bypass the tempting vistas on the way in favor of gaining a few extra minutes as we continued up the winding mountain road. As we climbed toward the parking lot, the temperature dropped, not drastically, but enough to make me glad I had grabbed my sweatshirt before leaving the cabin. We met ominous clouds, the wispier ones blew across the road and our faces. Clingmans Dome beat us again, but we had the rest of the afternoon to overcome our disappointment on different trails.

Kephart Prong Trail promised a walk with a tangible reward. Situated two miles into the trail sat the Kephart Shelter. When we reached the shelter, we would turn back, we decided. Along the way we passed the remains of the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) camp that dated back to the Great Depression era. Remnants included a chimney that stood eerily among the trees, the camp barracks to which the chimney belonged was noticeably absent. What I thought might have been an ancient tribal altar turned out to be a stone water fountain upon closer inspection. The camp signboard remained in its place.

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We continued on our walk along a mountain stream in search of the Kephart Shelter that the park ranger had told us to expect. Had she mentioned anything about log bridges? The first bridge took us by surprise like finding a $10 bill in a pants pocket while doing the laundry. Fashioned from a log, the bridge was widened by a wooden plank which made it easier to cross. The railing provided additional support, but it was easy enough to cross without using the railing. We took pictures and marvelled at the beauty of the rushing stream which we would continue to follow up the trail.
The bridges became progressively more “interesting”. None of the following three bridges had the plank, so I crossed cautiously—no pictures on these bridges—and held the railing. When I reached the other side, I called back to my husband and waved him forward as if I had crossed a tightrope across the Grand Canyon. City slickers in nature are funny, aren’t they?

Having survived the log bridges, we continued toward the promised shelter. The farther we ventured, the fewer other walkers we encountered. There were no baby strollers on this trail as there had been on the Oconaluftee River Trail. We did not amble along; instead, we stepped carefully over smooth rocks and branches. The air was deliciously cool under the shade of the trees. Occasionally, white or red flowers were visible among the greenery. My husband’s mobile walking app eventually cut into our conversation to announce the one-mile point.
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After the second log bridge, we met a couple who had given up the adventure of reaching the camp. By our estimations, we had approximately another half mile to travel before reaching the highly anticipated CCC Camp. Without a device to measure distance, their walk could have been daunting. Perhaps reaching another rustic footbridge dampened the appeal of reaching the World War II structure. Surely the Visitors’ Center had pictures of the camp that would satisfy one’s curiosity just as well and with less exertion.
Determined to reach the camp, we walked and walked. That is, we walked slowly along the trail and waited to hear the app announce the two-mile mark or to see the cabin appear through the trees. Onward and upward. The stream wove its way closer then farther from us as we journeyed on. At one point, being hungry and tired, we prepared ourselves for the seemingly inevitable conclusion of this outing—turning back as the other couple had. Perhaps there had been a cabin here in the past. Perhaps it had disappeared like the other structure, and with no chimney to remain, we could not find any sign of it. After a brief rest on a nearby rock, we agreed we would turn back.

Taking my last look around, I ventured a further two steps, then four, then a few more just ahead. I noticed something behind the trees. Racing ahead I saw the cabin come into view. We had been less than one minute’s walk away from our destination. Had we turned around at the rock, we would have returned to the beginning of the trail with the sour taste of defeat lingering on our lips.

Our experience on the Kephart Trail taught me two lessons:

1. Trust the plan. We were armed with all of the information we needed to reach the destination: instructions from the park ranger, a map, the GPS app, and signs along the way. In our spiritual walk, we have all we need: instructions from God via His Word, easy access to His GPS through prayer, and signs along the way. These signs that He is faithful come from our past experiences and the testimonies of others that show that He keeps His promises to give us hope and a future.

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2. Don’t give up. How many times do we give up, unaware that we are only a stone’s throw from achieving the goal? Some goals are meant to stretch us and we are required to step out in faith in order to see them come to fruition. Earning a college degree. Starting a business. Getting a promotion. Try to imagine if the Israelites of the Bible did not follow the directions they were given and failed to march around Jericho on that seventh day because they did not see victory on any of the six previous days. Imagine if they marched around the city seven times but quit before the priests blew the trumpets. What if they did not shout? Joshua said to the people, “Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city.” (Joshua 6:16)

We are often tempted to give up because we doubt that the goal can be achieved instead of following the directions and having faith. We were only a few steps away from the shelter that we had almost given up finding. Once it came into view, however, we forgot all about fatigue and hunger and instead enjoyed exploring the old shelter. Even the log bridges did not seem as scary on the way down the trail. After all, we had seen what we had hoped to see.

