Thursday, December 31, 2009

Leaping from the Old to the New

I have never been big on traditional New Year's Eve celebration. First of all, game time is three hours past my bedtime. Secondly, most of the traditions involve doing something to excess which leads to puking.... and we have had enough of that already this Christmas vacation from natural causes like the flu, as well as reading the latest news updates.

Our final hold-out on getting sick finally succumbed and is in bed with the time honored treatment of Vick's vapor rub applied to the soles of her feet and warm socks put over them. Then we stuck a pin in the voodoo doll and shortly thereafter all coughing ceased. Actually, the vick's vaporub treatment really does work. I think it has to do with pressure points, as in the basis for acupuncture's success. The menthol creeps in through the skin of the sole and the germs are laughing so hard that they forget to do their job and attack the immune system.

Matt's girlfriend was supposed to come spend a few days here, but finally realized to enter this home would be suicide until a giant fumigating tent has been placed over it and small healing antibody bombs exploded within. So Matt headed out to her town, where the germs are more dispersed. We were left alone, hacking and shivering with our fever chills and nausea. ..... and ten pounds of marinating chicken for the gala feast we were going to throw. And a case of Dr.Pepper Diet Cherry Soda which none of us drink, but Matt told me his girlfriend likes. Our refrigerator is stocked with food, which has no attraction yet for at least me and Asherel who are still in a delicate balance between feeling lousy or feeling utterly lousy.

So while I never make New Year's Resolutions, I do have one this year. Next year, I intend to get the flu shot.
And since this is the last day of the year, I feel compelled to reach deep for some sort of spiritual message in all this. This is particularly demanding as the word COUGH is not mentioned even once in the Bible. This shows that God did not create the cough, so my guess is that Darwin did. However, the word sickness occurs innumerable times, and sickness is used in many ways. It can be used to bring heightened awareness of sin, it can be used to make us rely more totally on the Healer, or it can even be used to prove that the one who claimed to be the Messiah could do more than make a good glass of wine.

But I think the best message I can take about sickness is "A man's spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?" Proverbs 18:14. The enemy is really not the illness. It is never really the stinky circumstances of life, though it always feels like it is. The real enemy is the father of discouragement and despair, the one who crushes the spirit and destroys hope. And that is the one part of the New Year's Eve celebration that I like. I do like the sense of hope, of new possibilities, and brighter tomorrows. I just feel like that potential is there every moment of every day and sometimes even waiting til midnight to claim it may be too late.
"I tell you now is the time of God's favor; now is the day of salvation." 2 Corinthians 6:2
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Table is Turned

For years, my sisters have refused to discuss hair with me. They say I have an obsession. They cover their ears and say "Lalalalalalalala" when I bemoan the state of my hair.
"Should I just cut it all off?" I ask.
"Or does it look better in a classic bob?"
So then I turned to Asherel and started asking her advice, but even she soon wearied of the quest for the perfect haircut.
You can imagine the glee with which I approached my response when my sister Amy emailed this morning with several haircut choices, and asked which she should choose for herself.
First of all, sending links like that to me is like giving an alchoholic a gift card to the nearest ABC store. I was drooling as I perused the links, as Amy is far more gifted than I in finding classy haircut sites. Second of all, this was a Golden opportunity to practice the Modified Golden Rule.... I was about to do unto her as she had done unto me. I was just getting ready to type "Lalalalalalalalalalala" , when something overcame me. I would like to think it was the restraining hand of the Holy Spirit, but in reality it was a coughing fit. It gave me time to consider my actions.

I chose the cutest one, and also bookmarked it for my own future use, then sent her the sage wisdom of the Uber General of the Perfect Haircut Battle. See, I understand that a haircut can be much more than a haircut. In a world filled with uncertainty, inability to control events, seemingly random horrors occuring right and left, a haircut is one thing we can control. Sometimes cutting hair straggling in your eyes and pasting against a hot flashing forehead can change your entire perspective. Sometimes turning a completely new look to the world can make you realize there are endless new tomorrows where the world and you will be better.

There is of course an easier and less expensive route to this awareness. I guarantee my friend Joy is already typing the verses.
"His mercies are new every morning....great is thy faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22
and "I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you." Exekiel 36:26
"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" 2 Corinthians 5:17

This is all true, and every morning I do spring out of bed, with joy in my heart and my hair sticking out in all directions, frizzy and grey, shouting, I am a new creature in God! Who needs the perfect haircut!!!? Beauty and youth is SO yesterday!
OK, so I am not there yet, but I am going to meditate on those verses in between salivating over the haircut pictures Amy sent.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Carry Us Forever

Families are like dominoes. When one stands, they all stand. When one falls, they all tumble down. That is what happened to us. Anders came home from Boston sick, and then I got sick, and yesterday Matt and Arvo got REALLY sick, and Asherel was still fighting it off but the battle is undecided there. It has been less than the perfect ideal I had envisioned for Christmas, with two adult progeny who may not be home for Christmas many more years as they develop families of their own. At no time over this break did all of us feel well. I have been sick nearly the entire visit of Anders, and am still far from healthy.

Most meals had at least one member feeling like puking, actually puking, asleep after puking, coughing, unable to speak due to coughing, or asleep after coughing. The remaining healthy ones wore gas masks and germ warfare suits, making it difficult to practice proper formal dining etiquette, which is, as you can imagine, a must in our home.

Mere mortal mothers may not handle this situation with all the grace and understanding and philosophical acceptance it called for. Mere mortal mothers would be unable to stretch and find God in even this overwhelming disappointment as her first born son she sees once or twice a year returns to Boston today. But this mother did what most other mothers would not..... this mother cried her eyes out til they were purple. The grocery store cashier seemed a little perplexed as to why this mother was wearing sunglasses at 9 pm on an emergency run for puke-stoppage supplies.

Go ahead. Scream at me in the comment section about how immature and un-spiritually I am handling this. I know there are people in way worse shape and in all likelihood, we will all recover from this onslaught. It is really a deeper issue than just a whole family being sick during perhaps the last time we will all gather, maybe for a long long time. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I have been reading Exodus, the story of Jewish persecution for thousands of years, culminating finally in their homeland Israel being made into a nation. The evil perpetrated against my people, against God's people is enough to make anyone with a heart weepy. But then there was the recent terrorist on the airplane, the news that Iran will have a bomb next year, and so much selfish unkindness exhibited by people with all kinds of excuses why it was ok for them to behave that way. I felt a crushing dismay at the strength of Evil, of the Adversary, and the attacks. I don't want to wait for evil to end. I want it to end now.

My Bible study this morning was about God's presence in the midst of illness (!) and tragedy. I love how God is repeatedly described as a shepherd, protecting His flock from the wolves and dangers of the night. I particularly like the verse that inspired the painting for this blog,
"Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever." Psalm 28: 8-9. There are times when even just huddling like sheep protected by a kind shepherd is not enough. Sometimes He has to carry me. I understand that symbolically, but I am not always sure how that happens in my reality. However, as the morning sun tiptoes through my newly cleaned windows, I wait in anticipation.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 28, 2009

The System Worked

Just who do they think we are, a bunch of mindless cattle?? (No offense to the mindless cattle.)
A terrorist attempts to blow up a plane, but his explosives don't fully ignite, and passengers put out the fire and subdue the terrorist. And Janet Napolitano, homeland security czar is quoted by CNN as saying "One thing I'd like to point out, the system worked."

