Friday, December 31, 2010

Dem Bones

I ache all over. Not because I have done anything strenuous....just because my cells are accumulating the toxic wastes of years of living. My telomeres are getting shorter, and thus no longer protecting the ends of my delicate chromosomes. When that happens, my cells undergo apoptosis..... which means they are perishing. And when they perish, well, the fat lady starts singing and the theater lights blink on.... the show is over.

I am not feeling depressed, but for some reason the message of "old bones" has been slammed at me from every angle. First, I was doing my bible study yesterday and happened to be on the passage in Exekiel that talks about the dried bones of the Israelites scattered in the desert. God breathes life into them and they all rise and start dancing. This is the genesis of that old song "Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dried Bones".

So with the image of dried bones withering in the desert sun, and then coalescing into an army of resurrected bones, I headed to shower after exercising. My own bones were feeling sore, and my feet hurt. That's when I noticed the bone density report that my doctor had sent for some reason this week, though the test was months ago. Arvo had put it on my dresser. "Abnormal" was checked. I know I have some bone loss, but thus far they are just watching to see how quickly my bones turn into mush. Why she needed to remind me over the holiday season is beyond me.

And then this morning, as I settled down to write my blog, not sure as always what to write about, I read the little daily Bible verse on my computer. You will never guess what it was:

They say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off
completely." Therefore prophesy, and say to them, "Thus says the Lord
God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves,
O my people." Ezekiel 37:11-12

Again! Old bones!  But it is not the depressing message one would think when discussing dried up, decaying bones. God reminds us that even when we are that far gone, He can pull us together. There is always hope, always! I shudder to think what He might be preparing me for. Clearly, my old bones are in for some sort of a shake up. Meanwhile, I am going for a run, while my old bones are still able. And I will keep hearing that song in my head,

Ezekiel cried, "Dem dry bones!"
Ezekiel cried, "Dem dry bones!"
Ezekiel cried, "Dem dry bones!"
"Oh, hear the word of the Lord."

The toe bone connected to the heel bone,
The heel bone connected to the foot bone,
The foot bone connected to the leg bone,
The leg bone connected to the knee bone,
The knee bone connected to the thigh bone,
The thigh bone connected to the back bone,
The back bone connected to the neck bone,
The neck bone connected to the head bone,
Oh, hear the word of the Lord!

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk aroun'
Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk aroun'
Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk aroun'
Oh, hear the word of the Lord.

Lamentations 3: 1-4, 19-24

 1I am the man who has seen affliction
   by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.
2 He has driven me away and made me walk
   in darkness rather than light;
3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
   again and again, all day long.
 4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
   and has broken my bones.....
 19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
   the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
   and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
   and therefore I have hope:
 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
   therefore I will wait for him.”

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Loyal Love Waiting

I am always greeted by the dogs exuberantly, always. It is a joy and sometimes a burden to open the door to so much love. It is a joy when my heart has been broken by the assaults of the day and there the dogs are with wagging tails and unconditional regard for me. It is a burden when I am carrying eggs and they can't contain their joy and smash into me.

While being the recipient of so much loyal love is a balm to my soul, it is even more touching to be reading a book and watching the dogs waiting for some other, absent family member. Lucky tends to go to sleep, but Honeybun will often sit in front of the front door in an expectant pose. Her ears are perked forward, listening for any sound of the Beloved's car. Her muscles are tensed, and she shifts position but never alters her steely, unblinking gaze. She watches and watches, and waits, hopeful.

A sound inside the house may cause an ear to flick back, but then she shimmies slightly back and forth, and returns her full attention to the place where she knows her Beloved Family always return. I have seen her in this expectant pose for hours. When the absent ones return, she and Lucky both embrace us with their complete joy, an offering of devotion and love that no human I know can equal. Lucky brings us a bone, which in his mind is the equivalent of an anointing of the purest perfume. Honeybun licks us- something she never ever does except in those uncontrolled first moments of ecstatic greeting. Both dogs tails are thumping so wildly that they sometimes lift off the ground and hover momentarily.

I wish I could greet others with that unabashed love. I wish others would greet me with so much unconditional delight. I wish I could wait so patiently and determinedly for the presence of my Master to enter. I have never understood how anyone could not love dogs. They are in my mind the perfect example of how we should treat each other, and how we should behave before God. We should be always loving, always forgiving, never judging, always delighted to be in each other's presence, always humble, and always expectantly and joyfully waiting for our Master's return. We should always approach the Master as though there is no one else that matters. Life is complete in His presence no matter how empty the water bowl is or how many times we have been kicked off the leather couch.

Our reason for existence is to serve and to love the Master. Well, Honeybun winks at me and adds one small caveat- "Don't forget to tell them that I know it is the Master that feeds me."
So perfection in motive is not possible on earth, but it comes closest in dogs. I could do much worse than model my behavior after Honeybun.

2 Kings 20: 3
3 “Remember, LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” 

Habakkuk 3:16-18

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
   and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
   and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
   and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Sitting Contest

Every time we pass dogs when we are out walking, my own dogs go ballistic. I have learned that the only way I can keep my arm attached to my body, which is definitely to be preferred, is whenever I see dogs in the distance, I make my dogs sit and "wait".  The other dogs would then pass by, often lunging and barking themselves, but my dogs would  be still and on the surface appear to be well-behaved good canine citizens. Should I become smug and prideful and attempt to pass the other dogs without using this strategy, my very opportunistic pets would immediately revert into wild and uncontrollable beasts, lunging and barking and making me look like I did not deserve to be a dog owner, which is indeed the closely guarded but true secret.

Unfortunately, other dog owners began to catch on. They also did not like having their arms wrenched out of the acetabulum, which is the mobile but unstable shoulder socket. So other dog owners, when they saw us in the distance, would make their dogs sit. Now we had a stalemate. Neither of us dared move, knowing how expensive shoulder surgery could be.  So we would edge closer, then make the dogs sit again. Dogs all over the neighborhood were beginning to learn to be calm when other dogs passed, as long as they were sitting. The problem was that we were all out for "walks", not "sits".  On the other hand, the nice benefit was while we were all sitting, waiting for the other owner to make the next move, we began to chat. I was slowly growing to know people in my community. Bad dogs could lead to good things, I learned.

And this is often the case. What looks like wretched and painful trials can result in wonderful things if we persevere. If we can manage to hang in there, and look beyond the naughty dog on the end of the taut leash, we sometimes see a sweet and kind neighbor we might otherwise have missed entirely.  Perhaps that is part of why James admonishes us in the book that bears his name to "count it all joy when you encounter many trials." Joy? Joy when we are struggling beyond what we are certain we can bear? In all things? I don't think so, James......And yet, time and time again, when I do manage to hang in there beyond the trial and look back, I do see that what I gained usually exceeds what I lost. 

I suspect this is key to living life with joy no matter what. Trusting that the trials are leading to something far greater and often beyond what we can see. Hang in there, whispers God, and make your dog sit. Then, when the barking is stilled, listen in the silence for Me.

James 1: 2-12
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.  9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
 12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Tale of Two Trees

Amidst all the healthy but leafless snow covered branches, one huge dead branch is poised like a jousting lance. It hangs suspended among the living branches, broken off and momentarily caught up by the twining limbs of those around it, notably a mighty oak and a gloriously beautiful maple. It will fall one day. I hope me (I?) or the dogs are not underneath at the moment when its friends can no longer support it.  It is in the neighbor's yard so we can't technically remove it, but it hangs perilously close to our fence.

The branches supporting it are getting tired. Winter winds can be fierce and bark is brittle in the cold. The unexpected snow lies heavy upon them.
The branches are beginning to complain.  They are chatting amongst themselves and are beginning to talk mutiny.
"I say, cut it loose. It is dead weight, good for nothing!" says Oak.
"But the squirrels still nest in it, and the woodpecker finds it exceedingly easy to peck," counters kind-hearted Maple.
"Yeh, and every time he does, it is like a jackhammer waking me up every morning. I say just let it go. It is never going to live again anyway, it is not contributing to our beautiful leaf show, and in all likelihood, it is going to end up reflecting badly on all trees when it inevitably falls and flattens some one's precious child. It no longer has strength or beauty and frankly I am tired of its whining."
"And," chimed in the Dogwood, from across the yard, "It is depressingly silent or mumbles when the wind whispers through all our limbs. We speak so grandly with the voice of the breeze that has traveled across the world. It's boring. Without leaves it has very little to say."

