Sunday, October 31, 2010

I'm Turning My Life Around

I was approaching on my bicycle, and wasn't sure what the walking sign was. It looked like a giant cloud, but the sign said Mattress Sale, so I thought perhaps it was a walking mattress. As I came closer, I saw it was a giant bunny rabbit, and the determined face inside the head portion was chanting something over and over. As I passed, I heard her say, "I'm turning my life around."  This was incongruous enough coming from a giant bunny hoisting a Mattress Sale sign but what I heard her say as I was a little further down the sidewalk was even more memorable, "I'm giving my life to God."

You never know what kind of circumstances will finally spark that moment of faith, of resolution to be more than what you have been, to live finally in the grip of the Savior. I wondered whether the Bunny Sign job was the straw that broke the camel's back, or was it the first step out of the morass? There are many things much much worse than working as a giant bunny selling mattresses.  I have to admit that once I was out of earshot, I did laugh. I couldn't help it. However, her glowing and determined face did not appear comical despite the costume around it. Her face seemed resolute and even noble.

I noticed from my car later that afternoon, she was still in the bunny suit at the same spot, and while I couldn't hear her, she was clearly still repeating those words over and over-
"I'm turning my life around. I am giving my life to God."

On that same bikeride, I had ridden the same lovely Greenway trail I usually ride. I was thinking how I had grown used to its beauty, and it had become commonplace. I no longer looked upon the stream and woods with the same glow of appreciation I had felt when I first gazed upon them. I had been contemplating how God's messages are sometimes so frequent, so familiar, and so similar, that I lose sight of how spectacular they are, every single one of them. I had resolved that I would try to notice and revel anew over what had become familiar.  And then, the giant God loving bunny had plopped into my drifting stream of thoughts. Complacency and familiarity were suddenly rippled with the splash of incongruity.

"Here is my message that has been of Old but each time it is New!," said God, "Walk in the newness of my spirit and I will give you abundant life, new and overflowing.  And while it is yet today.....HOP to it!"

Acts 5:19-21 (New International Version)

19But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20"Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Second Chances

I held my hand up for silence and my team leaned in closer.
"Now listen carefully," I advised, "I am not sure I fully understand this, in fact I am pretty sure I don't, but I think it is important and I think it will directly affect our rotor design."
"OK," said Ben eagerly, "Read it."
"The area of low pressure created at the wingtips creates vortices."
"What are those?"
"Turbulence, swirling wind. Can you imagine what vortices off our airfoil tip might produce?" I asked.
Of course they did- drag and stall, the enemies.
"So, listen up team, aeronautic engineers design the wing so that the lift is distributed across the wing span with the lift greatest at the wing root and least at the wing tip- this is called washout, thus reducing the lift induced drag.  So team, what do we need to do with our airfoil design to achieve washout?"

For a moment, both team members looked befuddled, and then like the sun suddenly pulling clear of the horizon, Ben's face lit up.
"I get it !" he cried, with delight, "We twist our wing so the angle of attack is greater at the wing root than at the tip!!! I understand!!!"
"Brilliant, Watson," I smiled settling back to smoke my celebratory, imaginary cigar.

When I was a teenager, I met a young man, the 5 year old child of one of my dad's coworkers. He was brilliant, a verified genius. We went to dinner with him, and I was entranced. I thought at the time I would never want kids, but if I had one, I thought back then, I wanted a child with that kind of mind- that zest and love for learning. Those who know me would know it is not bragging, but just stating a fact that my oldest son was all of that and more. Genius has its host of very difficult issues, but the delight and instant gobbling of hard concepts was always pure joy for me to watch and at times to guide, and while he was very young, even teach. He has been gone many years now, college then his own business far away in Boston, and I cannot express how deeply I feel his absence and how desperately I miss him.  My other two kids are brilliant in their own right and wonderful and I cannot say enough about how blessed I am to have all of them.

But something about Ben struck me at that moment as so reminiscent of Anders- that almost eerie and instant grasp of very difficult concepts, and the presence of pure joy in learning. It is a rare and breathtaking quality. I almost cried.

I had fought having to teach the helicopter event. I knew nothing about aerodynamics, and would not consider myself particularly scientific. Since then, I have had a crash course in flight, and right now can throw out words like angle of incidence, angle of attack, chord, camber, Bernoulli's principle, and washout with wild abandon, and even more amazingly, understanding. It is very hard and really stretching me, but I am enjoying it. I cannot believe it, but I am! And while I may not understand the workings of God, I have an inkling that He sent me Ben to fill a void that sometimes is so painful I cannot give it words.

A mom last night was chatting with me, and said, "So you have kids that have graduated?"
"Two of them," I said.
"How was it," she asked, glancing at her oldest, a 16 year old,"When that first one left?"
"It broke my heart," I said, "But we survived. It will be hard, but you will get through it. We all do. And there are some advantages..... the food bills go down."

I could have gone on, about how sometimes they come back with wonderful, beautiful daughter in laws for me, and maybe someday grandchildren to spoil, but I stopped there. I didn't think of Ben til later, and realized that God doesn't mean for me to extend my reach only as far as my own genes have scattered. His preparation for me included a season of Anders, but the harvest He intends may be much greater than what I supposed it would be.  It is funny how joy springs out of nowhere sometimes.

Deuteronomy 16:15 (New International Version)

15 For seven days celebrate the Feast to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Notes fall in place

As the guitar teacher and Asherel were strumming together, the marmalade cat added his discordant "meow!" He was clearly not musical, being several notes off-key.

The cat had wandered into the backyard studio, and then made himself the object of attention as desperately as he could. He had one mangled ear, healed now but clearly chewed off in some altercation.