What system? Dumb luck, chance, astrology......and the courage of an astute passenger? Is that the system our government has in place to subdue terrorism? I didn't see her being interviewed but she must have been laughing and spitting coffee when she said that. The CNN reporter must have been slapping his knee and rollicking on the floor, saying ,"Good one Secretary Napolitano! Now tell us the one about how universal health care will reduce costs and save lives again!" Again, I didn't see the interview, but clearly this was in preparation for an upcoming role on Saturday Night Live.

It all reminds me of the problem of windows in our house. This morning, the sun is streaming through our front window, although it is cranky about doing so, as it must shove aside dog nose smears, fingerprints, dirty shoe spatter, and dead bug carcasses. I realize that while I am a fine vacuum-er, and a bit less so fine, but occasional duster, I am a horrendous window cleaner. I also realize this is a good chore to set one of the members of my family on. Nonetheless, I don't want to travel too far from the point. Windows get dirty slowly, and I almost don't notice til they are so filthy that it is impossible to ignore. No matter how hard I squint, I cannot see clearly until I see them for what they are, and take the necessary action. First I must admit that they are dirty, and I must accede that I have let them get in that condition through laziness, neglect, or even worse, the belief that they would clean themselves if I just treat them kindly. (I have tried that approach....) Then I must buckle down and take the appropriate steps to clean them. If I pretend to look out of them and see a clear and distortion free picture before I do that, I am just lying.

It is, of course, the same thing with all aspects of life, and most vividly, the spiritual. If I drift away, little by little from serious Bible study, prayer, gathering with believers, challenging and supporting my beliefs....., the smears of life events gradually obscure my vision of God.

Cleaning the windows is on my check list today.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An Ingenious New Weapon

The fastest frisbee speed recorded (from my laborious research conducted over the exhaustive period of three full minutes) is 119 kilometers per hour. The speed of the cough can be up to 160 kilometers per hour. This means that when you cough, you should be labeled a dangerous weapon, and not just for the projectile germs you spew for thousands of miles in all directions. With this new knowledge in hand, one has to wonder about all the fuss over an innovative new energy source. It is clear that all we need to do is harness the cough. There is never a shortage of coughing, it is a renewable resource, and every single country has access to it. Of course, in no time, our government would find a way to tax the cough (as though it were not taxing enough) but that is a subject for a different blog.

I spent another intense research period trying to ascertain how many muscles are used to produce the cough. From what I could gather the best scientific studies indicate, and I quote, "Alot". The cough begins when a foreign object enters the respiratory tract and then the diaphragm and intercostal (rib muscles) violently contract and detonate the explosive response. Some coughs can be so violent as to break ribs. Now, if you have two dogs like we do, and you have ever attempted to break a single rib in half so each may have a piece, you know how hard it is to break ribs.

Normally when I get very sick, I just lay down and groan and suffer and garner as much pity as I can, sometimes culminating in gifts and dinner out. However, with this illness, I am putting my down time to good use and intend to apply for the Nobel Peace Prize with all my good intentions since that appears to be the criteria these days. With dismay I see that the illustrious Senator Kerry intends to go hobnob with the Iranian president since no matter how many times President Obama cries, "No fair!", this stubborn leader insists on developing nuclear weapons and blowing Israel off the face of the earth, just in case they try to make up another Holocaust hoax. President Ahmadinejad is gleeful over Kerry's prospective visit, as no USA leader has visited him in many many years, and he plans to use that overture to full diplomatic advantage. However, we all know that our government is at a loss as to what to do. Well I have a solution. We line up a full battalion on Iran's border of the sickest soldiers we can find, the ones that are in full bronchial distress. We give Iran one warning so the women and children can take cover, and then on the count of three, we cough. Based on my studies, this will flatten Iran.

Now I know that the more observant ones will note that this does not destroy the underground nuclear facilities, but I think it will send a clear message that we mean business. I suspect Ahmadinejad will resign on the spot, and then, and only then, do we give each soldier a cough drop.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Back to Real Life

Christmas decorations create magic in the home with their flickering lights, beautiful angel wings flapping heaven's scent, and fake smell of pine in green and red candles.... until the day after Christmas. On the day after Christmas, they become a huge pile of clutter that SOMEONE now has to collect and put away. No longer do they beckon me to sit and contemplate whether Mary really understood the enormity of her responsibility. Now instead they taunt me to defy the law of physics and closet space and get them stored away for another year. Even when I feel healthy that is a task I abhor, but I am sick with a wretched cough that rips my chest cartilege with every racking explosion. So I wrestle with which bothers me more- the now antiquated Christmas clutter or the spasms of coughing that will undoubtedly erupt if I try to put them away today. My family is still fast asleep for hours so I have plenty of time to clean. Every year I want to just get a garbage can and toss everything in it so that I don't have to carefully wrap each precious glass ornament, and then lug the enormous bin of Christmas cheer up the steep pull-down attic steps.

But then, I remember what happens every year shortly after Thanksgiving when I first lug the enormous bin down the steep pull-down attic steps. As I unwrap each precious glass ornament, a flood of memories cascade down the rapids of my soul. These are the crystal icicles Mom put on the tree every year when she finally defied the kids' garish tastes and decided we would have an "elegant" tree. Funny how I love the elegant tree as well. I have a garish tree for the kids, and an elegant tree for me. And as I unwrap the homemade Angels and snowmen made by the children when they were young, I always get a lump in my throat wondering where those hectic joyful years went. I unwrap the hand painted ornaments that creative sister Amy made with special significance to each of us. And I unwrap the little creche I made, this year noticing that baby Jesus' arm was broken despite my care putting it away the year before.

That would be sad if my hope was in the permanence of the material drapings of our Christmas, but of course it is not. And this year, I have the beautiful new creche Asherel made and gave me as a gift. It is exquisite and much sturdier than the fragile one I made anyway.

So I will probably tackle the clutter after subduing my cough with caffeine and zinc cough drops. But I think I will leave the new little Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a place of prominence. First of all, it was made with the hands of love of a child that sought to know her mother's heart, and that will sustain me through many a heart-break in the new year. But also, I think it may help me to glance over at it each day, to see the hope and love on the face of a slightly bewildered Mary, the protection and determination of faithful Joseph, and the innocence and miracle of a baby that seems so vulnerable and yet carries the weight of the world on his little shoulders. That baby will remind me that even when I feel my weakest, when the inevitable disappointments threaten to tumult to despair, when there really seems no possible happy ending..... then I will look at the baby and remember that God's greatest miracle started off in diapers.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Wet Christmas

We don't have a white Christmas.... we have a wet Christmas. The rain is dancing like sugarplum elephants on our tin roof to the tune of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" (my least favorite Christmas song.)
Lucky, who fears something we don't understand about being indoors in the rain, is standing in the frigid, wet cold, occassionally looking soddenly in, as though it is our fault his brain disappears on rainy days.

Maybe the rain and the frozen wet dog too traumatized for unknown reasons to come inside to dry warmth and comfort is the perfect Christmas symbol for the morning. Inside the tree is lit up with the lovely crystal decorations my mom gave me. The smell of coffee brewing drifts about, with tendrils of steam rising from my cup. Presents are beautifully wrapped and cheerfully arranged around the tree..... on one end of our great room.

On the other end, the sliding doors look out onto a drenched porch, shiny with rain in the slowly emerging break of dismal day. Lucky stands there looking in, his hair dripping in long wet strands about his silent, woebegone face. If I go and open the door, he comes in, and then instantly dashes back out the dog door. He has the choice to come in and join Christmas, but he doesn't. He stands frozen and miserable in the rain, locked in his fears and prejudice from joining the celebration.