"But it is family," said Maple, "Don't you remember how we all started off together, just little saplings bragging about how someday we would tower over the houses? We made it! The branch made it! If we drop him now, he will just get eaten by the dung beetles and roly-polys."

"So what?" snaps Oak,"That is the way of the world. The strong and beautiful thrive and the weak turn into sawdust."

As the discussion continued, a cardinal alighted on the broken branch. It was tired, and cold, and hungry. It found a small hollow in the dead wood and rested there, somewhat protected from the wind. It snapped up a small grub wriggling under the flaking bark. Its bright red plumage was resplendent against the snow.  It will not end well for the branch, but for a little while yet, Maple has convinced the others to hold on to it. His most persuasive argument was from the Bible, surprisingly. The trees being so close to Heaven have much of it memorized.
"Just keep in mind," warned Maple, "If you cut others asunder, you may yourself one day be dealt with similarly. And God who nourishes the root could even yet have a use for that broken branch."
"Yeh, yeh," grumbled the Oak, but he kept his tangled twigs around the heavy and despairing branch.

Romans 11: 17-21
 17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Long days of winter begin.....

As I started packing away the ornaments, Asherel walked by and wryly commented, "I am surprised you didn't start putting those away at 12:01 a.m. the day after Christmas."
"I thought about it," I said.
I love Christmas decorations, until the day after Christmas. Then I am ready to move on to Spring and maybe even summer vacation. The decorations were up for a solid month, and I had to rearrange our house to fit the Christmas tree in the right corner, so everything was a little cramped and cluttered for a month. I hate clutter. In a flurry of cleaning, while the boys still slept, I carted Christmas away. Now the dreary long months of winter stretch before me.

I would have been cross country skiing instead of cleaning if Mother Nature had cooperated, but she had not. She stopped snowing before there was barely a coating on the grass, and the roads were clear. I did put on my skis and do a few laps in the backyard, in case it was the last snow we saw in ten years.
I used my imagination to provide the excitement during the 1/16 mile loops.
"Is that a bear I see in the distance?" I asked my Pretend Ski Friend.
"I don't think so..." she answered, "In fact, I believe it is a snow covered lounge chair. But they are easily mistaken for bears."
I careened down the "hill" and did my giant shalom around the many dog poop piles.  While it was hard to contain the exhilaration from my little venture into the giant backyard wilderness, I tired of the game after three laps and headed back inside.
"You were only out there five minutes!" exclaimed Asherel.
"Yes, but I had seen all there was to see in four," I explained.

So we have two more days of my beloved boys afterwhich they return to real life. Then our season of craziness commences. We have two final months to build and perfect our helicopter and our trebuchet. There are deadlines for 3 art contests in the next 6 weeks, and we are about a thousand pages behind in biology. Honeybun has an agility trial mid January and we have to schedule some snow boarding trips so Asherel can use her new snowboard. My new art semester starts, and this year is the year I find an agent to represent me and sell my books to an adoring- public- in- waiting.

I look at my clean living room with the same joy I looked at my new Christmas living room a month ago. I know that soon I will not have enough time to clean or sit very long to reflect. It has been a wonderful Christmas vacation but the peace and leisure is about to be sucked away as we hit the new year running. I left one little piece of Christmas on display, however. I left the little creche Asherel made me on the piano where the morning sun rests before marching on with the day.  I left two little angels to guard it- one a gift from my son, the other a gift from our dear friend Polly. Those three things will keep me anchored during the storm of frenzy about to rage around us. The three things that I need to save time and energy and love for- God, family, and friends.

Job 27:10
10 Will they find delight in the Almighty?
   Will they call on God at all times?

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Church is canceled as is every other event in Charlotte this morning. An inch of snow is fallen and more is expected.... maybe at least an inch more! All people are urged to remain home and drink hot chocolate and only venture on the streets at your peril!  A Northerner for most of my life, I still chuckle when I see the dusting that shuts down a whole city. When we lived in Syracuse, we drove unless 2 feet of snow fell in 10 minutes. And we would drive in even that if we had snow tires. Here, just the threat of snow causes a run on toilet paper and milk, and news flashes explode 24/7 updating us on the possibility of snowflakes potentially being conceivable within the next 72 days.

An event is cherished in direct proportion to its rarity. It is true for snowfall, it is true for adult children coming home, and it is true for a day when no one grumbles and everyone smiles all day long. Diamonds are a girl's best friend only because her other friends are so common.

  If we can find a way to get Asherel's Christmas snowboard to a hill, we can even practice snowboarding.  While the streets are still visible thus nixing cross country skiing for now, snow is forecast to fall all day!!! It is possible, even likely, that I will be able to cross country ski in the moonlight, all around my neighborhood transformed to a winter wonderland.  None of us had to be anywhere today and the snow will all melt tomorrow. So today, we have nothing to do but look at the beautiful white layer that covers all the dead grass, and mud, and potholes and play for the few brief hours it will be here.

Which reminds me of why we have to die.  None of us appreciate what we have when it comes too easily and stays too long. It is only the things we struggle mightily to obtain, or that we only hold for a moment that we usually value.  I think if we saw Jesus' face every moment, as the Earth once did, we would just say, "Oh, ho hum, just that Messiah again. Show me something new!"  I am not saying this is right, or as it should be.... I am just saying that in my experience, it is the way it is. 

I sometimes wonder then how we will adapt to Heaven, where there is no crying, no mourning, no pain, no sickness, and probably no cellulite.  If we can't bounce perfection off of imperfection, will we become immune to it? I guess that is why we can only enter heaven with the spirit of a newborn babe- looking about at all things with wonder and delight. We will have to be transformed for sure because the humans I know, myself included, just could not feast on continual joy without finding something to complain about.

Perhaps part of the process of growing towards God is learning to find the wonder and delight in all things so that wonder and delight becomes an integral part of our makeup. Then,  when we enter the presence of God, we won't be squashed like cockroaches in the blinding light of Glory.

But for now, I will practice delighting in the uncommon and go frolic in the North Carolina snow. Twirling in the snowflakes and reaching out my hands to scoop up the wonder of the world transformed however briefly, I hope that a bit of my insides are transforming too.

1 Samuel 10:6
The Spirit of the LORD will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Songs of the morning

I didn't peek out the window since I would have had to stumble across sleeping bodies in the dark, but as I was washing up in the bathroom, I heard the almost imperceptible strains of  angels singing. I kid you not. It was only 6 am, and no one else was up. Then I heard the unmistakable sounds of piano music rising to accompany the angels' voices. I stopped and listened, knowing that I was being given a gift from God on this beautiful morning.

"I have never heard their voices so unmistakably!" I wondered aloud, "Happy Birthday, Jesus!"
I felt a little like Mary must have felt, being in the undeniable presence of a heavenly being, heralding hope and joy and goodwill to wretched man.

Then I heard the radio announcer break in, and realized Arvo had forgotten to turn off his alarm this morning. I raced out and smacked the off switch before it awoke Asherel, sacked out on an extra mattress in our room while Karissa is here.

There was no snow, not yet. But the day was just begun. The snow was predicted to fall later in the day. I crept about the house, turning on the Christmas lights and setting out stockings. Lucky went outside and began barking. I hurried out to shush him, and saw both Honeybun and he standing alert in the darkness, ears perked, looking at....nothing..... and barking.  I told them to be quiet, and scurried back into the warm house. Again, there was barking. A second time I raced out and warned them to stop. Honeybun, the good dog, followed me back inside. Lucky stood in the middle of the dark yard, expectant, waiting.....
Was he hearing angels too?

As soon as I settled again at the computer, Lucky began barking. I sprang to my feet and this time corralled him, dragged him in, and put him in the crate. My nerves were already frazzled and it was not yet 7 a.m.  A day that I thought had started with the voice of angels was unraveling already.  And I thought about how holidays are supercharged with expectation. They almost never live up to the impossible hopes and dreams of what the day should least not in my superinflated conjurings. (Spell check didn't like either of those last two words!)

