A Christmas Miracle
Forty years ago this month, we were blessed with a Christmas miracle. A doctor in Des Moines had diagnosed our infant son, David, with hydrocephalus. Within a few days, we traveled to Iowa City for surgery to place a stint to drain the fluid.
However, when we saw the team there, they were able to more accurately diagnose David's condition as sagittal craniosynostosis, a birth defect where the sutures (or soft spots) close prematurely. It is corrected by surgically opening the skull, allowing the brain to grow normally.
It was 16 days before Christmas, we also had a two-year-old son, Benji, and Iowa City was two hours from where we lived. The surgery and recovery would take several days.
But this was what was needed to allow David to develop. I enlisted the help of our parents and friends to care for Benji and I packed what was needed for David and me. Before we left, a group of friends and leaders in our church came to our home, anointed David with oil and prayed over him. Although our church was not in the habit of doing this, I felt perfectly covered and uplifted by prayer.
My husband, Gary, took us to Iowa City, but he needed to work, so he returned to our home. This was years before a Ronald McDonald house was built. I lived for ten days in David's small room, sleeping in a chair beside his bed. David shared the room with two other infants.
Gary came for the day of surgery. I prayed the same nightly prayer that I prayed for each of my infants, "God, hold him in Your arms when he is absent from mine."
They placed our baby on a huge gurney and wheeled him away. We were allowed to walk with him only as far as the elevator. As they moved into the elevator, I spotted one pink foot peeking out from the expanse of green surgical sheets.
"His foot will be cold!" But the elevator doors were shutting, and David was out of reach. Gary held me as I sobbed.
The surgery lasted most of the day. We got occasional updates from the nurses on his floor. "He's out of surgery." "He lost too much blood. They're giving him a transfusion." And finally, "He's in recovery."
At last, he returned to his room and my arms. He smiled when he saw me and tugged at my blouse. But I was forbidden to comfort him by nursing. So, I held my baby, prayed for him, and sang him songs.
David and I spent 10 days in the hospital. We took long walks along the hallways in a stroller the hospital provided. I wrote notes in Christmas cards. And Gary and little Benji visited on the weekends.
David was fitted with a helmet to protect his skull. He would wear what we called his "hat" until he was four and the sutures closed. On December 19th, we headed home at last.
I had six days to bake, shop, decorate and prepare for Christmas. But with joy in my heart, I did only what was necessary. Having a successful surgery and full recovery of David was a gift for our entire family.
Forty-one years later, David is a strong healthy man, but I will always remember the Christmas God gave us a miracle.
What I Learned at Pisgah
Three friends and I spent a few days hiking in the Loess Hills of Iowa, a lovely area of steep hills, green forests and prairies, and small rural communities. One of those tiny towns is Pisgah. We stopped for maps at the state forest visitor center and had dinner at the only restaurant in town. We wondered about the name. One of us thought it was Biblical, and a quick search proved this true.
We read this passage in Deuteronomy 34:
Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land...Then the Lord said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it."
40 years earlier at Meribah, Moses had disobeyed God. When instructed to speak to the rock to bring forth water for the people, Moses struck the rock--not once, but twice. Because of his lack of trust in and respect for God, he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. I always thought Moses must have been greatly disappointed. But as I stood high on the hills above the Iowa Pisgah and considered Who God was, these were my thoughts:
1. Moses's "children" were safe. Joshua, hand-picked by God and mentored by Moses, would lead them into the land God promised to them, the land Moses viewed from the mountain top. Moses had done all that he could for the Israelites.
2. Moses had accomplished everything that God had purposed for him. He led the Israelites out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and through the wilderness. He gave them the Ten Commandments and laws from God. And he prayed for them every step of the way. Moses had completed his task.
3. Moses was headed Home. Even though he had sinned, God planned for him a Savior, whose death would provide the way to forgiveness. And Moses stood at the Heavenly Gates.
Frederick Faber said, "There are no disappointments for those whose will is buried in the will of God." Moses was buried in God's will. I think instead of disappointment, it was a mountaintop, glorious moment. Perhaps, as Moses stood on Pisgah, he heard God call his name and God give him the assurance, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
Eventually, we will all stand on our own Pisgah. At my age, I think frequently about the time God will call me home.
As I look out and view what I leave behind, I hope to be able to say:
I have done all I could so my children (biological, spiritual, or through circumstances) will be safe.
I have accomplished all God has purposed for me.
I am ready to go Home.
What can we do today to prepare to stand on Mount Pisgah?
The Birth of a Novel
In 1934 this young woman bought a small red diary. On the inside cover she wrote, "A line a day or a record of my 1934 doings and thoughts." These "doings" were mainly her job as a maid for wealthy families in Des Moines, Iowa.
In 2005, my mother died and I came into possession of her diaries. I read them cover to cover, fascinated with the story unfolding of life in the Great Depression era. A novel set in the 1930s began to grow in my imagination.
I chose Ruth for my main character. Ruth had made an appearance in one of the first chapters of The Long Ride Home, and I always wondered what happened to her. So she told me her story.
