Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Harvest

It is almost apple picking time. The fall is my favorite season, I think. Perhaps that is just because it is the season of life I am in. But I love the whole wonder and symbol of gathering the harvest. The slight chill in the air, the corn as high as an elephant's eye, the poisonous snakes all taking their venom off to a long winter's nap....

It is a season of expectation and realization. That apple has been slowly maturing all summer, growing bigger and juicier and more vibrantly colored. The first bite into its ripened flesh might crunch into succulent firm and sweet deliciousness, or it might unwittingly dissect a worm and taste bitter and rotten. You can't always tell from the outside. I know from personal experience that there is little as horrifying as taking that first bite, and seeing half a worm among your teeth marks.

I am at the age of the harvest. My children, those little apples of my eye, are almost ripe. The world is ready to bite into them, and it still remains to be seen if they are full of sweetness and the fruit of God's spirit within.... or not. Matt had his official first day of Law School yesterday. He called me after his first class, brimming over with joy and excitement. He said the professor was fantastic, the material riveting and he felt confident he could do this. And he thanked me for my help with the wedding plans. I am pretty sure this ripening apple is a good one.

Sometimes the message God sends me in the morning is simple. It is just one of gratitude and joy. Be thankful, for the harvest is good.

Psalm 85:11-13 (New International Version)

11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.

12 The LORD will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.

13 Righteousness goes before him
and prepares the way for his steps.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Let the Buyer Beware

The honeymoon confirmation papers came to me, and I read them over to be sure that all is as I'd arranged. The first paragraph assures me that the resort is situated on the finest beach in Cancun, with the happy couple guaranteed glorious moonlight dancing on the water as they sip Tequila on their private balcony. All the food and drink they care to consume is at their beck and call, as well as scuba lessons, heated pools, private jacuzzi, and a special honeymoon candlelight dinner. I am sorely tempted to ditch the happy couple and just go myself.

Then one arrives at paragraph two.
It is highly advisable the happy couple drinks bottled water only. This is because the happy couple may prefer to spend their time somewhere other than in the bathroom expelling the poison that Mexican water harbors.

In addition, the happy couple is forewarned that most of Cancun citizens are "severely impoverished". They are advised to wipe the remnants of lobster tail butter dripping off their mouth and chin before leaving the grounds of the resort. Furthermore, unlike typical American hotels, some Mexican resorts do not provide what we may consider basics, like toilet paper. This behooves the happy couple to pay strict attention to warning number one, about not drinking the water. And my favorite one- "As travel security restrictions tighten"..... excuse me? Why are travel security restrictions tightening? I don't recall being warned about this while booking the very safe resort in Cancun.

There are often dangers wrapped in nice packages. Have you ever watched the medicine commercials on TV? The benefits of the newfangled drugs are mentioned in the first ten seconds, and then for the next 3 minutes, a speed talker enumerates the 5,000 risks associated with taking the medicine, always ending in the unlikely but real possibility of death.

The Bible is a book of hope. We are reminded that our lives should not be spent in fear and that we should seize hold of the One who has overcome death, and if we place our faith and trust in Him, we will have eternal life. This is comforting.... but even God throws in a caveat, a warning, a list of side effects of living that we should be cognizant of. The enemy prowls around like a lion, waiting to devour us. This would be bad enough, but he doesn't present himself as a lion. He presents himself as a harmless kitty cat. His greatest danger is that you don't think you are in danger.

Like last night..... I wanted to watch the Emmy awards because I wanted some dress ideas for the wedding. And I like Jimmy Fallon, who was hosting. Asherel and I settled down to watch, and pretty soon the sexual jokes, and disgusting clips from disgusting shows were bulleting across the screen like flak. People think this is entertainment? This is sick sick sick, I thought. We turned it off, though Jimmy Fallon was trying to keep it above the cesspool level. But I know millions of people watch that sewerage and consider it healthy fare, don't think the insidious danger of such mind pollution is harmful.

Try not watching TV for a year or two, and then turn it on. The moral filth of it is shocking unless you are fed a little of it every day, and come to think this is the way it should be. ick.

But I did get some good dress ideas about what not to wear, and that is sometimes of great value. Meanwhile, I forwarded the honeymoon info sheet on to my beloved son and fiancee.
I highlighted the section that said calls to the United States are free from the resort. And for a wedding gift, I will get them a case of bottled water and toilet paper.

Matthew 7:15 (NIV)
"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Was I just insulted?

I glanced at the bill for the oil change. It was $10 cheaper than the stated price.
Even before I could wrestle with my conscience over the fact that I had been undercharged, the nice young man confirmed my bill total, "with the senior discount."
At first I wasn't sure I heard him correctly due to my poor hearing, which is not because I am a senior, because I am not, but because I had multiple ear infections as a child which was not 65 years ago.

"Senior discount?" I asked, my voice only wavering a little.
"10% off for old fogies like yourself," he said smiling. Or that is what my tortured mind heard.
"Just how old do you have to be to get this so called senior discount?!" I cackled.
He smiled politely, the way the waitresses do when I ask why they don't want to see my ID when I order a glass of wine with dinner.
I am not sure I am seeing the glass half full on this one
"Do I have to accept this "senior" discount?" I asked.
He looked confused, "Well, are you saying you want to pay extra?"
"No, I am saying I want the discount for 'hot, aging beautifully, fit and trim just past the bloom of youth people.' "
"Let me see if we have one of those to offer, " he said doubtfully.
"If you don't offer that discount, I may have to take my business elsewhere."
His co-worker behind the desk leaned over and whispered, "Sometimes there are mood swings in these seniors.... be careful."
"Look, m'am," he said, "The best I can offer on our list of available discounts is 'good effort aging with grace', but it is only 5% off.
"I'll take it," I grumbled, "If it is the best you can do. How old are you anyway? Isn't it naptime for kids your age?"

OK, that is not quite how it went down, but I was honestly given the senior discount without being asked my age. Maybe the discount starts at age 50, or maybe the guy could just tell we needed the financial break. I don't know, but it was not as delightful a moment of frugality as one might expect. Do I really look like a senior? Somehow I keep hoping that what I see in the mirror is just the result of fluorescent lighting.

God reminds me over and over again that He honors gray hair and wrinkles. He coaxes me to remember that physical beauty is fleeting (boy is it ever!) but character can grow more beautiful with every passing year. With age comes wisdom, and a growing disenchantment with the superficial pursuits of youth, to the deeper more eternal hopes and goals of the aged.
At least, that is what is supposed to happen. And it does happen when the focus is forced to shift from physical strength and loveliness to spiritual character which never dies, but is only transformed.

"I have an idea," I told the mechanic behind the counter, "I will accept the discount if you put a little asterisk beside the senior label there. Just call it ' walking a long time with Jesus'.
The discount on that adds up to eternal savings," I added.

Proverbs 16:31 (New International Version)

31 Gray hair is a crown of splendor;
it is attained by a righteous life.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Legacy to Covet

Yesterday morning I got an email that a friend's mom had died. In the inevitable pain and flurry of chaos and grief surrounding the death of a beloved soul, my dear friend had thought she'd emailed me earlier but had not. I shot back an email asking the time/place of the funeral. Asherel and I were in the midst of our school morning, and she had her dog walking job at noon. We had a couple of hours, though the funeral was an hour away.
"If we hurry, we can do this," I said, and we dashed off to walk dogs, eat lunch, and get dressed. Bless dear Karissa who had gone shopping with and talked Asherel into buying a lovely dress last week. She therefore actually had an appropriate dress to wear now.

As we headed to the funeral, I tried to prep Asherel who had never been to a funeral. I myself have been to very few. Maybe in fact, only two. I told her there really is nothing you can say that will help. The best thing you can do is just be there with them in their pain, and tell them how sorry you are. I told her about how when my good highschool friend's grandma had died, I had no idea what to say, so I didn't say anything. I just pretended it hadn't happened. My friend was understandably very hurt by that ignorant response.
"It will be sad and it will be hard," I told Asherel, "But it is very important that we are there, and that we hug our friends." (the granddaughter is one of Asherel's best friends, though since they moved an hour away, we see them rarely.)