I believe that is what entrance to the kingdom of God is like, symbolized by the gift of Christmas, the birth of a savior. We can all choose. Some will stand outside looking in, miserable and lost in trembling uncertainty. Some will be opening gifts eternally surrounded by warmth and love and light. A loving master opens the door over and over again, and out of fear and doubt, some choose to keep running from the source of all joy. My Christmas prayer and hope is that when the door opens, we can cast all apprehensions aside, and rush to the gift that awaits us, blinking in the blinding love. Merry Christmas.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 24, 2009


I love the assortment of cookies in the children box God gave me. One is intellectual, silent, serious. Another is garrulous, emotional, intense, and wacky. A third is a mixture, but tends towards the very creative artistic type. I see bits of myself in all of them, but the most unreachable is probably my oldest. He doesn't like to talk, finds it meaningless, even painful, and wasteful of the allotted breaths humans can take on this earth.

On the other hand, talking through what I am feeling and thinking is very valuable to me. I share his stumbling with words, but still feel it is a critical aspect of human interaction. We are always at an impasse emotionally, totally clueless as to how the other can exist in their own psyche. I try to understand and silence my maternal concern. I try to exist quietly in his presence, but it is not easy. I prayed very specifically yesterday morning that God would grant a miracle of opening doors between us.

Last night, Arvo told me the kids should open the gift he had bought early. He said it was important since Anders only had a few days to spend with us. Based on my non-materialistic son's usual stoic response to gifts, I was not sure it was worth decreasing the visual and gluttonous excess of all the gifts under the tree Christmas morning, but being the typical dutiful and obedient wife (sarcasm is dripping like melted butter here...), I acquiesced.

The kids lined up by the large gift and Anders ripped open a corner. Now the fact that Anders even bothered to approach the gift with anything looking like interest was enough to tip me off that I was watching a miracle. When he lifted the box and began ripping into it, and the others converged on it tearing away packaging like sharks on a piece of meat, I felt knobs turning, rusty hinges creaking.

As they pulled out the guitars, and drums, and began hooking up the Beatles Rock Band set to the Wii, Matt smiled at me and said, "GOOD gift!" Anders, my silent Anders, was chattering away. He was singing, out loud, Beatles songs.

He asked me, as he handed me the mircrophone, if I wanted to sing. He assigned himself to the drums, and Matt to the guitar. Asherel and Arvo sat on the couch watching, and waiting their turn. Then Anders cranked the music up loud and our sunroom became a concert hall. The boys were at the "expert" level. I was a "beginner", but many times I noticed the screen flash extra points because we were all "in unison." If it would not have made my emotion-fearful son run screaming away, I would have burst into tears with joy. Never had I loved my husband more for having the wisdom to know just what we all needed to reconnect.

So while the typical Christmas message would be quite the opposite, I discovered that money CAN buy happiness. Maybe not permanently, and maybe not the kind that will carry you to the other side of "this mortal coil", but it is the most blissful family moment we have had with our adult children I think in a very long time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What it is All About

Matt appears to have "misplaced" (lost) his phone and after several hours of searching, we suspect it is somewhere in Kmart where he joined the other milling Christmas cattle. I got a text message from his lost phone around midnight, with one word: Tired.

I have received many emails with friends lamenting this year about how hectic the season is, how hard it is to find the Christmas "spirit". Traffic jams everywhere; airport looking like someone just stepped on an ant nest. Too many parties with too many strangers manufacturing an excitement that often is just masking exhaustion.

I love holidays but I have always felt melancholy in the pit of my stomach. They are never quite what I anticipate, and when they are over, I know life returns to the work, and school, and dailiness that can best anyone.

My oldest son Anders who rarely comes home from his busy new career and life in Boston got in last night. For the first time in many months, our entire family is together again. I know those times will become increasingly rare, and so I stayed up til midnight to relish every second, and then am up early this morning. It is enough to know that all around me, my dear family is snoring.

Today we will suspend phone service to Matt's phone, and guess who is getting a new phone for Christmas? But I am a little hesitant to shut off contact with "Tired". Maybe we are his only contact, and maybe he is struggling to find a family that will shelter him however briefly from all the silliness and excess of this holiday. I can relate to his angst, and so before I suspend service, I will text him this verse:

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dark Matter

Scientists are all high fiving and kicking their heels in the air. It seems they heard two pulses that could be proof of the presence of Dark Matter. For a year, they have been huddled around an underground detector deep in a Minnesota mine, listening, and hoping that the Dark Matter would speak. Last week, with two barely audible pulses,it did, or they think it is possible it did. It may also have been the scientist's lunch of hotdogs and beans speaking, but extensive testing will be ongoing to determine which it was.

The development of the theory of this elusive Dark Matter is heartwarming, and described by the Wall Street Journal article as requiring many areas of science to come together and make leaps of "imagination". Leaps of "imagination". What an odd use of words. Since this indicates scientific reliability I may adopt this new phrase. Now really, I applaud the scientists their work and their research and the multitude of ways that they have advanced my life bringing me things like programmable coffee makers. But I cannot help but feel sorry for the seekers of Dark Matter huddled in the deep underground cave in Minnesota in the dead of winter.

I am going to offer them some friendly advice. Take a break this week. This week, be a seeker of Light Matter, the one who is the light of the world. Take a leap of "imagination" and huddle around the story of a baby born to light the darkness.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Afflicted

God will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help them. Psalm 72:12

This blog is invaluable because it will teach you exactly what not to read when you cannot sleep because you are worried about the son still trapped at college by impassable roads. Doing the insomnia waltz for a few hours, I turned to my bedside book to help calm my maternal hyperdrive. The cheery little tome I was just starting was Exodus, by Leon Uris. I usually oscillate between books like Uris'- that deal with issues like the Holocaust, and Carol Nelson Douglas with the disturbing issues of talking cats and dogs that solve crimes. This sleepless eve, I began to read a first person account of someone's relatives being made into soap by a country that called itself Christian. It described babies being tossed in the air and used for target practice. I will stop there. Everyone, unless you are an Iranian president, knows about the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust.
I got out of bed and paced a little, thinking that some of those victims were my relatives. It could have been my mother, my brother, my sister being led to the slaughter no one believed could happen. I was trembling with the rage and reawakened realization that even after millions were being herded to gas chambers and gruesome torture, a world still said, "It could not happen. It is only a rumor. Evil that huge cannot exist."
And then Uris describes the period right after the Holocaust, which is another despairing testament to the disgusting levels our species can descend. The skeletal orphans, and barely alive "survivors" of the concentration camps were herded into barbed wire enclosed "refugee camps", with little food and dismal conditions, because no one wanted them. Trickles of Jewish people were allowed to emigrate to Palestine, but the Arab world didn't want them either. So they escaped as best they could to the only potential refuge they knew in Palestine.
I haven't reached the section of Exodus yet where Israel becomes a nation and its doors are opened to this wretched mass of suffering. I just could not read any more.
I know that our nation is negotiating with Israel, a country the size of New Jersey, to coerce her to give up more land of this one place of refuge for her perpetually afflicted people. Arab leaders that surround her call for her utter destruction, and the world stands by as they manufacture the capability to do so.
But we know it could not happen. Evil that huge cannot exist.
I had a screaming nightmare in the middle of the night. What a surprise, huh? In the nightmare, the loved ones around me were all metastisizing into monsters and as I turned to them for help, they became the evil pursuer.
I know one of the hardest questions to try to answer is how could a loving God allow evil to exist, especially evil on the scale of the holocaust? And where was He when those children were being ripped from their mothers by tormentors too hideous for us to even imagine? Corrie Ten Boom, in her book The Hiding Place, answers that, as best as anyone I have ever read. God was in the fleas. The one room where Corrie and her sister and other terrified victims of the concentration camps could gather undisturbed and pray and read of the eternal promise of God was so filled with fleas that the guards would not enter the room.
I cannot answer that question of evil. The best I can do is propose that without the creation of choice, a choice to be evil instead of good, we cannot understand good. If we cannot face the monstrous capacity of our own hearts, we cannot crave or desire its opposite. It is for now, the best I can do with that question. In all the horrors of the Holocaust, God was the only source of comfort and strength for Corrie Ten Boom, and I believe she has the right to preach it.
At least, it made my worry over Matt getting home for Christmas pale in comparison.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stop Signs

