Saturday, July 31, 2010

Pickles and Kayaks

When HCF Rescue Farm owner, N, heard we would be traveling north, she asked how far North we would be going, and could we be the first leg of the Doggy Express carrying doomed puppies north where another rescue is more certain to find homes for them? She cc'ed the other rescue, who was beside herself with delight that they might be able to save the puppies. If we could get the pups to her, she could find them forever homes.

So far on the list of things I had to fit in my van for the trip were:
3 kayaks, one kitchen table, 2 kitchen chairs, a dresser, a bookshelf, a cabinet, a computer desk and hutch, a large kitchen garbage can, a sleeping bag, 3 paddles, 3 life jackets, and our suitcase.

"How big are the puppies?"
"Small- we can squish them into a small crate. And also if you can take Pickles, he has a better shot of finding a home up north."

I went to their website to remind myself which of their dogs was Pickles, all of which I have met but can never remember the names of all but a few. Pickles is a bassett hound, young, friendly, housebroken, loves people. His ears scrape the floor.

"I'm not sure I can fit Pickles...." I wrote back, "Maybe a small crate of pups though."
"That's ok, Pickles is not under an immediate death threat. If the pups don't go, they die."
I knew that meant she had found them on a euthanasia list and they had hours to live unless claimed immediately.
I glanced again at the photo of Pickles.
"Lemme see what I can do," I wrote back, "Measure Pickles."

So even though we don't leave for a week with this load of furniture for Matt's new apartment, I decided I needed to find out if there was any possible way to load that list of heavy large furniture and leave room for a crate of pups and Pickles.

It became a very intellectual exercise in spatial relationships and physics. I discovered immediately that steel doesn't bend, at least not easily. First, I knew that the kayaks had to somehow go on top of the van. As Asherel was still sleeping and so could not be immediately roped into this project, I dragged one kayak out all by myself, hoisted it up on the van alone, and then managed to wrangle it to a sideways position against our kayak stop on the roof rack. I strapped it down and wriggled my sore wrists. One item down.... twenty to go. Next I collected the assortment of heavy furniture in a pile. There was 1,000 square feet of furniture that had to go in 100 square foot van. This meant I had to outsmart wood by a 10 to one ratio. By now Asherel was awake, so I had her take the legs off the kitchen table. She helped me wrestle the two heaviest pieces to the van. We loaded them in the back of it, and stared glumly. The van was full. Not only was there no way Pickles would fit, but the pups would not fact, neither would 80% of all the things I needed to bring.

Asherel waved goodbye to go do her dogwalk job while I contemplated this unsolvable dilemma.
When the going gets tough, the tough pray. Then I noticed that if I turned the desk upside down, I could pile things inside it. With extreme contortion and grunting and groaning I got both chairs in that small space, with some room for other stuff. I measured the three largest pieces, and measured the van's width. I had 1/8th inch to spare! So I heaved and turned and trialed and errored my way into stuffing the three largest pieces in the back right behind the middle seats. For Pickles and the pups to fit, I had to leave those middle seats open. The desk upside down went in next, and then the inflatable kayak and garbage can inside it with the kitchen chairs. Only one large piece left. I measured it. It would fit exactly to the exact millimeter. I didn't know if the hatch would close but I hoisted the last huge piece in, laid the dissembled kitchen table on top of the wooden puzzle of furniture parts all perfectly interlocked into every molecule of space, and carefully shut the hatch. It clicked close to the applause of Heaven.

Asherel returned and helped me hoist the last kayak up top, and I can't say we did it with the exact perfect amount of sweetness and joy, but we did it. The middle seats remained open. Pickles and the pups were saved.

It is a little thing in the grand scheme of all the suffering and horror in this world to be able to take a few little pups and a dog whose ears scrape the floor to a new lease on life. It amazes me sometimes how if we all did just a few little things, they might add up to a big thing. There is so much I can't do. It feels so good to do the little I can...and how blessed I am to have Someone who does Big things rooting for me.

1 Timothy 1:12

12I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.

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!'

Friday, July 30, 2010

Invisible threads

Our beloved agility mentor Polly has an invisible thread that attaches her to her dogs while they run the agility course. She has also developed a highly sophisticated electrical neural feedback system whereby every muscle twitch in her body is instantly transmitted to the dogs and they move as one unit. She even has a top secret Mind to Mind Melding Machine
( which we call the M&M factor) that allows her to transmit her thoughts into the dogs' muscles and she can telepathically control their movements. This is the only reason that she and her dogs move so effortlessly across the agility field and win everything. Personally, I don't think this is fair but she is not a threat to us because we are not contenders anyway for anything except having fun. She has spent years perfecting these largely undetectable innovations. Most people assume she has just practiced for hours a day for decades or has an incredible gift, but of course we know better.

I have seen this sort of miraculous talent in others. There is an effortless grace and all consuming oneness with the activity that cannot be attained by mere mortals. Some athletes describe it as being in "the Zone". Others describe it as complete absorption of self such that self no longer exists separate from the activity in which one is engaged. In the performing arts, it is called the "it factor". Some have "it", but most don't.

I have felt glimmers of this phenomenon when I paint, or bike along the ocean, or immerse myself in prayer. That connection, that oneness with the Creator doing what one was created and gifted to do can't be faked. It is indefinable but you know it when you see it.

While chatting with Polly about that phenomenon yesterday, I told her one of my favorite stories of Eric Liddell, the missionary to China who was also an Olympic gold medalist, was when he was trying to convince his skeptical family that even running can be glorifying to God.
I don't know if he actually said this, but in the movie about him, Chariots of Fire, he told his sister, "I know God made me.... but He also made me FAST. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."

If God is present in all things, then I think He can be glorified in all things. If whatever we do, we do for His purposes, then every action is one of worship. Our lives become our offerings to Him and give the seemingly insignificant acts a Holy anointing. When Polly runs her dogs over the jumps, I suspect she feels His pleasure.

Colossians 3:
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

His Feet in the Clouds

I can tell when a thunderstorm is coming through the most finely tuned weather forecasting device known to humankind- a neurotic dog. Hours, sometimes days, before the storm hits, Lucky begins pacing. He cringes and runs out the dog door and then races back inside. He prowls about as though the roof were about to fall on him.

In the recent boomer of a storm, even Honeybun who is a very calm dog sat with upright perked ears looking apprehensively at the door. She glanced at me and when I assured her it was ok, she lay down. Lucky, on the other hand, assured that it was ok, called me a liar, and went to cower in the bathroom. When a huge thunderbolt crashed across the street, he raced out of the corner and leaped onto my lap. As I am sure I have mentioned before, Lucky is not a lapdog sized dog. However, I allowed him to shudder in my lap for the brief few seconds he thought I could still the storm, and when I proved incapable of this feat, he dashed off to go find someone who could.

Fortunately, most storms pass quickly and Lucky returns to mere nutty instead of full blown psychotic. I love the storm passing. Quite often the sun breaks through dark, frightening clouds with gossamer rays of light that fan out like a dove tail. It always always makes me think of God reaching gently down to us, reminding us He is in the storm, but He is in the aftermath too.

Nahum 1:3 (New International Version)

3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power;
the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
and clouds are the dust of his feet.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Remembering Heights from which we fall

Asherel and I spent the day culling outgrown toys, clothes, and books from our packed nooks and crannies. This is a detestable job and I hate it which is why I have the problem in the first place. I have bags and bags of things to bless someone else's nooks and crannies with and will drop the first load at Goodwill today. By late afternoon, we decided it was time for a break and we needed to find out if we can tie two kayaks on the roof of the van anyway. In a week, we bring Matt's furniture to his new apartment so the van will be stuffed to the gills. On that trip, we are also planning to attempt a kayak float down the river a half mile from him which does entail some mild whitewater sections. If I can tie the two kayaks on the van roof, we have enough inflatable and hard shell boats that we won't have to spend a cent renting kayaks to take all 5 of us on this potentially skull crashing adventure.

Besides practicing tying the two kayaks on the van, I have spent a good bit of time researching whether kayaking the Maury river as rank beginners with no whitewater skill is fun or foolish. Most of my life tends to fall in one of these categories. Parts of the Maury are class 4 and 5 rapids, which means only people with death wishes should navigate those sections. The section I am looking at is classified as "easy" and beginner level. That is for people who are less certain they hope to die by having their brains splattered on river rocks. The biggest danger on that section of the Maury is the river level is so low that we may get stuck in mud flats.

