Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Whose story?

“You take an object from your pocket and put it down in front of you and you start. You begin to tell a story.”

Here is where the family memoir by Edmund deWaal entitled The Hare with Amber Eyes begins to teach, what the New Yorker magazine calls, “the most enchanting history lesson imaginable.”

The back-cover summary of the book reads:

                                          Edmund deWaal is a world-famous ceramicist.
 Having spent 30 years making beautiful pots - which are then sold, collected, and handed on - 
he has a particular sense of the secret lives of objects. 
When he inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke
he wanted to know who had touched and held them 
[among others, the holders included Marcel Proust, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Edouard Manet], 
and how the collection had managed to survive. 
And so begins this extraordinary moving memoir and detective story as deWaal discovers both the story 
of the netsuke and of his family, the Ephrussis, over five generations. 
A 19th-century banking dynasty in Paris and Vienna, 
the Ephrussis were as rich and respected as the Rothschilds. 
Yet at the end of World War II, when the netsuke were hidden from the Nazis in Vienna, 
this collection of very small carvings was all that remained of their vast empire.

What a compelling account of this portion of his family history, as it traces the whereabouts of the netsuke, from their early acquisition as part of his great-great-great-grandfather’s diverse art collection in Paris, through their journey to Vienna as a wedding present to the author’s great-uncle, through their safe escape from under the Aryan gaze of Nazi occupiers, to England, then Tokyo, and finally to London, to a vitrine in the author’s flat where his own children get to handle them freely.

This post is not an ad for Ancestry.Com. It’s an encouragement to develop a wonder and honor of history, YOUR history. I am not a historian, but hubby is, and although his interest is more academic, I am captivated by the people interacting with the people. ((There is an account of the great-great-great-grandfather paying more than the asking price for a painting of a bundle of asparagus by Manet. Days later, a package arrives, a painting of a single asparagus stalk, with a note from Manet that read, “This one must have fallen out of the bundle.”)) 

All histories include villains, and heroes, and “a missing 17 minutes” of testimony or remembrance. No to worry. They are all part of the overall history, where people came from, and how they are who they are today... who YOU are today.

In deWaal’s memoir, the yellow armchair reappears decades after it sat in the parlor of his ancestor’s Nazi-invaded home in Vienna; the netsuke, transported to safety in her apron, are found in the protection of a faithful, now elderly, housemaid; original Russian documents are found generations later, sandwiched between old issues of Architectural Digest in Uncle Iggie’s Tokyo apartment - all details befitting the most intriguing of detective stories.

How many incidents in your life have you looked back on and thought, “Wow! So that’s how I got here” or “So that’s why Grandma used to do that” or “So that’s who Opa was talking about”? It can be off-putting, not always a pleasant surprise, sometimes one of those “HOW EVER DID I MISS THAT?”-moments. 

However, we can be comforted that not one moment of this life we are living is a surprise to God. The Creator of Everything is not taken off-guard by any detail, by any misstep, by any poor choice, by any over-priced purchase, by any mean word that we DELIBERATELY decided to make or utter. What surprises me is that He can - and often does - turn my mistakes around for good. WHY?         I meant what I said, and I meant it to hurt! But what our soul's enemy, or our most selfish human nature meant for evil, He can use for good... and will mercifully, miraculously do so to that end. 
          It’s humbling and exciting and encouraging... and bigger than our view of this fleeting life.

How appropriate that it's time to hang up a new wall calendar.. again!

How time flies! 

How life flies!

But nothing is lost, nothing is wasted, nothing is useless providing we trust that the BIGGER plan, the Divine Plan, includes us, has our best interest in mind, and will ultimately lift up the Name Above All Names and His purposes, even if we’re not privy to all the details along the way.

Go ahead, unveil 2015. We’re not getting any younger and there’s history to live.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Merry Christmas,  blog-Friends! I’m hoping for a WHITE one, but with or without snow, I hope yours is safe and healthy and BIGGER than what’s under the tree!

As well-established Christmas tradition dictates, I watched It’s a Wonderful Life last Saturday. It is indeed a classic. Every time I watch it, I find something new. I’m sure the “new” I find from year to year has to do with what it is I’m dealing with from year to year, but I digress. 
Anyway, if you haven’t yet seen it, rent it!

