Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Painted House

If you read about the end of her life—at age 67 buried in a child’s coffin, lowered into a pauper’s grave—you might think how tragic. Maud Lewis lived with many physical defects, including crippled hands and hunched shoulders that caused her chin to rest against her chest. But her bold, happy spirit could have filled an art gallery—eventually it did.

Maud Lewis, born in rural Nova Scotia in 1903 lived a simple childhood, and by all accounts had a sweet disposition. As an adult, although awash in poverty and a bitter marriage, joy surfaced and found a stage in her folk art.

As a child, Maud’s mother taught her to hand-paint Christmas cards, which were sold to neighbors. She played the piano until her fingers grew too arthritic. Even though she quit school after the fifth grade, perhaps due to the taunting of classmates, she had a fairly normal life with her parents.

When her parent’s died in the late ‘30s, her life took a dismal turn. Her brother took the inheritance and left her penniless. A miserly fish peddler, Everett Lewis, hired Maud to be his housekeeper and married her. Their cottage had 272 square feet (16 sq. meters) of space with a sleeping loft. She lived in the one-room hut without electricity or plumbing until she died. A single window lighted the objects she decorated with her art.

Soon after marrying, she painted tulips, birds, animals, and flowers on nearly every surface of the house inside and out. Her miserly husband scrounged and furnished leftover boat paint. Her later paintings, he sold and often hid the money from her.

Maud painted tea tins, dust pans, wallpaper, window panes, and the cottage door. The tiny residence looked like a queen’s garden had bloomed. Fanciful birds, bees and butterflies had flocked to it. Even her wood burning cook stove boasted art work. Her art is in high demand today, and she has become the Grandma Moses of Canada.

After Maud and Everett Lewis were both gone, their small house remained empty for five years and fell into deterioration. An art gallery acquired the cottage and restored it. “The Painted House” now sits in a nook of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Hallifax. To date, it is the most beloved exhibit warehoused there.

With severely crippled hands, sardine tins for her palette and card board for canvases, Maud Lewis’ zest for life flowed through the tips of crude bristle brushes. The tiny frail woman refused to kowtow to a dingy existence.

Maud chose to brush stroke joy onto everyday life.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Golden Drumsticks

Need a gift for the holidays?

Cathy’s devotional book The Stained Glass Pickup is a thoughtful gift that will continue to encourage throughout the year. Read reviews at and Autographed copies available at

Golden Drumsticks

A happy heart makes the face cheerful. Proverbs 15:13

One dark and stormy Thanksgiving Day in my kitchen, I wrestled a thawed turkey onto the drain board. The snoozing sun, blanketed by thunderclouds, started to peek from the horizon. Groggy, I set the coffee maker to brewing wake-up java. Coffee done, I poured a cup and wrapped my hands around the warm mug. I read The Courier, and my eyes made their usual stops along the newsprint pages.

Finally, I could dally no longer, so I poured a second cup of coffee and laid out my turkey tools. Grabbing the kitchen shears, I snipped a hole in the snug plastic wrapper around the turkey, but a shiver of fright ran along my arms when I saw the price tag.

I blinked. I rubbed my eyes. I spewed coffee, and blinked again. What I saw couldn’t be true. The price tag read $39.71, BONELESS, SKINLESS TURKEY BREAST. What? I didn’t want all white meat. I wanted turkey drumsticks, and usually paid nothing for the Thanksgiving turkey. This Tom cost 40 bucks.

Those earlier November ads were clever. Grocers enticed shoppers with an offer of a free turkey. Many gave one away or only charged 39 cents per pound if a shopper bought at least $20.00 of mincemeat, marmalade, and mousse makings.

My mind returned to the plastic encased poultry. Did I really pay $40.00? Maybe he was free after all. I lathered hands, rinsed and dried and went in search of my grocery receipt. Locating it, a quadruple digit leaped out of the tallies. Sure enough, the main course, supposed-to-be-free fowl, had deficited my budget by nearly half a hundred.

It was too late to give “Tom” his freedom. Too late to return him to the grocer. Already, Austin, TX relatives were packing their cars, readying to drive to our house. I returned to the kitchen, snipped off his price tag and laid it aside.

Once more, I began to cut the plastic away from the turkey, I consoled myself that at least I’d bought a boneless skinless breast, and we’d have prime turkey. But no. Under the fancy price and phony label was a Pilgrim-plain, bone-in, drumstick-protruding turkey.

