It was Saturday, 17 August 2013. All day, I had been reminded of 17 August 2002–also a Saturday, and the day on which I had very quietly received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It was an experience so new, so unexpected yet so glorious, and so seldom addressed among the other Christians I knew, that for three months I didn’t even realize what I had received. Oh, the joy when I eventually had a name for the glory of the Lord that surrounded me on that day!
On this particular 17 August–in 2013, not 2002–Hannah and I sat on the long sofa overlooking the second-story banister. I wish I could make this piece elegant and claim that we sat on the plush, velvet, rose-patterned sofa, but that would be a lie. We sat on a burlap sofa–I kid you not–for that couch was the most economical and, it was thought, would blend nicely with Naomi’s decor. I will forever be grateful to the dipsy-dumpster that hauled that sofa away, and to the company that provided said dumpster. But on that Saturday evening in August, the sofa fabric scarcely mattered. Between us was a medium-sized packing box wrapped in brown paper. To my right was an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder. Taking a deep breath, I switched it on and prepared to use my audio scrapbooking tool to record some of the most precious twenty-two minutes, five seconds of our lives.
On 6 August, my grandmother had announced that she would be sending Hannah and I a package. This was nothing new–always an occasion for gratitude and, depending on the worship materials she sent, sometimes even for rejoicing–but nothing new. Grandma had been sending care packages of sorts ever since I could remember. Everything from a pendant in the shape of a harp and a recording of her reading a book about the Azusa Street revivals to more lighthearted items like microwaveable neck wraps and Fisherman’s Friend cough drops. Anything she thought we could use, or that she just happened to pick up at a yard sale, or that wasn’t readily available in our neck of the woods. Some of my favourite moments came when she sent what Hannah and I thought of as Log-Cabin staples–chocolate-covered cherries that she could purchase, it seemed, by the drove, and a menthol-based rub that served as the most effective homeopathic treatment I’ve ever known for aching muscles. There was never any real rhyme or reason to the packages, either. Sometimes, a handful of old cassettes would be cushioned by rubber bands and straws “because we said we needed them”. The boxes were just love–pure and simple.
Then, her log cabin burned down. This would be the last box from that cabin. Knowing my grandmother, there were likely to be other boxes–but none like this. I’m surprised Hannah didn’t set up her camcorder alongside my voice recorder–but perhaps I’m the only one who scrapbooks moments like these.
Even before the fire, Hannah and I had a special tradition. Each of us would take turns lifting items out of the box. Sometimes, one of us would get a single sock that had come loose from a neatly-folded pair; at other times, we might end up with a paper clip. No matter–it would then be the other person’s turn. So it was that I pulled off the brown paper, which we determined to save for the sheer fragrance of it all. Then, Hannah took her first item from the unwrapped parcel. It turned out to be a series of interesting newspaper and magazine articles–Reader’s Digest, the Saturday Evening Post, things like that. We promptly recorded these before continuing to make our careful way through the box.
The next few items were so unique to the two of us–a hat for my sister, who loves to place all manner of accessories on her head, and a pair of leather slipper-moccasins for me lest our cold linoleum floors overwhelm any semblance of calm for my poor feet. Have you any idea what the fragrance of leather combined with that of antiques can do for the heart? Learn, my beloved reader–now is the time to learn.
These were followed by The Bouquet–some crushed and preserved flowers from my grandmother’s garden, carefully inserted into a tiny ceramic vase adorned with a spun-glass rose. The accompanying note invited Naomi to take this gift, but Naomi said she had no place for it and told me that I was welcome to it. “Brickabrack,” she called it. “Knickknacks,” I amended. And there are very, very few material items I enjoy more than apparently-impractical knickknacks. That vase is much too small to hold actual flowers save those pressed lilacs, which were already in disarray by the time they reached us–so now the vase serves as a repository for jewelry I wear every day but must, for any reason, remove.
What Naomi couldn’t cherish in the rose vase she more than made up for with her delight in some stationery that lingered somewhere toward the bottom of the box. Not any ordinary stationery, mind you, but fine paper bearing sunflowers. Sunflowers have always been symbolic of Naomi’s life in the Lord–just as they grow tall and strong, always turning toward the sun, so Naomi has also grown steadfast through the many trials in her life, turning her heart toward the Son. So, sunflowers are promise and glory and joy and peace, and my grandmother is well aware of this. She might as well have sent Naomi a little placard with John 10:10 on it and a picture of the Good Shepherd holding a sheep. Don’t you love silent, symbolic conversations that go far deeper than words?
And then, the clincher, at least for me–the emblem of all poignancy, of every drop of sorrow and sweetness that had culminated since the fire. Nestled at the bottom of the box was a pure, beautiful handkerchief. Now, you must understand something about handkerchiefs in our house. We do not, and never have, used them for their intended purposes. Instead, they have become prayer cloths. I think the tradition began when I was a newborn. When I was less than a week old, I was diagnosed with a rare protein disorder; I am one of twelve in the world who have it, and it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, especially when I was young. Anyway, a precious prayer warrior had read Acts 19:12, which describes handkerchiefs and other articles being carried away from Paul to the sick, and that they were healed of their infirmities. Accordingly, she anointed a tiny piece of cloth–not a handkerchief, really, but just a scrap of linen fabric–and prayed over it, asking the Lord to heal me. At the time, my grandmother was staying with my parents and I, and the three of them found a teddy bear and a strong, sturdy safety pin and affixed the cloth to the bear. Although healing was not instantaneous, the Lord did save my life–I was not expected to live beyond two months. I still believe, with every fibre of my being, that He is able to heal me completely, and I trust Him for that healing and thank Him for it every day. So, that cloth came to represent a precious promise–not physical healing only, but God’s love, protection, peace, and faithfulness. I still have that original cloth, by the way–the safety pin is different, the cloth itself has survived many moves and become awfully tattered, but it is now fastened carefully to a pillow I use daily.
