Bottle Collectors

assorted bottles bright clean

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My grandfather was a bottle collector. He bid on bottles at auctions and scouted them out at flea markets. He even dug a few out of the dirt. Unlike some collectors, he didn’t specialize in one type of bottle. His collection included medicine bottles, milk bottles, soda bottles, ink bottles, perfume bottles, and mason jars. At one time he had more than 600 of them. He displayed them on shelves in arrays of aqua, amber, cobalt, brown, purple and yellow at an antique store my mother owned.

Like all collectors, he liked swapping stories about where he found his treasures and bargaining over a sale price if he decided to let one go.

His interest must have been contagious because both my mother and I were infected. She concentrated on milk bottles and set about obtaining bottles from all of the local dairies from bygone days. She also sought out dairy containers from the Biltmore Estate. My great-grandfather had been a dairy herdsman there and my great-grandmother worked in the creamy. That family connection made those quart,  pint, and cottage cheese containers precious. She has passed a few of the Biltmore bottles on to me and they are among my prized possessions.

When I started bottle collecting I decided to go for something more exotic; I chose perfume bottles. My collection made it to three: a square, cut glass one, an octagonal one made in Czechoslovakia, and a tall, amber and black, art deco one. I quickly learned that antique perfume bottles didn’t fit my high school budget. Seeing the price of a similar art deco one that recently sold on eBay convinced me collecting perfume bottles is still out of my budget. Further evidence is the tear-shaped bottle with an algae motif that sold at a Japanese auction in 2012 for $370,000.

Being a bottle collector puts us in good company. God has a bottle collection, but he considers what’s inside much more valuable than the bottle. The Psalms tell us that the Lord collects our tears in them, “Put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8 NASB).

That knowledge has been a comfort to me in times of grief. But I have to wonder, are there more bottles I should have filled with tears for the lost, for those still without God’s Word in their language, those languishing in prisons because of their faith? Will the shelf reserved for “Connie’s Tears” be an array of full bottles showing my commitment to the Great Commission or just a few flasks, evidence of self-focus?

The events on the world stage this week, as attention was focused on North Korea, were a reminder that there are those who are still suffering for their faith. We know from history (even recent history – think of the Berlin Wall) that prayer can bring release to prisoners. As we hope that the summit will bring changes in civil rights for the North Koreans, may we remember them in our prayers and perhaps shed a few tears over their current suffering.

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Little Prayers, Big Faith​

d2777826b7bb822c2d00caf64eaca392I must confess, I am one of those people who prays for parking spaces. I also pray about lost car keys, for motivation to go another quarter-mile on my fitness walk, and for guests to be delayed just a little while so I can finish dinner preparations.

My prayer list has included missing puppies, sick chickens, and lame cats. (I was a children’s church leader and prayers for pets were frequent requests.)

Requests for small things make up a large portion of my prayer life. They create a running conversation between the Lord and I as I go about my day.   Browsing yard sales I ask to be led to just the thing I’m looking for. In the grocery store, I’ll ask for ideas for the week’s meals. Playing with scrapbook paper I’ll say, “Who should I make a card for today?”

There are many who think if you are going to pray, you should pray big. John Newton would agree with them and the sentiment on the sign. His hymn, Come My Soul Thy Suit Prepare, has the line,Thou art coming to a king, large petitions with you bring.”

He knew what he was talking about. He was a man instrumental in seeing slavery outlawed in England. His words have inspired me to pray many bold prayers that I have seen answered. Among them are: for a dictator to come to Christ, for my daughter-in-law to carry her babies to full term after losing twins early in a pregnancy, and for the completion of Bible translations in several tribal languages.

Praying big shows we expect great things from God. Praying big gives us impressive testimonies to share.

But are the answers to little prayers any less impressive? Aren’t they evidence that Jesus is interested in and paying attention to the details of our lives? Didn’t He tell us, “the very hairs on your head are numbered” (Matthew 10:30)?

Rosalind Goforth wrote, How I Know God Answers Prayer, a book filled with examples of bold requests and miraculous answers from her many years as a missionary in China.  But she also knew the value of prayers for little things. She said, “It is true that there is nothing too great for God’s power; and it is just as true that there is nothing too small for His love.”