Through the rest of dinner preparations, like a neon sign, the $39.71 price tag flashed in my mind. I decided to keep my secret. I corralled my thoughts and shut down the complaint department and ordained “thanksgivings.”

By noon that day, pies were sliced, flaky rolls huddled in an old bun warmer, and a quarter cup of real butter melted on a mound of mashed potatoes. I lifted the browned, “golden,” bird from the oven. He preened on a silver platter.

At our feast table, guests seemed to enjoy cranberries, carrots, and costly turkey. His price tag intruded in my mind once more, and with each bite of turkey I swallowed half dollars—caching, ca-ching.

I consoled myself. Someday, I’d memorialize this old bird in a story. He could outlive the gravy and the clan. I recalled other renowned fowl—Daffy and Donald Duck, Chicken Little, Tweety Bird, the goose that laid the golden eggs.

If I keep retelling the story of pricey Tom Turkey, he might join the ranks of other famous fowl. He might make a name for himself, after all.

Wat fun holiday memories do you recall?

The cheerful heart has a continual feast. Proverbs 15:15

Friday, November 16, 2007

Gift Tags

Need a gift for the holidays? Cathy’s devotional book The Stained Glass Pickup is a thoughtful gift that will continue to encourage throughout the year. Read reviews at Amazon and

Purchase autographed copies here . Or contact for prices on two or more autographed copies.

Visit Leafwood Publishers / ACU Press for other gift book ideas.

Leigh McLeroy, author of The Beautiful Ache: Finding the God Who Satisfies When Life Does Not, wrote about the tags that God leaves on his gifts to us. Ms. McLeroy and the Thanksgiving holiday led me to think about 2007 blessings.

Heard any Canadian geese flying south this fall? In their flight pattern, an inked signature from God wasn’t sky-written, but his one-of-a-kind mark was in their V-formation.

Last month, when presenting at a women’s renewal in a forested setting, I saw my first Johnny jump-up plant with delicate violet flowers and purple seed pods, and there in the wooded glen—God’s name tag.

Last year at this time, I mentioned the Thousand Gifts List by Ann Voskamp. She said, “I am daily jotting down items on my ‘Thousand Gifts List.’" The discipline of writing down gifts opened her eyes to things unseen before.

She is “working, one-by-one, up to a thousand gifts. Not of gifts I want. But of gifts I have.” Assisted by my “Thousand Gifts List,” I took a short journey back to January of 2007. A few of my favorites:

The smile that spread across three-year-old granddaughter Jolie’s face when she first picked up a harmonica and “played” it. My son married, bringing his wife, Pam, and her five-year-old daughter into our family. Natalie became an instant grandchild, who immediately called me “Grandma Cathy.”

Other gifts were the funny words of Adam, six-year-old grandson. One hour after last year’s Thanksgiving feast that fed 21, he opened my refrigerator and asked, “Grandma, do you have ANYTHING to eat in here?” My conversations with Grandson Jack, nearly ten, deepened. We still talk trivia, but we also talk about social and political issues.

Other gifts came from our customers. We rarely have trouble collecting monies but have occasionally. As many businesses do, if illness or hard times caused delayed payments, we wrote off the debts.

Two customers who owed money contacted us this year and paid in full. One owed us money for three years, the other for 11 years! Their integrity refreshed my faith.

Among other blessings, my husband and I still have four living parents, each couple celebrating over 60 years of marriage. I especially treasure my husband, who still holds my hand.

Author Leigh McLeroy said God’s gifts with nametags are gratifying, but “it's the Giver who really makes my heart sing. Any gift divorced from its giver is a lifeless thing.”

Preparations for guests, pie baking and turkey stuffing might crowd next week, but carve out a bit of one-to-one quiet time and give thanks to the Giver.

What is the number one thing on your "thanksgiving" list?

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Cost Per Mile

Travel cost per mile is on the rise.

If you live in Texas, those costs may happen on numbered roads. When I tell folks from out of state that we live on “FM 2854,” some have asked if Texans aren’t clever enough to come up with names for roads.

“FM” means “farm to market.” A few ranchers didn’t like the term “farmer,” so some roads are officially noted as “RM” for ranch to market. And when the cities finally crowd pig, goat, and oat farmers off the land, a road can be changed to “UR,” urban road.

