articulate - adjective
1. having parts connected by joints, as in "articulated"
2. made up of distinct words joined together in such a way as to convey meaning
3. able to express oneself clearly and distinctly
4. well formulated, clearly presented

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Timeless Treasures: A Visit with Some Gems

On the southern side of a nearby city, in the poorer residential district among condemned houses, crowded streets, and shouting neighbors, a treasure of great wealth lies tucked away.

One can drive up the hill away from the sprawling hospital complex, away from the manufacturing district, away from the city noises, and turn left onto a wide, brick, tree-lined lane showcasing pristine houses built in the June Cleaver era of our country. 

It was into this utopian atmosphere that I was invited yesterday, into the home that Mr. & Mrs. C. have spent most of their married lives.

That’s a long time. It’s decades longer than I’ve been alive, because Mr. and Mrs. C. just recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.

And yesterday morning, I was invited into their inner sanctum to hear them tell their story.
  
We sat at a round plastic picnic table on this porch, where we could talk to the mailman as he walked his route, wave at the neighbors driving by, and enjoy a lovely breeze while we chatted. At first they seemed a little formal, despite the fact that we’ve known each other 25 years, like they felt they were being interviewed on television. But when they realized they could just tell me stories and I’d be thrilled, they relaxed and became more animated. Since Mr. C. has had at least two strokes in recent years, he’s a little hard to understand, and sometimes his mind wanders, but I wouldn’t trade the hour I spent with these special people for anything.

They spoke to me of where they were born, describing the streets and the cities, the farms and the coal mines. They told of their parents and their siblings, their schooling and their faith. Their voices faltered as they worked to sort out the order of events in their somewhat foggy memories, but some things are clear and without doubt. 

The day they met. The day they married, a mere six months later. The dates their daughters were born. 

The important mile markers in life. 

When Mr. C. recounts his days in battle, his voice intensifies with energy and clarity. Drafted only six months after they married, he is a veteran of World War II. He remembers swimming ashore on D-Day at Normandy, wading through a mass of dead bodies to surge forward and fight for freedom. He can describe driving a 6x6 as well as an 18-wheeler full of gasoline across Europe’s roads and alleys. And he vividly remembers the Battle of the Bulge.

“The planes were coming out of nowhere. They were our planes, but they had Germans in them, and the shelling just didn’t stop. The Germans infiltrated our trucks, too. We discovered Germans in the chow line. The fact that they didn’t speak good English showed them up. Once they were discovered, a huge fight broke out. By the time I was able to get to chow, I had to walk over their bodies. 

"But it was those airplanes that killed my best friend. Plane after plane came. They shelled us, and I saw him out in the field. I watched him explode. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”

It’s obvious that he hasn’t. But it’s also obvious that, although he eventually returned to the States battle weary and shell-shocked, he adjusted and lived a productive and happy life. Reunited with his wife, they bought the house we were sitting in and started having babies. He worked hard at a dairy as a milk peddler and later at a manufacturing firm as a carpenter, earning the money his family needed to put his kids through school. He went to church every time he could, and he made a good life for himself and his girls.

All too soon it was time for me to go. As I was picking up my purse and keys, they pulled me indoors to see their wedding photo where it sits on the right side of the mantel. On the left side sits a similar photo, their 70th anniversary photo. Mrs. C. began telling me (again) about the first time they met—at the water fountain at work—and how he walked her all the way home afterward. But this time there was something new.

“And as we walked, he sang to me.”

Really? I had trouble believing it. “He sang to you? While you were walking?” Oh my goodness, how romantic is that?

“Yes, you know the song.” She began singing, quietly at first, a song I’d never heard. With a glance over at him, where he sat watching her with stars in his eyes, her confidence grew and her voice became more sure. A few lines later she paused, and he jumped into the song, eyes on hers, voice singing his love for her with all the strength he could muster. She dropped out and he finished the song with her hand on his cheek and smiles on both of their faces. 

“I have the best husband in the world,” she whispered.

It’s amazing to watch a couple who has been married for seven decades and is still madly in love with each other.

I wiped my eyes, gave them hugs goodbye, and left with a smile in my heart.

Some people look at this elderly couple—she at 91 years old and he at 89—and think what a waste of time it is to have to work to hear their quavering voices, to have to speak loudly and distinctly to make them hear. They view these people as a drain on our society, with her constant need of vision care as she slowly goes blind and with his need for continual oxygen and medication.

