Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Our homes these days are barricades- few front porches are even available to sit on. We never see our neighbors walk by except in fleeting, rushing moments with our hands full of groceries or garbage. But if you look at photos of neighborhoods from long ago, everyone had a front porch. People used to rock on the porch swing, and chat with their neighbors. The neighborhood was a real community, not just a collection of hermitages.
There are other ways to promote community, but for me, the front porch is perfect. It is not forced gaiety, like a party. Am I the only one that goes home from parties with aching smile muscles? Interaction feels more natural for me from a front porch. For reclusive sorts like myself, if the need arises and a neighbor has overstayed his welcome on the porch, there is always the excuse of "something is burning on the stove" and a convenient getaway. And this is rarely not true in my home, something probably is burning or about to be burnt on the stove.
If you are truly blessed, your front porch will be surrounded by flowering bushes that attract hummingbirds. This has a double fold blessing. First, who could not be awed by the magic of hummingbirds? Secondly, if need be, those bushes can hide you from people when all you can handle at the moment is wings beating at a thousand beats per second with no human voice shattering the cadence.
Honestly, I think the health care money would be put to much better use if instead of requiring health insurance, the bill required front porches. I think blood pressure would drop, lonely hearts would find communion, and the drastic paucity of Vitamin D in most people would be quickly healed by the gentle rays of sun streaming over the porch sitters.
Today we are supposed to have 70 degree sunshine. The dogwood and Bradford pear are in bloom, and my daffodils are tipping yellow and white bonnets to a perfect Carolina blue sky. It is a day when my book and I will rock on the front porch and dream about a kind and gentle world.
....and his Spirit will gather them together.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
There was Honeybun, the slow starter, who sniffs the grass and is not really engaged with her handler till partway through the run. There is Drew the standard poodle who is a cannonball of love and can hardly contain himself with his boundless energy of delight with humans and when released from the start line, either rockets over the jumps like a superball, or makes a beeline for the nearest person to lick. There is Dixie, the Border Collie who performs beautifully whether there is a treat offered or not, but just out of obedience and love is often flawless. And there is the crazy cocker spaniel whose name eludes me at the moment, but who was fantastic as long as his eye was on his owner, but if he got distracted would explode off course and circle the field like a whirling dervish. It is funny I forget that dog's name since his owner yelled it thousands of times when the little cocker would forget this was agility class and think it was "racing the perimeter of the fence" class instead. Oh yes- it was Flynn, as in Errol Flynn the famous actor who as a child was expelled from several schools in Tasmania. That is an appropriate name for the cocker spaniel Flynn, who can be brilliant in class, but can also be a Tasmanian devil, out of control and completely ignorant of his owner's commands.
What struck me last night is how the varying dogs approach the agility course is also how varying people approach God. There is the slow starter who is not very interested, but plods along at first and gains interest and devotion as time goes on. There is the enthusiastic one who longs to please God but gets sidetracked to his detriment by all his passions of the world. There is the dutiful and obedient follower, who completes the requirements out of love, but perhaps not quite the ecstasy God should engender. Then there is the self absorbed one, who will follow if it serves his needs at the moment, and has intermittent periods of true worship, but easily falls back into a life of sin and disobedience. I think I have been all of these characters at one time or another.
The instructor Bobbie, watched Asherel with our slow starter Honeybun, who needed countless reminders to pay attention on the start line. Asherel would tell her sit, walk away, and Honeybun's nose would be in the grass sniffing away, probably seeking errant meatballs. Bobbie suggested that Asherel not have Honeybun sit and wait while Asherel set up a few jumps away.
"Do a running start," suggested Bobbie,"Get her attention, rev her up, and run with her."
Asherel did so, and Honeybun and she launched together over the course. Honeybun was so excited that as she cleared jump number 3, she barked in joy. I have never ever heard Honeybun speak in excitement on the agility field.
And it occurred to me that when my worship, when my approach to God is slow to start, slow to ignite, distracted, and not focused properly..... it often helps me if someone comes alongside me, reminding and cajoling and encouraging, and with a running start we launch upwards together.
1 Thessalonians 5:10-12
10He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Monday, March 29, 2010
First of all, the Passover celebration requires the Jewish mama to clean and scrub all week long so that not a speck of dust or leaven, symbolic of sin, remains in the home before the Seder dinner. I have developed an extremely painful tendonitis in my dominant left arm, such that even wiping down the countertops hurts. But I did manage to vacuum. So technically I did not find every speck of dust, or maybe not even most, but I am hopeful that God will look at extenuating circumstances and forgive this slight variation on cleanliness.
Next the table is to be set in all its finery, with the best dishes and silverware. I have two nice tablecloths. One is red and is my Christmas tablecloth, and one is covered with hannukiahs and is my Hanukkah tablecloth. I don't really have anything that is a Passover tablecloth, so I used my Hanukkah tablecloth. While not the proper holiday, it is Jewish, and therefore I think God would approve of the sentiment behind this substitution.
Next, I am to set an extra place for Elijah. Now as a Jew who believes Elijah already returned in the form of John the Baptist to herald the arrival of the Messiah, this little symbol of the Seder meal is just plain extra work with no meaning for me. However, I did set a plate, and cutlery, though not a cup. I knew Elijah was not going to be showing up anyway, and it hurt my arm to set the table at all, let alone put out a plate for a certain no-show. I think God would appreciate my economy of energy. Similarly, at the point in the Seder when I am supposed to rush to the front door and call out to Elijah, in case perhaps he is hiding in the bushes, I just instead called out from my seat at the table. Elijah, who is spirit anyway, could hear me with his celestial ears just as easily from the dining room as the front door.