How different that is from what really happened on the real Christmas morning, on the morning Jesus was born! Expectations were minimal, conditions were deplorable, and the hope of mankind was smaller than a dog and wearing diapers. The real momentous parts of life all start small.  Patience, love, appreciation for parents and others, bank accounts.....If Mary had any inkling of truly understanding what the angel had told her about her newborn son, my guess is she was not focused on that revelation as she shuddered in the cold and tried to keep the donkey from stepping on her baby. Barking dogs, alarms, and other distractions have a way of intruding upon our promised and hoped for Peace.

I glanced at the walls by the Christmas tree. They glowed pink. Tiptoeing to the door, I peeked out at the sky. It was covered with flaming pink and purple and orange clouds, stretching like Holy Fire across the horizon. The angels were not audible, but the heavens were shouting their welcome.

Merry Christmas!

Luke 2:10-12

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Holy Whiteness

An epic snowfall is predicted for Christmas day. It hasn't snowed here on xmas in something like a million years and then only a trace. In fact, it is proposed that dinosaurs once roamed the hot southern swamps of NC but they all died when it snowed on Christmas. The scientists believe this was not due to their inability to adapt to the unexpected cold, but actually due to their marked inept skills at  cross country skiing.Many, if not most, having never taken a single lesson, crashed into trees and each other leading to mass extinction.

But I am not a dinosaur, and I love cross country skiing. My skis and boots are all lined up, waiting..... A full foot of snow is forecast. It will be years before the one snow plow in Charlotte removes all that snow!!!

The snow is expected to commence around the time that dear almost daughter in law Karissa is due to fly off to see her parents. Anders is due to fly out a few days later. With luck, the snow may keep both her and Anders stuck with us a few more days. This is of course selfish of me and I am ashamed that I would even think such a thing so close to the holiday where unselfish behavior is the whole premise of the day. But there you have it. There is nothing I love more on earth than my family. I want them near me, even if they are buried in computers and games, and the only sounds I ever hear from them are, "When is dinner?"  I understand why God went to so much trouble to entice us all to return Home to Him. No matter what we are or what we become, the Parent loves us so much that life feels incomplete without His childrens' beloved presence.

I think God is mostly incomprehensible.... but the one part of Him that I think I really get is in His role as Father, in His angst over his children's suffering, growth, and righteousness. In His desire to hold them near, but His willingness to let them go. In His hopes that by granting them the freedom to choose NOT Him, they will ultimately choose FOR Him. I totally get His grief when one wanders, and His eternal hope as He waits and waits and waits, that every single one of them would return to Him in the end.

So forgive me as I pray for snow, snow to blanket the city long enough to let me cling to my loved ones an extra day or two.  And snow that lets me glide along streets emptied of cars and silenced with a holy whiteness reminding me of a time when life was a little slower and family members didn't venture so far away.

Proverbs 17:6

 6 Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
   and parents are the pride of their children.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fill your jars and not a few

Even running the dishwasher daily, we run out of cups, at least those suitable for adults. We still have reserves of Barney and Mickey Mouse plastic sippy cups. I don't know how my mother managed, especially at holidays having to shop, prepare, and clean up after 7 people. I am not complaining- I wouldn't trade this week of family here for all the clean cups in China, but it is a daunting job mothering a crew this size.

And then there are all the very different personalities with all their particular quirks to try to blend and keep happy together. They are as unique in their make up as different species....and we know zookeepers put bars up between different species. Nonetheless, the group seems happy, mostly because I throw them steaks and bourbon balls and fudge, I think.

But every morning while they are all still snoring in their caves, I unload the dishwasher full of cups to replenish the supply. And I gather cups left behind from the night before, most empty but some with remnants of hot cocoa, hot cider, or bizarre concoctions Matt is famous for. Cups. The Bible has alot to say about cups, and filling them.

When Elisha, the prophet was alive, Israel was in dire straits. There were hungry widows everywhere he turned. I love how he responded to one widow's cries for help when she was out of money and food and the creditors were about to drag her sons away as slaves.

He tells her to gather empty cups. She only has one. (I can relate as last night we didn't even have one). So Elisha, whose name FYI means saved, tells her to go get all the neighbors' jars and gather as many empty ones as she can. Now this seems a strange way to occupy your time when the creditors are on their way, but she obeys. When she returns with all the empty cups, Elisha tells her that now she is ready to invite Vicky's family to dinner as she now has enough cups. Nah! Had you going there for a minute, didn't I? Actually he tells her now she can pour her last drop of oil into the empty cups, and miraculously it keeps pouring until every cup is full. She can now sell the oil and save her sons. All because of empty cups gathered to be filled.

I didn't understand that story at first. I knew the superficial message, that if we obey God and His messengers, things tend not to result in being turned into pillars of salt...but the metaphor of the empty cup had not quite percolated into my awareness. Now I think I understand it a little more, at least from a different persprctive,the perspective of the cup.

I think we are all empty cups, waiting to be filled by God. We can be filled far beyond what is possible when we are gathered by the hand of God and His Messengers. Without Him, we remain scattered, and empty. With Him, even empty cups can save others from bondage.

Kind of makes me look at empty cups with new respect.

2 Kings 4:1-7 NIV

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves." Elisha replied to her, "How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?"
"Your servant has nothing there at all," she said, "except a small jar of olive oil." Elisha said, "Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don't ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side." She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another one."
But he replied, "There is not a jar left." Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, "Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left."
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What a smart phone can teach of God

I got my christmas gift early and it has resulted in bouts of delight accompanied by bouts of frothing at the mouth. This is how most things in life are for me. I believe it is an immutable law of nature- for every force there is an equal but opposite force, which is why I was created to counterbalance all the calm and gentle people on earth.

But back to my gift- since I was due for a phone upgrade, Arvo got me a smart phone. These wonders of the modern age do everything. If I get lost, I hit a navigation button and in a soothing voice, the phone asks me where I want to go and assures me it will get me there. If I want to send an email from the Sahara desert, it can do that too. If I want to shoot videos or photos, or read a book on its little screen or text a message with either a touch screen or a real slide out keyboard pad, it can do all that! It alerts me to incoming emails or text messages with my choice of a hundred ring tones, including a deep Satanic voice that growls out, "droid!"

There are many features and buttons I have yet to understand. I don't dare press the one that shows an icon of a nuclear weapon. The only thing that it is difficult to do with this phone is actually make a phone call but I am getting the hang of that. And the one disappointment is that the touch screen is slow and draggy compared with my ipod screen thus making drawing on the phone difficult. I tried a few sketches but was frustrated by the limitations of the unresposive touch screen.

Still, determined to give the Droid a true trial,I have been drawing and blogging the past few days only from my phone.
Asherel lay nearby on the couch, still recoveriing from our holiday tradition of getting sick on xmas. I pulled out my Droid and began sketching. My first instinct of frustration was to fling the phone in the fire, but then I discovered that if I drew very, very slowly, the screen was more responsive. This is the antithesis of me- to proceed slowly and thoughtfully, but as I did so, my heart rate slowed and my drawing looked more planned, more deliberate.

My favorite Bible verse is Psalm 46:10 - "Be still, and know that I am God." I need that continual reminder to slow down, to notice all the wonder around me, to soak in the joy of the journey and not fret so much over where I hope to ultimately go. It is a hard lesson for me, one I am forever forgetting. Funny how the smart phone is even able to impart that spiritual message.

Exodus 14:14 NIV

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hark the herald angels sing

Anders arrived last night and so the
full cotillion of precious progeny are now gathered. Now it will be fine if some picturesque snow begins to fall. I haven't had a white christmas in some 20 years. Sitting here with the dogs, waiting for snow to perfect the picture, the christmas tree is lit with beautifully wrapped gifts underneathe. The family is all still sleeping and I am alone with my thoughts.

I tried to remember my favorite christmas as a child, or my favorite gift. I could not immediately remember a single favorite. All I remember is a glow of anticipation, happiness, love, and excitement. The specific gifts or trees or whether it snowed or not all blur in my recollections. But I do remember feeling loved, and loving even my older sister who I usually tried to scratch the skin off of every other day of the year.