But it wasn’t a waste of time to me. It was an incredible blessing to be able to sit down with these gems, to be able to absorb their world and the memories they chose to share with me.

My life has been enriched in a way I will never forget.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Refuge

In recent months we have been reminded just exactly how scary it can be to be an American overseas. Even the one place of refuge in each country, the American Embassy, has failed to be the safe haven it should be as it has become the target of our enemies.


Every August my mind turns toward eastern Africa. Yesterday, August 7, was the 15-year anniversary of the US Embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Since this event was the basis for my first book, I invested a ton of time into researching the locations, cultural settings, and people involved. It was incredible to view photos of the actual devastation wrought by the hands of terrorists, to trace the paper trail of warnings ignored and defensive missions aborted.




The US State Department has very strict guidelines for the safe construction of the embassies. Unfortunately, the site in Dar es Salaam did not meet these regulations. Had those who chose the location of that embassy adhered to the criteria, perhaps even fewer lives would have been lost. Instead, they ignored the specifications, evidently thinking that this site would do. Complaints that were sent to the State Department were also ignored. It was pretty safe by most standards, having been built by the safety-conscious Israelis a couple of decades before. Besides, who would attack an embassy in eastern Africa? To quote General Kazim in the movie Sahara, "Don't worry. It's Africa. Nobody cares about Africa." My heart cries out for the needless destruction and loss of lives not only at the hands of terrorists, but also as the result of a complacent arrogance.

Sometimes it's better to fear. 

The old adage says, "Better safe than sorry."

Thankfully, if the information on the internet is to believed, the State Department now rigorously guards it safety regulations. They learned their lesson. Not only was the location unsafe, the attitude was downright dangerous. 


The whole idea of a refuge is intriguing to me. Needing to explain it to some elementary-age children recently, I described to them how a mother hen puffs out her wings when danger is near, calling her chicks to come nestle underneath. Once they all are safely tucked in, she snugs them in under her wings and waits out the trouble until the danger has passed. If you want to get to her chicks, you have to go through her first.


It brings to mind some wonderful verses from Scripture. No one is certain who authored Psalm 146, but if it was King David, he certainly spoke from personal experience when he wrote:
Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
~Psalm 146:3-5

The author of Psalm 46 states it even more succinctly:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
~Psalm 46:1 

When we consider national politics, international events, and even what is happening in our own neighborhoods, our world does not seem to be a very safe place. But the Bible is clear: 
Cast your cares on the Lord
and He will sustain you.

~Psalm 55:22

This encourages my heart.

            
Q4U:
(questions for you)

*What are some verses or quotes that sustain you during hard times? 
*Who or what is the refuge that helps steady your heart?


I'd love to hear from you!


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Friday Favorite: The Beauty of the Earth

It's time to share another of my weekly favorites! 

You do this, too, don't you? At the end of the week, don't you look back and pull out your favorite moments to treasure and give thanks for? I hope so. I'd like to know I'm not the only weirdo out there!

Some of my favorite moments this week were so beautiful, I just had to share them with someone, so here's the latest version of my Friday Favorites. (Yeah, I know it's not Friday, but yesterday I was having trouble downloading images from my cell phone.)

Once a month or so, my husband offers to take me with him to work. He logs in hundreds, even thousands, of miles a week in his job of building and maintaining FM radio tower sites. Since I realize that riding by himself for such extended periods must become monotonous (and since I kinda like being with him!), I take him up on the opportunity when I can work it out. I am SO glad I did this week!

The destination was the Spencer, NY, radio station tower. If you're not acquainted with Spencer, NY, you're in good company. Most of the rest of the world has never heard of it either! It is a tiny crossroads indicated by the red pointer in the center of this map. 

There is really no tower there. The station is called "The Spencer, NY, Station" because that's the general target area of the tower antenna. (Antennas are "tuned" to focus their outgoing signal in very specific directions. Did you know that?)



The actual tower location is about 20 miles south, in the hills just north of Sayre, PA, but still on the NY side of the state border. This is about a 4-hour drive from our house, along both interstate and dirt roads curving through the rolling hills of rural New York's southern tier. 


For those of you who think "Big Apple" when someone mentions New York, please enjoy with me the breath-taking scenery we enjoyed from this tower site! THIS is what most of our state looks like, not the towering skyscrapers and city lights most people imagine.


