Monday, December 31, 2018

In the thick of it (a humorous essay)

Do you know how tired I am of people grouping me with those that don’t work? Yesterday, after a particularly trying incident, I imagined the scene as I would have liked to respond.
Says the stern-faced woman to me in a nasally tone over the brim of her glasses, “So, you don’t work, Mrs. Roy?”
Our eyes lock for a moment. My lips tighten as I adjust the fidgeting toddler on my lap. “No, ma’am, I can’t possibly work after I’ve planned for and prepared meals for six people at regular intervals throughout each and every day; maintained the never-ending laundry division of the home; supervised all sanitation aspects of our little haven of rest; sought clothing for the inmates; protected and reviewed the financial expenditures of the days, weeks, and months; looked after the health of the bodies that dwell together in these very quaint, close quarters; single-handedly tutored four little people that possess a whole kaleidoscope of learning styles; handled the disciplinary issues that arise multiple times during the course of the day while diligently and often quickly formulating the character deficiencies of each being (including my own), and having done so, contemplated the strengths and weaknesses of each all the while continuing to create an ever-changing plan to deal with them; and last but not least, prepare to discuss all of these happenings at the end of every day with my superior who, himself, is trying to maintain a business.  No—I couldn’t possibly add work to my life.” 

Elizabeth Roy, 2009

Friday, November 9, 2018

"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, 
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea and music in its roar:
I love not man the less,
But nature more."
Lord Byron

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Ask and ye shall receive

"I go to books and to nature as a bee goes to the flower,
 for a nectar that I can make into my own honey." 
John Burroughs

   Morning. Ten thousands of tiny droplets gush forth from the belly of the sky and splash a thousand upturned leaves and grasses and budding things. The sun breaks through the clouds and the shadows of birds flit across the page of my journal laid open on my lap. The shadows of my own hand and pen dancing with the songbirds of the morning light. Sitting still here on the porch, I listen, and the birds' songs invade my thoughts and penetrate my heart. Such familiar sounds, yet the newness and enchantment of their call never fades. 

     A brazen Blue Jay lands nearby. His eye on me and mine on him. He speaks tersely to me in some dialect of the Blue Jay Tribe. Enough said and off he goes to assault other ears perhaps more keen than mine. The thrill of the close encounter induces a child-like smile across my face.

     Ah! suddenly, piercing the cacophony of Aves' notes there rises in clear tones above the others the beloved song of the Wood Thrush. A flute-like trill characterizes a portion of his blessed song. I close my eyes and praise the God of the song. I move to the other end of the porch as his song draws me closer, but, alas, like a phantom he moves on and I am left alone, yearning, gazing into the woods. 

     Oh, how I long to see this elusive creature of the deeper wood. "Lord, you know how I love the sound of the Wood Thrush and how I long to catch just a glimpse of him. I am content to hear him, yea, overjoyed to hear him, but, oh, how nice it would be to see him as well!" Indeed, I think that perhaps the unfulfilled longing is meant to teach me that my deepest longings can never be fulfilled here on earth.

     Next day. Same porch. With Bible open I am distracted by the scene of a Black-Capped Chickadee chasing and deftly catching a moth in mid-air. I regain control of my attention and return to the pages before me. It feels like rain. It smells like rain. The scent of the Lilacs is heavy and hanging in the dewy air. The pages of my journal have a damp weight to them this morning; even the ink of the pen feels heavier. I thank God for the impending shower and for the little bright green leaves that seem to have popped out overnight.

     Again, my eyes return to the open Book. Without warning, a loud thud to my direct left startles me. I know the sound immediately. I have heard it before but from the inside of our house, never from the outside, and certainly not 3 feet from where I sit. It is the sound of a bird flying into the clear glass of a window. I turn quickly enough to see its limp body fall to the porch floor with a stunned chirp. Amazed, I leap up from my seat and realize immediately that before me lays none other than a Wood Thrush. My hands rush to my face as I gasp and then to my heart. In that moment I felt as if the Lord had said, "You want to see a Wood Thrush? Here you go!" and with divine precision that poor Wood Thrush was hurled into our living room window. 