I love Oswald Chambers book, My Utmost for His Highest. My reading today was how all of our desire to point people to God must include the message of the cross. It is not a kindness to just point out God's love and provision without the understanding that none of us are worthy to approach a holy God. I find this message easy because I am painfully aware of my short comings and inadequacies. I am forever failing, and usually over and over again in the same stupid ways. For those human beings who are better than me, and that is most of them, the message that we are all sinners in need of a savior falls on deaf ears, because many of us think we are pretty A-ok.

On my morning run, I was contemplating that message, and was thinking about the book I am writing. There is so much pain and grief and despair in the world that I long to write with humor and joy. Yet, I asked myself, was I circumventing the very horrific message of the cross- the gruesome death that a righteous, sinless man suffered that we might recognize the intense ugliness of sin? At that very moment, I glanced up. There was a stop sign with graffitti on it. Words in white spray paint adorned the word Stop, so the sign cheerfully shouted, "Don't Stop Smiling."

Of course, I smiled. What a lovely message! I think we do need to Stop, like Chambers admonished, and recognize first that there was a reason Jesus had to die on the cross..... but then we move on to the other side of the cross, and the eternal joy that represents. If we are not smiling as Christians, I think we miss the point.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Three feet of Snow

Matt called from UVa- he would not be coming home yet from college as his car was buried under three feet of snow. In fact, it was still snowing and I suspect we may not see him til the Spring. If he had left Thursday, like I suggested..... but I am not upset or anything like that..... he would be home with his family roasting chestnuts on an open fire. Instead, he is stranded with little food, few businesses open, and a weather report that doesn't look promising despite the global warming that is frying the other parts of the world.

As if I wasn't nervous enough about my dear son driving through the treacherous mountains in winter, the forecast in our area was ominous:
"We might possibly perhaps maybe get an ice storm with the potential possibility of perceivably plausible almost likely feasible accumulation of 1- 100 inches of snow." This was a typical winter forecast in Charlotte, certain to send hordes of shoppers braving the elements for bread and toilet paper. It had double angst production for me, as I was worried about Matt ever coming home again with such dire weather forecasts, and we had to travel an hour south the next day to attend Hollow Creek Farm Open House. Since Arvo was the back up Santa, our presence was critical. How would we make it through all the ice?

However, surprisingly, not a nanosecond of snowfall materialized and the roads were clear and ice free in Charlotte this morning. We went to the open house, and my friend Roxan and I had a wonderful time walking the dogs that needed potty breaks during the festivities. As we were happily chatting and the dogs were delighted to be roaming further than their typical walks allowed, we suddenly spied a shirt on the edge of a ditch. We both slammed to a stop, and said, "That is odd." Roxan feared there might be a body somewhere near the shirt, and we nervously glanced around, but there was not. The shirt was neatly lying by the ditch, a pattern of doves all over it, and disembodied hands reaching to the doves, in prayer.

I reminded Roxan that God is always sending messages, but we so often don't understand what He is saying. At the moment, I could not for the life of me understand what this symbol might mean. However, many hours later, I realized that my Bible study that morning had been about Joseph, and how his brothers had tossed him in the well, and then brought his many colored coat back to their father to convince him that Joseph was dead. But Joseph was not dead, and went on to rise to a position of power in Egypt and ultimately save his family and the Israelites from starvation in the ensuing famine. The empty coat became a symbol of apparent disaster turned into victory and salvation.

I often assume the worst, prepare for the disaster.... and then like the anticipated ice storm, it doesn't come.
Sometimes a shirt with doves and the hand of God on it does not mean there is a dead body nearby. Sometimes it just means that someone who thought they were in the bottom of a well, are instead being prepared for a great task they never envisioned. Maybe it's me. Maybe it's you.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 18, 2009

He's Got Me Covered.....

Sometimes my dreams are so real, that when I wake up, I think I am just falling asleep. It is a little spooky if I dwell on that too much, so for now, let us start with the premise that I am actually awake right now. In my dream, I went to the mall in my bathing suit, like most Christmas shoppers, but I was wearing my expensive designer cover up. It had cost me a good bit, but it was beautiful thus well worth the money. I went to the saleslady at the store and she told me I had selected an exquisite cover-up, and was I done shopping? I told her I was, handed her my cover-up which I then paid an exorbitant sum for AGAIN. When I got home, I took the cover-up out of the shopping bag, and then smacked my forehead. I realized with dismay that I had already owned the stupid cover-up. How had I been duped into buying it again?

Well the Christian message is so painfully obvious that it is almost insulting to say it, particularly as it will tick off my secular readers.... all two of them. However, when I am handed a message by the Almighty, I know better than to keep it to myself. My guess is that 99% of the unexplained instances of people bursting into flame is from just such folly.

So, two main thoughts came to mind as I contemplated my dream. First the most critical message of Christianity- Jesus' sacrificial death on my behalf "covered" my sin. All God sees now when He looks at me is the atoning cover, and I am free from the punishment I deserve. I certainly didn't need to buy that cover-up again.... nor could I really buy it the first time. It was a gift freely given, though at a great price, and it only had to be accepted once. I don't know why I was so confused in my dream.

But the second meaning of "cover" in my dream that came to me is one I have long struggled with. The story of God telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, kept me from faith for many years. I just did not understand how a loving God could put the strong parental instincts to love and protect his child in a father, and then ask him to overide that instinct and do the most reprehensible thing I can think of. I know what the Christian experts say- that it is a story of obedience, that Abraham knew ultimately Isaac would be returned to him, that he had to understand that the only thing that mattered was God and listening to him, yadayadayada. But none of those things helped me as a non-believer. It is still a passage that brings me extreme discomfort. However, the one part that I love is just as Abraham raises the knife to sacrifice his son, an angel of the Lord stops him, and tells him to sacrifice the ram , conveniently caught in a nearby thicket, instead. (Honestly, as an animal lover I don't like that aspect of it either, but it is better than Isaac's throat getting slit by dear old Dad.)
I love how God "covered" Abraham and gave him an out. He did not require Abraham to follow through with the sacrifice of his only son... though God had not given Himself the same out. God did know intimately what it meant to sacrifice an only son for a greater purpose.

In my dream, I ridiculously repurchased something I already owned. God already has me in His sights, and I am already covered. No need to revisit that store. And beyond that, whatever I am asked to do, He covers me with mercy and grace, and supplies whatever I need to accomplish the task. I have seen it played out in my life countless times, yet for some reason, I am often in doubt, and going back to buy what I already own.
(tomorrow we will discuss the imprudence of wearing a bathing suit to the mall in the dead of winter.)
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Count it All Joy

A pervasive lesson in our homeschool, usually in the form of strong admonition, is that Asherel joyfully and willingly and completely obey and do what she is told. I have to constantly remind her that "partial obedience is NOT obedience", and "grudging compliance is not compliance."

