Friday, January 31, 2014

Shades of God

Google Images
“Let there be light”
and the darkness gave way.

The brush was raised to paint the blue
of heaven’s sky and water’s hue.
But no dull sameness left its mark,
cerulean, azure, navy, light,
seafoam, turquoise, cyan,
cornflower, cobalt,
powder, sapphire, royal,
His genius let loose.

Then from the blue He called the brown.
Dirt and sand and clay displayed;
auburn, desert, ochre,
taupe, buff and bronze,
wheat, russet and mahogany,
sand and seal and good old beige,
Foundations flourished in variety.

And from the brown His brush turned verdant.
From earth the life sprang forth;
apple, fern, and kelly green
emerald, hunter, moss,
jade, forest, lime and pine,
tea, and teal, shamrock, spring,
delighted His artistic eye.

Of course the green could not deny
the colours of harvest that He designed.
How many reds can you produce?
Crimson, cardinal, puce and pink,
fuchsia, flame and scarlet,
burgundy, rose, and before the machine,
fire-engine red was in His mind.

The skies He dotted with yellow orbs,
Their shades reflected down below;
saffron, goldenrod, mustard, flax,
cream, amber and peach,
metallic, maize and glowing fire
danced before His ardent brush
and lit both earth and sky.

Not even darkness escaped His eye
Lest it feel forever banished from His sight.
Black turned steel gray at His behest,
charcoal, xanadu, slate and silver,
platinum and fearful arsenic,
taupe again appeared, slightly altered,
with dove and liver close behind.

The beasts and birds and swimming things
received His blessed touch
and took on the Creator’s passion
for symmetry amid variety.
Blue jay, canary, black bear, red fox,
white wolf, chestnut mare, pink flamingo,
all dressed by His design.

And the crown of His creative strokes?
It is no curse that man reflects
the genius of God’s touch.
“Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight.”
Delight in difference, boast of beauty
in variety revealed, He calls.

And God saw that it was good,
every colour, every hue, every stroke.
And better yet, as well He knew,
those colours meant to bleed and blend
until one day remade anew,
they would not only be good
but perfect just as He.

*Jesus Loves the Little Children
Words by C. Herbert Woolston, music by George F. Root

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Bandit Queen

Belle Starr—Google Images
The year was 1885. I fell in love, and married, Rosie Lee Reed.

When I first met her, Rosie was mucking out a stall in the livery stable. I had just ridden in to stable my horse. Her clothing was rough homespun, her hat tattered and her boots dusty and worn. But the trappings faded into nothingness when she turned and looked at me with those knowing eyes. She held her head proudly and tossed a dusky chestnut mane as if to remind me that gentlemen don't stare at ladies, and even if she wasn't a lady, Rosie Lee Reed didn't appreciate the stare.

I fell like a rock. I saw nothing, heard nothing, and considered nothing, but my beautiful Rosie. She was seventeen, I was twenty-two. I should have known better than to take the filly before checking out her bloodlines. In the end, it didn't matter.

Rosie's mother, Belle, was as shrewd a horse trader as anyone I'd ever met. When she sauntered in from the back paddock (one of the few times I ever saw her), and caught the smitten look on my face, and the interest in her oldest child's eyes, she was quick to encourage the match.

It turned out that in spite of her dress and her occupation, Rosie Lee was not poor. She was simply a tomboy, working and playing around her mother's livery. Belle was rough, but well-spoken for all that, the only daughter in a family of six, so Rosie told me. That touch of inherited wildness, that certain spark, made Rosie that much more attractive.

I was new to Dallas, and with the rosy glow of love for Rosie Lee serving to blinker my eyes, my ears, and my mind; it was only after the wedding that I discovered some of the truth about the family I had married into.

Rosie was vague about her father. He was dead and Belle had married a man named Sam Starr. Sam wasn't around and Belle disappeared a lot too, citing business, leaving the livery in the care of Rosie and a couple of old broken-down cowhands. Belle's place did a brisk business. She always seemed to have several extra horses available for sale plus what she earned from lodging others.

"They comes and they goes," was the cryptic comment of the locals. I was busy with my own little ranch, leaving Rosie to do the town chores. I shoved my concerns to the back of my mind until:

"Ma's in jail," announced Rosie one afternoon after returning from town.

"What! How?"

"Stealing horses."

That was all I could get out of her, though I could tell there was more. I rode into town. The place was buzzing. Belle had been gone for a long time, but the sheriff up north had telegraphed the news.

