Welcome to A Look Through My Lens

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by Rebecca D. Higgins

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This website says my name is Rebecca D. Higgins, and it is my official name. However, most people just call me Becky. I’ve always loved stories and pictures. Sometimes the pictures are painted with words and sometimes the stories are found in pictures. Here you’ll find that I dabble a bit in both.

I once read a quote by photographer Dorothea Lange that resonated with me: “The camera is an instrument that teaches people to see without a camera.” Whether I’m looking through the viewfinder of my camera or just looking around, I have become an observer of the world around me, and I like to capture my observations in words and in pictures. My camera has indeed helped me to see the world through new eyes . . . to observe beauty in the ordinary . . . to stop to appreciate and capture moments that in our busyness we too often ignore or simply fail to see. I’ve come to value such moments—moments that remind me of God’s grace and care whether it’s while hiking woodland trails or sitting in quiet on mountain ridges or beside the ripples of creeks. In those moments I’ve come to appreciate the creative design in the delicate beauty of a butterfly’s wings, to savor the warm glow of a sunset, to enjoy the morning fog as it lifts off of the river. While those scenes and places are my preferred haunts, I have also learned to walk with eyes and heart open on crowded city streets where homeless huddle in doorways, in busy shopping malls where harried mothers try to corral cranky children, and in retirement homes where blank stares mask a person’s memories. Whispered through all of those moments has been the reminder to take the time to “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a). What is God doing in that moment? What is He teaching? How is His grace at work? And how does He want me to be His hands and feet to extend the grace I have received to others? I guess you could say that the filter on my lens through which I see and write is my faith in Jesus Christ.

I invite you to come along and take A Look Through My Lens at what I see and what God is teaching me about His grace in my own life and in the lives of others.

If you would like to see more of my photos, you can follow my Instagram account (rdh_photo) and purchase some selected prints at rebeccadhiggins.pixels.com

Walking the Yard: Raindrops and Tears

This morning I saw that the New Year’s forecast for my area is for rain and storms–not unlike some of the storms we’ve seen throughout the months of 2020.

Rose of sharon blossom dripping in the rain

This year has brought numerous flash flood warning pop-ups on my mobile phone, days of rain that have left the ground with pools of standing water, and wind gusts that have rattled the windows and scattered broken branches on the driveway and yard.

In a figurative sense, most of us would describe the year 2020 as a storm that has left a trail of debris and casualties in its wake. It’s been a tough one for most of us. But sometimes the storms we’ve experienced this year have been internal where the tears have fallen like rain in the dark of the night when no one else is around to hear the sobs muffled by our tear-dampened pillows. We cry alone and wonder if anyone knows or cares.

But then I step out into the yard after a rain, and I see collected on every leaf, petal, and blade of grass the evidence of the storm–evidence in the form of raindrops sparkling like diamonds, bedazzling the blossoms and trees that have gathered them.

Iris in the rain

As I see those raindrop collections shining from the leaves in the yard, I know that my teardrops too are seen and known. I am reminded of the words of the psalmist: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8 NLT). Jesus, our Savior, who himself wept, cares about our burdens and sorrows. We are not alone! He holds our tears, precious to Him as diamonds. Sometimes it is in those “dark nights of the soul” that we learn valuable lessons about trusting even in the dark when we cannot see what lies ahead.

Years ago Gordon Jensen wrote the song “Tears Are a Language” that expresses how much God does see, know, and care about our grief and tears.

Often you wonder why tears come into your eyes
And burdens seem to be much more than you can bear
But God is standing near, He sees your falling tears
And tears are a language God understands.

Japanese maple leaves bedazzled with raindrops

God sees the tears of a brokenhearted soul
He sees your tears and hears them when they fall
God weeps along with man and He takes him by the hand
Tears are a language God understands.

When grief has left you low it causes tears to flow
When things have not turned out the way that you had planned
But God won’t forget you His promises are true
And tears are a language God understands.

God sees the tears of a brokenhearted soul
He sees your tears and hears them when they fall
God weeps along with man and He takes him by the hand
Tears are a language that my God He understands.

If we flip to the back of the Book, we can know the conclusion even as some of the details of our individual stories are still playing out. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true'” (Revelation 21:3‭-‬5 NIV).

Someday the crying will cease, the tears will be wiped away, and we will be forever with the One who has forever been with us even on our darkest nights. Oh, what a day that will truly be!