Then, I prepare a Seder Plate. This is where my art of substitution is the finest. We use horseradish once a year.... that's it. Only at Passover do I ever buy horseradish. It is the "maror" or bitter herbs, symbolic of the years of slavery in Egypt of the Jewish people. Do you know how expensive horseradish is? However, oh happy day, I did have a bottle of Wasabi sauce in the fridge. Wasabi is the green stuff you put on sushi, and I don't know if there are many Japanese Jews, so I may be stretching the cultural divide here....however, the main ingredient of Wasabi is horseradish. So our maror this year was wasabi. I hope God appreciates my frugality in this one.
I did buy the parsley, representative of the hysop that the Jews used to spread the sacrificial lamb blood over the doorposts so that the angel of death would "pass over" their homes and not slay the first born in the ultimate plague against Egypt. I bought the Parsley even though I needed just 3 little sprigs and had to buy the whole bunch for $1.79. This symbol was just a little too scary for me to tweak.
Then there are minor substitutions really almost too inconsequential to list- we use a plastic egg instead of a hard boiled egg and instead of a 4 hour full ceremony, we boil it down to one hour of the essentials. Asherel adds some things to the traditional ceremony, such as hiding a dog biscuit afikomen for the dogs to find. Yet we have done the Passover Seder in our home for 15 years faithfully and every single time when we blow out the Seder candles, I feel a fullness of spirit, a cleansing sense of obedience to an ancient call.
Honestly, I don't think the substitutions hurt our ceremony. In fact, in a way they embody it. The Passover is a memorial of God's provision for His people, but the central purpose is the reminder of how the sacrifice of a perfect lamb covered and protected His people from the plague of death. It was the atoning substitution of innocent blood. Without understanding the Jewish sacrificial system, it is impossible to fully understand the necessity for Jesus' sacrifice. He was the ultimate substitution. He died in place of us, satisfying the call of Justice in penalizing sin, but especially Mercy in giving us all an out.
Thus when our Seder ends, we add one last substitution. Instead of raising our glasses and calling out, "Next year in Jerusalem!", we claim "Next year in the new Jerusalem!", or the new heaven and new earth that will rise clean and pure from the ashes of sin and redemption, a place where there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more death, no more tendonitis......
The New Jerusalem1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Tomorrow is Passover. We are Jewish, but believe that the Messiah came and is Yeshua, Jesus. So we celebrate Passover with the richness of its symbolism and tradition, but also with some twists the typical Jewish family might not add.
One of my favorite parts is when the matzo is placed in a special cloth with three compartments. Two whole pieces are placed on the top and bottom slot, but the third piece is broken in half, and one half is hidden somewhere in the house. That piece called the "afikomen" is left hidden til the end of the Passover Seder, and the children are then sent to find it, and return it, usually for some reward. There are many interesting things about this tradition. First of all, afikomen is a Greek word, strangely suspended in a Hebrew ceremony. It means "that which is coming" or "he that is coming". Jewish tradition is conflicting on the meaning of the 3 pieces of Matzo and on the Afikomen, which in and of itself is rather amazing given the intense symbolism of the whole Seder which in every other aspect is clearly explained within the Seder "haggadah" or guide.
However, we look at the three matzoh pieces as the three parts of the trinity, and the afikomen, which is broken, but then returned as the broken sacrificial lamb, Jesus. With His return, comes reward. As I was thinking about "aloneness", I thought about Jesus, right before He was crucified, asking His disciples to stay awake with Him. They could not, and ultimately Jesus had to face those terrifying thoughts and lonely dark hours alone.
Yet the Passover Seder is a reminder to a people, to a nation that they will be rescued, their sins are ransomed by the sacrificial Passover lamb, and they will stand together someday redeemed. It is a celebration of togetherness and memorial to the history of a people who together struggled and suffered with a hope of a better future.
I think probably God does need to get each of us alone at times, and those are often hard times. But in the end, I think we will all gather together, voices rising in song together, spirits blending in joy together, made one by "he who is to come".
25 O LORD, save us;
O LORD, grant us success.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you. a]">[a]
27 The LORD is God,
and he has made his light shine upon us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up b]">[b] to the horns of the altar.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
I love many plants.... maybe even all. I can't think of a single one I feel animosity for. I feel brief anger when I see the grape ivy choking the azalea bush in our yard, but siblings can be aggressive at times. A little pruning and some stern words and the grape ivy is repentant until I turn my back again.
I don't even mind the so called weeds. Were it not for the weeds, our lawn would not have a spot of green in it! And how did dandelions get labeled weeds anyway? Those orange flashes of brightness that give way to little fluffy balls so fun to sweep through the air and watch seeds like angels float through the sky.
And then there are some of the more impossible plant characters. The plant that catches and eats flies.... the Venus Fly Catcher (native only to NC by the way) or his more dangerous brother the Pitcher Plant that can trap and eat a mouse. There are the magnificent redwood that grow for hundreds of years, or the kudzu that grows a foot a day. The kudzu is one of my favorites, though it deserves its own blog post. For now, the salient Kudzu fact is it was introduced from Japan as a highly desirable shade/forage plant in 1876 and then declared a weed in 1972. This does not seem fair at all, and if I were kudzu, I think I would storm the USDA offices and grow all over their stupid weed rule books.
But it serves as a vital part of today's musings. How can I love the differences in plants so much but find the differences in people so irksome? Not all differences, mind you, just the ones that annoy me. There are some things I think all people should be... though I would never ask all flowers to bloom the same way. Still, things like being late should be punishable by death, especially if it slows me down. I don't need to go into my list. Trust me I have one. I bet you do too. I have been chastised for some of my differences. Like if you don't love loud parties you must be some sort of hermit that never cuts your toenails or hair. Don't weep for me though... I have done my share of chastising others for their differences.