     Dazed and confused the bird lay on its side, beak open, eyes closed. I was completely in awe. Didn't I ask for this? But, oh, to see it like this? I immediately got down close to him and began to pray. "Oh, thank you, thank you God, for this rare opportunity but please, oh, please don't let him die! I wanted to see him and I thank you but, please let him live!" 

     The bird righted itself on its unbelievably skinny little legs. His beak remained open and his head was tipped all the way back and his eyes remained closed. For the next 15 minutes I stayed near him. I lay flat on my stomach on that porch floor looking at this wonder of song. Such a small creature yet out from it flows such a large song full of depth and beauty. Its cloak of brown feathers with its underbelly of speckled white is quite unremarkable. It belies the depth of beauty found within its breast.

     Eventually, his eyes opened and there we sat staring at one another. Me and a Wood Thrush, face to face, not 2 feet between us. I've enjoyed his song for years on this property but have never seen him. What a wonder, I mentioned it to my God yesterday and He arranged for a meeting today. My heart was filled, simply filled with the beauty and nearness of this creature and with the God who threw him into my window that morning. 

     All at once my winged visitor shook its head, gave one last look, and off he flew. My mouth closed with a sacred sense of awareness and my heart burst wide with gratitude.  "...For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." 

"Delight thyself also in the LORD; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart."
Psalm 37:4

Some people think God's voice booms like the roar of the ocean waves. I think it sounds like a Wood Thrush in the early, dewy morning just out of sight in a wooded glen.

The Wood Thrush

God supplies. You build.

 Doylestown, Penna.

It was several years ago now, but I can still see it all so clearly...

I sit in the small, well-lit studio of the accomplished musician turned voice teacher. Her beautiful piano sings and her voice accompanies it. The ease with which she plays upon the keys is mesmerizing and the way her voice reaches into my spirit and sends it soaring upon the wind, like a colorful kite against the deep blue sky, is simply enchanting.

I listen to my son, whose voice has always mingled words and song, concentrate his powers upon a single, simple melody of, "Give Me Wings." It becomes, to me, a moment suspended in time; an act of worship and adoration of the gracious God I serve. All present fade into the background as I hear only the notes of sweetest tones; all of my powers of attention are now focused on my dear Father. I take a picture with my mind and with my pen. I never want to forget this precious moment and the truth my Father is about to teach me. I hurriedly imprint the following words upon a scrap of paper: "O, Dearest Lord, help me! Give me the strength, the tools I need to build this life of mine into a monument to Your grace."

I realize that God has provided the supplies to build a life and that I must devote myself to the sacred task of making, not just something of my life, but a monument of praise to Him. 

In order to erect anything of sustainability, beauty, or of any value at all, one must set forth with a distinct purpose, create a definite plan of action, and then follow through with diligent effort. The joy of the Lord is to be my strength as I carry out my task. Literally, the gladness of Jehovah will be my place of safety, my refuge and protection.

The fact that God gives us the ability and the free choice to build is remarkable! There is such freedom in the Christian life! God has laid the supplies at our feet and we may make of them whatever we wish. To God be the glory!

Stepping Into Another World

"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:16

     Come along with me as I step into another world. My Dear Father has requested my presence in His Throne room of Grace. Bow your head, your knee, your heart and enter in with me. In the air, as a heavy perfume, hangs love, mercy and grace. Leave your sins at the door, and bring your cares before the King. Out of the world that you see into the world that you believe.

     He has sent the invitation and upon my arrival He inclines His ear unto my feeble speech. How can this be that I am here, that I have gained entrance to One so Dear? Ah yes, it is a mutual acquaintance of ours that has introduced us: Jesus Christ, His beloved Son, my beloved Saviour. Blessed be His Name! I tremble to think that my words, yea, my jagged, unformed thoughts are heard and understood. This knowledge brings me low as I prostrate my being before Him who holds my all in His hand. 