Raindrops on roses

Walking the Yard: How Much More…

by Rebecca D. Higgins

The lenses a photographer chooses to use make a big difference on how the subject matter is seen. A wide-angle lens takes in the big picture while a macro lens enlarges little details. Both have their place in photography, and both lens types have their metaphorical place in life.

A dandelion seedhead dampened by early morning dew.

In a year like 2020 with so many unexpected interruptions and crises that wreaked havoc on our big-picture plans, focusing on smaller details became the stuff of our everyday lives. Shopping–whether online or in the stores–revealed a sense of urgency people had to obtain the little but necessary items. Empty meat counters and bare toilet paper and cleaning supply aisles became a visual testimony of people’s worries about the availability of basic necessities.

But as I walked the yard, my own personal list of worrisome questions clamored for answers. I won’t reiterate all those questions here because, as I already stated, they’re personal. However, I readily acknowledge there were many days that I physically felt the anxiety in my chest and the pit of my stomach. But that was when the macro view actually became a blessing.

The tiny blossoms of bluets provide a colorful contrast to the green grass.

I always kept my eyes open to see a splash of contrasting color in the grass that would indicate the presence of a wildflower. Dandelions and bluets, violets and daisies are just a few of the delicate petals that appeared throughout this year. Sometimes the best way to photograph the intricate details of such tiny specimens is to change my posture to kneel or to lie prone in the grass even though I admit the stiffness in my joints makes it much harder to get back up than it did a few years ago. On my knees or on my stomach I am afforded a better view of the variety of amazing designs the Creator has made that we rarely stop long enough to notice. By bending to that position I am reminded that a posture or attitude of humble submission is always the place to start in seeking God and His kingdom.

Flowers weren’t the only source of colorful variety on my pilgrimages in the yard this year. A long list of feathered friends also became points of focus. I watched as robins hopping on the grass tilted their heads before digging in the dirt and coming up with a juicy worm for a nice meal for their family. The contented songs of birds in the cherry trees led me to observe their enthusiastic feasting on the tiny fruit. Every time I observed chickadees up close, their little beaks seemed to be stuffed full with seeds.

A catbird enjoying a spring feast.

Everywhere I looked around the yard were reminders of a benevolent Creator who cares about the tiniest details. As I observed, my thoughts drew me once again to Matthew 6 where Jesus admonishes His followers not to worry.

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

Just as I prepared to snap this photo of a perfect daisy, a tiny bee landed and added to the composition.

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:25-33 NLT).

It’s not by accident that these words of Jesus appear in the same chapter as His sample prayer that includes the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It’s interesting to note that the prayer doesn’t include a plea for a ten-year plan. Instead, Jesus focused on daily needs. When we come to God in a humble posture on a daily basis–not weekly, not monthly, not yearly–we acknowledge our utter dependence upon Him and not our own ideas and plans. Our life was formed by Him, and we can trust the continuing details into His hands as well. He cares for the birds and the wildflowers beautifully, but He has made it clear that those examples are just reminders of how much more precious we are in His sight and that He cares for us. With those visual reminders in the yard, I found myself singing the lyrics of the old gospel song “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” not always because I felt happy and free but as an act of faith that proclaimed even in uncertain times: “I know He watches me.”

  1. Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
    Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,
    When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
    • Refrain:
      I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
      For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
  2. “Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
    And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
    Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
  3. Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
    When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
    I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
    (Lyrics by Civilla D. Martin)
Most of the time the chickadees would alight in the Japanese maple near the house, their beaks would be stuffed with seeds.

Walking the Yard: Light in the Darkness

by Rebecca D. Higgins

When the world came to a screeching halt in March of 2020 with stay-at-home orders put into effect, I began to walk around the yard with my camera almost on a daily basis. It was a purposeful decision. I didn’t want my only focus to be on the news and social media. Over a number of years I have learned that the observation involved in nature photography has helped me to see better in general. And with all of the confusion of this year, seeing better became not just a priority but a necessity.

The contrast of light and shadows.

Dorothea Lange, a Depression-era photojournalist, wisely remarked, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” I’ve found that to be true. Ms. Lange explained her statement further: “This benefit of seeing…can come only if you pause a while, extricate yourself from the maddening mob of quick impressions ceaselessly battering our lives, and look thoughtfully at a quiet image…the viewer must be willing to pause, to look again, to meditate.” What better time than in the midst of a pandemic to put that into daily practice by observing what I could see just in the boundaries of the yard!