So the dogs and I are gathered in the stillness of the morning before the lit tree, watching the mist of hope and what could be rise gently.

Once, when I was a young woman, I was riding my bike down a long steep hill. The wind was rushing and swirling around me and if I turned my head just slightly, I could hear angels singing. I experimented various permuations of chin lift and head turn angle to see if the angels sang no matter what, but they did not. It was only if my head was turned at just the right angle that my ear would catch the angel's song.

Sitting here with my dogs, waiting for snow with my beloved family harmoniously snoring, if I cock my head at just the right angle, catching a glimpse of the little baby in my little creche, I hear the angels sing.

Psalm 104:33
I will sing to the lord all my life, I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.
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Monday, December 20, 2010

Is it real?

Even the tree was holding its breath in anticipation of the absent family members soon to arrive, to fill the holes in our hearts that they alone occupy. I was busily fussing to make everything clean and beautiful, though everyone knows that boys never notice such things.

Asherel was fulfilling a family tradition and lay sick on the couch with a cold coming on. I was always sick on christmas. She watched as I turned on the christmas lights and then placed battery operated tea light candles in the centerpiece, nestled into the real candle. To her horror, I turned it on.

"That Looks fake," she said.
"It Is fake," I told her.
"You Should just light the real candle."
"It doesn't stay lit,and besides,these fake candles won't burn down the house. "
I stepped back.
"From Far away it looks real."

She shrugged, not feeling well enough to argue.

But I paused to consider all the fake aspects of christmas - fake trees, fake garlands,fake reindeer, fake wonder we often lose sight of what christmas is all about!

When the beloved ones bustled in, they didn't notice that the candles were fake. Noone was looking at candles real or otherwise. We were just happily holding close the dear ones we had missed so much.

Rummaging through old scrapbooks the week before, I had found a score of music my then 6 year old Anders had written. He had called it "Love is all you need." One line said,"big or small. Love is the greatest gift of all."

As I hugged my precious son and his exquisitely wonderful bride to be, I could not have agreed more with the sentiment of that line. And love is the one thing about christmas that should never be fake. As I snuffed out (eg- turned off the switch) of the fake candle, I glanced at the little clay creche Asherel had made me last christmas. Fake angels surrounded my little fake creche but somehow, it filled me with an emotion that felt suspiciously real, suspiciously like hope and faith, and unquenchable love.

2 Corinthians 9:15
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift
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Sunday, December 19, 2010


It was a delicate operation- one false move and the trapped victim would fall into the jaws of the giant fan to certain, excruciating death. The jaws of life gently wrapped themselves around the injured body and slowly, slowly lifted it from its precarious perch. The crowd watched tensely, afraid to breathe. Inch by inch, the unconscious victim was lifted and maneuvered from the grate 30 feet in the air. There was a sudden shudder, and we all gasped. The victim was shaking itself- would it lose the tenuous hold with the jaw of life and plummet forever out of reach? No! Praise God- the model helicopter's rotors began to spin when freed of the grate, and flew unharmed into its savior's arms. A tail fin was broken off, but the copter was otherwise unscathed from its night spent atop the giant fan where it had inextricably lodged during its maiden flight. We all cheered.

We came home victorious, helicopter safely in hand. What had looked like certain loss, impossible retrieval, and destruction had instead become a back slapping and wondrous moment of rejoicing. It had not been hopeless, though it had certainly appeared that way.

The disciples of Jesus, the original Apostles would know what I was talking about. For three days, they hid in an upper room, their world turned upside down. Jesus had seemed to be the real thing, the long awaited Messiah who would rescue Israel from her enemies and people from themselves. But where was He now? Buried in a cave, meeting the same ignominious fate of all mankind. And you know what they were all gathered in the room saying: (note- the Bible doesn't record this, but I am a highly trained amateur writer and I am sure it could have gone down like this)
Thomas: I told you so. I had my doubts all along but would anyone listen- NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Peter: Oh shut your trap! So we hoped for something that didn't quite pan out. So sue me. I would gladly die for those few moments of hope!
(rooster crows in the background)
Peter- Well, not die necessarily, but I would certainly express appreciation with cheering and dancing.
(rooster crows second time)
Peter: Well not necessarily cheering and dancing, but I would send a postcard thanking Him for His timely message.
(rooster crows a third time)
Peter: Jesus who? How could we have been so deceived!!!!
John: At least we have His words. The Word is Life.
Mark: John can you for one moment lay off the poetic speech? Your last name is not Lennon.

And so on and so forth. Squabbling, crying, blaming, and despairing. All their hopes and dreams crushed with resounding finality. Dead and buried. Hope was impossible now.

And then a knock on the door changed everything. They opened the door and after slamming it in His face, finally realized that the darkness was not quite as complete as they had envisioned. There He stood before them, stretching out His nail scarred hands for them to touch. All was not lost. Death had not won! Destruction did not have the final word. Hope was alive!

It may feel impossible. It may look like the worst that could happen has happened. And life really does throw some nasty iceballs right at our face sometimes. But the giant Jaws of Life are always near, always reaching to save us, always ready to lift us out of the morass of despair to something we cannot begin to know exists til we are flying there.

"Next time," said Asherel holding the copter, "We'll put a pin on the top so it doesn't get stuck on the ceiling."
"Yes, good idea," I agreed, "But it is ok now, because we know how to rescue it."

1 Thessalonians 4:12-14

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ups.... and Downs

Asherel released the newly constucted, fragile helicopter from her hand. It's tissue covered blades twirled smoothly and to our infinite delight, rose slowly from her hand. Like a butterfly it hovered, glorious  against the sun streaming through the skylights.
"Houston, the eagle is flying!"
After hours of work constructing, weeks of research learning the principles of flight and airfoil construction, money spent on varying sizes of "contest rubber" to power the helicopter, it flew. It flew smoothly, with little wobble and it rose to the rafters 30 feet above our the rafters....on the rafters.....NO! NOT THE RAFTERS! TURN EAGLE, TURN!!!!!!!!!!!

Alas it did not turn. It lodged in the rafters.

"Let's shoot it down!" cried Asherel, as though it were a nuclear weapon entering our airspace, and not our precious helicopter.
"With rubber bands!" she commanded Ben.
The two of them, having more fun than they had had all semester, began firing rubber bands at the trapped hero. One of Ben's managed to hit it, and it shuddered to life. It's rotor began spinning again and once more it lifted towards heaven.
"Hooray!!!!" we cheered, amazed as it continued to fly, and fly and....NO! NOT TO THE FAN! FLY AWAY FROM THE FAN!!!!TURN! TURN!TURN!

Alas, it didn't turn. It lodged in the wire grating of the huge fan, 30 feet above our heads. We could not hope to get it down.  The Community Center worker told me we could return tomorrow with a ladder and long stick if we wanted to try to retrieve it, so that is our mission today, but we all had to sadly leave our stricken copter, dangling perilously close to the fan's blades. It may not survive the night.

Asherel and I then drove away from our captive helicopter to visit our very elderly ex-neighbor who had recently moved to a Retirement Home, against his desires. His wife, in the beginning stages of Alzheimers had taken a terrible shift to much worse and now lived across the street from Komer's new apartment, which he would now habitate all alone. She needed skilled around the clock nursing and had blessedly found an opening in the care facility of Komer's new community. We went to visit, bearing Xmas cookies, knowing that the little joy we might bring would be such a feeble light in such monumental gloom.

The room was too warm, but we sat and talked with the lonely, and sad old man for an hour. Several times, his breaking heart could not contain his grief, and he cried silently, without tears. I suppose the tears had long ago run dry.  In case you were hoping that we brought some wonderful magical words of healing and joy, I am sad to say that particular well of words must have run dry in me as well. All I could do was listen, and hug him when his grief made words too burdensome. The lost helicopter seemed of little consequence in the face of this kind of loss.

"For 92 years, I have faced so much. Hard work always got me through," he said, "But nothing prepared me for this."
As we left, I pointed to the forgotten plate of cookies, "Don't forget your dessert after your dinner," I advised.
"I may skip dinner and just eat all of them instead!" he declared with a feeble smile.