So I have been exchanging emails with "experts" who are beginning to find me a pest as I ask in 4,000 different ways, "Are you sure this is safe?". In the meantime, Asherel and I managed to secure the two kayaks on top of the van, lash them down and drove to Lake Wylie. The kayaks remained secure, no shifting, or problems. We were amazed and proud of ourselves.

However, for the ride home, no sooner had the car exceeded 20 mph, when there was a horrifying moan from atop the car that increased drastically as we went faster. The whole car shuddered with something vibrating.
"I wonder if people outside the car can hear that?" I said.
Asherel rolled down the window and the schreech of kayaks who had come to life as goblins set on fire crashed against our tender ears. She quickly rolled the window up and we pulled over to adjust. Heaving and pulling and sweating, we tried to alter the heavy kayaks' positions, tightened the straps and were on our way again. The goblins were still caterwauling, but less violently.
"This isn't going to work," I said.
"It worked on the way here," said Asherel.
"But I have no idea what we did right. I wish we had paid more attention."
"We didn't realize how hard it was to get it right," she agreed.
We readjusted a few times but nothing worked. Our effortless beginner's luck was gone.

This happens a lot in life. Things start off easy and then we get slowly sucked into complacency, pride, and self bloating. And then, the perspiration part of inspiration kicks in, and we are sweating and kicking inanimate objects and that's when we give up. We didn't expect it to be so hard. I had felt that way while engaged in my morning cleaning spree too. It was such a good and simple idea to de-clutter.... but within minutes, the process was overwhelming and I was considering leaving it to my grandchildren as yet unconceived and unborn to finish the job.

Even worshipping God is like that. When I was a new believer, just getting to know God, I could not read enough of His word, or attend enough Bible studies or church services, or pray enough hours. But as the years and years of following Him have meandered along, I find that initial outburst of passion and enthusiasm is more difficult to maintain. It is so easy to fall into complacency. "Good enough" becomes the goal, and relationships, homes, friendships, and lawns suffer. It is exhausting to maintain a standard of excellence, a passion of beginnings.

I am not alone. In Revelations, God berates the church in Ephesus for this very abandoning of their first engulfing passion for Him. He warns them that complacency will lead to falling away and losing all they had fought so hard for. The remedy is obvious- repent and keep at it with the enthusiasm it deserves.

So today, we will haul the kayaks back out and try to analyze what it was we did right the first time....after I clean out another bookcase.... and after I savor the presence of God in every scene my eyes have been empowered to see.

Revelation 2:3-5 (New International Version)

3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Critical Information

I was busy teaching a private art class for a friend when Asherel came bursting inside, cheeks blazing red, and said, "I went to take care of Piper (neighbor dog) and the burglar alarm went off! I don't know how to turn it off."

I called the one number the neighbor's had left with us, a work phone. The workplace informed me that P and J were on vacation. I asked if they had a cell phone contact. They didn't.
"What do I do?" I asked the respiratory therapist. While she would have been supremely helpful if I had trouble breathing, and it may come to that at any minute, she knew little about how to disarm the alarm.
"You could try calling the police...." she said, "They will be coming anyway."
After our harrowing week at the beach fighting off deadly creatures right and left, I was not thrilled with the prospect of facing police on a 100 degree day, called out for a potential burglary. Fortunately, the art class was already half an hour past ending time, so I sent the sweet boy home, and Asherel and I stood in front of the neighbor's yard with our hands up.
"Remember," I admonished the little criminal beside me, "Whatever you do, do not resist arrest. If nothing else, Matt will have his law degree in three years and will get us off."
The police arrived and looked scornfully at us as I explained that while I would love to burglarize the neighbor's home as it was much more beautifully appointed than my own, we really were only trying to care for the dog and had no idea how to turn off the alarm.
"You don't have the alarm code?" they asked, raising eyebrows.
"No," I answered.
"No cell phone number?"
"No," I said.
The policeman and policewoman glanced at each other. I thought I saw an imperceptible shaking of their heads and muttering under their breaths.
"Do any neighbors have their cell phone number or alarm code?"
"I doubt it," I answered.
I think the police wanted to arrest me if not for burglary, at least for short-sightedness.
"Well, you can call the alarm company to let them know. The alarm will likely turn off and reset itself if you lock everything up and don't go back in."
The policewoman handed me a ticket, which I was to give to the neighbors. They are allowed 2 "free" police visits due to incompetent false alarm calls. On the third one, they would be fined.
"This was not in the job description," I said.

So even a seemingly simple task like walking a dog gets muddled. So often, we don't realize what information we are missing until it is too late. If we only knew everything that was going to be on the test, how much easier it would be to pass. That desire to have all the critical knowledge is as old as the heavens. Remember the rich man in the Bible who approaches Jesus, just like an anxious 5th grader on the eve of the history exam:
"Master, tell me, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
The passage is in Mark 10, but I will paraphrase. You can read the text yourself to check for accuracy.
Jesus responds with a laundry list a mile long of all the things the rich man needs to have done. Most of us more humble, and depraved types would have shaken our heads and known right then and there that eternal life, like an A+ on the history exam we hadn't studied for, was impossible.
But the rich man proclaims that he has done every one of those things since his youth. Jesus' response is what floors me. Instead of saying, "You pompous braggart! Get real!", the Bible reports that Jesus looked at the man lovingly. He then gently tells the rich man that now he needs to sell everything he has, give to the poor, and then follow Jesus. The rich man goes away "sad".
" Maybe eternal life is not all it is cracked up to be," he grumbles, as he clutches his wallet and walks away.

So having all the pertinent information is critical, but sometimes the alarm is going to keep blasting our cochlear implants anyway. Alarms are good. They serve a valuable purpose. My conscience alarm rings day and night. The rich man went away sad for good reason. He figured out that none of us will inherit eternal life on our own power, no matter how many angel cell phone numbers we have, or how many codes we may know to try to swing open the pearly gates. But there is still a way.... and that is the one key bit of information I cling too:

Matthew 19
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"

26Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Turning Junk into Treasure

I decided to sacrifice for my son- rather then keep the cabinet and shelf unit I found on the curbside years ago and have used as a book and game shelf, I selflessly decided to hand these valuable recycled trash on to him. They are constructed of the finest pasteboard with a simulated wood grain, found only in the most discerning homes, and Matt is moving into a huge unfurnished apartment.

"I am an artist," I told myself, "I will transform these."
My friend Andi stopped by as I was busily painting the units. I had only one coat painted on, and the particle board was still showing through. Naturally, she could likely not see the beauty I was envisioning.
"What do you plan to do with them?" she asked, nonchalantly, but I could detect in her carefully guarded tone a touch of horror.
Plan? I am not following a "plan". I am in the throes of inspiration, spontaneous creative genius will pour from my fingers directly to the old cabinet.
"I don't know," I answered, "Do you have any ideas?"
"Well, what look are you going for?" she asked, as though the look of 20 year old rejected garbage was not adequate in and of itself.
"Well it is a historic, majestic, magnificent home," I answered, "I would like the piece to reflect that."
Andi blinked at me. I believe she was speechless with the magnitude of my aspirations.

She did convince me that I could not just paint the outer trim but had to paint the inside as well.
As I blobbed some paint on the brass hinges, I hoped she didn't notice, but she did.
"I can wipe those off later," I said, as though blobbing the paint was exactly what I meant to do.
"I think you need to take the doors off and paint them separately, then put them back on," she suggested.
"Take them off?!" I screeched. Not if I intended to be done by dinner, I was thinking.
"This will not be a 20 minute job," warned Andi.
She left to her errands and I did not take the doors off, but decided the brass hinges looked better with white paint on them anyway.
By the second coat of paint, the unit was looking almost lovely. I left the shelves fake wood grain, but painted the back wall of the inside white as well. By the time they had dried, and I had placed the pristine white cabinet unit on top of the gleaming shelf unit, I no longer wanted to give it to Matt. If I painted a delicate floral trim in Wedgwood blue, I felt I would have a museum ready piece, as long as one didn't peer too closely at the right bottom side where mice had chewed away a half circle of splintering board. A plant could sit nicely at that corner. However, I will give it to Matt though at this point it is one of the nicer pieces in my home.....

