Friday, February 24, 2012

From trash cans to tablecloths: A life in the hands of God

Before she knew how to read, ride a bike, or eat with a fork, little Carolyn Knefely knew how to survive. The oldest of three children, she was expected to take care of her brothers while her parents disappeared for days at a time—a tall order for a five-year-old.

Often left without food, she begged from the neighbors, rooted in trash cans, and taught her younger brothers (one still in diapers) how to distract the grocer while she pocketed something for them to eat.

A few years later, she and her brothers would count it a real treat when her new stepmother dropped them off at the movie theater for the day. The twelve cents she gave them didn’t go far, but there was always plenty of popcorn to eat—right off the theater floors.

I tried to align the image of this scavenging hooligan with the gracious woman before me about to demonstrate the proper way to approach a dining table—who knew there was one?

 “Enter from the right side of your chair,” she said. “Put your napkin on your lap with the fold toward you,” (images of mine spread out like a tablecloth across my knees). The lesson continued: how to pick the bread, and sip the soup, and lay the utensils to signal you’re done.

My instructor, the girl who didn’t know how to hold a fork until she was seven, is now a certified consultant in fine dining business etiquette and international protocol.

Don’t you love it.

 When weakness becomes strength.

When the place of adversity becomes the place of power.

When people rise above instead hide behind.

“How did you do it?” I asked.

But the telling has awakened memories of scrappy survival, emotional as much as physical, and there is no short route to this moment with the poised woman before me.

We go back to a day when her stepmother, angered because Carolyn wet the bed, threw the soggy mattress in the front yard and shamed her into spending the day on it for all to see.

Told repeatedly that no one wanted her, Carolyn lay on her mattress and prayed, “Dear God, Let me be your little girl.”

“That is what kept me sane,” she said. “Bad things have happened to me, but we all have choices. But it begins with the first choice—God.”

Over the course of the years to come, Carolyn would see how life-changing that first choice was and just how closely her Father had been watching over His little girl, as she made her way from stewardess to a sales and marketing exec, to career coach and fine dining business etiquette consultant.

 But that’s another story. 

I pray for anyone stopping by here today that you would be assured in the depths of your heart that no matter what the situation may look like, God’s plans are for good.With Him there is always a way.

Please visit Carolyn at

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Three Dog Night

The discussion question at the end of the hauntingly poignant memoir, Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas asks, what is the coldest night you have survived? What “dogs” helped you through it? (Referring to the number of dogs an Aborigine slept with to keep warm)

My literal coldest was easy. A Chippewa reservation in northern Minnesota. I was a VISTA volunteer living in a two room shack on the edge of town. The stray that had taken up housekeeping with me, whimpered me awake. I tried to move my feet under the covers and realized they were slow and stiff with cold. The oil line to the stove in the corner had frozen or clogged or did whatever they sometimes do when the temperature is fifty or so below zero.

How long I had slept without heat I don’t know, but I remember the difficulty I had stuffing my feet into the felt-lined rubber boots we clogged around in. I pulled the fur-trimmed hood of the air force parka close around my face making a long snout to warm the air before breathing into my lungs, and stepped out into the night.

The snow underfoot squeaked as I lifted one heavy foot after the other to walk the mile to town where there was a twenty-four cafĂ© that also served as the bus stop, police dispatch, and general news center. They must have served other things there too, because I know it wasn’t coffee they set before my frozen face when I stumbled in the door. The dog settled at my feet and we waited for morning and oil stove fix-it men.  

But my real three dog night involved neither temperature nor dogs. I was alone in a hospital, about to give birth to a child. A child conceived in a time of flower children and faith in false freedoms. A time when my good girl restraints were unfettered like a helium balloon escaped from a toddler’s arm.

Because I had no money, home, job, or tangible prospects for the future, my thought was to give this child to someone who did. But against all advice, I first wanted to see this person whose life I had so carelessly conceived. The doctor, more interested in showing his students an example of a “fine episiotomy” brushed off my concern with a cavalier, “Oh, there will be more beautiful babies.”