I prayed a good bit last night, in my habitual sleepless hours.
"Thank you for waking me up, Lord," I said, "I pray for Komer. Somehow bring him the comfort that only you can bring." And then there was not much to say. I forgot to even mention the helicopter.

 But what goes up, must come down. Lift and drag. Joy and despair. Rejoicing and grieving. Birth and Death.... and my favorite, sin and redemption.  Oh, Lord, may Komer feel the touch of your hand gentle upon him!  And by the way, if your Hand is not too busy, could it then just shove the helicopter our way?

Ecclesiastes 3

A Time for Everything
 1 There is a time for everything,
   and a season for every activity under the heavens:  2 a time to be born and a time to die,
   a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
   a time to tear down and a time to build,
 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
   a time to mourn and a time to dance,
 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
   a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
 6 a time to search and a time to give up,
   a time to keep and a time to throw away,
 7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
   a time to be silent and a time to speak,
 8 a time to love and a time to hate,
   a time for war and a time for peace.
 9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Solution- Super Glue!

Honeybun is always finding some discarded tidbit to test for edibility, so at first, I didn't panic....not til I noticed that the container she had mangled said, "Super Glue". Perceiving that she was having a little trouble opening her mouth,  I exploded into action. She looked befuddled and one side of her mouth was not quite working. Her lip seemed stuck to her teeth.
"Oh dear Lord," I cried, "Please don't let this be happening!"

I reached in and rocked back and forth the glob stuck to her teeth and on the verge of permanent stuckness to her lower gum. Fortunately it was the superglue that takes a minute to set and I had caught her in time, There was a piece on her lower gum that I left as it was stuck and I knew once she chewed a few  bones it would dislodge. I scraped the rest of her tooth and watched her for the next hour. She must not have ingested any as she seemed to be breathing, and eating just fine.

As Asherel noted, "That would be really ironic, of all dogs for Honeybun to have her mouth glued shut." Asherel is studying "irony" in her Painless Poetry book. How kind of God to give her such a perfect object lesson. Honeybun who lives to eat, being unable to open her mouth would  indeed be ironic. It did hatch a plan in my heart, evil as it may be...... what about super glueing Lucky?  Next time he tries to eat the window sill, just squeeze a little super glue on it first. Hahaha. Ok, so I am not quite embracing the Bible verse where God commands us to leave retribution to Him, proclaiming, "Vengeance is mine."

The Super Glue had not only played the dubiously useful role of gluing Honeybun's mouth shut that day. I had awoken to the shattered, splintered window sill which I had laid suggestively on Arvo's dresser. I hoped in tripping across it, he might find a way to replace it before our holiday guests arrived. But then, the spirit of self-reliance that made our country great seized me.  I gathered the aforementioned super glue, wood filler, sandpaper, paint, and nails. She who made a wooden reindeer out of a fallen tree could surely reconstruct a window sill.

I gathered the splintered pieces and put them together like a puzzle. There were some gaps, but I was not willing to pump Lucky's stomach for them.  First I used the super glue to reconstruct the sill. I only stuck my finger semipermanently to the sill once. Then I slid it in place and superglued some more, and for good measure, taped it to be sure it stayed in the proper alignment. Then I used massive amounts of wood filler and squeezed it in the gaps and toothmarks.  Mind you there were more gaps and toothmarks than intact wood so this was no small feat. Three hours later, I removed the tape. It held! I sanded, and then painted, and since the lovely clean white sill now made the rest of the window look dingy, I painted the whole window trim. And then of course the second window needed to be painted. By then, it was time for me to teach my Trebuchet class so I had to clean my paintbrush and hope I hadn't glued the window shut.

When Arvo came home, he asked me where I had found the new window sill. Victory!!!!!

So I got a double lesson from God yesterday and it was a clear one. Most things have a proper and wondrous use or a corrupted, and evil use. It is not the thing that is good or evil... it is how we use it. God speaks eloquently of that in regards to the tongue. The tongue can proclaim love one moment, or spew venom and hatred in the other. It can build others up with encouraging words, or it can mangle and despair with discouraging words.  Money can be used for selfish means, or it can be used to help a hurting and desperate world.  Time can be spent in self indulgence... or in reaching out to a child, or an old man that needs a listening ear to whom he can cry out his pain.  Christmas can be used as a massive greedy gift grab, or it can be used to help us remember that Jesus was born to die for us, and to save us from our sin...and from super-gluing sweet dogs' mouths shut. ( well, ok, maybe not for exactly that last one....) This is just a short list.

I threw out the chewed up super glue tube, but I thought of all the times I wished I had super glued my mouth shut that day alone!  I praised God who had not taken the lesson to its painful extreme, and then prayed that I had learned enough that He might never have to.

1 Corinthhians 10:23
 23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why are Bad dogs Bad?

The room looked like a bomb had exploded. Bits of plastic blinds lay scattered across the carpet. Mangled and bent blinds slats still hung in two windows, hopelessly unable to blind anyone to anything anymore. The entire window sill was ripped off, exposed nails pointing like daggers from the wall, piercing my Savings Account.  Sawdust and shards of chewed and splintered wood dotted the floor like snow. I turned to look at Lucky who hung his head. His tail was down and he peeped through tangly wild terrier fur at me.

"Bad dog," I groaned.
It seemed a gross understatement.  

I know what you are thinking. I had locked him in the room for 4 days and 4 nights with no food and water, and in starvation and desperation he was seeking to escape to survive. Or perhaps I had neglected him and he had not had a walk for a thousand days and I made him pee in tin cups. You would be wrong. He had been shut in the bedroom for 2 hours while I taught my art class so he wouldn't escape out the open gate my students came through.  And we had just returned before art class from a one hour walk in a brand new place where he had been allowed to sniff to his heart's content.

Honeybun looked at me and at him. She wagged her tail. She had been in the room too, but it was clear who the guilty party was. The convict lay down and began licking his paw, which seemed to be sore. No doubt cut by wood, nail, or sharp severed plastic blinds.

"Why did he do that?" asked Asherel, amazed by the destruction caused by one dog in a mere two hours. I could sooner answer that than I could tell you how the earth remains suspended just the right distance from the sun to maintain life.  And why did he do it right before Xmas, right before Matt and Karissa and Anders walk in the door, the beloved ones we have missed so much? They will enter their Xmas vacation, hoping for delicious meals, clean homes, happy parents with a little extra money to spare for special treats.

But instead of concocting sugar cookies dotted with red sprinkles, fudge, and Chicken Cordon Bleu, I will be measuring windows, drilling, sawing, sanding, painting, and hanging new blinds.....
Lucky glanced up at me again, his tail still lowered.
"Let us reason together," I beseeched him, "I am not a perfect dog owner, but believe me, on the scale of dog owners, I tip to the 'better than some' side. You, on the other hand, on the scale of good to bad dogs, tip more than a little to the bad dog side.  Do I beat you for this crime? No. But I am sorely disappointed and there must be consequences. You will pay for this damage."
"How will he do that?" asked Asherel.
"We are selling him to a lab that experiments on brains to find the source of deviant behavior."
"Can we wait til after Xmas?"
Unfortunately, it was time to feed the dogs before my anger had worn away. I have been told dogs don't remember much more than the brief nanosecond after they have been very very bad, so punishing them does no good. It is just cruel. So gritting my teeth, I called out, "Who wants to eat?"

Honeybun raced to her bowl, screeched to a halt, and sat down, waiting obediently and joyfully. Lucky disappeared. And then he reappeared with a bone in his mouth. He trotted over and dropped it in my hand, tail weakly wagging, still lowered. It was his offering, his begging for forgiveness.  He did not seem to have forgotten his crime.

I don't get it. Lucky has led a charmed life. Walks twice a day, sometimes more, unlimited access to his large forested back yard, lots of attention from the loving Asherel, his sister, Honeybun - a playmate who admittedly tried to kill him when she first entered the home, but is gentle and kind now. He gets good food, lots of treats, and has more sweaters than any dog on the block with the exception of Honeybun. Why? Why does he feel the need to be so incorrigible? It is as though he really doesn't want to be bad, but he just can't help it.