"Hi Taylor," said Lenny the teacher, unable to ignore the cat's unmelodious mewing.
"Did he lose his ear in a fight?" I asked.
"Probably," said Lenny, "He is the neighbor's cat and it was that way when we met him. But he does terrorize my cat so I wouldn't doubt it."

The cat climbed into the guitar case, and mewed again, begging me to resume scratching him behind his ears. Asherel strummed and I scratched. And mosquitoes buzzed, having been reincarnated in the suddenly humid warm days of Indian Summer. Lenny smacked one right in mid strum.
"You could at least do that on beat," I said.
"I was never a drummer," he told me.

It was one of those happy little vignettes of life that had arrived by a miraculous confluence of events, engineered, I am convinced, by the Master Engineer. Asherel had won an art contest last year that entitled her to a free art class with Community School of the Arts. (CSA) Since I don't own a pottery wheel, she had signed up for a class that taught Clay-making with the Pottery Wheel. Sadly, the school called me when class was about to begin to tell me that registration had been dismal this year, and the class was canceled. But she offered me to choose another class.

Meanwhile, Asherel and I were attempting to learn how to play guitar together. I play a little, enough to get us started, and we had been slowly working our way through basic chords. Asherel still laughed every time we played the Beatles song, "Rain", not convinced that my rather sorry singing and playing was optimal. However, we are maxed out on funds for extracurricular activities, and while not ideal, I could teach guitar, at least as well as I teach Algebra 2.

"There are no other art classes she is interested in," I told the CSA representiative, " I am an artist myself and have taught her or can teach all the other areas you offer in art."
"How about a music class?" she asked.
"Do you have guitar lessons?"
"Yes, but he teaches out of his home, not here."
She gave me the address. It was 5 minutes from me.  A free semester of guitar lessons and 5 minutes away.

So it didn't even matter if we didn't like Lenny- he was free and close by, and he couldn't be worse than me in teaching guitar. But lo and behold, Lenny is a stupendous guitarist and a gentle and a kind man that knows Beatles songs by heart! When he heard Asherel was a Beatle groupie, he immediately taught her a song to practice. And while she picks out the tune laborious note by laborious note, he is so skillful that he can accompany her and it sounds like a concert.

So the cat and I, sitting in the waning afternoon sun streaming in the open studio door along with the mosquitoes listened .  Some people might only have heard stumbling plucking strings and soft accompanying chords, but I heard the hand of God arranging every note of a precious life.

Jeremiah 1:5 (New International Version)

 5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew  you,
       before you were born I set you apart;

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Measure twice, cut once, love always.

With Asherel's painting done and ready to be mailed, I had to fly into action. Matts, while not required for the art work, were allowed. What Bozo would send their kid's painting off to a contest dressed in smelly, ripped jeans when the rest of the prima donnas are all in sequined formals? Not me, not more than the one time I did it last year. This year, I was pulling out all the stops. I knew I needed the artwork in the mail by lunch time, so I raced to Michaels Art Supply for a pre-cut matt for the standard size paper Asherel had used.

"What do you mean 9 x12 is not a standard matt size? I have a standard pad of art paper 9x12," I said, sweat pouring off my time constrained brow.
The nice young man behind the custom frame counter told me, "It falls between the cracks. It is a standard size for paper, but standard matts are either 8x10, or 11x14. They skip 9x12."
(I saw a huge niche market for entrepreneurs here, but I didn't have time to find the venture capital right now.)
"How long to cut me a custom matt for a 9x12?" I asked.
"A week," he answered.
"A week!!!! God created the entire world in a week. All I am asking for are 4 quick razor swipes at a neat 45 degree angle!"
"And that's of course if all goes well. You could cut your own."

Yes, indeedy I could, if I had half an ounce of steady hands or history to back me up on this one. I of course knew how to cut matts and had cut many in my day. I had a professional matt cutter tool, and having gone in a flurry of cleaning when we returned from cleaning Grandma's house, even knew where it was and where a box of 50 shiny new matt knife blades were. But I remembered how the owner of the gallery where my work is displayed took one look at the matts I had cut, and told me unabashedly they were the worst matts she had ever seen.

I don't know what it is about matt cutting that seems to paralyze me, but I have never, not once, cut a perfect matt. I always rip edges instead of getting clean cuts, or my cut goes wobbly, or I overshoot corners so there are knife slices where they shouldn't be. Never have I cut a perfect matt.
"The matt boards are over there," said the young man, dismissing me.
With desperation, I bought a pre-cut matt that I knew was too small, hoping somehow Asherel's work had shrunk while I was gone, and then grabbed a matt board.  Why why why...... I muttered as I stumbled to the car.

I came in with the board, and gathered the matt cutting board and knife.
"What's that?" asked Asherel.
"I am going to cut you a matt," I said.
"You can do that?" she asked.
"No," I answered, "But unless God snaps His fingers and miraculously produces one, it is the only way we will have a matt in time to mail your art."

I carefully measured where my cuts were to go. I measured twice, remembering the maxim, "Measure twice, cut once." Normally I reverse that, but I was determined to approximate competency.

Then I adjusted the blade angle, and took a deep breath, and lined the cutter up carefully. For the next 10 minutes, I held my breath and took my time, and my spirit was praying frantically. Now came the moment of truth. I stepped back, and carefully lifted the matt from the rest of the board.

I could not believe it. It was exquisite. There was no shreds, or rips or crumples or tears. There were no splotches of blood or wet marks from sobbing. The corners were crisp and perfect right angles, with no overshot knife marks. I had for the first time in my life cut a perfect matt.

"If you don't win, it is not because the matt was cut by a troglodyte," I said smiling.

It doesn't happen often, this rising to the occasion and doing more than I am capable of. But when it does, it seems to be uniformly connected with the degree of love that motivates it. Funny how cutting a matt to showcase my own work for my own fame and glory always failed. But cutting a matt for the daughter that lights my life almost made me want to open a matt cutting seminar to the public.

