Friday, April 30, 2010

Think blue

I have been told that if youthink about the color blue, your blood pressure goes down and you don't feel like throwing the "completely intuitive" iPod touch off a cliff. So I am experimenting with writing my post using the iPod and thinking of the ocean. Now you know why it is several hours late.

I have been contemplating ratcheting up my art career by printing and selling my ipod art. Afterall, it is a pretty new market. I decided against the ipad for several reasons not the least of which I think it is a stupid name. Many counseled me to wait til
1. it becomes more tested and developed and 2. I develop more talent. The first prerequisite should take about a year; the second a lifetime.

In the meantime I will think blue and see if this posts sucessfully.

Isaiah 48:17-19 (New International Version)

17 This is what the LORD says—
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
"I am the LORD your God,
who teaches you what is best for you,
who directs you in the way you should go.

18 If only you had paid attention to my commands,
your peace would have been like a river,
your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Nothing is impossible with God

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Seeing but Blind

I went for my yearly contact lens eye exam and they insisted I needed to have my pupils dilated so they could check out my retinas. They told me the dilation drug effect would last 4 hours. It is the next morning,14 hours later, and they remain a little dilated. I do everything to excess. So I am still only guessing at what I am writing. I can't see it very well.

But I see a whole lot better than yesterday. They gave me the little roll up sunglasses to make it through the mall and to my car where my regular sunglasses were.
"I won't need these to get to the car, will I?" I asked.
They looked knowingly at each other and said I would be the judge of that.
I left the store and turned into the blinding lights of the mall. Like a vampire, I shielded my face and cried out in horror, "Who turned up the lights!?" Snatching the insta-geek glasses, I put them on, praising God that Asherel was not here to have her entire childhood memory crystallized in that moment of utter mortification as her mother slunk through the mall, hand over eyes, wearing roll up sunglasses. While I could not clearly see the people pointing and laughing, I could feel the derision of the ones I bumped into.

I stumbled into the car, and groped wildly for my real sunglasses, and then found a second pair to put on top of those. The sun was a bitter enemy. I put down the visor, and wondered how on earth I could open my eyes long enough in this light to drive the 2 miles home. And then, I was stuck behind a car with a window in the back which reflected the sun like a laser.

"AGGGHHHHHHH!" I cried as we came to a stoplight. The sun reflecting off the window was directly beamed into my eyes, and then was boring a hole out the back off my skull. After interminable hours, the light changed and I drove, eyes averted, safely (sort of) home.

Upon tumbling inside, to the usually dark interior of my home, I kept the sunglasses on. Asherel glanced up, with a perplexed look as I staggered to the couch.

"Did you notice the hibiscus?" she asked.
"What is a hibiscus?"
"The flower," she said.
"What flower?"
She pointed, or I suspect the blurry movement I saw was pointing, at the tree we bought three years ago that stands in the corner of the sunroom.
"That tree flowers!" I cried. I squinted and could see vague deep pinks and salmon petals of a huge bloom, a single glorious flower on the tree I curse every week as I realize I forgot to water it again and its wilting leaves accuse me.
"It blooms every year," said Asherel.
"It does?"
"Yes, and it stays for about a week."
So one week a year, this beautiful flower I don't remember ever being there comes, and I am blind and unable to see it, let alone draw it.
"Take a picture," advised Asherel.
"No, I will draw it."
Determined, I pinched the screen on the IPod to 2,000% magnification and atom by laborious atom drew the Hibiscus flower that I almost missed.
"How long has it been here?" I asked, sure it must have bloomed while I was gone.
"Since yesterday," answered the ever observant Asherel.

How had I walked through the sunroom, where I spend 85% of my day, and not seen that huge flower, even before my eyes were dilated and all life was a blur? This most magnificent of flowers was unfurling its beauty despite my years of neglect caring for the tree, blessing me with its presence and I had looked several times right at it, and not seen it. Not only that, but apparently, it had come 3 other times, and I had either missed it completely, or totally forgotten its magnificence, a miracle of color and form.

Even the feeblest of troglodytes probably gets the symbolism on this one. How many examples of blessing and beauty does God have to reveal of Himself and I still stumble blindly, not seeing the One that holds the whole world in front of my longing, blinded eyes?

Isaiah 29: 18-19

18 In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll,
and out of gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind will see.

19 Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD;
the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Caught Red-pawed

Every art class that I do a demo painting, I usually then spend the rest of the week trying to turn it into a finished work. It is never a great piece during the class as I draw quickly just to give the kids an idea of what to do, but then spend most of the class going to them individually.

So the last class I did the little dog in this post, but without the roses or overturned vase. That part I added later because the pup just seemed like he needed to be mischievous. When I finished it, I was very pleased with it, and showed it to Asherel right before we dashed off to class. As we were about to leave, she asked if she could have some yummy peanut butter filled pretzels I bought as special but high calorie snacks. I told her she could have ten. I am trying desperately to instill the idea of "moderation" in her , a lesson she is not eager to absorb.

As we settled into the car, she with a big smile on her face and her cup of pretzels, I told her, "I really would love to use that new picture in my blog... but it is about things that really happen, and nothing has happened that the picture represents."

"How about someone trying to get away with something?" asked Asherel.
"Well, yes, but it has to be true. "
I glanced at her cup, which I then noticed was overflowing with pretzels. That was the biggest number of ten pretzels I had ever seen. She giggled. I then realized she had also thrown in enough gourmet crackers (another special snack) to fill out the cup. I didn't even need to I knew she would say "You only told me 10 pretzels. You said nothing about how many crackers I could have."

We both burst into laughter, and she said, "You could title it Caught Red-Pawed."

She is not alone. Just like that dog in my picture who is undoubtedly already planning his excuse for the rose dangling out of his mouth, we are all masters at satisfying the letter of the law, but stretching the spirit of it a bit. If you are about to deny that, think about the speed limit and how you obey it exactly, not once going one mph above it. I rest my case.

The only time Jesus erupted in rage was at the Pharisees, who he said obeyed the letter of the law but not the spirit. I suppose with commands like the number of pretzels you are allowed, it does not have eternal consequences, but I think perhaps even that is a practice round for the more momentous choices you make in life. So while I do applaud Asherel's sense of humor and impeccable timing, I caution her and me, and all of us,

10"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? (Luke 16: 10-11)

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Weighed Down or Unrestrained?

As there is no rest for the weary, after our exhausting weekend, we had a jam packed day with school, DI practice, and then our Agility Handling class in the evening. I did find time to fuel my addiction to art on the IPod between the aforementioned list and packing a dinner for Asherel and me to eat in the car en route to dog class. It had been a great DI practice with Asherel's aim with the banana plant catapult so excellent that it smacked her best friend right in the nose with a flying banana. These are what memories are made of....Giggling, we gathered our gear and headed off to class.

In our class is an adorable Cavalier Spaniel who could not be cuter or slower. He just trots through the course, smiling at everyone as he clanks around. He clanks because he is a tiny little dog but his owner always leaves a 6 inch lead attached to his collar as he trots over the jumps. I assume she does that in case he decides to run away so she has a greater likelihood of catching him, but he shows no inclination to run.... and his legs are all of 8 inches long... how fast could he go?

Anyway, at the class, the little spaniel was clanging slowly over the jumps and got remarkably slower and slower until he was walking and then pouncing over the jumps. I saw the class leaders conferring as they watched him.

"Tell you what," they said to the owner, as the spaniel finished the course (finally) not with a bang but a whimper,"Take off that lead. We think it is bothering him and slowing him down. Or let's put a chain around your neck that hangs to your knees and see if you want to run very fast." She opted to remove the lead, and then tried the course again.

