The Spelunker’s Gift

WVA Mountain

He was a middle-aged man of medium build with dark-rimmed glasses and a bald head who literally looked like an egghead.   That was the name my dad unceremoniously assigned to professors and other people he considered to be ‘out of touch’ with average human beings.  To make matters worse, Brad–short for Bradford–was from New England.  His pronunciation of certain words cast an intellectual flavor into his conversations.  Beyond that, he wore an identity that was new to me.  He was a spelunker.

I was seventeen at the time.  Brad was the new owner of the Massanutten Caverns at Keezletown, Virginia.  This cave boasted smallter, more compact features that were similar to those of larger, better-known caves.  Brad and my parents became good friends, which is how I came to learn a little about caves and spelunking.

One spring afternoon I walked in the door after school and there sat Brad, talking to my mom at the kitchen table.  He looked at me with an expectant grin.  “I hear you’ve been looking for a part-time job this summer.  How would you like to work at the caverns as a guide?”

I shuffled my feet and looked askance.  “Nah, I don’t think so.”

He looked disappointed.  After a few awkward moments I excused myself and retired to my room upstairs.  When Brad left Mom came up to talk to me.

“Wasn’t that nice of Mr. Cobb to offer you a job?  Maybe you should take him up on it.”

I hemmed and hawed for a few moments.  “I don’t know.  I just don’t want to go crawling around in some cave.”

Mom dropped the subject, but the invitation stayed in the back of my mind.  Not long after this I bought my first car, a 1943 Ford coupe that my dad had found for me at a good price.  Though it was twelve years old, it gave me a sense of freedom and independence.

The trouble was, I had been laid off from my job at a local supermarket.  I needed gas money.  Finally I knuckled under and called Brad.

He sounded delighted.  “I’m glad you called.  Come on over and let me show you around.

I had mixed emotions about this, but I went.  Brad showed me through the cave, introducing me to an underground world I’d never imagined.  Within a short time I was caught like a fish chasing a worm on a hook.

Brad proved to be a good and persistent teacher.  He told me he believed I had a good mind and a healthy curiosity–and enough spunk to pursue this different sort of experience.

He taught me about stalactites.  I learned that those tubular deposits grow from minerals seeping through the ceiling of the cave after their journey through the limestone deposits above.

I learned about stalagmites, mineral deposits that build up on the ground from the dripping stalactites above them.  Brad taught me how to keep them straight in my mind.  “Just remember the “c” and the “g.”  Stalactites wit ha “c” grow on the ceiling.  Stalagmites with a “g” grown on the ground.  It was foolproof instruction.

I was fascinated by the cave.  The temperature was a mild, though moist, 56 degrees, which never varied in spite of the temperature in the outside world.  Brad showed me how to shine a flashlight through a thin, broad flowstone formation to make it look like a slice of bacon.  “It’s just a gimmick,” he told me.  “People love gimmicks like that.”

There was a formation where some stalactites of varying density and length were grouped together.  Each one struck a different note when tapped.  He called that the “organ.”

Toward the end of each tour we paused at an underground collection of standing water.  Electric lights with colored lenses cast reflective patterns across the water’s surface, stirring the imagination.  He used a rheostat to manipulate the intensity of different lights so that the lake took on different auras.  He called this “sunset lake.”

Brad also taught me that being a cave guide did not make me a spelunker.  He explained that these were people who explored undeveloped or unknown regions of caves.  Showing me various passageways to lower levels, he explained that some of them were filled with water.  Then he offered me a chance to join the spelunkers when they came in for an exploratory trip.  For some reason I was excited about the idea, but never actually did it.

Two lessons Brad taught stand out in my memory.  First, the entrance to the cave was also the exit.  People came in and went straight ahead to tour the cave, while those leaving came into the entrance space from a side passageway.  When entering, I was instructed to leave a rag tied to the handle of the light panel switch so another party coming out would not turn off the lights.

He also taught me how to navigate through the cave without light so I would be prepared when somebody missed the signal and turned out the lights.  I was a quick study and soon learned to move confidently through the entire cave in total darkness by memorizing the structures along the way.

More than once I had a group in the back chamber when all went dark.  Startled, people would cry out, “Oh, what’s happening?  What will we do?”