I knew the grandmother. We called her Nana, like her family. Matt is good friends with one of the brilliant sons of the family, and we had traveled to math meets together for years. Nana always came along. She was unfailingly upbeat, and joyful, and smiling. She also was always knitting. She would knit little socks for premature babies. It was one of her little ministries to show God's love to a small part of His kingdom. Nana would often answer me, when I asked how she was doing, "As well as could be expected for 85....but God is good. I have my family all around me, and God loves me....what more do I need?" She said the same thing at age 86, and 87.... and so on til she died at age 91 Wednesday.(or just shy of 91... not certain of her age.)

Piece by piece, as the funeral progressed, the picture I had of Nana was embellished, beginning with her love of music. She had wanted her granddaughter, Asherel's beloved friend, to sing "Jesus Loves Me," at her funeral. So thin and grieving little Caroline stood before the full church, and with no musical accompaniment except her lovely voice, she sang those words that Nana had lived and believed for 91 years. It was then that I discovered I had packed no tissues in my purse.

Nana's last months had been bedridden, and wracked with pain and nausea. It had not been easy for her or the family. But her comfort was always that God was her friend and her family was near. It was all she wanted, and she recognized it was all she needed.

As I watched the family at the front, their arms all encircling each other, heads sometimes dipping to lie on the shoulder of the one next to them, I thought of what a tremendous legacy Nana had left. She had been a stalwart model of faith and love of God being poured out on others, and the immediate, palpable result was this family in front of me, holding each other up.
Her faith, simple and profound had been perfectly stated in the well known song "Jesus loves me, this I know" and poured over the people gathering to say goodbye.

It is the legacy I would want more than anything to leave in my wake. If God grants me 4o more years, I pray I could grow to be more like Nana.

John 15:10-11
Christ says, 'If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,
just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I
have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that
your joy may be complete.'

Matthew 25:23
23"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, August 27, 2010

The Mother of Missteps......

With my job as honeymoon booker completed successfully, I thought it might be wise to peruse the duties of the Mother of the Groom, hereafter to be referred to as MOG. From everything I have been told, MOG doesn't do much but wring her hands and shut her mouth. So you can imagine my surprise when I realized I have already blown it, not two weeks into the engagement.

I went to weddingscanbetricky.com and discovered a whole list of things the MOG should know. First of all, I was supposed to send a nice card to the bride's family. Well, I did indeed do this, but I did it the moment after I received a nice card from the bride's family. I had been so consumed with starting homeschool, arranging the honeymoon, and cooking/cleaning for the happy couple to arrive for the past weekend that I had put off the lovely welcoming card that I was supposed to send first.
Faux Pas number one.

My wedding consultant Holly assures me that the bride's family probably doesn't hate me yet. She warned me that I cannot afford too many of these slips however.

Two well wishers in the past week had greeted me as "Mother of the groom in beige". Given my fine intellect, I surmised this meant that MOG's wear beige. So Asherel and I went out looking for a beige dress, since now all the summer gowns would be on sale. This seemed sensible and frugal to me.

Holly was horrified, "EVERYONE knows the mother of the bride gets her dress first!" she ranted, "EVERYONE!!! You know that, don't you?" I detected a plaintive gasp of despair in her last sentence.
I am ashamed to admit I didn't know that. I did know that the mothers don't wear white and don't look like they are trying to upstage the bride, if that were even remotely possible in my case..... but now this new rule seems to be fraught with complications.
"How do I know when the mother of the bride (MOB) gets her dress?" I asked.
But Holly didn't answer because she had read my next email and realized I was hunting for beige, "NO beige, or tans, or ivories.... you will look like a bride wannabe!" she screeched,"And it doesn't matter now anyway because you DO NOT get your dress before the MOB. You can not clash with the MOB, upstage the bride, or dress like the bridesmaids or you will look like a fool."

I closed the emails with Holly as I was getting a headache. I went to a new website, fauxpasbegone.com . I am responsible for booking the block of hotel rooms for the groom's family and guests, and I must attend the wedding shower. These I actually did know. I also must match the formality of my dress to the MOB. I may offer help but be careful to back off and not offer any opinion. Colors for MOG dresses according to this site can be beige or tan....and even black! Black is no longer just for mourning.

"Black!" wrote Holly, "Only if you want the bride's family never to speak to you again for your entire life. But it doesn't matter - as EVERYONE knows the MOB buys her dress first. Comon, you can do this. It is not rocket science."

No, it is not. Rocket science is easy compared to this. For my own wedding I didn't know any of the rules either....nor did I care. We got married in my backyard, under a lovely arbor surrounded by the wildflower trails my mother had lovingly transplanted from nearby forests. I didn't know that dressing the groom's men in lime green was tacky. I liked green. I wonder if any of them wore their suits again?

Mom tells me she overheard one aunt mumbling the entire time, "It just isn't done this way." My sister made my wedding cake, which melted the night before the wedding. I thought the streams of rainbow color down the sides were beautiful.

"Just ask Karissa," Holly advised, "She will tell you what to do."
"I did," I told her,"She told me to wear whatever I wanted. She told me she thought my belly packs were cute."
And convenient too..... I am sure I will need to carry a full box of tissues. I wonder if my belly pack should match the bridesmaid's dress? I still can't find that specific instruction in my fauxpasbegone.com site.

In the end, none of it matters, not really. I know what really matters is that love is sanctified, and God's favor rests on those who love Him. I will do whatever it takes to keep from embarrassing my son and his bride, because I love them. Given my past history, I am not confident I will succeed....but it does make me think of how the law, the rules laid down by God, can never be fulfilled perfectly by any of us. I am not alone in this one. We all blow it, usually by breakfast. So God sent His own little Faux Pas Be Gone site- it is in dismal place called Calvary where the penalty for all my sin was paid.

Isaiah 62:5
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

sunset or sunrise?

Dear old Grandma could not be budged from Florida...not yet. Her sons each grabbed a leg and an arm, but she managed to sink her teeth into the door frame and no matter how hard they pulled she was unyielding.

She is frail and should not be living alone, in our opinion, but no sign of fraility was apparent as she refused to leave her home.

My husband Arvo and his brother, R, both dropped to the floor in a puddle of defeat and begged her to see reason. Her mind is as whip sharp as it always was, and despite all the daily struggle of managing a home, she would not opt for the cushy life of someone else caring for her. Not yet.

I advised they get a care provider to come to the home instead. I will start making calls after I finish booking the honeymoon for the newly soon to be married son.

I can't help but find it ironic that at the same moment in my life, I am watching the excited couple about to begin the journey into adulthood, and the tired old woman who is nearing its completion. One is filled with the hope of expectation; the other with the peace of fulfillment. One is making dreams; and the other is reconciling herself to dreams unrealized. One plans for a spectacular beginning; one hopes for a gentle and peaceful end. One is blithely exploding into a new phase of independence; while the other is gently succumbing to unwelcome dependence. I stand straddled between both worlds- a beginning and an ending longing to ease the struggles of both.

Funny how in the natural world, sunrise and sunset are interchangeable. They look the same. And God, who painted the world in exactly the right colors is telling me, "They are the same." They occur because we are on a circular path, but it is the same sun we see rising in the morning as we see setting in the evening. Our perspective may be different, but the sun is immutable.

The same soul that glowed in Grandma at the start of her days will glow in her at the end. The same God that created her and patted her back as she skipped off to her life will gently hold her gnarled hand and pull her back to His everlasting embrace when her journey ends. The same God will shout, "Safe travels!" to the bounding young couple who can barely restrain the enthusiasm for life, as the God who whispers, "Well done, Welcome home" to His weary servant upon her shuffling return.

It is a message of hope to me, that the sunrise and sunset are bathed in the same glorious strokes of warm glowing reds and magentas as a familiar Voice beckons me draw near. It is the same Voice that coaxed me to be brave when the sun first bathed my face, as well as when it casts its last beam upon my back.

Amos 4: 12-13
12 "Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel,
and because I will do this to you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel."

13 He who forms the mountains,
creates the wind,
and reveals his thoughts to man,
he who turns dawn to darkness,
and treads the high places of the earth—
the LORD God Almighty is his name.