Light is one of the key components in photography. When I am out and about in nature, I find myself looking for the natural light source or a unique contrast of light and shadows. In a year when so much has contributed to the darkness in our world, finding the light in the midst of the darkness has become even more compelling. In my walks in the yard, I have found myself especially fascinated by the backlit or sidelit images of blossoms and leaves. It’s as though they are lit from within. Color becomes more vibrant. The minute details of their life-sustaining veins come into sharp focus. But this is never more apparent than when the surrounding leaves or blossoms are in shadow. The contrast is striking.

The backlit beauty of maple seeds and leaves.

Throughout this year I have been blessed to observe people who exude light even in the midst of the darkness. In spite of sickness, loss of loved ones, and extremely difficult circumstances, they have shone brightly because they have the Light of Christ within them.

Several years ago I visited the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky. Its facade is patterned after Paris, France’s famous Notre Dame Cathedral, and it is adorned with 82 colorful stained-glass windows depicting scenes in the life of Jesus and the church. The beauty, colors, and details of those windows are not readily seen by those passing by on the street during the day. But when night falls and the lights within the cathedral shine through those meticulously crafted windows, their beauty radiates to all. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross observed, “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

The darkness of this year has certainly revealed the true beauty of some of those who carry the Light within. They are like the jars of clay about which the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:5-10 NLT:

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” 

Paul and this cloud of clay pot witnesses urge each of us in the midst of a trying year to hold fast to the Light of Jesus. Many still walking in darkness are searching for hope and the Light that will dispel the darkness. “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT).

Perhaps it is because we have just experienced the “Christmas Star,” the confluence of the planets Saturn and Jupiter, but as I have written these observations today, the words of the following song have been replaying in my mind:

I was a seeker alone in a dark world,
I looked for truth but settled for lies.
I had been blinded, I couldn’t see
Till a Star in Bethlehem’s sky opened my eyes.

I have seen the Light shining in the darkness,
Bursting through the shadows, delivering the dawn.
I have seen the Light whose holy name is Jesus,
His kingdom is forever; He reigns on Heaven’s throne!

There in a manger, an innocent baby;
Who would believe that He was the One;
I can believe it, I know it’s true;
He changed my life; He is the light; He is God’s Son!

I have seen the Light shining in the darkness,
Bursting through the shadows, delivering the dawn.
I have seen the Light whose holy name is Jesus,
His kingdom is forever; He reigns on Heaven’s throne!

We must tell the world what we’ve seen today in Bethlehem!
He’s the promised King; we bow down and worship Him!
We will Worship Christ The King!

I have seen the Light shining in the darkness,
Bursting through the shadows, delivering the dawn.
I have seen the Light whose holy name is Jesus,
His kingdom is forever; He reigns on Heaven’s throne!

(Authors: Chris Machen, Robert Sterling)

Lord, may we always be seekers of the Light, and may our lives display that true Light of Christ to those around us even when surrounded by the darkness.

A sunburst through the trees on the edge of the driveway early on Easter Sunday morning 2020.

Walking the Yard: A Retrospective Series of Lessons from 2020

by Rebecca D. Higgins

This is the time of year when publications and news organizations begin to look back on the major stories from the preceding twelve months. I’m sure that the many retrospectives of 2020 that will appear over the next couple of weeks will show just how wild, crazy, and devastating 2020 has been.

Stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, quarantines, and self-isolation have characterized much of the year. What do you do under such restrictions? One option is to walk the yard. If you look the phrase “walking the yard” up on Google, it immediately connects it to its prison connotations. In a year of lockdowns, I guess that’s appropriate. As the world as we knew it came to a grinding halt, I literally walked the yard with my camera in hand.

This retrospective series is not so much a look at the events that took place in the world or even in my own personal life but rather some life lessons that presented themselves as I roamed the yard and focused my camera on nature and the everyday objects around me. So, I invite you to stay tuned to my blog as I share some of those lessons impressed on my mind and heart as I walked the yard in 2020.

The Beauty of Little Things

by Rebecca D. Higgins

How many times do we miss the intricate beauty of small things in our search for the big?

Last week I made my way along a North Carolina section of the Blue Ridge Parkway anticipating the expansive sweep of scenic mountain vistas decorated in their vibrant autumn hues of red and gold. From my car window I spied an opening where the mountains and valleys were awash with color.