Those answers to our small prayers convince us of God’s love and build the big faith we need when we face overwhelming problems. After all, if you can’t trust God for a parking space, how will you ever have faith to be healed from cancer? (Which I have also had to do.)

So, I pray big and bold but I don’t give up the little prayers.

What about you? What are the big, bold prayers that you are praying that will show God’s power? And what little things are you asking for that will remind you of his love?

Is Your Talent Laying Dormant?

Psalm 1:3 “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season…”

close up of fruits hanging on tree

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Have you buried a talent so long you have concluded you might as well give up pursuing it forever? If so, consider the nature of dormancy.

According to the dictionary, dormancy is a temporary period of inactivity. Notice it is temporary. The fact that you stopped creating does not mean you are not meant to create; it means you are being prepared for fruitfulness.

In winter, an apple tree looks lifeless, but its dormancy is a necessary part of the lifecycle of the apple tree.  I lived in Panama for a number of years and enjoyed the bounty of tropical fruits –yellow pineapples, orange papayas, and green avocados native to the region. But, in that tropical place, the most treasured treat was a crisp, crimson apple. Apples had to be imported. Oh, you could plant an apple seed and a tree would grow. But there would never be fruit. Apples need cold to bring on a period of dormancy in order to bear fruit.

That can be true of creative pursuits, too. A period of inactivity may be necessary to produce prose or poetry, compose melodies and lyrics, or fashion art. Plants become dormant when conditions are not right for blooming or bearing. In the same way, the conditions may not have not yet been right for the piece you are now ready to produce. The market may not have been there yet. You may have needed more time to fully divine the message your piece will reveal to others.

For in truth, fruit trees don’t bear fruit for their own benefit. Their fruits nourish others. Whether we write fiction or nonfiction, devotions or mysteries, pen praise songs or paint portraits we long for our creations to nourish and inspire others.

If you have been letting a time or dormancy keep you from creating but feel again the stirring of ideas, take a lesson from desert plants. Desert flowers may not bloom for years due to lack of rain. Then when water first falls, the seed rises to the surface; in a similar way thoughts of creating have now risen in your mind. With more rain, the plant germinates and blooms. Though you have put no marks on paper yet, your longing to create shows that creative growth is taking place.

But, like the tree in Psalm 1, like the desert plants after drought, your creativity needs streams of water. You need refresh your spirit and your creativity. Spend time in the Word and see God’s promise of fruitfulness in your life.  Read books by and about others who create. Take a course. Prepare to produce.

Psalm 1 speaks of a tree producing fruit in season. Jesus has promised that we will bear fruit (John 14:16). Your season of dormancy is ending. Now is a time of fruitfulness. Go. Create. Give your nourishing gifts to a hungry world.

Memorial Day Remembrances

The flags are up lining the streets. Crosses adorn the courthouse lawn. The Mayberry-sized parade is set to begin at 10:00 AM. My small town of Rising Sun does a good job on Memorial Day

I am pleased that in the past decade or so more communities have been hosting various kinds of remembrances on Memorial Day. I think 911 reminded us how important our military is and the cost that so many have paid to secure our freedoms.

Still, our warriors do not hold the place of esteem in society that they use to hold.
Too often we associate the word warrior with violence and destruction; there are some who question how a Christian can be a warrior since Jesus was a man of peace. But Jesus had numerous encounters with soldiers during his time on earth. Not once did he encourage a soldier to stop being a soldier. He even healed the servant of a centurion. You see Jesus understood the heart of a warrior.

Stu Weber remindsus in Tender Warrior that, “The heart of a warrior is a protective heart. The warrior shields, defends, stands between, and guards.” That’s what Jesus saw in the heart of the centurion.

In fact, warrior is a title that God wears, “The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name” we are told in Exodus 15:3.  And in Zephaniah 3:17 we see both the warrior and love aspects of God, “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

That kind of love has motivated both our Lord and numerous soldiers to lay down their lives. It was the motivation that prompted my cousin, Sgt. Charles “Chalkie” Fleek, to throw himself on a grenade in Bình Dương, Republic of Vietnam and save the lives of eight of his fellow soldiers.

He is one of the reasons Memorial Day is so meaningful to me. My father served. My oldest son is serving now. Each generation is called to preserve our freedoms and each generation has those who pay the ultimate price.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:3). That’s why on this solemn day I will go to the parade. I will listen attentively to the speeches, I will tear up when I hear taps, and I will remember with gratitude those we honor this day.