Jeremiah 24:7 (NIV)
I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wisdom from A Rocking Chair

The gift of time.... the willingness to sit with another tangled mess of heart and nerve bundles, and lend an ear. If more of us would do that, we could put psychologists out of business. I am not on a campaign to obliterate a profession.... I just have been thinking about the lost art of hospitality. At least...lost to me.

My Bible study yesterday was about stopping everything to spend time extending hospitality to others, welcoming them in my home, learning how to relax enough to serve a simple meal in a perhaps not so spotless home and not be reluctant because the house is not clean, or I have nothing spectacular to feed them with.

My sister hates it when people greet her telling her how busy they are. I understand that response...both responses. First, I really am busy, but secondly, I recognize that comment is sometimes a defense against having to sit down and spend too much time with anyone. It is a big emotional stop sign to relationship.

I have 5 rocking chairs in my home. Five! They are always empty, but they are always posed in a stance of readiness. They are ready to be hospitable. I heard them chatting with each other yesterday.

"Hey Bentwood, I almost thought I had a taker yesterday."
"Oh really? A stranger?"
"An acquaintance, in fact a pair of them. They stopped by, but she never asked them in."
"Figures. Why not?"
"Well it was not totally her fault."
"No, it never is. What was it this time?"
"The usual. Well first the dogs of course went ballistic. She shot them several times with the water gun. Honeybun didn't play dead for a good 3 minutes. I think it was just easier to step out onto the porch."
"So Sunlight Rocker got a customer, then!?"
"Well no... she knew she had 3 more hours of homeschool to go so she didn't offer them a seat."
"Yeh, I know the routine."
"What's weird is she stood there chatting half an hour, with Sunlight Rocker and Spider Web Rocker both begging the humans to settle their bottoms.... but they all stood around. I suspect she was afraid the whole afternoon might disappear if they settled down."
"If only she had the ability to think like a rocking chair."
"I know, just open empty arms, beckon with a soft and coaxing repetitive plea, 'come rock with me, come rock with me...stay stay stay.... I will listen listen listen'."

I glared at my rockers. They stilled their mutinous chant. It is not that I don't want to be the person they wish I were. I really don't know how to satisfy the demands of just getting through the requirements of the day and extending hospitality to others. But I remember how Jesus chastised Martha when she was bustling about preparing the home and dinner for guests while Mary sat like a lazy, unproductive lump at Jesus' feet, listening to Him. He told Martha that Mary had chosen the better way. That story always throws me for a loop. If Martha had been like Mary, the guests would have no food or clean sheets upon which to lay their heads. The doghair would have been piling up like snowdrifts in a storm and the cockroaches would've outnumbered the guests. How can we all be Marys? Don't we need Marthas?

"She overthinks things," whispered the Amish rocker.
"I heard that!" I shouted.

Luke 10: 38-42
38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

41"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, 42but only one thing is needed.Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dubious Choices

Helping book the honeymoon is risky business. We knew owning a timeshare had future benefits and that manifested itself when Matt announced he wanted to honeymoon somewhere outside the safety of the land of the free. We could trade our highly desirable summer week in Hilton Head and send Matt and Karissa anywhere in the world. All we'd need is airfare.

"Is Cancun safe?" I asked my travel adviser, as the top picks of the happy couple were mostly in Cancun.
"Safe.... as in how do you mean safe?" he asked.
I paused. This was already not quite the answer I was going for.
He continued, "Oh you mean that unfortunate incident."
"Yes," I said, having no idea what that "unfortunate" incident was.
"That was an example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said, "If your honeymooners stay in the right place at the right time, they should be fine."
"Well, that is what I want to know. Is Cancun the right place at the right time?"
"We have no travel restrictions from the State department," he answered.
Why did I get an uncomfortable feeling he was hedging?
"If they stay in the resorts, they will be fine," he offered in the silence.
"And if not?"
"They should definitely avoid the border towns," he said, "And going out of the resort alone like in that unfortunate incident."
I just could not bear to ask about the unfortunate incident.
"Can you see if we can find a match for them from their top 6 list?" I asked, moving on.
"Now they should not go to Jamaica," he continued. (This was not on their list. He just seemed fixated on avoiding future unfortunate incidents.)
"Nor Aruba except in a few specific resorts. And of course you know that Iran might be wise to avoid til that nuclear reactor dust settles."
"I hear parts of Afghanistan are lovely," I egged him on.
"I can't tell you much about the resorts there," he admitted, "Our members have not requested that often."
"Back to their top 6 list," I suggested.
"Well, hahahahahah, oh forgive me. Are you a millionaire?"
"Well number one is nice, quite nice in fact. This is where the King of Jordan stays when he vacations."
"Oh, you mean it is not just an even trade for our Hilton Head week?"
There was a polite chuckling of mirth, and then he explained about the "all inclusive" trap. This means many of the better resorts add on a fee that is mandatory, but will then cover all drinks and food and some activities as well. For our frugal couple, the fee at their #1 choice was $1800 a day. Yes, I kid you not.... a day. Please understand, Matt and Karissa had no idea what the fee was or even that there was a fee. All they knew was that choice #1 looked nice. I guess they were right.
"Move on to choice #2," I choked.
"Oh, this is also a very nice choice," he said, "But it is never available."
"Why is it in the magazine then?" I asked.
"To lure innocent suckers like you to buy timeshares," he answered, or would have anyway if he were honest. Instead he said that about every 10 years one unit becomes available.
"I don't think they want to wait 10 years for their honeymoon," I said.
"Oh of course, i can understand that! I was young once," he said.
"Can we move onto choice #3?" I begged before I was treated to the impending discussion of his once youthful love.
There was again a disturbing pause.
"Well," he drawled finally,"This is a good choice if they want to pack light."
"What do you mean?"
"Are they aware clothes are optional at this resort?", then he quickly calculated that it was conceivable we were "that kind" of people, and backpedalled.
"I mean, many folks like this atmosphere, but I might worry that on a honeymoon it could cause fights. Hey hubby, why are you looking at those silicon inflated....."

You get the drift. Choice #5 was available, affordable, and "should be" safe. We put that one on hold.

Maybe choices are not a good thing. This of course will start my father on his discussion that " so called" "free will" is a crock. If an all knowing all loving God predestines and already knows what you will choose before you choose it, how can it be "free will"? I would love to be able to argue this concept and settle it right here and now, but I am still trying to wrap my brain around what is the best honeymoon choice on our budget that will not lead to unfortunate incidents.

But that is not a bad illustration of free will. I may know what my son will choose, because I raised him and I know he doesn't want to suck our generosity dry, as then he would have to support us in our old age. I know he wants to keep himself and his bride safe from unfortunate incidents. I could force a choice on them, and say take it or leave it, but like God, I won't. I will give them the freedom to choose, and hope they are wise in the exercise of that freedom. Of course the choices that God sets before us have eternal consequence, and are of much more import than where we should honeymoon. He could force us to believe in Him, obey Him, love Him.... but instead He lets us choose. He longs for us to choose Him, but to His infinite grief, many times we do not. I think His greatest sacrifice is letting us walk away, especially when He already knows whether we intend to walk back or not.

But I am not God, and like it or not, my beloved son and prospective new daughter will not be going anywhere that requires barbed wire around their bungalow, or mine sweeping before breakfast.

Joshua 24:15 (New International Version)

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, August 23, 2010

The Basket in the Bulrushes

I'm blowing her cover, but Asherel transported a pond snail across state lines and is harboring the alien life form in a small aquarium in her room. She claims her dad never technically said she could not bring it home from the Maury river, while he clearly forbade the little frog she saw there from joining our menagerie. So the snail, whose name is something like Ferdinand Charles Maury Alexander III, came from Virginia to Charlotte in her water bottle.

She researched the needs of a pond snail and told me it needed fresh river water twice a week. And lettuce. And a place it could crawl out above water so it could study Philosophy and train for a promising career. She set about building it a series of ramps out of duct tape that it could slither up to reach a platform where it could breathe dry air in its little aquarium and watch the world unfiltered through water with its beady little eye stalks.