Unfortunately, at that spot there was no place to pull over, but I was happy to find one of the many overlook pullouts just a short distance down the road. I was disappointed, however, to find that the view I had observed from my car window was obscured at the overlook. No problem! I grabbed my camera and hiked back along the road I had come, intent on finding that sweeping mountain view. But as I trudged through wet leaves and weeds in my search for the big panorama, I discovered a tiny gem hiding in the dirt and weeds. A little bud of a wildflower I did not recognize was peeping up amongst the weeds in the ditch.

I paused to observe and capture its delicate charm with my zoom lens, and I was reminded once again that I should never pass over the beauty of small things in my search for the big. Mountaintop views are not the only place to find beauty. If we keep our eyes open, sometimes we are surprised by little treasures hiding in the ditches of life.

I Will Remember You

I walk along the silent rows
Of markers gleaming white;
Memorial Day has come again
Where flags adorn each site.
But as I move among the graves,
A whisper seems to rise–
It stirs within my very soul–
I hear those silenced cries.

“Don’t see me as a marble slab
But stop and say my name;
Don’t let me be forgotten here
As years go by the same.
I lived, I loved, I breathed the air,
I stood up straight and tall–
And when my country needed me,
I answered to the call.
I’m not a name that’s etched in stone
That fades as time goes by;
Remember me–the person–who
Laid down my life to die
That freedom’s song may still be sung
And tyranny be stayed.
The cost was high, but well I knew
It truly must be paid.
Don’t pass me by with hurried feet
Without a thought or look,
But read my story etched in stone
Instead of in a book.
And as you pause and say my name,
Forgotten, I am not–
Oh, lift the torch of freedom high–
With precious blood ‘twas bought.”

I stop and place my hand upon
The stone that’s hard and cold
I speak the name aloud again
Of one—the brave, the bold.
Saluting then I make my pledge
Of what I choose to do:
“As long as my own breath remains,
I WILL REMEMBER YOU!”

© 2020 Rebecca D. Higgins

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Cloudy Days

by Rebecca D. Higgins

One of the features that I like about Facebook is that each day it pulls up memories of things you have posted on that date in previous years.

This morning in the midst of the turmoil of the Covid 19 crisis, I was reminded of a beautiful truth as I read a memory from 2015.

March 26, 2015

The last couple of mornings as I drove to work, I was privileged to be a front-row observer of spectacularly beautiful sunrises.

This morning was a different story. The rain had already started when I stepped out of my apartment and headed to my car. As I merged onto the interstate, the clouds were heavy and dark, and the rain poured, greatly limiting visibility. But then I saw it! A glance to the east revealed a glow through the clouds where the sun was still rising as it does every day. It was a beautiful reminder that even when the storm clouds are darkest and dump rain on our lives, the sun is still there. The storm won’t last forever, and we WILL see the sun burst through the clouds in time.

If you’re facing a storm today, just know that the SON is still there even if the clouds seem to obscure Him momentarily from your view. Trust Him in the dark, and you will once again see His Light burst through the clouds to guide your way.

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Never Forget: My 9/11 Memories

by Rebecca D. Higgins

Solemn anniversaries such as 9/11 cause many of us to reflect on where we were on September 11, 2001. My story is a bit different. I wasn’t on American soil on that beautiful September Tuesday morning. I was living in Vladimir, Russia where I worked at a small Bible college many, many miles away from family. There was an eight-hour time difference between New York and Vladimir. When the first plane hit the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. EST, it was already 4:46 p.m. in Russia. I was working in my office at our ministry center. We had begun a new school year at the beginning of the month, and I had paperwork and lesson preparations that kept me busy. There were no news headlines, television screens, or cell phones in that office to alert me as to what was happening half a world away.

My friend Katya stopped by to urge me to put my work away for a while to go to a party. Two young women from our local church were scheduled to fly to the U.S. the next day for an exchange program, and there was a going-away party for them that night at some friends’ apartment.

Rather than haul my book-laden heavy backpack with me to the party, I opted to leave it in the office and planned to run by to pick it up before I went on home for the night. I had no personal car in Russia, so Katya and I took the public bus as usual to the nearest bus stop and walked the rest of the way to the party location. Again, there were no phones or TV alerts to interrupt the party. I’m not sure how long I stayed, but it was dark by the time I headed back to the ministry center. My plan had been to pick up my backpack and head on home. Instead, I settled in to work once again in my office and was oblivious of time.

The only other people in the building were a few students who lived in some rooms upstairs. Normally, our ministry field director and his wife would have been in their apartment upstairs at the other end of the building, but they were out of town. For anyone trying to reach me by phone, it was impossible. While I had a phone in my office, it didn’t ring directly. Outside calls came in on another line and had to be directed to that phone. Since it was after hours, the main phone went to an answering machine.