Those were my shining moments.  I would calmly say, “It’s okay.  Somebody missed my signal to leave the lights on.  I’ll go back and flip the switch.  Here, you keep the flashlight.”

“How will you get back there without the light?”

“It’s all in the training,” I would say.  Within fifteen minutes the lights would come on and soon I was back, beaming with heroic pride as my tourist party cheered for the teenage cavern guide who had saved the day by knowing the cave like the back of his hand!

That was the spelunker’s gift of confidence and assurance.  It keeps me going even today when the only way forward lies in remembering how I got wherever I am to begin with.

 

 

 

 

PATIENCE

Hughs Wordquilts

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Waiting for a long train to pass, being caught at several red lights in sequence, reaching a checkout counter just as the clerk puts up a “closed” sign–these are a few everyday occurrences that try your patience!

We all run into them.  They represent interruptions that impact something else in our lives.  If you’re like me, you sometimes lack patience in the face of these things.  I have learned that venting anger may release some inner pressure, but I never feel good about myself when I’ve done that.  Can you relate?

Knowing I need patience, and having it, are two different things. I can’t just say, “Okay, I’ll be patient,” if inside I’m steaming.  Patience has to flow from something deeper.

My faith teaches me that patience is a response in my life that has to grow from spiritual roots.  In Galatians, the Apostle Paul names it as one of the nine attributes…

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PATIENCE

104_3798

Waiting for a long train to pass, being caught at several red lights in sequence, reaching a checkout counter just as the clerk puts up a “closed” sign–these are a few everyday occurrences that try your patience!

We all run into them.  They represent interruptions that impact something else in our lives.  If you’re like me, you sometimes lack patience in the face of these things.  I have learned that venting anger may release some inner pressure, but I never feel good about myself when I’ve done that.  Can you relate?

Knowing I need patience, and having it, are two different things. I can’t just say, “Okay, I’ll be patient,” if inside I’m steaming.  Patience has to flow from something deeper.

My faith teaches me that patience is a response in my life that has to grow from spiritual roots.  In Galatians, the Apostle Paul names it as one of the nine attributes that contribute to a healthier life.  These attributes stand in contrast to the easy, and often disastrous, ways people react to circumstances by putting down others and calling them “enemy.”

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Since I can’t just “be patient,” perhaps I can learn a way of life and belief that will cultivate this fruit.  I think back to when I visited the state of Maine some years ago.  At one point I stood on the shore of an inlet where boats were resting on dry land.  Shallow water was visible in the distance.  I learned that the tides were extreme.  This was low tide.  At high tide all of those boats would be afloat.

For a lobsterman to earn his living, he has to work with the reality of the tides.  He has to plan ahead–structure his life around the tidal flux.  Times when the tide is out become opportunities to mend boats and equipment–to be prepared to take the next high tide out for a catch.  His life has to be in sync with the reality of the tides.

Like most people in America today, I’m struggling to have patience in the face of extreme violence perpetrated either by terrorists or by people who are emotionally out of balance.  It’s easy to react by saying “all” Muslims are evil terrorists, to want to slam the immigration door.  It’s easy to say the answer is either tighter gun restrictions or none at all:  either-or, black-or-white thinking.  Healthy reality, however, never lies within the framework of extreme reactivity.  So we need PATIENCE in the face of these things.

While we’re in-between events, which is most of the time, we need to cultivate that inner spiritual connection that will equip us to take in stride, reach out and love without fear…and at the same time be vigilent and responsibly tough when called for.  Name calling, anger venting, violence perpetuating reactivity only feeds the motives of those who want to overrule everyone.

How much better to love, lift, educate, heal, inspire, beckon and welcome people–all people–aside from the faith they claim, or how they look, or where they are from.  The God I serve loves everyone, unconditionally.  We call that grace.  I believe God calls us to walk in his grace, allowing him to implant graciousness within us–through his Spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giving Thanks!

Hughs Wordquilts

1-DSCF8157Today I am thankful for so many blessings.  I have thought back to Thanksgiving four years ago, before Sharon was diagnosed with NPH, before granddaughter Charlotte, or great-grandsons Aiden and Peyton, were born.  The photo above shows Mark and Stacie preparing Thanksgiving Dinner at their house in 2011.  We will soon be with them for today’s feast.