For the "fresh" water, filled with all the microbes a pond snail considers delicacies, I saw an opportunity to trick Asherel into healthy outdoor activity. We would ride our bikes to the Greenway each week and collect creek water. I got out a water bottle for our catch-pan, and she recoiled.
"Not nearly big enough!" she said, "Ferdinand Charles Maury Alexander the III needs a complete change of water in his aquarium."
We foraged and found a huge old plastic dog bone container with a nice screw top. It didn't fit in my bike basket but we squished it halfway in and started off, the dogs watching us morosely. All they knew is a dog bone container filled with bones had been emptied to another container that was not their stomach.
"Bring duct tape," I told Asherel, since the container top was a little smashed.

Fortunately, the creek was quite full from recent rain, but the banks down to the creek were too steep for us to climb.
We paused on the edge of the creek and pondered this dilemma. Then my child, trained in Destination Imagination to use common objects to solve problems saw my bungee cord on the back of my bike.
"We could hook the bungee cord and lower the jar down," she said.
"But it will just slip off when it is filled with water. Water is heavy," I added.
"Then we can duct tape the bungee cord on!" she proclaimed happily.
She set about securing the bungee cord around the lip of the jar.
Other bicyclists passed by on the greenway trail, and swerved as they craned their necks wondering what kind of creature we must be after or what newfangled fishing pole we were constructing. Several wondered where they could buy one for themselves.

Asherel lowered the bungee jar into the water, where it settled.... and floated.
"Push it down!" she called, "Get a stick!" As I tipped its lip underwater, it quickly gurgled and filled.
"Lift!" commanded the Operations Manager.
As she pulled up, the bungee cord did what all bungee cords are designed to do...stretched.
The water was quite heavy. We joined forces and together hauled with all our might. Slowly the huge jar rose through the air. The duct tape held. With sweat dripping off our chins, we successfully hauled the water jar to shore.
"The Eagle has landed!" I cried.

Of course, the obvious next question was, "Now what?"
The 50 pound jar of water would not fit in my basket and would throw my balance off even if it could fit. I had a back rack , but the jar was tall and all I had was duct tape, and a bungee cord.
"Duct tape it to the rack!!!" called Asherel.
So she balanced it on my bike while we first bungeed it down. Of course since the jar was rounded, each time I bungeed one side the jar would roll from under the stretchy cord.
"Do it like a package string, criss-cross it," said the technical advisor to the mission.
That worked, though I knew with one bump the bungee would shift and the 100 pound jar of water would go tumbling.
"Now duct tape the bungee in place," said Asherel.
I did so, and mounted my bike. The jar of water weighed more than me.
We pedaled home slowly. The bungee/duct tape securing system held.
Asherel rushed inside to bring the microorganic feast to the lanquishing Ferdinand Charles Maury Alexander III.

It reminded me, as we lifted the basket of lifegiving protozoans from the river, that another clever young girl and her mother had once used creative Destination Imagination type problem solving to save a life. Instead of pulling a basket out of the river, they devised a clever basket to put something in the river, to keep it safe, and dry. They soothed the crying child as they lined his new home with pitch and laid soft plants against the tar for a dry and gentle cradle. Then they sent baby Moses afloat, but they watched and trusted that God would keep His hand on the vessel and bring their baby safely to the place he was meant to be. And the floating baby Moses was noticed by the Pharoah's daughter, pulled out of the shallow water where the basket bobbed in the bulrushes, and Moses was saved. Raised in a palace, it was Moses who one day would lead God's people out of slavery, and start them on the path back to God, the Promised Land.

All because a clever woman knew how to use duct tape and a jar....
well ok, bulrushes and tar but only because duct tape hadn't yet been invented.

Anyway, there are a lot of major changes in the wind in our life right now.... and usually that is true of most people. Alot of those things are scary, and we don't really know how we will manage- emotionally, financially, physically....
But if duct tape and bungee cords can haul a 500 pound jar of water and if tender reeds and pitch tar can be woven together to save a People....
there is nothing, nothing we can't accomplish when God is for us and our heart is stayed on serving Him.

Meanwhile, Ferdinand Charles Maury Alexander III is enjoying his organic soup for breakfast.

Romans 8: 31-32
31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The River Runs Through It

The front door clicked shut and I stood there alone. The chaos, balloons, gifts, laughter of our newly engaged son and fiancee as they returned to school settled like dust in the empty silence. Simultaneously, Arvo also left for 4 days to hopefully convince his feeble mother she needs to return with him to our home where we can care for her, or at least settle her in a nearby apartment where we can help her rather than her unsafe current situation living all alone 10 hours away.

So the suddenly tomblike house held only me and Asherel and of course the dogs.
"Let's go do something fun," I told my sidekick, trying to shove depression aside.
We packed the kayaks in the car and headed off to Landsford Canal State park, where the Catawba river has a few miles of placid waters. I had been assured by a fellow kayaker that I could kayak upstream against the current for miles from that park and there would be no rapids to puncture or manhandle my inflatable kayak. "It is always calm and placid in that section."

So it was a great surprise when we pulled into the stunningly gorgeous park to see a raging river speeding over rocks and somersaulting in a spray of kayak crunching whitewater. I would call it magnificent, breathtaking, exciting.... but not placid.
We had driven an hour and lugged our kayaks to the shore already. How could we not go in.... but .... how could we safely go in? Now to the downstream side were obviously class 2 and 3 rapids that I knew we could not do. But to the upstream side, while the current looked very strong, there were no rapids. I hate it when the choice is between certain death, or probable death. I remembered that the old timer whom we had talked to a few weeks back had told us that the river current looked very fast, but that even he had been able to canoe upriver in all but flood stage water.

"Let me go in and see if I can paddle upstream a little ways, and then I will let you know if I think you can do it too," I said.
Several people picnicking there came to the shore with worried looks, asking if I needed help and would I be ok?
"I hope so," I said.
I stepped in off the bank expecting ankle deep water, but it came up over my knee. I had tied the kayak and paddle to me so at least we would all scrape our skin off together should we be carried downstream. I hopped in the boat.
"The river is really high," called one kind woman, "You know, flooded by the storm last night."
OH oh.
"all but flood stage water...." he had said......
I began to paddle like a lawn ornament whirling in the wind as the current snatched me.

Just like the old man had told me, the kayak skimmed upstream and as long as I kept paddling, it was fine. Just past the launch point, the water became much calmer. We could do this.

So I helped Asherel get her boat in and ordered her to "paddle hard til you get past that curve... it gets easier."
She did so and we both were soon past the raging gurgling area and onto one of the most magnificent stretches of wide river beauty I had ever seen. We knew an eagle pair lived near this park, and I heard what sounded like eagles in the distance. I saw a large bird high overhead circling on an updraft- an eagle or hawk. Maybe osprey. Huge herons were fishing along the shore. A giant gar surfaced to snatch a bug. Turtles poked pointed snouts above the water watching us glide by. Both shores were lined with deep verdant green forests. The silence was only punctured by the splash of our paddles. It was glorious. It had been worth the momentary brush with danger.

We had been warned to stay near shore as the river was calmer there, but I called out to Asherel to avoid overhanging limbs right by the shore as hornets loved to build nests right over the water.
"Like this one?" she asked as she came close to scraping through it. It was nearly hidden by the thick foliage.
"Yes like that one, paddle hard and move away from that."
It was a huge hornet nest, probably with enough hornets inside to win the war in Iraq.

Asherel was less concerned about the hornet's nest than she was about the need to paddle continuously against the current and how far did we intend to go? I promised her that the downstream ride would be worth all this effort, but I don't think she believed me, and in fact, I think she thought it might be worth it to just end it now at the Hornet's nest.

We did finally turn back. I did so regretfully wondering if I would ever find someone willing to kayak with me as long as I wanted to, and Asherel wondering if she would ever find someone willing to kayak with her as briefly as she wanted to. But the current grabbed us and with no effort we were shooting downstream.
"Now this is fun!" called out Asherel.
"Yes but you have to go upstream to be able to do the downstream!" I reminded her.

And that is the big lesson of the river to me. Life is a lot of work sometimes. It is an upstream struggle, filled with beauty but also with booby traps along the way that threaten to sting you. You have to be constantly vigilant while maintaining a sense of wonder and awe. And if you are willing to endure, and maintain faith that you can persevere, when you are beckoned to return to the place where your journey began, to the One who created the need for the journey, it will be effortless joy. You are carried on a current of redemption.