I only wished I had done this years ago. Transformation is never easy, always involves work, and often sacrifice. Our sermon at church yesterday was that we could never transform ourselves, so we could stop that endless futile struggle. Transformation is of the spirit, and by the spirit; the spirit of the Lord. The pastor was careful to point out that he was not saying we should give up obeying God, reading and studying scripture, gathering together as believers to support and encourage each other..... but it did mean that we didn't have the power to turn particle board into oak. Only God could do that.... and He did it through the love and sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. Through His brushstrokes, our flaws are not only covered but metamorphosed, and He doesn't need a plant to hide the holes. This is encouraging news, because I still have a dresser and a computer hutch to transform, and am already exhausted.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (New International Version)

17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Joy covers joy

The final morning at Hilton Head, I got up really early so I could have one last glorious bike ride on the beach before the 10 am checkout time. The tide had just started to go out so the riding was not easy in softer sand. Still, it was quiet and the beach was nearly empty. I had seen it all this vacation- Portugese Man of War, ocean alligator, herons close enough to touch, live sting rays, dolphins, the Great Pyramid in sand... there was nothing left to see. God had showered me with abundant visions to carry for the year, like a starter ember glowing so the fire could be rekindled should I ever need it. I was content.... and tired. The sand was deep and I had awoken by 6 every morning that week so I would not miss the glory of the lovely empty beach by bicycle.

And then I noticed a speck on the sand, right at the surf line. It looked like a turtle.
"UH-uh," I said, laughing, "I will not be fooled again this year!"

Last year, I had been biking in the early morning, and seen a baby turtle. With amazement, I stopped my bike and was exultant in seeing my first live baby sea turtle. I followed him as he trudged across the sand, and took some pictures, and then chucked him past the surf. Later I met a wildlife official, and told him what I had just seen. He said it could not have been a sea turtle as they were not hatching yet. I smugly showed him the photo, insisting it was a baby sea turtle. It was not. It was a fresh water terrapin. With horror, I realized that I had not only NOT saved a sea turtle from the sea gulls, I had chucked a fresh water baby to his death. The kind man told me terrapin like sea water too and so I had not killed it. He showed me the very obvious (now) claws on the photo of the front legs of my turtle. Sea turtles have flippers, not claws on toes. How could I have missed that, stupido?

But this time I was not going to be fooled. Iwasn't even going to stop.
"You can't fool me this time!" I shouted to God, who finds it humorous at times to mess with my complacency.
I rode by, but then circled back. Even a baby terrapin was worth a picture.
I knew baby sea turtles only cross the sand at night. By day, their dark bodies against the light sand would be instantly snatched up by the flocks of hungry sea birds. Still, I didn't see terrapin often either.

I parked my bike and walked over. The turtle's little eyes were closed. It seemed to be dead. And then I saw them.... on those front feet were not clawed toes, but flippers. and the back legs ended in paddle like appendages. This was not a terrapin. This was a sea turtle... a baby sea turtle, but alas, a dead one.

I gently picked him up and he began squirming furiously. He was alive!
"You crazy turtle!" I squawked, "What were you doing sleeping in on the most important day of your life? You were supposed to hit the ocean hours ago! I am not sure you understand the significance of your endangered status. Look, I think it might not be legal, but I am helping you along. I will get you into the water, but from that point on, it is up to you."

I walked him the few feet short of the surf he had almost managed on his own, and gently placed him in the tide as it whooshed back. He began paddling, the tide carried him back in, but then he ducked under a wave and was beyond the first few pounding surf lines.

As the speck disappeared into the ocean I called out, "And be careful! There are alligators in these waters!"

I smiled as I headed off in the peace of a blossoming day. I had been certain there could be no more glorious joys awaiting me. God had redeemed the sorrow of the past in so many ways....what a tender and loving message for him to send to me now.

There are times I think memory loss could be a blessing- to be able to forget all the awful things we have said and done.... but God shows me constantly a better way- the way of redemption, and even promises that all those years that were squandered in foolishness will be returned to me in inexplicable eternity.

"Swim baby swim!" I called to my turtle as he paddled to his home.

Joel 2:25 (New International Version)

25 "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Works in progress

One last bikeride to say goodbye to the herons and dolphins, jellyfish and alligators. Then all those glorious creatures will just be memories. Hello responsibilities. Goodbye vacation. One of the first things I have to do is get a new watch. My so called waterproof timex appears to be leaking or crying.

I noticed a strange small black mark on the watch dial as I headed off on my bike yesterday. I thought little of it and quickly was lost in ocean sounds and sights.

I stopped to chat with a couple sitting beside the Great Pyramids beautifully recreated in sand.
"Did you make those?" I asked.
"My dad did," the woman told me,"He used to be a brick mason. "
The woman looked to be my age. Her dad had to be at least 75 or so. The three sand pyramids were huge and meticulously crafted. While not as mind boggling to create as the real pyramids it was still more than most 70 year olds would tackle.
There was a little sign by the pyramids- "Work in progress- please don't touch."
"What more does he plan to do?" I asked. To me all that it looked like they needed was a mummified Pharoah.
"I'm not sure," she answered,"I think he wants to find a way to make the Sphinx."
I took a photo and biked on. I liked the image of an old man so lovingly forming something so impermanent with such care. And even though the pyramids looked perfect to me, to him they were still works in progress.

By the end of the bikeride, the black spot on my watch dial had grown and the numbers were fading away.

I hoped it was condensation, and considered the old man's pyramid. I keep thinking I have mastered some aspect of living, finally am getting it right, but then fail and realize I am one continual work in progress too. Maybe we should all hang signs around our necks- "Be patient - work in progress."

This morning, the black spot on the watch face has again grown but the strangest drip of black curls like a tendril down the middle and attached to it is a blot that looks eerily like an alligator. The watch is no longer of any use to tell time and maybe that is exactly the kind of watch God wants me to have. Maybe the work in progress is going to take a very long time and it is best that I not have the means to see exactly how long. But I hope the black alligator splot becomes a heron next.

2 Peter 3:14-15
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. [15] Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

- Nothing is impossible with God

Friday, July 23, 2010

Being still

I have a hard time relaxing. As soon as i sit down, i see something that needs my attention. That is why I love the porch here at the beach condo.
It is empty save for chairs and a small table. The curtains obscure my view of the mess inside I will need to pack tonight for our return home. It is on the 5th floor and we overlook a lagoon. There is nothing to do out here but watch the squirrel on a branch I can almost touch as he gnaws on a pinecone, or look at the herons in the treetops or the alligators posing as carnivorous logs in the green water below. I discovered that out here I am practicing how to relax and find it scarily addictive.

The one thing I can't escape are my thoughts and they are forever typing a to-do list. It is so hard to live in the present for me.
But just as my mind starts to wander to all the burdens awaiting me, out here on the porch I hear loud crunching. I glance up. He is there again this morning like he has been for the past 5 mornings. A squirrel sits high in a tree but nearly the same level as me on my balcony in the sky. Five days ago, he had a full large pinecone in his paws. He began gnawing away and little pine nibs dropped to the ground. I watched fascinated. He ate it like an ear of corn.

The next day he was back, and the pine cone was a third empty. It seems unlikely it was the same cone or even the same squirrel, but he was on the same branch making the same unusually loud crunching noise in the still morning.

The third morning, there he was again, the pine cone half empty. I forgot all the books I have to order for our homeschool starting back in 2 weeks, and watched the squirrel. Yesterday the pine cone was two thirds empty and this morning, he is back shreddding away the last few
bits of tasty pine cone morsels. It almost makes me want to go try a pine cone. For a week, the squirrel has seemingly savored a pinecone each early morning perched on a branch high above the alligators. From his perch he can smell the ocean and the soft arms of the sleepy sun are not yet scalding as they drape gently across the pine bough.

Tomorrow we head home again and the squirrel will have finished the pine cone. If all goes as planned today, no one will leave with stitches, hospital bills, or permanent damage. In my mind, that is the perfect beach vacation. And I have had the rare privilege of sitting still and quiet long enough to see a squirrel eat a pine cone in a quiet lagoon.

Psalm 46:10
"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."

- Nothing is impossible with God

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just when you thought it was safe to come out of the bathtub

The morning after the unfortunate run in with the jellyfish, I went on my morning bikeride surveillance trip. I came with the highly sensitive monitoring device known colloquially as the "mommy danger detector". I have one of the most responsive detectors available, sensitive down to one shark tooth. With my radar system in place, off I rode as the sun awoke, to do any necessary mine sweeping before my darlings' toes touched a single grain of sand.

