Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Change Your Clocks

Just a quick note for everyone. Make sure you remember to set your clocks back on Wednesday night before you go to sleep unless you are planning on staying up until midnight to do it. We will be adding a leap second to the end of the year if you hadn't already heard. You will be getting to places too early if you don't heed the advice. This is quite possibly my last advice for you until 2009. I hope everyone had a great Christmas and want all of you to have a wonderful and blessed New Year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

And Love Me, I Pray

This entry was originally published Dec. 24, 2007 and is the sequel to "Close By Me Forever."
And Love Me, I Pray
It had been nearly five years since Stephanie had seen these streets. The last fifty-eight months had been a constant struggle, full of pain, prayers and progress. Just weeks after her encounter with Farrah, Amed and her family, she had been a victim of the same type of violence as that family. However, almost no memory of that time in her life remained. After this long period of recovery, she had been encouraged to travel with her new husband, Vince, to the country where she had previously served in the military.
The neighborhood looked vaguely familiar as they traveled by taxi. But, something was very different. Beautiful flowers were in hanging planters on street signs. Families strolled along the clean streets and the buildings had that freshly remodeled look. She almost wondered if they were in the correct location. Suddenly, her gaze was directed to a specific location ahead on the right.
“Vince, I need to get out here,” she said.
The taxi driver was asked to pull over to the side of the street. As Vince helped Stephanie out of the car, a strange sense of peace seemed to envelop her. Then, they saw the small building just a few yards from the street, nearly hidden in the dusk. A sign at the front of the property, written in English, asked the question, “What Is Christmas?”. At the sight of those words, a bit of Stephanie’s memory which had been seemingly non-existent for nearly five years came to life.
She had been to numerous specialists in the states over the previous months. They had helped her adjust to living in a wheel chair, but no one could seem to help her recover from the memory loss that she had encountered. She had received occasional letters from someone she could not recall knowing. They were always signed by someone named Farrah, and she knew they came from the country where she had served. Something would not allow her to respond to the letters, although the person seemed to think that Stephanie had been some type of heroine in her eyes.
Then, her doctors, almost as a last resort, had encouraged her to travel to this foreign country and here she was on Christmas Day.When they had arrived at the airport, it was almost as if she and Vince were royalty. The officials, and for that matter, everyone they came in contact with, seemed to be in awe of the Americans. It gave Stephanie great pride to know that she had done her part to liberate this country.
The last few days had been a breath of fresh air to her, and she had begun to regain some of her memory from years ago. Could she take that final step tonight?
She seemed to be drawn to the little building. As they approached, it became obvious that it was a small church. Stephanie became aware that their taxi driver had joined them as Vince pushed her wheel chair up the walk to the front door. Their driver opened the door and Vince pushed Stephanie’s chair into the small foyer. As they entered, the small congregation began singing a beautiful Christmas tune. It was unmistakably “Silent Night”. The words were sung in the native language, but it had been a long time since Stephanie had heard a song so beautifully sung.
They found a place to listen from the back of the room. When the song was finished, the preacher made his way to the podium.The preacher had the full attention of everyone in the room that evening. He spoke in English from his wheel chair, and that fact alone was enough to keep Stephanie’s eyes glued to him.
There were huge amounts of her memory returning as the preacher spoke on the topic “What Is Christmas?”. Yes, she remembered relating this same story in this same country to a little girl and then to a family and that family had a father who had no legs! The preacher had finished speaking, and now he announced that his daughter would be singing the final song for the evening.
When beautiful, dark-haired, seventeen-year-old Farrah, in a flowing white gown, entered from a side room, the journey was complete for Stephanie. As Farrah’s mother played the small organ, Farrah sang the three verses of “Away In A Manger”, in English, just as she had been taught five years ago. When Farrah was partly through verse two, her eyes locked onto a person sitting in the back. The audience watched as Farrah walked slowly to the person, never missing a note in her beautiful rendition of this well-loved carol.She reached Stephanie as she sang the last words of verse three, “and love me, I pray Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care And take us to Heaven To live with Thee there.”
There were no dry eyes in the little sanctuary that evening. The two were lost in each other’s embrace for what seemed like hours. Farrah’s father dismissed the service, making a statement that they had all found out a little more of what Christmas really means this evening, or something to that effect, as emotions had overcome him, also.
Much later that evening, as Stephanie and Vince visited Farrah and her family in their modest home, they were told that the little church where they worshipped was built on the site from which the grenade had been launched that had changed Farrah’s family’s life forever. Oh, it had caused pain, but it also had brought them to a place where they could minister to others in their neighborhood.
“Come and see my room,” Farrah begged Stephanie.
Stephanie allowed herself to be pushed down the hallway. At the first door on the right, Farrah opened the door. Stephanie looked into a small, neat room. She noticed the walls were full of pictures. Smiling boys. A singing group. Pictures of their quaint little neighborhood. The little church where her father was pastor. Then, her gaze was drawn upward. On the ceiling, directly above Farrah’s bed, was a picture of a little girl in a hospital bed. Beside the bed was an American soldier. The two were holding hands.
Closing the bedroom door behind her, Farrah spoke, “Every night, before I go to sleep, I look at that picture. I have prayed for you every night that I can remember, and, now, you’re here! Will you sing that song for me again?”
In the living room, the rest of the family and Vince could only listen in awe as two angelic voices joined together to sing the song that had helped to change lives in that part of the country over the last few years.As the last notes of the song were being voiced, Farrah pushed Stephanie back into the living room. When they finished, Farrah’s father announced loudly, “It is officially CHRISTMAS!”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Close By Me Forever