The tower is located in a field of wildflowers on top of a hill.








    




Separating the tower site from the dairy farm in the valley below is a rusty barbed-wire fence (not pictured) and a steep hay field.  The view from the site includes the far-off hills of northern Pennsylvania.





Beautiful, isn't it? 

While John replaced the generator starter and performed site maintenance, I just wandered and enjoyed the scenery.




  




    


It brought to mind the lyrics of an old song:


For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies

Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This, our hymn of grateful praise!


This past week has been a week of researching some of the poorest places of Africa. And although they have their own kind of beauty which I appreciate, I can't imagine a more beautiful place to live than our country. It's so easy to forget what a treasure we have in the amazing scenery where we live. This week, my favorite moments were wrapped up in simple praise for the beauty of the earth. 
                          
Q4U:
(questions for you)


*What is the scenery like where you live? 
*Do you love it or wish you had a different view? 
*What one place have you visited that you'd most like to return,
merely because of the natural beauty?

I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Conviction

Earlier this week, my nearly-17yo son convinced me to watch The Avengers with him. This was a big deal, because
A.) my husband was on an overnight trip out of town, and
B.) movies (or books) with excessive any violence in them tend to give me nightmares.

Yep, I'm a scaredy cat. 

Two questions:
  1. Does The Avengers count as a movie with scary violence in it? Oh yeah, it does!
  2. Do I want to have nightmares when my husband is away overnight anytime? No. Most definitely not.
But Tim wanted us to do this together, so I snuggled down under the couch afghan and cowered behind his very wide shoulders and somehow made it through.

Thankfully, I managed to avoid the nightmares this time.

One reason might be the quote I took away from the movie.

Most of my family members love to quote movies, so we're always looking for the quirky or sarcastic or profound sound bites that we can spring on each other later. Part of the goal is to see who can name the movie the quote came from. Part of it is just to bond. Okay, we're goofy, but that's how we roll!

The Avengers had some great quotable moments. But the one that stuck with me and made me think after the movie was finished occurred between Loki (the bad guy) and Agent Phil Coulson from S.H.I.E.L.D.  Agent Phil (yes, his first name is “Agent”!) is wounded, sitting on the floor, watching Loki swagger away in apparent victory.


Agent Phil Coulson: You're going to lose.
Loki: Am I?
Agent Phil Coulson: It's in your nature.
Loki: Your heroes are scattered, your floating fortress falls from the sky... where is my disadvantage?
Agent Phil Coulson: You lack conviction.



You lack conviction.

What an incredible thought.

Loki was certainly determined. He was driven.

But he lacked conviction.

What is conviction? Setting aside the whole courtroom context where someone is “convicted” as guilty, what does it mean to have conviction? Why did Agent Phil consider it vital to success?

Merriam-Webster defines conviction as “a strong persuasion or belief; the state of being convinced.”

A friend of ours once said a conviction is a moral value or belief you're willing to die for, as opposed to a preference, for which death is a little extreme. For instance, the founding fathers of our country were willing to die for their conviction that freedom should be equally available to all. Martyrs are willing to die for the conviction of their religious beliefs. But people are not willing to sacrifice their lives for preferences.
That's not to say preferences are bad. I prefer chicken and dumplings over liver and onions. Given a choice, I generally prefer blue over orange. Preferences display our differences, our uniqueness. But they're not vital to our survival. No one should die over whether they prefer country music over classical, Ford trucks over Dodge.


And conviction is not just a willingness to die for something. Loki was willing to risk his life, but it wasn't for a moral value. He was driven by greed, by jealousy, by an all-consuming lust for power.

That's not conviction. That's just evil.


Conviction is a vital, driving force in people of character, people who stand for something, people who make a difference in our world.

Looking around our country, do I see people of conviction? Do you?


When I watch the news, I see many people who stand up and shout about their beliefs, but are they willing to die for them? When the final curtain comes down, will they still be standing and shouting? So often they seem to have a cause, but not a conviction.

Yet there are so many others who are putting out for what they believe in, who are charging forward, who are standing firm. And Agent Phil was right. It's because of their conviction.

There are soldiers, largely unnoticed by our media nowadays, banding together to risk their own lives to provide a life of freedom to people in warring countries.

There are groups of doctors risking their own health to provide medical care in impoverished areas of the world.