The good news was that not a single deadly Portugese Man Of War had washed ashore. That meant the currents had swept them back to Australia with the other 9 most deadly creatures
known to mankind.

There were very few of the other more innocuous jelly blobs as well so I was feeling increasingly at ease for my loved ones safety in our harrowing upcoming day at the beach. That is when I saw the alligator. I rubbed my eyes to be sure it was not just an alligator shaped scratch on my contacts, but it did not rub away. There in the ocean surf was a four foot gator. A good Samaritan there had called wildlife control who was on the way to remove this extra set of teeth from our peaceful frolic in the waves. I took a video knowing my loved ones would never believe me and pedalled onward. Within a half mile, I saw a man holding a large wriggling creature near the surf. I biked over as my warning siren was blasting my eardrum. A huge stingray was flapping in the man's hand. He held the Ray by the tail and his other hand clamped a pliers on a pointy thing near the upper tail back.
"won't he sting you?" I asked.
"That's why I am holding the pliers here," explained the man.
"Can I take his picture?" I asked,
"Or will it hurt him to stay out of the water?"
(like I wanted this new threat to live and thrive....)
"I'll just hold him in the water til you get your camera ready," he said while gently submerging the Ray.
Then he told me he was stung by one of these yesterday .
"Oh?" I said, "are they dangerous?"
"Spent two hours in the hospital. Remember Steve Irwin, crocodile
Man? One of these is what killed him."
I snapped my picture and watched as he released the would be murderer to my ocean.

As I biked on, I thought of my blog from yesterday citing my faith in God's protection and
I had a chat with God.
"What are you telling me Lord? Those were two dangers I had not even known enough to worry about. Did you not think my list of nightmares was long enough?"

We had already planned a day of kayaking on Broad Creek in search of dolphins. That gave me an extra day to scrub away those images of rows of teeth and barbs of death.

Within an hour of us paddling out to the sound, dolphins surrounded us. Many surfaced just a few feet from our kayaks, their intelligent kindly faces breaking through the murky water.

I think often God's messages come in sequels. If you just read the first book, you don't know
the whole story. At least that is how He often speaks to me. I am impatient to draw conclusions, but I think God with the perspective of eternity wants me to gather more evidence.

Yes, the ocean is replete with terrifying creatures. But side by side with them, and inexplicably friendly to humans were the dolphins. Every morning as I bike along the beach I see them, just off shore, playing tag with the first sunbeams of the day. I think perhaps it is their sparkling forms God wants me to direct my gaze. Past the alligators and the Sting rays in the surf, past the jellyfish or the neck crunching waves. Seek the curved fin of a Friend.

Psalm 23:4
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

- Nothing is impossible with God

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Reclaiming its own

"I don't mean to alarm you," said Karissa as Asherel limped out of the water with her. These are of course the words that send alarm bells clanging through every fiber of a mother's cellular system.

I quickly scanned my daughter for signs of a missing limb or severed spinal cord. It appeared she had not been attacked by a shark or crushed by a wave. I did not know at the time that the bright purple jellyfish I had seen on my morning bike ride was a Portugese Man of War, whose sting can be deadly. It is good I didn't know that or upon seeing the classic welts of a jelly fish tentacle swipe across Asherel's lower leg, I might have panicked. Instead, I led her quietly back to our beach bag armed with remedies for ocean attacks. This is the positive side of paranoia. I am prepared for shark attack, sunstroke, sunburn, tsunamis, jellyfish invasions, alien abductions,and boredom at the beach. I sprinkled meat tenderizer on her welts, and Asherel reported immediate subsiding of the pain.
It must have been just a run of the mill, ordinary jellyfish because there was only mild swelling and little pain.

It was my fault. Instead of pacing the ocean shore and watching for shark fins or rip tides or maurauding blobs of jellyfish with my emergency preparedness kit in one hand and the cell phone with 911 dialed in the other, when Asherel went off with everyone else , I became quickly absorbed in building a sand Crab. Normally I would have glanced up and my maternal antenna would have sensed those tentacles lurking near my beloved girl, but the tide was coming in and I knew I had maybe 20 minutes tops to finish the crab before the ocean reabsorbed him.

It seems a little silly to be furiously constructing a work of art knowing it will be destroyed only moments upon completion. Not even my family would see it as they were all off body surfing and fighting off jellyfish.

A family with a little boy wandered by and his mom stood him in front of the crab.
"See his face," she said ,"It's smiling."
The boy nodded solemnly.
I smiled too but didn't stop working. The tide was 10 feet away. My back hurt and sweat was pouring off me as the tide crept closer. One last leg to smooth and he would be finished. As I patted the last rough spot, the first wave circled it's tentacles into the trench around my crab. I raced for my camera and snapped a photo just in time. Within minutes the crab was settling into the wet sand, melting away as though he'd never been.

That night Asherel and I were looking at photos of jellyfish and that is when we discovered that the Portugese Man of War is a deadly one that normally is not found in these waters except after a large storm. It is one more thing I hadn't even known I needed to worry about.

Still, I can't ward off all the encroaching tides of life. I suppose if I cared so much about my little creation of sand that I would struggle so hard to bring it to completion before its short life
melted back to it's maker, then surely, my Creator's hand was on me and on Asherel, smoothing the rough spots and chiseling our forms to the perfect image He planned us to become.
He is the only One that can hold back the ocean anyway.

Still, I am glad we plan to kayak today while those Man of War blobs get washed back to the other side of the planet where they belong.

Philippians 1:6
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

- Nothing is impossible with God

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Proper fear

I love the ocean. I love biking its shores, watching its creatures scurrying along the sand, feeling it's cool waters licking my ankles, listening to its cadenced roar- I love everything about it except swimming in it. I could tell watching Matt playing in the deeper water while Karissa cavorted like a dolphin near him that he felt similarly. Something about his stance told me he was suffering the deep water to be a kind companion but he would be much happier throwing the frisbee on shore.

I then watched the lifeguard swim furiously into the water beyond them and then signal everyone out of the water. I waved frantically to Asherel to get out figuring at the very least the lifeguard had spotted a jellyfish invasion. As I gathered with my kids and Karissa, they told me it had been a rip current and the lifeguard just wanted them to move over 50 feet. But Matt for sure didn't look excited to return to those treacherous waters and they opted to head to the swimming pool. Later Matt told me that just before the lifeguard ordered them out, he had been arguing with Karissa about all the dangers of the ocean.

While the lifeguard vindicated Matt, I feel bad that I passed my fears on to him. It is a fine line between being a wise,protecting parent and being a neurotic mess. I tend to the latter.

The ocean is awesome, magnificent, and wondrous .... But it is not safe and must be approached with respect. I cringe when I see people let small, poor
swimmers treat it like a kiddie pool. I similarly cringe when I hear people talk about God as "the big man upstairs" or "the big daddy" or other flippant labels. God is awesome, magnificent and wondrous, but He is not "safe" and should be treated with respect. Sometimes fear is out of proportion, but sometimes I think we don't fear the right thing enough.

Luke 12:4-5
"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. [5] But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

- Nothing is impossible with God

Monday, July 19, 2010

A special moment memorialized

As I sat watching the ocean while my family threw a frisbee, another family came to the after dinner quiet beach. It was clear this huge group was related, as everyone wore khaki pants and a bright white shirt. The children looked clean and scrubbed. One man lugged a huge camera bag which he opened to reveal scores of large heavy fancy lenses. He looked very important with a professional tripod and massive lenses that he began screwing on to the large camera with its many
buttons. The children who ran like lemmings toward the sea were abrubtly stopped by myriad parents shouting "don't get dirty!" in unison. Even someone like me, drenched in hours of sun and heat could clearly see this was a large family reunion about to commemorate the blessing of family with a portrait on the beach.

The self important cameraman was also a family member evidenced by the khaki and white uniform. While he busily was exchanging lenses and checking various meters on his camera, anxious mothers were pulling little boys by their freshly scrubbed ears out of big wet sand piles. Mothers of little girls were pushing down billowing white sundresses that the wind was nearly whipping off their bodies. A small baby was being jiggled furiously as she was fast asleep and the photo must have required her eyes be open. A headband drifted perilously close to her eyes as the wind and jiggling displaced it inch by inch.

