By Mary Ellen Main
This "postcard from abroad" has to do with something that was with me throughout our travels. It has to do with memories of home. We saw some pretty spectacular landscape in Switzerland, the lush, deep green of the Scotland countryside, and the breathtaking view of the Himalayas. What’s my favorite of the things I’ve seen of the natural world? The Oklahoma night sky. In 2014 I wrote a piece for Oklahoma Writer’s Federation’s writing contest in their Nostalgia category. I was honored with a Third Place prize. Though the piece was written about a mid-summer night, looking up in the night sky the last few nights (as of the writing of this) at the clear, bright stars reminds me of those days. I thought my readers might enjoy the journey back with me to that…
STARRY, STARRY NIGHT
The oppressive heat bore down on my sister and me. To our young minds, each miserable moment felt like a lifetime in that stuffy bedroom. The old black oscillating fan wasn’t much help. Its heavy, greasy frame sat strategically between the bunk beds we shared and the bunk beds our older sister and brother shared. Momentarily a wisp of moving air would brush across my skin. Even that was hot.
To make matters worse, the sound of the fan burned into my brain. With no other distractions, the fan droned on and drew me into my dream world. I had a recurring nightmare about a monster coming around the edge of the house, always with the background noise of the fan. For some reason, I was sure if I didn’t completely cover up, the monster would get me. As the sound continued my dream progressed, till I finally made myself wake up. Drenched in sweat, I had the dream fresh on my mind. The fan sound made it seem like I was still in the dream.
"It’s too hot to sleep inside," I mumbled, flipping my pillow so I could lie on the cool
side of it. I turned on my side, leaving a damp sweaty place where I had been lying.
"It’s too hot to sleep inside!" I repeated, this time loud enough so I thought my sistercould hear.
"I heard you the first time," Pam said. "I’m just as hot as you are." Our tempers rose with the heat index.
I finally whined enough that Pam hollered for Mom. "We’re hot! Can we sleep out on the
rollaway bed tonight?" Our older sister and brother cast their vote for us to go so we’d be quiet.
Mom finally agreed after Pam persisted. Dad helped take the bed outside and my sister and I grabbed a sheet and some pillows.
The rollaway bed lived up to its name in our yard. Though our part of Oklahoma was flat, our yard was slanted. Fortunately, our propane tank stood where the yard met the side of the driveway. Besides being Silver, our trusty steed, the propane tank was also a good place for our rollaway bed to rest against.
Oklahoma is known for its gales, but we only slept outside on calm nights during that mid-60’s summer. However, when we slept outside we did hope for a little breeze, preferably coming from any direction but the south. The propane tank was located straight north and a little west of the sewer. Any breeze from that direction was not welcome, even in the heat.
The clothesline stood just to one side of the sewer ditch. I’m not sure which came first, the sewer or the clothesline, but it was poor planning either way. It was a great learning tool, though. We learned at an early age which direction was south and avoided it at all cost. No one wanted to step in the sewer ditch or get strangled by the clothesline.
Once the rollaway was all ready for us, my sister and I piled in. Our farm dogs, Curly and Sport, came running over to see what we were doing, but lost interest pretty quickly. As we lie there looking up, the stars began to appear one by one. Before we knew it, a whole group was in one section of the sky. Lightening bugs joined the twinkling at first, little warm flits of light glowing first here, then there, all around us. Soon they disappeared and we realized all the twinkling was coming from the far sky. Like glitter flung across the immense darkness, the stars shone bright and clear from horizon to horizon.
"Look!" I whispered, as if the night was quieter, more magical than the daytime. "There’s the Milky Way!"
"I see the handle of the Big Dipper," Pam said, nudging me to look where she was pointing. Together we found the Little Dipper.
I never was much on the specifics of astronomy, but the sky was so clear that it wasn’t hard to see the different formations we were familiar with.
"Over there!" she exclaimed. "A shooting star!"
I looked quickly, hoping to see the spectacular display of trailing light. "I see it!" I tried
to take in the whole sky at once so I wouldn’t miss one of those rare falling stars.
"I love the stars!" I exclaimed loudly, so caught up in the magnificent display of light that I forgot to whisper. I threw my arms out accidentally smacking my sister.
"Hey!" she answered back quickly. After a moment of silence she said, "Me, too."
"I read somewhere that when a star dies, it takes millions of years for us to realize it because most stars are so far away." I knew Pam was wondering with me which of those shining stars really wasn’t there anymore. I tried to count the stars, but lost my place before I got very far. "How many did you count?" I asked.
"Forty-seven…no, fifty-two…," she said, trying not to lose count. Then we laughed because we knew we could never count them all.
I never liked nighttime in the house and was afraid of what might be roaming around in the dark outside, but when I looked at the stars, none of that mattered. When I looked at the stars, I was there with them in another place. All of a sudden my world, and my problems, looked small.
I’ve lived all over the world and seen some beautiful sights, but none rivals those early memories of the clear Oklahoma nights as a child. I don’t camp out, nor do I live in a place where I can see the stars very well at night. But every once in a while, on a clear night, I get a glimpse of them. It reminds me of those simpler times, lying there under the night sky with my sister. Some things have changed so much since then, but the night sky is still just as spectacular as ever.
THAT ENDS THE PIECE.
Johannesburg, South Africa, was a city of 12,000,000 people when we lived there. You could travel many miles without leaving the city area. The first time we landed there was at night and the lights looked like the night sky turned upside down. I’ve always loved the city lights, though there were many things about the city I wasn’t that fond of. But because of those lights, there was no way the night sky was going to show up very brilliant. However, during our stay in South Africa we did go to the farm of the couple that owned the mission where we worked. You could see the sky at night from their farm. Something fascinating about that was that I couldn’t find the star formations I’d found when my sister and I had admired our night sky. We were in a different hemisphere. A noted star formation in the southern hemisphere is the Southern Cross. As I looked up at that cross, it amazed me that this was the same night sky as at home, but a different group of stars. It reminded me, again, of just how vast the sky was.
