I had just packed all the groceries and was waiting for Ernie to finish with the clerk when I turned and saw him. His gentle manner and kind face emanated from him like warmth from an evening campfire. He stood perfectly still, as if to give me the opportunity to check out what else there was about him that attracted my attention and then I saw it … the only thing he had in his shopping cart … a wooden cane, hand carved with vines, flowers, hummingbirds … and a cross. Beautiful!!
I was drawn to him like a moth to a flame. Visiting with this friendly gentleman, he shared some of his life with me. His name was Don and he lived in Excelsior Place, a senior living apartment complex, not far from the grocery store. He said he had carved the basswood cane himself some years ago and that he was part of a group of 15-20 woodworkers that meet every Thursday at The Senior Center in Brainerd. Continuing his story, now with Ernie at our side, he told us that this talented group of guys have made 2416 toy trucks since 2012 when he joined the group; likewise, a group of gifted women have handcrafted 678 dolls/teddy bears in that time.
These treasured keepsakes, he said, are distributed among 2 hospitals, 2 women’s shelters and 2 police departments in the Brainerd/Baxter area. Once a week, Don gets a call from one of these facilities and, like a plain clothes Santa Claus, delivers a bag chock full of pocket-sized toy trucks and huggable dolls or teddy bears to be given away to children who, for reasons they do not understand, are involved in a traumatic situation … either a traffic accident, emergency hospital visit or an uncomfortable supervised visit between parents in a strange place. With much compassion in his voice, he said he could receive no greater thanks than for that child to wrap their arms around his leg and look up at him with tear stained eyes, as if to say ‘How did you know I needed a friend right now?’ As he talked, we could only imagine that he truly becomes a superstar to that child as he pulls a toy or doll from his bag and their eager hands receive it … an ideal companion created especially for them … something that would help calm their fears … their new best friend.
What an amazingly simple and uncomplicated vision this gifted team of men and women from The Senior Center had a few years ago! Looking for something they could give back to the community, they combined their ideas and talents and, in the process, shaped the growth of a much needed and well received program. Awesome!! Ernie and I found ourselves wanting to know more about this group of dedicated people, The Senior Center and Don but our time was running short that day so, pulling one of our crosses out of our pocket, we gave our new friend a hug, a handshake and a promise that we would keep in touch.
When the phone rang the next afternoon, we were warmed to hear Don’s pleasant voice on the other end of the line. He wanted more crosses so he could give them away to his fellow residents and could we deliver them to him? A day later, we were sitting in his living room, visiting again and learning more about this special man.
He told us he was a carpenter by trade and that he and his wife had moved to Texas about 25 years ago to build a house and garage for his brother. They liked the Texas climate so much, they stayed. While down there, they started collecting waterfowl decoys as a hobby. As all hobbies do, the collection grew and Don started to think that maybe he could carve some of these decoys himself, saving them money. So, he got a piece of basswood and started. When he finished his first piece, he said he had to tell his wife that it was a duck and only then could she see the resemblance … his eyes twinkling as he pointed to his first project, now nesting comfortably on top of the refrigerator. Since then, he has mastered his craft and carved hundreds of things from mesquite, diamond willow but mostly basswood … ducks, diminutive bears, petite hummingbirds … paying special attention to the intricate detail each one carries. These delightful creatures share his apartment now, along with the treasured memories of his beautiful and loving wife.
Along one wall, lined up like soldiers ready for action, are the many carefully handcrafted canes. Some are carved from diamond willow, some from basswood … each one different from the other but alike in their artistry. Don is graciously humble about his handiwork but it is clear to us that he enjoyed each and every stroke of the knife.
Lymes disease stole the strength in his arms and hands a few years ago and, sadly, his carving days are over. But he keeps his days full … spending Thursdays and Fridays with other talent minded people at The Center, helping make the toys in the 4th floor woodshop or greeting visitors at the front desk. He coordinates with the dollmakers at both Excelsior Place and The Center and is the essential ingredient to the facilities that receive these special deliveries. And, now, through our seeming casual encounter (which we know was planned by God all the time!) at the grocery store, he oversees the stringing of our crosses by the Excelsior Place residents and the distribution of these crosses to many of the local churches (to date, that count is approaching 1000!).
Each time we visit with Don, it becomes more apparent that he is faithful and true to his God and that God is guiding his steps … each step, every day.
Don is truly an inspiration to us and we are thrilled to welcome him into our Cross The World family. More than that, Ernie and I are privileged to call him our friend. And, to think it all started with a shopping cart, a cane and a hug!
BELIEVE IN HIS MIRACLES!!
We have received so many nice comments this past month and we wanted to share with you. Please read them here.
Birthday blessings to two of our Cross The World directors: Bob Schemel’s birthday was on April 10th and Ernie Miller’s on the 16th. God loves you for all you do for Cross The World’s ministry and so do we. Happy Birthday guys!!
Ernie and I will be representing Cross The World at The Living Local Expo on April 17th and 18th at The Hallett Center in Crosby, MN. Hours for the Expo are 3P – 7P on Friday, the 17th and 10A – 3P on Saturday, the 18th. If you’re in the area, stop by and visit!
We welcome some new and say ‘Glad you’re back!’ to returning Friends in Christ during the month of March:
Dawn – MN
Tom – MN
Sandra – TX
Genivee – TX
Dana – MN
Ruby – TX
Concordia College Parish Nurse Ministry – Moorhead, MN
St. Michael Lutheran Church – Portage, MI
Carolyn – TX
Rev. Herb – MT
Zion Lutheran Church – Stewartville, MN
Joyce – TX
Ann – MN
Jerry – MN
First Baptist Church – Baxter, MN
The Center for Family Counseling – St. Cloud, MN
God’s Country Cooperative Parish – Newberry, MI
Ben – AZ
Lutheran Heritage Foundation – Macomb, MI for mission work in Ethiopia
Darlene – MN
William – MN
Don – MN
Camp JIM (Jesus Is Mine) – Pillager, MN