Surprisingly similar to how I feel. I don't want to be impatient....but I am.  I don't want to raise my voice....but I do. I don't want to say stupid things....but they flow out of me like blood from fresh wounds. I want to love always....but I fail.....    The list goes on and on.  Over and over again, the hopeful prayers of good intentions in the morning are scattered like feathers in the wind by nightfall. 

Maybe some folks are better at being consistently good. Like some dogs. And some, like me and Lucky, try really hard, but then, we blow it. And no matter how sorry we are, there is always wreckage to be mopped up.  It is a difficult part of life. That is why God has to mention some permutation of "forgive" over a hundred times in the Bible. We are not forgiven because we deserve it....we are forgiven instead of destroyed because if we weren't, there would be no one left to forgive. And if we refuse to forgive others, the Bible warns us the same hard-heartedness will be applied to us. It is hard to forgive when we have been wronged...when window sills of our souls are ripped from our hearts.... but perhaps it is when it is the hardest to forgive and yet we do, that we manage to understand just a little of the character of God.

"Good dog," I told Lucky, as he crept over to me this morning. He held up his tail and wagged it happily.

Psalm 25: 11, 17-18, 21
11 For the sake of your name, LORD,
   forgive my iniquity, though it is great. 15 My eyes are ever on the LORD,
   for only he will release my feet from the snare. 16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
   for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
   and free me from my anguish.
18 Look on my affliction and my distress
   and take away all my sins.
21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
   because my hope, LORD, is in you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Blossoming Weed

Poinsettias get a bad rap.... alot like pitbulls. Poinsettias are not toxic...or at least not as deadly toxic as rumor has it. They have some sort of substance that is irritating to skin, but you won't likely die from munching on their leaves. (Not that I would recommend it.)

I had been curious how Poinsettias had come to symbolize Christmas. I love origins, tracing words, customs, creation back as far as we can and trying to understand the source from which we sprang....or sprung. (?)  The poinsettia, which grows wild in Mexico, became associated with Christmas in the 16th century. The legend says a poor child, too impoverished to buy a gift for the baby Jesus celebration in her church was told to gather weeds from the roadside to place as altar decoration. The weeds blossomed into vibrant red and the beautiful Poinsettia has graced church altars and homes at Xmas time ever since. There are a few problems with this story though. The red leaves are not "blossoms", they are leaves. The blossoms are actually the more subtle little yellow centers.

The more obvious problem is that who in their right mind would tell a child, "Go gather some dusty old weeds from the roadside to celebrate the most profound event of all time."?  It smacks of urban legend from the get go, doesn't it? But we all love those kinds of stories, where out of nothing, wondrous things are produced. The rags to riches stories of the world. And the Poinsettia abounds in those images- it must have darkness for extended periods or the beautiful red leaves will not develop. The most dramatic of plants, it begins life as a green weed.

I think we all yearn for those kinds of stories because at their heart, they reflect the one story that trumps all the others. The one story that matters most.  A little baby that was lucky not to have frozen to death was born to poor, humble parents amid great scandal in a no-nothing town. Completely surprising everyone, He grew to change the course of History. He, like the Poinsettia, grew to manhood in the dark and obscure corner of the world to suddenly spring forth as the light of the world. Rather than red blossoms or even leaves adorning His magnificence, He wore a crown of thorns and drops of red blood that were shed for me...for you.... for all of us.

I like the transforming nature of the Poinsettia. It gives me hope. I am usually more like a weed, and I don't love those periods of darkness in my life. But the lesson of the Poinsettia is the lesson of Jesus. Out of the darkness, God made a Light to guide us - and when we walk in the Light, we enter the presence of blossoming Glory.

Deuteronomy 5:23
23 When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was ablaze with fire, all the leaders of your tribes and your elders came to me. 24 And you said, “The LORD our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a person can live even if God speaks with them.

Isaiah 42:16
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Pilot is Waiting.....

"The pilot is here, the plane is here... but the flight crew is stuck in New York,"  a voice said through the static over the intercom. Unknown delay. At least an hour. Which of course, means three.

We had made it through the snow and ice, which was only marginally an issue the first hour, and then returned the  rental car uneventfully. Thus, we sat with 5 hours to spare in the airport, and now a delay.

We had stationed ourselves in front of giant windows that looked out over the runways. We had already exhausted the meager offerings to look at in the Jet Blue concourse of Logan airport. There was one measly shop and a few expensive but unexciting snack shops. Blessedly there was wifi. We wrote our friends, read our e-Bible, made a shopping list, checked it twice, and then looked out the window.

The sun was setting and the clouds were billowing pink and purple and golden mushrooms. I sketched and thought about how all these tired cranky people around me were all waiting for the same few people to arrive so that they could get on with their life. Those lost few were not the most important elements of the flight. We had the pilot, who would  guide the craft for the journey. We had the means to travel and it was cleaned and gassed and ready to fly. It was just those absent few, normally overlooked people who showed us how to buckle our belts or barf into a small bag that were missing.... but for them, hundreds of people waited now.

I think that is a little bit why God delays sometimes. We get weary and impatient for justice, for healing, for wrongs made right, and right rewarded.  And yet we all wait. The Pilot that will guide us safely on our journey Home is there and He knows how to fly us there, and most of us are waiting there, willing, anxious, ready.
We trust the Pilot, and He has a full plane.... why does He linger?  Because sometimes the ones we usually overlook, and don't think twice about, are part of His crew... and He is waiting that none should miss the plane.

Two hours later, the stranded crew from New York came racing to the gate where we all were gathered. The entire mass of passengers erupted into applause. We were all we could go Home.

Luke 15: 7, 10
7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ice driving and reindeer

The forecast is not encouraging but we have to leave this morning and drive back to catch our flight out of Boston. Dad reviewed the ice driving techniques.
"If your rear wheels are skidding, turn into the direction you want to go."
I repeated that ten times in my head.
"But," he continued ,"If your front wheels are skidding, turn into the skid."
This seems counterintuitive to me but I repeated it 10 times in my head.
"And take your foot off the gas!" added Mom.
"Well not necessarily," said Dad, "Sometimes you want to keep an even speed or you make the skid worse."
And so on. All I learned is that if I skid on ice, the best strategy is to clasp my hands in prayer and shout, "Jesus take the wheel!"

It's the best strategy on ice and in life.

Saturday, while we were driving from lunch, we saw 3 wooden reindeer in a front yard.

"I love those," I said.

"Me too," said Mom, "I always wanted them. Three of them for the yard."

I had never known that she had wanted them- and here I was, an artist wasting my time on snow foxes that looked like snow pigs when my mother wanted a wooden reindeer. A plan hatched. A tree had toppled in my parents' front yard- all the raw material of a reindeer.

The next morning, after my run, I headed out to the fallen tree with a hand saw. Dad forbid me to touch the chain saw as I had never used one and he was not in the mood to tourniquet a sawed off leg.

I was sweating and huffing before the first cut was even a quarter sawed through my piece of log chosen for the head. But I was determined that this sculpture would be completed before we flew home. You cannot imagine how many times one must saw through a log to collect all the necessary parts of a deer. A real deer could have been born in the time I took to cut and gather my pieces.

Then I picked up my deer assemblage, and headed for the basement. I began sawing and hammering and nailing and almost cussing. Sweat dripped off my brow and things rattled off Dad's work table crashing and spilling on the floor.

My mother ventured down.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I am making a reindeer," I answered,"Can't you tell?"

A log was clamped in a vise and a long bowed stick was dangling from some bent nails.
"Is that a leg?" she asked.
I hammered furiously and the leg fell off.
We looked at the stick as it clattered to the floor with the other deer parts.

"I don't mean to rain on your parade," said Mom,"But this is probably beyond your skill set."

"I could do this," I said,"But Dad doesn't have the right nails, or glue, or saw...."
"Let's go to lunch," she offered," And we can get what you need afterwards."

I bought Gorilla glue, crazy glue, long strong nails and large bandages. Then I returned to the basement. Mom peeked down and asked how it was going.
"Tell Asherel I need her and her duct tape!"

Asherel taped while I hammered and then glued the pieces. The deer was swathed in purple duck tape waiting for the glue to cure.

"Now what?" asked Asherel.

"Now we pray."