This time, the little spaniel galloped over the jumps. I had not known his little legs could move so fast. He did the course beautifully, and fast.

I can relate to that spaniel. Sometimes the weight of worry, to-do list, sin and failures weigh me down so heavily, I don't want to wake up, let alone run the race with abandon. But I can't remove the lead myself.... I need a loving Master to free me.

On the other end of the spectrum is a cocker spaniel, Flynn. I think I have mentioned him before. When his master takes off his lead, sometimes Flynn obeys, but last night, Flynn took off and sprinted around the field and the owner spent the rest of class trying (unsuccessfully) to catch him. That was a dog that needed something to weigh him down, a restraint imposed on him as he was incapable of imposing it on himself. I can relate to Flynn too. Sometimes I throw all caution a little too incautiously to the wind, and flit in a flurry of activity often to an inglorious result. I need a loving Master to restrain me.

It is a wise dog that chooses a wise Master.

Joshua 24:15

15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Master's Call

It is true you learn more from failure than success and in the end, if you persevere, you will look back with perhaps more fondness on how you dealt with failure. At the time of failure, "fondness" is not how I would usually describe my emotions.

Honeybun afforded us many opportunities to learn to cope with failure this weekend. Day 2 of the Agility Trials Honeybun had two events- Standard and Jumpers. Standard is the class she had on Day 1 when she had so much trouble with the weaves and ran out of time. It has all the crazy dog agility equipment, including the "chute" which Honeybun had seen a grand total of once in her life. Jumpers class is a series of jumps and tunnels. That was her last class of the day.

Our wonderful mentor Polly again walked with Asherel during the course walk time and gave her some advice to help with the weaves. She also told her, as Asherel had already decided, that if she didn't get the weaves within 2 or 3 tries, move on. Practice doing the full course. I stayed in my seat since in her first class, she seemed to be looking for me when I tried to hide. It started well. She cleared some jumps, and then walked tentatively across the dog walk- the apparatus she had fallen off yesterday. Next, on to the tire jump, the tunnel- then to the weaves. I held my breath.

For perhaps the first time in her life, Honeybun skipped through all 12 weaves perfectly on the first try. Then to the pause table.... and then the chute. The chute is like a barrel with a long cloth tube attached to one end. The cloth lies flat on the ground and the dog runs into the barrel and balloons through the cloth. The dog can't see where she is going or where she will come out. She has to totally trust her master's voice. Honeybun raced into the chute and I was breathless with joy. I had assumed that in the stress of the real trial, she would never approach a piece of equipment she had seen but once, a year ago. The cloth billowed as she ran through it... and then the lump in the cloth went slower and slower... and stopped. It was clear that the dog in the chute, in the darkness, in total unfamiliar territory was thinking, "If I turn around, I think I have a chance of surviving as the hell I know is better than the heaven that may or may not be out there...." However, her master was at the spooky, amorphous end calling her. The lump in the shoot began to move slowly towards the Voice, and then burst out the end. She cleared her next 2 jumps and turned towards the A-frame. At that moment, we think she saw me, and remembered I had food.... and with just the A-frame and 2 jumps left on a clean run, she darted out of the ring. She scampered up the steps into the grandstands, passing several dogs.

Please do not kill any dogs, I was praying as I raced towards her. A man caught her and held her as I raced up. Polly came racing over and told me,"Don't reward her!" We of course cannot reward her leaving the ring, a potentially very dangerous habit, but I felt bad nonetheless as she had done the first 3/4ths of the run magnificently. However, Asherel was happy. It was a better run by far than the first day, and she had done perfectly up to that point of leaving the ring.

When it was time for her jumper class, Polly again walked with her, and told her she needed to get Honey's attention from the moment she was waiting on deck. Polly gave her some string cheese and told her to keep Honey's eyes on Asherel's face the whole time she was waiting with continual rewards of string cheese. Honey LOVES string cheese. I hid behind a concrete wall, and peeked around every so often, camera ready. I laughed at the riveted attention Honey had on Asherel while they were waiting. At that point I didn't know what Polly had done, but it sure had gotten our dog's focus in line.

And she was a different dog when she stood at the start. She was keenly focused on Asherel. She had to clear 14 jumps in correct order as well as a tunnel. She was allowed 37 seconds to do so. She was perfect, though not as fast as she usually is, but at the second to last jump, she tried to run around it, and Asherel calmly called her back... and after another hesitation, HOneybun jumped that and then cleared the last jump.... a perfect round! She tried to run out of the ring again, but Polly had stationed herself there and grabbed her. We were all exultant. Polly told us now we were beginning to understand what it was to "partner" with your dog. She was 4 seconds over course time, a 4 point deduction, but otherwise perfect. We could not have been prouder! We shoveled yesterday's food rewards and today's food rewards into the happy dog's mouth and settled down to watch Polly's last run.

Then I meandered over to the judge's table to see where Honeybun had placed in the class. She had won second place! Failure may teach you wonderful things, but it is sure nice to have it coupled with the joy of success. I think the turning point at that trial may not have been in that perfect class though. I think it was when Honeybun was in the chute, surrounded by darkness, and she chose to brave the darkness and follow her Master's voice.

John 10:27-28
27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Try try again....

The good news is Honeybun had a great start and cleared the first jump and tire jump beautifully. Then she hit the weaves. As you may recall if you have been following my posts, HB has never done the weaves perfectly the first time through. In fact, she has only been doing 12 weaves, as required in this trial, for about 2 weeks. Asherel was determined Honeybun would get the weaves, and after 5 tries and several trips with wagging tail to visit the ring crew, she did do all 12 weaves perfectly, but at a huge cost in this timed event. She stayed on the pause table the full 5 seconds, but then fell off the dog walk. I have never seen her so loopy. She never falls off the dog walk!

She spent so much time visiting the ring crew with wagging tail asking them to play that she ran out of time and hadn't even done half the course. With wisdom beyond her years, Asherel still cued her to jump the last jump successfully, though it didn't matter, and then praised Honeybun as though she had not just blown the class. She did not want HB to feel like this had not been a great experience or that she had not done her best. For whatever reason, her best yesterday was not very good. While a bitter disappointment, this was still a victory of sorts. We had been warned that a formerly aggressive dog might well revert to aggression when stressed. Honey was stressed, but she did not try to kill anyone or any dog. She just wanted to play. I could take some lessons from her on responding to stress with playful abandon.

Polly, the sweet mentor who has helped Asherel in classes and in the two trials she has attended rushed over to console. She said Honey was clearly stressed- the unfamiliar and scary indoor arena, the early hour, the fact that President Obama could be in the crowd.... it all conspired to work against Honey's focus. But it is never a failure if you learn from it, she advised. Everyone needs a Polly in their life- someone with experience, wisdom, and kindness to lead them over the rocky patches.

So we had a lovely day watching the other classes, and then wandering downtown Asheville, and then eating food " to go" while Honeybun snoozed on the hotel bed. Those 40 seconds in the limelight seemed to have utterly worn her out.

We have 2 classes today before we head home, and we hope that now that she is a little acclimated to the arena, she may do better. But if not, oh well, a day spent in the company of dogs and children is always a blessing.

Psalm 89:28 (New International Version)

28 I will maintain my love to him forever,
and my covenant with him will never fail.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jumping for Joy

It is very early in the morning, and the only creatures stirring are people nutty enough to be going to dog agility trials that start at a most uncivilized hour. We leave in just a few minutes. Honeybun slept well on the pillowtop bed under the covers with Asherel. She has already had breakfast and a constitutional walk.