Psalm 46: 4-5

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

You are my song

I am teaching Asherel to play guitar. Those of you who know me may be somewhat surprised as you know I myself don't play guitar. (Lack of knowledge has not hampered my ability to teach advanced algebra, chemistry, spanish, or world history either....)

When I was a little girl, my mom was very proud of telling us that she taught golf.
"But you don't play golf!" I declared, baffled.
"I know," she admitted, "So I always learned what I would teach before each lesson. I stayed one lesson ahead of them."
I guess that had more of an impact on me than I realized and helped solidify my educational philosophy. I will try to summarize that complex thought in a simple subject/predicate construction:
Education is the fine art of knowing just one more thing than the student and being able to impart that one more thing with such confidence that a can-do attitude prevails in both student and the one posing as teacher. The goal of all education is to instill in the student the desire to learn and the belief that one can learn anything one needs to by going to the proper resources given enough time, perseverance and reservoir of tears.

So armed with nothing but desire, enthusiasm, and a guitar, I began daily instruction with Asherel. I had been taught the basic chords many years ago, but then got interrupted with my musical progress by babies, and mortgages, and accumulating dust bunnies and had to take a twenty year break. Also, while mastering the chords was not all that difficult.... unfortunately I was somewhat tone deaf, thus tuning the guitar put me over the edge. So as long as it stayed in tune, I practiced, but when the guitar went so badly out of tune that the sounds emanating from it were painful to even my ears, I laid it down never to pick it up again.

Asherel listened to the first C chord I strummed, and with her fine ear declared, "It needs tuning. There's an App for that!"
For the other old fogies out there, an "app" means an "application for an iPhone, iPod, or iPad which will allow the device to do miraculous things, including, it turns out, tune a guitar.
And indeed, all I had to do was pluck the string, and turn the tuning key till the bar graph showed the line in the green area on the iPod. When we finished and played the C chord, it was perfectly tuned.

We found a guide that showed us the easiest and most common chords, and set about learning them. What many people don't know about learning to play the guitar is that the strings are quite similar to long razor blades on tender finger tips. Within minutes, deep throbbing creases were embedded in all our fingers, but we mastered the C and G chord. We could only practice about 5 minutes a day as that was the threshold of our pain tolerance, but I assured her that we would develop calluses on our finger tips, and would soon play music pain free, which is the goal of all fine musicians.

After we had learned 4 chords, we had enough knowledge to play "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord." I would shout out the chord and we would take about 5 minutes to get our fingers in place. Then we would sing the next few words, and I would shout out the next chord and it would take again 5 minutes to get our fingers in place, and so on. The song took 5 hours to complete, but we felt accomplished. Each day we practiced that song for as long as our fingers would hold out. I didn't mind singing it slowly since the words have always been among my favorite, especially the line, "When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say, Blessed be the name of the Lord...."

When everyone was out of the house yesterday, I finished my work and then pulled out the guitar. I sat in the beam of our sun tube and nestled the guitar on my lap. All alone, except for
the dogs who cocked an ear and listened, I played the song. My voice, never strong to begin with has deteriorated with age, and it crackled over the notes I couldn't quite sustain, but the words resonated in my soul and I understood the Bible verse , "Lord, you are my song." The song is the culmination of practice, struggle, perseverance, poetry, delight, despair, pain, all coalescing into the tune of a spirit calling out to its Creator. And somehow, in the silence of my home, that broken, and out of tune worship is echoed back into my ears, as God in all His wonder makes it, beautiful and perfect.

Until of course I had to play an F chord, but that too can be overcome someday.

Exodus 15:2
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him.

Friday, August 20, 2010

My personal adviser

My sister called with effusive congratulation and delight about Matt's engagement. She also subtly began asking seemingly innocuous questions. Somehow, though Holly and I did emerge from the same set of parents, she came out of it knowing all of Emily Post's etiquette as well as how to put on makeup. She knew that while I had safely not sabotaged Matt's engagement thus far, I had only known about it for 24 hours and she was quite certain that a major blunder was sure to spew uncontrollably from my corner.

She is right to be concerned. I was never good at paint by numbers. I almost got expelled from kindergarten for painting the grass blue and my cow purple. Unconventional is my middle name, after Sue.

"Give me some credit!" I told Holly, "For a whole year they were dating and I never once went shopping for a mother of the groom dress." I paused and added, "Mothers of the groom do wear dresses, right? And I assume without matching belly packs?"
"Listen," said Holly, "Your best tactic at this point is just not to say a word. Just nod in their presence."
"I have one big problem I need to discuss with you," I admitted, "How do I sign my emails to her? I mean I don't care what she calls me but I don't want her to feel uncomfortable. Up til now, I just sign them "me".
I think Holly groaned, but then advised that I just let Karissa know that I am happy to have her call me whatever she wants. Mrs.K, Mrs. future mama, Mrs. Foot in Mouth.... whatever.
"And before you make any major statement or purchase, call me," she advised.

Coming from my adult sister, I am not offended. I know my limits. However, when I had asked Karissa to help Asherel find good sandals while shoe shopping last week and I was nearby trying on the ones I liked, Asherel glanced at my choices and whispered to Karissa, "You need to take her shopping...." When the 13 year old realizes her mom is clueless, well, that is just not good.

I know how blessed I am. I have a whole set of advisers. My hairdresser is an invaluable resource. Every time I go for a haircut and plunk down on the chair, she says, "What are we doing today?"
This is such an incomparable kindness as my sisters and even Asherel cover their ears and chant "lalalalalalalala" as loud as they can when I ask what I should do with my hair. But my hairdresser wants to know and wants to help me.
" I am not quite sure. I want something elegant but fun. Classic but quirky. Short but long looking. Not old lady even though I am, but not like an old lady trying to look too young. And while you are at it, I want a look that creates the illusion of competence. And I want it to be no trouble to maintain."
She has only once covered her ears and starting chanting, "Lalalalalalalalala".

As Holly got off the phone, she quelled any concerns with the caveat, "You should be fine. The mother of the groom doesn't do much anyway. When Asherel gets married I will set up a command post in your home."

I love that God recognized our need for counselors and advisers. I understand not everyone is as clueless as me, but still, there are a lot of numbskulls stumbling around out there. I think it is comforting that not only do we have a Heavenly Guidebook, but we have a Guide. A wedding is nothing compared to finding the way to Heaven, though in many ways the latter is much simpler. All I need to do is ask, and the door is opened, and I can enter with bad hair, ugly shoes, and belly pack. I know I can't do that at my son's wedding.

Matthew 22

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
1Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2"The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

4"Then he sent some more servants and said, 'Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.'

5"But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

8"Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' 10So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless.

13"Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

14"For many are invited, but few are chosen."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Sweetness of Life

I was already in bed when my cell phone rang. I heard Arvo tell the caller I had just gone to bed, then he said, "Well, ok, I think she is still awake" and he brought it to me, shrugging.
"It's your son," he told me.
"Guess what?" said Matt.
His voice sounded strange, like the time he got a speeding ticket. I knew he couldn't have gotten kicked out of law school- he hasn't even registered for classes yet. I would have heard the clang of iron bars shutting if he were in prison. No sirens in the background announced the presence of ambulances. What could it be? He knows I go to bed with the sun. What would prompt him to call me so late and insist his dad pass me the phone immediately?

"I'm engaged," he told me.

Wow. Nothing like your 6 lb. 12 oz. baby telling you he is getting married to wake you up.
I suppose I should not have been so surprised- I mean it was all I could do upon meeting Karissa to keep myself from booking a reception hall and getting them a tux and wedding dress the next day. Do not let this one go!!!!, I wanted to shout. But I didn't. I didn't even tell him how perfectly wonderful she was for fear that in the time honored tradition of children doing the opposite of what parents want, he would ditch her.

I don't have any details. They'll be here tomorrow night for a friend's wedding and so I just told him I could not envision a more wonderful wife for him and how happy I was for them both.

Asherel was still awake, playing Beatles Rock Band (without the drums which she is still trying to fix) and when I opened my mouth, she said, "I know."
"How do you know?" I asked.
"Because I do. Just let me finish this song then I will go to bed." (It was then I realized she was supposed to be in bed 10 minutes ago.)
"But how did you know Matt is getting married?"
She paused briefly and missed a note on her song.
"Oh....Yay!!! I didn't know that. I thought you were coming to tell me it was bedtime."
Having a brother marry the girl that has offered to take Asherel to the pet boutique tomorrow, the one she has longed to visit for a month, is much more exciting than going to bed.