As Clarence, the Angel was instructed: “Memorize that face, that’s George Bailey.” 
George Bailey, played by the unforgettable Jimmy Stewart, had the pieces of his life all planned out: 
  • get out of Bedford Falls, 
  • travel to exotic places, and 
  • make his mark on the world. 
Due to circumstances beyond his control (but not beyond his good character)
  • he never leaves Bedford Falls, 
  • doesn’t travel to exotic places, but, in the end, 
  • learns that he has definitely made his mark on the world. 
Clarence shows him what Bedford Falls would have been if George Bailey had never been. George thought that he was insignificant, or worse... he was wrong.
What would you do if you could get a peek at “the world without  (((YOU))) “? 
Would you "do life’ any differently than you are doing it now? Are you aware of your relevance? Are you aware that NO ONE can fill your shoes? Can you think RIGHT NOW of people whose lives could have taken a different turn if you had not been there? 
I’m not suggesting that you plan an exotic ego trip - it might be disappointingly short! 
I am suggesting that you assess the gift of life that is yours. George Bailey got to look at it, and so can you  - consider it a belated Thanksgiving present!


I’ve written in the past about the First Christmas. TALK about insignificant and unnoticed! 
Nobody ‘noticed’ anything - everybody was in town for the census, and all they wanted to do was fulfill their legal duty and get back home. Some invested a week’s worth of travel to get there and back, which meant a week away from employment and income. This census was very inconvenient.
The streets were bustling with out-of-towners, and the local merchants were busy taking their money. No one had time to notice an insignificant young couple looking for lodging... plus she was VERY pregnant. The innkeepers’ wives certainly knew what that meant: delivery of a baby, SOON! NOT convenient. NO, you are not welcome here.

The animals in the stable may have noticed, but only that there was a strange donkey eating their hay. The two humans were nothing more than out of place. 

You had to get way out of town to find anyone who noticed or cared, out to the fields where shepherds were doing what they always did: “Keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Shepherds themselves were extremely “unnoticed”. Not even at a societal echelon where they were permissible witnesses in a court of law, these laborers were outcasts, socially and geographically. But they noticed...

How could they help but notice?  An angel came to tell them that the Saviour of the world was going to be born that night, right down the hill in Bethlehem.  

“... uh, Eli, is that an angel?”
“Yeah, Samuel, that’s an angel.”

Then, as if one angel wasn’t enough, “suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host”. And the shepherds got a light-and-sound show that the world has never seen since. You know  they noticed, and then they headed for Bethlehem to find their Saviour.

But as they walked, they may have wondered “Why us? We’re not respected, we’re not accepted, people don’t even look at us. Why should Heaven give us this information?”

Are you ever made to feel insignificant? ineligible? unworthy? less than? left out of the information? the plan? the attention? the love?
Let me tell you The Truth: 
Such exclusion and condescension are NOT  from Heaven! 
Heaven knows The Truth: that you are uniquely created and every hour of your life is valuable. As a matter of fact, you are so valuable that Someone died so that you could live forever...with Him... in Heaven... forever... as in beyond Time

In another Christmas Classic, The Charlie Brown Christmas Special, Charlie Brown is made to feel that his efforts - 
to direct the Christmas play, to select a proper tree - 
are failures. He ‘knows’ there’s something wrong with him, 
but he’s worried that there’s something wrong with Christmas, 
until Linus recites story of the First Christmas from the gospel of Luke in the Bible. 

There’s nothing wrong with Christmas, providing you are looking at the right Peace. 

Baby Jesus is not in the manger anymore. 
... or hadn’t you noticed?
Good Grief, pay attention!
... and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Nourishing, Chocolately Encouragement

I recently returned from the second annual New England Christian Writers' Retreat (find them on Facebook at New England Christian Writers Retreat to learn of future events) in Plainfield, NH. Surrounded by the colorful foliage, I even found myself crossing one of New Hampshire's famous covered bridges. Singing Hills Conference Center is (seemingly) in the middle of beautiful Nowhere, the perfect setting for quiet creativity, refreshing encouragement, and snack-fueled fellowship. We alums were returning for more of what we'd first tasted last year. Invited by the organizers to serve, we filled such integral capacities as taking registration, staffing the snack and book tables, and giving the morning devotional. I brought the Proverbs 31 Woman to deliver that message, and again offer my undying thanks to Nicole Johnson for her brilliant scriptwriting.