The camera man was still screwing on lenses and his face was growing redder. I saw some consultation going on with what looked to be a brother.
"Good light?" smiled the brother.
"Too much wind," growled the camera man.

Children were growing increasingly antsy and spots of sand were beginning to form on pristine white shirts. The alpha mom, there is one in every bunch, knew time was growing short. She organized kids in groups, presumably by nuclear family, and everyone pulled out their travel Polaroid and began snapping pictures. The matriarch of the group removed a plastic bag that was over her hair and the wind instantly turned it into a rats nest.

Meanwhile, the activity of the camerman was clearly growing more frantic and accelerated.
He was now mumbling to himself and it was clear his mother had never washed his mouth out with soap when certain words slipped into his lexicon.
His cheery brother returned and asked again," Lighting good? Just about ready?"
The cameraman swore that his (choice word) camera was ruined and just like he had warned everyone, it was too windy and his camera was now useless. He zipped his professional equipment bag and began to storm away.

Meanwhile, the baby, wedged carefully in the arms of two young girls posing with 5 young boys, was wailing her sweet little headband off. Mothers frantically raced back and forth, jiggling and adjusting and snapping pictures with their throwaway cameras. Cameraman was being dragged back by his now angry brother who said they were still going to take pictures.

Finally the whole group posed and someone clothed in flowers, so not a white shirt/khaki family member, snapped several pictures from several small cameras. Everyone pasted a smile on their face between the children whining,"can we play in the sand yet?", the baby screaming, and the cameraman scowling.

Pictures over, the children dashed to the ocean and were filthy within seconds. The baby was comforted and the silly headband removed from her head. The cameraman grinned watching the antics of his children. The matriarch smiled, patting ineffectually at her tangled wind whipped white hair.

I am sure they will be glad they have the pictures but I bet the scene that will be seared in their memory will be the one after the last photo was snapped.

Jeremiah 29:13 When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul,

- Nothing is impossible with God

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I Will Relax or die trying

I am overlooking a quiet lagoon surrounded by palm and pine trees. We have been here all of 15 hours and I have a bruised shoulder and forehead.
This did not occur riding our bikes on the glorious beach, or even from being buffeted by the ocean waves in the delightfully warm water. No, my injuries didn't need to wait for the beach vacation to happen. I could have just as easily slipped on the slick bathtub floor and fallen flat on my back whacking my head and shoulder on the faucet in the comfort of my own home. I am fine, albeit a little sore. Ah! Vacation!

And when I logged on to facebook last night, another curious test of my resolve to relax was tested.
"We are not sure you are who you claim to be," said facebook,
"So you must answer these questions three before you cross the bridge."
I kid you not. Facebook told me I had to prove who I was before
they would let me operate my
Mobile device from a new location.
What is this manure all about? Does facebook not know about modern transportation?
Do they not suspect they are called "mobile" devices because they "move"?
So for my test, I had to look at a series of photos of my facebook friends and correctly identify them. I could not get any wrong but I was allowed one pass.
This was like a game show. Where are the hidden cameras?
So they flash the first "friend" on my screen.
"that is not a friend!" I cried, "She is just an aquaintance."
"Do you know her name?" asked Asherel, who had none of this nonsense when she logged on to facebook .
"No! Oh, wait they give multiple
choices. Yes! It's this one!"
I assume i was correct because they let me move on to the next one. It was a photo of a man from the back fixing his bike. Identify this friend from his spandexed butt?
"it might be my brother."
"Yes," said Asherel, "it probably is cause he rides bicycles. I think that is his bike."
I held my breath and chose my brother's name.
Right again!
Picture three flashed up.
"I have no clue," I groaned.
"Use your pass," counselled Asherel.
The last photo was of two dogs.
"What!" I bellowed,"how can I answer this!"
"Show me your choices," said Asherel. She looked over the names. "Oh! Danielle! Those are Danielle's dogs."
I selected Danielle's name and waited anxiously, sweat pouring off my bruised, vacationing brow.
"Congratulations!" said facebook ,
"You are who you claim to be. You may now use our site, but in the future remember that if you plan to travel you must get preauthorization. "
That last half I made up but the rest of it is all true.
After that stressful exam which i would not have passed without Asherel's help, I took my bruised body off to bed.
Ah! Vacation!

Exodus 33:14
The Lord replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."

- Nothing is impossible with God

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Enter tomorrow with gladness

Lucky has not fully suspended his hunger strike. He ate the rib bones with astonishing gusto, but left the Pedigree dry nuggets alone, even though they were soaked in beef broth. However, while I was packing things away for our beach trip this morn, I noticed out of the corner of my eye Lucky streaking across the backyard, the pup in hot pursuit. Lucky dipped into the universal dog play position and then the brief game ended. Either he knows Zach's stay with us is coming to an end today, or he has decided maybe playing with the pup is sort of fun. Either way about it, I feel a strange heaviness knowing our foster pup will be leaving. I really have no choice- just a few days after we return from the beach, we are off again for 3 days to help Matt furnish and move into his new digs at Washington and Lee.

I felt a similar heaviness when my boys went off to college. And the parallels are alike in another way. Just when you start seeing the glimmer of a fantastic being emerging from all your sacrifice and care, off they go to thrill other people. You are left high and dry. Zach, after just one week, has learned to go out the dog door and do his toilette on his own. I walked him every half hour for the 10 days he was here, telling him excitedly that "It's time to go potty!!!" til he began to leap with joy when I would announce it was potty time. And just when he gets it, understands it, and is now almost a perfect pup, someone else will reap the reward of my work.

These creatures put in my care, my boys, my dogs, my daughter.... they are all just on loan. I get to pour out my lifeblood on them and then with wrinkled, bony fingers point the way to the exit door into their tomorrows. If they go with wagging tails, I am content. If they glance back, I am rewarded.

Ezra 9:9
He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection

Friday, July 16, 2010

Alligators and Puppies

Lucky is on a hunger strike and a 9 foot alligator was found Wednesday in the surf of Coligny Beach, the beach we head to on Saturday for our family vacation. These two seemingly disparate events are connected, I just know it.

I will tackle it like an essay- compare and contrast these two events and summarize. In this manner, I hope to stumble upon a revelation that will lighten the burden of life, expose the deep meanings of God's mysteries, and if not, at least practice proper punctuation. ( I am nototious for not using CAPITAL letters because it involves extra work to hit the shift button, but as my son Anders tells me, "Mom, punctuation is there for a reason.")

Both the hunger strike and the alligator involve animals with teeth. One chooses to use his teeth NOT to eat, the other to eat small children and inflatable rafts. Both animals were busy doing something they were not supposed to be doing- one by abstaining from what he was supposed to do, and the other by doing what he was not supposed to do. Dogs are supposed to eat, and alligators are supposed to contain their reign of terror in fresh water only.

In both cases, there is an evident design by the hand of God that has been distorted. The result is the same.... they are both conspiring to ruin my beach vacation. All Lucky's vet work two days ago revealed a healthy dog, so I think his hunger strike is psychological which I will go into momentarily. The alligator swimming where only sharks used to lurk makes it HIGHLY likely I will not go in the water higher than my toes, and if I let my kids go in, will have to stand on shore chewing my nails and holding the sand digging pick should I see thrashing and blood. I will of course research whether it is best to stab the alligator in the eye, or in the nose before we go.

The authorities did catch the 9 foot alligator,and are not sure what he was doing there, though they suspect he was sick or confused. His presence on my beach certainly made me sick and confused. Or, they theorized, there were too many people in the fresh water area he was from, and so he was looking for some peace and quiet in the deep blue sea. Meanwhile, the authorities tell me Lucky is healthy and fine. But as day 5 of almost no food came and went, I began to suspect the hunger strike, which coincided suspiciously close to the advent of the puppy may have an obvious cause. I think he, like the alligator, was overwhelmed by the presence of too many creatures in his once empty home. Adding Honeybun, who had initially tried to kill him, was bad enough. But now this puppy that never lets him sit or lie down without being pounced upon and nibbled was the final push and I think Lucky has landed in full blown depression.

The authorities in Hilton Head caught the alligator and took him to a remote, distant swamp. I snapped the leash on Lucky and jiggled my car keys. His ears perked slightly, though he remained listlessly on his bed, head down.
"Lucky," I called, "Want to go for a ride?"
Lucky shot up. All his languor of the past 5 days shed away when he realized not a single other dog was being invited..... just him. I shoved the other two dogs back, threw Asherel a bucket of lysol and rags and instructions to follow the puppy's ever productive bottom, and took the now prancing Lucky to the car.