And the funny part about accepting differences, truly accepting, I believe hinges on what is the same in all of us. If we were all flowers, we may have incredible variety in our blossoms but the common factor is beauty. We are people though, at least most of you reading this blog are, and I believe the common factor is that we all have a soul created by a loving God for a purpose and loved by Him. If I can train myself to look through the thorns or rough bark or pungent scents to focus on that one fact, I suspect I could learn to love even the perennially late people.
1 Corinthians 1:10
10I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Based on a Dog Whisperer show we saw, last night Asherel decided that to change his perspective on rain, she would change his body language. She got a rope and tied one end to his collar so she could hang on to him and one end to his tail. While we ate dinner, she used the rope to keep him from running out, and with the tail end of it, helped him wag his tail. For about 5 minutes, she lifted his dropping tail with the rope, and wagged it for him. He certainly did
look happier. And the funny thing is, when we took him off the rope, he didn't run back into the rain.
There are two seemingly contradictory verses in proverbs about happiness.
A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.
A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.
Well, so which is it, dear Lord? Does a happy face make the heart cheerful, or does a happy heart make the face cheerful? As the experiment with Lucky showed, it is both. If you can assume the attitude of joy, perhaps joy follows.
I think we are a nation that loves to wallow in victimhood, but I don't think that is what God intends for us. I think love is a choice, and following righteousness is a choice, and maybe even happiness is a choice.
There are clearly times when it it is near impossible to put on a happy face, or pull your tail out from between your legs. Sometimes you need someone else to help do that for you. But if no one is around, sometimes looking up at radiance transfers radiance, and joy lifts drooping tails.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
The one that amazed me last night was a retriever. His master, Bit had a bag of leather and metal dumbbells. Bit picked one up out of the bag, and then a helper took the bag and placed ten other dumbbells 40 feet away. Bit and the dog then turned their back on the dumbbells, and the assistant took the dumbbell Bit held and hid it in the pile. We knew which one Bit had touched but Bit and her dog didn't. Then Bit told the dog to find it, and the retriever bounded to the pile and unerringly found the dumbbell Bit had touched and returned it to her. She would dance for joy with her dog then, slip him some scrumptious goody, and life was just as it should be for them both.
Well of course I started thinking about the message God was sending with that demonstration. First of all, if you have a nose, use it. And if it is really big, use it for really big things. I am certain that if the dog was an expert bicyclist, he would not be wasting his time sniffing out dumbbells but would be training for the Tour de France.
But the greater message to me is that the scent of the master is clear, and strong. If you know the Master, then you will know what belongs to Him and you will return to Him no matter how clamoring and crowded the other choices in life may become. And if you return each time, with delight and wagging tail, the Master rewards you and your joy is with Him.
10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
But then, the daisy can be a malignant symbol too. When someone dies, he is said to be "pushing daisies." While this may be biologically accurate, it is just not the image I want conveyed when I look at a daisy.
But there it is- this simple flower that is given the power to determine romantic bonds or herald the loosening of mortal bonds. The quiet daisy would perhaps prefer to just be smiled at, as it smiles at us without so much duty imposed upon its fragile petals.
We all rebel against the sometimes overwhelming duties placed upon us, when all we really want to do is lift our face to the sun, and gather nectar for the bees, and bloom quietly in the field. And sometimes expectations are ridiculous, and roles are put upon us that we were not created to fulfill. Our tender stalks were never meant to carry the burdens we sometimes bend and break under. But I am reminded with each season of blooming and then blossoms dying that our fragility has a purpose. Without it, we might not be tempted to turn our face to the source of all strength, to the one who does hold love and life and death in His hand.
Isaiah 40:7-9 (New International Version)
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever."
9 You who bring good tidings to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, a]">[a]
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
"Here is your God!"
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
In fact, understanding pigs is so important that our own beloved president Harry Truman said,
"No man should be allowed to be President who does not understand hogs." Why? I mean pigs are big fat dirty blobs that like to roll in mud and stink, right?
Wrong. First, pigs are our oldest friends. They were among the first domesticated animal, over 6,000 years ago. They share the distinction of being the oldest friend with the Proboscis MOnkey (for you non-Latin speakers -"Big Nose Monkey" )which we domesticated because we did not yet have TVs and needed something entertaining to laugh at. Google his picture if you need a pick-me-up.
But back to swine. Baby pigs can squeal at a higher decibel than a jet engine. This is very useful when you want to block out nagging reminders of how much you are screwing up from loved ones. Pigs are invaluable to diabetics- they are used to make insulin. If you are a diabetic, thank a pig today for your survival! Pigs do NOT overeat- they always stop when they are full. This has been clinically proven by the controlled studies where a pig always backs away from the table and politely places his napkin on his table saying, "Thank you but I am stuffed" every time he is offered seconds.
Pigs are not dirty. They don't sweat and thus roll in mud to cool off. If they did not do this, there would be bags of sun-dried pig in the supermarket, but there are not because they have the sense to roll in the mud. And regarding sense, pigs are highly intelligent. They can be taught to pull levers for food and water, tumble, race, pull carts, and dance. This makes them smarter than me because I never could learn to dance.
Even some of our most beloved icons come from pigs. "Uncle Sam" was the name of a pig farmer who shipped his pork overseas to our army, and stamped US on the shipment. It used to be said that "Uncle Sam's shipment was large enough to feed an army" and came to represent the US government.