There are organizations of missionaries, philanthropists, and educators, devoting their lives to benefit others.

And there are individuals, people just like you and me, right here in our own country, sacrificing their own comforts to help and encourage others.

I think of my friend Reba, a former cop who became the victim of a brutal attack and rape. After years of battling PTSD, she learned how to gain victory over her fears, earned her PhD, and began a counseling program to help other women. She is actvely facing her own fears right now by taking her experiences to the road, pedaling across America on her bike so she can meet other women with PTSD and offer the help and hope she has found. (Read her daily blog here: http://www.magellanlifecoaching.com/.)

I think of Tricia, a successful author, mother, and teacher, who has cultivated her hurtful past as a teenage mother and formed an organization which reaches out to teenage mothers today, offering them guidance, support, and love. She has also become an outspoken advocate of adoption who practices what she preaches – after rearing her own family, she recently adopted 3 preschoolers! (Connect with Tricia here: http://www.triciagoyer.com/)

And it makes me think of countless others I know... the retired lady who gives elderly people rides to the doctor, the pastor who goes to help a person start their car... the homeschooling family who rings a bell beside a red bucket on a sleety afternoon... the nurse who gives comfort and care in a hospice situation and sits up all night catching up on the paperwork. It's the businessmen and mothers, the DJs and construction workers, the crossing guards and cashiers... individuals with conviction, making a difference in their world.

Another quote from another movie I watched with Tim this week has also stuck in my mind. 

In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Gandalf remarks that someone believes that “it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found,” he says. “I've found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay... small acts of kindness and love."
Small, everyday deeds of ordinary folk.

That would be you and I.

It would be our friends and neighbors.

Ordinary folk performing acts of kindness and love.

Ordinary folk on a mission, fulfilling a passion, making a difference in our world... because of our conviction.

 Q4U:

(questions for you)

What convictions drive you? 
Who inspires you with their conviction?




Thursday, July 18, 2013

Disclaimers

Yeah, it's been a while since I posted anything. 

I'm trying hard to resist the urge to type a disclaimer!

You know those sentences which absolve the writer of a document of any guilt? That's what I'm so tempted to insert here.

I haven't written because...

...I've been sick.
...I've had another grandbaby.
...I've been overwhelmingly busy.
...I've had company. A LOT of company!

But really, do we need those explanations? What do they accomplish?

An acquaintance of mine, best-selling author Susan May Warren, has a fun and interesting take on disclaimers in her blog today (you can read hers here: http://www.susanmaywarren.com/blog/2013/07/16/disclaimers/#comment-9797). 
She notices that she uses disclaimers when people walk into her house. And that got me thinking. 

I do the same thing.

I'm sorry my house isn't perfect but...

...the kids have been sick.
...we're still building/remodeling.
...we've been out of town a lot.
etc.

But do these types of disclaimers really accomplish anything good? 

I tell myself that I'm covering my tracks, making sure people understand there's a valid reason something might not measure up to their expectations, an excuse why something might go wrong.

But what discaimers really do is show that I'm uncomfortable inviting people into my space. And in turn, they tend to make others feel uncomfortable as they notice my discomfort. Which makes me uncomfortable, which makes all of us dizzy...

And discomfort is the OPPOSITE of what I want my friends to experience when they visit my home!

We have had a lot of company lately. Kids are bringing friends here for overnighters, over-weekenders, over whole weeks at a time... :) And I love it! I'm so happy that my kids want to open our home to their friends. Yet I often catch myself making one of these disclaimers as I welcome our guests.

I wonder why.

I suppose it's because I want people to know that I realize my house isn't perfect. I want them to know that my house is not a good basis for which to judge my character. Something like, "I'm sorry my house doesn't look like a Sears catalog display room, but you know I'm still a good person, right?" Which is totally illogical--whose house DOES look like a picture from a catalog?--and downright insulting. Do I really believe that our friends judge my character on the basis of my house? How rude!

Maybe the greatest compliment we can give someone--after that of actually inviting them into our inner sanctum--is to expect that in the graciousness of their heart they accept us no matter how long it's been or what the place looks like. 

No disclaimers needed.

So welcome back to my blog, the outward expression of some of my inner cogitations. Sit down, put your feet up, and relax with a friendly cup of refreshment.


I hope you're comfortable here!



Q4U:
(questions for you)
  • What makes you most comfortable (or uncomfortable!) in someone else's house? 
  • Besides your own house, what is the one place you've felt most at home? 
I'd love to hear from you!





Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Word for the Year

Happy New Year! I hope 2013 is your best year yet.

Are your celebrations completed? Is life back to "normal" yet? What are you doing to carry the freshness of the new year with you? 

Some people make resolutions, firmly deciding to lose weight or eliminate debt or otherwise improve their life.

Some people choose a motto for the year, something they will choose to live by all year long. Some of my friends' choices have included, "Keep Looking Up," "Focus on the Positive," and "Seize the Day!" (a personal favorite, since it sounds cool in Latin, too!).

Several of my friends have recently formed a tradition of choosing one word to focus on for the year. Some I've seen posted on Facebook:

Kindness.

Courage.

Peace.

Joy.

Great stuff! I should do this. But none of these choices clicked for me. I just can't copy someone else's word theme, no matter how good it is. Besides, choosing my own rarely seems to work for me. Typically I find partway through the year that a theme is developing on its own.
For instance, last year God was obviously on a mission to teach me more about forgiveness. It started with some hard lessons in January and just escalated, with Him using friends, strangers, songs, sermons, and hard opportunities for me to practice forgiving others... to the point that my family members would look at me and laugh when a song about forgiveness came on the radio!
So when people have encouraged me to choose a word for my year, I've wondered how to do it. If it were up to me, I'd choose some nice fluffy ones like "Rejoice" or "Love" or "Joy." Even some more challenging ones sound a bit appealing: "Trust." "Rise" (as in, rise above the circumstances or rise to the challenges).
Maybe I should just ask God for a word. Do you think He would do that? Just hand me a word He wants me to focus on? 
The Bible says to ask... so I decided to try it. I wondered what He might have in mind for me to learn this year (could we please have a break from forgiveness??). I wondered if He would be willing to share it with me.
So I asked. And on New Year's Eve a word popped into my mind, taking me totally by surprise. Is this my word? It stuck in my mind, so I'm going with it. 
My word for this year is apparently "Embrace."
At first thought, it seems pretty tame. Embrace. It comes from the 12th century French word embrasser and primarily means to hug, to clasp in the arms, to enclose. 
To hug! What a great word theme. I can do this! I'm a hugger. I dearly love my family & friends and -- unless they're the prickly type -- I am easily affectionate with them. Babies get hugs from me, as do toddlers, older kids, teens, and the elderly. I hug my pastor, my neighbor, my chiropractor. I even hugged the guy who sold us our pickup truck! I've often wished I could give God a hug, and at times have longed to be able to receive one from Him.
And there's rarely a time when a hug is inappropriate among friends and family. I hug when I greet people and when I say goodbye. I hug to comfort, to congratulate, to celebrate. I hug to say thank you for a gift.
I've even been known to give figurative hugs. I mean, who can see a beautiful sunset and not want to hug it? Am I really the only person in the world who has ever danced around with arms outstretched, trying to hug the ocean or a gorgeous sunny (or rainy!) day or a sparkling summer night?
Okay, I confess. I don't usually behave this way when people are looking. But I want to. I can't help it. I'm a hugger.
There are, however, a few things I don't embrace. Besides clogged toilets or stinky wet dogs, I mean! 
I don't embrace pain.
Or trials.
Or hardship.
Yet these are the very things my loving heavenly Father brings into my life to prune my sinful nature, to help me sink roots deeper into my faith, to help me bloom in my service for Him... to conform me to the image of my dear Savior.
To make me look like Himself.
Shouldn't I view the pain, the trials, the hardship as treasures from His hand? As special gifts, wrapped up in pretty paper and tied with a bow? The tag itself is dear... handwritten, To me From Emmanuel.
Emmanuel. God with me.
Almighty God...
WITH me... during the pain. 
With ME during trials.
WITH ME during hardship.
Almighty God...
Guiding me by His loving hand.
Never, no never, no not EVER leaving me alone or separated from His love.
These are truly eternal treasures, items of unsurpassed beauty straight from the hand of God to me.
Waiting to be embraced. 
It turns out that "embrace" has a secondary meaning, one which goes a little deeper. It means to handle, as in to cope with difficult circumstances. To not reject them or spurn them, but to open your arms and accept the pain and the hurts, the trials and the hardships without regret... much like Christ did on the cross for me.
He opened His arms and embraced -- coped with -- temporary torture and death in exchange for the eternal joys of embracing -- holding and accepting -- each of us for eternity. All we have to do is believe, accept, embrace His gift.
My goal for this year: To embrace each day and ALL of the things God brings into my life, trusting that they are truly gifts from His hand, no matter how unattractive they may appear to be wrapped.
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." ~James 1:17
I no longer want to merely seize the day. 
I want to embrace it!