1 Peter 4:8
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The contest

I read the fine print. ohoh.  The beautiful and very creative art work Asherel had spent 8 months producing might not fit exactly into the allowable materials. As she slept, unaware of the mounting despair in her mother, I emailed the contest organizers. The State organizer wrote back to say she interpreted the rules as allowing the material Asherel had chosen, but she could not promise the National organizers would, should Asherel advance beyond the state level.

I looked more carefully at the rules of the two other art contests Asherel is entering, and realized that the questionable technique in one contest was definitely allowable in the other. And the other had a bigger cash prize. The other was also a much more challenging contest, at the national level, and I am pretty sure it is adults, not children producing the past winning art in that contest. I know that as a  50 year professional artist (read: has sold at least one piece of art), the winners in that contest draw better than I do. Still, this piece Asherel was working on was one of the most creative techniques I have ever seen, all bias aside. The problem was the due date was in 4 days, and Asherel was not done with the piece that had already taken 8 months. She had anticipated another month of work.

"Can you finish it by tomorrow if I let you work on it all day?" I asked, when she awoke and I presented the options. She nodded.

Her all day art marathon was interupted frequently- Bible study, math, Gavel club, lunch, dinner, dog walking job, dog training for the upcoming agility contest......

Autumn is beginning to sparkle in Charlotte. I took the dogs on a walk, leaving Asherel bent over her art, and  noticed the leaves were suddenly riotously colorful. Out of nowhere, after a few days of glum, grey rain, the sun had made a brief appearance and I had dashed out to a world with splashes of orange, red, and yellow dotting my way. How beautiful, and how suddenly it all appeared out of the drabness! When I returned, Asherel was still bent over her artwork.

When Daddy walked in the door that night,  and asked if she wanted to play Mario Cart, she heaved a deep sigh and said, "I have to finish this. I have been working on it 10 hours straight."
Now while that is an exaggeration, it is not far off, and I heard many more deep sighs as I sat nearby reading, trying to give moral support by my presence. I will not tell you what the technique is because the element of creative surprise is crucial in this work, and I wouldn't want to spoil that for her til all her contests are over. However, suffice it to say that the process is exceedingly tedious and labor intensive.

Around 9:00, she lay down, the work propped on her knees. She continued working from this supine position. More heavy sighs.
"You don't have to enter this," I reminded her, "If it is just too much, we can enter it in the other contest and you will have another month to finish."
"No" she said, "I can be done by 11."
So I kissed her goodnight, and I went to bed, dubious.

This morning, though it was only 6 am, I couldn't sleep anymore. I had to get up and see if she had finished. I knew it was hardly possible given the difficulty of the process and how much she needed to do in so short a time. I dashed out. There it lay on the table, complete. Splashes of beautiful color and perfectly rendered form with exquisite detail, as lovingly and carefully completed as it had been started. I wished I could write the judges and tell them what monumental effort this art work had taken, the months of labor, and then the impossible spurt at the end. But it is not a character contest; it is an art contest and by artistic merit alone will it be judged.

I would not want the job of those judges- sorting through the gifts of so many young artistic souls. I could no more judge the beauty of one fall leaf over another than attempt to judge the lovely offering of one child over another, especially knowing what I know of how one child struggled to do her best. I know she may not win, and in some respects, it might then feel like it was all in vain. But excellence is its own reward and I am quite certain that the artist of the Autumn is smiling His approval.

 Colossians 3: 23-24
23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Taken by Surprise

Asherel sketched her deer for an art contest she is entering while I sketched one too, both of us listening to the rain.
"I hate pastels," she complained,"They always smear."
"They are supposed to smear," I told her,"That is the nature of pastels. Use it to your advantage.
And while we are at it, use your technology to your advantage
too. Set an audible reminder on your iPod to copy the forms you need tomorrow for Gavel club."

She did so, and continued drawing, often grumbling how pastels smear when you don't want them to.

That night as we were calmly eating dinner, the storm dripping outside off and on, there was a sudden explosion of a warning siren- the kind that signified a tornado about to carry Toto to Oz.
I nearly choked on my burrito.
Asherel remained surprisingly calm, and in fact, began laughing.
"What was that!?" I gasped, clutching my pounding chest.

"My iPod reminder," she laughed.

"You have an air raid siren on your iPod?" I exclaimed.

Asherel can do amazing things with her iPod- use it as a flashlight or as a level, tune her guitar, and now warn the entire neighborhood of Armageddon. She is very resourceful and usually excels at exploiting the potential of her tools. That is why her grumbling over the smearing pastels was somewhat out of character.

I love how pastels smear. As the colors melt together, quite often surprising effects that are astonishingly beautiful result. It is ironic that although I am a planner, I love the unplanned surprises in art.  And Asherel who is much more a go with the flow kind of person hates that unpredictable quality in art.
"I like pencils," she lamented,"the line stays where I draw it."

I like surprises by God too. I love drawing pictures on my iPod, and then uploading them to my Blog and wonder anew what message God can show me through that seemingly irrelevant sketch. God doesn't seem to care much about what I may plan or the course of smear I think my life should wander. But He does seem to delight in what astonishingly beautiful times He can produce if I let myself trust that His seemingly unplanned smudges are creating a glorious picture of my life.

Asherel and I chuckled all evening over the air raid siren, and I think she felt she had appropriately paid me back for making her use pastels which she hates. But the last laugh is mine, because I love surprises.

Jeremiah 14:9
9 Why are you like a man taken by surprise,
       like a warrior powerless to save?
       You are among us, O LORD,
       and we bear your name;
       do not forsake us!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Memories of Pacabel

In the midst of a busy afternoon, the voice over the phone sounded vaguely familiar but I couldn't place it immediately. Asherel and I were wrestling with the computer trying to find out why the CD was mute, though the person on the CD was clearly speaking. Growing more and more frustrated, I answered the phone, and the vaguely familiar voice said, ,"Vicky, this is Terese, you know, married to Barry, from USC, California days....?"