The mysteries of the universe are beyond my comprehension. I don’t even know what makes a star twinkle. But I have no doubt that there are stars. Just because I don’t understand them doesn’t mean I question their existence. I don’t understand how the Creator of the Universe could become a baby, flesh and blood, and be born of a virgin. I don’t understand why the Creator of the Universe would want to reach to earth to give every single person the opportunity to spend eternity with Him. I don’t get it. But I don’t have to understand it to know that it’s true. Just as sure as the stars twinkle on a clear night, His love burns brightly for each and every one of us. One big difference is, His love will never fade or fall away. Make Jesus the Star of your Christmas this year. Then you will "…shine like the brightness of the heavens,…and…like the stars for ever and ever." (Daniel 12:3 NIV)
By Mary Ellen Main
There are many times in our lives when we need direction. The first summer my husband Rick and I lived in Kansas City I worked for Kelly Services, a service that provided temporary employees to companies. My jobs would last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the need. Rick was familiar with the Kansas City area, having grown up there, but I had never lived there before. In those days I was a courageous driver. All I needed was someone to show me the way to go and I’d go. Since it happened to be a rainy summer, Rick also showed me alternate routes to take in case of flooding. Once I got a new assignment, Rick would take me on a trial run the night before the job was to start. Because I had such a great navigator on the first run, I never had trouble getting to the new job and back home at the end of the day.
When we lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, and were working at a local church, we had friends that lived across town from us---way across town. In order to get to their house, we had to pick up the concrete highway not far from our house then get off of it and go into the downtown area until we entered into another suburb area (a very nice description of "another part of the city") until, finally, we’d arrive at their house. One day Rick took great care and got us to their house, but when it was time to go home, we had an added challenge. It was dark by then. We headed out but by the time we hit the downtown area we were in trouble. We found ourselves too deep into the inner city. We knew the rules. A red robot (stoplight) meant slow down, glance, and go, because anything could happen in the blink of an eye if you stopped. Rick finally figured out a route out of that jungle and we made it home all in one piece, though he vowed not to do that again. The next time we were invited, another couple went with us. Rick drove, but the man of the couple showed him the way. Because Rick had such a great navigator that time, we had no trouble getting to our friend’s house and, more importantly, back home at the end of the day.
Rick often transported people to various activities when we lived in South Africa. Once our friend Blossom had some serious medical needs and couldn’t afford to tend to them. She had a relative in Port Elizabeth, however, that wanted to help her out. The only problem was, she needed a way to get to Port Elizabeth. Rick insisted on driving her there. They had a nice trip together, he dropped her off then he returned to Johannesburg. His understanding was that she would call when she was recuperated enough to travel and he’d bring her home. He went on about his usual activities but after some time had passed he was surprised she hadn’t called. Finally a call came in from her, only she wasn’t in Port Elizabeth, she was in Johannesburg. Apparently her relative had given her money for train fare so she could return to Jo’burg. From the train station she would need to walk to the taxi rank to get a ride home. Unfortunately, at the end of the long train ride and the painful walk, she found that the taxis were on strike. It was at that point that she decided to call Rick. He was surprised that she was back in Johannesburg, but glad that she’d made it okay. Misunderstanding her location, he headed to the train station to pick her up. When he didn’t find her there, he called her back.
Sister Blossom’s accent was not that hard for Rick to understand, but he had trouble understanding the directions she was trying to give him. Finally she gave her phone to a policeman who was standing nearby and he gave Rick directions. The new problem was that Rick couldn’t understand the policeman’s thick accent. Rick was in a quandary. Sister Blossom was stranded, she couldn’t give directions that Rick could understand, and Rick couldn’t understand the directions the policeman was giving so that Rick could go pick her up. In Johannesburg many people sell their wares along the sidewalks. Outside the train station is no exception. Rick finally walked up to one of the vendors, handed him his cell phone and said, "Can you tell me what this man is saying?" (When he related that story to me later, I said, "You what?! You handed your cell phone to some guy on the street?" Apparently he was desperate.) The vendor listened intently for a moment, nodded his head then spoke in a voice that Rick could understand and showed Rick the way to the location where he would find Sister Blossom. Once Rick had someone show him the way, he was able to rescue Sister Blossom and get her safely home at the end of the day.
We attended two wedding feasts in Soweto, one at the home of the bride’s family and the other at the home of the groom’s family. When we went into Soweto the second time, we went down this street, turned, down another street, and around several corners. The streets were unpaved and narrow so it was sort of like driving along a series of alleys and there were little block houses everywhere. When we were getting ready to head back out of Soweto from one of the feasts, someone asked our host, "Do they need someone to show them the way?" They were asking because it was not particularly safe for us to be driving around Soweto, especially if we didn’t know where we were going. Not only that, but we were the only white faces for miles around in an area where there’d been much unrest in the past. Our host, however, answered confidently, "No, they’ll be okay. They’re Christians." What was funny was that Rick did take a wrong turn somewhere and we found ourselves on the wrong road. People milled about everywhere in Soweto; children played in the yards and the streets, adults sat on door stoops and gathered in groups, and many people walked on their way to and from work or at least to a taxi rank so they could get to work. There were any number of people Rick could have asked to direct us, but how could he know the best choice? We prayed and Rick pulled up beside a man who was walking, rolled down his window, and explained our situation. The man was very helpful, explaining that we weren’t far from the main road after all, and directed Rick as to how to best get back on track. Once we had someone to show us the way, we were able to get back home safely at the end of the day.
Many, many years ago a journey was begun by some men from a far country. No one knows exactly how many men were on this journey, but they were of high standing. They had studied the stars and knew that one star in particular was the one they were to follow. Of all the things they needed for the trip, the most significant were three gifts---gold, incense, and myrrh. They could not leave on their journey until the star appeared. They needed it to show them the way. They traveled until they reached Jerusalem, where they consulted with King Herod. Surely he would know of the King of the Jews that was to be born. Herod panicked secretly, fearing for his own kingship. He consulted with the religious leaders to see where this great one was to be born. "In Bethlehem of Judea," was their answer. Back in the presence of the travelers, Herod shared what he’d learned and asked them to be sure and let him know if they found this great one, so that he too could worship him. They continued on until the star rested over a house in Bethlehem. The travelers were filled with joy! They found a couple, Mary and Joseph, and a toddler, Jesus, in the house. They fell down and worshipped the child and offered him their gifts. Herod didn’t intend to worship the child, he intended to destroy him. Warned in a dream, the travelers went home by a different route. They were shown another way so that they made it home safely. Joseph was also warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and flee into Egypt to escape Herod. Because Joseph was shown a way of escape, he and his family made it safely to a new home and Jesus was kept safe for all his heavenly Father had planned for him.