Yesterday we hiked to Hookers Falls. I did the little sketch here with Asherel's IPod. I may have to get one. The hike was only about a half mile so it was more a leisurely stroll. Asherel insisted if we went further, she would be unable to run her dog today in the trial. Mind you, the run takes all of 40 seconds. .... but it is a grueling 40 seconds.

We happened to arrive at Asheville at the same time as President Obama who is vacationing here for the weekend. In fact, he leaves the same time we do as well on Sunday. And we are in a hotel right by the airport. We may well see Air Force 1 take off. The press all think he is going to the swank and upscale Grove Park Inn, but I know differently. No one, given the choice of a $200 massage at the best spa in the southeast or sitting for 40 seconds on hard bleachers watching a little dog that was left to die jumping for joy over and through and inside obstacles would have to struggle to decide where to be. President and I will be in the stands cheering our little symbol of redemption on.

Song of Solomon 2:8
Listen! My lover! Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Weaving Heavenly Hills

We are going to the lovely mountains of Asheville for an Agility Trial this weekend. Honeybun has done one trial thus far, and did very well, but only did a "jumpers" class. All she had to negotiate were jumps and tunnels. This weekend she will also do the "standard" class- where she will have to jump, tunnel, go up and down a pivoting "teeter", up and down a 9 foot A-frame, "pause" and lie down on command on a low table, and finally (drum roll), weave in and out of a series of 12 poles entering from the right and not skipping any.... the dreaded weaves.

While even for most dogs this feat is daunting, it is particularly amazing for Honeybun. For the one or two people on the planet that don't know the story of Honeybun, my book is hopefully going to be published soon (the famous "soon" of a few blogs ago which is defined as "somewhere between now and eternity.")

We found Honeybun on a roadside, nearly dead of starvation and recent motherhood, not to mention tick infestation. We didn't want another dog, but apparently God had other plans and wanted to introduce us in a dramatic way to the world of animal rescue. Upon recovering her health, Honeybun became vicious, first trying to kill our other dog Lucky, and then determined to kill any visitor who dared ring the doorbell. Despite desperately wanting to get out of this impossible situation, I was stuck by a stinging conscience that kept insisting even this discarded, vicious, money-pit of a dumped mongrel had value in God's eyes and I could not send her off to Animal Control and certain death. And then Hollow Creek Farm found me. Hollow Creek Farm was created on the 8th day, a little known fact that the Bible neglects to mention. As soon as God saw what a mess we humans were doing with our job of overseeing the animals He put in our care, He saw the need for Hollow Creek Farm(HCF). HCF came for several months to help teach me that not only does every dog deserve a chance, but the ones that are extended such grace often surprise you with blessings far beyond what you could imagine.

Not only was Honeybun completely healed and rehabilitated, but she is now training and competing in Agility trials, off leash, dogs and peoples surrounding her, and she follows the directions of a 12 year old, Asherel, to do all those crazy things I listed in the first paragraph.

I hope she does well. I hope she manages to weave the 12 weave poles perfectly, though she has never done them perfectly on the first try at practice....

However, both Asherel and I know that every day that passes with this little dog who is now Lucky's best friend, and who greets everyone with a wagging tail is a miracle. And maybe the biggest miracle is the lesson that nothing God creates is junk. It all has value, and a purpose, and whatever we do for the least of us, we do for Him.

Matthew 10:42
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Light that Guides

When I was in highschool, I had an art teacher who took a group of students to Ogunquit, Maine each year on a sketching trip. I don't know if she knew what an impact those trips had on this shy, introspective budding artist. My mom always went along as a chaperone, and it was a very special time for both of us. It is funny that I don't remember a whole lot about it though I went twice. But I do remember that Nubble light was a lonely and beautiful light house set on the edge of a starkly beautiful rocky cliff. And I remember wending our way through tall golden reeds on a narrow path while the ocean crashed below, and then stopping frequently to sketch. How desperately I wish I could have those days back now with all I know about art, about family, about teachers who teach for all the right reasons.

Like so much of life the lessons we learn often come to fruition too late to properly thank the people who prodded us along the way. I loved my art teacher, but I am not sure I ever thanked her for how much she encouraged me. I think I just thought she was doing her job. I don't think I ever really thanked my mom for how special those trips were to me. Fortunately, she will read this blog and probably smile. But my art teacher was old even back then. I am pretty sure she is long departed from these mortal coils.

She was a lighthouse for me . She never directed the light onto herself though- it always turned outward in warning, in beckoning, and in guiding to safe shores.

I want to be a lighthouse.

Last week, one of my very talented older art students asked me to write a recommendation for a scholarship to the premier art school in the area. I had one day to do so. They dropped it off and I quickly composed the best recommendation I could and then they returned an hour later to pick it up. The competition for that scholarship was fierce.

I just found out she won. I got a letter, thanking me for my work with the student. Honestly, I haven't had this student very long, and she is the kind of talent that makes anyone that touches her life look good. But it was an unexpected joy to see that someone at least marginally in my realm of influence had succeeded against impossible odds to obtain such a coveted prize.

All my life, I had thought I wanted to be a famous artist. I wanted people thronging to buy my paintings for millions of dollars. Instead, I am laboring in relative obscurity (drat) helping others achieve the dream I had once hoped for myself.

But my goals are readjusting. I think I may find contentment staying on shore and lighting at least one small corner of darkness.

Matthew 5:15 (New International Version)

15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What You Are

Once when I was bemoaning the lack of time to produce art, a professional artist friend told me, "Everything an artist produces is art. It is not a thing you do, it is what you are."

That gave me comfort through my hectic years with young children. I was an artist at changing diapers. I was a Picasso with projectile vomiting. I was DaVinci with da babies! But, even though the kids are nearly grown, I never have the kind of time to produce art that I did when I had no children and was in art school. I know the dangers of art now. For example, yesterday I was supposed to pick Asherel and her friend up after Gavel Club and I got involved in artwork. When the phone rang, it was as though I were awakened from another planet. I could not imagine who could be calling me since I was the only human on earth doing the only thing that mattered. Then Asherel's voice telling me they were ready to come home jolted me back to earth.

I have to make a startling admission. I am irrevocably addicted now to digital art. The picture in today's blog was made on an Ipod, using a cute little program called "Doodle Buddy". Now who would not want to play with a program with a name like that? It is like potato can't just have one.... same with Doodle Buddy.... you can't just draw one picture. One picture leads to another, and pretty soon you have forgotten you have a daughter, or dinner to make, or even what your name is. All you know is that color and form and line can be exquisite and a delight beyond even food and sleep.

There are some things about Doodle Buddy that make it far superior to pencil and paper. First, if you make big mistakes and just want to start over, you just shake the Ipod, and like magic, the screen is clear! It is the ultimate symbol of redemption- sinful drawing...? NO problem! One shake of the Doodle Buddy and you are washed clean as snow. Secondly, with the touch of a stylus you can make your brush huge or just a few millimeters wide. No expensive purchasing of a zillion brushes to fit your every need- Doodle Buddy has it all in one touch of a button!
And thirdly, you have all the colors of the world at your disposal through the use of blending 20 or so major hues to any color you might desire.

And this is not even the best of the Apple drawing programs, I am told. Unfortunately, we are not sure which ones will operate on Asherel's IPod but are busily trying to find one (some require Iphone capability or 3g, which is techno-talk for things rich people have that we don't).