This was originally published Dec. 14, 2007. It is the first of two related stories. I will post the sequel soon.

Close By Me Forever
It was December 24, but in this war-torn country it was hard to think of it as anything out of the ordinary. However, this night was destined to be anything but ordinary. Specialist Stephanie Rose found herself on patrol in a dangerous part of the city. Earlier this very day she had walked these streets and given candy to eager young children. Now that darkness had fallen, it seemed that it had become a completely new world. She thought she detected some movement several yards in front of her. She began moving in that direction, while speaking quietly into her radio, asking her fellow soldiers for back-up.
Twelve-year-old Farrah and her six-year-old brother, Amed were riding with their father in the family car. It was only a short drive to the little shop where they were going to purchase a small gift for Farrah’s mother, whose birthday was tomorrow. She peered out the window and saw an American soldier on foot patrol. She was still half-frightened due to the constant barrage of anti-Americanism that she encountered at their mosque and from other acquaintances. Still, sometimes she saw the soldiers giving candy and small gifts to children. Her father had told her to stay away from the foreigners, so she obeyed. In the next instant, her world was changed forever. She saw the flash of an explosion and then a rocket propelled grenade slammed into the driver’s side of their car. The door was peeled away as if a giant can opener had been used. Her father took the brunt of the blast, but both she and Amed were badly injured.
Specialist Rose was an instant too late in bringing her M16 to her shoulder. She saw the so-called “freedom fighter” - how she hated that label - launch his grenade, a split second before she fired the bullets that would prevent him from any more of his murderous activity. But, the damage had been done for that evening. She was the first to the scene and seeing the driver, she quickly went to the two small ones in the car that she knew she would be able to help.
Many times during training, they had been warned not to become personally involved in the tragedies that they were sure to encounter. But, tonight Stephanie was breaking all the rules. She had ridden in the Humvee with the injured children back to her fortified camp. She had personally helped the medics transport the two children into the hospital. Now, it was almost midnight, an hour past the end of her shift. She found herself by the bedside of a twelve-year-old girl whose name she did not know.
Farrah lay quietly in this strange bed surrounded by American soldiers and medical personnel. She was frightened, yet something told her that she was safe. Then, she heard a quiet melody being sung by someone sitting in the shadows beside her bed. She had studied English since she was six, but she had never heard such beautiful words sung so sweetly.
“Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay Close by me forever and love me, I pray Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care And take us to Heaven to live with Thee there.”
She stirred and the person sitting there leaned over her bed. The soldier looked to her like an angel, and she asked her for her name. The reply came, “My name is Stephanie. What is yours?”
“Farrah. You are the one who helped me out of our car, aren’t you? Will you stay with me forever? My daddy was in the car with us…” Her words trailed off.
Stephanie spoke, “I know someone who can be with you forever, Farrah.” And in the next few minutes, Specialist Stephanie Rose was able to lead a precious little girl to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. So much for not getting personally involved , she thought.
“Will you sing that song again for me?” asked Farrah.
“Away in a manger no crib for a bed The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head The stars in the sky looked down where He lay The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky And stay by my bedside ‘til morning is nigh Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay Close by me forever and love me, I pray Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care And take us to Heaven to live with Thee there.”
Farrah lay back in her bed and whispered, “I wish my daddy could have heard that song. Do you suppose I will see my daddy in Heaven?”
Stephanie had no answer for Farrah, so she just encouraged her to rest for now. It seemed that only a few minutes had passed when Stephanie awoke abruptly. It was 7:00 A.M.! She heard noises at the door. There were people coming into the room. Farrah awakened to see an American doctor at her bedside. Behind him was her mother, smiling at her.
Farrah asked, “Why are you smiling? I lost my father and maybe Amed last night. I have something now that I so wish I could tell my father…” Sobs came from her small frame as the grief poured out of her.