A few hours later I carried the deer upstairs.
"Why is he purple?" asked Mom.

"Just wait."

I cut away the duck tape and the deer stood solid and whole, the legs all the same length. His twig antlers ended in little red buds.
He was, in my eyes, the most
wondrous deer ever.

"He's cute," said Mom.

"I won't have time to make you three," I said," But I'll make you another one when I visit in the summer."

There may be ice on the mountain roads as we drive back to Boston to catch our plane, but I am not as scared as I could be.
The Spirit that guided my hands to concoct a reindeer of wood that I had no idea I could build would cover for me if I forgot which way to turn into the skid.

Psalm 57:1
Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.
-nothing is impossible with God

Sunday, December 12, 2010


My mother's favorite game is a game she never wins. Whenever we come home to visit, we play Scrabble. Mom is very smart and loves the written word, but for some reason she only won Scrabble once that I can remember. In fact, it was such a momentous event that it was written on the boxtop of winners. Whenever any of us had an extraordinary score in Scrabble, we would write it on the Scrabble box, with the date. So Mom's name, date, and score were written on the boxtop, even though it was not at all a record breaking score.

This, per our tradition, after dinner we settled down to our Scrabble game. Mom laid down a 40 Point word. This is unheard of in Mom's scrabble world. I had lousy letters- 6 of the same vowel- so I wasn't a contender. However, Asherel has suddenly become a very good Scrabbleist and was neck in neck with Mom. Mom held her own and the scores of the two were impressive.

Then Asherel cringed and put down "xi".

It got her alot of points.
"Is that a word?" asked Mom.
"I don't know," I said, "but you can't challenge or you will not win."
In Scrabble, a player may challenge a word they believe is spelled incorrectly or not a real word. If the word is correct, the challenger loses her turn.

"You have a shot at winning , Mom, and I don't , so I will fall on the sword for you. I challenge "xi!"!
It was a word- a name for a Greek letter.
Mom's turn came again and she played another stupendous word. But Asherel countered with "quod".
"Is quod a word?" asked mom.
"I don't think so," I said,"but you can't challenge! You are only in the lead by 6 points. I challenge!"
Quod was a word- it means prison. And don't any of you smirk- you did not know that!

And so on it went. I challenged Asherel's crazy guesses 5 times and 5 times I lost. I finally won a challenge when she laid down "qwesdtyhok", or something like that.

But somehow, Mom kept surging with wonderful words and finally laid down her last tile and went out with a tremendous winning score.
"Put it on the boxtop," she said,"But give the assist to Vicky."

Next , it was time to follow another tradition. We always built snow creatures at least one time a winter and as I am not sure I will brave a winter visit again, I cajoled my reluctant daughter.
"Come on," I begged,"Help me build a snow fox. It's tradition."

We had always received local acclaim for our snow creations. At least one neighbor used to always look forward to our sculptures.
"Giddy's no longer around," said Mom,"It was Giddy who loved your sculptures so much."
"Then we will just do it for you and for God," I thought and dragged my resistant teen out the door.

There was little snow so the work was hard. After an hour all I had was a fox head with a tiny body and not very big tail. I was too tired to continue. I stuck twigs in the snow for his legs and rubbing
my aching back, returned inside.

"It looks like a snow pig," said Mom , glancing out the window. "Thanks Mom, I'll remember that next time I tackle your Scrabble contenders."

And so , two traditions didn't turn out the way they usually do. But I remembered what Jesus said about traditions. He chastised the Jewish leaders for holding on to traditions as a guise for avoiding God's statutes. They would use traditions as a way to get what they wanted or glory for themselves in self-righteous hypocrisy. But God told them their traditions meant nothing to Him unless their purpose was first and foremost to glorify and honor God.
That's a good perspective to keep in mind when bodies grow weak and traditions of necessity fall away. I smiled out at my little snow pig.

Mark 7: 8-9
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.
And he continued, "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!

-nothing is impossible with God

-nothing is impossible with God

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Of Icicles and Shorts

My parents had told me they would be finishing up at
their tennis league when we arrived, but they would leave the house unlocked.

As we entered the house, Asherel noticed icicles
lining the roof.
"Look!"she exclaimed in wonder.
It occurred to me that my southern daughter had never seen real icicles. All
She had seen were the fake ones on our Xmas tree and the lit up ones on our roof.
"That is frozen water," I explained,"And that is what happens to your blood when you walk outside this far north of the Mason Dixon line without your coat in winter."

I had been battling the whole trip to have her wear her coat. It must be some teenage thing, this not wearing coats in weather that makes the Ice Age seem balmy.

Then my parents bustled in the door. My dad was wearing shorts.
"Why are you wearing shorts?" I asked.
"We were playing tennis," he explained, as though the indoor facility had no changing room where he could don pants before driving home in weather which God created to annually wipe out harmful microbes and reduce the population of people who wear shorts in winter.

"My mother made me wear shorts year round til I graduated from elementary school," he continued.
It seems this was some upper-crust way of dressing children, though my grandmother had fallen on hard times and was no longer upper crust by the time my dad came along.
"I don't think she'd mind if you put on long pants now," I whispered.

It is good to be home with my wacky parents. God sends the ice that is lining the roof and the warmth of my parents' love that sheltered me so many seasons.

Job 37: 8-9

The animals take cover; they remain in their dens.

The tempest comes out from its chamber, the cold from the driving winds.

-nothing is impossible with God

Friday, December 10, 2010

I Knew She Looked Familiar

I was intent on the row of warm looking shoes in the back room of the store, so nearly collided with the woman dressed head to toe in down.

"Excuse me," I said, trying to walk to the side of the elderly woman with the serious wrinkled brow.
She moved directly in my path again and I laughed at our inability to get by one another.

I glanced at her face again, and then noticed that she was wearing the exact same scarf as I was!
"What a coincidence," I started to say, with a smile for the sweet old lady who was surprisingly wearing the exact same hat that I was wearing as well.

The lady smiled back at me and I noticed she even had green, somewhat bloodshot eyes like me!

At this point, I heard Asherel laughing and then noticed that the lady in front of me had a daughter that looked exactly like Asherel and that child was also laughing. And then, but only then, did I realize I was looking into a mirrored wall.

The funny thing was that my own face had not been the tip off. It had been glancing a second time at the scarf that I recognized as my own.

"How many times more today do you think you will embarrass yourself?" asked Asherel, still giggling a half hour later. I glanced at my watch. Only 1:00.

"The day is young. Probably hundreds," I sighed.

And I knew then, had I not known it before,that God sends me messages chuckling the whole time. I remembered the verses about how one who knows God's commands but doesn't do them is like someone who looks in a mirror and then forgets what he looks like. It is a verse reminding us that knowing and doing are sometimes miles apart.

With all the wrinkles in the old face I saw reflected back at me, you would think I'd have mastered this message by now and not needed to walk right into it again.

James 1:23-25 (NIV)
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror [24] and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. [25] But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it---he will be blessed in what he does.

-nothing is impossible with God

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Well we already have had adventures

"Is it open?" I asked the Budget rental car shuttle bus driver as we pulled into the completely dark parking lot.
"I think so," he answered,"This is strange."
The building was dark and not a single light illuminated the rows of cars. It was bitter cold and now we sat on the shuttle bus empty but for us and the driver, gazing at the dark, desolate lot.
"The fun factor is definitely going down," I whispered to Asherel.

A rental agent knocked on the bus door, her breath forming ghostly clouds around her face.
"Power is out," she said, " I'll fill out the forms on the bus where it's warm."

The driver grabbed my luggage and put it on the sidewalk outside the bus and then for no good reason I could discern, pulled a good distance forward.

"But my luggage is back there," I said.
"It will be fine," he assured me.

And as I watched my luggage, I saw a man walk up to it, grab it and start hauling both our suitcases around the corner of the dark building.

"Hey!" I shouted,"Where is he going with my luggage!?"
And thinking all 105 pounds of me was going to single handedly apprehend the crook, I leaped off the bus and shot off after him.
"Should I come too?" asked Asherel.
"I will get it," yelled the bus driver, sprinting after me. He overtook me as we both yelled to the criminal, who it turned out was just an overzealous worker trying to bring the abandoned luggage into the building.