Over and over again until I am blue in the tongue from all its wagging, I remind and beg that she endure the trials of school with joy, and contentment, and excellence. Lesson after lesson, story after story, I try to convict her lovely spirit that you reap what you sow, you get what you put in, you cast your net and gather the fish.
This morning, as in all mornings, I said, "Now I would like you to do your math."
This morning, as in all mornings, her jaw dropped open and her face registered horror as though I had just asked her to behead her dog.
This morning, as in all mornings, I then said,"Immediately and willingly, please."
But this morning she responded, "Oh I AM willing! Actually, my eyes were bulging with happiness."

I love the book of James, which I will paraphrase here:
Hey dude, if you dare call yourself a believer then why are you sitting back and so selfishly just trying to grab all the cookies in life? Life is tough, and it isn't about you, turkey. If you claim to love God, then do what He tells you. Love others, do good, and do it without complaining. I will be sending you alot of curve balls, and I don't expect you to just be standing around waiting for the pitch you like. Get in there and swing for all you are worth, and prove that you trust me. That is the only way to win the game.

So it may have been in jest, but I consider it progress, and my eyes are also bulging with happiness.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Lizard in the Living Room

Have you ever noticed that when a dog is in, he wants to be out? When a dog is out he wants to be in. When my hair is short, I want it to be long. When my hair is long I want it to be short. When it is summer, I long for the cold. When it is winter, I long for warmth.

Last night, when I lay down in bed and settled in my nice warm covers to read, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a little head. The last time this happened, I ended up with a copperhead snake in the hallway, so I jumped up and looked around. I must have been seeing things. I went to bed, but not without trepidation.

This morning I was going about our typical homeschool day doing ten thousand things at once, and went racing into my room, then screeched to a halt because the little head from the night before was looking right at me. There in the middle of the rug was a little anole lizard. Its little head pivoted to gaze peacefully at me. I slowly backed out of the room and then ran to get a plastic container, hurried back, and popped it over the lizard. Then I scooped it up, and after showing it to Asherel who found this much more exciting than quadratic equations, I let it go outside. I opened the container next to a large bush, and it slowly crawled out onto the branch. It was very cold so I scurried back in.

"Are you sure we can't keep it?" asked Asherel, "It is so cold. Will it be ok?"
"I am sure, and yes, it will be ok. It hibernates." ( I hope and pray it does anyway.)

I thought about how like that little creature I am... always longing to be where I am not. Our Bible study today was from Romans 7:15, where Paul laments , "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate....I do."

The lizard thought it wanted to be warm and inside our house. However, there was no food for it inside our house, and ultimately it would die, or be eaten by our ever prowling dogs. It belonged ouside where it was cold and it did not want to be cold. I could totally relate to the lizard's conundrum. We both longed for some perfection that was unattainable.... at least here on Earth. The longing was good, I think, planted in me, in Paul, and in the lizard so we would remember to strive for something better. But in a sense, we were still out in the cold.... and shivering til Heaven let us in.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let it Snow....

It doesn't feel like we are ten days from Christmas. Having grown up in upstate NY where we would get on average ten feet of snow a day, there was never any doubt that Christmas was coming. We would tunnel out of home through snow drifts that covered our roofs, and like naked mole rats, slide through a maze of icy tunnels to the mailbox, then find our way back home by following the blinking Christmas lights. NY has its issues, but doing winter right is not one of them.

However, while we did indeed flee to the South precisely because my aching back did not want to shovel another single snowflake, I do miss the snow. I bundle up in all my Christmas furs and boots, and pretty soon am sweating up a storm. Last night, as we prepared to head out to our dog agility class, there was a milky white glow out the windows. It looked like snow! Of course, it was not. Snow comes once every 30,000 years to Charlotte. But it was a close facsimile. It was fog- deep viscous fog that obliterates all forms beyond arm length. As I drove slowly through the fog, we blasted Christmas music on the radio, and it looked like a white-out snowstorm if we squinted.

Asherel pointed out that the Christmas songs were the souped up, jangly variety. All those sweet peaceful tunes I grew up with have been "updated." So we drove in the fog, pretending it was snow, listening to the hiphop Christmas songs, pretending they were the peaceful reminders of Jesus.

And then, Silent Night came on. The same sweet song I grew up with. There were no bass drums thumping in the background so we could dance to the beat. There were no rap singers chanting their accompaniment to Christmas cheer.... just the quiet Silent Night I remembered. I sang along, driving slowly as my headlights lit the fog with an ethereal glow.

"Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sabbath for a Toe

Rainy days give me headaches. Something about the barometic pressure dropping, the being stuck indoors with no fresh air, the dying drowning worms that congregate like spaghetti dinner on the porch.....
I love to run and walk, and bikeride, and the rain puts a literal damper on all those activities. So I sit instead in the sun room, and listen to the rain drops tapping out their morse code on the tin roof. I watch the newly laid grass seed happily streaming across the yard in rivulets to the neighbor's already lush lawn.
By the end of the day, I am irritable. All I have done is sit, my over-abundance of energy tamped into an explosive bundle, sure to self-detonate. The rain is giggling with its incessant taunt. Then I realize that my toe is no longer throbbing. After a week of severe pain in the injured toe, it is as silent as the rain is noisy on the roof. I remove my boot to see that the swelling is nearly gone, the redness subsided. All it needed was a day of rest, a Sabbath for the toe.
What a wise and wonderful idea a Sabbath rest is. I had regarded the rain as limiting.... but maybe it was the only way my poor toe would ever be able to take a nap!
My very favorite Bible passage is in 1 Kings 18-19, when Elijah has defeated all the pagan hosts who worship Ba'al, the false God. The evil Jezebel threatens to take his life, and Elijah flees and hides in the mountains. And despite having just seen the remarkable, miraculous display of God's power in defeating the Ba'al worshippers, Elijah is in despair. Just kill me now, he calls out to God, and it is clear, poor Elijah is just plumb tuckered out. I love what God does. He sends an angel with some food. He tells Elijah to sleep, and eat, and sleep some more. And then, and only then, does He offer some Godly advice.
Personally, I would have yelled at Elijah. I would have said, "Good grief man, I show you fire from heaven licking up and defeating a host of false idols, I send rain after 3 years of drought at your bidding, I protect you from hordes of ticked off Ba'al worshippers, and you have the gall to complain and whine? Suck it up, Bucko, and thank me, you ingrate!"
But that is why I am not God. Who would want to follow me? Instead, God gently, so gently, feeds and tucks Elijah in, and says, Hush now, we will talk about it after you rest. It is my favorite picture of my Almighty Father, in His infinite tenderness, smoothing the wrinkled despair with hands of mercy and grace.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


My sister Holly sent me an article about introverts today. I had been busily framing the one sentence my son Anders had emailed in the past three months. Any news of his amazing accomplishments, I usually find out from googling his name or sometimes friends tell me. He takes "quiet" to a new level. I spend alot of time reading between the lines when I do hear from him. For example, from the one email line "thanks for the fudge", I had deduced an entire 6 months of living, including that he was happy, working hard, enjoying many evenings out with friends, and not eating enough sweets. I am hopeful that I will hear about any engagements or marriages without having to read it in the paper. This week his new start-up business won the $100,000 Forbes Boost Your Business contest. I still have not heard anything from him about it.
He was a very quiet and thoughtful little boy too, never complaining, never demanding, never wanting. He was completely content in who he was and whatever amazing things were going on in his brain. He was always diligent, hard working, and striving for excellence.
As I read the article Holly sent, I realized that my own exhaustion with social interaction was not totally abnormal. Desiring hours and hours of time alone does not mean I am anti-social. I, like Anders, am a misunderstood introvert. Normally I hate labels, but this one seems liberating. Maybe I have tried too hard to be something I am not, and asked Anders too often to be something he is not.
I think that is, in part, why I love God so much. He knows exactly who I am, and He doesn't despise me. In fact, He loves me so much that not only did He send me Jesus, but He sent me Holly's article at a perfect time.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Virtual Family

I fought the culture that brought us Nintendo, Xbox, and Wii. But finally, I just got tired of the battle. Matt insisted he was at a disadvantage entering college coming from a home school that, horrors, did not own video games. He felt his social skills were severely compromised having to admit he had only played Super Smash Brothers at friends' houses, and never achieved any degree of expertise.