Among our teachers/facilitators/hosts were authors Tessa Afshar, Lucinda Secrest McDowell, Cecil Murphey, publisher Karen Porter, viral-blogger Lori Stanley Roeveld, and Broadway theatre critic Lauren Yarger. (Please forgive me if I've omitted your name from this list - I arrived late Friday, so missed the first day of workshops.) Each and every one of the leaders was generously helpful and willingly available throughout the weekend, at meals, in front of the fireplace, for one more cup of coffee in the dining hall. The theme that ran through all the keynote speeches and breakout sessions was "Be honest, be transparent, and you'll become the writer you're called to be."

Several of the attendees brought their own books to sell - something I aspire to! - and among others, I picked up Karen Porter's book entitled "I'll Bring the Chocolate"(Irresistible!). I'm reading it this morning, watching oak leaves and pine needles fall in my back yard, and sipping my second mug of CafĂ© Mocha. 

I'm on the chapter about Chocolate-Kiss Encouragement. This chapter opens with a quote by Lucy Van Pelt who says, "All you really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." Indeed it doesn't! To paraphrase the New Testament book of First Corinthians, chapter 13, 

"Encouragement is patient, encouragement is kind, encouragement is sometimes just quiet, sitting  beside you, and listening if you need to talk, or just being there if you don't…"

Encouragement reflects the encourager's faith and brings hope to the "encouragee" (is that a word?). Hope despite the circumstances, hope despite 'sight', hope despite public opinion offers a view of a brighter, resolved, promising future. 
Let's put it this way: Job's "comforters" should have quit at the end of Chapter Two. They are NOT in the Encouragers Hall of Fame.

Encouragement says "I care". Direct sales companies train new recruits that "Your customers don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." If they see how smart you are about your product, they may be impressed, but they won't buy. But if they see how committed you are to help them, answer a need, and provide a product that will meet that need, they will buy, and then they'll go out and tell other people to buy from you too.

Coincidentally, I recently had a rather energized discussion with a preacher friend on this very subject. I held that his audience needs to know how much he cares in order for his message to reach them. He contended that if the message was adequately compelling in itself - The Word of God, for example - it doesn't matter who delivers it. Ok, ok, I conceded, selling burpable plastic storage boxes is not the same as sharing the Gospel. 
(As I drove away from his door, my cell phone rang. "You know I care for the people I preach to, don't you?" Oh, yes, my friend, of that I am absolutely sure!)

Encouragement is difficult via social media, especially if you're bringing the chocolate. So if you can't pull up a chair, at least pull up a phone.

I've always loved it that Barnabbas' mom named him "son of encouragement". 
What a cool name! 
I'm really curious about what she named his sister… 
since, let's face it, she would have been the one bringing the chocolate...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Trinkets, Touches, and The Truth

You meet all kinds in this “charity” business. Some will make you smile, some will make you laugh, some will make you want to quit. Some you’ll want to “lay hands on suddenly”, some you’ll want to fire, and some you’ll want to adopt and make part of your family. Some feel entitled and justified in taking from us all that the world has allegedly ripped off from them; some feel unworthy and won’t take even what they are eligible for because someone else might need it more; most are speechlessly grateful and cannot believe they are really allowed to take what is being handed to them.

But the least of these is the one who cannot express need, or gratitude, or even an understanding of what this place is all about. I work in a Give-Away Center for the poor and homeless in a metropolitan city. This “least” one is the who just keeps coming back because the people here call him by his name, smile and ask how he’s doing, find him a new shirt, and give him a package of cookies before he leaves to return home, across the bridge, on foot.

Let’s call him Oliver. He’s quiet, unassuming, minds his own business, as a rule answers yes or no, depending on how you worded your question. Unless he really doesn’t like the way something tastes, he pretty much takes whatever you give him. He smiles and nods, but seldom says more than ten words in a half hour. The clothes he wears are those he had on last week, and last month, and his sneakers don’t match. 

He came in to the Give-Away Center on a Tuesday. Same smiling eyes, same pursed-lip grin, same stained dress shirt, same mismatched sneakers. As always, he had his right hand hooked into the left-breast pocket of his “donated” dress shirt. And today, he had a new-to-him pair of lime-green-and-black sneakers in a plastic grocery bag. 

“Oliver, HI! How you doing? What’s that in your bag?” He shows me and the staff of guys who work with me, residents in the rehab house next door . We make a big deal about the bright color, and shouldn’t we get you some nice slacks and a shirt to wear with them? He nods in agreement and smiles a little more. 

One of the male staff helps him find a pair of slacks (that fit his slight frame) and a light blue shirt. He looks brighter as he shows me his new outfit. The staff member gives me an assortment of rusted bolts, a pen cap, a nickel, and a gum wrapper - the contents of his left-breast pocket. Trash, trinkets, or treasure, none of it mine to take, toss, or evaluate.