I wondered what other "secrets" about Rosie's family were public knowledge to everyone by me. I decided it might be time to ask a few questions. Since I couldn't get anything out of my wife, I went to the one person who should know: the sheriff.

"Well now, rumor has it that them horses that comes and goes ain't Belle's, but I cain't prove nothin', least ways 'til now. She got business in other parts that maybe ain't legal, neither."

He paused, eyeing me as if to gauge how I might respond.

"Could be Rosie Lee ain't Reed's daughter neither. Some say she belongs to one of them Younger boys they all was runnin' with way back. I ain't sayin' it's the truth, mind ya."

I was stunned. Horse thieves, murderers, robbers: this was my family. Belle had more men attached to her harness than I had dollars in the bank: Reed, two Starr brothers, the James boys, and the Youngers, plus who knew how many others.

Belle managed to keep herself out of jail—this time. It turned out she was a pretty good lawyer, better than whoever had defended her in '80 back in Detroit. That had cost her a year doing time up north.

But four years after I married Rosie, Belle Starr* was dead. Her killer was never identified.

For years afterward, Rosie Lee would ask me many times if I still loved her in spite of her family. Once the secrets came out she had a hard time believing that I didn't care who she had come from, but who she was.

Now, forty years later, as I kneel beside her grave, I tell her again: "As the good Lord's my witness, Rosie Lee, I'll never love another like I loved you."

*This story is loosely based on the known "facts" surrounding the life of Belle Starr, the Bandit Queen.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow

Google Images
Sheila gently laid the photo album on her Aunt Mary’s lap. It had been a while since she had visited with the last of her mother’s siblings. Time and distance conspired to keep them apart. But a 100th birthday didn’t happen ever day, so Sheila put everything else aside to be at Riverdale for the celebration.

Frail hands, veins standing out and marked with age spots, caressed one of the photos on the first page of the album.

“That was 1911, the year I was born. That’s my mother.”

Sheila moved closer. Aunt Mary’s hearing wasn’t very good anymore.

“They didn’t smile much for photos, did they?”

Mary harrumphed, as she said, “Mother wasn’t a very happy person at the best of times. Ten children before me and all the farm work too—just about wore her to death.”

She turned the page. The photo of a handsome young lad in a military uniform stared up at them.

“Was that one of your brothers?” Sheila asked, hoping to encourage more memories. “Some of them were in the First World War, weren’t they?

Mary thought for a moment before she answered: “No…at least I don’t think so, though…well, it might have been Charlie…but…oh, I don’t remember…” Her voice trailed off. Mary’s hand stopped over the picture, resting on it as though waiting for an answer to magically flow from the thick cardboard into her mind. Sheila could see the struggle to remember on her aunt’s face.

“It’s okay, Aunt Mary, it’s not important.”

The older woman looked up, meeting Sheila’s gaze and pinioning it with the icy blue of her own. “It IS important,” she retorted, frustration and a touch of anger adding an edge to her usually calm tones. Immediately her eyes went back to the photo.

“It was Charlie, not my brother, but my mother’s younger brother. He went away and never came back,” she said. It was as though that moment of pique had chased the fog away. She turned the page and reached out to stab a more modern photo with a long, boney, arthritic finger.

“That’s Emma, my sister.”

“My mother,” said Sheila.

Mary looked up again as though seeing Sheila for the first time.

“You were away for a long time, weren’t you? Where was it…Africa?”

“Japan, Aunt Mary. I was there for twelve years.”

“Yes, of course,” her aunt replied.

There had been a time when her visits with her aunt had resulted in hours of questions about Sheila’s life and experiences. Mary kept every letter, writing her questions in cramped handwriting in the margins so that she wouldn’t forget what she wanted to ask the next time her niece came. Now the questions wouldn’t come and the answers didn’t matter.

“Have you heard anything from Edith McKay? I haven’t had a letter from her in a long time. Has she called you?”

Sheila smiled to herself. In her latter years Aunt Mary had begun to collapse time in her mind and think of her niece as one of her peer group, another one of the “girls” like Edith, Mary’s best friend from her younger days.

“Edith died several years ago, Aunt Mary,” Sheila said.

The older women looked puzzled for a moment. Then, as her brow cleared, she nodded slowly. “Yes, of course,” she replied.

Sheila decided it might be time to press her aunt a little. What kind of present do you get for a woman about to celebrate 100 years of life?

“What would you like for your birthday, Aunt Mary?”