It was probably somewhere around 10:00 p.m. that I was startled by a knock on my office door. I looked up and saw my colleague Tamara through the glass. As I let her in, she asked, “Did Paul get a hold of you? He’s been trying to reach you all night but couldn’t find you.” Paul was our Russian go-to guy that handled a lot of business arrangements for us.

“No. What’s wrong?” I asked, immediately concerned. “How did you know I was here?”

“I finally got through to Katya, and she told me that you were coming back to the ministry center from the party. Since I couldn’t reach you at your apartment, I decided to walk over to see if you were still here. I knew you needed to know what was going on.” (Tamara lived a short walking distance away from the ministry center.)

It was at that moment that I learned the horror that had been unfolding over the last several hours at home. I sat with my jaw dropped in disbelief as Tamara described for me the fate of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center,  the damaged Pentagon, and the United Flight 93 plane that had crashed in Pennsylvania.

Never Forget 911 wm

Incredulous, I know I kept repeating myself: “The towers are gone?!! . . . They collapsed?!! . . . Oh, my! How many lives have been lost?”

Tamara told me that as soon as Paul had called her she had turned on the TV. Normally, the only English news we could get was from the BBC, but a channel that was usually for foreign-language movies (including many American films) had changed their satellite to pick up CNN America that was covering the 9/11 attacks.

After Tamara and I talked for a bit, I was eager to put my work away and get home for the night. She left, and I called a taxi to come pick me up. Even though to most people I met in Russia it was pretty obvious that I was an American, I definitely tried to keep a lower profile by limiting my talking on taxi rides, especially when alone at night. That night was different, however.

When the taxi arrived, I climbed into the back seat and gave the driver my destination. As we pulled out and headed down the darkened streets of Vladimir, the driver asked me a direct question in Russian: “Where are you from?”

Having just been informed of the tragedy unfolding in my country, I knew why he was asking. I answered simply, “I’m from the United States.”

“It’s terrible what’s happened!” he declared.

I told him that I had just found out and was eager to make sure my family members were all okay. As he let me out, he again expressed how terrible the events of the day were.

I hurried into the apartment building. The tiny elevator that took me to the top floor where my apartment was located seemed to be so much slower that night.

As soon as I closed the apartment door behind me and dropped my bag on the floor, I headed straight for the TV. I pushed the channel buttons until TV1000 came on, and there for the first time I saw the pictures of the unfolding tragedy—videos that have become so familiar in the years since. I wept.

I honestly don’t remember when or how I contacted my family– whether I called or if I emailed. At that time my uncle traveled a lot by plane, and I was concerned about where he was. When I got in touch with my aunt, she assured me that he was okay. I later learned that my mom had been traveling home from South Carolina by herself when reports of the attacks came on the radio of her car. Having lived through World War 2 and remembering the attack on Pearl Harbor, she was terrified and eager to get home.

If I slept that night, it was only fitful dozing on the couch in front of the TV. I sat there most of the night with my eyes glued to the screen praying out loud that survivors would be found and for the families of those who had lost loved ones. Like everyone else, I was in shock.

As I saw the planes hit the towers of the World Trade Center and watched them collapse in voluminous clouds of dust and smoke enveloping Lower Manhattan, my mind flew back to my only “visit” to New York City. There was no sightseeing except from the window of an airplane as I had flown in and out of JFK just a little over a year before as I returned to Russia after flying home to attend my father’s funeral. Having never been to New York before, I had eagerly looked out the window for the familiar landmarks of Manhattan highlighted in the golden glow just before sunset. I could hardly fathom that what I was seeing on my TV screen was the same place.

The next morning I headed back to the ministry center where our school day was scheduled to begin with a chapel service. Knowing that not all of our students had televisions and might not have been informed of what was taking place in the United States, I shared with them. I knew that not just American lives were lost that day, that the 9/11 attacks had global impact. Our chapel service that morning became a prayer meeting.

Later that morning, I was working in the Bible college office when a woman who had attended our church on several occasions entered. She had since moved from Vladimir to an outlying village. That morning when she heard of the tragedy in the United States, she wanted to come to our ministry center because she knew there were Americans there. She handed me a single carnation and embraced me, exclaiming over and over how terrible she felt and that she wanted to give me that flower in remembrance. For her, I was the representative for my whole country, and she wanted all Americans to know how sorry she was.