The doctor spoke, “Farrah, I have a surprise for you.” He motioned to someone at the doorway and the next thing that Farrah saw filled her with joy that she did not think she would be able to contain. It was her Father! Sure, it didn’t look much like him. He was in a wheel chair, and it looked as if his legs were gone. Bandages covered much of his head, but there was no mistaking, it was him! And, behind him was a nurse holding Amed.
Her world had come back to close to normal now. She said, “Oh, Father, I have something to tell you and I have found a professional singer who will sing for you and she will give you a story that will change everything…”
The doctor interrupted, “Farrah, we will have time for that later. For now, you need some more rest and so does your father.”The room had quieted down. She looked at Specialist Stephanie Rose, the tough, young soldier who was not allowed to get personally involved and who now had tears streaming down her face as the night’s memories flooded across her.
Farrah turned toward her and asked, “Why are you crying? Aren’t you happy, too?”
Stephanie could only nod. Then, she found her voice. “Merry Christmas, Farrah.”
“What is Christmas?” queried Farrah.
“Oh, no, now I’m going to be here all day,” Stephanie said with a smile. When Farrah grinned back at her, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
LJL 2007

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Special Night

This was originally published Dec.3, 2007. Hope you enjoy this re-run.

It was the brightest night that Joshua had ever experienced. The tall, lean youth was sixteen years of age. He was proud to work in the barn behind the inn where he lived. Even now he was thankful for his distant cousin who had taken him in some five years ago. Tonight, with the moonlight streaming in the open window at the end of the barn, he felt that there was something special, magical about this night.
His mind wandered back to his early childhood…Joshua had always been slower than his playmates. His parents called him their “special” gift from God and he always knew he was loved by them. But, there were times when the other kids made fun of him and made life unpleasant for him. When those instances occurred, he could run to his parents who would comfort him and tell him he was special and that God had a special plan for his life. His father would read from the writings of the prophets and tell him that one day a Messiah would come that would save the people from their sins. Joshua could comprehend enough to know that this would be a wonderful time!
Then, one day when he was eleven, his world came crashing down around him. His parents were tragically killed in an accident. He was never told what happened. He only knew that the two people he could truly trust were gone. A distant relative, Zebulon, an innkeeper, was kind enough to allow him to stay with him.
When he grew older, he became the “keeper of the barn”…Tonight, as he finished his chores, he couldn’t shake the feeling about this evening. He heard some folks coming toward the barn. This generally made him upset for he could never speak to strangers without getting his words all tangled and twisted. He quickly climbed into the hayloft and hid as he normally did when strangers came into the barn.
He was distressed to see a man and woman come in the door. The woman appeared to be in discomfort. Still, the feeling about the evening persisted.Unable to climb down the ladder without being seen, Joshua decided to sleep in the hay as he had done before, rather than be humiliated by having to speak to a stranger. Too many times before people had laughed at him when his thoughts and words had become a tangled mess.
He moved in the hay to where he could be comfortable and saw that the man and woman were in one of the stables and it appeared they were staying for the night!Much later, Joshua was awakened from a deep sleep by the sound…of a baby?! Never before had there been a baby in this barn!
He peered down into the stable, and there in the manger was the little child. The moon was now lower in the sky, and its light had flooded the stable. The beams seemed to be shining directly onto the infant’s face.Something happened inside of Joshua at that moment. A voice seemed to speak to him that sounded like his father’s voice. The thoughts in his mind seemed clearer than ever before, and the voice seemed to say, “This is that special one that the prophets foretold.” He climbed quickly down the ladder and made his way to the stable.The man seemed surprised to see him appear, but he did not mind as Joshua made his way toward the baby.
The woman took the child into her arms, and the moonlight bathing the mother and child appeared to be straight from Heaven. Joshua had never approached a stranger before, but he knew there was something different about this family! He asked the woman, “What is the baby’s name?”The answer came in a hushed, reverent tone, “Jesus.”
At the mention of the baby’s name, Joshua felt his thoughts become completely rational, and while he did not voice them, he had the understanding that millions of people still do not have today - the realization that those radiant beams from a holy face brought the dawn of Redeeming Grace!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Victoria's Secret