I let him sit in the coveted front seat, where the dogs are not allowed. I knew if we crashed, the air bag might kill him, but drastic measures were clearly called for. As he settled happily in the front seat, I offered him a treat. He gobbled it up. Then we headed to the Greenway, the shady mecca of trails full of scents and wide open stretches of NO PUPPIES.

Lucky was the perkiest and happiest I have seen him in a week. When we got home, I offered him his dinner. He ate it all.

I think God was telling me something. There are times when too much of a good thing is too much. There are environments we are well suited for and when they become overwhelming, we do things we would not ordinarily do, often to our detriment. We have only one day left with Zach, and then he returns to HCF to be placed on the adoption list, and I know someone is going to have a really wonderful dog. He is playful, and smart, lovable and energetic, and is nearly potty trained after just a week. On the other hand, we will keep Lucky who is quirky, irritable, cranky, and temperamental, if not outright psychotic at times. Go figure.

The alligator is back in fresh water and Coligny Beach is now populated only by native monsters like jellyfish and hammerhead sharks. Lucky is back to almost normal, which is as close as he gets, and the pup goes to HCF, and I hope adoptive parents soon. We survived, the pup survived, the alligator survived. All will soon be on their way to the place where they belong, where they can find a peaceful and permanent home....which is what God is nudging me towards as well. But it is not here on Earth and it is to my detriment to think this is where I was meant to settle.

Genesis 32:17
'To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?'

Thursday, July 15, 2010

All is Made New

While waiting for my daughter to return alive from whitewater rafting, I settled at a shady corner of the church portico garden and began to sketch the tree there on my iPod. I thought I only had a few moments, so did a quick sketch, but the moment stretched into an hour and slowly I added details that I hadn't noticed or had the time to add in at first. I was so busy drawing that I didn't have time for the usual images to congeal in my anxious brain when my dear one is off doing something dangerous. Instead of visions of bodies tossed like popcorn out of boats smashing against rocks in surging water, I was focusing on the sinuous lines tree limbs wander upon, and the similarities in the hues of brick and bark. I realized that scene I had passed a million times.... I had never really seen.

As I was walking beside Zach for the 679th time that day in the backyard, moving slowly so he would be bored enough to slow down and pee, I noticed ivy beginning to adorn the back fence.
When had that happened? Zach attacked every leaf, settled to chew every twig, rolled delightedly in the dew of every large sprig of grass. He noticed (and pounced upon) a wasp slowly dragging a June bug up a tree trunk. He took delight in every small wonder of the backyard which I had not been in for months...not since I had had to walk Zach.

Everyone needs contact with babies and puppies. Their astonishment with the world, with every blue sky morning, every bird chirping, and every leaf falling makes me pause and notice it all anew. I walk so unhearing in a cacophony of miracles, so blindly through a masterpiece of creation.

The good news is you too can enjoy this feast of joy. Go to to adopt a puppy or one of their wonderful other animals longing to show you the grandeur of God's grace and mercy, the wonder of His love expressed in so many unexpected places.

Psalm 103:
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-

3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,

5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Controlled Terror

Today will be one of measured anxiety. Asherel is going with the church group to the whitewater center to do the Olympic level white water rapids. This is always the problem with church activities.... since they know that heaven awaits them should the worst happen, they go blithely off where normal people who want to live to see their grandchildren don't go.

But first, I had to sign the release.

The first paragraph wasn't bad. I just had to acknowledge that I understood that all activities carry inherent risks. I could agree with that. I even have my art students sign a release as you never know when you might trip while carrying a paintbrush and perforate your skull.

It was the second paragraph that raised my blood pressure to clinically unacceptable levels. In this cheery section, I learned that the risks included bruising, contusions, concussions, broken bones, severed limbs, drowning, and death. I signed because my daughter wants so desperately to do this and as far as I can recall, no one has died yet at the Whitewater Center.

So Asherel is going forth with apparently no fear or concern. But there is one part of the trip that horrifies even her brave soul.

"I might come out there and take your picture as you float by," I said as we were on our walk.
She looked at me with abject terror etched on her gaping mouth and wide eyes.
"Oh please don't!" she cried.
Oh the horror, the horror!
"No one will see me," I assured her, "I will hide behind a tree."
"No you won't," she said with a tremulous voice, "You will jump around and wave and shout 'Way to Go!!!"
"I can understand your fear," I said, "Someone might find out that you have a mother who loves you and wants you to be happy. You poor thing. And worse yet, they might even discover that I feed and clothe and care for your needs and every want. How could anyone be expected to endure that?"

So why am I signing this form, and letting her go? I don't think we are called to be reckless, but I do think we are called to live life to the fullest, and not to live a life of fear over what horrible things might happen. While Whitewater rafting can certainly not be put on the level of some of the frightful moments Paul faced, I do think the principle is the same when he declares:

24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, (2 Corinthians 11:25-27)but concludes in 2 Corinthians 12:
9 (Jesus) said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So me and the dogs will wait weakly at home, our ears cocked, our eyes on the clock. And we will pray since if I am to live to see my grandchildren, my child must live too.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Selfless Gene

Selflessness is not an inherited trait. I have used our foster puppy to conduct exhaustive research into the genetic roots of selfless behavior and my conclusion is as follows:
there is none.

From the moment Zach awakens til the moment he lies his soft little head (momentarily) to sleep at night, he is one small contained package of selfishness.

Here is a montage of his comments, translated through the assistance a highly complex machine called the Caninlinguistic Decoder.
(Note, statistics are correct to within the acceptable margin of error of 1- 400 standard deviations).

6:30 am- "Hey! Where is everyone! It is time to start my day! I have needs! I have rights! I thought this was the land of freedom! What am I do doing in a cage, then ? Helloooooooooo?"

6:45 am - "OK, so I peed on the wet grass for you, for whatever stupid reason you must have. Could you not see the carpet inside was dry and needed watering, dumbkoff? I think the theory of human intelligence is a bunch of hooey. But now, where is breakfast? Get my breakfast!!! Now now now now!!!!! I am a growing dog with places to go and chair legs to turn into sawdust."

7:00 am- "PLAY!!!! Lucky, wanna play? wanna wanna wanna? Honeybun, wanna play? wanna wanna wanna? NO? Well too bad for you cause I do! PLAYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!"

(This cycle of comments repeats throughout the day with minor variations)

A most telling example of the missing selfless gene was when we handed Zach a bone to chew on instead of our ankles. He lit into the bone, gnawing delightedly. The saving grace of a pup is that they are highly distracted so you can change their focus of attention in a nanosecond.
Honeybun watched this transaction with grace, but some sadness. She loves her bone, and she did not wish to disturb Zach. So we handed her a different bone, and she settled happily to gnaw on that. (PS- these are giant bones- femurs of rhinoceros I believe- so no danger of little chips perforating little intestines.)

As soon as Zach saw Honeybun gnawing a bone, he left his bone, and dashed over to grab it out of her mouth. I watched in awe as Honeybun, without a whimper, let him drag it from her. Then she looked mournfully at me as Zach chewed on her bone. So I took the bone Zach had deserted and gave it to Honeybun. Instantly, as Zach saw her chewing it, he pounced on it and wrenched it from Honeybun and then settled his paws across both bones.

I concluded my research study at this point since the data was overwhelmingly conclusive. If you want selfless behavior from dogs....or people... it must be modeled; it must be taught. There is no selfless gene. I imagine at some point, Zach is in a for a lesson on selflessness, but for now, my dogs are treating him as an honored guest.

As Asherel and I were driving to do the grocery shopping, I stopped to let a car from a side alley in to the line in front of me. Traffic was awful and the young mother, with a baby in a carseat, was in for a long wait otherwise.
The mother waved, shocked that she was really being told to cut in, and gave me a thumbs up.
"Now Asherel," I said, "I guarantee that within an hour, that lady will let a car in just like we just did. Acts like that have a way of paying forward."
Asherel acknowledged my statement with the time honored, respectful rolling of her eyes.
But within a minute of my utterance, the lady waved a car from a parking lot into the line of packed cars in front of her.
I smiled at my daughter.

I don't know why God created us without selfless genes, but it is clear that even without the genetic disposition to love others as we love ourselves, it is possible to compensate and learn.
And we have the supreme model, a quiet man guilty of nothing, who hung on a cross in agony on our behalf.