From the time we’re born, we’re created with a need for someone to show us the way home. Unfortunately, there are many paths that don’t lead home. We’re generally willing to look for the right road home when we’re going through a tragedy or when we’re in need, but when things are going good we figure a nice, wide, smooth path is the only way to go. If you were headed home and couldn’t wait to get there, would you take a road that looked great, even if it led you somewhere else? God in the form of Jesus Christ came as a baby in a manger to show us the way home. We have someone to show us the way so that we can return home safe at the end of the day. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and that this year you find the Path that leads home.
By Mary Ellen Main
I often miss Beaver’s community Thanksgiving service because some years it conflicts with Writers of the Purple Sage’s monthly meeting in Woodward. This year, however, the WOPS meeting was scheduled for November 29th, so I was able to attend the community gathering. There’s a slightly different flavor to each get-together, depending on how the host church decides to organize it for that year. This year’s service was a pleasant mix of music specials, congregational singing, an encouraging message, an opportunity to give financially toward community needs, and the traditional afterglow of food and fellowship. I enjoyed seeing one lady I hadn’t seen for quite some time and catching up on news with some other friends.
Sometimes when I attend events with Rick, my husband, I have this crazy idea that it might be fun to sit together. I gave up on that idea long ago when it came to funerals he was conducting, since he sits up front. Friends often adopt me for the day when I attend. I don’t even expect Rick to know I’m there at those times as he tends to be quite focused. However, at other community events there is an outside chance that he might consent to be seen with me. It’s often up to me to maintain this togetherness as this scenario is quite common: We arrive in the same vehicle, walk in the building side by side and the next thing I know, he’s disappeared. I scan the crowd and notice he’s talking with someone across the room. He continues mingling as I find a place for us to sit, hoping he remembers that we came together. When we attend events hosted by the Ministerial Fellowship, there’s an added twist. Sometimes the ministers decide to sit together. Anyone who is familiar with this group of gentlemen knows that they can be dangerous when they get together. Often by the time the service has begun, there’s a possibility that they’ll have to be separated like children who are unsupervised. Actually, they get along so well and are an asset to the community and the county but they know that camaraderie and laughter help with the heavier side of life.
So as we walked into the Baptist Church for the community Thanksgiving service, I led Rick to the pew where we’d possibly be sitting (so he could find it after his mingling moments) and waited for him to find out if the ministers would be sitting together. Rick learned that his assignment was to do the welcome and opening prayer, so he decided to sit with me. That made the service particularly meaningful because, aside from our mutual participation in the celebration, we were able to share in a few memories that the service brought to mind.
Both of the memories had to do with Pastor Miguel, pastor of the Hispanic Mission in Beaver. I’ve had some delightful conversations with Pastor Miguel about his interpreting experiences. During our Missions Conference last year at First Christian Church here in Beaver, one of the guests was Gonzalo Flores, president of Colegio Biblico which has a campus in Eagle Pass, Texas and one in Piedras Negras, Mexico. Mr. Flores had been the interpreter the year before at an event called the International Conference on Missions. Our daughter, Briana, had attended that conference but hadn’t been able to make it to the main session where Mr. Flores was interpreting. I mentioned the event to him, but he said it didn’t go all that well. The problem was, he wasn’t able to get with the main speaker before the man’s presentation. If he had been able to, he’d have explained a few things that are crucial when interpreting a speech. Two things he mentioned to me were that poems and songs are very difficult to interpret, especially on the spur of the moment. Apparently the speaker that year had both. When I visited with Pastor Miguel a little while after visiting with Mr. Flores, he agreed and added that jokes are another thing that can’t be interpreted without a great deal of explanation. Even then, sometimes the humor in different cultures varies, so it can be tricky.
When Pastor Miguel walked up to interpret for the brother who was going to sing a solo at the Thanksgiving service, it took me by surprise. He interpreted the welcome and praise that the man shared then the man began to sing. I half expected Pastor Miguel to burst out in song, even though I knew songs don’t always translate well, but he just stood there. I guess he was only there for the speaking part. At our Missions Fair three students from Colegio Biblico had sung "How Great is Our God" in Spanish and the congregation had joined them, singing in English.
I guess if the song is simple enough, it works. But another thought is that the interpreter may not be a singer! We appreciated Pastor Miguel interpreting the beginning words of the brother then sat back and listened to the beautiful song that was presented in Spanish. It reminded us of listening to some of the songs in Nepal and South Africa where we didn’t understand the words, but the music still ministered to our hearts. The brother’s voice rang out loud and clear and I admired his courage for standing up in front of the congregation and sharing with us. From our own experiences, we know it can be intimidating when the majority of the people around you speak a different language, even in the church. The song reminded me so much of special music at Eldorado Park in Johannesburg, except for one thing. At Eldo when someone sang a solo, it was common for the congregation to join in (all of them but us knowing the language). Since the majority of us didn’t know Spanish or the song our brother was singing for this year’s community celebration we couldn’t do that, but I would’ve loved to hear the Spanish speaking people raise their voices and join the soloist. When voices joined like that in South Africa, it seemed the song was less of a solo or performance, and more of a participation in praise. Occasionally we caught ourselves singing parts of the song that repeated, even though we didn’t understand the language.
Sometimes in our local services the congregation is invited to join in for part of a song that is being sung by a group or individual, but in South Africa it was the rule rather than the exception. It was just a different way of doing things but a reminder to us that sometimes different can be beautiful.