As an American in the aftermath of a tragedy that cut deeply into the heart of my country, I would have loved to have gathered with family and many other Americans to embrace, cry, pray, and sing our collective anthems. However, my experience was different. I was far from home, far from my country. The tears that joined mine, the arms that embraced me, and the prayers that surrounded me were from my brothers and sisters in Christ who happened to have a very different passport than I did.

While my 9/11 memories incorporate the American Stars and Stripes and anthems, they go much farther than that. My 9/11 memories remind me that as a follower of Christ, my citizenship isn’t just in an earthly nation but in God’s kingdom; and I have brothers and sisters from every language and nationality. In Christ, the dividing walls are broken . . . or at least they should be if we are walking in obedience to Him. Today when I read the comments that flow across my social media –comments that are so divisive in nature even from people who call themselves Christians, I sometimes think we have forgotten who we are. On 9/11, I never want to forget the lives that were lost on that fateful Tuesday so many years ago and the impact that tragedy had on my country, but I also never want to forget who I am in Christ and who He calls me to be. NEVER FORGET!

Choose Kindness!

by Rebecca D. Higgins

It’s the end of the grading period at our school, and like English and history teachers everywhere I still have a stack of papers waiting to be graded. I had decided earlier that I was going to stay late tonight and tomorrow to work in my classroom since I have more room to spread out there.

Students and fellow teachers left, and the cleaning crew arrived. Suddenly, the weakness that comes from eating snacks instead of actual meals set in, and I knew I had to take a break and get something more substantial to eat.

I headed up the street to a local Mexican restaurant. As I was led to a booth, I saw that a young couple with a toddler were seated behind me. Perusing the menu, I found myself squinting through tired eyes made blurry by a long day of reading papers and computer screens.

Suddenly, an ear-piercing shriek erupted directly behind me. My first inward thought was “Oh, dear! I’m too tired to eat my meal with a baby wailing in my ear!” But then I stopped and reminded myself that the toddler’s parents certainly didn’t want to hear it either, and I needed to respond with kindness.

IMG_20191018_151740I turned slightly and spoke over my shoulder. “It sounds like someone is tired,” I commented.

“It’s more likely that she’s breaking in a new tooth,” was the father’s reply.

“Oh, that’s even more reason to cry!” I sympathized.

There was a slight lull in the angry cries before they resumed once again at a high decibel almost directly in my ear as the child was held against her father’s shoulder behind me.

“I’m sorry for the loud screams in your ear,” the father apologized.

“That’s okay,” I told him. “Children are children, and they cry when they need to. Don’t worry about it.”

After a few more minutes, the mother got up and took the distressed toddler outside. Dad boxed up their leftovers and in a few moments headed towards the door himself. As he passed my table, he turned and said, “Have a good night.”

“Thank you. You, too!”

I continued the rest of my meal with the quiet murmur of adult voices around me. As I savored the last morsel of my food, the waitress approached to ask if I needed more water. “No, I’m fine. Thank you!”

She lingered. “Also,” she smiled as she said, “the couple who was sitting behind you paid for your meal!”

Choose kindness!

Beyond Outward Appearances

by Rebecca D. Higgins 

Perhaps it was the recent invitation from my alma mater inviting me to my 30-year class reunion at Homecoming this year or simply today’s date.  Whatever the reason, I found myself rummaging through my files today in search of something I had written a long time ago–back in college, to be exact!  I was a student at what was then Marion College (now Indiana Wesleyan University). One day as I walked across the campus in early 1985, one of my professors stopped me to ask if I was planning to enter the Paul W. Thomas Christian Writing Contest sponsored by The Wesleyan Church. “I don’t know anything about it,” was my response. She gave me the details and strongly encouraged me to enter. That was all the incentive I needed to sit down and write an essay that had been on my heart to write for some time. The following is the result. The bonus was that it won first place in the nonfiction category that year!

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Hands trembling, picking at imaginary threads, the wrinkled woman sits quietly in the rocking chair in the corner of the room. As I secretly observe her movements, I wonder what thoughts pass through her mind causing her to fiddle so industriously with the red and white crocheted coverlet in her lap. Turning from this occupationGrandma at Easter, she picks up the large-print Bible lying on the stand beside her and randomly thumbs its pages, pausing here and there to read a verse or two. She next peruses old church bulletins and missionary magazines—items she has read countless times before.

In the eyes of most people, this frail little lady is merely an old woman who has been robbed by time of her ability for rational thought. The sight of her stooped figure shuffling across a room with the aid of a helping hand perhaps would elicit some murmured words of pity. “What a shame! It’s too bad old people get like that.”