The pig fact that touches my heart the most is that pigs are great mothers. Mama Pig usually has 8 or 9 piglets in a litter and cares for them with complete absorption. There is the one unfortunate tendency to lie on them and crush them to death but she is not fat, just very heavy and the piglet is very little. She feels awful about it but it is not her fault. Pigs are the only animal unable to look "up" so when Mama Pig is settling down grunting, "look out!" the piglets can look right, left, and down, but not up where the danger is coming from. But don't dismay, farmers have devised special stalls for mama pigs that prevent this tragedy.
So the more I learn about pigs, the more I respect them. I suppose that is true of everything. And I realize I am worse than a pig in many ways. When danger comes, I look right, left, and down.... but I can look up. And really, that is the only place I should be looking.
29 But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him.
Monday, March 22, 2010
But my attention kept going to the percussionist in the orchestra pit which was just in front of us. His face was lit up and since he was right in our line of vision, I would snatch peeks at what he was up to throughout the play. He is not what the director intended any one to watch, and he would often sit for long stretches not playing anything. At times, he would lay his head down on his drum and appear to want to nap. Yet unerringly, when his part came, he would suddenly focus, peer intently at the director, and then play some strange little bell, or wooden block, or tingly chimes. He seemed so wholeheartedly into the music during those times, sometimes his mouth would move mimicking the rhythm of the melody or of the drum. And while his part was never large, it was always something that added the perfect touch to the music, the one elusive sound it needed, though I never knew it needed it, until I heard it.
I realized that I am like that drummer, in fact I would bet most of us are. My role is not a major one, and often what I do is off the main stage, not likely to bring applause or boos.... more likely overlooked. For long stretches, it seems that the world is spinning just fine without me, and it almost looks like my part in the cast is unneeded. But then when the director needs that little extra trill, or clash, or rumble, or tinkling bell, I am called into action and if I fail, the audience might never notice, but the director will. And when I succeed, there is a subconscious nod from the audience, that something that was needed, even perfect for the part, just made its presence known.
Matthew 25: 21
21"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
Sunday, March 21, 2010
One team barely made it on stage- as they were setting up, a piece of PVC pipe caught a little boy in the face, and lacerated his cheek. He was rushed to the hospital for stitches and his team valiantly performed without him. This is very difficult since each member has parts and roles worked on for almost a year.
My team is made up of very different people. Some are artists, some singers, some actresses, some daydreamers, some builders, some comedians, some thoughtful, some hasty, some goofy, some brainy, some serious.... They come from families all with their unique struggles and stresses. It is a huge commitment for them to show up once a week for two hours for almost a year to work on this extracurricular task in the midst of the busyness of life. We always have issues to deal with, to work through. Our differences are constantly bumping up against our task, and sometimes the biggest lesson is leaving the session still liking each other.
Before our contest, Arvo, Asherel and I went hiking in the gorgeous Dupont State forest. Just two hours from Charlotte, I had not even known it existed. In the space of an hour, we saw a half dozen of some of the most spectacularly beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. We hiked to the top of the mountain and stood a long time watching the river as it approached the sudden drop over the cliff just a couple of hundred feet ahead. The water seemed peaceful, even lazy as it slid under the bridge we stood on. I thought about all those thousands of drops of water, coalescing and rambling along, not knowing that ahead of them, they were about to cascade on the ride of their life. Each drop of water was unique, yet each was being pushed together and forced to rush down that river to their ultimate resting place, the ocean. As they plunged over the precipice, some of the drops would be flung heavenward and briefly exult in moments of individual brilliance, catching the sun, painting a rainbow, but ultimately, that drop too would fall back with the others and tumble to the sea.
Team Waterfall reminded me of Team DI and Team family... and every group of humans that endeavor to reach a goal. There is so much pushing and shoving along the way, periods of uncomfortable obstacles to smash against, portions of the path that split and diverge and travel separate routes, frightening but exhilarating plunges to new, untraveled territory, and finally, a rushing together to a common goal. It is easy for the water drops, they have no choice. They can't reach the cliff edge and say , "I am not heading over that waterfall with all you suicidal droplets... I am heading back upstream for a nice rest on the warm rock and evaporating trip to Tahiti." Nope, they can't choose Tahiti- they can't choose to not plunge with the other drops.
We can. We do have a choice. I am always sad when we humans don't all glide silkily together. It sometimes seems so impossible a task. So that makes moments like yesterday so special when my team stood on stage, and for 8 minutes united beautifully with one goal and one mind and every parent breathed the same sigh of relief when no one fainted, no one missed any discernible part, and they all were smiling at the end. I am a staunch individualist, and yet, if I am going over a waterfall, I want to be holding the hands of a team. And I want us all to be cascading to the right place.
Forgetting what lies behind and straining
forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of
the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
So we all filed in to the nice restaurant at various times as we arrived. Our first member arrived in a full bright blue and silver duct suit with tie and tophat and even duct tape shoes. We were pulling in and I saw several people stop to talk with him, or gape at him as they walked by. Then we arrived, Asherel in an elegant navy blue and silver dress with silver roses, silver sandals and silver purse... all of course duct tape. The three of us walked in in our duct outfits, and the receptionist raised an eyebrow, but didn't ask why the world was suddenly raining duct.
Then the next member arrived, one with a duct rose in her hair, and the other with a flashy grey pants and vest in duct. Finally our last member sauntered in, wearing a turqouise blue dress with bright pink spots and sash, and pink pointy duct tape heel shoes.
No one ever asked why this entire group was dressed in duct tape.
When we returned to the hotel, there was a large family gathering at the outdoor patio. We were one of the last ones out of the reataurant, so I know they had seen the whole duct tape group traipse back in one by one, to the hotel.