Flight of the Red-winged Blackbird is not my mother's story, but I drew greedily from her diaries for authenticity. Iowa icons mentioned in the book include: the capital, Union and Greenwood Parks, the Italian neighborhood on the south side, Iowa State Fair, the Ledges, and many more. And yes, Ruth works as a maid as my mother did.
Ruth's story, Flight of the Red-winged Blackbird, is now available for preorders on Amazon.
What I heard on my hike...
I walked the path through a forest green.
Far above the wind played through the trees
Shaking the birches like castanets,
Blowing through the pines
With the low whisper of the bassoon,
And where an old limb lay on the shoulder of an oak
There was the squawk of a violin.
Below the trail the water
Laughed out loud as it leaped and rolled the melody downstream.
And I sang the notes as the rocks cried out.
Glory to God in the highest.
Glory to God!
Susan R. Lawrence
This is the reason I hike. Where do you hear your call to praise?
It All Started With a Wine Bottle
Every so often, an author has a moment that makes all the hard work of writing worthwhile. I had one of those moments last Saturday night. But to tell the story, I need to back up about 13 years.
In the fall of 2008 my group of bicyclists known as OOFPAs (Ornery Old Folks Peddling Along) traveled to Jefferson City, Missouri to ride the KATY trail.
While riding the section that goes to Hartsburg, we stopped at a local winery and had lunch. One of the members of our group, Paul Nelson, purchased a bottle of wine and packed it into the saddlebag on his bike. Then we started the ride home.
We hadn't ridden very far when Paul's pedals stopped pedaling. On inspection, he discovered that the weight of the wine bottle caused his saddlebag to sag and it had caught in and broken the derailleur. He needed a bike shop and it was a long way back to Jefferson City.
A couple of speedy men in our group started back for the car while Paul and his loyal wife walked, pushing their bikes. They passed a pathway from the trail to a small restaurant and wondered if there was a telephone he could use. (Yes, this happened before we all carried phones in our pockets.) The restaurant was closed, but the owner, Mark Hooibrink, was there. He not only offered the telephone, but the keys to his truck.
This kind, generous man gave Paul his truck so he could load up the bikes and take his broken one to the bike shop. Within a few hours, Paul had his bike back in working condition, the truck had been returned, and we were gathered at our motel to make plans for the evening.
We all agreed to return to the restaurant for our dinner. We had a delicious meal of chicken, ham, biscuits, green beans, and salads, all served family style in the refurbished Claysville Store.
Meanwhile, this author's brain was churning. At home, a few weeks later, it was NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.) I decided to start a novel about a man who restores and converts an old home into a restaurant beside a bike trail. It was several years in the writing/rewriting/editing process but in December 2019 Restoration at River's Edge made its debut.
Now fast forward to fall of 2021. Our biking group made the trip to Missouri to ride the KATY trail again on a section west of Jefferson City. But on Saturday evening, we drove to the Claysville Store and had a meal of chicken and ham served family style.
Mark Hooibrink and his wife, Laura, were there and, believe it or not, remembered loaning Paul his truck. I shared my part of the story and then it was my delight to present them with a copy of Restoration at River's Edge.
So, if you are ever in the Jefferson City, Missouri area, stop in and say hi to Mark and Laura at the Claysville Store. They serve the best chicken. And it is a great setting for a story.
Where Do You Worship?
Recently, two intrepid friends, my yellow Lab pup, and I hiked 119 miles on the Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota. The trail was challenging and my body protested with aches, blisters, and exhaustion.
But the rewards were great. Not only did I have the satisfaction of meeting my goal, I was treated to spectacular scenery from mountain-top vistas, to raging rivers, cascading falls, and quiet autumn woods. I loved it all. And I worshipped.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem and his disciples loudly praised and worshipped Him, the people told him to "rebuke your disciples." But Jesus answered them, "I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out."
Sometimes we narrowly define worship as what happens when we sing songs in church. But God desires our worship of Him to be so infused in our daily lives, that it bursts forth from our trivial chores and reminds us Who is in charge and what our priorities should be.
As we walked that trail, far from crowds, commerce, and the distractions of daily life, it seemed to me that the stones were crying out. And their cry was a call to worship. At home, I have so many tasks and bids for my time that I often go entire days without taking time to worship the One who created me and gave me life. But on the trail, I had hours to marvel at the power and majesty of the world He created for me, and to give Him thanks.
On my return, I am trying to maintain an attitude of worship. Whether I am on my daily walk, or loading the dishwasher, or doing laundry, or just plopped in my favorite recliner, I need to acknowledge God's presence and stand (or bow or kneel or sit) in awe and worship.
Psalm 29:2 Ascribe to the Lord, O sons of the mighty, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name, worship the Lord in holy array.
Will you join me? Let our voices be louder than the rocks!