But I must ask myself, do I see her the same way others do? Will my memories be these last impressions of her as she is now in this the autumn of her life? Would that be fair? Hidden behind the wrinkled and shrunken exterior is the real identity of one of God’s precious children. Somewhere tucked into the recesses of her confused mind lie the remnants of yesterday’s beautiful memories—memories of the very full life that she has lived.

The room in which we now are sitting is covered with her treasures—pictures of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. In the faces of these her family, I see the true meaning of what her life has been—an unselfish giving of herself for those she loves.

Born just two years before the turn of the 20th century in a farmhouse in Fairfield, Wisconsin, she has faced the anxieties of two world wars, a depression, and many personal battles.

Grandma bows cropped

As a young girl she enjoyed school and after graduating from the eighth grade anticipated attending high school. However, that dream was pushed aside when it was decided she was needed at home to help her mother who was not well.

Later, after she had married and was living with her husband and children on another farm near Baraboo, Wisconsin, she sacrificed at mealtimes in preference of her family. She was the kind of mother who didn’t care for any pie when she knew there wasn’t enough to go around. When she served chicken, she always selected the neck or the back for herself so that her family could have the choice pieces.

She saw to it that her family was present in church Sunday morning and evening and every Wednesday midweek prayer service. Even in the midst of the Depression when money was so tight that they couldn’t afford a car, her family attended church services regularly.

The biggest sacrifice of her life was yet to come. Her oldest boy quit school after eighth grade and went to work. Her second son, upon completing his high school training, was offered a scholarship to attend the University of Wisconsin. She didn’t want her boy to go to a liberal state school and prayed diligently that he would choose instead the small Wesleyan college in Marion, Indiana. She desired that her children would have the opportunity of a Christian education that she had been denied. Her prayers prevailed, and her boy turned down the scholarship and applied at Marion College.

When the superintendent of the Baraboo schools heard what had happened, he made a trip out to the farm. “Now, ma’am, I don’t think you understand what a big mistake your son is making,” he said. “You’re wrong to encourage him to go to some tiny college when he has such a golden opportunity in the form of a scholarship at the University.”

“I’m sorry you made a trip out here to tell us that,” she answered. “I prayed that my children would have the opportunity to attend a Christian school. Now God is answering my prayers.”

“You’re making a terrible mistake,” the superintendent fumed. “I’ll tell you this! If your son goes to Marion College when he has a scholarship at the University, I’ll never recommend him for a teaching position!”

In spite of the attempt to dissuade the little lady from her purpose, her son left home and enrolled as a student at Marion College in the fall of 1940.

In his first year he was a typical farm boy away from home. His letters to his mother expressed his homesickness, but although she missed her boy, she was thankful that he was receiving a Christian education. How she wished that the rest of her children could do the same! But such a thought posed a problem. If she and her husband remained on the farm, they would be unable to finance sending their remaining three children to Marion College. A decision had to be made. As always, she disregarded her own feelings and chose what was best for her children. Packing what possessions they could, she and her husband forsook everything that they knew and loved and moved their family to Marion, Indiana in 1941.

A farm woman with only an eighth-grade education, she felt inferior to the college people in her new environment. However, she enjoyed the services at College Church, and very quickly the people welcomed her with open arms and made her feel at home.

Accustomed to hard work, she wouldn’t remain at home without offering her services to those around her. She volunteered to baby-sit for married college students who had children, and many a young man at Marion College at that time was indebted to her for doing his laundry. Those were the days before permanent press, and every shirt had to be ironed and starched. She performed these tasks willingly out of the goodness of her heart.

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In 1955 her husband suffered a heart attack and died. Suddenly, she was faced with responsibilities she had never had before. She received a job working in the college kitchen. Unable to drive a car, she sold her larger house to a young family and moved into a small house within close walking distance of the church and the college. There she has lived up to the present. The doors of her little home always have been open to special prayer groups and to the college family.

Even though she filled many new roles after moving to Marion, the most important title to her remained that of “Mother.” When grandchildren entered her life, they, too, received a full measure of her love. Her cookie jar always was filled with her yummy chocolate chip cookies; consequently, little feet made frequent trips to her kitchen.