Now that I have your attention, check out Dudley's Fashion Show. Here are a few of his outfits that Mom has bought him over the years. Here he shows off his OSU T-Shirt, perfect for those fall football afternoons.

Looking great in his all-purpose jacket from that swanky Old Navy store in Sevierville, Tennessee.

Dudley looks stunning in yellow quilted comfort.

Ready for those bitterly cold Ohio winter days, when he goes with Ally to train horses. This is the ultimate in frigid weather protection.

Ideal for an evening out with friends, this knit sweater is the epitome of doggy fashion.

This mini-sweater is perfect for when you don't want that too-modest look.

This pumpkin outfit from Aunt Pam's Pet Paradise is the ultimate in Halloween style and fashion.

Christmas party? Nothing to wear? No problem. Even Santa will be jealous.

Even the Hollywood Hotdogs will sit up and take notice when Dud comes strolling by in this blue number.

Duddles is cheering on his favorite team in this cozy hoodie.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Oh, Christmas Tree, Oh, Christmas Tree...

I had to accompany Rena to Lowe's to purchase the annual Christmas tree Friday evening. Now, the problem with that is that every tree on the property must be examined before the purchase is made. Fortunately, this time she was only looking for a specific variety - a Frasier Fir. That meant that we only had to go through several hundred rather than the whole lot. I had the indignity of having to stand the trees up while she went to the other side of the store to look at the tree that I was holding.

The first choice looked great to me, and I told her so, but that did not put an end to the process. So, I put it back and went on to the next and then the next and...well, you get the idea. The most embarrassing part was when she was halfway across the store examining her choices. Inevitably, she would shout, "Now, turn it to the side so I can see it from a different angle." After obediently doing so, she would point in the general direction of my derriere and say, "That's definitely the bad side!" Then she said, "Now, twirl around." If half the customers in Lowe's had not heard her comments I would not have felt so bad.

Finally, after most of the evening was over, she made her selection. Of course, it was the original one we had started with. Actually, that made me think. She started with me over 28 years ago, and she still has the original one. I guess one long evening at Lowe's isn't all that bad.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Mouse in the House

This entry was originally published last Thanksgiving. It is factual for the most part. Maybe Belle dreaming about a prince is a little exaggerated.