Anders told me his only complaint about our home school was that we limited his computer time. "Well- roundedness is overrated," he advised.

So when Arvo said he wanted to buy us a Wii so Asherel could hold her head high when she entered college, I shrugged my shoulders.

When the Wii was installed, Asherel immediately began constructing "Miis" which are little people in the various video games that represent the different players. You name them and can make one to look like yourself, . There are myriad noses, eyes, hair styles, coloring etc. so that when you construct the Mii, it looks remarkably like the intended person.

I was shocked to walk into the room, and there was my family, all bowling on the video screen. We rarely see Anders who is very busy with his new start up business in Boston. Matt comes home from college about every 2 months. I found it oddly comforting to see Asherel playing various Wii games, and in the background, there would be Anders, or Matt. It was not quite the same as having them really here, but there were some advantages to a "virtual family".

I didn't have to cook for them, or try to keep them entertained. I could just wave and smile at their Wii image as I passed through the room. They never talked to me, but then actually, Anders is very quiet and rarely talks to me anyway. His Wii figure was not a whole lot different than when he is actually home.

It gives added meaning to the verse : "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
1 Corinthians 13:11-13
It is almost easier to settle for just a poor reflection in too many areas. I love seeing the little Wii family members, and I always smile... but they just don't quite cut it when I go to hug them.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Toes and Ho ho ho's

A half an hour before it was time to leave for the Christmas party, where I would be meeting my husband, Arvo, I noticed my injured toe hurt like a reindeer was stomping on it. Additionally, when I removed my sock to see if there were indeed tiny circular saws slowly working their way through my flesh, I observed that it was quite swollen, blacker than I remembered, and red and hot all around the toenail.
"This cannot be good."
I called the doctor and explained I needed to be seen in the next 5 minutes, for two reasons. Number one, I was to be meeting my husband's boss and work force for the first time in one hour. Number two, my toe was in the early stages of gangrene and I was expected to dance tonight.
This ploy did not fly with my doctor. Get thee to an urgent care, I was advised, or maybe, if you are a money grubbing stingerooney, you could try the CVS "minute clinic."
"What is a minute clinic?" I asked, instantly interested.
The short answer is it is for people who have 5 minutes before they have to leave for a party and want their toe amputated as quickly and inexpensively as possible.
So off I raced to the minute clinic.
A minute after signing in, I was called into the clinic. I described my problem, and the Physician Assistant told me to put away my insurance card, as in all likelihood, I would need to get to the ER. Lovely. My goose is cooked, I thought.
My dear husband had reserved a sumptuous room at the lovely hotel where the party was, so we could dance the night away well past my usual 7:30 bedtime, and daughter Asherel could be safely nearby in the hotel room. We were so looking forward to this. We never go out, never do much that costs any money because money is so hard to come by.... and this was a definite splurge. How could I spend the night in the ER?
For those of you who don't like the Christian message, skip the next few lines. I prayed. I had also prayed on the drive over. I knew the toe might have to be removed, but could it wait til after tomorrow?
The doc peered at my toe, as I removed my sock.
"Oh," she said, "Put away your insurance card. That is not infected. That is a really bad bruise, and the blood is pooling under your nail. You will lose the nail, and I am sure it hurts, but you don't need to go to the ER. If the pain is unbearable, they can drill a hole in the nail to relieve the pressure...."
JUST STOP SPEAKING right there, I called in my mind, we don't need to discuss this any further. NO pain is that unbearable.
"Otherwise," she continued, "I would keep your foot elevated, but you don't need to do anything else but wait for it to feel better."
And, she didn't even charge me!
One and a half minutes after entering the minute clinic, I was racing home. I called Asherel to be ready the moment I walked in the door.
I didn't dance, but I did stand for two hours scarfing down expensive hors d'oeurves
(spelling?) and thoroughly enjoying the very nice people Arvo works with. During the dinner I took off my boot, and elevated my foot,only occasionally placing it on the table when no one was eating, and then listened with amazement when they announced that we had won the raffle, and got a free GPS system. Our old one needed $60 map updates, so this was another little Christmas cheer.
I leaned heavily on Arvo's arm as I limped back to our room. Asherel had spent the time making duct tape sneakers. Feet seemed to be the theme of the season. It is funny how something as insignificant as a toe nail could have such monumental repercussions. It really made me consider the impact of something more visible, like a smile, or a kind touch, or a message of deliverance to someone who was floundering. Sometimes it only takes a minute.....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cinderella Goes Looking for the Shoe

I love irony, twists, unexpected symbols. My favorite word is "Serendipity". Thus, it was typical of my life that the first semi-formal event I would attend in six years would coincide with an injured foot that could not tolerate the weight of my sheet at night on it. Not only would I need to find a way to sheathe my throbbing toe in some slinky, high-heeled device, but it would be the first time I would be meeting my husband's co-workers and boss.
So with my toe gently ensconced in warm sheepskin, pillow soft boots, I headed out for the hunt. Lacking any fashion sense of my own, I first e-mailed photos of several outfits for my friends to choose which, if any, would not win "dork of the year" award. They all voted for the same outfit, but my sister who knows classy dressing told me the boots had to go. If I must wear them, she advised, I had to get black stockings.
I considered sandals, with open toes, as then the poor injured toe would not be squished, but that option meant fellow diners at our fancy dinner might get a glance at it.... and that would have been most unkind of me. So I limped from shoe store to shoe store, holding my hands out like a battering ram in the crowds to keep all stomping feet away from my already aching toe. I even went into a store that normally my cheapskate homing device sets off ear splitting alarms when I near. I knew I could not afford any shoe in that place when I noticed the fresh chocolate chip cookies and Perrier for the customers.
"Are those free?" I asked. The raised manicured eyebrow of the saleswoman should have tipped me off that I was in the wrong social milieu.
"Can I help you?" she asked before I had an opportunity to surreptitiously look at the price tag.
"I have an injured toe and have to wear semi-formal shoes tomorrow night," I said,"Do you carry anything that doesn't hurt?"
She admirably did not tilt her nose upwards as she surveyed the shoes on her rack. She pulled down two very beautiful open toed numbers.
"These....don't hurt," she advised. As she slinked back to get my size, I looked at the fine Italian leather soles with the price tag embossed on cloth. Nearly $300. How much did I want to dance? I munched on a cookie quickly, before she returned to discover I had no intention of buying the shoes, and thus had no rights to the cookie.
Thankfully, the shoes DID hurt, and I thanked her, not knowing I had chocolate smears at the corner of my mouth.
The tenth store that I wearily slogged into was more in my price range, and I picked out dozens of high heeled shiny black numbers. The saleswoman there brought me armfuls of shoes. Each time I tried one on, I winced and tried to imagine staying upright in them for more than one minute. Even without an injured toe, I probably could not walk more than a few feet in them.
I left her with 432 boxes to put away and realized as I hit the last possible store, I had run out of time. It was buy a shoe here or go to the semi-formal in my slippers.
The saleswoman brought me two shoes, with my instructions to find me something that would work at a semi-formal, and would not hurt, or show innocent passerbys my toe.
The first pair had barely squeezed on before being rejected with squeals of pain. However the second pair did not long as I didn't move. If I could be tele-transported to my seat at the semi-formal, and not move, I would be beautiful. They were elegant and glorious shoes. However, as soon as I tottered upright, I knew they would never work.
"I'll take them," I exclaimed impetuously.
As I drove home I gazed at them. Gorgeous shoes. The sort of shoes that Academy award winners wear with such grace and beauty. I tried them on for Asherel when I got home. She agreed they were magnificent. Then I tried to walk.
Immediately, we both drove back to the store and returned the shoes.
I knew there was a spiritual lesson here. There always is. I could not cover unhealed wounds,any more than an unholy core. I could not pretend they were not there, no matter how many layers of sparkling beauty greeted the eyes of others. I remembered Jesus' words to the outwardly pious Pharisees-
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
Matthew 23:24-26
I will probably not be dancing tonight.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Flower in the Snow