"Terese!" I cried joyfully, "How did you find me!"
It had been at least 15, maybe 20 years since I had last seen or spoken with Terese. I had seen sweet Terese long, long ago in a lifetime far, far away when the primordial ooze was only just beginning to discuss how it could coalesce to form a mammalian eye when all parts had to be present simultaneously for it to work at all.

What made the sound of Terese's dear voice even more eerie was only a few days ago, Asherel and I had been walking down the street when I heard the strains of Pacabel  Canon in D by Mozart over the tinny sound system of a small village. I paused and began to hum along. Asherel looked at me with a cocked eyebrow.

"I love this song," I told her, "A lovely friend from college walked down the aisle to this song."
Now Terese would cringe to hear me call it a "song". It is a masterpiece, a work of art, a fugue of exquisite beauty by one of the greatest composers to ever live. It was Terese's wedding march that I was humming and remembering so fondly from 30 years ago as Asherel and I shopped for dog booties in the little town.

So we spent the next hour catching up on 20 years. She had grown into just the sort of lovely woman I had known she would and I wished I had managed to stay in touch. I tried, but you know how it is. Dust bunnies and folding socks take over and before you blink, you are on the phone with one of the sweetest people on earth whom you haven't talked with in 20 years.

I have the same jarring self-incrimination when I lay in bed and awaken in the middle of the night. I know something is off as I writhe and mutely moan over all the struggles I need to tackle that I haven't the strength, will, or character to deal with. And then I realize I haven't talked with God about this or about anything in a very long time. I certainly at best forgot to pray when I went to bed. I may have gone much longer without more than rote "thank you for the food" types of prayers.  How long I had gone without  the sweet and comforting and loving voice of the One who knows me best and loves me most! 

Yet like the cheerful voice of Terese, I don't hear condemnation. I hear joy and love that now we are speaking; now we tilt our heads together and remember how dear the journey is that we never travel alone. As I wiggled in bed last night, unable to shake all the looming troubles from my heart, I finally popped open my Bible. Go ahead, Lord, I thought, You have every right to scream at me. I am so negligent and so forgetful of the only One who deserves my constant adoration. Here is what He said:

Isaiah 60:1 (NIV)
"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rules are made to be kept

The parking lot on the corner normally is filled with cars, but on this day, I turned in to see a giant swimming pool full of sparkling water, a dock attached to it, and hordes of wet dogs carrying toys in their mouth. Happy dogs were shaking water over owners and passerbys, all here for the annual Dock Dog event.

This event is a combination of aeronautics and canine show. The dogs race down a dock, and then leap into the air over the pool, and try to fly further than all the other dogs. The longest flight I watched was over 22 feet by an attack police dog. (Note to self: avoid trying to outfly attack police dogs.)

I asked the three judges how on earth they could determine how far the dog had leaped. It is so fast that I could not imagine how they could look at the measures marked along the pool side quickly enough to determine how far the dog had gone in the air.
"It is most accurately measured by the tail bubble," I was informed.
"Tail bubble?"
"When the dog lands, his measure point is at the base of the tail. That also creates a bubble in the water and so we look for where that bubble is."
This sounds remarkably imprecise to me, but I asked if it was ok if I stood with them and tried to see the tail bubble since they made it sound like an ironclad measure.
"Sure, just know we may run you over."
Why not? In the pursuit of scientific inquiry, this was a small price to pay.
So the next dog leaped and I peered over the pool edge with the 3 judges. There were millions if not trillions of bubbles, as you can imagine when a large dog leaps 20 feet through the air to land in a pool.
"Which one is the tail bubble?" I asked, but I was ignored. The judges were pointing and writing and what is even more miraculous, they came to within inches of agreement.
Risking their wrath, I asked, "How accurate do you think this is?"
"Accurate enough," they said, "At Nationals, they use special video cameras and can be more exact, but those are $50,000." One judge had a pierced chin with a clever fashion statement of pushing his beard through a ring attached to the piercing. It was like a beard ponytail.

I meandered over to another table to find out the order of events, when suddenly the people I was chatting with looked up with horror, and every one of them shrieked.
"OH they are sooooooooo out of here!" cried one of the shocked workers.
"I can't believe he did that!" yelped another. I was forgotten as all 5 of the workers were shaking their heads, pointing at the pool, and registering varying degrees of abject horror and disgust.
What had I missed? Had someone strangled a dog? What on earth had happened?
"I'm sorry," said the worker, turning back to me, "You just never ever do that."
"What did he do?"
"He threw his dog in the pool."
"That dog will never go off a dock again," said another shaking her head sadly.

Now I tried to register the same degree of horror, but actually, I could see myself throwing a reluctant dog in. I mean, they know how to swim. What is the big deal? But uniformly, the Dock dog people equated this with ripping the heart out of a living animal and taking a bite.

I remember the same degree of horror when I used the word "butt" in polite company. I was a rude Northerner, unused to the refined and genteel South when we first moved here. I was also younger and stupider. It  didn't seem like a bad word to me in the North, but it was considered uncouth clearly in the South. I try not to use that word anymore, as I don't desire to give offense when possible, but it is so hard sometimes to know all the rules. Had I been on the dock with my dog who refused to jump, I would have given him a gentle nudge. And I would have been booted from the contest, and an eternal pariah to all of Dock Dogdom. So much can hinge on knowing the rules.

