Melting Butter?

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Are you using your gifts to melt butter? That’s a question that I’ve been considering ever since I attended Time Out for Women last month.

At the conference, Sheri Dew told a story about her grandmother whose relatives bought her a nice microwave. This was a long time ago when microwaves were much more expensive than they are today, and the children and grandchildren wanted to make sure that Grandma was enjoying the newest contraption. They were quite surprised to learn that she was using it to melt butter. Period.

Using her gift for turning all sorts of stories into applications for our lives, Sheri Dew suggested that many people do just that: Use their unique talents to melt butter when they are capable of doing so much more. I know dozens of people who could prepare feasts (metaphorically speaking) but are stuck in the melting butter stage. Are you one of them?

I’m thinking of a friend of mine in Myrtle Beach who has a phenomenal musical talent. When younger and in the busy stage of raising children, she didn’t have time or opportunity to put this tremendous musical gift to use. However, she began playing the organ at church and would practice, practice, practice. Her aptitude grew, and she began playing the drums. Over the years, she has become a musical virtuoso (in my opinion).

My musical friend not only plays in a lot of gigs, but she’s also teaching her young grandson how to play percussion instruments. He’s got the gift too! When I see videos of this little child playing, I can’t help but notice all of the equipment around him. When I first met his grandmother, she didn’t have any of that, but with persistence, dedication, and the strong desire to make things happen, she purchased all the necessary pieces. She never gave up her dream or let her gifts lay fallow.

My friend the musician is doing a lot more than melting butter. What about you? Are there some things you want to do but can’t or won’t? Is it because you can’t see the possibilities, or is there some other reason? It’s a shame to let a marvelous creation, whether a microwave or a person, stop at melting butter.

Higher Than My Ways

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You might call it mustard colored, but I see my new journal as saffron, a beautiful shade of golden yellow. I bought it at the Time Out for Women Conference in Columbia this past weekend, and I’m reserving it to record thoughts and impressions that take me “higher.”

Let me explain. The conference theme was based on a verse from the Old Testament, Isaiah 55:9: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” The moment I read “so are my ways higher than your ways” on the front of the journal, I recalled a chilly autumn afternoon as I sat beside my father’s bedside.

My family and I had come home for the weekend, and upon our arrival, I learned that my father had been hospitalized for an upper respiratory ailment, the same one that would take his life years later. As I walked into the room that afternoon, I could see that he was sleeping peacefully so I didn’t disturb him. This was back in the days before e-readers and iPhones so I was stuck with sitting there with my thoughts, none of them good. Having never seen my father so fragile and weak, I was distraught with worry and concern.

I picked up a Gideon Bible and began thumbing through it. Almost immediately I came across the verse from Isaiah. I read it again…and then again. “Hmm,” I thought. “This is so true. I don’t like it, but it’s true nonetheless. He’s God, and I’m just a mortal living down here on Earth.”

Since that Saturday afternoon in my father’s hospital room, I’ve quipped those phrases to almost any and everyone who is suffering and can make no sense of it. My precious daughter had a stillborn baby, and there I was with, “For as the heavens….” I don’t know whether that comforted her or not, but it was the only thing that made sense to me (us) at the time. More times that I can recount, I’ve thought, “The heavens and His ways are higher. You just don’t have the big picture, Jayne.”

But here’s what happened Saturday. The light came on and now I see that verse in a different and more enlightened way. I often tell people to “go for it,” to use their gifts, and now I can see how this scripture applies to positive aspects of our lives too. We can’t possibly know or see what He does, but we can be certain that His plans and thoughts are higher than ours.

When I was a younger person, I often heard the expression, “I know I’m somebody ’cause God don’t make no junk.” At the time, I thought it was catchy and cool, both because of the way the phrase was worded and because of the sentiment itself. This weekend’s conference echoed basically the same thing. You and I are somebody. Isaiah 43:1 says, “I have called thee by name; thou art mine.” We are His. He has plans for us and thoughts about us. We need to find out what they are and move forward in faith.