It is so heartening to know that a dear son loves and is loved by such a wonderful woman, and that he called me right away to tell me. Sometimes life is an explosion of color and ecstasy. You never know when a hyperactive, colicky baby that never sleeps and never stops running might grow up and turn into a sweet and compassionate and caring young man. And then, he delivers a new daughter on the doorstep of an aging mother watching her brood scatter like leaves in the wind. Life is so sweet this morning, I can taste it.

Proverbs 29:17
Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Riding the Waves

The blue drum on the Beatles Rock Band set never worked well, and then it stopped working altogether. More members of our DI team dropped out to the point where I am not sure we should continue, as a major goal of running the group was to bring a consistent group of friends/peers together for Asherel. Another science group we could have joined, in fact begged us to join when I thought I didn't want to (with a full roster on my DI team then), now has a waiting list, so we may or may not get in that group. Grandma in Florida seems to be failing rapidly and may be living with us at least temporarily as soon as next week.
Matt and Karissa return for the weekend for a wedding we are all going to and I need to vacuum and shop for some yummy dinner, shrimp and feta (?), so they will keep returning home...but I have to make a decision on our science/peer group asap, as all the groups are nearly or already full at this point for next semester. The three inflatable kayaks are drying on the ping pong table and I need to finish wiping off all the sand, and pack them away in their cute little carrying case. Oh, and I better learn the Algebra 2 lesson before I need to teach it to Asherel.....

Sometimes everything coalesces into a wave of struggles, which individually might not give us pause, but collectively sometimes threaten to swamp the boat.

One of my favorite parts of kayaking on the lake is when motorboats go by, they create a huge wake which the kayak bobs over. It is really fun and about as exciting as my timid heart can take. However, if the trough is too deep and the waves come too rapidly, we take on water.

So it is with struggles. When they come too often and too rapidly, I sometimes feel like I might not stay afloat. They don't even need to be too big...just too frequent. As I was pondering over what to do to provide the social and intellectual peer group my dear daughter needs, she brought the drum set to the table, carved a spot in the midst of the damp kayaks, and proceeded to dismantle it. She requested a tiny screwdriver. She rummaged for other tools and for the next 3 hours, was bent over the blue drum examining its guts.

"Can you fix it?" I asked.
"I don't know," she answered, "But it can't get any worse and the warranty is expired, so I may as well try."
"What do you think about joining a Robotics group?" I called from the computer desk as I read over the plethora of creative challenges that group would tackle and noticed that there were some 50 students all Asherel's age involved in it.
She pulled a wire carefully from the inner labyrinth of parts of the now dismantled blue drum and answered, "No, I am not scientific. I wouldn't know what to do."

Ultimately a glued in wire that could not be unglued did her in. She knew what to do to fix the drums but was stymied by the glue. She scraped at it for about an hour, and then went back to her other school work. Her tenacity impressed me greatly. Her wonderful attitude that she may as well give it a try though success seemed unlikely was refreshing. Her statement that she was not scientific made me chuckle as she lay in the midst of the carefully dismantled electronics.

And it gave me a shot of encouragement. I prayed that God would guide me in the midst of some annoying and some very troubling waves on my horizon. And then I started to ride each one, one at a time, as they came at me. Really once you are in the boat, you don't have much choice. I just have to keep remembering that He who put me in the boat in the first place designed the waves that wash over me as well and I am pretty sure my warranty has not expired.

Jeremiah 5:22
22 Should you not fear me?" declares the LORD.
"Should you not tremble in my presence?
I made the sand a boundary for the sea,
an everlasting barrier it cannot cross.
The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail;
they may roar, but they cannot cross it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Greener Grass

I was enjoying watching Asherel win her jumpers class when my neighbor called my cell phone. Our other dog Lucky was doing an independent jumpers class on his own. He had apparently hopped our fence, been corralled into a neighbor's fenced yard, jumped that, and was now with my friend. She locked him in my bedroom til we returned.

The next morning, I was enjoying my coffee and relaxing from an exhausting but fun weekend when my cell phone rang again. It was 7 a.m.
"I have your dog," he said.
Now of course, first thought was that this was a dog-napper asking for ransom. Second thought was I wondered if I could arrange visitation rights. Let him keep the stupid dog contained in a fence.
"How much can I pay you to keep him?" I asked.

It was not, of course, Honeybun, who had jumped the fence and disappeared right after her breakfast. She, who had lived on her own in the wild and nearly starved to death and been beaten down with hundreds of ticks and fleas had no desire to leave her lovely home. It was Lucky, who has escaped our yard for years despite growing barricades we erect with ascendingly more horrifying aesthetic results.

The dognapper, alas, was not interested in keeping Lucky, so I grabbed a leash and put on my running shoes and went for an earlier run than planned.

Upon return, I went to the electronic collar manual. We had the voltage at the lowest setting, just a little beep and quiet zap to remind this stupid escape artist that it was more pleasant to remain in the confines of our yard. I upped the zap factor. Next I went to Lowes and bought 50 feet of wire. In the mosquito infested dribbling rain and 90 degree heat and 1,000 percent humidity, Arvo and I tacked the wire all along the remaining fence side that looked halfway reputable. We tacked the heavy wire another 5 feet above the fence. Now our fence looked like Alcatraz in its heyday. Lucky watched us from the back deck. He was smirking.

We were gone all day yesterday and when we returned, he was still home. We will see how long this fix works. When we were stuck in a traffic jam yesterday, Karissa was looking up words in the car dictionary (i keep one there as you never know when you are traveling and need just the right word).
"Tendentious!" she called out.
Adjective- having or showing a definite tendency, bias, or purpose.
Lucky is tendentious.
Since birth, Lucky has not wanted to be contained. He wants no restrictions on his freedom. He has a definite tendency, bias and purpose to explore the greener grass on the other side, wherever that other side may be. He has a cushy life with everything he wants, yet from his early puphood when he fell into the understreet sewer system at 6 weeks old and thus was rescued and became our dog, he has not been satisfied to stay where he should. He will climb out, or dig out, or jump out.... and when he finds himself on the other side, unable to get back to his dog door and food, water and comfort, he whines at the front door like it is our fault he is out there hungry, hot, and dehydrated.

And while I would kick him if I were the dog kicking type (which I am not and abhor those types), I sort of understand. I am not all that different. Neither were Adam and Eve. I think we all tend to want what we don't have, fight ferociously to get it, and then discover it was not at all what we had hoped it would be. Contentment and recognition of the wonderful blessings that surround us, the simple wonder of being in the presence of a loving God who created us and yearned for our decision to love him in return does not come easily to me. I am always yearning for something more, something better, something easier, something harder, something that is different from what I have..... and lose sight of the fact that what I have is enough and always has been. The difference between me and God is that He will not build bigger fences to keep me at His side. The great pathos in that story is that He created me with the capacity to leave should I choose to do so and He refuses to stop me. Instead of a giant wire barricade that hems me in and keeps me home, He whispers my name and waits.

Judges 6:17-19 (New International Version)

18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you."
And the LORD said, "I will wait until you return."

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Hidden Revealed

While we were at the Dog Agility Contest, my husband Arvo was doing investigative work on the cause of our new sky tube radiating bright blue light as opposed to the subtle natural lighting we had been promised. As I had trudged off in the early morning hours to our dog show, the sky tube painted us with rays of aquamarine. This light did not show off my sunspots and wrinkles to full advantage.

But when we returned from the dog show, the living room was radiant in a spectacular blast of sunlight, miraculously shuttled down a 10 foot reflective tube through our attic into the once dark, and then blue living room. I stood dazzled. So this is what a real sky tube can do, when the blue filter lens is removed! I swirled in the glorious light, turned off the other lights in the room, now redundant and unnecessary. I danced in the rays of sunshine dripping with illumination in our once dreary room. I looked up at the spotlight on the ceiling, shielding my eyes from the riveting brightness.
" Oh happy day!!!!" I exclaimed as I looked all around the room, now released from the shadows.
And then I looked down.
Our what-I-thought-was-a-white-rug was NOT. Now revealed in the blast of light, it was a dingy stain covered rug with visible chunks of dirt and dog hair. I saw a dead cockroach in the corner that had been too dark to notice before.... I saw signs of wear and tear. I dreaded to look at my own skin in that light. I glanced with a half open eye at my hand. EEEEEK!!!! That hand, now painfully visible in the shattering glare of the suntube was covered with scales, and veins, and large spots... it was the hand of an old woman.....This could not belong to me, could it?