The Battle and the War

SingerTalents are a vehicle for God’s grace.

Do no neglect your gift . . . Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 1 Timothy 4:14-15

Do you have a special gift, talent or ability? Perhaps you have several talents. God expects us to use the talents He gave us. “Don’t turn way from them with a false sense of modesty. Exercise them. Improve your skills. Whatever your gift may be, use it as a vehicle for God’s grace.”1

I’m no Vera Wang, but I have a sewing machine that, until recently, has been one of my good friends. We have had good times together. My second in my lifetime. The first was a Kenmore that I bought from Sears when I was in my teens, the second–the one I have now–is a Singer. It’s one with just the basic stitch options which have always been sufficient for the projects I work on. The most recent project is a top-and-skirt set to use remnants of fabric that I really like–iridescent maroon taffeta with deeply embroidered butterflies.

Unfortunately, my Singer does not share my enthusiasm. Skipped stitches and bunched-up threads have plagued the project since last week. The project that should have been completed in a day can be found flung across my sewing table. Half-completed blouse pieces await hems. And I’m frustrated.

Shouldn’t a talent be easy?

Improve your skills. Right now, I’m improving my patience. A mile-long walk helped to clear my head and put me in a better frame of mind. After replacing the bobbin and the needle with Singer-brand products, the problem seems to have minimized. Often, the bumps in the road lead to improvement. It’s not over yet though. My Singer may have won the battle today, but I will win the war.

Everyday Grace: Spiritual Refreshment for Women, 2011, by Ellyn Sanna

Principle #20 – Fait Accompli

After two weeks (maybe closer to three), six yards, countless late nights, and a string of eye-squinting needle threadings, it was finally finished. A dress. Not just any dress. A special gown for Mother’s Day for a banquet in Queen Esther’s court, a dinner-theater event held at a local hotel. Esther, one of only two women with a book in the Bible, was an orphan, raised by her cousin, who became the unlikely queen of Persia. The Biblical account of the woman to whom God appointed a special mission of deliverance of the Jewish people is one of the most well-known stories in history. From it the celebration of Purim was established. The story of Esther was a fitting focus for the banquet for which a special dress was required.

Making the dress, however, was not without its own challenges:

How Many Inches are in a Yard? – Any sewing enthusiast, tailor or seamstress knows that proper measurements are the foundation for a perfectly constructed garment. Although I took the time to update my measurements, I did not measure the fabric. My assumption that I had six yards of the heavily embroidered fabric (known as “Madam Butterfly”) was wrong. The shortage, unfortunately, was only discovered in the midst of cutting out the pieces of the skirt. I laid out the pattern on the fabric again and again only to discover that I had four yards of the fabric needed, a number that seemed more than generous when I bought the fabric over two years ago. After my panic subsided, I thought of a workable solution and continued by purchasing additional red taffeta fabric the next day.

Choose Your Weapon Wisely – All needles are not created equal. Good to know when working with taffeta fabric decorated with butterflies so thick that I cut six of them out of the remnant fabric and made a fascinator. The fabric was like some women—beautiful but complicated. My needle repeatedly jammed and bunched up as I tried to sew my seams. I spent way too much time pulling out threads and teetering on the verge of tears. My friend, the seamstress, advised me to use a ballpoint needle next time. It will be tough enough to handle the threads of the embroidered butterflies. Now I know.

Your Other Left – I like to personalize the garments that I make in little ways that add creativity and uniqueness. Making the bodice of the dress in a complementary color added a contrast to the dress. Red never fails to add drama. The instructions called for a left drape to be placed onto the bodice.

“No, it’s a right drape, you crazy pattern people.” I talk to myself a lot when I sew. Ignoring the inconsistency between the instructions and my perception, I basted the drape onto the bodice. Fine—or maybe not. Placing the other drape piece across the bodice I realized my mistake. One of the pieces would have to be recut in the opposite direction or my dress would be creative indeed—and lopsided. Somewhere in the planning and layout process I had cut the piece in the wrong direction. Another minor setback to teach me about patience and details.