Her family has always known that she is a loving mother, but when on Mother’s Day in 1966, her church honored her as the Mother of the Year, the fact was made more meaningful. To her family it was a once-in-a-lifetime privilege for College Wesleyan Church to bypass all the college-educated mothers and select their mother as the one to honor. The church celebrated the occasion by portraying a This-Is-Your-Life drama.  All of her five children and their families were introduced. She was surprised and happy to have all of her children with her at the same time. It was a highlight for the whole family.

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Of all of her deeds of kindness and Christlike characteristics, the most important aspect of her life has always been prayer. Anyone who has sat with her at her breakfast table has shared in family devotions. Even yet, though most of the time her mind refuses to cooperate in directing her speech coherently, she still prays with intelligence and faith.. For years her prayers have held the often-repeated phrase, “Help us to be overcomers.” What a wonderful testimony to have! To be an overcomer! In these her final days when heaven seems so much nearer, she can testify that with God’s help she has overcome the trials that have come her way. Through them all, she has remained faithful. God has been her very present help staying near her in answer to the quoted words of an old hymn that she often prays:

We need Thee every hour;
Stay Thou nearby.
Temptations lose their power
When Thou art nigh.

But now I must shake myself from my reverie. It is her bedtime, and I must help her prepare for bed. Time has brought a reversal in roles. She who spent the majority of her life helping others now must rely on their aid. I see her as she is today, but in this short evening of staying with her I wanted to take a look at who she really is—a woman of love, faith, and prayer—and go on record that I for one will not forget the memories.

After her clothes are changed, her teeth removed, and she is lying in bed staring at the flowered curtains, I ask her if she would like to pray. Immediately, her eyelids close over her cloudy gray eyes, and a brief prayer from her heart parts her lips:

We come to You tonight. “We need Thee every hour; Stay Thou nearby. Temptations lose their power When Thou art nigh.” We thank Thee for this. We’re thankful that You are willing to stay with us, and we don’t have to stay alone. Stay with Beth and Becky tonight, and help them tomorrow. Give them the courage to face the problems, and help them to make the right decision and do the things they ought to do. Amen.

My heart is touched and inwardly I muse,  “Thank you for praying for me. It’s the nicest gift you could give and the best memory I could have.”

Aloud, I murmur, “Good night. I love you!”

“I love you, too, honey!” she says as moisture gathers in her eyes.

Stooping, I kiss the wrinkled cheek and again whisper, “I love you . . . Grandma!”

–written in February 1985

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Postscript:

A few months after I wrote this article about my grandmother, we had to move her from her little house into a nursing home. She lasted there about a year.  During that time, a shortened version of this article appeared in The Wesleyan Advocate–the denominational magazine at the time. I took a copy out to the nursing home, perched on the arm of Grandma’s recliner, put my arms around her so that she could see the pages, and read to her what I had written. I didn’t know if in her confused mind she would understand what it was about. When I had finished reading, I asked her, “Do you know whom that’s about, Grandma?”

Reading Grandma Advocate article 2

“Yes, it’s about your grandma.”

“It’s about YOU!” I told her.

She teared up and patted my arm. “You’re so sweet!”

A number of months later after suffering some setbacks and being taken to the Marion General Hospital, she lay in an unconscious state for a few days. Many of us who were her family gathered in her private room. We talked to her, told stories, laughed, sang songs, and most of all told her how much we loved her. We learned later that often as we were singing, nurses would tiptoe down the hall to stand outside the door and listen.

Various family members took turns staying with Grandma through the nights. On the night of June 12, 1986, my cousin and I stayed with her. After Lisa had left the next morning to go to work, I pulled out this article and read it to Grandma one more time. I didn’t know if she could hear me or understand, but I wanted to tell her once again just how much I loved her and how much she meant to me.

That night, June 13, 1986, as family members gathered around her hospital bed and sang songs of the church, my precious grandmother slipped from our arms into the arms of Jesus. I like to think that the echo of our voices as we sang, “What a Friend we have in Jesus” simply faded away as she woke up to meet Him face to face! At her funeral in the chapel at College Wesleyan Church a few days later, I read this tribute about my grandmother once again at the request of the family. Today, many years after her death, I pull it out in memory and thankfulness for the indelible imprint her love and decisions made on my life. You see, her second son whom she prayed would go to a Christian college was my dad. She encouraged him to take the less traveled road–the road of surrender to the will of Christ. In the words of Robert Frost: “That has made all the difference!”

As I soon will make my way to bed, my thoughts of my dear grandmother cause me to whisper once again, “Good night! I love you . . . Grandma!” I say it, and yet I know that for her, my “Good night” is an eternal “Good morning!”