Asherel pointed out that the lightbulb was burning a hole in the shade. I looked inside the lampshade. She was correct. At any moment, our environmentally incorrect bulb was going to start a conflagration, ending no doubt in an immense carbon footprint as the house burned down. Rather than bring on the ire of Al Gore, I felt the best course of action was to change to the new energy saving lightbulbs that require a hazmat team be notified should they ever break. I kid you not. If you have never read the cautionary advice on how to deal with a broken eco-bulb, it is quite astonishing. You are to wear a mask and gloves, collect all the pieces and triple bag them, discard the gloves, vacuum the entire region, place the vacuum bag in a triple plastic bag, and then build a concrete structure 20 feet under ground to throw the bags away. If you don't believe me, google it.

Nonetheless, I opened the package of eco bulbs. The promo on the front of the package caught my eye. Again, I never make things up. I am a nonfiction writer. This is what it actually said:
"Lasts up to 5 years, guaranteed."
I thought about that. The only way that I could claim false advertising is if the bulb lasted MORE than five years.
I wondered if the suits in Manhattan were snickering over the wool they pulled over the gullible public's eye on this one.... or were they all thinking they had offered a claim that was worth something?
So many amazing products claiming to do so many amazing things. Everything tastes better with Blue Bonnet on it. I just don't think so. And how about this one- the all purpose cracker? Have you ever tried using it to wash the car?
At Christmas in particular, we are so bombarded with all the astonishing products that can do everything but make my mother eat lima beans. One swipe through the mall, and I am promised if I had enough money, I would live forever, have a model's face, and write a better Constitution.
Meanwhile, with little fanfare, and no glitzy packaging, a little baby was born in a manger, or maybe a cave depending on the translation you are reading. There are no guarantees for health, happiness, or loss of cellulite. In fact, if you read carefully, we are promised trouble, trial, and temptations. The only redeeming claim is a simple one- believe and be saved. Surely the God of all creation could come up with better marketing! But somehow, the image of a baby, of God made so tiny and sweet and vulnerable draws me near. I love that symbol- the clash of concepts God is forever putting before me: an almighty, omniscient, all powerful creator of the universe juxtaposed with the tender, helpless, defenseless, naked creation. A baby born to die. Death that brings life. A lamb among lions, a flower blooming in the snow. Faith in things unseen....Christmas greed and excess bumped up against a humble man with no place to lay his head, dying for crimes he didn't commit, that the darkness might be lit.... and the light last more than five years, guaranteed.

Endless miles of quiet

I tried to navigate my way around three seven foot trees and a giant python in my living room. I had almost made it to my bedroom, but the giant 5 foot banana now blocked my final path. The team of creative kids I manage were busily hot gluing their fingers to fabric, and their friend's feet to my once shiny wood floor. The dogs were eating discarded pieces of PVC and wire. Another group was cutting thick cardboard, and had broken a second pair of once fine and useful scissors. Small pieces of plastic drop cloth were scattered like snowflakes about the room. Bins overflowing with fabric, foam, styrofaom pieces, PVC, and other tools of the creative spirit were toppled in the sunroom, spewing their contents like artistic vomit across my once uncluttered domain.
As I surveyed the mess, I felt an uncharitable thought. I hate clutter. I hate noise. I love peace and stillness. I like mountains that fade into the distance, not a soul in sight, endless miles of quiet. Why was I doing this?
Just then I remembered the visit of a troubled young man recently. A friend of one of our children, he told us God's voice had urged him to come see us.
"I always loved coming here when I was a child," he said, "It was a second family for me and you always were kind. It meant a lot to me."
Honestly, all I remember of him and my son was shooing them out of the way. I have vague memories of their disappearing to fly rockets that crashed, or foraging for food and then huddling again around board games in the blessedly pre-computer mania days. I don't recall being much of a source of support or "second family" to this kid.
However, in those tumultuous days of becoming an adult, he sought us out, with memories of kindness and love. This gave me pause as I squelched the desire to torch the giant trees, and the giant python, and especially the giant banana gracing my once immaculate (well...less cluttered) home. Who knows what point of refuge we might unknowingly be securing? Who could predict what memory of unfettered creativity and laughter might be a beacon in a dark and untraveled path in the future?
With a sigh I wove my way into the kitchen and asked if the smell of burning was any part of my house.
"No," they cheerfully responded,"Just human flesh!"

Philippians 4:7
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bruised Toes and Bruised Hearts

There is nothing like shoveling animal excrement to help build close and tender family moments. The whole family went out to Hollow Creek Farm yesterday to help prepare for the Dec. 19 Open House Christmas party. A month of dog poop needed scooping (or at least it seemed like a month worth... with 30 dogs, it might have been just a few days....)Nonetheless, Nicole's house and yard were otherwise typically spotless. I don't know how she does it, when with only two dogs and one bird, my house is swirling in hair and feathers, lifted by our every passing breeze.

Arvo was assigned to raking out the pig and chicken area, and Asherel and I went to dog poop detail. While we gathered poop for two and a half hours, trying to sniff the fresh country air beyond the shovels we toted, countless dogs swirled around us. They all wanted us to pet them, though were polite about it. If we did pause to give one attention, he would then follow us anxiously nuzzling and begging for more. The little half eyed old pug wheezed noisily, and waddled over for her pat. The only one who didn't approach us was Spatula, whose story you can follow on . HCF had nursed him back to health from a gunshot wound, and he still did not trust strangers. So he spent the entire 2 hours barking at us from a safe distance. The fact that he was so healthy again was a miracle in itself. Pea, the little black lab puppy was beside herself with the desire to be cuddled.
"You'll adopt her out quickly, won't you?" I queried.
"No," said Nicole, "She's black. She was going to be euthanized when we snagged her."
I don't know how Nicole doesn't weep every moment of every day in her work.