Pastor Jeff of the Methodist Church in Forgan was chosen to speak at the community service this year, being the "new kid on the block." Pastor Miguel’s presence up front to interpret his message into Spanish triggered another memory for us, the memory of having someone interpret our speaking. When we were on our survey trip we went to Maputo, Mozambique to visit with some missionaries. (I wrote about that experience in my postcards article "The Place We Didn’t Live," published May 2, 2013.) Rick traveled farther north to a church that met in the bush in order to preach. Our missionary friend he traveled with interpreted his message into Portuguese and the local pastor interpreted that message into Shangaan, the local language. Rick said it felt like he had an echo, particularly since he didn’t know either language. He had to wait until the local pastor was completely done speaking before he could continue. I experienced something similar at the school on the compound in Maputo. It surprised me that I was asked to speak, but I guess it was their custom to ask visitors to share something from the Scriptures. I decided to share the story of Zacchaeus, the man who wanted to see Jesus so badly that he climbed up in a tree to catch a glimpse as Jesus passed by. Before sharing the Bible story, I shared with the children about how I grew up on a farm. It felt like I was talking in a barrel as I had to speak slowly so the interpreter could understand me then I had to remember what I’d just said so I knew what to say next. That was with just one interpreter. I’m so glad my memory was better in those days! I’ve also shared in another article how I spoke at a Ladies’ Day not long after we arrived in South Africa. Again, I had an interpreter, only this time my speech was interpreted into Xhosa. Unfortunately, I had a poem to share. When I read it, the lady who was interpreting just looked at me. She said, "You’ll have to explain it to me and I’ll explain it to the ladies afterwards." That’s kind of a blow when you think you’ve shared something truly inspirational and discover your audience would have no clue as to what it meant. Rather humbling.
As we sat at this year’s community Thanksgiving service approaching our 12th Thanksgiving in Beaver, we couldn’t help but be reminded of what experiences we’ve come through to bring us to this moment in time. We’re thankful to God for bringing us here, not only physically but spiritually and emotionally. I’ve mentioned many times that this is the longest Rick and I have lived anywhere in our married life, but when we begin to get comfortable with our little world here, we’re reminded of some of our experiences around the world. We’re reminded what it feels like to be the minority in a place and culture that is either just unfamiliar or outright hostile to our own, but that, through Christ, this world is not our home anyway. No matter what language, tribe, or nation, around the throne of the Lamb of God we’ll have a community Thanksgiving service that no one has to miss. Hope to see you there!
By Mary Ellen Main
The savory aroma wafted through the fellowship hall, down the hallway, and around the corner where I was standing conversing with friends. I stopped mid-sentence and breathed deeply.
"Turkey," I said in answer to their puzzled looks. "You can’t mistake the smell of turkey cooking."
Since it was the church’s annual Thanksgiving meal, a few of them shrugged as if to say I’d stated the obvious, but a couple of others grinned and smiled. They understood. It wasn’t just the smell of turkey, it was all that it brought to mind.
When I was growing up, my family always spent Thanksgiving a quarter of a mile up the road at Grandpa and Grandma Miller’s house. My dad’s brother Jon lived with my grandparents and helped them with the farming. Dad’s sister Mitzi lived close enough, so she and her family were also around for Thanksgiving. Uncle Tommy lived farther away, so we generally saw him at harvest time, which ended with a family 4th of July celebration, though occasionally he and his family would make it for Christmas.
A week to a few days before Thanksgiving, my folks would have the same conversation. Mom would wait until she couldn’t stand it any longer then would finally ask, "Did your mom say anything to you about us coming for Thanksgiving?"
Dad would shrug and answer, "We always go. We don’t have to be invited."
That conversation took place all year long at our house in various forms and regarding various subjects. Mom was a planner. Dad was spontaneous. We’d always end up going, even without an official invitation. Dad was the designated turkey cooker, so I guess he felt like he had job security and didn’t need an invitation. Because of Dad’s "job," that glorious aroma would begin the night before Thanksgiving as he cooked a bird that would feed all thirteen of us.
I don’t remember exactly what all was at our meal, but I do remember Aunt Mitzi made pecan and pumpkin pies and Grandma made the old-fashioned stuffing and mincemeat pies. Even though I didn’t like everything we had there, the aroma of turkey cooking triggers a simpler time, a special memory of those people and that place.
It even brings me back to one Thanksgiving when were in a volunteer service. We’d just finished our training and were on our way to the organization’s headquarters. We’d be spending Thanksgiving in one of the group houses with some of the other volunteers. A staff member of the organization was driving the bus as we traveled non-stop from New Windsor, Maryland to Elgin, Illinois. It was an old school bus in which we had our stuff strewn about. One of the people in the group had put a sign in the back window that said, "Honk if you love Jesus." Several people who ended up following us along that trip would honk and wave as they passed us. The bus wasn’t capable of moving too fast. The only thing I remember about the actual meal we had for our Thanksgiving celebration that year, though, was that we had fried chicken. The reason I remember that was one of the young men made the statement that he hated fried chicken because it always got on his glasses. (Don’t try to figure it out. We couldn’t and we were right there with him.)
That special aroma also triggers the memory of the time we went to my sister’s for Thanksgiving. It was our son Gene’s first Thanksgiving. I don’t remember what vehicle we owned at the time, just that it wouldn’t make the trip from Kansas City, Kansas, to Norman, Oklahoma. Rick’s sister and her husband let us borrow their pickup for the trip. (Kindness brings sweet remembrances!) Since Gene was born September 1, he was still pretty little, so traveling with him was a challenge. The trip went well, though. As far as the meal itself, I don’t remember what all we ate. I’m sure there were the traditional goodies, since my family’s pretty big on standard traditional foods, but the funny tradition that has happened several times has to do with the person cooking the turkey. My brother-in-law cooked the turkey and, as far as I know, is still the main turkey cooker of the family. For some reason, though, the pop-up thermometers don’t cooperate for him. Everything else is ready to eat, but the turkey cooks longer and longer and longer until it is finally done. I don’t think anyone in that bunch gets bent out of shape as there is always plenty to eat as everyone waits for the turkey to get done.
The Thanksgiving memories triggered from my husband Rick’s family are of a house full of people and then a long table surrounded by a large family. Often there is a card table off to the side, laden with extra goodies. The funniest memory of Thanksgiving with Rick’s family was one year when they were in the house where they lived when I came into the family. The first room in the house was the den or great room, as they called it. From that room you stepped into the dining room, where it was just wide enough to get around the large rectangular table when everyone was seated. It was especially a tight fit when the whole family was there. This particular year we sat down, Dad said the prayer, and people began passing food. It seemed we’d never get a bite to eat, but eventually the chatter and movement began to slow. It felt and looked like we were moving and talking in slow motion until, finally, both stopped altogether. As is often the case, though, once some of the food was eaten, people began asking for seconds. Since Rick’s dad was at the head of the table, when he asked for seconds, much of the food he wanted was at the other end. No one said anything, but soon there was a secret, hidden message circulating amongst us. We decided to just keep handing things down to Dad. He didn’t refuse them. He ate them. We watched him as his eyes began to glaze over from all the food. Finally we took pity on him and quit sending food his way. I think he took a huge nap that afternoon.