Here on Earth there is sickness, frailty, contention, distress, and aging. There are weeds and spiders and sour milk and cancer. Stress abounds and so do chaos, loss, tragedy, difficult people, and things that go bump in the night. Heaven is higher. That’s where He is with His thoughts, ways, and plans for us.

When heartache comes along (as it surely will), the knowledge that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours can be comforting. What’s equally awesome is knowing that the same thing is true for positive events. To reach “higher,” we might have to stretch a little, but that’s a post for another day.

Shug’s Reminder

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If sappy isn’t your cup of tea, don’t read this. At the same time, we might have degrees of sappiness and different definitions. While you might think it means sentimental, foolish, or silly, I’ve recently learned that sappy can mean full of vitality and energy. That definition probably refers to plants, though; I’m not sure. I just want to tell a story!

When I awoke this morning, I immediately thought of something I’d read many years ago. I don’t recall the source and am paraphrasing a little. Perhaps some of my humanities buds can enlighten me/us. “Awake, the brain begins to burn like a coal in the dark” is the way I recalled the line this morning, a phrase that led to these thoughts:

What a powerful and marvelous organ the brain is! Without it, I wouldn’t even wake up! Once awake, I wouldn’t be able to sit up straight, walk across the floor, toast my bagel, or digest my food. And gee whiz, those are not even “thinking things” like remembering, planning, learning, organizing, or daydreaming.

Speaking of memories and thoughts, I then began thinking of the numerous good things going on in my life:

A walk on the beach with a brother and later seeing a movie with that same fellow (isn’t it mind boggling to realize that some people have never seen a movie or tasted popcorn?), shopping with one of my beautiful daughters, reading an informative blog post written by my son, eyes that enabled me to see frolicking dogs and skittering sandpipers on the beach, knowledge that my sweet husband would be going about town doing good deeds for various family folks today, the sound of birdsong outside of my window, memories of my mother who loved listening and watching birds, thoughts of my granddaughter Brooke who just won second place in the 400 at a track meet yesterday, and on and on and on.

I checked my iPhone and saw that the temp was 45, too chilly for me to go to church. I had no tights to cover chilly legs! But then, it hit me. “You’ve got an abundance of all the things that really count, Girl!” Knowing the source of the above and many more blessings too numerous to enumerate, I got gussied up and headed to church. Was I ever surprised when I turned onto 48th Avenue and saw the empty parking lot. Turns out there was Stake Conference in Florence today that I didn’t know about.

Do good intentions count? I’d like to think so. Yes, I definitely think so. And get this. When I got back home and started leafing through a local publication, I noticed that The Color Purple is being presented by Conway’s Theatre of the Republic through May 5.

I’m coming back here (to the coast) to see the production. And here’s one of the reasons. There’s a scene in the movie (and play and book) when Shug and Celie are walking through a field of purple flowers, and Shug tells Celie that she thinks God gets perturbed (her phrasing is much more colorful) when people walk by the color purple and don’t notice or thank Him.

I think Shug just might have a point. How can I not be grateful for so many gifts that I enjoy in this beautiful world? And how can I not be aware of the source of them all?

A Pinecone, a Feather, and a Button

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I’ve been thinking about gifts a lot lately, mainly because of some of the books I’ve been reading. We’ve all been told that a gift doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to be meaningful and that it should reflect something important to the recipient, not the giver. Just thinking about this last phrase makes me feel a little uncomfortable. One Christmas, I gave my daughter Elizabeth a cool denim jacket with brown cording around the pockets. Taught to be gracious and grateful, she said, “Thanks Mama” before refolding it and placing it between the sheets of green tissue paper.

“You don’t like it?” I asked.”It’s so unique.”

“Yes, it is.” After a moment, “And it’s so you.”

“What does that mean?” knowing full well what it meant.

But I digress. Let’s just say that the following week, she took it back to TJ Maxx, one of our favorite shopping establishments, and exchanged it for something more Elizabeth and less Jayne.