While bonding with Doodle Buddy, I did consider that perhaps God was sending me a message using the language of a technological world I have kicked and screamed and begged not to be forced to enter. What an unexpected joy to find that in a very short time with very technical, specialized tools, I was able to produce some startling results. I had clung to my perception of pencil, paint, and brush as the only true tools of an artist. I did not want to give up the old, and embrace the new. I did not consider the use of Doodle Buddy what a real artist does. I did not really believe my friend who long ago told me that an artist is not what I do, but what I am.

But God is speaking to me, and to you, all the time and His ways are sometimes startling unorthodox and unexpected. If we keep looking for Him in the "old" ways, we sometimes miss Him when He appears in a jingle bell, or an illness, or a wounded animal we give a drink of water to. We are precious and loved, no matter what we do, because of who we are in Him. And every morning, we are His Doodle Buddy, shaken so all the old ruins of bad choices and sin are washed away, ready to create with Him a new day.

Romans 8:34-36 (New International Version)

34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bells Ringing Love

Everything is being slowly buried under a thick yellow layer of pollen here in Charlotte. It is nonetheless gorgeous to sit and gaze at the beauty of spring erupting.... if you can excavate a place to sit in the mounds of yellow sneeze-makers. The trees are all in full bloom, the lime spring grass is healthy for the few weeks left before the sun magnifies its efforts to kill it. Azalea and irises are parading their glorious petals. Ah spring....ah...choo!

Inside, we are slowly being buried by layers of other things. With the end of school in sight, and both Matt's college graduation and Asherel's Global DI Finals in the next 5 weeks, we seem to never sit down. Every surface is slowly being covered with things we will put away "soon". The clutter is beginning to overwhelm me as effectively as the pollen. Soon better come...soon.

Meanwhile, Asherel is busily adding to the clutter preparing for the necessities of attending the Global Finals. She has to make a duct tape hat for Opening Ceremonies. She made me mine, and then went furiously to work on hers. While I was out shopping for clothes to buy for her and then return for her, she called and asked me to pick up 3 "jingle bells". I went into the dollar store and asked if they carried jingle bells. The woman did not speak English.
"Jingle bells?" I repeated, slowly, carefully.
She looked confused and said, "Everything dollar!"
I pantomimed a jingle bell jingling and tried again, carefully enunciating.
She listened intently and then brought me to the aisle with ice-cream toppers.
"Not sprinkles," I said, "Jingle bells... like on elf hats?"
"Everything dollar!"

So I headed home without jingle bells.... and decided I would help Asherel get her room clutter under control since Matt's girlfriend will be staying in that room in 3 weeks and it will take at least that long to forge a path to the bed. I slowly began rearranging and clearing and moved a pile of things from an end table which I carefully boxed and put in the closet. Returning to the clean table, there on the edge lay jingle bells.... 3 large jingle bells.

I walked out to Asherel who was working on math and handed her the jingle bells.
"Where did you buy these?" she asked.
"They were in your don't know where they came from?"
She shook her head, "No.... no idea."
We looked at each other.
"How many did you need?" I asked.
"Three," she answered looking down at the 3 shiny jingle bells in her hand.

Most of you think I am lying, and the rest of you think I am crazy. At least I have a witness. If you don't believe me, ask Asherel. I have asked God for many things this year, some heart-breaking requests have gone unanswered..... but within a few hours, He gave me 3 jingle bells.
Why this prayer that I didn't even pray was answered so exactly, I don't know. But I am quite sure that every hair on my head is counted, even when covered with a duct tape hat with jingle bells on it.

Exodus 28:35
The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the LORD

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Blessing of Bursitis

Sadly, the pain in my elbow is not subsiding a whole lot, preventing normal activity like vacuuming and dusting (well.... normal for some people....). I am unable to wipe down counters, make beds, sweep the sidewalk, or even fold clothes. I can't clean pots or even unload the dishwasher without pain. Many have suggested I go to the doctor, but why ruin this good thing I have going? Besides that, I am pretty sure it is bursitis and one of the treatment choices is cortisone shots in the elbow. NO thankyou!!! That is almost as horrible sounding as the suggestion a couple of months back that they drill a hole in my toenail to relieve the pain.

Besides, I can surprisingly ride my bike without pain. So on this glorious weekend of low 70's and sunshine and returning bluebirds, I rode my bike to the mall to try to find clothes for Asherel who is growing out of everything she owns. You all may recall the posts about trying to find her a dress to wear to her cousin's wedding. Now you understand why I left her home and went alone to find her clothes.

I did bring her with me last week, envisioning a day of fun and bonding, lunch out excitedly chattering about the lovely new clothes we got all on sale. Instead, by the end of the trip we were not speaking to each other, had not bought a single thing despite 7 hours of shopping, and her list of things no one in their right mind would wear had now expanded far far beyond nothing pink and frilly. Now her list includes:
1. anything too fancy, 2. purple, pink, lime green, white, black, khaki, 3. no lace, no ties, no ornaments, no sparkles, no cutesy logos, 4. no waist high pants, no pants too low, 5. too many pockets, too few pockets, 6. no shiny material, no patterns, no stripes, 7. no short shorts, no long shorts, ewwww, not those shorts either.....

So I went alone, though she called after me as I pedaled away, "Remember, don't buy anything you like or old-persony!!"

And I bicycled in blissful peace, as the pollen collected in all my air passages. I tested my ability to brake using the bursitis arm and it seems to be the one thing I can do that doesn't hurt. This is the very best type of chronic disability to have. Housework all hurts, but bicycling not only doesn't hurt, but is probably therapeutic.

As I bought a pile of hopeful clothes for Asherel the cashier asked if I found everything I was looking for.
"Well no, I still have the feeling world peace is not attainable in our lifetime, and the poor we will always have with us, and I long for all my loved ones to know and love Jesus, and I still haven't cured diabetes, cancer, or heartbreak."
"I meant in your choice of clothes?"
"Oh, well, I hope so, but to tell you the truth, I sincerely doubt it. It is for a 12 year old."
"Oh that is a gruesome age!" she bemoaned. She added extra return stickers.

And then I biked home. I prayed that God would see fit to allow me to be able to bike til the day I drop dead. All the troubles of the world seem to be whipped away on the wind when I am on my bicycle, at least til I stop pedaling. Asherel did like one of the shirts, and one she refused to even try on.... but it is ok. It gives me an excuse to bike back tomorrow to return it all.

Isaiah 61:10
I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dubious Prize

Yesterday we went to the reception for an art contest Asherel had entered and won third place in. She hates going to art receptions, hates being in the spotlight,hates getting her picture taken, hates getting dressed up.... but she likes cookies and prizes, both of which were to be available to the winners.

So we made a day of it- took the train to uptown and planned a late lunch somewhere outside on that gorgeous day. She was cheery enough about the train ride, which we all love- watching the small businesses of Charlotte slide by the window, businesses slowly crumbling in this wonderful era of hope and change.

But then, we had to enter the reception. First we were greeted by tempting cookies, but under saran wrap. They were not to be available til after the awards ceremony. We could not just grab a handful and run. Then we went to the display of winners. It was beautifully done, with the pieces mounted tastefully on the museum wall where they will remain for a couple of months. If it were me, I would be bursting with pride.... and was. Not Asherel. As we reached her work, a pencil drawing of a blue parakeet, she rolled her eyes when I asked her to stand beside it for a photo and hissed, "No Mom!" Fortunately, Arvo hung with me on this one, and told her to do it for me with a shrug of his shoulders like mothers will be mothers..... It almost killed her to pose again with me beside her in the picture.