The handkerchief tradition didn’t end there. Now, we saturate them in frankincense and/or myrrh, or sunflower-scented perfume, or the perfume we bought on the day when we first discovered some profound truth about the Holy Spirit… Then, we wait for an appropriate occasion–a day on which the Lord showed us something new about Himself. A minor or major anniversary, if you will. Examples: the time I became truly free following a dark valley in 2007; the day I knew that I was altogether restored in 2013; the day I made a promise within myself to live a deeper, fuller life of holiness in the Lord. And then, we take those beautiful handkerchiefs (or, in a pinch, those swatches of velvet that we happened to find in among the craft or sewing supplies), and put them someplace: pinned to bedsheets or pillows or quilts, pressed between the pages of our favourite Bibles, tucked into the pockets of Bible covers, secreted away in jacket pockets, wrapped around voice recorders or other caseless electronics… I write “we”. In reality, who else do you know who uses a caseless recorder or has seven pillows to attach handkerchiefs to? So… The handkerchief tradition is mostly mine, although Naomi and Hannah have participated on occasion. And, yes, I remember exactly what each handkerchief symbolizes and why I placed it where I did–usually down to the date on which I made a tactile reminder of some joyous anniversary.
Back to the box. My grandmother’s handkerchief wasn’t just “any old hankie”. Instead, I made immediate plans to use the same sentimental tactics as at other times. No need to add scent to this one; Grandma’s house in and of itself is its scent. To myself, I said, “16 August 2013: Grandma’s life was spared, and I remembered anew the grace of God, and how wonderful my life truly is in Him. Joy and peace”. And then, I planned to seal this particular handkerchief in a bag–creased and folded so beautifully–and then to tuck it into the lace-trimmed pocket of the Bible case she sent in the package penultimate to this one.
Ah, the Bible case. It came in July, and my grandmother–bless her heart–was so profoundly excited about it. Her theory was that I could use it for the print Bible I carry as a reminder of God’s ability to heal, and as a repository for all the notes, dates, highlighting, and underlining I can’t inscribe in my twenty-volume Braille Bible. But, you see, I already had a Bible case–lace-trimmed, made of white quilted cotton with a sturdy zip fastener, a pocket for handkerchiefs and such, and a metal cameo pin affixed to the outer flap. More symbolism, but that’s another story. This new case was… nice… but that was about it. MY CASE was a promise; this one was simply… lovely. Pink quilted cotton, also lace-trimmed but without the gentleness of the silk-fibered lace of MY CASE, no zip closure… The thing was at once too practical and too fragile. It could not carry my print Bibl. Thinking I should keep it as a remembrance of Grandma’s love in the Lord, if for no other reason, I relegated it to a bureau drawer–a symbol, but not something I would use every day.
How wrong I was! Three days after my grandmother sent the discarded case, Holy-Hands came, bringing Pastor’s old Bible–the one he had used all throughout his ministry. You think I’m bad about highlighting I Chronicles 1:7, just because it’s part of Scripture and for no other reason! Multiply that sort of thinking tenfold, and that’s Pastor’s Bible. However, this Bible is extremely fragile. It’s only been in use for, say, seventy years, but the care with which it must be handled is more reflective of a twelfth-century treasure. Ordinarily, a cotton-quilted, lace-trimmed case would not be the place for a Bible belonging to someone like Pastor, but you must understand what I was doing in making this decision. To begin with, for the first and only time in 2013, I was making a practical judgment call–fragile item must be protected, somehow, and we don’t have thirty Bible covers floating around. The other consideration was purely sentimental–my grandmother and Pastor have shared a special bond over the years, and their hearts for the Lord were the same, or complemented one another. It somehow seemed fitting that Grandma’s strong, practical love and Pastor’s gentler, more theologically in-depth love should be side-by-side.
What is my point? Well, um, it’s a little hard to condense at the moment… I suppose, if pressed, there are three points to the piece of writing that I have named the Parcel Post since I began it on 4 January.
I. Love the Holy Spirit. Adore, worship, and glorify the Holy Spirit. So often, we praise the Father and the Son, as well we should, but tend to forget the comfort, peace, and power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s do something about it!
II. Cherish the details in life. Cherish the handkerchiefs and bedroom slippers and pressed lilacs. Embrace the smile they bring to your face and the poignancy they plant in your heart.
And, if all of this isn’t quite enough to convince you that this piece did, after all, have a point…
III. Some posts don’t need a concise little point. At least once a year, fellow writers, pen something that has no discernible premise and no determinate conclusion. It will be good for your sentimental cortex.
Addendum: I’m entitling this post “Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome” because, for the first time, I have felt entirely free to write of the Holy Spirit in a way I have felt compelled to do for months, but which I never had the courage to act upon. The version I’m envisioning is from Don Moen’s album, HEALING. Let us, oh, let us, welcome more and more of the Holy Spirit in our lives!