     My journey upon this earth brings me in very close contact to that which my eye cannot see, and yet  my spirit is keenly aware of its presence. In the physical attack of germs my body mounts a clear defense and the war is felt in my body as I ache and fever. In the spiritual attack of the forces of the dark, my spirit feels the oppression of fear, doubt, discouragement and dismay. As the assault gains momentum I reach for that which will protect and defend me: Truth, Righteousness, Love, Faith, Assurance of salvation and the Living Word of God. (Ephesians 6:13-17) The attackers dissipate like a vapor of smoke or a mirage as I move towards them in faith and in full armor. 

     It is so like The Accuser to prop up imaginations and transient feelings in my path and expect me to cower before them. They are, just like he is, confined and constrained by the good hand of God. "Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, 'Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; that made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?" (Isaiah 14:15-17) Narrowly our eyes shall squint in amazement and disbelief of the wretched littleness of the evil one and the power that we ourselves gave to his monstrous apparitions and devices. 

     The sweet hour of prayer, this grand invitation to do battle in the realm of that other world and have the effects of our strategic skirmishes propelled into and alter this present reality! If I truly believed that my private communion with God unleashes His host to do battle on my behalf I would run into His presence. To have faith sounds like I have something, literally a noun, a thing; but I rather think faith is a verb. It is seen in our actions.  

     Are you listening? You are being summoned.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Importance of Printing Your Photographs

Footprints in the sand leading to my 3 year old son filled with awe at the vast expanse of water before him. Click. Three children perched upon a bench outside our home in their Sunday best laughing, poking, fidgeting; all eyes fixed upon my lens for a brief moment. Click. My daughter, now a bride, shyly glances down to her bouquet while in the arms of her beloved. Click.

Click, click, click! As droplets of water make the ocean; as little grains of sand make the beach, one photograph taken and printed, added to the next photograph taken and printed, and so on create a priceless yet tangible memorial of a life; your life, your one precious amazing life. The birth of a baby, the graduation of a son, the first tulip of spring or the laughing children playing in puddles after a storm; these are the moments that make up our life. And, when collected, properly printed and properly stored or displayed, these moments can be relived again and again and again. When memory fails us the printed photograph can transport us back in time to smell, hear, feel and see things that have forever changed.

The power to stand still the hands of time? To scoop a moment from the fast moving stream of life and preserve it and hold it in your hands, fixing it unchanged for a lifetime? What a gift! What a power! What a privilege!

I am approaching my 50th year walking on this earth, feeling life with all its extremes of joy and pain, love and loss, trials and victories, mountain tops and valleys. With 27 years of marriage under my belt, 4 children raised and homeschooled from Kindergarten through high school graduation, and a new baby granddaughter, I have had a lot of experience with life. I consider myself one of the fortunate ones that felt, early on, the need to immortalize the mortal, to lay a trap for the Time Bandit and capture stray moments to keep and to cherish for all my days. I have faithfully photographed the stages of our life and have made sure to print a large number of those images along the way. I have chosen to preserve them in a scrapbook style, or by framing them and hanging on the walls of our home, or by placing them in safe and proper photo albums or by keeping them in boxes under our bed. My printed photographs are among some of my most cherished possessions.

How many of you have tearfully tried to gather a few photographs of a recently departed loved one? A decent, true to life portrait that reflects back to you the love and the warmth of the person they were? How many actual, printed photographs do you have of yourself or of your children? In a generation of selfie-taking, Facebook-posting, Instagramming people, there seems to be an incredible dearth of actual, printed photographs; printed, physical images to be passed on from one generation to another. So, for a generation that takes so many pictures, how many of them will actually be able to be viewed by future generations? I heard someone say once, “In 50 years, the most photographed generation in history will have no pictures. Print what you want to preserve.” I agree.

Here’s an example of what to do with your printed images: hang them on ribbon boards or something similar. Two boards hang on our bedroom wall. I call these my portals of time.  Flanking my bureau they stand as two pillars, monuments of what makes us, us. These are printed reminders of why we are called a family and what that means forevermore. The past and the present intermingle here on one board. Moments held suspended in time on photographic paper gingerly tacked to a board on our wall.