I think that is why God made salvation so easy. He gave us the 10 Commandments to see how we would handle those, but almost instantly, every one of them was broken twenty times in the first five minutes. We as a species are notoriously awful at following the rules. So the Jewish religious authorities decided to add a whole bunch more rules so maybe we could walk the straight and narrow path a little more accurately. But all that created were more rules to break.  Finally, God could stand it no more and said, "Enough! You are throwing too many dogs off the dock, and what I really want you to do is let them fly on their own. So I will make it simple. Just admit you can't follow the rules, even just a few for even just a few moments. You will never be a good Dock Dog handler on your own. Admit it, and let me take over. Trust in me and let me carry away your sin. That is the only rule you need to know."

This is not a perfect analogy, but it will do for my purposes. Rules are not made to broken. They are made to be kept, but we just can't.....not with any consistency. And rather than boot us from the contest, God gives us a way to stay in it for all eternity.

John 3:15-17 (New International Version)

15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
 16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Never ending supply of woes

I think Honeybun spent our 12 days away from her by gnawing on her toes. As a result, when we brought her to the vet for all her yearly vaccines and mentioned we'd noticed a small sore between her toes, the vet noticed a swollen pad and small sores we had not. The vet was a sweet young thing, far too young to have graduated from anything but elementary school to my eyes, and told us that it was likely due to some allergy, either food or environmental.  Honeybun had already faced the degradation of having her anal glands manually expressed, a function that in my opinion, no dog should ever ever be unable to perform on their own. And now, she was itching herself out of an agility job, with her chewing at her paws.  Of course, when I told Asherel, she was delighted, "Does this mean I can get her dog booties?"

Honeybun has hats, dresses, coats, shirts, PJs and even a dog swimsuit, but I have drawn a line in the sand over dog shoes. Ironically, they might actually not be a bad idea....

So armed with a bag of medicines, including instructions for daily foot soaks that involve keeping her paw in a cup of warm medicine soak for 5-10 minutes, we headed home. Honeybun looked depressed, despite the fact that Asherel had bought her a cute pink hat that said, "I'm Perfect". I think she suspected agility training would be suspended for a few days, and she doesn't necessarily love the agility part, but she does love the food rewards. Meanwhile, we are also dosing her with benadryl. If it is a food allergy, this won't help, but if environmental it will.

So foot soak time arrived and I had Asherel straight jacket Honeybun in a tight football hold against her chest. The five minutes were still the slowest 5 minutes in history. First, Honeybun was sure the foot soak was edible and kept trying desperately to escape the throttle hold so she could eat the bowl of medicine. Then she finally acquiesced- tail slung between her legs, ears back, face pathetically woebegone.  As the 5 minutes thankfully elapsed, I lifted the foot to apply the topical medicine. That was when I realized I had soaked the wrong foot.

I had just exchanged a series of emails with a sweet dear friend who makes Job's troubles sound like play time.  She said many profound things, one of which was that she didn't know what God was trying to teach her, but knew that understanding was not needed to claim His grace.  What a beautiful thought!  So much we don't understand. There would be no Grace were it contingent upon understanding.

I know some things are clear about trials. God almost never explains His purpose specifically but He always supplies His presence through them. They may appear otherwise, but are always administered in love from Someone with a perspective we cannot have.  What often looks like the worst thing that could happen to us, can turn out to be the pivotal moment of growth, self awareness, clarification of who we are in the essence of our relationship with God and with others. They are rarely easy, but they always change our character and our perspective....whether for better or for worse seems to be something that we can control and I suspect is at the core of God's purpose in sending them.

 This morning when I looked at Honeybun's foot, the sore was gone. The pad seemed much better, and the Benadryl seems to have helped her itchiness. I know my friend probably didn't awaken to a trouble free morning, but I know she still nestled in God's football hold as she faced the soaking struggles of the day.

2 Corinthians 12:9
But he 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.

Friday, October 22, 2010

While I have breath.....

I mean no disrespect to a necessary profession, but I hate going to the dentist. I have sensitive spots in my teeth that the dentist always seems to want to find, and dig around in with metal tools. You all know that electric shock that makes your nostril hairs singe and your eyebrows curl. If you don't, count yourself among the lucky few.

So I dutifully go twice a year but I look forward to it like I would walking on hot coals to reach a bowl of lima beans mixed with cow brains. Just yuck and double yuck.

Yesterday was my biannual visit to the masked purveyor of torture and pain in the name of health. (For all you children reading my blog, remember that I use exaggeration to make my points. Every one of you should go to the dentist faithfully, floss daily, and change your toothbrush every 3 months. Do not be dissuaded by my recounting of my own neuroses with dentists).

The dental hygienist is always impossibly cheery as she lays out the sharp, menacing tools. Before I even sit down, I remind her to swab my gums with the numbing gel. As it takes effect, my whole throat goes numb as well, and of course, now I am not only gripping the seat edge in anticipation of the inevitable shock of pain they always seem to inflict, but I am quite sure I will die of tracheal paralysis. And then of course, she asks  a question. Not just a yes or no question I can mutely nod or shake an answer to. A question that requires a dissertation to answer appropriately. But there I sit, mouth agape, tongue, throat and lips numb, with her fingers in my mouth and some hideous tool scraping away.

As she settled the apron that keeps the xrays from etching holes in my midsection, she told me, "What a beautiful day!" glancing at the sparkling sun outside the windows of the torture chamber.
"It is," I agreed, "It almost makes me feel like I am on vacation in this weather."
"Some of my clients tell me their favorite day of the year is a visit to the dentist," she went on.
My face must have conveyed the polite but obvious unspoken retort, "You are a big fat liar."
"Yep," she said, "They are usually young mothers with 3 kids under age 5. They say the trip to the dentist is the only time they have an hour of uninterupted peace and quiet."

