Leave a Note

Christmas Day arrived, clear and white with frost. All seven of our children were spending their Christmases elsewhere, most of them far away. We’d thought Larry might come by bus from Spokane, but since he has no cell phone, no computer, and has never (so far as I know) written a letter, we just didn’t know if he’d show up. By noontime, we’d heard nothing so we decided to pack a picnic and enjoy a Christmas mini-getaway.

We drove over the tree-shaded, frost-coated Mountain Loop Highway to the Robe Valley, one of our favorite getaway spots. I grew up here, and it’s still home. We reached the Hemple Creek campground by 1:30. The sun had already dropped behind Mt. Pilchuck, throwing the empty park into twilight. We parked beside the Stillaguamish, looking upriver to where the sun still lit the Gold Basin cliffs. The picnic tables and benches glistened with frost crystals, so we opted to enjoy our home-made clam chowder and egg-salad sandwiches in the comfort of our van. While eating, we watched the shadows creep from the river toward the top of the cliffs.

Still thinking that Larry might find his way to our house and worried we’d not know he’d been there, Hank wished aloud that we had one of those leave-a-note boxes people used to hang beside their front doors.

I’d completely forgotten about those, but suddenly in my mind I saw the box we had, back in the days when we didn’t own a telephone and people often dropped by unannounced. My grandfather had crafted it of brown-varnished wood to look like a little house with a peaked roof. It was about 6 inches high and only an inch or so deep, with a door nearly the size of the entire front. The hook that held the door closed was also the doorknob. Scrawled across the front in yellow paint, “Leave a Note” announced its purpose. If we weren’t home, a visitor could write a message with the pad and pencil kept inside.

When the family returned from an excursion, the first person to the porch flipped open the little door and checked the message pad. It was like checking our telephone or e-mail messages today. If neighbors had stopped by, it was easy enough to walk down the road to see them. But if we’d missed friends or relatives from Granite Falls or Snohomish, there were always groans of disappointment. We had missed a chance for face-to-face contact and fun.

On the way back to town, Hank and I passed my childhood home with all its happy memories of Christmases past. I’m sure the people who now live there have no need of a “Leave a Note” box. But a thought flitted through my mind…do they ever wonder about the history that lingers in the little house where they are busy making their own memories? I hope they’re leaving happy “notes” for their children to remember.

Three Gifts

Three shopping days before Christmas. I’m leaving for one last excursion to the mall, but before I go, I need to put down some thoughts to share with you…thoughts about three gifts I’ve received in the past two days that thrill my heart. They’re gifts that have eternal value.

One of the gifts came yesterday as a phone call from my Minnesota “sister,” Donna. We met in registration line at Seattle Pacific College (now University) many years ago and became lifelong friends within five minutes. Donna, an only child, lost both her parents when she was ten years old. My big, boisterous family welcomed her and helped release the lively personality that had been so long suppressed. Today Donna’s body is twisted with osteoporosis, and she lives with constant pain, but her positive attitude still sizzles across the miles whenever we talk. Her gift to me yesterday was to remind me of my godly parentage. Some of those memories had been obscured when the process of aging ravaged Mom’s life, and Dad’s. Donna reminded me of Mom’s heart for God in earlier years and that God does not hold it against us when our mind gets broken. She also said that Dad, although very private about his spirituality, was one of the most godly men she’d known. Her gift to me was a new gratitude for my parents…and what a long-term gift our friendship has been!

The second gift came early this morning when I clicked on an e-mail from daughter Lenora in Tucson. She and Steve had sent a gift in our name to World Vision to clothe many children in poverty-stricken parts of the world. Jesus tells us in Matthew 25: 34-36 that when He returns to earth, He will say to those who have obeyed him: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was…naked, and ye clothed me….”

Our gift from Lenora and Steve helps us to obey the command of Jesus. What an eternal reward is ours–and theirs.

The third gift came by phone just minutes ago from a good friend, Dr. Jerry Rusher, who is spending his second Christmas without his dear wife. On Sunday he confessed that he felt sad and depressed and asked for prayer. Several of us gathered around, and I prayed out loud for him.