Moments that have traveled through the bottleneck of the hourglass should be viewed with gratitude and not only as a window to our past, but also to our future. I look through these portals of time to see who I was and who I am and Whose I am by seeing where I’ve been and this solidifies a vision of where I am going and who I long to be.

I highly recommend finding the images of your past and placing them in your present; right before your face. I frequently stop and stare at these wonders, at these images that remind me of my position as wife, mother, daughter, sister. This reflection reminds me why I want to improve myself, to keep climbing upward and onward, and that I want to collect more memories to add to our wall. It reminds me to actively create the moments that we will want to capture and then pin to our wall.

Sometimes I find my husband stopping to look through these portals. My children, too, will occasionally be drawn to the boards as they notice a new image or two that has been added. When they do, they stop and stare. Their eyes drift from one image to the next, with a smile upon their face. They will point one out and vocalize their perspective of the memory. Often these comments produce laughter and, inevitable, warmth between the souls in the room.

Here’s another method of preserving images: Black Page Scrapbooks. Our scrapbooks wonderful examples of moments of life that have been plucked and preserved. My idea for using black pages came from my grandfather’s photo album. His measured about 6” x 9” with small photos mounted using black photo corners. A white ink was used to identify people and dates. It fascinated me to look into the eyes of my great-great-grandfather through a picture taken so long ago.

In our scrapbooks, poetry and pictures, quotes and homeschool work, notes and cards all mix together to tell our story.  These become a valuable piece of family history that truly is a legacy that will be passed on from one generation to the next. And, in the meantime, they provide much amusement and generate feelings of warmth and unity among our family. 

Here is a link to those scrapbooks: or   
Here is a link to the mounting squares to adhere images to scrapbook:
Here is a link to the white Gelly Roll pens:

Now, how to create these pictures? Follow a few simples rules. Pictures of people are interesting. Great pictures of people are fascinating. I don’t know what it is about the printed picture, but people of all ages will pause and take in that encapsulated moment of time. You can be a creator of such treasures! Great portraits are a side effect of a strong human connection. And creating wonderful images can be very rewarding in many different ways.

So what makes a good image? I have four ideas. 

a.    Simple lines. According to Coco Chanel, "Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance." Think of the photograph you are creating as a piece of art. Think of the end result, the message you want to convey. Blend colors and textures in your viewfinder just as the artists selects and mixes colors.

b.    No distracting clothing or background. It's good to have one main subject in your photograph. Your subject could be a group of people or an individual, but the viewer should know right away what the subject is. Sometimes it is important to keep your subject in context and include their immediate environment, but don't allow the environment to eclipse your subject.

c.    True connection of the subject to the one viewing the photograph or to another person within the photograph. Focus on the eyes and capture the soul!

d.   Try photographing ideas not just people or things. Ex: motherhood, love, devotion, bravery, etc.

People ever change; photos that are well printed and well preserved ever remain the same. Once you understand the transient nature of life; that all around you is constantly changing and that nothing around you today will be the same in a few tomorrows, then you will understand the preciousness of the printed photograph.

Take those pictures and print those pictures because photo paper memories don’t fade like our own memories. Oh, and, no one is going to pass down a USB drive from generation to generation.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Breath. No breath.

Nine o’clock in the evening. My husband and I walk the wide corridor of the ICU. Just over an hour ago we were on our way home from dinner with expectations of a quiet evening, now we meet the eyes of concentrating nurses and weary doctors.

It was a text from my friend that changed everything that night: “Mom went into cardiac arrest Tuesday night. She is in ICU. Doesn’t look good. I’m sorry I haven’t kept in touch.”

Here it is room 410. I’ve never been to this hospital before. It’s clean. It’s cold. We turn the corner. Suddenly I sense the looming presence of something very dark, something very cold.

As the wide glass door to the room is opened and the curtain pulled back I notice some things: the patient’s eyes are closed; tubes and wires pump the semblance of life into her, artificially heaving the chest and pumping the blood round her mortal shell; the adult children’s eyes are fixed upon the doctor that speaks as he utters syllables in a non-committal tone while the nurses are bustling about with a sterile concern upon their faces.