I pondered that thought for the rest of the visit, which only had one brief moment of tolerable pain. I guess, like in all things, it is a matter of perspective. To a starving child, moldy bread is a blessing. The Bible tells us, in one of my favorite verses, "A live dog is better than a dead lion." (Ecclesiastes 9:4)  I suppose the simplest way to think of it is count your blessings.  I had no cavities, I left with nice clean teeth, and a new yellow toothbrush with bristles that tell me when it is time to get a new brush. The sun was still shining, and my dear daughter greeted me with a smile, hard at work on finishing her school work when I returned.

While I have breath, I should really be using it to praise God for how fortunate I am to have breath to praise Him.... and sweet smelling breath, courtesy of the dentist I so fear.

Ecclesiastes 9: 4-5
4 Anyone who is among the living has hope -even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!  5 For the living know that they will die,
       but the dead know nothing;
       they have no further reward,
       and even the memory of them is forgotten.

1 Peter 1: 3-4
 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you,

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Duck, duck, goose

The burly young man quickly sketched in his goose and then began to apply the thick layer of pastel.
"Wait!" I called out, and my student stopped mid stroke.
"Before you apply the pastel, which can't be easily corrected, is your drawing as good as you can make it?"
He glanced at it.
"For example," I said in the silence of a teachable moment, "Right now you have drawn the body beautifully but look at your photo of a goose. See that long, snake like neck? You have drawn a duck neck."
"I like ducks," he said, and began to apply the pastels.
"Stop!" I begged, "You can do this. It is not a duck. It is a goose. Look at that long neck and correct your duck. Make him a goose."
The young man flipped to a clean sheet of paper.
"You don't need to start all over," I advised, "Look at the curve here. You  have made it an opposite curve. Do you see that?"
He did.
"And now just lengthen and skinny up that neck..... then you will have a goose."
He sighed, and I suspected he didn't believe me. Also, turning his duck into a goose would require some effort and he wasn't quite sure it was worth it. After all, he didn't have to tell a soul that what he was really trying to draw was a goose, not a duck. But I knew he could do it, and I knew every time he looked at his duck, he would see a failed goose if he didn't deal with it.

He made one of the changes and then began to color in with pastel again.
"Not yet!" I called, "It is still a duck neck!"
He again sighed and this time put aside the pastels, and one by one, began to apply the corrections.
A few minutes later I glanced over.
"That's it!" I exulted, "Now you have a goose!"
"Yes," he agreed, and smiled as he began to color it in with his pastels, finally.

I try to get away with ducks when what I really want is a goose too, so I understood his hesitancy.  Settling for less than what is our best or sometimes what we know is right is much easier than correcting and striving for excellence. It eeks into every moment of life if we let it, that tendency to settle for less than what we know we should. Yet in the back of my mind, every time I do that, there is a nagging conviction that I have let the fullness of what life could be slip past me.

In the book of Revelations, God chastises His people not for sin, but for being "lukewarm".  He would rather have us be hot or cold than just complaisant. It is true in faith, in worship, in relationships, and in drawing geese.

Revelation 3:15-17 (New International Version)

15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rejecting Help

We begged, cajoled, almost coerced Grandma to leave her home to either live with us or have a small assisted living apartment. She refused. The only option left would be to tie her up and put her on top of the van like a Christmas tree. It would not work to put her in the car, even fully bound because she is old and frail but feisty and her mouth muscles seem stronger than ever.  So with our hopeful departure time being pushed back further and further Arvo and I both got on the phone and made dozens of calls. Finally, we arranged to have two home health services coming to assess the situation (one today) and the private one will start immediate services after the assessment. As I arranged it, before getting off the phone, I asked Grandma, "So are you on board with this?"
"I'm on board," she said, "Or you will never leave."

It is not fun using strong arm tactics with a frail and kindly, shaking old woman who would die for us. I appealed to her sense of reason,
"Mom, if your own mother were in the same level of health as you are, would you leave her to live on her own?"
"She was!" exclaimed Grandma, "And she was so stubborn! She refused!"
I looked pointedly at her without speaking, letting those words echo back to her.

The situation is not unlike what God faces with us every day.  He pleads with us to be rational; look at the evidence of His goodness and provision. Trust in Him and turn to Him and be healed. But we run on our meager and imperfect self-reliance, rejecting the source of sustenance and help, to our detriment and His despair.

In the end, we have probably done all  we can do for now, other than continue in prayer.  But I told Asherel that should I ever become so irrational, just bop me over the head, and drag me away.

1 Peter 4:7-8 (NIV)
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. [8] Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


The narrow bridge was just wide enough for 2 golf carts. The hill was steep and I was running laboriously. Then I heard the golf
cart behind me and saw the golf cart before me. All three of us would hit the apex of the hill simultaneously. Someone would have to fly, or jump off the bridge as all three of us could not pass through the narrow opening.

I knew that if I ran too slowly, the cart behind me would have a hard time making it up that steep hill. If I crossed to the other lane, I would be mown down by the cart screaming down the steep side.

So I sprinted and all ended happily. The uphill cart didn't stall and the downhill cart didn't smash into me and I reached the point where we would have all collided early enough that they could pass me and not flatten me. Whew! My lungs were very angry with me and told me
that if I ever abused them that way again, they would demand overtime pay and a yearly bonus.

I realized that I am metaphorically in that kind of an impasse more often than I like. Pressures mounting behind me while new struggles and expectations are racing towards me. And I am caught in the middle, not able to outrun either. ... kids still needing direction and schooling and guidance or at least my credit card number, aging parents with many needs I find myself helpless to provide. There doesn't seem any way to get along
this road safely without someone getting squashed.

Grandma told me this morn to return the cell phone I got for her to make calls in an emergency.
It was too complicated and too bulky for her to carry everywhere with ease. I can't force her to leave her home, but I fear she is going to die a gruesome death living alone and falling, unable to get up or summon help. Someone will find her in 10 years stuck behind the garbage can that rolled on top of her when she tried to lift it.