I could tell the family was bursting with curiosity, and finally one teen could stand it no longer and came racing over.
"Please," she cried, "Why is everyone wearing duct tape?"
She was from Wisconsin, and I think she feared that a new fashion fad was going on in NC that she had missed. She asked us to pose so she could send our picture back to everyone she knew. She asked details on how we made our dresses, and asked how comfortable they were. You just know that next week, duct tape clothes will be all the rage in Wisconsin.
And I think that is often the way it is when we no longer conform, but are transformed by something so remarkably different, the world notices. If it works with duct tape, imagine what would happen to a world transformed by the cloth of heaven.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Sometimes the living rooms were lit and we could even see people moving about in the house, and we would comment on it as though it were some great event.
But the house we most wanted to peer into, we could not. It was surrounded by a huge stone fence that had concrete gargoyles and masks along it. We could see the roof of the house, and it had a giant iron Pegasus on it. This was a family of artists, and from what we could tell, very private people who did not want anyone to see into their windows at night, or whether they had a bonfire on their shore.
So we would sneak over in our boat and see into the less barricaded side of the property. Sometimes we could see into the yard and there were all kinds of statues made up of old junkyard parts, metal clankety elephants, and giraffes, and other funny bizarre creatures dotting the grass.
I would run often on the road that flanked the front of their house hoping the front stone gate would be open and I could peek in. The gate had a giant iron spider across its top expanse. I wanted to see in, but I was also spooked, because the property and the reclusive family reminded me of the Adams family from that old TV show. Still, the one yard that I most wanted to see was closed to me, with all its treasures and delights and obvious quirky display of talent and creative genius. Why have a yard full of such treasure that no one but the artist could see?
If I had such talent, such vision, such beautiful concepts to offer the world, why would I hide them and myself behind impenetrable walls? Whether they were selfish, or frightened, or just strange, I don't know. But I do think there is a lesson in that house of cloistered hermits. If I have a light to brighten the darkness, why would I hide it? Or if I have words to comfort a friend, should I ever withhold it? If any gift of beauty or creativity has been granted me, is it meant for me alone to see? If I have news of God's promise, but I hoard it to myself , I am a concrete wall that others may long to see through, but can't.
15 "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
While loading the giant snake, there was a rather ominous creak and he fell over, but he was not supposed to come apart. Asherel thinks she put him back together again, but we are not certain, and may be in for a surprise when we reassemble everything in the contest prep area.
Besides the State contest, we have a few surgeries, doc appts., end of year testing, and visits to folks both in the deep north and deep south, Matt's graduation from college and moving to wherever he will attend law school, and a dog agility contest to schedule over the next few weeks. When I go to bed, my head is a cyclone, with thoughts swirling and blocking all the sleep nerves.
I have a horrible memory.... I can't remember if I have told you that before or not... but anyway, there are a few Bible verses I do remember. They fortunately all can be called upon in time of need to remind me of the peace and provision of God. The 23rd psalm, the Lord's prayer, "Be still and know that I am God," and ,"I look unto the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth." For the past few nights as I awaken in the middle of the dark, endless night, I have been reciting those verses in my head. They drive back the storm of tumultuous thoughts, and I sometimes have not even reached the end of my meager cache of memorized verses before I am snoring.
By the time morning comes, all those worries are still there, but they seem to have less of a stranglehold than they do at night. I even sometimes feel a lightening of spirit. Nothing has really changed. I think there is a good chance the snake puppet won't work, but even that symbol might indeed be a hopeful one, at least to Eve.
A song of ascents.1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
he who watches over you will not slumber
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
In fact, part of why I love the Bible so much is the message is often very symbolic, but if I search deeply enough, I think it can be discerned, and the meaning grows like a living being the more I delve into it. Asherel and I do a Bible study every morning, and it is where I most ardently practice the "Socratic" method. I ask her question after question, helping her (I hope) arrive on her own to the meaning of what God is trying to convey.
We were discussing a passage yesterday, and came to the end of our discussion, ready for the grand finale. Just like in my blog posts, I love it if I can conclude our Bible studies with some pithy, heart warming, maybe even tear wrenching revelation that will overwhelm us with its beauty and import, and follow her every day of her life, coloring every breath that she takes. Modest goals.
Anyway, I asked her then, from the passage, what would she conclude is the reason we should do anything in life? Of course, I was already expecting what I knew she would answer, because I had led her so skillfully to the only conclusion. So in my mind, I was hearing her words, "To glorify God and serve Him" and even then repeated just that with her, out loud, smiling and nodding when she finished her answer. Only what she had actually said was, "Because we like to" as the reason for all the things we do in life. We both looked at each other then in surprise, me because I realized I had heard wrong and she because she realized she had answered like a heathen.
"And that too!" she skillfully added, "We do things because we like to, and of course to glorify God and serve him too....."
I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I don't mean strange in a bad way. I mean strange like playing an electric guitar while wearing a battery backpack and roller skating. Or sitting by the ocean with a cardboard sign advertising yourself as a one man band with instruments attached to every joint, digit, and orifice making a cacophony of impossible music.
These people always make me laugh, but they are definitely out there on the weird register and scare me a little too. I remember once I saw a "Dog Whisperer" show of one of these Venice Beach small business freak show owners. The whole family, including the baby, was covered with piercings and tattoos, long hair, and peace signs. They were the typical Venice Beach hippies that terrify and amuse me. As the show progressed, and the people were revealed as a family with a problem dog, who all loved each other, and the dog... they began to seem less weird. They had the same joys, the same frustrations, and remarkably similar life goals as me, though they had chosen a very different vehicle to arrive in.