Hebrews 12: 2-3
2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Looking for Hummingbirds

My bible reading yesterday took me by surprise:

"Dogs have surrounded me..."
Psalm 22:16

When a puppy enters a home, all mathematical axioms are null and void. You do not add one dog as many people would think. When a puppy enters the home, you enter a 4th dimension and dogs are everywhere you look. They are in the cabinets, under the rug, behind the couch on the eternal quest to kill themselves by ingesting objects larger than their esophagus or attached to 110 volts. Three dogs do not seem much more than two to the novice.... but trust me. There is an exponential leap- you go from two to 1 million dogs, at least when you are as unskilled and unpracticed in puppies as I am.

So yesterday, needing a few moments of not watching for sparks flying out of little black nostrils, I took the three dogs to sit out front and ponder the universe where the whole world is a puppy's toilet. The dogs all settled in the sun and lay down and it was blissfully quiet, albeit blistering hot. I noticed my Rose of Sharon was in bloom. This is very exciting because hummingbirds will sometimes magically materialize out of nowhere to suck the fragrant blossoms. I sat peacefully and still, knowing the hummingbirds would not come if I was moving. Meanwhile, Lucky was racing up and down the front yard barking at a passerby. Honeybun and Zach were rolling and growling and cavorting right in front of the Rose of Sharon. No matter how still I sat, the hummingbird was not going to search for nectar in the presence of those carnivores. So instead, I watched the dogs.

I felt a momentary stab of self-pity. In the hot July scorching sun, my Rose of Sharon doesn't bloom long and even when it does, the elusive hummingbird is a rare treat. As I was wallowing in self absorption, I saw the puppy leap straight up in the air and land on Honeybun's swishing tail. He attacked it with gusto and Honeybun flopped over and grabbed him with her paws. Lucky whined nearby, remembering how Honeybun used to try to rip his insides out when we first got her. He wasn't at all sure the puppy was safe in her paws, but I think Honeybun remembered the pups that had obviously been snatched from her not long before we found her half dead on the roadside. I think Zach eased a sadness in our Honeybun and I felt certain she would not hurt him. He bit her ear and she head butted him to the ground.

Laughing at their antics, I forgot about the hummingbird. Hummingbirds are a rare treat, a captivating and sought after delicacy of joy. But here before me in my very presence was a gift of present delight, and I didn't want to miss the commonplace beauty searching for the rare.

Ecclesiastes 9:7
Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Delusions of control

The two big dogs were leashed together waiting anxiously at the front door.
The puppy, Zach, displaying uncanny Bible memorization ("and a little child shall lead them" Isaiah 11:6) grabbed hold of the leash and began dragging Lucky and Honeybun around the room.
The big dogs certainly had the strength and the teeth to resist, but they did not. They let the sassy puppy lead them across the living room. Zach, meanwhile, thought he was calling all the shots and he was quite pleased with himself. He zigged and he zagged, tugging the leash in his mouth and the long suffering big dogs hung their heads and let him drag them. I watched, amazed that neither of the older dogs swatted him , or snarled, or reprimanded him at all for his youthful arrogance. Either one of them could easily have killed the little whippersnapper with one snap of their jaws, but instead they mutely let him think he was the one in control.

It was funny, but it made me think of how often I make the same error. The One who has all the power in the universe lets me think I hold my destiny in my hand, if I am just smart enough, or righteous enough, or diligent and patient enough. But I am just a puppy tugging the leash of Heaven at His whim, and for whatever reason, He doesn't squash me like a mosquito.

2 Chronicles 13:12
12 God is with us; he is our leader. His priests with their trumpets will sound the battle cry against you. not fight against the LORD, the God of your fathers, for you will not succeed."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Everyone Join Paws

The most vexing problem of all with the new foster pup occurred yesterday morning. How would I exercise? I always do a 5 mile run or 50 minutes on the elliptical machine, first thing in the morning. This is how I prepare myself for Mrs. Menopausal America, should I ever be nominated. But how could I put Zach, after a whole night in the crate, back in prison? I certainly couldn't leave him unattended while out of the house and the elliptical looking like a giant moving tug toy would crush him.

So I decided to go do laps around the backyard, closing off the dog door so the dogs were out with me. Each lap took me 50 seconds. That means I would have to do 60 laps to equal my regular work out. I really get into the "zen" of running- so seeing the same trees 60 times is not hard on me. And the whole backyard is shady. Hoping the neighbors weren't watching, I began to jog around the perimeter of the backyard. Immediately, Zach began galloping after me. His short little legs had to work hard to stay up wtith me, his big ears flapping like pancakes. Lucky who suspects he is losing in the cute dog contest then trotted at my heel, and Honeybun figuring there must be food involved took the middle position. The pup and Honeybun quickly tired of the parade, he because of short leg fatigue syndrome, she because of no edible rewards forthcoming. But Lucky, lazy Lucky who whenever I run with him on leash drags behind me grudgingly the whole way, trotted beside me nearly the entire 50 minutes. And every time we passed one of Asherel's agility jumps, which was 60 times, Lucky would hop over it.

At regular intervals, after resting a bit, the other dogs would join the parade, but Lucky stayed with me the whole time except for brief periods to scratch and yawn. He stayed right at my heel, wagging his tail. He didn't care that we were just travelling in tight little circles going nowhere, as long as we were together.

There is nothing new under the sun so whether we ran along the Riviera or along the 1/2 perimeter of my yard, eventually we would see it all. And life is one big circle, dust to dust, at least physically. Even spiritually it is the quest to return to where we started, the Creator's side. Lucky seems to have figured out what made any endeavor worthwhile- not the scenery, not the rewards, not the activity itself.... it is all about who you do it with and who you do it for.

Isaiah 34:15-17 (New International Version)

15 The owl will nest there and lay eggs,
she will hatch them, and care for her young under the shadow of her wings;
there also the falcons will gather,
each with its mate.

16 Look in the scroll of the LORD and read:
None of these will be missing,
not one will lack her mate.
For it is his mouth that has given the order,
and his Spirit will gather them together.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Constant Surveillance

We may have a winner in the "name that pup" contest. One clever reader suggested Zachais. For those of you who never taught Sunday school to toddlers, Zachais was a "wee little man, a wee little man was he. He climbed into the sycamore, the Lord he wanted to see", or something like that. This is a very appropriate name for this big eared, short legged pup, and better than the one I was considering which was "Kapotkae hori", Belarusian for "Short Legs". Congratulations Carol M, you are in prime position to win the puppy.

Inexplicably, HCF was not thrilled with my suggestion of Kapotkae Hori. After hoisting this little wire chewing ball of pee and poop filled fluff off on me, they have the gall to suggest that I should not give an artsy name.

I was pretty full of myself after exactly 10 full minutes of caring for the new pup and having not had one accident, and having complete success with training the pup to sit/stay/come. Today I plan to teach him how to read. At any rate, when I wrote to HCF raving about how well I was doing and what a great little pup he is, they told me they were not dumb and were starting me off with an easy one. Then they would build up to Honeybun 2.
While Honeybun is a great dog now, it took us a year of agonizing work to get her from dying vicious dog killer to the sweet creature she is now. I have paid my sacrifice to the Dog Gods.... no more difficult dogs ever for me.

I wrote back to HCF immediately, "Remove the part of your brain that would even consider such a thing."

Anyway, dear readers, this is a pup that is destined for greatness. He loves everyone, and every dog. He is playful, and confident, and has already figured out the dog door leads to the great outdoors. Get in line with the throngs knocking down my door to try to get him first. Check out the videos we made of him (links below) and then be sure to get your application in to .

I won't lie to you however. Puppies are a ton of fun, but they do require constant surveillance. I love the name suggestion that Carol sent because constant surveillance is a skill we should all be honing. I think every one of us should be climbing trees and searching high and low for our Lord. There is nothing more important to be seeking, though watching for pups about to squat into potty-mode runs a close second. And while we are probably calling him Zach, it is ok with me if you want to change his name to Kapotkae hori.

Luke 19:3-5 (New International Version)

3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

For Eternal Reward....I hope.....

We are becoming new parents. This morning a little foster pup will be delivered to us. We have been told by HCF that this will be a good experience, will expand our horizons, will be just what Jesus would want us to do. Our commitment to foster will extend for just ten days, at which point we pray the little pup is adopted or HCF will take over as mama and papa. I am not sure that this is the wisest decision we have ever made, but it is among the cutest.

