THE SMELL OF RAIN
It was a cold March wind that chilled the air outside the hospital room of Diana Blessing that night when the doctor walked into her room. She was still groggy from surgery. Her husband, David, held her hand as they braced themselves for the news. That afternoon of March 10, 1991, complications had forced Diana, only 24-weeks pregnant, to undergo an emergency Cesarean to deliver couple's new daughter, Dana Lu Blessing.
At 12 inches long and weighing only one pound nine ounces, they already knew she was perilously premature. Still, the doctor's soft words dropped like bombs. "I don't think she's going to make it," he said, as kindly as he could. "There's only a 10-percent chance she will live through the night, and even then, if by some slim chance she does make it, her future could be a very cruel one."
Numb with disbelief, David and Diana listened as the doctor described the devastating problems Dana would likely face if she survived. She would never walk, she would never talk, she would probably be blind, and she would certainly be prone to other catastrophic conditions from cerebral palsy to complete mental retardation, and on and on.
"No! No!" was all Diana could say. She and David, already having a 5-year-old son, Dustin, had long dreamed of the day they would have a daughter to become a family of four. Now, within a matter of hours, that dream was slipping away.
But as those first days passed, a new agony set in for David and Diana. Because Dana's underdeveloped nervous system was essentially 'raw', the lightest kiss or caress only intensified her discomfort, so they couldn't even cradle their tiny baby girl against their chests to offer the strength of their love. All they could do, as Dana struggled alone beneath the ultraviolet light in the tangle of tubes and wires, was to pray that God would stay close to their precious little girl.
There was never a moment when Dana suddenly grew stronger. But as the weeks went by, she did slowly gain an ounce of weight here and an ounce of strength there. At last, when Dana turned two months old. her parents were able to hold her in their arms for the very first time. And two months later, though doctors continued to gently but grimly warn that her chances of surviving, much less living any kind of normal life, were next to zero, Dana went home from the hospital, just as her mother had predicted.
Five years later, Dana was a petite and feisty young girl with glittering gray eyes and an unquenchable zest for life. She showed no signs whatsoever of mental or physical impairment. Simply, she was everything a little girl can be and more. But that happy ending is far from the end of her story.
One blistering afternoon in the summer of 1996 near her home in Irving , Texas , five year old Dana was sitting in her mother's lap in the bleachers of a local ball park where her brother Dustin's baseball team was practicing. As always, Dana was chattering nonstop with her mother and several other adults sitting nearby when she suddenly fell silent . Hugging her arms across her chest, little Dana asked, "Do you smell that?"
Smelling the air and detecting the approach of a thunderstorm, Diana replied, "Yes, it smells like rain."
Dana closed her eyes and again asked, "Do you smell that?"
Once again, her mother replied, "Yes, I think we're about to get wet. It smells like rain." Still caught in the moment, Dana shook her head, patted her thin shoulders with her small hands and loudly announced, "No, it smells like Him. It smells like God when you lay your head on His chest."
Tears blurred Diana's eyes as Dana happily hopped down to play with the other children. Before the rains came that afternoon, her daughter's words had confirmed what Diana and all the Blessing family had known, at least in their hearts, all along. During those long days and nights of her first two months of her life, when her nerves were too sensitive for them to touch her, God was holding Dana on His chest and it is His loving scent that she remembers so well.
THE OLD PATHS
I liked the old paths, when Moms were at home. Dads were at work. Brothers went into the army. And sisters got married BEFORE having children!
Crime did not pay; Hard work did; And people knew the difference.
Moms could cook; Dads would work; Children would behave..
Husbands were loving; Wives were supportive; And children were polite.
Women wore the jewelry; And Men wore the pants. Women looked like ladies; Men looked like gentlemen; And children looked decent.
People loved the truth, And hated a lie; They came to church to get IN, Not to get OUT!
Hymns sounded Godly; Sermons sounded helpful; Rejoicing sounded normal; And crying sounded sincere.
Cursing was wicked; divorce was unthinkable.
The flag was honored; America was beautiful; And God was welcome!
We read the Bible in public; Prayed in school; And preached from house to house.
To be called an American was worth dying for;
To be called a Christian was worth living for;
To be called a traitor was a shame!
Sex was a personal word. Homosexual was an unheard of word; Abortion was an illegal word.
Preachers preached because they had a message; And Christians rejoiced because they had the VICTORY!
Preachers preached from the Bible; Singers sang from the heart; And sinners turned to the Lord to be SAVED!
A new birth meant a new life; Salvation meant a changed life; Following Christ led to eternal life.