In three of the books I’ve read lately, the characters gave meaningful gifts that showed care and thoughtfulness, and none of them cost a dime:

  • In The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Liesel regularly picks  up small gifts on her trips to and from school and brings them back to Max, a Jew hiding in the basement. A feather, a pinecone, and a button are a few of her offerings. Since he can’t see even a smidgen of daylight, Max is especially appreciative of Liesel’s thoughtful gifts.
  • In The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant, Cornelius leaves little presents for Judy Rhine, and later in his life, he leaves nature’s gifts for Oliver Small’s two young sons. Both Judy Rhine and the Smalls family reciprocate Cornelius’s generosity by nursing and caring for him.
  • While listening to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road on some recent travels, I realized that the father was constantly giving gifts to his young son. A cold can of Coca Cola, a can of peaches, some mushrooms, and “the fire” are but a few of these gifts, and in this situation the love that this man feels for the boy is so obvious that it’s just about heartbreaking. How can love be heartbreaking? Read the book and you’ll see what I mean.

Reading about these instances of gift giving in literature inspired me to be more mindful of the gifts all around me and to be giving, especially with things without a price tag. At our writing group the other night, one of the members brought me some delicate pale pink flowers from her yard. As I sat in the back seat of my daughter’s van the other afternoon, instead of getting impatient at the slowness of the traffic, I looked out of the window and enjoyed the scene to my right, the marsh (see above picture). Then I looked at Colton, the 4-year-old who wanted me to read a book about numbers and farm animals to him. I glanced at the front of the van and could see the tops of my daughters’ heads and catch snippets of their conversation, another gift.

Now that I’m more conscious of the power of gifts, I’m making more of an effort to give them. Sometimes it might be something I purchase that looks like the person and not like me. Sometimes it might be something from nature, and other times it could be a service, something I can do to help another person. My husband is really good at this and is always (yes, always) doing something for someone else. Back to me and what I can and will do, I can give more of my time and energy.

Today, not next week or some vague future date, I’m going to improve my gift giving. Yesterday I picked up some unique shells from the beach and have already given one away. Later in the day, I bought a birthday gift for a friend. Tomorrow, I’m going to make a call that will set the ball in motion for some volunteer work.

What about you? What gifts have you received that are particularly meaningful? And perhaps more importantly, what have you given?

To Give or Not to Give

What’s the right thing to do when you see a homeless person holding a sign asking for money or food?

Myrtle Beach has a shadow side. I’m not talking about the vacationers who like to party hearty or the golfers who go a little crazy when they get away from home. I’m not even talking about the “gentleman’s clubs” or adult entertainment establishments in the area. I’m talking about the homeless people I’ve seen here on the coast. Maybe they aren’t actually homeless. Maybe they’re just down on their luck. Maybe I’m too quick to slap that homeless label on someone because he looks dirty and is holding a sign saying he needs money and food.

The other afternoon my husband and I were sitting at a busy intersection waiting for the light to change when I saw a handsome young man holding such a sign. His countenance was somber and sad, and his clothing was dark and stained, quite unlike the light colored, touristy attire of the people I’d seen all day. Fumbling quickly through my purse before the light changed, I found five dollars and beckoned him over.  When I saw his teeth, I knew my hunch was right.

“He’ll never make it before the light changes,” my husband said. “He’s going to get stuck in the middle of the road.”

I ignored the warning as the young man approached the car. I gave him the money and hoped he’d buy a burger and fries with it. He thanked me and then disappeared between the lines of vehicles.

“How do you know he’ll buy food with that? Look, he’s already leaving his spot beside the road.” Otis commented.

“So? Maybe he’s going to get some food. And if not, then so be it. You can’t give someone something and then dictate what he does with it.”

The topic has come up a few times during the last few days. I’ve heard people say they’d gladly buy someone a burger or chicken combo but they’d never give them money. Why? Because the person might buy booze or drugs with it. But what if the person wants a pizza or a couple of tacos instead? Does your generosity apply only if you and only you get to decide on what the disadvantaged person eats?

I took one look at that sad young man and knew it wasn’t for me to judge him or his state of neediness. He could have been my sweet boy…or yours. And you know, it was only five bucks! We’d just paid twice that amount for each of us at Abuelo’s.

So I’m interested in your opinions. Should you give money with stipulations, or should you only give food? To take it a step farther, should there be strings attached to monetary gifts?