Monday, March 31, 2014

Mrs. Perkins, Geometry, and Running Hard to the Finish


Through some fluke, I was put in the “high” group in math and was one of the first in eighth grade to take Algebra I in my school. We were the guinea pigs for what I know is common today, and it turned out to be a disaster for me. Truth be told, I probably had a learning issue with Algebra. I always tested well on achievement tests, but when it came down to it, I just couldn’t see it. Later in tenth grade, we’d find out how true this was when sainted Mrs. Hay had to endure my presence in her Algebra II class. However, that’s a story for another day. The only good thing that came out of eighth grade Algebra was it allowed me to take geometry in the ninth grade.

I’m visual and geometry was made for me. I never could figure out how anyone came up with the answers to those algebraic equations, but I could see geometry. My teacher was an elderly woman named Mrs. Perkins who wore shirtwaist dresses and twirled her grey hair into a bun.

Mrs. Perkins had also taught my mother. I even found a picture of mom about the age she had Mrs. Perkins, here photographed in front of the school we both attended. Eighth grade was part of the high school in those days.
 

 

Mrs. Perkins, an educator for at least forty years and probably longer, had to be at least in her seventies. She was mostly retired except for teaching a couple of geometry classes every day.

I loved her.

I could understand everything she said. I don’t know whether that was because geometry was really that much easier for me or because Mrs. Perkins made it that much easier. While the eyes of other students glassed over as she went on and on about angles, volume, and circumference, I was fascinated. When we wrangled with the formula for the area of the right circular cylinder, all those pi's enthralled me.

In addition, I loved theorems, maybe because they involved words rather than numbers. In any event, Mrs. Perkins and I were a great match.

Mrs. Perkins was prone to tell stories, mostly about days past, about her childhood, about living through the depression or World War II.

She shared about how firmly entrenched she was in her habits. One of them was her nighttime snack— milk toast. I’d never had milk toast, but the way she talked about it made it sound so consoling. I thought I might try it. Decades have rolled by though, and I still haven’t.

Mrs. Perkins was a woman who was prompt and finished what she started. We could always count on her to have our homework or test papers graded and handed back the next day—no waiting to find out for better or worse what our grades would be.

When the year concluded, our final exam was her last class of the year, and when she took the test papers home that afternoon, we knew she’d grade them immediately as always.

And she did. But minutes after she finished, she did something that she’d never done before.

She died.

We were the last class she ever taught, and when we received our test papers back, we knew ours were the last ones she’d graded. I made a very good grade in geometry that year and saved that final exam for years. It reminded me of a beloved teacher who put her last mark on her last paper, then stepped over into the Promised Land.

When I think of people who’ve greatly influenced me, I think of Mrs. Perkins—her love of story, her thoroughness, and her loving care. I remember how she finished her life well.

Someone else who finished well wrote, “I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause!” (2 Timothy 4:7).

If anyone ever ran hard to the finish, it was Mrs. Perkins. We knew she was a woman of Christian faith, because in those days in public education, teachers could share such things. I imagine there was a good deal of applause when Mrs. Perkins arrived on heavenly shores.

I look forward to seeing her again, but right now, I’m running hard my own race. Mrs. Perkins’ life was not an easy one. Maybe that’s why she shared the difficulties of the depression and the war, so her students would understand that sometimes you have to persevere beyond what you might have previously thought impossible.

Mrs. Perkins gave me more than an appreciation of Geometry. Because of the fine teacher that she was, she understood her role was much larger. She gave me a vision for life.

Like her, I am aiming to finish well.

Meanwhile, anybody need to know the formula for the area of a trapezoid?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

If you're struggling to be creative


I had opportunity last week to visit the studio of artist Carol Winner again.

I don’t miss a chance to see what she’s doing any time I’m in her area, because I’ve never seen anyone with a more diverse talent, or with a keener eye for seeing and interpreting the world around us.

Carol creates both two-dimensional and three-dimensional works. According to her website, “Her current two-dimensional work combines drawing, painting and photography, using image transfer, charcoal, papers, acrylic paint and found objects”

Her three dimensional work includes jewelry, purses, and amazing whimsical sculptures.

I love the palette she uses in her paintings and could stand for hours just studying her technique.

When I leave Carol’s studio, I want to make something. There’s a reason for that. We were created in the image of the creator (Genesis 1:27). Our creative natures spring from the one whose artistry is displayed in all of creation. “In the beginning God created . . .” (Genesis 1:1). When I see God’s creativity splashed over canvases through an artist’s human hands, I’m inspired to allow Him to make something through me for His glory.

I often hear folks say they don’t have time to be creative. However, what do we have time for? It’s important not to deny a special part of us that so much reflects the one who formed us. It takes an intentional effort.

So, today click on over and look at Carol’s work here. And then paint, sculpt, knit, stamp, scrapbook, sew, draw, write, woodwork, make jewelry, pen a song, or whatever it is you do that feeds your own soul and gives glory to God.

I’d love to see what you come up with.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Rivers of light


Took a little vacation last week, and headed for an island with my husband, Jerry, our college aged daughter, and her friend (our son had to spend his spring break at controlled burn school--see my last post). Oh, and Labrador Lucy piled in, too. We used our daughter’s car as our big suburban has a few issues right now. Tight squeeze. Lucy didn’t mind.