As I stood there that day at church and got a whiff of that familiar aroma, my shoulders visibly relaxed, my tenseness began to dissolve, and my worries and cares floated down the hall with the sweet smell. It was a temporary reprieve from a much more complicated world. It’s amazing what a simple little smell can do.
I can remember a time, though, when a cooking turkey didn’t smell all that great. We were at the mission in Johannesburg. It was during the time when we lived in a downstairs flat. We had a small oven of our own by that time, so part of the time we ate meals at the dining room and part of the time I cooked our meals. This particular weekend we’d been given a turkey that had come in as part of a food donation. Its "use by" date had expired and its history was questionable. That was the nature of donations. I realize expiration dates on some products is not all that vital, but somehow a turkey whose "use by" date had expired made me a little nervous. Old poultry that has possibly been thawed and refrozen puts me in mind of an oft-used expression of Sam the Eagle, one of the Muppet characters. He was always saying (about something very obviously dangerous), "This seems unsafe." I asked several people about it, but they all assured me that it would be fine. As I prepared the turkey, I still wasn’t convinced, but decided I’d give it a try. I did everything according to the instructions, placed it in our little oven, and headed upstairs to church.
Even with my misgivings, it was fun to think that we’d have a nice, special lunch waiting for us in our own little home when we got back from church. The service was over, we enjoyed the fellowship afterwards then I excused myself to go check on the turkey. I anticipated the same spectacular aroma I’d come to recognize, knowing the minute I opened our door I wouldn’t only be greeted with a lovely smell but an experience; a moment of reminiscing. Lost in thought, I rounded the corner into the hallway that led to our door and was greeted, instead, with a somewhat foreign odor. It wasn’t exactly a horrible smell. I thought perhaps I was catching a whiff of one or more of the many unpleasant smells that can accompany inner city community living. However, when I unlocked our door and walked into our flat, there was no question. The smell was from our cooking turkey, and it wasn’t good. We would be eating in the lunchroom for that meal and this turkey wasn’t going to bring back fond memories.
It’s fair to say that "one bad turkey (smell) don’t spoil the whole bunch," since the great smell of a good turkey cooking is truly "aromatherapy." Remembering fun family gatherings, the warmth of friendship, and the familiarity of those special holiday times can help us remember the important things in life. It’s like taking a deep breath of fresh, clean air, closing our eyes and forgetting whatever is troubling us in our fast-paced, crazy world—calming and gratifying, if only for a moment.
Take a moment this Thanksgiving to enjoy whatever it is that brings that momentary reprieve, but consider this. When you’re done and open your eyes again, the world will still be here, more vivid and wilder than ever. If you really want to celebrate this Thanksgiving, be thankful to God for Christ Jesus. Let Him open your eyes so that you can have peace in Him, in spite of the world around you. His peace is not a momentary reprieve; it lasts forever. The "aroma of Christ," the sweet promise of eternal life for ALL who will believe in Him, is better than any momentary reprieve or temporary holiday. Let the real celebration begin!
August 27, 2015
Postcards: The Bread Truck
By Mary Ellen Main
We’ve been known to name our vehicles at times. There
was Pokey, a yellow ‘66 Ford van that lumbered down the street pretty
much from curb to curb. Whitey was an ’82 Datsun diesel pickup, King was
an ’84 Nissan diesel pickup and The Flying Dutchman was what we called
the first motorcycle we owned together. I’d rather not say Rick’s name
for the car I had when we met. (It was a ‘73 Opal Manta. I guess it was
hard to find parts for and had a few problems. All I knew was that it
was cute and sporty.) One vehicle we owned was named by a man in the
church where Rick was preaching at the time: He called it the Bread
August 6, 2015
Postcards from Abroad:
Writer’s recent travels, Part III
(EDITOR’S NOTE: We ran what we thought was Part III of Mrs. Main’s column last week. Indeed, it was the wrong piece. So, we would like apologize to her and are running the correct version this week!)
By Mary Ellen Main
We spent Friday and Saturday night at Golden Bell Camp and Conference Center (Camp Bell) near Divide, Colorado then on Father’s Day we headed to our next destination. It was going to be a "memory" destination for me, but not for Rick. We were headed for Manitou Springs, Colorado to stay at the same motel as Stephen’s folks and to have breakfast with them on Monday morning. With all the wedding activities we hadn’t had an uninterrupted visit with them. The reason this part of our trip was a "memory" destination for me was that my family had gone on vacation when I was a young girl and had stayed at a motel in Manitou Springs. We’d driven up Pike’s Peak, gone to Cave of the Winds, and seen Garden of the Gods. It was fun this time to pass those signs as we arrived in the Manitou Springs area. Before we got too far from Divide, though, we stopped for breakfast at a place we’d passed several times during the wedding days. It was a cute little restaurant in Woodland Park called Grandmother’s Kitchen.
The road from Divide to Manitou Springs cut through the rocks and had some more of those streams alongside the road. Sometimes there’d be a meadow off to one side and other times there’d be mountains. The traffic wasn’t too heavy so it was easy to watch for our road signs. As we took the Manitou Springs exit, it sloped down into a picturesque little downtown area.
At the bottom of the slope was a roundabout that made it easy for the downtown traffic to run smoothly. We drove through that area and just a little past the shops was the Silver Saddle Motel, the motel that Laura had found for us.