This time Mary didn’t hesitate. “What I want I think I’m going to have to wait for,” she answered. Sheila knew that her aunt loved to go out for drives through the countryside and, thinking that perhaps the other nieces had some special outing planned, she asked: “And what might that be?”

“I want to go home.”

Her cousins had assured Sheila that their aunt had made the adjustment from her apartment to the seniors’ home with relative ease, so she was surprised that her aunt would be so adamant about leaving Riverdale.

“Don’t you like it here? Don’t they treat you well? It’s almost as good as the apartment and you don’t have to cook, or do your own laundry.”

The older women straightened with an effort. For the first time during the visit, there was a twinkle in her eye, certainty in her voice, and not a wisp of fog to be seen.

“The apartment isn’t the home I was thinking of.”

Friday, January 10, 2014

Living in Two Worlds

Note: This article is a little different than the posts usually assigned to "Daisies..." but here it is, from 2009.

Google Images
Elijah went before the people ad said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him’” (1 Kings 18:21).

There is nothing worse than not being able to make up your mind—except maybe when you try to avoid making a choice and attempt to live in two worlds at once. If there is anything to be learned from Israel’s example (which is why the Lord left it recorded for us) it is the impossibility of living between worlds or in both worlds, and pleasing God.

God told John to inform the leader of the church in Laodicea of this: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15, 16). Some things in life require compromise—but faith isn’t one of them, commitment to the Lord isn’t one of them, walking in His ways isn’t one of them. When it comes to God, it is all or nothing. The repercussions of halfheartedness are unpleasant. Being spit out of God’s mouth like something spoiled that tastes bad, is not likely to be an enjoyable experience. God goes on with His message through John to point out that these believers were apparently unaware of their condition—they thought they were fine. I shutter because this condemnation so closely parallels the thinking of so many believers and churches today. He writes: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (3:17).

The Lord isn’t talking about material things here, but spiritual wealth. North Americans are blessed with a surfeit of “things” provided in our religious world that make us feel good about ourselves. When we feel good, we think we are spiritually well. But the passion for pursuing God, for knowing Him, for seeking His face, for following Him no matter what the sacrifice, for putting Him foremost above everything else, is often strangely absent in the church and among believers. If it were not, the world would be a different place. We look good, but how close do we come to the Lord’s accusation directed at the Pharisees: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27, 28). The sad part is that this Pharisaical movement began as an effort to correct the spiritual drift away from God. It ended up paralleling the path of the legalists of today who put more stock in looking good than being good, in conforming rather than reforming.

When I examine my own life, I look good. But I know my own heart, at least a little. I know how weak my faith is, how impatient I am, the words that I think and sometimes say out loud that shouldn’t cross my mind let alone my lips. Yes, temptation is an ever present threat and I shouldn’t beat myself over the head when I am exposed to it. But, it is my choice to yield, and I so often do exactly that in spite of “looking” good on the outside. I know that as I pursue God and know Him better, I understand how little I do know Him and how little my heart models His, even when my life seems to do so. I can easily deceive myself into thinking I am rich in spiritual things, only to discover in the light of His Word just how poor I really am.

John goes on to write: “I counsel you to buy from me the gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see” (3:18). I am fascinated by this picture. It reminds me that the pursuit of God begins with repentance. This too is a lost value. How many testimonies have a heard of those who have made a profession of faith without mentioning a word about repentance. The two are joined at the hip—you can’t have one without the other. Faith requires an acknowledgment of the reason for its existence and its necessity. And repentance doesn't stop at that first-time visit to the cross. The Lord tells John that repentance is the first step to restoration and renewal. He invites us to come and buy what we need from Him, the price already paid with the coin of the cross, in order to know God as He knows us—intimately. In Him is healing. In Him are the riches of abundant, fruitful, righteous life, and the hope of eternal glory.

Then comes the capstone: “Those who I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (3:19). In other words, choose who you will serve. Get off the fence. Stop trying to live in two worlds, or worse yet to live in the other world. Accept the rebuke and the discipline with a humble, repentant heart. God loves us, otherwise He wouldn’t bother to invest so much in us. Isn’t that the essence of love, to work for the benefit of another regardless of the cost to oneself? The Father, through the Son, modeled that love all the way to cross and beyond. From before the beginning of time, God’s desire was to restore the creation He knew would be lost and work in it until it once more bore His image. Romans 8:28 bears this out when Paul says: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose…to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.