Then we went to our seats for the awards ceremony itself. I pulled out my camera again, and she tried to grab it from me.
"You are not going to take more pictures!" she exclaimed, horrified.
"I understand your despair," I answered, "I am sure not a single parent anywhere else on earth would ever even think to take a picture of their child winning an award. They are probably all watching me this second with disgust."
We glanced around. They were too busy setting up tripods and 4 different cameras per parent, with 12 foot long lenses to notice me though.
Asherel sighed, "Well ok, but don't jump up and wave or anything."
"I would not even think of doing such a thing," I said, at least not since the last time I did it when Anders won a big award and later told me that I had humiliated him beyond repair. That was only to be topped by me hugging him in front of his friends, which he reported was the "Most awful thing I had ever done to him."

So she suffered through the awards, and I only took 3 pictures, and didn't hoot or wave at all, and she was handed her huge bag of prizes. We were a little concerned as one of the sponsors was an orthodontist. What kind of prizes does an orthodontist provide to an art contest?

We grabbed cookies on the way out and dashed to lunch to check out her loot.
"Oh goodie," she said reaching into the bag, "A toothbrush."
I kid you not.
She peered in the bag and pulled out the next prize, "Whew, at least they gave me toothpaste too."
Next, a "kid's meal" coupon. This for the teenager who abhors being treated like a child with almost the same level of distaste for the color pink.
"And how nice, a little pink plastic hourglass..." ( I imagine that is used to time the minute flouride treatments in the dentist office.)

"Oh thank goodness," she exclaimed, reaching in for one last prize, "They didn't forget the floss!"

Now I know the real prize is just the honor of being chosen as a worthy artist, and Asherel enters these things because she loves to draw. But still.... who honestly thinks any kid is going to jump with joy over a toothbrush and toothpaste? Still, in the eyes of an orthodontist, there is no greater gift he could have given. It may not be what the kids want, but it is surely what they need.

And of course, I thought of God, who so often hands me "gifts" that I sneer at, troubles and struggles that may help my soul, but they sure aren't what I am necessarily seeking from an all powerful being that could hand me a Ferrari were He so inclined. Yet I know that in His eyes, which really are the only ones that matter, He is handing me the only prize worth receiving.

Matthew 7:9-11 (New International Version)

9"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Jars of Clay

I know you all have them. I cannot be alone in this. The cabinet door that you open as fast as you can, throw the plastic container in, and slam the door before 3,000 plastic containers and lids spill out onto your floor... There are times when I am not fast enough and they slide out like lava from a new volcanic eruption. They spread at an alarming rate at my feet, and as I look at the thousands of varying shapes and sizes of storage containers, I know that this is not the way it should be.

I used to be organized and neat. I seemed to have a clean house long ago. Dim memories of neat cabinets with modest stacks of food storage containers hover in my mind. We will never have enough leftovers to use all these containers. Our nation would never have enough leftovers to use all these containers! I know I threw out at least a thousand of them a few months ago. We didn't use to all run for cover when I gave the warning shout that "the cabinet" was about to be opened. And now, here we are again with an impossible pile of empty plastic containers. And to top it all off, not a single lid matches a single one of these self-propagating containers. They are useless, empty vessels slowly filling my home, malignantly creeping into healthy, clean cabinets.

Yesterday, Asherel and I read the verse about how we are "jars of clay" that house a treasure beyond compare. While our bodies are fragile and mortal, we are the temple of the immortal Holy Spirit, that lives in all of us who accept the gift that Jesus gives us. We aren't made of diamonds, though what we hold within us is of greater value than even diamonds. We aren't made of plastic, probably because that hadn't been invented yet when God made man. But I see a distinct parallel between those empty useless plastic mismatched containers overpopulating in my cabinet and the jars of clay talked about in 2 Corinthians.

It is not the container that is of any value. It is what the container holds. I read the paper and watch TV and peruse the description of movies and skim the shelves of bestsellers.... and so often what I see are empty containers, who are valuing the jar more than the treasure it might hold. I know every generation says the world is going to "hell in a handcart", and every old person like me thinks our morals are disintegrating and our reliance on God is evaporating.... but this time it really is. Compare commercials from 30 years ago with the commercials of today. Victoria Secret ads are pornographic... and they are all over prime time television. I won't go on in this vein because I have a cabinet of plastic containers I need to be cleaning instead of pontificating.

2 Corinthians 4: 16-18
16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
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Friday, April 16, 2010

Cast Call for Cute

Our dog club sent out a note yesterday with a cast call for large dogs that will bark on command in the back of a pick up, and for cute little fluffy dogs to just sit. We have 2 dogs, but neither fit the bill. Our dogs bark all the time, except on command and neither is fluffy and little. This is too bad because commercials pay well, and we have a lot of expenses coming up.... not the least of which is a new fence to keep the barking dogs from getting out to bark in adjoining streets.
I should not be anxious to return to the life of TV stars however, since the last commercial we did with Lucky resulted in me losing toenails.

But it got me thinking about how easy it is to be cute. I mean, not if you are not... then it is impossible. But if you are cute, life is handed to you on a silver platter.... at least for a time. Nothing is required of you except to be cute. You don't have to bark on command, you don't have to remain seated obediently in the back of a pick up.... you just have to be cute, something that requires no effort and you had no part in developing. It seems grossly unfair, don't you think?

But in my ongoing quest to understand our precious Lord and why He made wrinkles and sunspots, I pondered this issue of cute. Cute usually doesn't last. And since all you have ever had to do is sit there and let people gaze on you, when cute goes away, people have nothing to gaze at. They can tell you, "OK Mr. Former Cutie-pie, BARK!" But you will never have developed the skill that might have held their attention. You are a shell without any goodies inside.

When I was a Nurse's Aid at a Nursing home, one of the absolute hardest jobs I ever did, there was an old lady who we all despised. She was mean, and bitter, and ungrateful. She was a former Broadway Rockette. There were photos of her on her dresser. She had been drop-dead gorgeous. Many husbands and neglected children later, she was now shriveled, wrinkled, grey, and all alone in the nursing home. She ranted and raved about her lost beauty, and the family that had once waited hand and foot upon her, but in the year I was there, never visited...not once.

I am not saying beautiful people cannot be beautiful in character. I know plenty that are. But I think it is easy to rely on and take pride in things we have nothing to do with, like our God-given looks and body type. I think it is so easy to lose focus and to cherish the things that have no real significance or value, and maybe in the process lose those things that do matter.

Hebrews 11:26
He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

When it Seems Hopeless

When my cat Frisky disappeared and we never found him, I was not sure my young ten year old heart would survive. It was not til many years later that I learned my Dad's asthma was horribly compromised by his allergies to cats, and he had suffered in silence all those years so I could have Frisky. He searched as ardently as we did for Frisky, but it was much better for his health that Frisky stayed lost. God sometimes works in mysterious and painful ways.

I think one of the best stories of hopelessness in the Bible is when Ishmael and his mother are sent away, out into the desert to die. I will paraphrase the story. Abraham is married to Sarah, and despite being an old old childless man, is promised by God to be the Father of many nations. Sarah, tired of waiting and not very faithful in believing God's rather outrageous statement, insists Abraham produce a child through her maidservant, Hagar. This would not fly in my house, I will tell you that right now, but back then, they did things differently. Well Hagar births Ishmael, and then Sarah finally bears the son of God's promise, Isaac. You can imagine her smacking her head and saying, "Why didn't I wait! Now what am I going to do with that Ishmael? What if he steals some of Isaac's nations?" The world was smaller then and there were not many nations to go around. So, in jealousy and in my opinion, self revulsion, Sarah sends Hagar and Ishmael away, where they wander in the desert and run out of food and water. Hagar sees that things are not looking rosy, knows they have no choice now but to die, and begins to sob after crying out to God. My circumstances have never been that dire, but I totally understand that feeling of utter despair. And to make it all worse, Ishmael, her beloved son, was seemingly dispensible . He was not the son of the Promise, and was the result of a sinful, impatient lack of faith. Hagar was rejected by man and God, she thought. There is not much left, except chocolate, but she was out of that too.