Since we were too early to check into our room, we drove back to the downtown area, parked, and got some much-needed exercise by walking around town. For the most part, we looked in the windows of the shops, but there were a couple of them we went in. Rick’s favorite shop was a mountain man shop. Years ago he’d owned a muzzle loader, so he enjoyed looking at all the paraphernalia they had available. He was amazed that they had such reasonable prices, since it was a touristy area. He didn’t buy anything there, but I bought a book by Agnes Moreley Cleveland called "No Life for a Lady," a first person account of Mrs. Cleveland’s experiences in the Southwest. (She was born in 1874.) I thought reading it might help with a western short story I’m writing. Across from the mountain man shop was a large park. We crossed the street to check out the shops on that side of the road, but stood for a minute listening to the music that was drifting up from the park. There was a stream between us and the park, so we looked at it and enjoyed the cool shade from the trees along the walkway. I finally got to hear my babbling brook at something other than highway speed. After a short rest we wandered across a footbridge down to the park pavilion. The mountain music we’d heard earlier was clear and sweet. We glanced around while we stood there listening and saw that there was some kind of pet event going on. It was then I remembered seeing posters here and there that said something like "Paws in the Park." There were a couple of tables set up around the park where people were selling t-shirts, and we noticed one booth said something about animal rescue. There was a play place for children and several people were sitting in the chairs under the pavilion, along with their dogs on leashes, listening to the music. We’d also noticed that many of the people walking around town had dogs.
Though we’d anticipated cooler temperatures in Colorado, it was quite warm as we walked around town. We decided to go into the Sahara Restaurant and get something cool to drink. We each had a diet Coke and I even "needed" some ice cream to cool me off. We asked to see a menu, for later consideration, and the waitress had given us a takeaway menu. There were several types of gyros sandwiches, which Rick isn’t all that keen on, so we decided we probably wouldn’t return there for lunch. After walking around some more, we decided to look for a different eatery where we could have a nice, leisurely lunch. We found The Loop Restaurant which was, understandably, right at the roundabout. It specialized in Mexican food but also had a couple of other items on the menu. The food, service, comfortable booth, and air-conditioning were all great but my favorite thing about the place was their ice water. I think I had about 6 glasses of it. One of the waiters kept an eye on my water glass and when I’d empty it and put it on the outside edge of the table, he’d come to my rescue. At one point when he mentioned how good it is to remain hydrated, I said, "Well, they do call this place Manitou SPRINGS, don’t they?" The water was very refreshing!
We checked into the motel around 3:00 and I texted Laura to let her know we’d arrived. She and Gerald and some of their kids had left Divide not long after we had, but had opted to go to Pike’s Peak for a little sightseeing. After they arrived at the motel, which wasn’t all that long after we did, Gerald headed to the Denver airport with their two daughters and one son-in-law so they could pick up their flights home. Laura stayed back in Manitou Springs. She needed to look for a couple of gifts for the people watching her dog, so she and I headed back to the downtown area while Rick relaxed in our room.
Laura found her gifts at the first place we stopped, which was a shop Rick and I hadn’t been in, so that was fun for me as well. We walked around a little more then began a search for where we might have breakfast in the morning. Our main goal was to find a place that had booths, since Rick is more comfortable in that type of seating, and a place where Laura could find something other than wheat products to eat. The booth situation was the trickiest, since many places had beautiful wood furniture – nice to look at but very uncomfortable for sitting on. Finally we headed back to the room and asked the desk clerk about the motel’s breakfast-only restaurant. She shook her head when we asked about booths, explaining that they had tables and chairs only. There was one other place we’d seen, but it wasn’t open that time of the evening so we couldn’t see inside. It was called Uncle Sam’s Pancake House and was just down the road from the motel. We asked the clerk about that place and she said not only did they have booths but they had the best biscuits and gravy she’d ever tasted (and also had things on the menu that weren’t made with wheat). Uncle Sam’s Pancake House got our vote!
After Gerald arrived back from the airport run, he and Laura had to take Stephen’s car back to Divide where Holly’s family lives. It was about a 30 minute drive one way, so they were anxious to get on their way. After they got back to Manitou Springs they ate supper and headed to their room. Rick and I relaxed and watched old movies on TCM. We all looked forward to the next morning’s breakfast visit.
The motel clerk had been right, the biscuits and gravy at the pancake house were stellar. Rick and I can both attest to that. They were only exceeded by the visit we had with our friends, who we see far too infrequently. After our visit and breakfast, the Riffes headed to meet a friend who was riding with them back to Kansas City and we headed for home. Rick had studied the map the night before to decide what our route would be. The most straightforward way, he’d decided, was to take Highway 24E out of Manitou Springs to Interstate 25S, which we’d pick up in Colorado Springs. From there we’d head to Pueblo where we’d pick up Highway 50E then in Garden City we’d get on Highway 183S. The car would know the rest of the way from there as we’d take Highway 64E to the Forgan "Y" and Highway 23S on to Beaver. (The last part of that route is so automatic I had to ask Rick the names of the highways – I don’t usually pay attention to that.) We arrived home around 7:15 Monday night, June 22, after a fun, full week of visiting, traveling, sightseeing, relaxing and spending time together.
The day we left was the memorial service in Richardson, Texas, for my dad’s younger brother that I’d hoped to be able to go to; Rick, our youth minister, and our intern youth minister were all going to be out of town at the same time; I needed to get some work done before our October Missions Fair; I owed Brent an article; and there were several undone projects that needed attention. Sometimes the only way to take a vacation is to just do it, so we were thankful for the "excuse" of Stephen and Holly’s wedding to spur us into action. And, as is usually the case, the place didn’t fall apart while we were gone and the things that needed done were still waiting for us when we returned. (I’m working on that one…wouldn’t it be nice to return from vacation and have the work all done up that was left undone?) Still, the Lord provided us with a window in time to do some remembering and some looking toward the future as well. (One of the Riffe’s daughters and her husband are expecting a baby in September – this is a young lady that used to play with Briana when we first moved to town.)
Another huge blessing was the timing of this trip. Because of the date Stephen and Holly had chosen for their wedding, we chose the week prior to that for one of Rick’s vacation weeks. That also happened to be part of the time that our daughter, Briana, was gone overseas on a short-term mission trip. Her trip this year would be different than any she’d taken before because it would be the first time she’d be "flying solo." Always before when she’d traveled she’d either been with us or with a team from her church. This time she’d gone over with the team, as usual, but would be staying in Eastern Europe for a few days when the team returned to the United States. She was going to travel to visit a young lady she’d met in Joplin whose home is in Kosova. The friend had invited her to "stop by" since she was going to be so close. It helped us to be out and about traveling while she was gone because it made the time pass quicker. She arrived home the day after we got back from vacation. Now we’ll both have fun stories to share with each other about our trips as well.