IMG_2732Sharonand I are thankful today for her recovery from NPH.  We give thanks to God for the healing that has enabled her to function fully these days.  She cannot even remember Thanksgiving three years ago when she was sliding into the depths of dementia.  As I write this she is now in the kitchen preparing her corn pudding for our family meal later on.  What a miracle!  Thanks be to God!

11828686_10153005249111643_3396496234299227000_n-002FB_IMG_1448504965904We are thankful for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Charlotte was born while Sharon was in the…

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Giving Thanks!

1-DSCF8157

Today I am thankful for so many blessings.  I have thought back to Thanksgiving four years ago, before Sharon was diagnosed with NPH, before granddaughter Charlotte, or great-grandsons Aiden and Peyton, were born.  The photo above shows Mark and Stacie preparing Thanksgiving Dinner at their house in 2011.  We will soon be with them for today’s feast.

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Sharon and I are thankful today for her recovery from NPH.  We give thanks to God for the healing that has enabled her to function fully these days.  She cannot even remember Thanksgiving three years ago when she was sliding into the depths of dementia.  As I write this she is now in the kitchen preparing her corn pudding for our family meal later on.  What a miracle!  Thanks be to God!

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We are thankful for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Charlotte was born while Sharon was in the hospital for a procedure seeking to diagnose her NPH condition.  Aiden was born pre-maturely just three months ago and is now a healthy child pictured here with his older brother, Jack, who is three.  What a joyful blessing children bring us.  We put our families in God’s loving care each day in prayer.

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We are thankful for my mother’s longevity (she’s 104) and for her recovery from a serious medical condition last summer.  Pictured here is Sharon visiting with her earlier this year.  We saw her last week and talked with her today.  We are thankful for all she has meant, and continues to mean, to so us and to so many people.

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We are thankful for the privilege of publishing that Sharon and I have experienced over the last three years. When we gathered for Thanksgiving in 2011, neither of us had published anything formally.  Now I have three novels out, and we have jointly published a book about Sharon’s journey through Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus, which caused her to plunge into dementia which has now been relieved by a shunt in her brain.  We are thankful for the opportunities God gives us to share our faith and messages of encouragement and hope through the written word.

Today is Thanksgiving, but every day is a time for giving thanks.  Blessings to all our friends and loved ones.

 

 

 

 

 

Splash Down

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The other morning I set out on my morning walk and decided to go around the lake.  When I got there I saw a family of nine geese enjoying the morning sun.  One goose, who was likely the leader, held his head erect, watching over the flock and looking for signs of danger.  1-IMG_3015

I guess I don’t pose much of a threat, I thought as the geese all went about their business as if I wasn’t there.   I stopped to take a photo, then walked closer.  Suddenly they all burst into flight.   They only traveled a short distance to the middle of the lake, then splashed down.  Ah!  Safety from afar!  

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I thought about a meeting I attended at church about reaching people effectively.   Churches want to engage with new people and invite them in.  It probably won’t happen, however, as long as that is the focus.

It has been said that people who don’t attend church may feel like they’re facing a castle with a moat. They may be unsure how to get “inside” the gate–or whether they even  want to.  The church can’t offer its message of love, joy. hope, and healing if the building itself is like a wall separating it from people on the “outside.”

People of faith have to share their faith by stepping beyond the confinement of their walls.  They have to share life with a focus the uniqueness God has given each of us that is only apparent when it is shared.  If someone decides to cross the moat and enter the castle, it will be because they found the love of God that removes the moat and opens the gate.

I think about how similar that is to selling books. When I’m at a book table I try to make eye contact with people walking by.  I usually ask, “What are you reading these days?”  Most of the time they seem surprised at the question.

I often wonder how they will respond.  Will they pull back, or turn away?   Sometimes they do.  They may take flight by avoiding eye contact, and therefore conversation.  When they do connect, however, it becomes a positive process of finding common ground.  I don’t have to sell books–books sell themselves when people share a common ground where the books reside.

When people take flight to avoid a conversation, they frequently “spash back down” nearby, like geese on the lake.  Sometimes they linger and listen.  They may even come back to talk.

