Thursday, November 13, 2014

Celebrating a Miracle Every Day

By Linda Grupp Boutin

     Have you ever witnessed a miracle? This might depend upon how you define one. Over a lifetime I have learned that if you keep open to the wonders around you, you might very well witness many miracles every single day. Merriam-Webster defines “miracle” as: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs; an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing or accomplishment. This definition classifies miracles into two broad categories; the first credits divine intervention or God and the second focuses on outstanding or unusual. My premise is to look beyond the usual into the amazing things we ignore because of everyday familiarity. When you adopt this perspective, you open your eyes to the divine.
     For instance, did you notice the full moon we enjoyed last week? Shining overhead, dispelling the darkness and opening our view to a new outlook. Think about the everyday wonder of our little planet having a moon at all. It exerts tremendous influence over the health of our Earth. For our ancestors, who didn’t enjoy the convenience of electricity, this heavenly body provided extra light to finish up harvesting, directions for navigators, and precise timing to set our calendars to a month by month system. It controls tides, affects behavior of animals and humans, keeps Earth from wobbling in its orbit too badly.
    Gary and I have been moon watchers since our second or third date. We went for a swim in the condo complex’s pool on a cold winter night. After getting in a good workout, we moved over to the Jacuzzi, turned on the jets and warmed up under the stars. There was a full moon out that night and Gary pointed it out to me. We admired it together and christened it our “streetlamp” when we made the run back to the condo in the cold. Later we began calling it God’s Streetlamp remembering the One who placed it there.
     As time passed and our relationship deepened, we often chose to rename things in our own ways. After leaving my mother’s funeral about 6 months later, Gary showed me the magnificent purple blooming trees lining the street leading out of the cemetery. He asked me what it was named and I didn’t have the slightest idea what they were called. Flippantly, I told them that they were California Purple-Flowering Trees. Later we learned the correct name was jacaranda, but we still sometimes call them our pet name. Another 6 months later we found ourselves facing breast cancer again, this time with his mom. As challenges enter our lives, it becomes our choice and responsibility to embrace them and work our way through them, or throw our hands in the air and run for the nearest way out. Somehow those difficulties weigh a little less when you take time to notice the wonderful and amazing stuff around us. Happily his mom survived her illness and has been a part of our lives for another 38 years.
Jacaranda tree in May
     One daily pick-me-up are the sunsets that I love and point out when I see one spreading across the sky. Gary explained to me early on that God had gotten out his paint box and colored the sky just for us. We pray over seeds when we plant them and notice the wonders around us and share them. We have ridden ski lifts to the top of the mountain, literally made breathless by the mountain view displayed before us. It is a matter of taking the time to notice the crows cawing overhead, the hummingbird zipping among the blossoms and the butterfly flitting through the flowers. It keeps our childlike wonder alive even though we were not blessed with children by God.
     Most recently Gary came running in the front door with a brown praying mantis that he had rescued from the street. Our very first year together he came in carrying a baby chick just newly hatched from our chicken coop. Another time it was our first baby goat, damp and newborn, but calling loudly for its mama to rescue it from this big man. Any stray spider wandering in our home is gently captured and carried to the plants outdoors on the front porch. It is a choice we make to value life and all its wonders. And for us, this means acknowledging our Creator, God, in all the magnificence He surrounds us with from the moment we open our eyes.
     So how about you? You can start right this instant. Take a moment to examine your hand and fingers. Have you ever thought about how intricately they are made? Notice the swirls of your fingerprints and handprint and remember that these were specially formed for just you. Will you choose to employ it in our Provider’s work, honoring Him with how you use them? From the hair on your head to the blood coursing through your veins, you are wonderfully made. Now take this perspective and apply it to all around you and I guarantee you will have a better day for it, no matter what the challenges are that you face.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Finding the Light in the Dark

By Linda Grupp Boutin

There are pivotal moments in lives that inform all events that come afterwards. In today's post I share one of those moments very early in my life that preceded all the trials that followed. It ignited a belief in my heart for God that I have never lost and my hope is that it shines a light into any darkness you may be experiencing. So return to me right now to Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1974...

Genesis 1: 3-4--And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
The sky stood black, tiny pricks of light barely shining through the dark night.  I walked into the double doors beginning my first ever graveyard shift. I wore a bright white uniform with brand new white shoes. The ad had read, “Opportunity Knocks.” I’d tried so many other want ads, but found no opportunities. This little hospital was willing to give one to me and I started the very next day.