 

The Green Dictators

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37
 

The Green Dictators are back in power. Every spring my husband plants a vegetable garden and starts cultivating his fruit trees and berry bushes. By the middle of summer we are completely controlled by the demands of plants. They need water. They want the soil tilled. They insist that those pesky weed neighbors be removed from the premises.

Those demands are usually tended to by my husband but the fruits and vegetables aren’t satisfied with his attentions alone.

Waiting for attention

Soon corn needs husked. Green beans have to be snapped. The berries need to be washed and bagged.  Like the wicked step-sisters in Cinderella, they have no patience. They don’t care what my personal agenda for the day is, their demands must be met immediately or “we will dry out, wilt, or soften beyond usefulness,” they declare.

I yield to their power, delay my morning writing time, and contemplate how to uproot the tyrants.  I imagine whirlwinds whisking the trees away, hail pounding berries into a pulp. I dream of swarms of locusts descending with a biblical fierceness and stripping the plants bare, freeing me from my bondage.

Then a cool breeze blows in and reminds me that the power of the green dictators is always short-lived. Soon, frost will invade their territory, turning their green foliage brown,  brittle and unproductive. When winter winds whirl and plants lay bare, I will no longer be filling the freezer, but feasting on the bounty there and realize that those tyrants of the summer are benevolent dictators. I might even be tempted to order my husband another seed catalog.

I am an athlete

“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1

 

I am an athlete. I  will never qualify for the Olympics or even participate in the Boston Marathon, but I walk.

There are some who don’t consider walking a true sport; they haven’t checked the dictionary. My Merriam – Webster’s defines athlete as, “ a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.” All of those qualities are needed by those of us who put one foot in front of another to log miles on our shoes and record distances in an exercise journal.

But the thing that makes me a athlete is the same thing that makes anyone an athlete – achieving victory over self. Choosing on a consistent basis to overcome inertia and move  when your mind tells you it’s too hot or too cold, that you’re too tired, that you have too much to do, or that you just don’t feel like exercising is how anyone becomes a competitor.

I compete with myself every time I go for a walk,  trying to improve my time or extend my mileage.  And I have competed in a few 5K events.

Victory in Virginia

The first one took courage because I had never been in a race. Just entering was a victory over self.  I achieved victory in another 5K b y entering and then  finishing. I was suffering with plantar faciitus and almost didn’t compete. My oldest son and daughter-in-law were running in the race and I wanted to participate with them.

I gave myself a pep talk and promised myself that if the pain got too bad, I could quit. I was the second to last person to come in…but I didn’t  quit – another victory over self.

Then I had a chance to enter a local 5K with my youngest son. He ran, I walked. He came in 2nd for his age group. When the walking winners were announced I had come in first place in my age category! I immediately started making plans to compete in the Beast of the Southeast the next year.

2nd & 1st in the Beast of the SouthEast

When spring came, I started training hard for that 5K scheduled for a weekend in July. That May, my husband had a heart attack and eventually by-pass surgery. My walking pace was scaled back to an amble as I walked with him to rebuild his strength. Each completed round was a victory over fear and uncertainty.

He is healthy again and I am back to competing against my last walk, trying to improve my time and distance. Whether one is running a marathon or walking a path in a park, champions know that it is victory over self that makes you a true athlete.

Secret Codes Needed

I’m feeling more and more like I’m living in a spy novel; I have to provide a password for everything I do.

My computer wants a code to go from the  opening screen to the Windows desktop before I can start work. My e-mail provider wants my e-mail address (don’t they know it?) and my password before I can read the latest missives that have arrived. My inbox has an ad from my favorite rubber stamp shop but to order from them, they need my special identity code.

Recently,  my church bought a new copier.  It’s one of the new, sophisticated, digital contraptions that copies, scans, faxes, collates, rotates images, knows what size paper I want to use, does open heart surgery (no,wait- it can’t do that). In other words, it has so many functions everyone in the congregation is going to want to use it. But, they can’t unless they have the secret code. Because I have to print out reams of copies for the children’s classes, I have one of the secret passwords. Now I have to add it to my list of secret codes that I keep in a secret file, guarded by my secret password. . . just as soon as I remember the combination of  letters that lets me into that encrypted document.