Being a preacher meant you proclaimed the word of God; Being a deacon meant you would serve the Lord;
Being a Christian meant you would live for Jesus; And being a sinner meant someone was praying for you!
Laws were based on the Bible; Families read the Bible; And churches taught the Bible.
Preachers were more interested in new converts, than new clothes and new cars.
God was worshiped; Christ was exalted; and the Holy Spirit was respected.
Church was where you found Christians on the Lord's day, rather than in the garden, on the creek bank, on the golf course, or being entertained somewhere else.
I still like the old paths the best !
Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or those who squandered their means and then never had enough for the necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from receiving.
It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there hadn't been enough money to buy me the rifle that I wanted for Christmas. We did the chores early that night for some reason. I figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read in the Bible.
After supper was over I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Pa to get down the old Bible. I was still feeling sorry for myself and I wasn't in much of a mood to read Scriptures. But Pa didn't get the Bible, instead he bundled up again and went outside. I couldn't figure it out because we had already done all the chores. I didn't worry about it long though, I was too busy wallowing in self-pity. Soon Pa came back in. It was a cold clear night and there was ice in his beard. "Come on, Matt," he said. "Bundle up good, it's cold out tonight." I was really upset then. Not only wasn't I getting the rifle for Christmas, now Pa was dragging me out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see. We had already done all the chores, and I couldn't think of anything else that needed doing, especially on a night like this.
But I knew Pa was not patient with one dragging one's feet when he'd been told to do something, so I got up and put my boots back on and got my cap, coat, and mittens. Ma gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up, but I didn't know what.
Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled. Whatever it was we were going to do wasn't going to be a short, quick, little job. I could tell. We never hitched up this sled unless we were going to haul a big load.
Pa was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at me. I wasn't happy. When I was on, Pa pulled the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off and I followed. "I think we'll put on the high
sideboards," he said. "Here, help me." The high sideboards! It had been a bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on, but whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot bigger with the high sideboards on.
After we had exchanged the sideboards, Pa went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood - the wood I'd spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, and then all fall sawing into blocks and splitting.
What was he doing? Finally I said something. "Pa," I asked, "what are you doing?" You been by the Widow Jensen's lately?" he asked. The Widow Jensen lived about two miles down the road. Her husband had died a year before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight. Sure, I'd been by, but so what? "Yeah," I said, "Why?" "I rode by just today,"
Pa said. "Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They're out of wood, Matt."
That was all he said. Then he turned and went back into the woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him. We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it.
Finally Pa called a halt to our loading. Then we went to the smoke house and Pa took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait.
When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his left hand. "What's in the little sack?" I asked. "Shoes. They're out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I got the children a little candy, too. It wouldn't be Christmas without a little candy."
We rode the two miles to Widow Jensen's in silence. I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We didn't have much by worldly standards. Of course we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could use it. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn't have any money, so why was Pa buying them shoes and candy?
Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had closer neighbors than us; it shouldn't have been our concern. We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible, then we took the meat and flour and shoes to the door. We knocked. The door opened a crack and a timid voice said, "Who is it?" "Lucas Miles, Ma'am, and my son, Matt. Could we come in for a bit?"
Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her
shoulders. The children were wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the
fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all. Widow
Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp.
"We brought you a few things, Ma'am," Pa said and set down the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then Pa handed her the sack that had the shoes in it.
She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a time. There was a
pair for her and one for each of the children. Sturdy shoes, the best, shoes
that would last. I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from
trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks.
She looked up at Pa as if she wanted to say something, but it wouldn't come out.
"We brought a load of wood too, Ma'am," Pa said. He turned to me and said, "Matt, go bring in enough to last awhile. Let's get that fire up to size and heat up this place." I wasn't the same person when I went back out to get the wood. I had a big lump in my throat and as much as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too.
In my mind I kept seeing those three kids huddled around the fireplace, and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks with so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn't speak. My heart swelled within me, and a joy that I'd never known before filled my soul. I had given at Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so much difference. I could see that we were literally saving the lives of these people.
I soon had the fire blazing and everyone's spirits soared. The kids started giggling when Pa handed them each a piece of candy, and Widow Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn't crossed her face for a long time. She finally turned to us. "God bless you," she said. "I know the Lord has sent you. The children and I have been praying that he would send one of his angels to spare us."
In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears welled up in my eyes again. I'd never thought of Pa in those terms before, but after Widow Jensen mentioned it I could see that it was probably true.