 

Though it rained several days, we had use of a condo right on the beach, and still had a view of glorious scenery.

Wonderful time to be with folks we love. Right now, I’m holding on and replaying the memories over in my mind. Precious.

While there, we had opportunity to make the acquaintance of a few new friends.

These guys seemed quite unconcerned with my presence as well as that of several other tourists who snapped their photos. They continued to groom as if they actually enjoyed the attention and made no move to take to the air even though we drew quite close. They made me smile.

It’s a rare blessing to have a few days break from the regular duties, especially after working so many twelve-hour days trying to get a book ready to go. The work still stretches out ahead of me. However, I hope we are getting close.

After my wandering little travel journal, you may be wondering what my point is today. It’s from James, a book that I am trying to memorize sometime before I go see Jesus. “Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light” (James 1:16 The Message).


They are all gifts—the time away, the husband, the daughter, her friend, the small car, the tight squeeze, the dog, the rain, the condo, the view, the time, the memories, the pelicans, the photos, the smiles, the twelve-hour days, the book, the hope, and even the writing of all the gifts. And so many more besides.

These “rivers of light” compose the life God has given you and me. No matter what tight squeeze or rainy day we have, “the Father of Light” has blessed us. Though a preening pelican may not be at the top of your list, God knows what will bring you joy and delights in sending you messages of his love and care.

It is well worn but worth repeating, we need to be intentional about recognizing blessings. They may not be what we’d planned or even what we’d hoped, but let's be open for those glistening streams of gifts He’s propelling our way that may wind up being more than we ever dreamed.

Let's watch for packages with tags that read, “The Father of Light has a gift for you.”

If, however, big birds are your thing, you absolutely cannot miss this live, streaming video from Berry College's Eagle Cam where a bald eagle couple is raising its eaglet. It even captures the birds at night thanks to amazing technology. I could watch it all day. It will fledge soon, so don't miss it.
 
Back here on Thursday with a post about an artist whose studio I had opportunity to visit this past week. Oh, and she's a "river of light", too.
 

Monday, March 17, 2014

What a controlled burn can do


This past week as part of the requirements for his graduation in a couple of months, my son participated in something called “Controlled Burn School.” I suppose that if you’re going to graduate from the Forestry School, even if your emphasis is in wildlife sciences, they want you to know a few things about forest management.

Nothing warms a mother’s heart like knowing her son is a couple of hundred miles away walking around with a tank on his back containing combustibles and a wand in his hand which shoots out fire.

He sent me a few photos with the caption, “I helped set fire to a hundred acres on Tuesday.”

 
 

 

What more could a boy want? He had a great time.

In the four years since I wrote that post about him movinginto the dorm his freshmen year, he’s done it. He’s getting the degree he set out to obtain, and I’m learning that he’s going to keep doing dangerous things, so I need to trust God with all of that. I think that somehow, God increases our capacity to cast all our care upon him (I Peter 5:7). Years ago, when he was an infant, I never dreamed as I held him in my arms, I’d be so calm about him starting a forest fire.

As parents, we want to help mold our children’s characters and instill in them the love of God, but I’m understanding that God also uses our children to mold our characters and develop the traits he want in us as parents.

God doesn’t waste anything.

In some ways God is doing a "controlled burn" in me, burning up my distrust to make way for complete reliance on Him. Here’s to “controlled burns” and character molding both with me and my son. I’m sure more are coming, but I’m equally sure that God will supply all I need to celebrate with my son as he lives the life God has for him.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Thousand Words

Still working on those final edits for my new book so reaching into the archives today. When I first started this blog four years ago, I wrote the post below and was encouraged by the response it received. So, I've edited it a bit, and I share it again in the hopes that someone might find encouragement for their creative journey.

Several years ago, I heard author, actor, artist McNair Wilson say “Put something into the world everyday that wasn’t there before.”

That simple piece of advice has made a difference in my life by helping me be intentional with my creative efforts. Some days could be one long string of doing endless repetitive things like loading the dishwasher or folding towels, and even the time I spend at the computer, which should be creative time, might turn into checking email and balancing the checkbook. But, I set a goal to write a thousand words a day—a thousand words that weren’t in the world yesterday—a thousand words that can add up over time to be a screenplay or a novel. 

Following that advice, by God's grace, over the last eight years, I’ve written four novel manuscripts, six screenplays, several songs, over 450 blog posts, and I don’t know how many articles and devotions all by remembering McNair’s advice. He even helped me find I could be a watercolorist again.

Before I go to sleep at night, I think about what I’ve put into the world that day. It may not have been much. I might think my work less than the best, and no one but God and I may have known what I even attempted. But I remember the words of Paul from Colossians 3, “Whatsoever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…”

So, before I let my thousand words go, I make sure I put them in God’s hands. Who knows the thousand ways he might possibly use them?