We live too far away to be a real help. I am running up a hill as fast as I can and problems are racing towards me from the other direction. My strategy now is to stop and look up. It is the only direction help is going to come

Psalm 40:11-13,16-17 (NIV)
Do not withhold your mercy from me, O Lord; may your love and your truth always protect me. [12] For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. [13] Be pleased, O Lord, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me. [16] But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, "The Lord be exalted!" [17] Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay.

- Nothing is impossible with God

Monday, October 18, 2010

Navigating the 21st century

I was utterly dismayed entering Grandma's house. It was clear that she should not be living alone, yet she adamantly refused to leave with us. For now, I knew at least for the short term, I must make her home safe. To her consternation, I rolled up and hid all the throw rugs and then I told her I would refuse to go home unless she let me get her a cell phone which she would wear in a pouch from a necklace around her neck.

Asherel and I went shopping for old people phones- small and easy to operate. We fortuitously found a salesman who had forced his grandpa recently to get a cell phone.
"Now he is the envy of all the old geezers," assured the kind young man, "and I have peace of mind that in an emergency, he can call someone."

He patiently helped us select
The best phone and cheapest prepaid minutes plan. We headed back to stubborn Grandma, determined to teach her to use the phone- first with speed dialing to 911, but then with the ease of reclining on the couch and chatting with loved ones.

Until you have taught an old person who has lived close to a century how to operate a device like a cell phone, you have no right to call yourself a teacher. I think it should be required of every education major that he go to a nursing home, and teach a senior citizen how to call a friend and take a photo with a cell phone.

I never knew how advanced a task it was to just open a cell phone. We finally mastered that procedure and moved on to speed dialing.
"You have to press and hold 2," I instructed,"That's it. Then it automatically dials 911."

Grandma will need to cut her beautiful long nails but she understood the task. We practiced by having her call my number, also programmed into speed dialing.

I stood across the living room, my phone in hand.
" Ok, call me. Remember, just press and hold number four."
My phone rang and I answered, giving Grandma a thumbs up across the living room.
"Hello!" I said, waving, "Can you hear me?"
"Yes," she said.
I walked to the next room, talking in my phone, " Can you still hear me, Dr. Watson?"
"No!" she yelled.
"I mean in your phone," I added, knowing she meant she could
no longer hear me in the same room.
She sent us to dinner, begging us to let her stay and rest. So I put her dinner at her table aside the recliner and put her phone necklace on her.
"We'll call from the restaurant so you can practice answering," I told her.

So I called...twice....and she didn't answer. Waiting a few minutes, I tried again. This time, she answered.
"Did you try to call earlier?" she asked, "I heard music and I didn't know where it was coming from. Then finally I realized it must be my phone!"

I went to bed early, worn out from making the complicated simple. But Grandma sat happily with her son, watching baseball, with the pretty light blue phone pouch safely hanging on the necklace.

Isaiah 50:2 (NIV)
When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you? By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst.

Isaiah 50:4 (NIV)
The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

Isaiah 52:7 (NIV)
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"

- Nothing is impossible with God

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A herd of cats

It makes sense that in Orlando where there are Mickey Mouses everywhere you look, you would also expect there to be a plethora of cats. On my last run on the morning we left Orlando to go visit Grandma, I turned a corner and came upon a gaggle of kitties, a whole pride of tomcats, a herd of cats.

I don't know if there is a word that is accepted by word connoisseurs to describe a large gathering of cats. I had not known they gathered. I thought cats were standoffish creatures, both with humans and with their own kind.

Yet here they were, a whole pack of them, a full cotillion of felines, a bevy of whiskered beasts. Some hid under a discarded rusty trailer, some draped atop it, and all turned to watch me warily. They were clearly feral, and they were a united group- no howling scratching fights that is all I had ever seen groups of 2 or more cats do.

I didn't try to go near them. Their unified alert stance told me they would bolt if I approached. But as I ran on, I wondered what circumstances had brought some twenty cats to their communal life.

I had a similar thought as Asherel and I wandered through the Villages at Lady Lake, where Grandma lives. Everywhere I looked, there were old people, gaggles of octogenarians, swarms of retirees.

What makes them gather together like that? As we wandered the village, they were dancing to a live band. The band was playing rap and the old folk were shimmying and shaking to the beat.

I think there is a lot to be said for gathering together- safety in numbers, many hands making light work, and huddling together in the cold. Face it, being alone is lonely. Those feral cats may have to share their bites of Mickey but with all those eyes prowling, they certainly increase their chances of catching him before he ducks into costume with all his bodyguards around him.

I love how God tells us that when He is ready, He will bring us back from all our lonely outposts of sin and struggle.... And He will GATHER us together and together we will be restored to Him.

Those feral cats and rapping old folk are on to something.

Deuteronomy 30:4 (NIV)
Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back.

- Nothing is impossible with God

Saturday, October 16, 2010

And in the end what matters most

We parked at Animal Kingdom Lodge, where my sister's family was staying. The Wildebeest watched us as we scurried past the observation window.

As we rode the Disney bus into Epcot, my nephew saw women boarding the full bus at the next stop and without a word, quietly stood. His father smiled at him. No one else was watching, not even a wildebeest, but I noticed.

I spent a day filled with all the rides and exotic food and
gorgeous venues of incredible
creative and artistic productions. Countries of the world were recreated with whole streets seemingly carried brick by brick to be painstakingly erected in the Epcot world village. Elaborate gardens with full perfect roses twined throughout the grounds. Even the Eiffel tower filled the skyline behind the French village. All the charm and beauty of bustling old marketplaces, elaborate architecture, and sumptuous ethnic wares vied for my attention.