“Oliver, how ‘bout some nice shoes to go with your new outfit?” Another grinning nod.
“Sit right here and we’ll find you a pair.” Brown loafers in his size.
“You should wear sox with these shoes. Go ahead and take off your sneakers, and I’ll find you a pair of sox.” The guys stayed with him while I found a pair of sox.
We were not ready for what we saw when he took his sneakers off, but we needed to see his need for more than clothes and shoes.                                       
There’s an episode in the Bible where Jesus meets up with a blind guy:

“And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” (Mark 8:22-25)

Oliver needed another touch - more than clothes and shoes, more than even food. He needed medical attention. What can we do? The house nurse had left for the day, the guys had to get back for lunch. I certainly couldn’t leave work to drive him to the ER. What do we do? One of the guys called his pastor who promised to come by after his early afternoon appointment to take Oliver to the ER. We got him lunch and waited with him until Pastor picked him up. Another touch.

He still needs one more touch, I can feel it. Anyone can see it. But nothing that we “in the charity business” or in the medical profession have to offer will adequately “open Oliver’s eyes”. No, only One Person can do that. And from our human perspective, we can’t imagine that even He could do anything - Oliver is incapable of understanding, grasping the concept of washing his feet, filling a prescription, applying ointment and taking medication for ten days. He walks the streets, finds treasure in garbage cans,  wears the same clothes for weeks, and somehow gets home each night to sleep.

When I think about Oliver, I get teary, and smile at the same time. Our earthly perspective is so narrow, so temporal, so physical. Oliver is indeed one of “the least of these”, but he is ‘touch-able’: able to be touched by a friendly greeting, a welcoming smile, hearing his own name spoken with respect and joy, a new shirt and a package of cookies. He has been touched and will continue to be touched by those more “fortunate”, lower than whom he is NOT AT ALL, ... because if we “more fortunate” are humble enough to have our spiritual eyes opened, we will “Know the Truth, and the Truth will set us FREE”... FREE from thinking we are better, bigger, smarter, more blessed.. FREE to see that we are touchable by the very least of these, HIS Brethren, whom we get to serve in The Name of Him Who humbled Himself to selflessly serve us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fresh Start Today 

Greetings, Friends, from the greening Northeast! Looks like Spring has truly sprung! 

Taxes are filed, crocuses are pushing through, and the Red Sox are back at Fenway. It’ll soon be time to bring my bike up from the cellar. If only my job were located along the bike path!

After our rough winter, Spring surprised me. I’d almost given up, and resigned myself to another month of winter, but the Sox came home from Fort Myers, so it must be true.

Some well-intentioned deadlines surprised me too: 
- I should be 15 pounds into my New Year’s resolution to lose weight, but I’m not ... 
- I should have posted monthly blogs for February and March, but i didn’t  
- I should have a routine in my “new” job that maintains time for girlfriends, rehearsals, and a clean house, but I don’t. 

I was reading an article the other day by Jason Mastrodonato, the Red Sox beat reporter for MassLive, who quoted Sox manager John Farrell. Reflecting on their 2013 season, Farrell said, “... certainly we should enjoy those [reminders of last year] and experience them to the fullest. But the one thing this group has shown time and time again, yesterday doesn’t filter into today, and the work today is the primary focus.”

Yesterday doesn’t filter into today!  Neither our most exciting victories (which are pleasant and encouraging to recall) nor our most heart-breaking defeats filter into today. Happy memories, good intentions, and laurels are nothing to rest on. Neither should regrets and resentment hold us back.

New Year’s resolutions don’t get resolved without action, and one less brownie. 
Monthly blogs don’t get posted without writing, and rewriting.  
Friendships are not maintained and cultivated without investing time, communication, and generosity. 

The work today is the primary focus”. We don’t live in a world moved forward by ‘I meant to’ or ‘I planned to’. We get things done and make a difference by putting our backs and hearts into it ... deliberately, consciously, every single day.

TODAY I’ll get to the gym. 
TODAY I’ll floss, and moisturize, and get to bed at a reasonable hour.
TODAY I’ll say ‘I love you’ and ‘Thank you’. 
TODAY I’ll keep my word, because it’s not just small talk. 
TODAY I’ll pay attention and listen to your heart.
TODAY I will not formulate my answer while you’re still speaking, 
just to show you how smart I am.
TODAY I will give it my all and not coast, even though yesterday went really well.
TODAY I will not worry about tomorrow, 
because tomorrow has enough worries of its own
which steal from today.
TODAY I will not dwell on yesterday, 
                      because yesterday’s gone, 
                                           useful only to learn from.