If you're struggling creatively, take McNair's advice and set doable incremental goals. You'll be shocked at how quickly God will use your discipline and perseverance to build something larger.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Primroses and something miraculous


While washing dishes a few days ago, I noticed a few leaves emerging from the ground in a flowerbed just beyond the kitchen window. Strange to see something out there this early in the year. Later, when I inspected, I found the leaves were primroses I’d planted last year.
 
 I’m prone to putting any houseplant in the ground just to see what happens. It’s how I found out the amaryllis I force into bloom at Christmas would bloom again later in the year when planted outside.

Excited and surprised the primroses were making another appearance, I noticed an article about them in the February Southern Living. I read that primroses are annuals here in the South acting only as perennials on the highest slopes of the Appalachian Mountains. But I live in the Piedmont, nearly eighty miles from those elevations. Yet, there they were, primroses peaking out through the Georgia red clay in my backyard as if that’s what they always did.

 I did a little research and found that most varieties of primroses need cold temperatures to make an encore appearance. Our unusually cold weather this year with night after night of temperatures in the teens or single digits provided the environment for the flowers to thrive.

“You’d think the cold weather would have the opposite effect,” Jerry said when I told him about my discoveries.

You would. You’d think the bitter cold wind blowing against that bed on the North side of the house, and the ground staying frozen for weeks would serve to kill rather than enliven.

But this principle is something the apostle James understood. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.”

 It’s a truth Paul also wrote about in Romans. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

On those cold winter nights, when I sat on the sofa wearing three layers, cocooned in a blanket listening to the windows rattle in the cold wind, I couldn’t imagine that outside in the garden dirt, something miraculous and wonderful was going on. Likewise, when the sufferer is suffering, it’s hard to imagine God could shape anything good out of the heartache. But He can and He does.

Now, I’m not a fan of suffering. If God had put me in charge, I would’ve tried to find some way around it. But this I know, suffering makes me run straight to God. I realize my need for Him in ways I don’t when everything’s going my way.

The Psalmist wrote, “Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me” (Psalm 86:17). The appearance of the primrose in my garden feels like a sign of God’s goodness, a reminder of His love despite a bunch of stuff not going the way I’d hoped.

So if life is going sideways for you, look for the primroses, both the actual, and the metaphorical. It may feel like you’re in the cold dirt, but have hope; God is at work to bring beauty.

Friday, March 7, 2014

If you're trying to see the whole picture


Today, I have a devotion in the Upper Room print edition as well as online, which you may read here. The meditation is about the tragic death of a remarkable teenager and the blog post follows up on how his family, in the midst of their terrible grief, has allowed God to use this tragedy for good. If you’d like to know more about this story you may also click here.
If you have more interest in the foundation mentioned, please contact here.

In the two years since the death of the precious young man that I wrote about in today’s devotional, I have had the privilege of seeing God do something quite amazing . . .To continue reading, go here . . .

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ashes



Ashes

Hosanna palms now blackened
And I, remembering their joyful wave,
Come heart bowed;
And wait

For the sooty cross members on my brow.

 
Kneeling,
Thinking of Him
In wilderness days;
As I, in a lesser way,
Face my own uncharted land.

Time now

With the Sacrificial One;

Time for the soul grief,

The cleansing word,

The making-all things-new touch.

I rise to follow blood-stained prints;

To daily die

And in these ebony ashes bear

The sure seed

Of Resurrection hope.

Beverly Varnado ©2011

"I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:23-25).

edited repost

Monday, March 3, 2014

Wobbly knees and when it's all over but the shouting


The prophet Isaiah wrote about knees. So did the apostle Paul. They knew there’d be times when our limbs would quake. We’d open our eyes to the events of the day and find it hard to stand.


 

“Strengthen the rubbery knees,” Isaiah writes (Isaiah 35:3 The Message). Paul echoed Isaiah’s words in Hebrews 12, “. . . strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.” Perhaps it’s a time of discipline that’s left you wobbly, as it was when Paul wrote these words to the Hebrews. Or maybe, it has nothing to do with a choice you made. Maybe, it’s a boatload of stuff you didn’t see coming at all. One event after another blindsided you —a health diagnosis, a financial reversal, a family heartache. You’re tottering, looking for something to hold, trying to breathe. Maybe, you face a challenge larger than anything you've ever dreamed, and overwhelmed doesn't begin to describe the way you feel.

Isaiah went on with consoling words for those who are having trouble staying upright. “Tell fearful souls, ‘Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here, on his way to put things right.’”

He’s right here. He hasn’t lost your address or forgotten he made you. Though your knees are shaking, you’re still standing. That's enough. In that critical chapter Paul wrote about putting on the armor of God, he says, “ Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet”(Ephesians 6:13).

Years ago, when the tragic loss of a friend to suicide coupled with a trauma from the past led to posttraumatic stress, one of the first and the most enduring symptoms I had was shaking knees. And though God has brought immense healing to my life, still today, if a piece of my armor gets loose, and I don’t allow God to shoulder burdens with me, that symptom sneaks back in. It’s a way God allows my body to indicate I’m not allowing the Lord to do what only He can do.

So, friend, like you, some days with my wobbly knees, I’m just standing. But, when it’s “all over but the shouting,” standing for the glory of God is a great thing, and remember, He's right here.

 

 

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