But then,

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation."

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

I know it doesn't always happen this way. People do die, people are turned away and discarded for no kind reason, and God's angels seem mysteriously silent in the face of suffering. Sometimes a beloved pet being lost leads to a Dad being able to breathe. We just can't know on this side of eternity why so much sorrow exists. But I believe God sends us stories like Ishmael to help shore us up and remind us that when hope seems dead, there is water in the desert. It is "living water" and a hope that transcends whatever wilderness we are lost in. I think He is trying to open our eyes by giving us the gift of thirst so we will see the Well that is flowing for all of us and long for it.

Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Prison of Fun

I know if your household is like mine, you are taking no more backtalk from your teenager- whether she likes it or not, we are going to Disneyworld. No more arguing and complaining. She will just have to finish school at another time.
Oh, I know what you are thinking... cruel evil parents to be forcing your child to go to a nice hotel, eat meals out, fly on an airplane, and have to spend a day at an amusement park. Suffering builds character however, and if she will not go willingly, she will have to be dragged there.

The Disney tix are free- from a great program called "Give a Day, Get A Day", where organizations such as Destination Imagination give credit for a day at Disney in exchange for volunteer work. Airfare is cheaper than driving if we book soon, and Grandma Gert lives an hour from Orlando and we are long overdue for a visit with her. If I can pull it all together, I have a brief 4 day window that I wouldn't miss anything crucial and I will try to see Grandma and Disney. I can't do any lifting or kayaking or anything with my hurt elbow for probably at least 3 more weeks anyway. But first, I have to overcome the reluctance of my kid, who has no interest in Disneyworld.

Honestly, no disrespect to Disney, neither do I. I just feel every kid should see Disneyworld once in their life, if for no other reason than to see firsthand the gold and glitter and forced gaiety of excess. I understand Asherel's disinterest. Our passions run along the same riverbed. We love nature, animals, mountains, oceans, waterfalls. We both hate rides and noise and crowds. The tickets are non-transferable, so don't start writing me telling me how much you love rides, and noise, and crowds, and would love to put us out of our misery.

I always leave places like that feeling a little like King Solomon, the richest man of the Bible, who had everything he could ever desire- all the glitz and glitter, horses, parties, wives, food.... and in the end, found it all "vanity- a chasing after the wind." Still, since it is being dropped in our lap, I figure we should go see for ourselves why millions throng there. You never know what pearl of great wisdom might be hidden or where. Even Solomon, in the midst of his despair over the futility of so much of what we do in life recognized that God does send gifts of joy, and even sometimes wealth for us to find comfort on the often troubling journey of life. Maybe God is sending us to Disney for a purpose. We will don our Mickey Mouse ears the better to hear Him.

Ecclesiastes 1:14
I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Ecclesiastes 5:18-19
18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Beast of Burden

I wonder how the horse pulling the cart feels? Do you think he enjoys it? Does he appreciate the laughter of the weary travelers putting their feet up at his expense? What would he choose if he could.... if he suddenly realized that he really doesn't have to do a thing we say, as he outweighs us by a thousand pounds?

I am not sure his life is any easier since the concept of domestication came along. He used to have the run of open fields where he could graze all day long and his only concern was fighting off an occasional mountain lion. Shetland ponies used to live off the moors of the British Shetland Islands. They were bred over a thousand years ago, and the Shetland breeders describe them as having a "natural affinity for pulling carts."
That is like saying I have a natural affinity for cleaning toilets. Just because I can doesn't mean
I like it. How can anyone say that? How can they tell the pony enjoys pulling the cart? Do they go running into the barn and grab the harness with their teeth and knock out morse code with their hooves- "Can I please be your beast of burden today?" I think not.

Most creatures, me included, will do anything to get out of burden bearing. I think the epitome of that is the robot vacuum cleaner that will clean the house while you sit in a lounge chair eating bon-bons. But think of all the burden escapers we have in our home- automatic dishwashers, self-scrubbing bathroom cleaner... electric pencil sharpeners.... electric toothbrushes. Did you know they even make automatic mascara that moves the mascara wand up and down since we all know how exhausting it is to apply our own mascara?

I think we all are in for a rude awakening someday when the horses finally realize they really don't have to take it anymore.

So when thinking about how hard we all work to get out of burdens, it is all the more amazing that there is One that begged us to hand our burdens over to Him. We spend so much time and money to make our lives easier but the burden that weighs us down the most, our disconnect from our Maker, is the one we often hold onto with the most tenacity.

Psalm 68:19
19 Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
who daily bears our burdens.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

And a Bark to Sail Her By

Asherel believes God made dogs for 2 main purposes- 1. to dress up in humiliating outfits, including sunhats and bathing suits when children outgrow playing with dolls, 2. to alleviate the boredom of paddling kayaks.

Thus the two main purposes of dogs were satisfied in her eyes yesterday. Honeybun got to wear her new life jacket, though Asherel was disappointed I did not allow "doggles" (dog swim goggles) or dog flippers for her feet. She also got her first ride on a kayak, and did remarkably well. Of course, the entire kayak ride was spent shoveling food into Honeybun's greedy mouth so that she probably never noticed that she was no longer on dry land.

I cannot tell you how many times I have to tell Asherel , "She is a DOG not a TOY." I am glad Honeybun brings so much joy to my daughter, but I am unconvinced the joy is mutual. Honeybun acquiesces more willingly than Lucky however, who was on the kayak for about 5 seconds before figuring out this is not what dogs were made to do, and jumped off swimming as fast as he could for shore towing Asherel behind him.

Of course there is a lesson here. There always is. God is lurking in every blade of grass waiting to teach us if we take the time to notice. We are all made for a purpose. We may try to force ourselves to conform to a purpose we were never intended to conform to, and we may even find some success in those endeavors. But I think that there are some things we were never intended to do, and we insist on doing them anyway. (Don't worry Asherel, I think HB maybe did really like kayaking, and she is an unusual dog in that perhaps that is the purpose God intended for her....). I think one of the two hardest questions in life relate to this. What is our purpose and how do we know it when we find it? The second question is how do I know it is God speaking and not my own voice?

I don't know the answer for sure to either, but I will take a stab at a thought or two. I think joy accompanies discovery of a true purpose. Not just a transient happiness, but a deep abiding joy that seeps into every pore, a contentment, a sense of fitness and rightness. And I think God's voice is detected in its persistence. I think we can drown out His voice til we no longer hear it, but I think if we are earnestly seeking to hear, He will persist til we understand it is Him speaking.

And sometimes His purpose is as unexpected and incongruous as a dog paddling a kayak.

Psalm 138:8 (New International Version)

8 The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your love, O LORD, endures forever—
do not abandon the works of your hands.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Locked Outside

The door had not even clicked shut before I glanced at Asherel and said, "Oops." And it was not cold, but a little chilly, and my sweater was still tantalizingly inside sprawled across the chair.... behind the now locked door.

"I forgot the key," I say.
We go to our neighbor's house, who has an extra key to our house, but she is not home. Of course, Asherel then starts listing all the clever devices they now make that you can use to hide a key outside. Every time I look at magazines and see the fake rocks with the hidden key chamber, I always think ,"This is for losers."

And now, here I am, a loser, without a fake rock and a key to my locked front door. This is the most troubling aspect of a "holier than thou" attitude. Sometimes you are not.