            Antiseptic smells assaulted me as soon as I stepped inside. Other unidentifiable, not-so-good odors crept in as well. I gave up my youth at the door, never to be the same again. Dim lights lit the corridor as I strode up to the nurse’s station, 19 years old, ready to take on anything. A collection of young women leaned on the desk watching the clock approaching 11 p.m.

            “Oh, you’re here.  Let’s get going on bed check.  Come with us,” the oldest one told me. I followed meekly down the side hall wondering what exactly bed check was.  It didn’t take long to find out.  The nurses aides flicked the lights on in the first room, walked to the two beds and verified the patients were fine and needed nothing.  After the first few rooms, my shock faded since the elderly people barely stirred when the three of us entered.  One room was different, however.  A pale light glowed in Mrs. Johnson’s room; there was no need to snap on the lamps.

            A strange sound, reminiscent of a percolator, filled the small space.  I had never heard chain stokes before and couldn’t identify the sound.  I entered last and the attitude of the experienced nurses aides changed.  They whispered and walked more slowly.  As I stood at the end of the bed, I realized why they had a more reverent manner—Mrs. Johnson was dying.  Her face told the story; each breath was a huge labor.  “I forgot to clock in,” I squeaked barely able to speak. 

I ran out of the room oblivious of the girls behind me chuckling as I fled.  My pace slowed as I realized I’d been set up.  I rounded the corner of the long hall and saw the girls who were supposed to train me, sitting chatting in the dining room sipping coffee or colas and waiting for the clock to begin the change of shifts.  I found the time clock with my time card and clocked in.  They called to me to come and join them.  The charge nurse, Hankey, introduced me to the team of aides I’d be working with that night.  An older woman, Karen, would show me the ropes on the easy hallway.  I realized with relief that Mrs. Johnson was down a different hall.

At eleven o’clock precisely we stood up and went back where I’d just come from.  Karen pushed a cart laden with tall stacks of linens and we followed the evening shift aides from room to room verifying they’d left their patients in good order for us.  By midnight, we’d finished our rounds, second shift had departed, and we sat in the lounge getting up to answer patient’s lights when called.  The registered nurses came out of their room after receiving report.  Hankey picked up a flashlight and proceeded down all four hallways one by one.  On the final hallway, I watched as she ran back out to the nurse’s station and grabbed a stethoscope.

She walked back down where I’d started that night, a resigned look on her face.  Minutes later she reemerged, looked directly at me and said, “You’re trouble.  Your first night and someone dies.  You might as well learn about it, so Karen, you and Linda go get Mrs. Johnson ready for the mortuary.  I must go and call her daughter.”  Only later did I learn that Mrs. Johnson’s daughter was Hankey’s best friend.

Karen looked surprised.  Normally aides didn’t have to do anything down the hallways where they weren’t assigned.  She stood reluctantly and led the way back to Mrs. Johnson’s room.  I followed behind not understanding, but doing as I was told.  My step was slow and uncertain as we neared the room with the glowing light.  I noticed it was very quiet as we entered the door.

I stood amazed at the foot of the bed.  God had been gentle in taking Mrs. Johnson home to Him.  It was obvious she had passed on, but the mask of pain I’d witnessed earlier had been replaced.  Now she looked at peace, no more gasping for breath or struggling with life.  It was like an electric switch had been turned off and all her suffering had ended.  Carefully, Karen showed me the steps required to prepare her remains for the mortuary.  As we worked, I realized that death had not been a horror, but a relief for Mrs. Johnson.  I lost my fear and concentrated on doing the best job I could to follow Karen’s patient instructions.

When we’d finished, we returned to our seats in the lounge and tended to our own patients.  During the lulls when we weren’t doing anything, I thought about all I’d seen and heard so far that night.  I learned many things.  Most importantly I learned that utmost peace could descend on a person at death and that God’s light is there with us every dark step of the way.  Mrs. Johnson could now see His everlasting light and I knew this in my heart.  Familiar words sang silently through my mind:

Psalm 23:4—Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Oil painting published with permission of Pamela Howett

At 19, an invaluable lesson in my life, I had faced the darkness of death for the first time and discovered the light at the end of life would come from God alone, the source of all things both light and dark.