 In the Bible we are exhorted to “encourage each other every day, as long as it’s called ‘today’.” C’mon, it’s only for 24 hours, you can do that! 

Unlike Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day, we don’t have to start from Square One every day. And thankfully, like Bill Murray, we can approach each today with the ‘edge’ that we gained yesterday. 

So Don’t Worry, Be Happy and 
healthy and
kind and 
productive and
thankful and 
generous and 
outward-focussed, TODAY.
You’ll be astonished at what gets accomplished, 
                            even when there is no Pennant at stake.

To keep you in my loop, I “guest blogged” on my friend and mentor’s blog, http://streams-edge.blogspot.com, which I hope you will check out and enjoy.

And next month on May 3, I will be presenting at the Women’s Conference at Grace Fellowship, North Stonington, CT. Join us for encouragement, training, food, and laughs. For info and to register, log onto http://www.lifebygodsdesign.com.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Least of Christmas

As the New Year's Nor'easter of 2014 blows into my backyard, I sit here in front of the fireplace, warming my toes, sipping my 4th mug of hot cocoa, tea, or coffee, watching the 5th DVD of the 6th season of NCIS. The last load of laundry is in the dryer, and NECN is forecasting a foot of light powder by morning. 

In the meantime, the birds are staying close, patiently waiting for their supplier to fill the feeders once more before dark. Much to their delight, the neighborhood cat, who frequently joins them, is nowhere to be seen. He's probably curled up in front of his own fireplace.

This storm has added two days to the Christmas school break, which some kids will spend at the mall, or on the slopes, or helping Mom pack away the decorations for another year. Some may even work on the history report that was due today, but is now (PHEW!) not due until Monday. For students, an unexpected Christmas gift... from above. For parents, well … Monday's coming.

This Christmas was different from the last 17 the Kincaids have celebrated in this house. In years past, we would bring the decorations down from the attic over Thanksgiving weekend. The tree would come home no later than my birthday. Everything would be wrapped, baked, and blinking or jingling by December 15th. Mannheim Steamroller would ring through the house, and movie classics like It's A Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and A Christmas Carol would be 'must-see's on TV.

But like I said, this year was different.

Back in November, I started working at a local faith-based rescue mission. My job has nothing to do directly with any of the Thanksgiving or Christmas programs offered at the mission, but the atmosphere throughout the place is filled with the humility and gratitude of this unique season. For the residents at the mission, this was a "different" Christmas, too. A sober Christmas, a clean Christmas, a clothed Christmas, a warm, indoor Christmas, a polite, kind, gracious Christmas. The Christmases they've known in the past may have been more like the First Christmas... minus the Heavenly Host.

This year, I found myself thinking about that First Christmas: 
  • Not about whether Jesus was really born in December or April, 
  • Not about whether Yule logs and candles were adapted from pagan practices, 
  • Not about whether birthday celebrations are mere pride or vanity. 
I found myself thinking about - 
  • that night when He was born in a stable in Bethlehem, 
  • that night when The Father sent out a birth announcement that lit up the sky and was symphonically delivered by no less than the Host of Heaven, 
  • that night when socially-outcast shepherds were specially honored as the very first to hear the good news .
But that night, back in the City of David, nothing really changed. Downtown buzzed with activity surrounding the census and with normal city life: dogs foraged, back-alley tempers flared, beggars demanded hand-outs, and the homeless huddled together around a common fire. 

Street people were just as ignored and demeaned as they were any other night, but that night, there were hundreds more in town to abuse them, to step over them, to step on them, to throw verbal barbs and garbage at them. That night, life was no different for them, … just worse. Still...

Who's to say that some of them hadn't found a place to sleep behind the inn?
 Who's to say that they didn't follow the shepherds into the stable?
Who's to say that they weren't miraculously drawn in by the Baby?
Who's to say that they didn't recognize the tender, maternal love of Mary?
Who's to say that they didn't sense the strength and integrity of Joseph?

Who's to say that that night wasn't the night that would change everything for them, the least of humanity? That night was different after all, and somehow these "least of " people knew that they too were now "different" as well.

For the guys at the mission, this was the First Different Christmas … of many.