So we put our neurons to good use. First check all doors to be sure they are indeed locked. They are.
"I could pick it with a paper clip," says Asherel. I peer at her.
"And when did you acquire burglary skills? Besides the paper clip is inside and we are outside."

We walk to the back yard and look in the windows.
"You are going to have to crawl in through the dog door," I order my burglar friend.
The dog door is approximately 1'x2'. Lucky can squish through it by sucking in his breath and crunching his bones together. And he usually has to wait til he has an empty stomach.

"I can't fit through there!" she complains.
"How do you know?" I ask.
She giggles at this point, and I understand that apparently at the same time she was perfecting her lock picking skills she was also crawling in dog doors.
"Try!" I moan, "I would try, but I am injured!"
And if I wasn't injured, I would be if I were to try squishing through that little dog door.

My accomplice grudgingly tries but gives only a half hearted effort and backs out when the skin begins ripping off her back. Wimp.

Fortunately, we do find another neighbor who is home, and she has an extra key to our house too. We pop back inside, where I of course blame Asherel for letting me forget the key and warn her she is never to let me forget the key again.

And I begin thinking about doors locked to us, when everything we need and want is on the other side- essential things like food, water, and Wii Fit. We can pound on the door and long for all those critical things til our hands are bloody, but the door is not opening til we find the key.
There is a door that is never locked to us, however. The key is available to anyone who wants entrance. The price of admittance is to believe in the One who opens the door. And it swings wide open on hinges of love; no one has to wonder if they will fit. They will.

Matthew 7:7-8
7"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

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When Did This Happen?

I know I am not alone in looking at a neighbor's kid and saying, "When did you stop wearing diapers?" as they stand before you, 6 feet tall, with car keys in their hands.

Asherel and I were doing a fundraiser for her Global competition in DI next month going door to door selling car wash tickets. It was a fortuitous weekend to be doing so, as the yellow pollen that has laid a layer like paint on everything in the city has transformed every car to a yellow sneeze-inducing powder puff on wheels. The tickets sold within minutes. Some people who don't even own cars bought tickets so they could walk themselves through the wash and get out of the pollen, thick as mustard.

But the young lady who opened one door could not possibly be the toddler I remembered who was born around the same time as Asherel. What are these kids... kudzu? One minute they are babies and then the next thing you know they are looming over you big as trees.

Today is Anders birthday. He is my oldest and also the furthest away, in Boston. I remember as though it were yesterday carrying him in a front pack and taking long walks to the mall where we would share a cinnamon roll. Technically since he was too young to eat a cinnamon roll, he would share it vicariously, as would I. I remember details from his youth with surprising clarity, particularly surprising in light of the fact that I cannot remember what I ate for dinner last night, or the name of the capitol of most of my neighboring states....

And of course, I miss those days, and wish I could have them back. I want them back with some minor alterations. I want unlimited patience and energy, time that I could stretch or compact as necessary depending on how well the day was going, and the ability to see beyond the moment to the eternal perspective on where that moment was leading.

But I didn't have those things. So I did the best I could with the little I had. But for all you young mothers out there, I am going to give you an incomparable gift- a glimpse into that eternal perspective from someone who has lived half an eternity now. Everything adds up to create the person you send off to his life someday. Every smile, every frown, every encouraging or discouraging word.... all of it. So when you can, choose patience, choose encouragement, choose gentleness, choose forgiveness. All those things build a pile that becomes character. If I could do it all over again with all I know now, I would. But since I can't, I will trust that God has covered my deficiencies and pray that today my birthday boy will remember only the best we offered.

Job 4:4
Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

The Cookie Lady

The steepest mountain in Virginia is Mount Afton. Unless it is not. I am relying on my memory, an unfaithful friend at best. the reason I know this (Or at least think I know this) is there was an old lady named June who lived at the top of Mount Afton, and when each tired cross country bicyclist reached her summit, she sat on her porch, handing out cookies.

I don't think hordes are cycling across the country now, but in 1976 and the few years after, many people including us biked the "Bikecentennial trail" and it went right through Afton, Va. where the cookie lady lived.

We started on the West coast, and already were hearing stories about the cookie lady and the delicious treat that awaited us 3,000 miles away. During some of the hard times, of which there were many, sometimes we would shore each other up with thoughts of the delicious cookie that awaited us at the top of Mt. Afton.

I just discovered 5 minutes ago while trying to find out if Mt. Afton is the tallest mountain in Virginia that it is not, but I guarantee that when you bike it, you feel like it is. I also found out there is an online book about the cookie lady. I will give that link at the end because if I give it now, you will all rush to read about the cookie lady and leave my blog dangling without even hanging up.

Anyway, we hit Mt. Afton on a blistering hot day, as the summer in Virginia tends to be and the mountain was every bit as steep as I had feared. But at the summit, I met June, with her plate of fresh cookies and water, and tales of the many many bicyclists that she had greeted over the years. The West to East riders were elated and exhausted, as they were nearing a long journey's end. The East- West riders were elated and enthused as they were embarking on the journey of a lifetime. June met them all, coming and going, with a cookie to bless them for the trials awaiting them, or reward them for the trail successfully traversed.

What a legacy! To greet strangers with this small offering reminding them of the sweetness of the journey. I often don't remember my own family's name, but I still remember June's name, 30 years later. It is such an inconsequential thing, offering a cookie to a weary traveler. It is something even I could do if I took the time. It reminds me of another faithful Presence, that encourages and equips me for the exhilarating new beginnings in life, those downhills that are effortless and glorious..... and comforts and nourishes me as the journey staggers uphill after endless uphill. The cookie He hands me is the bread of life.

As I was remembering the Cookie Lady, I was thinking about how sometimes it takes a very small thing to add up to make a very big thing. It might be carving out time for a family drive every Sunday, or making orange jello in the orange juice glass every April Fool's day, or kissing a child and telling them each day you love them, or holding the hand of a friend who has just learned devastating news. Those small offerings of sweetness may be all that is needed to have the courage to start a journey, or the grace to end it well.

Proverbs 5:21
For a man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sketches of Magnificence

Our country is a beautiful place. I bicycled across it with my husband 30 years ago and saw the slow unveiling, spoke by spoke, of gorgeous mountains, sprawling plains of waving grass, rolling hills. Alongside vista after glorious vista of natural beauty, we met a people that overwhelmed me with kindness. It was that experience that made me love my nation.

There are many many stories I could tell of that journey, and as God calls them to remembrance, I will. But the story today is an overview.... a sketch. All along that 3,000 mile journey, I carried a sketch pad, and sketched my way across the country. Most are just incomplete snapshots of scenes we passed, and not well developed, but when looked at in totality, do give a picture of an amazingly beautiful country.

I know what you want to ask about that trip, because we were asked it probably 20 or 30 times every single day over the 3 months. Here are the answers:
1. 3 months
2. 50-100 miles a day
3. 3,000 calories
4. camping, and yes, it is all carried on the bike
5. about 50 pounds of equipment
6. mostly on the "Bikecentennial trail"
7. 3500 miles
8. yes, we are nuts

I was not yet a believer, a God-follower, when I biked across the country. I hate a good bit of who I was at the time, but with the advantage of hind sight, I see now that I was searching. I didn't know what I was looking for, but I thought surely it is somewhere in the 3,000 miles from sea to shining sea.