I was sure that a better man than Pa had never walked the earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his way for Ma and me, and many others. The list seemed endless as I thought about it.
Pa insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that if he was on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.
Tears were running down Widow Jensen's face again when we stood up to leave. Pa took each of the kids in his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and didn't want us to go. I could see that they missed their Pa, and I was glad that I still had mine.
At the door Pa turned to Widow Jensen and said, "The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too many meals. We'll be here to get you about eleven. It'll be nice to have some little ones around again. Matt, here, hasn't been little for quite a spell." I was the youngest. My two brothers and two sisters had all married and moved away. Widow Jensen nodded and said, "Thank you, Brother Miles. I don't have to say, 'May the Lord bless you.' I know for certain that He will."
Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep within and I didn't even notice the cold. After we had gone a ways, Pa turned to me and said, "Matt, I want you to know something. Your ma and I have been tucking a little money away here and there all year so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn't have quite enough.
Yesterday a man who owed me a little money from years back came by to make things square. Your ma and I were really excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and I started into town this morning to do just that. But on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do. Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you understand."
I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I understood very well, and I was glad Pa had done it. Now the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. Pa had given me a lot more. He had given me the look on Widow Jensen's face and the radiant smiles of her three children. For the rest of my life, whenever I saw any of the Jensens, or split a block of wood, I remembered, and remembering brought back the same joy I had felt riding home beside Pa that night. Pa had given me much more than a rifle that night. He had given me the best Christmas of my life.
The cheerful little girl with bouncy golden curls was almost five. Waiting with her mother at the checkout stand, she saw them, a circle of glistening white pearls in a pink foil box.
"Oh Mommy please, Mommy, Can I have them? Please, Mommy, please."
Quickly the mother checked the back of the little foil box and then looked back into the pleading blue eyes of her little girlís upturned face.
"A dollar ninety-five. Thatís almost $2. If you really want them, Iíll think of some extra chores for you and in no time you can save enough money to buy them for yourself. Your birthdayís only a week away and you might get another crisp dollar bill from Grandma."
As soon as Jenny got home, she emptied her penny bank and counted out 17 pennies. After dinner she did more than her share of chores and she went to the neighbor and asked Mrs. McJames if she could pick dandelions for ten cents. On her birthday, Grandma did give her another new dollar bill and at last she had enough money to buy the necklace.
Jenny loved her pearls. They made her feel dressed up and grown up. She wore them everywhere, Sunday School, kindergarten, even to bed. The only time she took them off was when she went swimming or had a bubble bath. Mother said if they got wet they might turn her neck green.
Jenny had a very loving daddy, and every night when she was ready for bed, he would stop whatever he was doing and come upstairs to read her a story. One night as he finished the story, he asked, "Jenny, do you love me?"
"Oh yes, daddy. You know that I love you."
"Then give me your pearls."
"Oh, daddy, not my pearls. But you can have Princess, the white horse from my collection, the one with the pink tail. Remember, daddy? The one you gave me. Sheís my very favorite."
"Thatís okay, Honey, daddy loves you. Good night." And he brushed her cheek with a kiss.
About a week later, after story time, Jennyís daddy asked again, "Do you love me?"
"Daddy, you know I love you."
"Then give me your pearls."
"Oh Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have my baby doll. The brand new one I got for my birthday. She is beautiful and you can have the yellow blanket that matches her sleeper."
"Thatís okay. Sleep well. God bless you, little one. Daddy loves you." And as always, he brushed her cheek with a gentle kiss.
A few nights later when he came in, Jenny was sitting on her bed with her legs crossed Indian style. As he came close, he noticed her chin was trembling and one silent tear rolled down her cheek.
"What is it Jenny? Whatís the matter?"
Jenny didnít say anything but lifted her little hand up to her daddy. And when she opened it, there was her little pearl necklace. With a quiver, she finally said, "Here, daddy, this is for you."
With tears gathering in his own eyes, Jennyís daddy reached out with one hand to take the dime store necklace, and with the other hand he reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue velvet case with a strand of genuine pearls and gave them to Jenny.
He had them all the time. He was just waiting for her to give up the dime-store stuff so he could give her the genuine treasure. So it is with our Heavenly Father. He is waiting for us to give up the world trash so He can give us the Heavenly Kingdom.
PATRICK HENRY SAID:
"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ."
"Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? ...I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
"Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is impossible that a nation of infidels or idolaters should be a nation of free men. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, are incompatible with freedom."
SAMUEL ADAMS (1776) SAID:
"If ye love wealth greater than liberty; the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."