He called this morning to thank me for that prayer. I don’t even remember what I said, but God heard. He lifted the sadness and restored Jerry’s energy. He is excited about his children coming on Christmas morning. He’s eagerly anticipating upcoming mission trips to Africa and Haiti, where he will help native doctors and patients. Most exciting of all to him was finding that he could carry some much-needed medical tests with him to Haiti. The tests will cost one dollar apiece and will help who knows how many people who otherwise would suffer needlessly.

I am thrilled for our friend, but I am more thrilled for the gift: the opportunity to see God at work, once again, in response to our prayers.

And now I’m headed for the mall. But I already know that anything I buy there will disappoint or eventually wear out. The gifts that make me truly happy are gifts like these three I’ve already received.

My wish for you is that your Christmas too will be blessed by the intangible gifts of friendship, peace, and helping others.

My sister Patty’s daughter, Tami Wheatley Nichols, lost her battle with cancer yesterday. She leaves her husband Bert and almost 13-yr.-old daughter Delaney, as well as brother Eric and sister-in-law Dayna and her parents. Please continue to pray for all of them. Tami had hoped to hold out until after Delaney’s birthday on Dec. 26, but was just too sick.

We will continue to build the benefit fund. The medical expenses have been overwhelming for this little family.

Please click for a clearer image.
l. to r.:Tami and Bert Nichols, daughter Delaney, Tami’s mom Patty Rawlins Wheatley,
sister-in-law and brother Dayna and Eric Wheatley

In my previous post, I mentioned my friend Hazel’s comforting advice in the devastating loss of our nephew Byron in a plane crash. Now, many years later, Byron’s sister Tami is fighting an aggressive cancer that is overwhelming her strength, the family’s spirits, and their finances. If you don’t already know, we have undertaken an exciting pre-Christmas fund raising project to help her. Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Tami Nichols Benefit Fund can receive a copy of my book, “A Logger’s Daughter: Growing Up in Washington’s Woods.” All proceeds go directly to the family. You can find out more about the book on my website, http://www.rainsongpress.blogspot.com . You can order it there through PayPal, or contact me directly at rainsongpress@verizon.net.

Some Great Advice


My dear friend Hazel went home to heaven a few years ago, but as I sorted through a pile of papers recently I found a quote she’d sent in 1987, after my young nephew Byron Wheatley died in a plane crash. It seemed to summarize her life’s philosophy. “Hold loosely everything that is not eternal.” Her letter ended with characteristic enthusiasm, “What a beautiful morning! Lets go somewhere and celebrate!”

We were of different generations and spent most of our lives widely separated by geography, but we were connected in ways I can only explain as God’s. Often Hazel called or wrote to say she’d been impressed to pray for us. Invariably, we been in some crisis and needed those prayers. Sometimes it was her or her family needing prayer.

Hazel held loosely the things of this world, though we shared an intense joy in the beauty it offers. We loved to go exploring, and wherever we might be living, we managed to get together for a couple of weeks every year.

When we moved to Alaska, she was thrilled to visit. We went for walks through the woods at midnight, enjoying the flaming sky as the sun dipped below the horizon, then came right back up again. We visited Denali Park and gold mine tailings, rode a sternwheeler on the Tanana River, took a camping trip to Valdez to see the resurrected town after the earthquake of 1964, explored the Kenai peninsula.

When I visited her and her husband in Pennsylvania, we scuffed through brilliant autumn leaves, collected cones for wreaths, wandered through cemeteries and tiny villages.
We both enjoyed writing, poetry and art. Her poems praised her Lord and Savior, and her stories told her adventures in introducing others to Him. We never had time for all the things we liked to do, but Hazel always took time to listen to people. She had a wonderful knack of turning the conversation to what was at the center of a person’s problem, then pointing him or her to the One who had the answer.

Whether Hazel and I were together in person, or via letters or e-mail, I often heard, “What a beautiful day! Let’s celebrate.” What a glorious truth, to know that she’s celebrating today in heaven.