The bus driver returned my luggage to the bus. Finally, the paperwork was completed and the agent pointed me in the direction of a car shrouded by icy darkness.
"The blue one," she said through chattering teeth and sprinted
back to the warm bus.

Mind you, it was pitch black and not a drop of electricity flowed to any bulb so we had no idea what color any of the cars were.
Somehow, we found our car and with the high beams lighting the way to follow exit signs, made our way to the kiosk where a guard waited by the exit gate.

"I can't open the gate to let you out," said the guard, "We have no electricity."

"How long will we have to wait?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said.

I was perilously close to blowing my witness as a Christian who carries the Holy spirit with me wherever I go.

When Asherel and I had done our bible study that morning, I had been struck by the verse in John 12, where Jesus tells the people that when they see Him, they should see the Father.
I told Asherel that on our trip to Boston and NY, that should be our goal. When people saw us, they should see the evidence of God within us. I am pretty sure the bus driver, the luggage handler, and the gate agent were not looking at me and thinking how if I looked any more like God I'd be walking on water. If they saw God reflected in me, they saw a harried, irritable, angry, and indignant God who was pretty ticked off that Boston was so cold and so dark.

So I failed....again. I always have such high hopes for myself. But somehow though the spirit is willing, the flesh is always weak. And it was getting weaker by the moment. I was cold, and tired, and my eyes ached and now I didn't know how long I would have to sit in a dark parking lot in the frigid cold before I could
drive to the hotel.

But as though God knew that the next words out of my mouth might do irreparable damage in my attempts to model Christ within me before my daughter, the lights all flickered on. The gate keeper opened the gate and we drove away.

None of this was an accident. It was a test and I didn't pass. However, I suspect I will get another chance. I can't wait to see what is in store for me

John 12:45-46 (NIV)
When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. [46] I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

-nothing is impossible with God

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mere Human concerns

Down coat- yep
wool hat-yep
chemical emergency foot warmer-yep
electric solar powered blanket-yep
emergency high energy rations-yep
a gallon of water for every person-yep
last will and testament-yep

My packing list is all checked and I am ready to fly to visit Nanook and my parents.I have been closely following the weather forecast for the next ten days. It says "snow SHOWERS", with a high of 18.  My sister Holly has been following my Freeze Preparedness regimen with scorn. She says I am a wimp. She lives in Chicago where the kids eat frozen waffles fresh out of the freezer.

I am hopeful that my parents still have their cross country skis. If I am going to die from blood icing my arteries, at least let me go with vistas of snow covered pine tree and the sounds of swooshing skis beneathe my feet.

My training program yesterday included test walking various jeans to see which blend of cotton/polyester could most withstand extreme cold. I had three samples, thus had to walk around the block a minimum of 3 times. And of course there were other variables. I had to test each pair of jeans with first a down coat, and then a wool coat, and then a choice of synthetic or shearling lined boots. If you do the math, this means I had to walk around the block 7,864 times to gather data from each permutation of attire. (For you real mathletes out there, this is just an approximation, which in my world means- a wild guess.)  My study was somewhat flawed in that it was only 40 degrees here in Charlotte, not 18 degrees. I had to do a little statistical analysis to trend my results downward 22 degrees.

... and for the record, I know wool pants are warmer than cotton but there is not ONE pair of wool pants in Charlotte. Believe me, I looked.

However, I did find that the 80% cotton 20% polyester jeans significantly cut the freeze better than the 98% cotton/ 2% spandex.  I must say that the spandex blend jeans were definitely cuter but cute doesn't matter when you are frozen to death with your eyeballs globules of solid ice. I also unequivocally discovered that down is much warmer than wool, and shearling beats synthetic lining. I plan to publish my data in Scientific America, if I do indeed return with all my fingers. (PS- frost bite is a serious matter not to be trifled with. Do you know that when Napoleon attacked Russia in the dead of winter, not unlike what I am about to do, his troops were decimated from 450,000 to 10,000 not from the Russians, but from frost bite? So do not listen to Holly when she calls me a wimp because cold is mortally dangerous.)

But I go to my fate with a smile on my face. I get to see my beloved first born son and my beloved parents, and I get to fly instead of drive 16 hours. I know I face certain discomfort, but the precious souls of my relatives call to me......

It is funny that this reminds me of Jesus when He says He must travel to Jerusalem. His disciples beg Him not to go, but not because He will be facing subfreezing temperatures and potential frostbite. No, they urge Him not to go for a trifling matter that everyone in Jerusalem wants to kill Him.  But He reminds them that discomfort and even death should never dissuade one from doing the Father's will. For the umpteenth time He tells them that the physical world is nothing compared to the spiritual world- and we all need to keep our sights focused on the concerns not of man, but of God.

This is oddly comforting as I head out to a world where the permafrost layer is so close to the surface.

Matthew 16:21-26
 21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[f] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

X Marks the Spot

My brother, who lives near my folks, where we are headed with our thin Southern blood on Wednesday, deep in the arctic north of upstate NY, wrote to say that 2 feet of frozen global warming got dumped in his yard along with 30 mph winds and frigid temperatures.

I bought Asherel wool sweaters and a new down coat, and then practiced walking in the 40 degree day with my long wool coat. I was a little chilled. And it will be at least 20 degrees colder. The wool coat could still be returned. It was a fantastic sale and I have no nice coats so it seemed the wise time to buy one.... but would it be warm enough for a land that was formed only a few short millenium ago by glaciers? I think not.

And then, returning the wool sweater that of course Asherel didn't like because she is a teenager and well....need I say more..... I saw a down coat 30% off and guaranteed to keep me warm up to 25 degrees below zero. In the era of melting polar ice caps, surely this would be warm enough. So I got it, but I have to return one coat. Down....or wool? Which will not only keep me warm in Boston but will be useful in NC? The wool coat is lovely, elegant, refined....really everything I am not but at my age, should be.  The down coat is toasty warm and more likely to reflect the lifestyle of someone with no taste but who loves the outdoors.  They cost exactly the same, both dirt cheap but great quality. And all this in the midst of our sermon on spending less and loving more at Christmas. I had gone on a whirlwind spree of cleaning out the coat closet and had given to charity many lovely gently used coats that we had outgrown or just never used. But I knew I had to make a choice.... down or wool?

While researching down or wool, inexplicably I came across a website "Christmas or Xmas?"
I have purposely avoided using the term Xmas, because I felt it was a smack in the face to Christ- a direct removal of His name from the holiday. However, I paused to read the article and realized I have been wrong all these years! Xmas is not a pejorative term, nor a mocking of our Lord. It is actually a term the early Christians used! Xristos is the word for Christ in Greek!  During the 16th century, Europeans began using the X alone as a shorthand for Christ, and thus Xmas is just Greek shorthand. No disrespect was ever intended! I have added hours of work to my Xmas cards writing out Christmas and I never needed to! Both are acceptable and both should warm our hearts with the hope and promise of our Savior's birth.....

And maybe both down and wool are needed!  I got both coats for the price of one.... could it be maybe having one nice coat and one warm play coat is not a sin?  And if I wore both coats simultaneously in Boston, I might even survive. (For you youngsters in the readership, note this is a classic example of rationalization- learn at the hands of a master......)  But as I was busy trying to justify keeping both coats, I was reminded of a book we are reading about John Wesley, the great Methodist preacher. A woman in the crowd listening to him asked him, "If I become a Christian, will I have to give up my cards?"
"Are you afraid you love your cards too much to give them up if you feel God is telling you to?" he asked her.
"Yes," she answered.
"Then don't give them up," he counseled, "Let your cards save your soul. They are your God."

It is so easy, whether we use Xmas or Christmas, down or wool, to love everything more than the One we should love most. We let things or activities warm our hearts but we will never remain warm. Only the flame of the Holy Spirit within us can really do that.

So, down or wool....or down AND wool...... What would Xristos say?

Isaiah 44:15-17

15 It is used as fuel for burning;
   some of it he takes and warms himself,
   he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
   he makes an idol and bows down to it.
16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
   over it he prepares his meal,
   he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
   “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”
17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
   he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
   “Save me! You are my god!”