The Perfect Fit – One of the toughest tasks in sewing a strapless gown is to achieve the perfect fit. My criteria was this: if I twist left, the dress turns left. We’re a team; we move together. Avoid the night-long tug of war with my dress at all costs. The cost was time. Time to consult with a professional seamstress who offered to tutor me on fitting the bodice and hemming the skirt. After several nips and tucks, I ended up with the snug fit that I needed in order to feel comfortable and confident on the evening of the event. No wardrobe malfunctions, please.

At times I turned off my sewing machine satisfied that I had met my nightly goal. At other times, however, I yanked the plug from the wall socket in frustration and felt like quitting. Who would know or care that I couldn’t make the dress I imagined? I mentally scanned my closet for a Plan B dress. That’s where the commitment to constant and never-ending improvement enters the door. I would never learn a new skill or feel the satisfaction of a project completed if I gave up.

We have an innate desire to endlessly learn, grow, and develop. We want to become more than what we already are. Once we yield to this inclination for continuous and never-ending improvement, we lead a life of endless accomplishments and satisfaction. – Chuck Gallozzi

After the banquet was over, I talked with a woman who attended with her three beautiful daughters. I finally succeeded in convincing the wide-eyed, older daughters that I had made my own dress (I choose to take their disbelief as a compliment), and I thought of Esther. Would she have ever thought that someday she would be sent on such a mission for God, placed in the palace “for such a time as this”? Using intellect and diplomacy, she changed the course of history. As I labored over mundane tasks—setting boning into the dress bodice, measuring the hem of the skirt—I learned new skills. I improved. We may not all have historically great moments like Esther, but let’s not shortchange ourselves by not improving when we have the chance. Who knows when our “at such a time as this” moment will be.

Quotation from “The Success Principle: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be”, by Jack Canfield

Principle #6 – The Indominable Spirit

February 6, 2013 Leave a comment

A paranoid person thinks everyone is out to get him. This week’s principle turns that negative, unrealistic outlook into a rainbow of hope and expectation. Why not, instead, face life with the anticipation that the world is plotting to do you good? An opportunity for good and better awaits around every turn.

Expect great things, like when Dog looks up at me, his eyes wide and rivited on my hand that hovrs above his head, his mouth salivating. He sits poised and waiting for the morsel that I extend to him. The next time I have a treat for him, he is waiting just as eagerly. He always believes he will get that great thing I have in my hand.

This week’s principle is inspired by Stan Dale:

I’ve always been the opposite of a paranoid. I operate as if everyone is part of a plot to enhance my well-being.”

The Success Principles, by Jack Canfield

Believe in Yourself

January 31, 2013 Leave a comment

This is for the other late bloomers. The great people who never had the foresight to create (and believe) their own hype, their story of how wonderful they are. The trouble is, in the absence of positivity, negative thoughts will invite themselves in and take over like weeds. The one encouraging word is quickly squashed by a louder negative comment. So, why do we focus on that? Perhaps it’s easier that way, easier not to succeed than to roll up one’s sleeves and do the dirty work: practice every day, stay late at work, or—dare I say it?—make mistakes.

I don’t feel like talking about mistakes today, though. I would rather talk about possibilities. I have a fat, paperback book at my desk that I packed and recently unpacked during a move from one desk to another. Now that I don’t have a cabinet, it is out in the open, so I have been looking at it.  The author grins at me from the cover. It is an older book, by that I mean not a new release; it’s from 2005. Last year, I read “Unstoppable” by Cynthia Kersey, which contained 45 stories about personal triumph. It was one of my favorite books of the year. It would be worth reading again, but I have this other book, this thick book about success principles that, even if I concentrated on one principle per week, would take just over a year to finish. As I flipped through the book, past the mildly self-righteous introduction and into the guts of it, I thought, “Well, why not?” Isn’t there enough negative stuff bombarding our existence? Isn’t life too precious to waste another minute telling myself that I can’t do something? I have some crazy goals swirling around in my head, and I can use all of the encouragement and inspiration that I can pack into my brain.

Twenty thirteen is already into its fifth week, so I will start with this principle—Believe in Yourself.

You weren’t an accident. You weren’t mass produced. You aren’t an assembly-line product. You were deliberately planned,, specifically gifted, and lovingly positioned on the earth by the Master craftsman. – Max Lucado (author)

Believing in myself is the attitude, the choice, that I will concentrate on this week. The words “I can’t” no longer exist in my vocabulary. So maybe my dad was right: “You can be anything you set your mind to, kiddo.”