Similarly, I was feeling horribly frustrated over some of the uncontrollable stresses in my life, and quite put out because some others were not responding the way I wanted them to. Then through a series of conversations, one by one, those people revealed lives to me that were far more difficult and complicated than even mine, and filled with their own stresses. My complaints were revealed for what they were.... shallow, self-pitying, narrow focused without understanding what was happening to make the others behave as they did. I really am a humbled blockhead this morning. Praise God that His mercies are "new every morning", because I sure need a fresh supply each day.
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."
Monday, March 15, 2010
Our jobs, replacing dropped bars on the jumps when the dogs knocked them, afforded us front row views of owners and dogs as they enter and leave the ring. What happened in between was not nearly so revealing of the character of the owner, than how she entered and how she left.
When the handler enters the ring, she removes the dog's leash and then tosses it nearby. A leash runner takes it and deposits it on the exit end of the ring. Most owners just toss the leash. A very few look take the time to look the leash runner in the eye, say "Thank you" and hand them the leash. (over the course of a class or two, you'd be amazed how sore one gets bending over time and time again to pick up the leash). Those owners already receive points from me, though it is hardly an expected courtesy, and most handlers are far too focused or nervous to be considerate of the leash runner.
Next the owners go through their dog set up time and it is as varied as the handlers. Most are very no-nonsense, with stern commands to the dog to wait as the handler marches a few jumps away. A very few kiss the dog's snout, muss their hair, and laugh, telling the dog how wonderful they are and what an adventure they are about to have. They are often, but not always the handlers that hand the leash runner the leash instead of tossing it on the ground. Again, those are the owners I now award more points to.
Then the dog runs the course. Since I am planted in between the entrance and exit, and help with setting jumps and leash running, I see some of the dog's run,but my focus is on the start and end. However, I do notice which dogs clear everything (no jumps for me to reset) and the dogs that blow everything, going off course, not listening, dumping bars....
Now the handler and dog exit. They have completed their run. Of course every owner whose dog did fantastically well scoops the dog up and jumps for joy and runs to get him goodies galore. That is expected and easy. It is with the most interest that I observe the handler of the dog that let him down. That saga begins in the last few seconds of the run. Some handlers, obviously disgusted send the dog over the last jump, which he may or may not jump since he is clearly not doing his best that day, and then the handler snaps the leash on gruffly, and marches out without speaking to the dog. The dog invariably is looking hopefully at its master, its ears lowered because it knows it has not met expectations.
And then there is the other type of handler. As the dog has crashed into every jump, done the course in reverse, and lost hundreds of points, in the last few seconds of the run, the handler finds a jump or obstacle he knows the dog will succeed at. He sends the dog victoriously over that one jump, and as they cross the finish, he falls to his knees, kisses the dog and tells him he is the most wonderful creature on earth, and what a fantastic job he did! The dog is leaping for joy and all is right with the world, though he has just garnered the worst score in the history of Agility Trials. Dog and owner race off to get goodies with a bubble of love and joy casting iridescent rainbows around them. Those are the handlers that get the points from me. They may have lost the agility trial, but they won a prize much much more valuable.
1 Corinthians 14:25
and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"
Sunday, March 14, 2010
The name birch derives from the sanskrit word bhirgo, meaning "tree whose bark was used to write upon". I love these kinds of names. Similarly, did you know that cinnamon roll is derived from the ancient sanskrit "bumpolitis" meaning"bread that places globules of cellulite"? These are little known facts that help me through my day.
The silver birch take 25 years to bear fruit, yet the birch are associated with the Norse goddess Frigga, the goddess of married love. They are thought to be hardier than oak, and make the strongest plywood. So beloved is this tree that it is the national symbol of Finland. While they can grow singly, many grow in clumps with multiple trunks. They can live for 50 years, but many die young because the soil must be just right, or they succumb quickly to pests and drought.
What a wealth of symbols God gives me in the Birch tree! While they can stand alone, they prefer the close company of others. They are hardy and strong if they are rooted in the right place. If not, they quickly wither and die. They are the symbol of married love, and take 25 years to bear fruit in some cases.
I love that my name means Birch Valley, because while I am not as strong as I should be, if I listen to the message of the Birch, maybe I will be stronger. I should be rooted in something secure and true, like the nail scarred hands of Jesus' sacrifice on my behalf. I should cling to others and not try to go it alone. I should recognize that marriage like any worthwhile relationship is a process, takes time and energy, and the fruit of that may not be immediately obvious. And best of all, my skin with all its age spots and wrinkles can be peeled off someday, exposing a strong smooth core.
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Recently, she came to me at the end of class and showed me artwork she was doing during the church sermons. She listens (I am certain very carefully) and draws. She showed me page after page of lovely landscape paintings. This is the child who did one painting for 3 months? She is apparently churning them out, from the quiet but deep center of her being. Suddenly, not only does she seem to have found artistic confidence and a technique she loves, but something creative inside her is begging to be let out.
Yesterday, her sweet mother dropped off a bag of dogfood donation for Hollow Creek Farm, and we chatted a while. I mentioned her daughter's sudden outpouring of beautiful landscape paintings.
"She does those in church," answered her mother, "Last week, when the offering plate was passed, she had finished one and put it in the offering plate."