Feburary First

It’s the first of February and Mother Nature is celebrating with a winter party. This morning she placed a frozen tablecloth with icicle fringe on tIce Tableclothhe patio table. She adorned the trees with crystal and spread a white welcome mat in front of my door.

Cardinals, chickadees, and nuthatches arrived quickly and helped themselves to the smorgasboard of seeds awaiting them in the wooden feeder.  A woodpecker in his black tux and red top hat arrived and strutted along the clothesline pole.

A strong breeze blew in and danced with the pine trees. They invited me to join in but I decided to sit by the fire instead.

What can you do with a remnant?

What can you do with a remnant? Quite a lot, whether that remnant is a piece of cloth, a scrap of paper or a measure of time.

I learned about using remnants from my mother. She often bought leftover end pieces from a bolt of cloth. Those short pieces were usually marked down enough that she could buy them with the remnants of her grocery money. She sewed that calico or checked cotton into blouses and shirts for my siblings and I. With the leftover pieces from those sewing projects, she made dresses for my dolls.

Panel for Mola

Panel for a Mola

Remnants are prized by quilters who have turned using them into an art form, as have the Kuna women of Panama. The Kunas make beautiful blouses using a reverse applique technique. Those blouses, called molas, are made with matching panels attached to a yoke with sleeves. Many of their designs contain areas with small slits exposing bright colors underneath.  They are thus able to make use of the smallest sliver of cloth.

I take the same attitude with patterned paper and card stock. I don’t throw away the scraps from my paper crafting projects. Instead, I pull out paper punches and snap out small flowers, leaves, stars and paper buttons to use as embellishments on my greeting cards and scrapbook pages. I make those decorative elements when I have little remnants of time – while I’m on hold on the phone, waiting for cooking water to boil or while I’m watching the evening news.

Using remnants of time is also the way I make headway on many writing projects. Like all writers, I long for uninterrupted hours to play with words, but the other demands of life mean I don’t get hours very often. So, I keep a list of little writing chores that can be done in small segments of time.  Choosing a title, editing a paragraph, reading an article for research, rewriting a lead are tasks I can be accomplish in a 15-minute time slot. The secret is to know what I’m are going to do when I find myself with a little segment of time open in my schedule.

Me, with my family in a Kuna village in 1983. I am wearing a Mola.

I think this urge to save remnants is a reflection of being created in the image of God. After all, he puts great value on remnants. He instructed the Israelites to use a remnant of cloth on the back of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:12). He used Joseph to preserve a remnant of the Israelites from famine (Genesis 45:7). As we study the New Testament, we see him extending grace to many that society considered throw away people.

Remnants of cloth, small pieces of paper, miscellaneous moments and discarded people can all be redeemed for useful purposes.

Now, I wonder what I can do with this leftover sock I found in the dryer.

It’s Not Written In Stone

“It’s not written in stone.”

I repeat that mantra when I find myself paralyzed by perfectionism and unable to get words down on paper. I remind myself that since I’m not carving words in granite, I can write freely not worrying about getting it perfect, but just getting it written down. Then, I can revise. I can go back and add adjectives. I can cut adverbs. I can erase or use white out. I can even start all over on the next page.

“It’s not written in stone” is even easier for me to believe when I am composing on the computer. There I can cut and paste, easily moving sentences or whole paragraphs from one section of the piece to another.

My mantra has helped me overcome writing inertia each time I’ve used it.

But I may have to find a new mantra. Today I went shopping for a new notebook to hold my ideas to be developed, warm up exercises, and first drafts of articles and stories. On the store shelf with the file folders, index cards, and post-a-notes were notebooks in the   5 ½ X 8 ½” size that I prefer. As I took one to the cash register, I read the information on the front cover and discovered it’s a stone paper notebook! Yes, stone paper.

As soon as I got home, I did a little research on the web. I found that stone paper, also called rock paper or fiberstone, is made from fine particles of calcium carbonate (stone) and polyethylene (a non-toxic resin). It is environmentally friendly and if I absolutely do not like my first draft, stone paper is recyclable.

So, now when I jot something in my writer’s notebook, it is will be written in stone. . . but I can still use my eraser!

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