Finally as the last bit of poop was blessedly plopped in the giant receptacle where it will then be carted away to third world countries who don't have dog poop, Asherel and I got to go to our reward. I would get to work with Sadie the wild mustang, and Asherel would get to work with Bob, the evil pony (you can follow his escapades on the utube, Bob the Evil pony series.)

First we had to choose how to get over to our horses' pasture. Route number one entailed getting by the frisky filly Jamie, who is a lovely young horse, but a bit rambunctious. Route number two involved entering the rain- muddened pen of the cows who thought they were large dogs and all thousand pounds of them liked to come barreling into us. When the pasture was hard and solid, we could safely run for cover, but when the muck threatened to swallow us, we were stuck there like giant punching bags.

We chose the rambunctious filly route and made it safely to our wild and evil charges. While I was working with Sadie, I threw my coat over the fence separating the cows from us. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sir Loin grab my coat. I sprinted to the fence and tugged it back before he absconded with it, making such a tremendous and sudden lunge that I almost ripped my toenail off on the too small inside edge of my boot. Struggling to not shriek in pain, and freak out the wild mustang, I smothered my urge to make hamburgers on the spot, and returned to Sadie. She won't let most people near her, but she has come to like me (or rather my pockets of treats) and let me get a halter nearly all the way over her nose, while I scratched her behind her quivering ears. It has taken me months to get that far, but I counted it a victory.

The next morning as I settled down to write, HCF sent me a video of a horse auction, where unwanted horses were led around and sold to what are known as "killer buyers", people who buy horses to resell them for profit to be slaughtered for human consumption. My throbbing black and blue toe had not made me cry. But the sight of those placid animals being quietly led to their slaughter, when with one hoof they could have killed their executioner made tears flow like blood from a wound.

It reminded me of another innocent, who had the power of all heaven at His disposal yet remained silent and meek as a lamb as He was led to His crucifixion.
At least His torture led to the salvation of a world. I knew of no redeeming value in the scene of those beautiful animals gently acquiescing to follow the rope attached to death.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

New Every Morning

I find myself waking earlier and earlier, racing to see how my blog is doing. It is like a living creature, growing and stretching to life. Yesterday I doubled my followers.... from 1 to 2. Praise God! This morning I had more than tripled my devoted audience! I now have 7 beautiful followers, gifts from God to encourage my soul!
My father had sent an email that said that he had just read a quote by a philosopher that "No one can enter the same river twice."
That is true. I thought about that. I am reading a scathing classic satire, Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis. Lewis, who led an unhappy, dissipated life himself, presents a "heroine" who is never satisfied, sees only ugliness and pettiness and narrow mindedness in the little town she is in, and is forever unhappy. She knows that somewhere there is beauty and culture and experiences worth embracing, but not in Gopher Prarie where she lives. I love Lewis' writing and am reading it because it was acclaimed to be a novel that resonated with millions, an instant best seller, and true for so many small towns in America.
I find myself rebelling against his message, and could not quite figure out why. I know narrow mindedness does exist, and ugly towns with no desire to change.... and agree both are repugnant. However, I think Lewis' personal unhappiness, and his "heroine" Carol's chronic disatisfaction stem from a faulty presumption. Everywhere except where they are holds promise for them. Every novel experience is "good" while the sameness and routine is bad. Carol's party games, because they are different, show culture and zest for life, while the town's repeatedly same games are dull and show death of spirit.
However, what if Lewis instead recognized that every time he stepped in a river, new waters from exotic lands were swirling around his ankles? I kept wondering if instead of making fun of the town and its unchanging faith, Lewis and his protagonist Carol had embraced it, perhaps they would not have had to face such dismay and seeking happiness in such temporal, ultimately destructive ways.
So on this sunny cold Sunday morning, with joy I am meditating on the verse, "His mercies are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness." Lamentations 3:23. Wonderful juxtaposition of the newness of life each day and the steadfast, daily faithfulness of God.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Dog Day of Winter....

Today was the dogfood/blanket drive I organized for Hollow Creek Farm in our neighborhood. Asherel and I put out 200 flyers last week, and prayed for a good response. We asked donors to put the dogfood by their mailbox and at 11:00 this morning we would drive by to get the bounty that would feed Nicole's dogs in these really tough times.
During the week, three sweet women called to ask me to come get their donation check. Alas this morning was rainy though, and I was worried no one would leave food out in the rain.
However, as usual, the kindness of strangers again sparkled in the rain, and we gathered almost 200 pounds of food, many blankets and over $100 in donations. This will only feed HCF dogs for about 3 weeks... but it is a huge blessing in the midst of the number of unemployed people.
However, as I gathered and counted the food, I lamented to Asherel that this was only enough to last maybe three weeks. I had hoped for a larger outpouring of kibble.
Asherel, in her characteristically sunny way replied, "It is 200 pounds of food they didn't have yesterday."
This is true. God didn't send the hungry Israelites a month's worth of manna.... He sent enough for one day at a time. He urged them to be content with that, and to trust that He would take care of tomorrow....tomorrow.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Desperate for Friends

Sister Holly told me that if I was building a platform for readers of my best selling books that I intend to publish someday, I needed more than 40 friends on Facebook.
I never use Face Book. I really don't like Face Book as it leads to humiliation when your own children won't accept you as friends, and also, the last time I tried to use it, I invited the whole planet to be my friend by accident.
But Holly insisted I needed to have more friends on FB, so she sent me instructions. I followed her instructions and promptly repeated the same dopey mistake I did years ago. I invited everyone I had ever emailed to be my friend. Soon my email inbox was filled with notices like the ones thanking me for contacting UVa Financial Aid dept, and they would get back to me soon about whether they wanted to be my friend. President Obama would decide on this friendship thing upon his return from spreading Hope and Change around the world. All the book agents and publishers I have written in the past year sent me form letter rejections..... again.... as if once was not enough. The "win tickets" department of the Newspaper told me to sit tight. They may not be my friend, but I may have won tickets to see The Nutcracker Suite.

Crushed Bones Rejoice

The Bible verse that Asherel, my daughter, and I looked at this morning gave us pause.
The psalmist speaking to God says ,"Let the bones you have crushed rejoiced." (Psalm 51:8)
Asherel looked at me a little worriedly.
"Why do you think the Psalmist is rejoicing with crushed bones?" I asked her.
"That is what I was wondering," she replied.
"Wait, it gets scarier. Who crushed the rejoicing bones?"
Neither of us were particularly thrilled to conclude that it was God that crushed the bones.
Now, there is an obvious answer here to why the psalmist is rejoicing. He is a masochist. Either that, or there must be a greater purpose to those crushed bones that causes him to wax poetic in joy and praise. The former interpretation does not sit well with my understanding of God's ways, so we dug in to see if we could find out why God was crushing bones, and why someone was celebrating it.
As so frequently happens, the study fit in perfectly with very recent events. We both understood what it felt like to fail God and others, and then to feel the heavy weight of guilt that led to remorse and repentance. We both could identify with the lifting of spirit and even rejoicing when we righted a wrong we had been responsible for. Neither of us were particularly excited about the need for our bones to be crushed for us to turn our eyes to the one who knitted our bones together in the first place. However, we could understand the Psalmist's conclusion:
"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Hi! My 12 year old daughter is trying desperately to help me enter the age of technology. I am struggling but I believe that I am successfully posting the inaugural message on my new blog. Please check here frequently, to see if I have figured out how to post a second one....
I hope to use this blog to post my thoughts and encounters with God, my trials and errors in home schooling, my hopes and dreams as a parent, and whatever else I can dream up.