I hope the church recognizes what a treasure they received. I hope they understand that there was no greater tribute to God this child could have offered. I hope they see her mature comprehension that God gave her talents, and now she returns them to Him. And I hope when they are in a back room, counting the checks and lift this beautiful picture, they all gather around in awe, smiling in the presence of pure love, a pleasing and fragrant sacrifice.
and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Friday, March 12, 2010
I guess we all feel that way sometimes, wanting to lift a perfect and joyful blooming visage to the world, but not quite having all it takes to do so. I also like how the picture shows that there are a bunch of other sad sunflowers, some in even worse shape propping each other up. They can't prevent the petals from falling, or browning, but they can help the tender stalk remain up right, at least for a while. I am quite sure it is not what I was consciously thinking when I painted the picture, but I am also sure God knew someday I would need to look at it and find comfort.
I love sunflowers. Once, when Asherel was still very young and I was pulling her in a little cart behind my bicycle, we spotted a whole stand of sunflowers in a field. It was a vacant field, and the sunflowers were wild- maybe leftovers from some ancient farmer. I went and dug a few stalks, roots and all, and piled them in the cart beside Asherel. We then biked home, with my baby surrounded by 5 foot tall sunflowers waving in the wind. Lots of people honked and waved. It is not every day you see sunflowers out for a bikeride.
So rain and the gloom of worries may be sitting beside me, but I have visions of biking sunflowers dancing in my head. Even if petals are flying off, it is a glorious ride.
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy
Thursday, March 11, 2010
The mountains of North Carolina are beautiful, but we were incredulous as we approached our hotel, only 2 miles away, and as yet saw not one drop of snow. The ski mountain was only 2 miles from the hotel so we could not imagine how it could have snow. It was 60 degrees, by the way.
Even as we pulled into the ski parking lot, we asked the attendant, "Where is the snow?"
He pointed behind him, and indeed there was a snow covered mountain. I don't know how they refrigerate a mountain, but somehow they do. We were early, an hour before our lesson so we got our equipment and went bravely to the slopes. Of course, at first, we stayed on the level slope. The first terrifying realization was we had no idea how to step onto the board- there is no sign that says heel here, toe here. There was also a strap that we had no idea what it was for. So
I found someone who had snowboarded 3 times and thus was an expert and asked him. Asherel had done some research before we had arrived so knew that our first step was to lock in one foot and then push around with the other to get the feel of sliding. This was surprisingly difficult. It uses muscles that I am sure I rarely if ever use, and they were not happy to be called into service. Within a few minutes though, we were climbing partway up the bunny slope and sliding tentatively down. Matt even braved the whole bunny slope.
Then the first thing they taught us at our lesson was that people like me who are the rare exception of using right foot as the lead foot are "Riding Goofy". I was only one of two Goofy riders in our lesson, so everything the instructor taught, I did the opposite. When the rest of the class did a heel dig, they curved left. I curved right (at least in theory- I never did quite get the knack of turning....) So as if it wasn't bad enough being the only gray haired wrinkled raisin of a human trying this dangerous sport which is made for maniacs under 25, I was being continually called "Goofy".
To use the rope pull to the top of the slope, regular riders face the rope and grasp it easily. Goofy riders have to have their back to the rope, twist their aged torso and hang on while their arm gets wrenched out of the socket. It took me several painful tries before I mastered that.
Matt and Asherel got quite good. We had to force Asherel off the mountain and pry the snowboard off her. This was difficult as by that time, I was so tired that even my fingernails ached.
"Why are we leaving?" she cried.
"Because as of yet we are uninjured," I answered, "And we have been here for 7 hours tempting fate."
I slept the whole drive home, though of course, with my eyes open since I was driving. This morning, I ache all over, but there are no bruises which is because the snow was so soft and slushy that it cushioned my falls. And I hope someday when my children are standing on the Olympic podium, collecting the Gold medal for their half pipe performance, they will remember fondly the aged mother riding goofy on a snowboard.
1 Thessalonians 3:5-7
...has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Fortunately, most snowboarding accidents happen only to unskilled novices who are fifty or older with brittle bones and should never be anywhere near a ski mountain. I have the option to downgrade to skiing, which I know how to do to some extent since I cross country ski. So on the drive, I asked my kids if they would mind if I took the ski lesson instead and of course would then join them on the bunny slope after the lesson.
"Don't you already know how to ski?" asked Matt, sweetly, of course, but the insinuation being I was afraid to try something new.
Asherel was more direct.
"Oh just try it! You can always downgrade to skis if you don't like it."
This means that I will downgrade to skis after I snap my femur like a twig, of course.
I was hoping for a down pour that would melt the hundred inch snow base, but it is not raining. So in just a couple minutes, I awaken the kids and off we go to the mountain. I have an hour to decide will I be brave, or a fool, or both.... or play it safe. Mind you, we will be learning on a near level field, and have been informed that we are not allowed on even the bunny slope til the instructor feels we are not a threat to ourselves or others. If I pass that test, it will be for perhaps the first time in my life that I am neither.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
But first, we are stopping at an outlet mall. The kids are very excited about snowboarding, but Matt in particular, in preparation for law school, loves shopping at outlet stores. He intends to be if not the best law student, at least the best dressed law student. He loves finding $2000 shirts for $10, and seems to have a knack for doing so. So we will spend the afternoon, wandering stores, without a toenail. (The better writers in the group are no doubt laughing and saying "Of course stores don't have toenails," but I must admit I am unsure how to phrase this so it is clear that it is me, not the store that doesn't have a toenail.)
Please do not tell my kids , but this one is for them. I really have very little desire to snowboard (can you tell?) and even shopping has lost its allure for me. We are currently booked in a very low cost and I fear moldy hotel, but it is just for one night. This is an offering of love to the children that I can never hold as tightly or as closely as I wish or they would suffocate.