"I am not sure I like this skytube," I muttered, as I hurried for the vacuum cleaner. I tried desperately to suck off the spots on my hand, but they appeared to be deeply embedded, the scars of living. The vacuum did devour the chunks and the dead cockroach, but the stains, under the direct glare of the spotlight of sun mocked me and remained.

I love light. I am a little afraid of the dark, and all the horrible worries and visions of the bad things that could be, come at me like trucks barreling towards me in the wrong lane. But darkness can sometimes hide what we would prefer not be exposed. Any aging movie star can tell you that fluorescent lighting is not her friend. It is of course highly relevant that God is described as "light of the world." There is no hiding from God. I have tried, believe me. He is the uber-skytube, shining down with embarrassing clarity on every little sinful deed or even thought. No one looks good in that kind of glaring scrutiny. And yet, while painfully revealing, that light is not harsh. It is filled with love. It caresses every sunspot, every wrinkle and says, "Before you were formed in the womb, I knew you." He knew about the dead decaying bugs in all my corners, the stains and dirt, and still He loved me, still He longed for me to see how easily He could lift me out of the disgusting detritus of my own imperfections, and wash me clean as snow.

I put the vacuum away and glanced at the stains. And then I let my eyes wash over the beautiful sunlit room and decided, stains notwithstanding, I would much rather walk in the light.

Isaiah 1:18
"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A small package with a big heart

"How old are you?" I asked, incredulously.
She is sixteen. At age sixteen this young lady found a boxer
Which she regretfully relinquished to animal control. Minutes before he was to be euthanized, she talked her parents into letting her save him. Despite friends insisting this scared, unfriendly dog was not worth the trouble and would never become anything of worth, she began training him for agility. He entered the unofficial agility match 3 days ago, surrounded by dogs and people and finished the course, wagging his tail.
The young lady, with a heart as old and as big as the mountains then talked her 4 H group into starting a foster/ rescue group for dogs. She found a vet willing to vaccinate and neuter the dogs for free. She is on a personal campaign to stop the knee-jerk prejudice against "bully breeds".
"It's not fair to the dogs," she told me,"It's not their fault. It is the stupid owners. "
She didn't use the word "stupid" however. Her kindness and grace is only equalled by her vision and commitment to help creatures that are helpless.
There are a lot of champions at the agility trial. Many dogs
there have title after title after their names. Lots of fine people there do on a small scale what this young lady with a massive vision is accomplishing.
But I am giving the most covetted award to that teenager- Most Compassionate and most
Likely to exemplify the Love of God award. And maybe I will have to give it to her whole 4 H group and the wonderful leaders who saw that loving unloved dogs was the perfect vehicle to train young people to reach beyond themselves.

Colossians 3:12
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

- Nothing is impossible with God
- hollowcreekfarm.org

Saturday, August 14, 2010

One can be too relaxed

The ring crew waved frantically at me and pointed to the heavy sleeping man near me in the stands.
"Is that Starr's owner?" she asked.
I shrugged.
"Can you ask him?" she implored, "He's up in three dogs."
Oh goody. Wake up a strange large man I don't know to find out if he owns a dog named Starr.
She looked so beseechingly at
me that I mustered all my panache and gently shook the man. He didn't move a muscle, certainly none controlling his eyelids.
I shook him a little more vigorously. The ring crew watched me anxiously. Not only was the man not rousing in the slightest, but by now I was pretty sure he was dead.

I looked at the ring crew and shook my head.
"He's not waking up and in fact I think this might be a stress induced coma."
The man snored.
" Shake him harder!" begged the ring crew.
Reluctantly, I did so and with a lurch, he straightened in his seat.
"Is your dog Starr?" I asked, "cause I can see how worried you are about your impending class and...."
"Starr is up in 2 dogs!" shouted the ring crew.
The man bolted to his feet and raced down to the ring just in time.
Over and over at this agility trial, I have had the opportunity to observe the striking disparity in people's temperment. I am not even running a dog- I am just watching my daughter run a dog, yet I was up all night, unable to sleep with the anticipation.

In contrast,I bet anything Starr's owner had no trouble catching every one of his Z's last night. Personally I think he carries the concept of relaxation a bit far, but I am speaking from the other end of the bell curve.

As always, I marvel at the diversity of God's creation. We come in every size, every color, every shape, and every opinion on the best way to waste someone else's money. It can't be a mistake that everyone is not just like me, much as I might feel certain my world would run smoother were that the case.

I love the verse "Where 2 or more are gathered in my name, there I will be.". We know of course that Jesus said this with a smirk, knowing how rare
it is for 2 or more to gather and agree on anything.
But there is one thing that me, the trial judge, Starr's relaxed owner, and the AKC all agree on. Honeybun indisputedly qualified in her jumpers class
thereby earning the third leg
of her first official AKC title. And she did more than qualify- she won first place in the biggest class she has ever been in.
I say this with all the humility it inspires in me.

If we can all agree on that momentous event, surely we can agree that the Lord who empowered us to rescue and save her when she was a starving, dying dog, the Lord who made some of us anxious and some of us calm and then threw us all together, is a Lord worthy of our praise.

( and all God's people .... Or at least 2 of us say, "Amen!")

Luke 12:8
"I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God.

- Nothing is impossible with God
- hollowcreekfarm.org

Friday, August 13, 2010

The wisdom of youth

I sat in the stands too far away for my shrieks to be heard. Yet I heard the timer say, " Honeybun on deck." That meant that in 3 dogs, Honeybun's turn came. Yet Asherel, with a face as impassive as Buddha, was calmly far off to the side, doing doggy yoga. Honeybun, who was supposed to be streaking like lightning in approximately 3 minutes, was currently taking deep cleansing breaths while flat on her side as Asherel was gently elongating her foreleg muscles and chanting calming sounds like "Ohhhmmmmmm."
Even if I was willing to risk the ire of my easily mortified 13 year old by yelling out ," Are you DAFT? This is not the time to be practicing alternative forms of consciousness, your dog run is minus 3 minutes and counting!" ,she would not have heard me. I was too far away. I tried standing up and waving my arms like a windmill and pointing at the start line. All to no avail. Honeybun and Asherel were meditating.

I was fuming inside. I had waited 5 hours for her 60 second run, which she was now going to miss since she and the dog were apparently currently in Nirvana.

The dog right before Honeybun was finishing up. My heart was racing at a thousand beats a minute causing new capillaries to form in my eyeballs. Asherel stood up calmly, pulled a piece of cheese from her pocket, and Honeybun rocketed to her feet and leaped to attention. The two were on the start line with 3 seconds to spare. I melted across three seats collapsing in a blob of calcium depleted bones.

We are all created into two distinct groups. There are those with fast twitch muscles (me) and those with slow twitch muscles (Asherel). A few lucky ones fall in the middle but most of us are one or the other and want to wring the neck of those in the opposing group. We know that world peace is unattainable this side of heaven and the speed of our muscular set point is the culprit.

Still, as I sank into my seat , sweat dripping from my nose, I felt an odd pride at how
calm and cool my daughter was. Odd that I should be proud of a quality I certainly didn't contribute
to the gene pool. Maybe on my 54 th birthday, I have something left to learn.

Job 32:6-10
So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said: "I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. [7] I thought, `Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.' [8] But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding. [9] It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. [10] "Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know.

- Nothing is impossible with God
- hollowcreekfarm.org

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hopping a ride

Since we have three days of Dog agility trials coming up, we decided it was time to take the two kayaks down from their home atop the van. We would have no kayaking time in all likelihood for several days. They had been there for 2 weeks,with the brief time off for kayaking the Maury River in Virginia Sunday. The kayak holder that we broke down and bought is secure, fairly quiet, and the kayaks traveled a thousand miles without mishap on it. So since our return Sunday, they had stood like stegasaurus plates adorning the back of the van, and it was time to remove them.