The verse that follows in Revelation 3 is one we often direct at those who do not believe. In this context it is directed at those who have made a profession of faith, to the church, but to a lukewarm one sitting on the fence trying to live in two worlds. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (3:20). The Lord wants to be, in fact not just in name, the Lord of our lives. But as long as we choose to be lukewarm, he remains on the outside, persistently knocking, disciplining us, in an effort to get us to open the door in repentance and commit ourselves to Him. He brings the banquet with Him.

What scares me most is the picture of Jesus knocking at the door of His own church. We have thrown Him out, however inadvertently, in the name of compromise for the sake of being “relevant,” in the mistaken belief that we can live in two worlds and get the best out of both of them, in the delusional state that we don’t really have to choose who we serve. And He, the Head of the church, stands on the outside patiently waiting.

Joshua declared that he and his household had chosen to serve God (Joshua 24:15). Elijah called on Israel to choose who they would follow. Churches need to corporately choose whose light shines from their windows. We choose, and daily renew our vows to the Master we are committed to following.

If anyone hears, open the door. Please open the door and choose wisely.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Kitties Come Home

Google Images
January arrived and the bitter winter settled in for the long haul. Night came early and with it a gnawing need.

The male slipped out from under the naked shrubbery and wound his way around the southern end of the garage where the snow wasn’t quite as deep. He paused. The street was asleep but inbred caution demanded that he be sure no threat existed.

Inspection completed, he padded softly across the freshly shoveled driveway. Wide-open spaces made him nervous. A security light flickered on, startling him. He paused for a split second, then skittered away, belly brushing the snow, until he reached the pine trees beside the walkway. The lower branches were weighted down with snow, providing a shelter near the base of the trees. A sudden gust of wind stirred the wind chimes on the porch of the house, breaking the silence.

The tom’s breathing settled as the light switched off. However, he kept his eyes on the route he had just traveled. He uttered a short cry that, despite its softness, seemed loud in the quietness that had once more descended. Though he was keeping watch, he almost missed the smaller, lightly coloured female who sped across the driveway coming to a perfect landing at his side.

“You didn’t even trigger the light,” he said.

“You gotta stay closer to the garage.” She trembled slightly and her companion snuggled closer.


“Not really,” she lied.

This was their first winter on the outside and it had taken her some time to move from abject terror to just plain fear as she faced this new aspect of life on the streets.

“Do you think that…?” She continued.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” interjected her companion. “We’ve been disappointed before.”

The previous summer, after being left behind, the two cats had stuck close to their home for a while, believing that their humans would soon return to the now empty house. The tom resurrected kitten-hood memories of life in a barn and the old hunting skills soon returned. The she-cat, domesticated and declawed, became his shadow, instinctively understanding that without him she would not survive long.

The arrival of a new family with two enormous and aggressive dogs killed their hopes as surely as water kills fire. The fall was bitter with sad reminiscences of better times. By the time snow fell the only thing on their minds was the next meal and a safe place to sleep.

The house they now watched from under the pine trees was miles from the home they once knew. From the outside this place didn’t seem that much different from its neighbors. But there was something…

The porch light came on suddenly and both cats stiffened, ready to run. The front door opened, then the outer door.

“Not yet,” the tom cautioned.

“What if she’s going to let out a dog?” came a throaty whisper. Without the means to defend herself, the she-cat’s terror began to build.

“No dog,” he said.

“How do you know?”

“Dogs make a mess in the snow. There’s no mess in this yard.”

The figure in the doorway stepped onto the porch—a woman in slippers and heavy wool socks, wearing a baggy sweater wrapped around a bulky dressing gown. She looked around the dark yard, then skyward for a few moments as the moon broke through the clouds. The porch gleamed in its pale light. The woman returned to her business. She had been carrying a bowl, which she now carefully put down on the edge of the porch where it met the top step. She then turned, went back into the house, closed the outer door, but left the inner door open just a crack.

“What’s that all about?” said the tom.

“It’s for us—the bowl. She’s waiting for us,” she replied. The tom could feel the tension melting away in his companion.

“You’ve been wrong before. I told you not to hope.”

“There’s always an exception. Watch the moon and hear the wind. You’ll know,” she said.

For once he followed her lead.

The figures of silver cats dancing on silver leashes twinkled and tinkled as moon and wind played tag among the chimes. The moonlight cast a blue shadow, turning the freshly fallen snow into a sea of sparkling diamonds, pristine except for the paw prints of two abandoned felines heading for the bowl on the porch and the sliver of light coming from a partly open door.