From Beaver; to Kearney, Nebraska; to Ft. Collins, Colorado; to Castle Rock, Colorado; to Divide, Colorado; to Manitou Springs, Colorado; and back to Beaver for Rick and me, and around Eastern Europe for Briana – I guess the traveling continues in a new way for us. Rick and I are traveling more in the United States (he’s way ahead of me there!) and Briana…well she’s going wherever the Lord will take her, both in the United States and overseas.
July 16, 2015
Postcards: Writer’s recent travels, Part II
We’d spent three days vacationing and visiting and now it was time to travel to something a little more business-oriented, at least for Rick. The funny thing was, the wedding Rick would be conducting would be more family-oriented than business-oriented, since we consider the Riffes family. We became good friends when they were still living in Beaver. As a matter of fact, the day we arrived Laura and her youngest daughter, Elizabeth, stopped by to welcome us to town. Our daughter Briana and Elizabeth hit it off from the very beginning. Before long our son Gene and Stephen Riffe, the young man whose wedding we were headed for, became friends and Briana got to know Anna, the Riffe’s oldest daughter as well. Many hours were spent with either our kids up at their house or their kids down at our house. Rick and I were also good friends with Gerald and Laura Riffe. Sometimes Rick and Gerald had business things to discuss, but sometimes we just spent fun "couple" time together.
One night Laura and Gerald, and Rick and I double-dated to go see the 3-D version of the movie "How to Train Your Dragon," which was showing in Liberal, Kansas. We were about the only people at that particular showing, but I thought how funny we must look sitting there with our 3-D glasses on. That ended up being a night we’ll never forget because it was also the night our son, Gene, died in a car wreck just past the Beaver River bridge. We’d crossed paths with him on our way home from Liberal as he headed toward Liberal that night. We’d left Liberal early because Rick was needed to take a lady to the Garden City train station so she could get away from a bad situation. Briana was going to go with him, since he wouldn’t drive a lady by himself. The lady also had a couple of children with her so Briana took some things for them to do on the way. I was in town by myself when Allison Bennett and a nurse came to take me to the emergency room. When I got to the emergency room and found out that Gene was dead, I called Gerald and Laura, asking them to come to the hospital. I didn’t tell them the whole story, but just asked if they’d come. I found out later that while they were throwing their clothes on they got another call. Rick and Briana were still on their way back from Garden City. They’d gotten a call telling them that Gene had had a wreck and asking them to get to the hospital as soon as possible. Briana called the Riffes just as they were heading out the door to ask them to be praying. The Riffes (along with several other people) sat with me at the hospital and stayed there after Rick and Briana arrived as well. That was a tremendous gift to us. They were right there with us that following week, and the weeks and months after that. All that served to cement an already close friendship. We hated to see them move to Kansas City when Gerald retired, and Rick felt bad when he was not able to fulfill Elizabeth’s request to conduct her wedding when she and Owen Hawbaker, a friend from school, got married but all that made our anticipation toward being a part of Stephen’s wedding and getting to see the family again that much greater!
Our plan was to arrive in Divide, Colorado sometime Friday morning so Rick could visit Stephen and his fiancée, Holly, to work out the details of the wedding. When Rick is asked to do a wedding, he always requires the couple to come for counseling. However, since Stephen and Holly were so far away, they’d arranged for someone else to counsel them. That left only the specifics of the service itself to work on. We got past the Denver area and began looking for a town that wasn’t too far away from Divide, but that would allow us to stop and rest and get ready for the next day. Rick had looked at the atlas that morning and had seen a few possibilities. Soon we saw the sign for Castle Rock, one of Rick’s choices. There were three exits, so we took the middle one. That ended up being a good idea because we found a Super 8 right off that exit. It had a room available, so we decided that would be the place to stay. We drove across the street for supper at a nice restaurant, filled up the car at the gas station right next to that then swung around the corner to a Laundromat to wash a few things. By the time we got back to the room there was a sign taped on the front door of the motel that said "No Vacancy." We were glad we’d stopped when we did!
On Friday morning we traveled to Divide, arriving around 11:30. The drive was beautiful as we headed back into the mountain area. This time the road cut through rock walls on either side. We passed a sign that said "Cliff Dwellings" and could see some of those back off the road. We also passed the drive that sloped up to Cave of the Winds. Once we arrived in Divide we called Stephen in order to get specific directions to the camp where all the wedding activities would be taking place. He was on his way there from Colorado Springs and estimated that he’d be arriving in about 30 minutes. After Stephen gave Rick directions to the camp, he explained that Holly would meet us in the front parking lot when we got there. Following Stephen’s directions, we turned off the main road and followed a smaller road. Sometimes there were trees on either side of the road, other times there were meadows and other times there were lots with horses in them. Off in the distance we could see Pike’s Peak. After a while we rounded a curve and saw a sign on our left that said Golden Bell Camp and Conference Center. (We found out later that most people referred to it as Camp Bell.) As we turned into the main parking lot and parked, we realized we were in a bit of a predicament. There were several people walking around. Now we needed to figure out which one was Holly. Stephen had just called us back to make sure we were finding the place okay, so I asked him what vehicle Holly would be driving. He said she’d actually be walking over from her folks’ house. That was no help! We got out of the car and did our best to appear to be looking for someone as we walked toward the front of the lodge, so Holly would recognize us.
There was a young lady sitting on the front steps of the lodge and all of a sudden I told Rick, "That’s her!" He asked if I was sure and I said, hopefully loud enough that she could hear me and respond if it really was her, "Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s Holly." I realized by that point that it was no miracle that I recognized this young lady I’d never met in person, because I remembered seeing pictures of her that Stephen had posted on facebook. When I said her name, she looked up and smiled.