Did YOU choose a word for this year? If so, why did you choose it?


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Serendipity: Visit with an Austrian Angel

You know those rare, unplanned, wonderful blessings that seem to drop spontaneously from heaven into your lap? They're the embodiment of the word "serendipity." I experienced one of those last Sunday.

Background: Three other ladies who write Christian fiction and I planned a get-together Sunday afternoon at the local mall. Some of us had only met online, others had never met at all. We thought it would be fun to become acquainted and share some great encouraging face time.

We had no idea.

There are so few people you feel an instant bond with. Even rarer is when you meet three other people at once and instantly bond. Even rarer? What happened next.

We had ordered lunches at the Subway counter, then gathered at the comfy couch area near the center of the food court and visited for about an hour when an elderly lady walked by, pausing near our location. She appeared to be searching for someone, so one of us asked if we could help her. She replied that she was trying to locate her daughter-in-law, who was supposed to meet her there. Although we proved to be of no help at all, we all introduced ourselves, and someone commented on her lovely German accent. And then Maria (NOT Maria von Trapp, although she teasingly tried to convince us that's who she was!) joined us, pulling up a shiny black vinyl chair and sharing with us her life story, sprinkled with humor, many gestures, and several freely-shared opinions on life in general.

Example: "The United States is the best country in the world. I can say this because I am an immigrant. If you do not believe me, leave the country. Visit others. Vhen you return, you vill kiss the ground. There is no country like America."

She told us of her naturalization process, of how she studied hard to pass the tests, learning to read and write in English. She hadn't known a word of it when she arrived in the country and had to take night classes to learn it. She spoke with better grammar than most natural-born citizens I know.  

She was born in Serbia, but moved to Austria early in her life. She was 13yo when "the monster Hitler" moved into Salzburg, and her voice thickened as she spoke of being hauled from the family house in the middle of the night, of atrocities she witnessed, of family members murdered. "They lined us up, then counted off. Eeenie, meenie, miney, mo, although that is not vhat they said." She pointed, pointed, pointed, then stopped. "Vhen they stopped, that person was dragged out and sent to a concentration camp. Ve never saw them again. Also the grandparents and young children. If they couldn't vork, they vere hauled avay and killed." 

She described the attack on the man who was first stripped naked, then tortured til he died. She told of the repeated raping of the 17yo village girl by the soldiers. But although the soldiers had an automatic 24-hour judgment-free period to cover their actions whenever they entered a village, not all soldiers were animals. The man appointed to guard Maria's family actually saved their lives, rescued Maria from the lewd attentions of his fellow soldiers, and stopped the attacks on the 17yo village girl.

We four ladies who composed her audience were already literally on the edges of our seats, elbows resting on our knees as we leaned forward to catch every word. But her next words caught us instead:

"The only thing that brought me through that terrible time vas God in heaven. I knew He vas vith me at all times. I came to America when I was 18 years old, and then I met Peter, the love of my life and the man who became my husband. Ve had a vonderful life together until he developed a brain tumor and died vhen I vas 52. I had thought that the time in Austria when the monster Hitler came through was going to be the hardest time of my life, but losing my husband vas much, much vorse. Ve had lived through such good times together.

"But do you know vhat I found? Although I have had many mountain peaks and valleys in my life, it was in  the valleys that I grew closest to God. He vas vith me the entire time. He grew me in the valleys. The valleys were what shaped me, not the mountain peaks."

We sat quietly, absorbing her words. Not one of us ladies has her amazing perspective on life, not one has endured the atrocities she has known. But each of us craves the faith and joy she exuded, that certainty of God's love and goodness in the valleys of our lives.

Shortly afterward, Maria's daughter-in-law found her and drove her away. But the four of us ladies knew beyond a doubt that God had dropped an unexpected treasure in our laps, a gold mine of wisdom and humor, of faith and love, in the shape of a talkative little 5-foot-tall dynamo who blessed us with her grace.

Thank you, Maria. I hope we meet again someday.