Sometimes, despite your own taste in music, you listen to someone else's favorite song. Every parent out there knows that at times, you must subject yourself to the musical whims of your progeny just because you love them. You grab any connection to them you can as they blow up the balloon of life and start to float away from you.
And the strangest thing is, I come to love it all.... not for the intrinsic love of the activity itself, or the loud song itself, but for the joy of doing it with the people that I love so much. I remember once when I asked Arvo if he wanted to go to the playground with us, he told me, no, I could go, because I loved it so much. I stood there stunned.
"You think I love pushing swings, chasing toddlers, and riding dinosaur see saws?"
"You seem to, " he told me.
I am here to admit right now that I do not love pushing swings or riding dinosaur see saws.... but what I do love is seeing the joy in my child's face because she loves it. (well, used to... she is 12 now and would not be caught dead on a dinosaur see saw)
And this I realize is how we are to pursue God. Not to bargain for all the good things He will bring us that will make our lives fun and easy.... but to try to discern what He desires, and find joy in fulfilling that. I suspect that if I cannot do that, I really don't know what it means to love God, or anyone for that matter.
So, probably no blog post tomorrow. I will be off singing my children's songs......
and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life
Monday, March 8, 2010
If however, I emerge unscathed along with Matt and Asherel, it will be one of those picnic moments in life, those times when you purposefully put aside all the siren demands. I know how it goes with kids graduating from college... they get this harebrained idea that they are adults and able to leave their parents and strike out on their own. They are filled with high ideals of independence, and self sufficiency, armed only with our credit card....
Thus we are doing perhaps our last picnic with Matt, which is the main reason I hope we don't break or chip any important body parts snowboarding. Asherel recently asked, "Why did God rest on the 7th day? Do you think He was really tired?"
I know I would be, particularly after creating the duck billed platypus. He was obviously out of ideas for either mammals or birds, so he made a hodge-podge with the platypus. But the Hebrew word "kalah" used in the verse that tells us God completed his work, means He "fullfilled" a goal. It is the same concept as the word teleos, the Greek word used much later in the New Testament for Jesus' last utterance from the cross, "It is finished!" (It is completed, it is fullfilled.) So I don't think God was tired in either case. I think He had reached His goal, and there was nothing left to do for a little while. In the first case, He had created the universe, and in the second, He had made a way for a fallen universe to be covered in righteousness and make its way back to a Holy God. Even more interesting, the word "rested" used when God finished creating is the Hebrew word Shabath, and means to cease and celebrate! God was having a picnic in a sense, a celebration of His completed work.
Now my work is not completed in the same way at all.... but I do think that Matt is a fine creation which I had a small part in, and graduation from college is a fulfillment of sorts. So we are taking some time off, not a full fledged rest because the goals aren't reached yet, but just a picnic of sorts, a little moment of delight on the bunny slope.... and only the bunny slope.
...they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
And that is how I found one of the treasures of my life at age 8. It was shimmering among the smooth pebbles under the gurgling water, a gold keychain that I realized God had planted right there just for me. I picked it up reverently, knowing that at long last, after a long hard eight years of searching for the meaning of life, here it was. It was of course not real gold, but a beautiful gold color, and on one side were hands in prayer, and on the other side, the "Serenity Prayer."
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.
I clutched that little keychain to my heart, named her "Goldy" with that wildly creative knack at clever names that helped me come up with Friskey for my cat and Lady for my dog. Goldy stayed in my pocket for years, and when not in my pocket, reposed in my velvet lined Wilkinson Sword silver razor chest that my Dad had given me. I still have Goldy, over 40 years later. Every so often I open that little silver treasure chest and examine the collections from my childhood that still are so precious to me. A tea bag paper that has a verse on it promising me a long and happy life, a little heart shaped rock I colored red with a magic marker, an indian head penny, a silver dollar, and Goldy.
I am not sure that God ever did grant me that serenity prayer. I think I still may struggle to accept the unchangeable. I think I still rise only weakly to change the hard things I can. I am not sure I really yet know the difference. But it is possible that the lesson had less to do with the prayer on the keychain and more to do with how I found Goldy. Walking barefoot in the stream, like baring a soul to the flow of life, has dangers. There are all kinds of things that float by and knock into you, and some have teeth, and some can knock you down. But when you walk in the stream, sometimes the sun sparkles on a treasure in your path and you would have missed it standing safely on the shore.
3 and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
4 and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Then, there are those unlikely things we say, like my daughter's new favorite phrase, "Good grief!" It can be applied to any situation but often is a quicker way of saying, "This is the thousandth time you have told me that - what do you think I am... a 12 year old?"
But when you think deeply about those words, they make little sense. They are like "jumbo shrimp" or "amicable divorce", "boneless ribs", or my personal favorite, "elementary calculus".
What is so good about grief?
Personally, I find little to commend grief. The effects of prolonged grief are as devastating to our health as Dippin Dots at every meal, and a whole lot less fun. It takes more muscles to frown than to smile, thus the physical exertion involved in grief can exhaust the hardiest of souls. The only real good I can see in grief is that it rhymes with "leaf" which is useful for poets.
Yet everyone will at some time in their life, likely experience grief. Some will wallow in it, and some will drown in it. Some lucky few only dabble in it but even for those brief excursions into grief, I doubt they are shouting about how good it is.
Yet oddly, there is a good side to the aftermath of grief. No one holds a hand more warmly than someone who has grieved similarly. And no comfort is so encouraging as from someone who has been in the same abyss and crawled out whole on the other side. So maybe the good in grief is since it is inevitable, it is not without purpose if we can follow its trajectory to the other side, like a skipping stone, where someone is waiting for a message of hope.