Taking flight is a natural defense in the face of the unknown or unexpected.  “I’m busy–no time for this,” we tell ourselves.  Perhaps we’re afraid to let people into our world.  Maybe we’ve been hurt, and we try to isolate ourselves.  Maybe we’re just highly focused on a task and resist being distracted.

I expect all of us “take flight” at times, and hopefully we “splash down” again as soon as possible.  I believe some of life’s greatest blessings come when we splash down with openness of mind and spirit.  A “splash down” can be an enriching, life-enhancing experience!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT’S IN MY WAKE?

Hughs Wordquilts

IMG_2155

When I got my first boat I was living in a coastal Virginia community.  I kept the boat in a rented slip on a small bay that ran behind the town.  I used it primarily for fishing, and had to learn the “rules of the road” for safe boating.  One of those had to do with controlling my boat’s wake.  Every harbor has its “no wake” zone.  Even a small runabout like I had can churn up a wake that can capsize other boats.

It occurs to me that we all leave a “wake” in our daily interactions with others.  By the way we interact we may leave positive or negative feelings behind us.  A large boat disregarding its wake when passing a smaller boat where people are fishing can interfere with their catch–or worse, capsize them.  At the very least, it will cause feelings of anger or resentment.  Respect for others…

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WHAT’S IN MY WAKE?

IMG_2155

When I got my first boat I was living in a coastal Virginia community.  I kept the boat in a rented slip on a small bay that ran behind the town.  I used it primarily for fishing, and had to learn the “rules of the road” for safe boating.  One of those had to do with controlling my boat’s wake.  Every harbor has its “no wake” zone.  Even a small runabout like I had can churn up a wake that can capsize other boats.

It occurs to me that we all leave a “wake” in our daily interactions with others.  By the way we interact we may leave positive or negative feelings behind us.  A large boat disregarding its wake when passing a smaller boat where people are fishing can interfere with their catch–or worse, capsize them.  At the very least, it will cause feelings of anger or resentment.  Respect for others in a no-wake zone or an area where a lot of small boats are fishing contributes the the enjoyment of all who are on the water.

I think of another “wake” experience.  The place was Caliboque Sound in South Carolina. I was on a ferry crossing from Hilton Head Island to Daufuskie Island.  Seeing some excitement among passengers on the stern deck, I went back to see what was happening.  It was exciting.  There were dolphins playing in the wake of the boat.  They would swim in close, then get caught in the churn of the wake and playfully surface and dive again.

A thought struck me.  I hope in my life that I will sometimes leave exciting, positive feelings in my wake.  I need to ask myself, “How do people perceive me?  How do I come across?  When I leave, are people glad I’ve gone, or do they look forward to my being in their presence again?”

My faith teaches me that I am, as I used to phrase it in my ministry, a “unique creation of a good and loving God.”  That’s a key part of our spiritual genetics.  We are connected with our Creator by a cord of love.  God creates us in love, with no strings attached, and his love seeks to redeem us when we get lost, disconnected, or confused.  When we are hurt by others, or cause harm or suffering to someone, God’s love offers to set us back on a positive, fruitful path.

It’s in the wake of God’s indescribable, unending love that I find my deepest needs fulfilled.  God’s love restores my soul.  Through his Son, who gave his life for me, I know there is always hope.  My prayer is that I will leave marks of that love, and its impact on my life, in my “wake” as I journey through life.

Every day I need to ask myself, as life unfolds, “What am I leaving in my wake?”

A Symphony of Color

Hughs Wordquilts

Back in the eighties, Stan Grayson and Lillie Plume were planning their wedding and a new life together at Dinkel Island.  Both being artists, whey wanted a building suitable for studio space, a gallery and living quarters.  Barb Reilly at Beach Realty found them just the right property.  One particular feature stood out for Lillie.  It had nothing to do with the building, quality of construction, appropriateness of layout.  It was the presence of a large maple tree in the yard that created a homey touch.

They bought the place in the spring, and by fall Lillie basked in the beauty of their backyard maple.  Each year the progression of colorful change would be a little different, depending on weather conditions.  What was constant was the symphonic melody of vibrant greens, yellows and reds the tree broadcast each October.

The tree still stands.  One day recently Stan took his lunch outside the studio and soaked up…

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