'Twas the night before Thanksgiving
When all through our house
The only thing heard
Was the squeak of a mouse
Belle had reclined
On the couch by a chair
In hopes that a fair prince
Would notice her there
When out in the kitchen
There arose such a clatter
I sprang from my bed
To see what was the matter
Dudley had charged
From out of Al's bed
His ears at alert
On his magnificent head
To the cabinet he ran
Where the cereal boxes were
And waited by the door
For the adventure to occur
The mouse had no clue
Of the danger in the air
While Belle stood nearby
Way up on a chair
I opened the door
Dudley crept in real close
His eyes were quite focused
Alert was his nose
The mouse must have thought
He was safe as could be
The next thing that happened
Surprised even me
The dog took a leap
By a Raisin Bran box
And his jaws snapped shut
Like those of a fox
He backed from the cabinet
His mouth full of mouse
And walked with great pride
Through part of our house
The rodent then dropped
On our nice kitchen floor
While Belle was threatening
To go through the door
Then Belle came down
And stayed at our house
She said, "Thank you, Dudley
For killing the mouse"
LJL 2007

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tilly and Me, Inc

The little one climbed the last few steps to the top of the staircase. The air was pure, the sky perfectly blue. As the child stepped onto level ground, a shadow was cast across the staircase. A voice was heard, booming out across the garden that was directly in front of the stairs.
"Welcome, little one, I have been watching you on your journey. You are going to love it here. Come, I'll show you around. My name is Jeremiah, and I have been here a long time. You and I are going to be friends."
The child smiled sweetly up at Jeremiah, but no words would come.The little one turned to see the staircase and saw beside it another set of steps, coming from a slightly different direction, but allowing those who were climbing them to come into a large park-like setting next to the garden. At the top of this set of steps was a chair. Jeremiah looked down at the child and sensing the question, he spoke.
"Child, this is my chair. I spend much of my time sitting here, greeting little ones who have climbed this special staircase. It's a little different than the one you climbed, but you'll understand about that some other time. Come, let's go see the garden where you will play."
They turned and walked to the garden where there was a swing, a sandbox and beautiful autumn-colored flowers growing in abundance. The child was in awe of the beauty and quickly learned the purpose of the swings and sand. For a long time the child played alone. However, when some time had passed, sounds came from the park across the hedge from the garden. Curiosity drew the little one to the hedge, on the other side of which were little children running and playing all over the grass. Suddenly, a face popped up directly in the child's view. Startled, the child nearly ran away, but a voice said, "Hi. You are new here. What is your name?"
When no answer came, the voice said, "That's OK, it's not unusual that you don't know. I'm now officially naming you Kelly! You and I are gonna be great friends. My name is Tilly, and this is where I live."
The little one spoke for the first time in a sweet, angelic voice, "Kelly? That's my name? Thank you. It sounds so beautiful. Where are all these kids from?"
It was then that Jeremiah appeared. He said, "Little ones, from my chair I have watched millions of children climb the special staircase that you saw. A long, long time ago in a land far away, I was known as the weeping one. Since I had so much experience, when I arrived they put me in charge here. Every day, I sit in my chair and weep over the little ones who aren't wanted. They arrive here, and I do what I can to welcome them."
Tilly turned to Kelly. "You came up the other stairway. That means you are different than many of us. You were wanted. But, now that you are here, we're all alike. Do you understand?"
After playing together with Tilly for a long time, Kelly began thinking of a plan to help Jeremiah with his job. Kelly spoke to Tilly about it, and when Tilly enthusiastically agreed, they went to Jeremiah. They whispered to him Kelly's plan. A wide grin came over his face, and he agreed to help them with their enterprise. Later that day, at the top of the staircase, a tent was erected by Tilly, Kelly and Jeremiah. A sign proudly proclaimed the name of their company. Printed in bold letters by Jeremiah, it read, "TILLY and ME, INC."
Kelly and Tilly are very busy little ones these days. They are special assistants to Jeremiah, and they personally present hand-made gifts to every new little one that arrives. You may already know what they give to the new arrivals. Each one now receives a hug and a little eighteen-inch square quilt with stair steps on them and the words, "From Tilly and me." Each of them are a specific design and color and have the initials RJB in the lower right corner. Kelly doesn't know where the idea came from, but you do.