As we lowered one kayak to the ground, Asherel erupted in peals of laughter. She almost dropped the kayak, and insisted that I must come see.

Crawling out of one of the little drainage holes in the kayak was a toad, a toad that had undoubtedly been up there since Sunday. That toad had traveled 500 miles in screaming 70 mph crosswinds atop the van, and then nestled in the kayak drainage hole in near hundred degree sun for three days and three nights. He had probably hopped on the kayak bottom at some point in our trip down the Maury river and then been unwittingly transported across two states.

He crawled back in the hole as we gently put the kayak down, and I coaxed him out. He was reluctant.
"You cannot imagine what I have been through," he croaked from his hole in the kayak, "One moment I am splashing in a fresh cool mountain river scarfing down tasty microorganisms, and the next I am being buffeted by hurricane force winds, watching monsters whizzing by to the right and the left of me, baked for three days in unbearable sun on hard dark plastic, and without a bite to eat or a drop of water to dampen my parched tongue. My only refuge has been this hole, and let me tell you, it is not where the Queen of England would want to settle."

"But frog," I consoled him, (though Asherel insists it is not a frog or it would be dead- frogs need water to live in.... it is a toad), "Don't you see how blessed you are? When the hurricane came, you could've been stripped off the kayak faster than the icing on my cupcake- but God gave you a place to hide. When you thought you would die of thirst, He gave you the morning dewdrops, nectar of the air. And when your belly was so empty because no bug in its right mind would dare crawl up on that broiling hot plastic in this heat, God brought you me and Asherel, to lift you down into the cool and bug infested grass. Go ye forth and multiply the earth."

"Well, when you put it that way...." he grunted, and he crawled feebly onto my hand. I lowered him gently to the soft, cool grass in the shade and he hopped behind a bush.

I can't fault him for not wanting to leave the drainage hole. It wasn't much but it was the only place of safety he knew. It was a huge "leap of faith" to trust us to settle him into a strange and new land he had never been. I hope death is like that. I know we cling to life, with all its imperfections, and indeed we should, I think, until it is clear God is calling us Home. But when He does, I suspect I will grip my hideyhole tightly, not knowing I am being gently placed in a comforting and verdant land where Grace and Mercy heal my warty soul.

Hebrews 11:8-10 (New International Version)

8By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What the river could tell

Asherel finished her school work around three, and I finished cleaning the house under the glow of the new blue skytube. I also did a little research and discovered that the reason our tube was blue was the workmen had not removed the blue protective inner coating. We are hopeful Arvo can do that himself and by this weekend have the promised flooding of natural light in our great room. But while doing "Blue Tube" research, I also found that there are class 1-3 rapids on the Catawba River only a half hour from our house.! It is just a finger-few types away from sky tube, to tubing, to kayaking. And, I discovered, there are several kayak launch sites along the way.

Being only 96 degrees out, I roped Asherel and tied her to my side and told her we were going to go check out this river. She was not as enthused as she could have been, having just kayaked rapids for 3 hours two days before, but I told her we just wanted to walk along the river and see if it was something we would want to try. Since this is almost the exact verbage she had heard prior to our last 3 hour marathon kayak trip, she was dubious.

Nearby Fort Mill is busily constructing the one thing that I feel Charlotte really lacks- a beautiful public walkway along the gorgeous Catawba. The path we discovered is shaded, and meanders right by the river for two and a half glorious miles. The property adjacent to the path is being developed into a riverside community, restaurant, shopping area. At last, one of the most lovely natural resources in our region is being developed as a public boating, walking, and wildlife gazing accessible area. The trail is not yet officially open, so I dragged my reluctant partner onto an empty and peaceful walk we had nearly to ourselves.

The silence was broken only by the osprey screeching as it sailed over the river, and the cows on the opposite shore lowing.... and the large man who came up behind us and asked if I had a mint on me.

I did sort of wish I had a dog with me, or mace.... or some sort of protection, but I kept my hand on my cell phone.
"No, sorry," I said.
"I had a big lunch," he explained, like I wanted to hear about it, "And have a bit of an upset stomach. Mints help."
Fortunately, he lumbered past us without nefarious intent, and we reveled in the beauty of the magnificent field of rocks and rapids that stretched across the galloping Catawba. Several herons were fishing among the rocks, and the osprey was swooping.

A little golf cart motored up to us, with a park patrol logo, and a kindly old man driving.
"Oh good!" I called out, relieved to see the trail was patrolled with the mint man still in sight. I am not sure how much protection an old kindly man would be, but any port in a storm.....
I stopped to chat with the man and he was one of those gold mines of humanity, filled with the treasures of a lifetime of loving, studying, and living in the very area we stood.
"Those rapids there, where the rocks are and the water so shallow is Nation's Ford," he explained. I knew Nations Ford was a highway in Charlotte, but I hadn't known it had been an actual place where the Catawba was forded, crossed.
"That's where Sherman crossed the Catawba in his march to the sea," he continued,"And it was part of the Catawba Indian's trail. In the Revolutionary War, it is where the British crossed as well. See that stream to the left of the island? There was an old grist mill up the stream- that's part of how Fort Mill got its name. And on that hill there by the stream, a fort was built to attack the British if they came upriver- so the area became known as Fort Mill."

His face crinkled with a huge proud smile, "This river is full of history!"
We both looked out at the gurgling river, cascading over the rocks, speaking the language of the ages.
"Can we kayak against the current and then float back to here, do you think?" I asked,"Since it is just my daughter and myself I wouldn't be able to shuttle the car to a take out point downriver."
"Oh yes," he said, "I canoe it all the time. The current looks fast, but it is not hard to paddle upstream as long as you don't run into rapids. I don't think there are any for at least a mile that way." He pointed upstream.

So I know what I plan to do for my birthday this week, and even my somewhat reluctant cohort agreed I should get to do what I want on my birthday. Who knows how many more I have left, and what better way to spend it than gossiping with a river that met Sherman, and Cornwallis, and watched our nation be born?

Isaiah 66:12
For this is what the Lord says: "I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dispelling Darkness

The roofer threw in a tube skylight into our great room for free. We waited in hovering anticipation for the shimmering blast of natural light into a room that is always dark, with just one window and the glass screen door to let in God's less expensive lighting.

I looked at the small tube, about 12 inch diameter that was supposed to flood our huge dark room with the glow of sunshine.
"This little thing will light up our room?" I asked dubiously.
I was assured that small things can often do impossibly big tasks. Remember David and Goliath, the tiny acorn and the mighty oak, our VISA card.

The roofers were only supposed to be here one day. The day stretched into a week, and no one spoke English so it was hard to assess what the hold up was. The skylight tube sat woefully on the porch. I smiled in Spanish at the roofers and pointed at the tube.
"Manana!" they promised.
But you know the song, Manana Never Comes.
But finally, manana did arrive and the tube was hoisted into the attic. There was a great deal of Spanish from the many workmen, and grunting and groaning and Asherel, who speaks a little Spanish thought she understood, "What are you doing!!??" There were some words she did not understand, for which I am probably grateful.

Finally it was done. We all gathered under the much anticipated sky tube. A blue glowing circle was in our ceiling. No light came out of it to reach our dark and shadowy room, but the circle of blue was surreal and artistic. It was late afternoon, so perhaps the brighter midday sun would make a difference.

This morning I hurried out to the great room, wearing sunglasses to shield my eyes from the expected blazing rays of morning sun that would be tumulting into the room. The room was dark, but the eerie blue circle glowed in the ceiling, like a UFO.

Arvo came out and we both looked up at the blue disc.
"This isn't quite what I hoped for," he admitted.
"I kind of like it, though," I said, "It's pretty....like ceiling art."

So often our expectations far outshadow our reality. We think our new gadget will light the dark corners of our life, bring radiance to dismal shadows of our dwelling, illuminate our stumbling progress on murky paths......
But of course it never does. Sometimes it brings momentary delight, or the illusion of light, but only God dispels the darkness permanently.

2 Samuel 22:29 (New International Version)

29 You are my lamp, O LORD;
the LORD turns my darkness into light.