Serendipity Overload

is one of my favorite words.
My definition: finding something wonderful that you weren’t looking for.


One of the most splendid serendipitous events of my life took place on Monday night.

I was packing for a trip to Chicago to see my family and friends. I had inherited my Aunt Betty’s photograph album. She died in July near Cape Town, South Africa. She never had children; her friend wanted to send her few personal effects to a family member and asked me if I wanted them. Of course, I replied. When the packages arrived there were two paintings, some brooches, a cross-stitch I had done for her, and a photo album.

I was interested in seeing pictures of my grandpa and grandma, Aunt Betty, Jean-Blaise—my Congolese cousin (my aunt’s foster son)—, and dear Virginia who was my aunt’s best friend. My aunt survived three husbands and I couldn’t distinguish #1, #2 and #3 in the pictures. Obviously, I didn’t pore over each picture. My life was full when the packages arrived; I remember enjoying the photos and setting them on a shelf.

When I was picking pictures to bring with me on the trip, there were a few bunched up underneath another photo. I drew one out and saw Aunt Betty pushing a stroller with two toddlers: my oldest sister and brother. She had come to help out my mom.

The next picture was my mom holding a baby. I turned it over and read, “Nellie and Carol Ruth, 3 months.” Electricity sluiced through my body. There was my mom. And there was me.  I have never seen a picture of me as a baby. I didn’t think one existed. One of the hazards of being a seventh born.

The next photo was just overload. I was stunned. The date down the vertical margin was MAR 55. Elisabeth Elliot holding Valerie with Jim Elliot next to her. I don’t know where this picture was taken. Or why my aunt had it. Two possibilities exist. 1) Aunt Betty was a classmate of Betty Howard (aka EE) at a girls boarding school in Florida. But I never got the impression from Aunt Betty that they were particularly close. 2) Jim Elliot and my grandpa were close friends during his time at Wheaton. Perhaps my grandpa was the original recipient of the photo and my aunt inherited it after Grandpa and Grandma died? 

Who took the Elliot family photo? These scans don’t show it, but both pictures are the same size with the same border. This will take some research.



I love spending time finding the right word, the word that best fits the need. But, gentle reader, I am flummoxed and befuddled. To articulate the treasure that I have been given requires words I don’t yet know. I do know this: I am forever thankful. Thank you Aunt Betty, for saving a piece of my history. Thank you Virginia, for ensuring these treasures weren’t thrown away. Thank you, Almighty God, from Whom all blessings flow.


A Reduction of Tears

Nellie Stover Harper, March 23, 1920 – May 7, 1968

Sorrow has no shelf life.

There is, however, a difference between the jagged edges of fresh grief and the patina of an old grief worn smooth like a faded flannel shirt. The splash of hot tears and spasms of sobs wind down, and eventually become sighs and wistful smiles.

A reduction, in cooking terminology, uses heat and evaporation to get the essential flavors, the best bits, into a thicker base.

Grief–the healthy kind–can make a reduction of our tears, concentrating those salty drops into a savory flavoring.  Cardamom, by itself, is sharp and bitter, pungent and overwhelming. Reduced with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and black tea, it becomes a vital ingredient in chai.
Revelation (last book of the Bible) promises a day when God will wipe away all the tears and Psalm 56 speaks of God storing tears in a bottle.  

I know that God sees our tears.  And if he knows the hairs on our head, surely He knows every tear that falls. 
I know that God–the One who Redeems–transforms our sorrows, giving us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning. 

I imagine that the oil of joy is a reduction of our tears, redeeming our sorrows and transforming them into praise. He gave the tears; one day we will offer them back to Him.

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.


More thoughts on grief.

Some letters my mom wrote.

My Favorite Billy Collins Poem

                                                                              [picking up the poem at the fourth stanza]

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift–not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

~ The Lanyard by Billy Collins in The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems
    (click on the link, click on Look Inside!, enter lanyard in the search box and you can read the first part of the poem)

For an exquisite treat, get the CD Billy Collins Live.  Follow the link for a tasty sample of a poetry reading.

Lighthearted on a Heavy Day

Nellie Harper, March 23, 1920 – May 7, 1968

Emotions are unpredictable, inexplicable, impenetrable, and, ultimately, irrepressible.

Life is chockablock with paradox.  In the midst of grief, laughter.  In the midst of celebration and joy, a pang of sorrow.

For decades May 7th has been a day of private grief.  Private, because it is an awkward and unwieldy burden.  There seemed no way to share the grief without the other person feeling clumsy.  

After years, however, the crying turns to sighing.  A sharp edges of grief are rubbed away.  [Many friends have lost their moms to something other than death.  Their grief is ongoing; the sharp edges continue to cut.]

Yesterday I cried as I read Cindy’s tribute to her mother-in-law who passed away on Tuesday. 

But today…today I woke up lighthearted.  Inexplicably lighthearted. 

Thankful for the gift of a godly mother.

Lighthearted on a heavy day.  This is a new mercy. 

More posts on griefMay 7, 1968