The little black pup was on the daily euthanasia lists that HCF gets to read while I am reading the comics. (well, I never read the comics, but the antics of our government is close enough....)
While HCF founders sip their morning coffee, they peruse the list. The dogs they are looking at usually have a few days til they walk the long green mile, often only 24 hours. They choose dogs that they think they have room to house or that they hope will quickly be adopted when they don't have room. Since they are always overflowing with dogs, they never really have room, but they snag the pups when they can. The dog stories would drive most people into deep clinical depression which is why I read cheerier news like Iran developing the bomb with intent to blow up my ancestor's homeland.

When I was there volunteering a couple of days ago, HCF founders which I will refer to by their code names, Guilt and Trip, showed me the cute little condemned canines' photos on their computer and asked which one I wanted.
"I want them all, and I can't have any," I said.
"Not to keep," said Guilt.
"Just to foster," said Trip.
"I already saved one dog from death," I said, "Isn't that enough?"
"No," said Guilt and Trip in unison.

When I left, they were still hunched over the computer, discussing which dogs they could save from the list.
"This one, for sure," said Guilt.
"Why that one?" I asked.
"Because no other rescue will take him. He isn't cute, and he's black. No one takes black pups. They want the pretty colors."

When I got home there was a message from Guilt/Trip on my computer.
"We have your pup. We will deliver him Friday with crate, toys, food. You return him on the 17th if he isn't adopted."
I wrote back NO. I said it prettier than that, but the essence of the message was the same.
Guilt/Trip accepted my answer, but then did the bait and switch ploy known to work on any unsuspecting homeschooler-
"It would have been a great experience for Asherel, and she would learn something ."

I prayed about it. I always try to do that, but sometimes don't when I think God might tug me in a direction I would prefer not to go. In the morning, I wrote to Guilt/Trip.
"This is not a yes, and is in no way, shape, or form to be construed as a yes. I just need some facts. How old is the pup, and is he housetrained, and if we did take him, would you without question take him back in 10 days and never ask me to do this again so help you God, cross your heart and hope to die?"
"He is 9 weeks old. He has big ears that stick way out and short little legs. He is a mutant. That's why no one snagged him. He is super friendly, laid back, loves other dogs and people. Hasn't chewed on stuff or messed in his crate yet, but he will poop and pee in your house at some point. He already does pretty well on leash." Then she added the photo. The lady knows how to push compassion buttons.

So our new family member for the next 10 days arrives in an hour. I will post some photos on this blog site, and if you want to adopt him, keep your eyes peeled to where his official adoption info goes up soon. We will have a "name that pup" contest, and the winner gets to keep him!!!!!

Mark 9:41
41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Patient Endurance

I am here to tell you that 6 hours in 95 degree southern sun is enervating. Enervate is from a latin root which means: to weaken by extraction of the sinews. This is highly descriptive of me at the end of the day yesterday. The sun bleached the calcium from my bones and melted my sinews. I was a slimy slug, crawling boneless and completely enervated to my bed last night.

We started our day by shoveling 400 piles of dog poop at Hollow Creek Farm. For those of you who love dogs and want to support a really fantastic and unique rescue farm, they always need volunteers to help move animal excrement. I normally do not mind this task. I breathe through my mouth so that no molecules enter my sensitive olfactory system. But in 95 degree southern sun, invariably I take an inadvertent sniff of the baking collection and the smell alone could fell stronger women than me. When every poop pile was gone that we could see with the inevitable anoxia from taking as few breaths as possible and resultant double vision, we moved on to our next task- trying to tame the wild mustang Sadie. As the owner of HCF pointed out, this is dangerous. This is trying to pet a 2,000 pound weapon with 4 hammers at the end of catapults and bone crushing razors traps at the mouth.... a weapon, I might add, that is not anxious to be petted. (But don't worry Mom, I am being very careful.)

Our job is to try to convince the mustang that people are not monsters and that she should be happy to let us touch her neck and maybe eventually brush her tangled mane. We have been "taming" her for months now, but with my series of injuries and health issues, I have not been out there in quite a while. We had advanced to the point where I could get a halter over her nose and almost to her ears using carrots as bribes, but she has never let me touch her ears. When she saw us, she trotted over. This is a good sign and shows she connects us with kindness, gentleness, and carrots. Lots of carrots.

She quickly shoved her nose in the halter, having lost no ground despite months of not seeing her. At this pace, I expect to have the halter on her by the time I am 106. Asherel groomed the beautiful, but cranky pony Bob (you can see his story on youtube about the evil pony Bob) while I developed patience trying to get near the ears of the wild mustang. After an hour, she not only let me scritch her behind her ears, but I got in two brief strokes of her neck and one of her shoulder.

With this mind numbing degree of success, we staggered back to our AC and car, and headed out to Lake Wylie where Asherel wanted to kayak to a deserted island and practice skimboarding before our ocean vacation. Her skimboard training on the bedroom carpet was good for a first step, but had gone about as far as it could take her.

First we submerged ourselves in the water and then paddled to the island. Since it was midweek, no one was there giving Asherel the opportunity to wipe out without an audience. Most of the time there was spent just learning how to skim the board across the shallow water properly. She stepped on it a grand total of 3 times, and did remain upright for about a foot. She informed me that was enough for today. There is only so much fear and bruising someone can handle in 24 hours.

It struck me that so many of our endeavors require inestimable patience and slow progress. Very little comes quickly or easily to us. It seems most of success in life depends on not giving up. And wearing sunblock.

Revelation 14:12-13
12This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. 13Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on."
"Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

From the Inside Out or Ouside In

I ran a little summer art class yesterday designed to teach kids to draw a variety of animals using basic shapes. Some of the kids had little art experience and a few had a strong art background. I know this because I had been their teacher for years (haha, no ego problem here!).

Anyway, using just squares, rectangles, circles, and triangles, you can draw anything if you can just train yourself to break objects down visually to those parts. Even as a professional artist of some 30 years now, I still draw using this method to set the drawing up.

One of my very talented students had just returned from a scholarship camp with Savannah School of Art and Design- one of the premier art schools in the country. She really hates this method, and I applaud her for willingly attending class and forcing herself to "block" her drawing out this way. She is so talented that she can just draw without using this type of guide, but then runs into problems with perspective or running our of room on her page for the full drawing. Back from the art camp, she had a greater appreciation for "blocking" out shapes this way.

"Is this what they taught you to do?" I asked.
"A little," she responded, "But they also taught us gesture drawing. Blocking shapes is kind of drawing from the outside in, but gesture drawing is building from the inside out."

I love that description and she is absolutely right. I wish I had said it. Since it is my blog I could have lied and attributed that nugget of pithy wisdom to me and no one would have known.... except YOU KNOW WHO. What I love about it is that is shows drawing can be approached from two distinctly opposite beginnings and still end in the same place- a masterpiece that sells for millions and buys that log cabin by a river in the mountains with a pillow top sleep control bed and expensive chocolates on my pillow. And better yet, I love the symbolism of the concept which can be applied to our walks with God.

I think most of us have very similar goals in life that boil down to loving others well and being well loved and figuring out who we are, where are we going, and how do we get there? Furthermore, I believe strongly that God put all those longings in us to direct us to Him.

And here comes the delicious symbol- we can accomplish this in two basic ways. We can grow towards Him from the outside in or from the inside out. Sometimes we don't feel faith, or joy, or love.... but if we act as though we have those qualities, something begins to change inside and sometimes without even knowing how it happens, we do have faith, joy, and love.
On the other hand, sometimes all those outer trappings of who we are are disturbingly horrid and no one would ever know that deep within us, a compassionate Creator has planted a seed that is slowly growing and will one day, maybe far far in the future, sprout buds of hope and joy and belief, transforming us from the inside out.

In either case, I almost always end up with a student in tears sometime in the class.
"But I hate it!!!" they wail, "It doesn't look anything like a horse!!!" And it doesn't. During the process of growing a drawing, it often looks awful. It often only comes together in the very end. My more mature students have come to understand that.

So I wonder why I am so impatient with God's creation.
"But Father!! I hate it! It doesn't look anything like justice, or love, or kindness."
"Patience," He counsels, "It will, in the end, it will."

Luke 11:39-41 (New International Version)

39Then the Lord said to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.