I see my friend. She is a grown woman, now in her mid-thirties, but I still see her as a little girl. I was the family babysitter from the time she was an infant to the age of nine. Eventually life separated us. We went for so long without seeing each other, and even though we have spent some time together in the last 3 years, time in my heart stood still. She walks toward me. Hair is tussled and her face is tired from crying. I hold her close and she cries.

Ah, now I see the other one, her brother. Though he too is grown, I see not the signs of the years that have passed, only his boyish smile and sweet eyes; eyes that, in the years of my absence, have seen war and death and the rejection of the father that walked away from his young children. We hug. He thanks us for coming. He is a boy in the body of a man and she is a little girl trying to be a mommy and a wife.

I move toward the bed. There lies their mother. I realize very quickly that these two will soon be orphans. I see the death like stare in the eye that the doctor opens to help evaluate her condition. Her hands are swollen and are an odd color. Never have I witnessed such a scene before.

I look toward my friend who is desperately watching her mother. The girl within the woman cries out loud, “I’m so scared! Oh, mom, I’m so scared!” The boy within the man sits down with his head between his hands and says, “I’m losing my best friend and my mother all at once.” He sobs and sobs, “I couldn’t save her!”

The boy was with his mother when she had a massive heart attack. He called for help and proceeded to perform CPR until that help arrived. He had done the same thing for a fellow soldier in Iraq when two bullets pierced the heart. That soldier miraculously survived and he hoped for a similar outcome with his mother. The boy has been by her side since the heart attack, even sleeping in that very room on a window bench.

Talk of a “Do Not Resuscitate” order and of what mom would have wanted swirl about the room. The weight of decision presses down heavily upon the boy and the girl. Time has moved too quickly. The final grains of the hourglass of life tumble down the narrow passage; life and time rush to an end. Past and present rush together as two streams merging in a rocky place. Regrets and remembrances clamor for attention in the panicked minds of loved ones.

Wild is the storm that is rages as the mouth of eternity opens for another soul! My mind returns to another stormy night when the three of us huddled together in a large closet with a flashlight and prayed that the violent summer storm would pass and that mommy and daddy would come home quickly. Heart wrenching are the cries of grief! I long to hold them now and comfort them; to say a pray and to wipe their tears away and distract them with a treat or a toy or a favorite show and tell them it will all be okay. What a wild storm that whips through this room tonight! One will not survive it.

We huddle together again and pray. The girl curls up in the lap of the boy and they hold each other tightly as they weep. The vital signs are erratic now. The girl presses her head to her mother’s and cries, “It’s okay mom, you can let go,” all the while wishing she wouldn’t leave.

I notice the nurse has turned the monitor with the vital signs away from us. She alone is watching it with fixed eyes and a closed hand pressed to her face. We hold each other. We stand round the mother. I notice her hands, they are a strange blue. “Oh, dearest God, have mercy,” I pray. The children weep. Her arms are now like her hands. The pumps have stopped. Her body is still.

A doctor enters the room amidst the weeping and puts his stethoscope to her chest, looks up to us and shakes his head. “I’m very sorry,” he says. The storm has given wing to a spirit tonight and in its wake is an eerie calm broken only by sobbing. Sixty-eight years of life and breath; and then there was none.

Indeed, a thin veil is draped between the present and eternity. An imperceptible moment it is when the soul takes its flight to regions beyond. A birth, and there is noise and life and hopes and dreams; a death, and there is silence and loss and nothing.

A shell of man lying before us reminds those of us whose shells are still inhabited that we too will face the silencing of our life song; that we who remain should live and move and breathe and love. Breath. No breath. In the land of the living may this precious substance of breath, the most precious of temporary gifts, be used to convey our love to God and to man.

The final note of praise in the grand musical score of the Psalms sounds like this: “Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.”  May this note be the constant of our life, and may it be the note that forms our life song; and may this song form the bridge from this life to the next as we join the chorus of the ages in the glad and sweet refrain of, “Blessing and honor, and glory, and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever,” as our faith is turned to sight. Amen.

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptable with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29