The Long Cold Winter
I dubbed the winter of 2020-2021 as The Long Cold Winter before it even began. Because our oldest son was scheduled for a bone marrow transplant at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, we knew we wouldn't be taking a trip to the warmer southern states. I dreaded the cold.
While we were eager to help out with the care of my son's five children and two puppies, I wasn't sure what that would look like. I worried not only about the risky procedure and long recovery of my son, but about the implications for the rest of the family.
I prayed for my son and his wife, that in spite of the medical unknowns, the absence of family, and the pain Ben faced, they would experience supernatural peace.
And God blessed me in an amazing way. He gave me supernatural peace. And a winter packed with blessings. We loved taking care of the puppies, and loved even more when we moved in to supervise the two teenagers. I cooked for them, cleaned, and walked puppies.
Then, 3 months after his transplant, Ben and his wife returned home. His health was still fragile, and he had weekly trips to Mayo, but he was surrounded by his loving family.
We returned to our house by Easter Lake. I planted flowers and vegetables, and watched for new growth. I even began looking for a puppy.
The months passed and Ben slowly recovered. His weekly trips to Mayo stretched to two weeks between a trip, then a month. This week he was approved to return to work part time. He grows stronger every day.
My long cold winter has passed. I am picking tomatoes and green beans almost daily. We even found a puppy in a shelter, and she brings laughter and love to my husband and I.
All of us have those long, cold winters--the seasons when we don't see the growth, where there is darkness and pain, and we cry out for the sun to shine again. If Ben had not had the transplant, his leukemia would have overtaken his body and he would have died. Our long cold winter was necessary for his new life with donated bone marrow.
Your long cold winter may be necessary for your new life. Trust that the summer will return, the sun will shine again, and you will see growth.
Genesis 8:22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease.
I planted my garden today--the early veggies--peas and lettuce. As I dropped the pea seeds into the ground, I marveled at the small, shriveled ball. Inside that sphere, God had placed everything needed to grow a healthy plant, with stem, leaves, and many pods, each carrying peas inside.
I placed the seed into the best environment possible. I had tilled the soil and added compost. I will keep it weed free. If it doesn't rain, I will give it water. I harbor no fear that it will sprout to be a potato plant or a dandelion. It only has to grow and it will be a pea plant. And I will enjoy eating the peas, sometimes even before I get back to the house.
Then God reminded me He had placed everything inside of me to grow to what He desired--His beloved child. He put me in the best environment for me to grow. And He will provide all I need to grow.
Sometimes I chafe at my circumstances, but they are for my growth. Sometimes, I would rather be a tomato than a pea, but God has created me uniquely for His Kingdom. All I need to do is grow.
1 Peter 3:18 Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Where Do You Stop?
Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
This has been a favorite poem of mine for a long time, because I know the value of pausing a journey. When Molly, my four-footed walking partner, and I traversed the Easter Lake trail together, one of us would often suggest we go down one of the side trails. And the other would almost always agree. Once we were deep in the woods, we would pause. Especially on a day like the snowy one above, the beauty of the woods calls for us to stop a moment, to still our souls, and give thanks to the One who created it all.
The pauses refresh me, renew me, and give me strength. So, if you have been called to a side path, stop and give thanks. Enjoy the view. Know Who laid it all out for you. And then, when you're ready, continue on to serve in our hectic world.
Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God.
What side trails encourage you to pause and pray?
I found her face down on the frozen surface of Easter Lake--naked, filthy, and alone. I walked on by, but returned to stare for several moments. Then, I left the paved surface of the trail and made my way through the weeds to the water's edge. I paused a second time. It looked frozen and shallow, but I had no desire to get my feet wet so far from my house. I took a tentative step onto the ice. It held me. I slid another few feet. Then a few feet more and I scooped her into my arms and hurried back to the trail. I cradled her in my arms all the way home, despite a few odd looks from others passing on the trail.
When I reached my house, I had a chance to give her a closer look. She hadn't exactly been given tender loving care. In addition to the filth, someone had used a permanent marker on her head, her hands and feet, and one ear.
I gave her a bath, using a brush to scrub away the dirt and grime. I tried every hack found on the internet to remove the purple marks on her body, but they remained. I decided she would have to be loved in spite of her "bruises."
I looked through my tub of scraps of material and fashioned a diaper, a nightgown and a cap for this little one. With each addition, it seemed to me her smile grew wider.
I thought maybe it was appropriate that I found her the day after Christmas. The day after my Savior had been born.
He didn't slide across a frozen lake to scoop me up, he left His heavenly home and came to earth. He didn't hesitate to rescue me, but lifted me up and washed me clean, not with soap and a scrub brush, but with His own blood. And He loved me in spite of my imperfections. Now, He has clothed me in His righteousness, crowned me with salvation, and wrapped me in His love, and peace, and strength.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. Galatians 1:3-4
Susan Lawrence taught elementary school for 33 years before hanging up her chalkboard to write and speak. She writes novels for both adults and middle grade children. Susan lives in Iowa with her husband and short-legged Lab, Molly. She has 3 children and 7 grandchildren who love to hear her stories.