LJL 11-10-08

This story is written for and dedicated to my kids, Jason and Regi Baker. It was inspired by Regi's blog entry entitled "Quilt Therapy" and by a comment from Janella on that same entry.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Myrtle Beach - Gaither Fest

Rena and I flew to Myrtle Beach last weekend. We enjoyed staying on the beach for two nights at the Sea Dip Hotel and working the Collingsworth table at Gaither Fest. We came back with them on Big Red, enjoying some stunning scenery on I-40 in North Carolina and Tennessee. Here are some pictures.

View from our room at the Sea Dip

From our balcony

Hey, Olivia, this was Bill and Gloria's hotel, next door to ours.

Phillip is always very serious.

Ben Isaacs is so big even his laptop looks tiny.

Olivia and I on stage singing into our $100 bills

Olivia trying to act like it's not freezing.

At Denny's after the concert with Gordon and Kimberly Mote

Sunrise over the Atlantic

A few of the buses - Lynda Randle's bus is on the far right next to Big Red

Ready to roll from Myrtle Beach

A nice picture of I-40 traffic

A bird flying over the hills

Phil praying that the fire will start while aiming the gun at Kim

He's now half a century old.


You can gain a few pounds here in a hurry!
Fortunately, this was taken before we ate.

Back in time

Fortunately, this was taken before we ate.

You know, there is just no caption for this one.

On stage at the Town Center in Shipshewana

Dennis Swanberg as Bill Clinton, "If Ah'd known Sarah Palin in college, Ah'd have been a Republican!"

The Triumphant Quartet
Here are a few pictures from Shipshewana, Indiana. Dani, Mom and I went for the Parade of Pianos, hosted by Dino. The grand pianists were: Josh Singletary, Stewart Vanardo, Jeff Stice, Kim Collingsworth and Dino. Along with them, appearing on stage were: The Collingsworths, Tribute, Dixie Echoes, Triumphant and Dennis Swanberg.
The weather was perfect, and the food at the Blue Gate Restaurant...fabulous. We met Mel Reigsecker, the owner of the restaurant, theater and other enterprises there. He is responsible for bringing the high caliber of talent to their showplaces.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

When We Came Back...

Do I look really silly in this?

Rena and I went to Shipshewana, Indiana, a couple of weeks ago to see the Parade of Pianos hosted by Dino. We were privileged to have Dani along with us. We had a super time and ate some great food. Dudley stayed at his puppysitters and when we came back he had a pumpkin costume on. Here he is with his costume and his OSU hoodie.
I think I will sit here in the sun a little.
Does this outfit make me look fat? Yep, I'm a Buckeye fan.
Got my hood up...bring on the snow.
I hope my friends don't ever see this.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pardon Me While I Turn 50

Sorry I haven't posted for a while. Rena and I were away to Myrtle Beach with the Collingsworth Family at Gaither Fest. While there, I began my second half-century. Nov.2 began at Denny's with a late-night meal. We got to meet Gordon and Kimberly Mote there. He is the pianist for the Gaithers and quite a character. He is very witty. He stood at our table and talked pianos, Gaither-talk and life with us for quite a while. He left, saying that he was going to drive his bus at night to save having to pay his driver. He is blind, as you may know.
Dudley went to his puppysitters while we were away. They have four other dogs, and he loves to go to his Aunt Pam's and stay. He goes there and gets spoiled by Uncle Bill, but he was happy when Mom came after him and brought him home.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tennessee Pictures

Dudley injured his foot on vacation
He's OK, just tired
Great BBQ place
Great seafood place
What we ate at Linebergers...not. Actually, this is a 4 ft long grouper at the Aquarium
These turkeys showed up on our golf course...curiously, soon after I recorded a birdie there. lol
Rena with a nice catfish...unfortunately, the bobber was stuck in her nose for a while!
Great show at the Comedy Barn
Our cabin at Little Valley Mountain Resort

View at Cades Cove
On a hike at Cades Cove
Barn at the Cove
Rest stop
Jellyfish at the Aquarium
Just a few pictures from our mini-vacation. On the way home from Tennessee, we drove through the hills of Kentucky to visit Regi and Jason for a little while. It was a VERY nice visit and conversation that we enjoyed with them.