Paul Burka gives stats about these numeric roads in Texas Monthly. FM 168 is the longest farm road—140 “straight-arrow miles,” running through cotton and grain fields west of Lubbock, not even touching a town of more than 2,500. Least traveled is FM 2167 in Briscoe County, maxed out at 10 cars per day near Silverton leading to a Boy Scout camp.

Busier than an ant trail, FM 1093 in Houston is the most traveled farm-to-market. An average of 61,000 vehicles a day travels 1093 in front of the Galleria Mall, also known as Westheimer Road. I vote to change the prefix of FM 1093 to UR, urban road.

The cost for traveling these roads is on the rise. Trust me. The price of beans is going up—again. Close to everything we consume is trucked. When I whine about the cost of diesel, most folk don’t realize that eighteen wheelers only get five miles per gallon of fuel. Tugging 80,000 pounds of freight is costly.

When diesel hit the $3.20 mark this week, our company cost was $6.40 for every 10 miles each truck traveled. Those costs didn’t include insurance, equipment cost or maintenance. Have you priced a new Peterbilt lately?

I’m really not complaining, just stating facts. My husband and I breathe prayers of thanks for each safe day on the roads and for each moment our business is in the profit margin. Our pocket book is not hurting nearly so much as those who pay premium prices to drive to minimum wage jobs.

Roads and driving expenses have me thinking about costs in life—especially about the costs of walking with Jesus. Jesus told his disciples to make up a price-list, and he gave the example of house building. A dream home is one thing, the actual pricing of lumber and porcelains is quite another. Before homebuilding, a thoughtful planner lists all the materials and prices. Who wants to lay a foundation, frame up interior rooms and then find that insulation and drying-in materials are too expensive.

For any who follow Jesus’ path, the disciple-cost price-list could be a helpful exercise, for novice Christians and those on church rolls since the printing press. Why not write out a personal price list. What will the next ten years cost to follow Jesus? To follow the same road Jesus traveled, things may need giving up, handed out or reined in.

Some of Jesus’ disciples gave up professions. Others learned the freedom of giving rather than receiving. Some were rejected by family. One woman poured out repentant tears and received forgiveness. Mahatma Gandhi observed, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians, for they are so unlike your Christ.” Then to Gandhi’s India, Mother Teresa came along and gave a better witness to the Christ.

When you travel on the roads near your home—FM, RM, UR—and you think about the cost of fuel these days, also think about your Jesus price-list. What is the cost per mile to follow him?

For the holidays: Purchase copies of The Stained Glass Pickup at or Order autographed copies at

Friday, November 02, 2007

Word Palette

Jolie, my three-year-old granddaughter, is learning to speak English. From toddler gibberish she progressed to complex sentences and words. A few weeks ago, we took her north to Huntsville, Texas. She had recently heard the word “hospital.” When we left to travel north, she told her Pop, “We’re going to Huntspital.”

When our son Russell was acquiring his language skills, he combined “eyelashes” and “eyebrows” into one common word, “eyebrashes.” He also had cemetery and cafeteria confused. In his world, people were buried in cafeterias and had meals in cemeteries.

Where would we be without words, written or spoken? We would no doubt be reduced to animal like communications where we trumpeted, woofed, and cackled. But, thank God, he blessed humans with not only the ability to communicate necessary information, but we can transcend commercial language and express deeper thoughts through verbal expressions of concern, poetry and love notes.

In greeting cards, if you care enough to send the very best a Hallmark card is chosen. Their adept marketing touts their merit through ad campaigns. Hallmark hires trend experts so when we belly up to their card rack, we’ll find the exact words to express our sentiments.

In 2006, their trend experts identified prevalent needs in American society, things they’ve noticed for nearly a decade, that’s when they are categorized as trends. “An emerging and strengthening trend is the search for meaning in a technological, rapidly moving, pressure-filled society – and the sense of dissonance that results.”

Marita Wesely-Clough, a Hallmark trends expert, wrote that “attitudes, perceptions and behavior continually evolve into trends and as individuals, the nation and the world adjust to change, some trends become cultural characteristics.”

God knew that the search for meaning is a life-long trend. To assist us, he created language—the language we use in the market place and the vulnerable language we use to strengthen relationships with family and to pour out woes and praise to God.

Jesus, the embodiment of heaven’s language, behaved, loved, noticed, forgave, extended mercy and righted injustices. In his life, we read good language, God-language.

Just as little children learn language skills, adults are still learning, too. A proverb says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (25:11). Families need artists. From a palette of effective words, we can create masterpieces that inspire members to a higher calling.