But what about this beautiful baby I wondered. “As it happened,” the ward for girls like me was being renovated, so I was given a private room. That night, in the slide projector of my mind, scenes from my life reeled by. I saw my recklessness, my self-centeredness, my selfishness contrasted against the beauty, value, and preciousness of a life. By morning, an idea had taken root, a conviction about what I was to decide.

It’s been many, many years since that night. A few Christmases back, I received a gift from the daughter of that child, now grown and special to my heart. The gift was a pencil, inscribed “To the world’s best grandma.”   

I thank the Lord often, that although I didn’t know Him that night back then, I know He was present, His eye on me as well as my little one, His heart toward us for a future and hope.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Home Alone

My brother’s wife has left him home alone for the past three weeks while she visits her parents in Florida. She may wish she hadn’t.

Some people are not good left to themselves for such a long period of time. They get fidgety. They suddenly notice that the kitchen walls still bear the fingerprints of their children who have now graduated from college.

They notice the chipped corners of the beige Formica counter, and it occurs to them that they never liked beige counters.  Eyes no longer distracted by the wife at the sink or the kids at the door, sweep over out-dated, nubby faucets and vintage microwaves.

And then, like a slow spreading sunrise, an idea forms.

They will surprise the wife, paint the kitchen, which unfortunately makes the cabinets look dingier than an old sponge, and maybe replace the counters, which leads to a new sink and faucets, and while they are at it, the stove and microwave, coffee maker, mixer. . . . 

Needless to say, one thing often leads to another, whether paint on the wall or a habit in the heart. Even the smudge of tribulation, by God’s grace, can lead to something good as the author of Romans points out:
Knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and  proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts.”—Romans 5:3-5

I pray for you who have paused here today, that in whatever circumstance, your heart would be painted with the hope that does not disappoint and that you would know the sufficiency of God’s grace in all that you apply your hand to,as you are being transformed into his image.

P.S. Last I heard, Bill was working his way down the hall. I hope his wife comes home soon. I’m pretty sure she’ll be surprised.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Discipline of Sitting

Referring to the discipline of writing, Flannery O’Connor says something to the effect that if you don’t sit there (at your desk) every day, the day “it” comes well, you won’t be there. I like what she says, although I have to admit, I have been sitting here all day with no sign of “it” coming well.

The wisdom in this advice, however, can be applied to other times of sitting.

 I am in the habit of rising before the sun, arming myself with coffee, and sitting for an hour with Lord. This is not always as spiritual as it sounds. Prayers wander, attention wavers, the dog wants to go out, and then come in. The husband sometimes comes with coffee and wants to talk; nonetheless, most days I appear at my spot on the couch and wait on the Lord.

And some days He comes well.

Yesterday morning I arrived at my spot with more coffee in my cup than faith in my heart. The night before, I had received some news that stopped up my breath and filled me with fear.  Someone I cared for deeply was in a serious state of despair, both physically and emotionally. I suspected they were losing hope, and to tell the truth, so was I.

I had prayed so often and was sure the Lord had given me specific words of healing and restoration. But this relentless downturn tempted me to consider the possibility that there would never be change. Seldom have I stared into such darkness.

Then, like a glint of light off a fleck of silica on the beach, Truth, nurtured from hours of early morning waiting and listening, flashed in my spirit. Words from Nehemiah roused me: Remember the Lord great and awesome and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, your land.

And so I prayed, not pitiful pleas of despair but prayers fat with the power of God.

A word, almost passed by, but returned to, settled in my heart . . . in their affliction they will earnestly seek my face-Hosea 5:15 and I knew my loved one would have their own God encounter.

The next day we received the phone call. The Lord had indeed intervened, had restored hope and vision for a future and a healing.

Yes, some days it seems I just show up, but I’m sure to be there when He shows up well.