I didn't find it.... not on that trip. I found clue after clue after clue. Like many people have discovered who are far wiser than me, what most of us are longing for can be found without taking a step. We want to be loved, and we want to love. We want to be good, and we want to please those we care about without sacrificing who we are deep inside. We want to be useful and to know we have purpose, and meaning, and relevance. We want to ponder the deep and impossible questions of the universe, and share them with others who take the time to listen, and not mock our inevitable ignorance. We want eternity, but not if we have to face it with jiggling thighs and sagging turkey necks.

What I discovered many years later was I was searching creation for the Creator. The first moment that I honestly believed that God was real was when I gazed upon my newborn son. I was utterly convinced that this life was not a great cosmic accident, a serendipitous mingling of mindless chemicals. That was when my sketch of a search began to develop to the Masterpiece I had been longing to see.

1 Corinthians 13:9-10 (New International Version)

9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Saddle Up

Asherel and I share a love of horses. All animals really... but horses are in the top 3. I have also always loved bicycling, and as a little girl, pretended my bicycles were horses. I named them, and talked to them, and pretended I was a great jockey as I galloped around the block. I worked on a farm as a child and spent many hours shoveling manure so I would be allowed to be near horses. As an artist, all I drew til I was in art school were horses.

When my first two kids came along, neither loved horses, bicycles, or art. I was flung into a world of incomprehensible math, music, and computers. I tried very hard to understand and love these things because I loved my children, but it was like an elephant trying to do ballet. I even went so far as to become a volunteer teacher at our math club so that I could share their passion.... but I was always a croaking frog trying to be a trilling lark.

And then, 9 years after birthing these alien beings so different from me, Asherel popped into our lives. Asherel loves all animals with the same passion as I do, even crying over squished ants. She loves horses so much that in a mirror of my childhood, when we stay at a timeshare to visit Matt in Virginia, Asherel volunteers at the horse farm there, just to be near the horses. And as if God had not blessed me enough, He gave her a deep passion for art and made her an exceptional artist. Finally, here was a child that I understood. Don't get me wrong.... I love my boys and am amazed by the things they know and can do.... but it is an incomparable gift to have a child that speaks your language.

The Bible passage I read yesterday was when Jesus is preparing His disciples for His imminent departure. He tells them that their role is not one of servant, but of friend. It struck me greatly that the God of the Universe would desire friendship of His children. The intimacy and gentleness of that passage reminded me of how lonely sometimes parenthood can be, how frightening, how overwhelming. I don't think in the younger years that our intent should be to have "friends" but to guide, discipline, and prune our children to grow strong and sufficient in God. But what a blessing and delight to have such a connection that when you settle back in the years of grey hair and aching joints to be able to say, "Saddle up, friend, let's ride together."

John 15:14-16 (New International Version)

14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Once when I was canoeing near my parent's old lake house, I fell in one of the very quiet still inlet areas. The water was only a few inches deep so I was in no danger, but when I pulled my hand out of the muck to stand up, it was covered with baby leeches.

For those of you reading this and eating breakfast, you may want to come back at a later time. Little is more disgusting than a handful of leeches, unless it is a footfull, and I had that too. If I remember correctly, Matt was in the boat at the time, a young Matt, and of course he fell in too, and his hand was also covered with leeches. It is possible that with the passage of time, more leeches were covering us than was strictly the case, but I do remember thinking "If I panic, I will freak Matt out, so I will not panic.... but I may die of being grossed out beyond what I can bear."

Leeches are not dangerous, at least not in the short term. All they do is suck your blood, but they do so painlessly and antiseptically. If you ever needed a good reason not to drink lake water, I discovered an interesting leech fact in a site titled "Lovable Leeches." (In my opinion, this is taking alliteration too far because there is no way one could describe them as lovable, especially in light of the leech fact I discovered there.)

In 1799 when Napoleon's army was marching across the leech infested waters of the Sinai Peninsula, they drank some as they were quite thirsty. As a result, they swallowed leeches which attached to the inside of their throat, and as the leeches swelled with the soldier's blood, the soldier died of asphyxiation. Lovely way to go, don't you think?

Of course, leeches are a double edged sword. If you have a life endangering infection, leeches can very effectively and cleanly suck it out.

They latch onto their victim by suction and then suck blood until they are full, at which point they fall off. By the way, you cannot pull a leech off very easily. They suction on with a substance that is the strength of crazy glue. We tried, naturally, to pull them off but they gleefully kept sucking away with their permanent bond to our capillaries. They were not coming off til they were finished dining. Matt and I, of course, did not want to wait til the 2,098, 764 on our hands and feet were full, so noticing a woman on her porch watching us foundering off her shore, we politely asked if we could borrow some salt. She obliged and we dumped the salt on our bodies, at which point we scraped all the squirming leeches off and the story ends happily.

But since there is little reason for a leech to be on earth unless God intended me to discover an important symbol, I immediately set to finding the message of the leech. The leech lives in very still and quiet waters. It does not like to be disturbed. On the surface, the water is calm and lovely, shallow and of no ostensible threat. Sometimes of course, life is like that water too. All is calm and well, unperturbed. Life is smooth and tranquil. But just beneath that veneer of peace, there often lurks a danger, a trial, something that painlessly can drain your life from you. And those trials can be horrific, and you may not think you will survive.... but sometimes those trials are the very thing that drains away a character flaw, a sin, an infection of the soul that nothing else could touch.

None of us want to reach out with leeches on our soul....and the cure feels worse for a time than the disease....but if it forces you to reach for the salt of heaven, it is perhaps worth it.

Hebrews 9:14
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Perky Hearts

I am not a little dog person, since my mother instilled in me at a young age that anything under 50 pounds is not a dog. I don't know what she thinks they are- but for her, dogs need to be large enough to rip out elbows or require Mack trucks to haul away their week worth of poop. However, while we were on a Resurrection day stroll yesterday, we saw a little dog in the handlebar basket of a bicycle. He was wagging his little tail, and his ears were perked, blowing in the wind. He looked so cheerful and perky that my heart gladdened just to see him.

I am a sucker for perky. I love passion and enthusiasm, pluck and perk. Almost uniformly little dogs have those characteristics, so I disagree with my mom. I think there is a lot to be said for little dogs, not the least of which is they would be unlikely to pull down porch columns if they were tied to one and saw a neighbor's dog walk by.

I like perky in people too. I got an email yesterday from a fellow homeschooler, someone I don't know, and she was bubbling with perk telling us about an upcoming walk to raise money/awareness for Juvenile Diabetes. We have participated in that walk with Asherel's friend who has diabetes. Anyway, the email sender has a son with diabetes, and she was filled with optimism that a cure is very close and asked in a very polite way that if we felt led, to please donate. The letter was so full of hope and optimism and perkiness in the face of what I know are tremendous trials, that I decided I would donate to JD this year.

Anyway, today she sent another group email, her perky heart obviously deflated and grieving. She had not meant to send out such a huge group email, she said, and one person had been upset with her, "blind sided" she wrote, and perky lady apologized up and down about sending us all the email. She said she had been thoughtless in her enthusiasm.

I do not get it. I don't get why anyone would be offended by such a personal and heart felt plea, first of all. Second of all, the beauty of emails is if you don't like it or don't want to read it, you can ignore it or better yet, delete it. What is the big deal? Is it worth bursting a perky heart over, and a perky heart that obviously is heavily burdened for a child she loves and longs to save?

It is frightfully easy to squash hope, and enthusiasm, and perky little dogs. But how much nicer to let them sail in a basket of encouragement and community, with joy bubbling in their wake.

Job 16:4-6 (New International Version)

4 I also could speak like you,
if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you
and shake my head at you.

5 But my mouth would encourage you;
comfort from my lips would bring you relief.

6 "Yet if I speak, my pain is not relieved;
and if I refrain, it does not go away.

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