We introduced ourselves and Holly welcomed us. She gave us a brief tour of the lodge then we headed out back to see the area where the tent was set up. We walked down the hill past the miniature golf course and the sign that said Adventure Trail (or something like that!) and on into an area of trees behind another building. Just beyond the trees there was a clearing where a large rectangular tent was set up. Holly explained that originally they’d planned on having the rehearsal, rehearsal dinner and wedding reception at the tent area and the wedding in the chapel, but there had been a problem with the chapel reservations. Because of that, the wedding would also be taking place in the tent area. I know it was a big change for them, but everyone handled the situation very well. It meant figuring out how to set up chairs for the ceremony itself then use those same chairs at the tables for the reception, as well as needing the weather to cooperate, among other things.
Stephen arrived before too long, so he and Holly decided to take us to a restaurant in Woodland Park, a town near Divide, where they could discuss the wedding details with Rick. Once we arrived at the restaurant (a fun barbecue place), the first thing we needed to do was to get better acquainted with Holly and have her get better acquainted with us. The more we talked with Holly, the more we liked her and saw what a fun couple she and our friend Stephen made. They’d actually met at Camp Bell. Holly’s folks live just around the corner from the main lodge, so she’s worked at the camp several years, and Stephen has worked there for the past few years as well. If I understood their stories correctly, Stephen usually worked the Adventure camp and Holly usually worked with the Itch-ee-ow-ee camp. I asked about that name, since I’d heard some campers using it and had also heard Holly say that was the camp she worked with. She explained that they use that name because they sleep outside in tepees and are often visited by mosquitoes. One summer Holly needed an assistant leader and Stephen happened to be available. They worked together all summer long. Holly’s brother, Cameron, explained it well at the wedding reception when he said he noticed they were together quite often. Finally it occurred to him, "Hey, I think Stephen likes my sister!" We met the director of the camp after the wedding and, with a huge grin, he explained, "You can see why we have a ‘no dating’ policy for our staff." He told us that Holly’s brother, Stefan, and his wife, Jenn, had also met at the camp. He explained that it gave an excellent opportunity for the young people to get to know what it was like to work together, but to remain in a group setting.
We told Stephen and Holly stories about our getting married in Miami, Oklahoma almost 37 years ago. We’d planned on a small wedding, but things were getting way too complicated, so we’d eloped. We told them Rick had on his mechanic’s uniform and I was wearing knit slacks and a Star Wars t-shirt (our good clothes were in the car but we didn’t have time to change into them). They’re both Star Wars fans, so they thought it was pretty funny when Rick said he married C-3PO.
We took time to enjoy the delicious food then it was time to talk about the wedding plans. Stephen had shared some of their ideas with Rick over the phone, but the time in person gave Rick a chance to get a clearer picture of what they were wanting. After we arrived back at the camp, he worked on a few of the ideas so that he was more prepared for the rehearsal that evening at 5:00.
By the time of the rehearsal, all the Riffes had arrived. We also had a chance to meet Holly’s family. We even had the special treat of meeting two friends of Holly’s family, Annette and Verena, who’d come all the way from Germany to be at the wedding and to see what an American wedding was like. We were so happy that they got to see this beautiful event as their example! Everyone got along well and the atmosphere was very light and comfortable, even as everyone worked at getting their "part" straight. We were getting ready for a serious event that was to be a joyous celebration! Once more of the details were worked out, it was time for the rehearsal dinner and some more visiting and getting acquainted.
The next day Rick spent most of the morning working on the service and the family was busy decorating and getting ready for the wedding, so I read part of a book I hadn’t found time to read at home. (I may not get it finished until my next vacation!) We walked down to the tent area at one point to see how preparations were coming and found both sets of parents, along with a couple of other people, busy decorating tables and getting the food ready. Finally around 2:40 we headed down for the wedding itself, which was scheduled to begin a 3:00. (Fortunately we were staying on site. Otherwise Rick would’ve wanted to arrive about noon…he’s the early bird in our family!) At 3:00 the word was circulating that the service wouldn’t actually begin until 3:15. A few people that were planning on coming to the wedding hadn’t arrived yet. There was concern that they might be having trouble finding the place, though signs had been carefully place at the main road and along the side road to direct them. After that slight delay, the wedding began.
Originally I was just there to be an observer at the wedding, but some fun things happened at the rehearsal to make me an "honorary" participant. At one point during the rehearsal, when the ushers/groomsmen were practicing the part of bringing the mothers (parents) and grandmothers down the aisle, Laura was gone on an errand. I’d stood in for her. At another point she was there but Gerald had had to go pick up the pizzas for the rehearsal dinner. They still had a little more "walking down the aisle" to practice, so I’d stood in for him. By the time of the wedding their oldest son, Joseph, had asked if I’d hold a few things for him. I laughed and said, "But I don’t know who I am." His reply was, "You’re no one. You’re just you." He didn’t mean it the way it sounded, but I gave him a hard time anyway. Even though I wasn’t technically a part of either family, Laura invited me to sit next to her during the wedding, which I considered a special privilege. Her brother and his family didn’t even mind "adopting" me into their row. Sometimes it’s a little difficult for me to know where I fit in when Rick is asked to do something (I’ve even lost him before at funerals he’s doing because he gets so focused), but this time there was no question that I was "one of the bunch."
The afternoon consisted of a memorable wedding, a fabulous reception, fun storytelling by siblings, official documents being signed and pictures being taken. It had turned out great, but after it was all over, Rick needed what would be his first cup of coffee of the day. We headed to Woodland Park and ended up at the McDonald’s that we’d passed by several times. While we were sipping our drinks, the Riffes and the Schlumpfs, Holly’s family, were cleaning up from the wedding and reception. We timed things just right as we arrived back at the camp just as they finished up. The Riffes were getting ready to go somewhere for supper and we were heading to our room to go to bed.
Even though the main reason for our trip was over, we still had something else planned. Laura had texted me when she’d heard Rick was going to do the wedding to see what we would be doing on the Monday after the wedding. She wondered if we’d like to get with Gerald and her for breakfast and a visit once all the excitement had died down. We’d originally planned on heading home on Sunday, but their Sunday would be full of sightseeing with some of their kids then taking them back to the Denver airport .We decided to take Laura up on her suggestion. I asked her to get us a room in the same motel where they’d be staying on Sunday night, which was in Manitou Springs. As we headed out from Divide, then, we were on the last leg of our trip but not, by any means, at the end of our fun.