The day closed with fireworks swirling in a thousand directions while a giant globe lit up as it twirled across the lake. All the buildings that circled the lake were sparkling with lights all along their porticos and rooflines and each window pulsated with choreographed flashes of brilliant illumination. 20 foot flames shot out of torch lamps that lined the shore. As the fireworks were launched from all angles along the lake edge, they sizzled and shimmered and streamed across the sky in a massive explosion of rainbow colors.

Funny though... as I closed my eyes to sleep that night, the image seered in my mind was of a quiet, respectful boy standing so a stranger could sit.

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

- Nothing is impossible with God

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rattled in the magic kingdom

Don't listen to Asherel. It was at least a 5 foot, if not 6 foot long diamond back rattle snake we almost ran over on the way to pick up my nephews to take them to the beach. I have never seen such a huge rattle snake, nor any rattle snake outside of captivity.

"I would strongly advise you don't go barefoot around here," I warned the nephews, shuddering as I pictured the swollen poison packed triangular head.

I almost didn't see him, focusing further down the road, and slammed on my brakes, screeching to a halt within centimeters of the giant reptile.

And horrifying and eerily tantalizing as that enormous pipe
of poison was, our encounters with dangerous nature were not at an end that day.

I took the two older nephews and Asherel to Cocoa Beach for the day. We were having a lovely time with the kids not going near the treacherous water. We played frisbee, dug giant holes, built a sand dragon, went shell hunting, and learned to skim board. Three hours passed and no kid seemed interested in swimming, which was fine with me with my past encounters with ocean wildlife too recent in my brain to be able to escape the visions of horrific creatures lurking in wait for these precious children.

And then they decided to go swim, with only half an hour left til we had to leave. Drat! I had almost escaped with a worry free afternoon. I patrolled the beach, scanning the water for tell tale fins and paced, chanting comforting verses to myself.

And then I saw all three of them racing out of the water at top speed. I hurried out, thinking I could punch the shark in the nose and buy them time. I saw they all still had all their limbs and no visible wounds.

But while it was not a shark, Nathan had been stung by some creature. He was in a great deal of pain and held out a red wrist with three puncture marks and a knee with red rashy marks. I assumed jellyfish and told him in a few seconds he would not hurt- just follow me, the Disaster Preparedness maestro.
I sprinkled meat tenderizer liberally on his wounds and he sighed with relief.

"That's better," he said.

We let Nathan choose our fast food stop for dinner, and within a half hour, the pain was completely gone.

Later, recounting the story of the snake to Nathan's grandparents as we all gathered in Animal Kingdom Lodge, Gramps asked why I didn't run over the snake. While the lodge may appear to honor the animal kingdom, apparently only those behind electric fences were sacrosanct.

Funny, much as I hate snakes and much as I would really really hate to have chanced upon that giant rattler while on foot, I had slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting it, sending all our car contents flying to the floor. I would have done anything in my power not to kill it.

I am similarly not happy with whatever creature stung my nephew but I am certain it was not malicious. We can't go killing all the animals that could harm us. It is their land and ocean too.

But the irony did not escape me, sitting in Animal Kingdom Lodge discussing running over animals in the kingdom.

I get the same uncomfortable feeling when discussing the compassion of Jesus while i am treating inept sales people with disdain. Walking the talk sometimes means living peaceably with rattle snakes, and jelly fish, and stupid people that irritate me to no end. I have a long long way to go but I will say, I never even considered killing the snake.

Job 5:17-18,22-23 (NIV)
"Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. [18] For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal. [22] You will laugh at destruction and famine, and need not fear the beasts of the earth. [23] For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field, and the wild animals will be at peace with you.

- Nothing is impossible with God

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A magic kingdom

Some people go to Epcot for the rides and some for the interesting venues showcasing different countries. Some go for the exotic foods from all over the world and finally, some go to watch the Beatles imitators half hour show for all 5 of the performances.

Asherel has become a Beatles fanatic. She knows most of their songs, and even when those songs were written and performed. She has a venn diagram of the song "I am the Walrus" on her iPod.

As we were driving to Florida, out of the blue she asked me if there were many jobs for people who major in "Beatles History" in college. This is a real major in Liverpool Hope University. I told her I didn't think so, especially in a sluggish economy.

She had only 2 requests during our visit to Epcot. She wanted fish and chips for lunch and to be able to see all 5 of the Beatles' show in the England venue.

She sat center front on the ground where she wouldn't miss a single note. I noticed there were a few other people who stayed for several shows. They were mostly Florida residents, in their 70's or so and remembered the Beatles from their younger days. So wedged between the old people smiling and tapping their toes was my 13 year old, blissfully singing along.

I considered telling her there was too much else to do and see for her to spend 2 1/2 hours listening to fake Beatles. However, as I sat there with her, I realized that
they were very good and the cool evening in the uncrowded English garden was magical in it's
own way.

I didn't expect to enjoy Disney or the fake Beatles as much as I did. I would still prefer a quiet cabin in the wilderness with stars to light the darkness but there was a magical quality to Disneyworld and I do understand it's allure. I think it shows the yearning in all our hearts to find a kingdom where all things are possible and beautiful and perfect. I believe there is such a place, and it has a much cheaper admission price.

Isaiah 51:3,11 (NIV)
The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing. [11] The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

- Nothing is impossible with God

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I might have been great....

The little girl on the shuttle bus to Epcot was melting down. The mother was frantically trying to divert the certain stereophonic disaster.

Just minutes before, the toddler had been happily pointing to every tree and bush and shouting out ,"Cow!". Then she would squinch her face so that her upper lip touched her nose and bellow ,"Moo!". Asherel and I, sitting nearby, chuckled each time she pointed at cows none of us saw and mooed.

"She must have dreamed about cows," said her dad.
But happiness can be a fleeting spark, easily extinguished. The bus grew crowded and the mother gathered the cow dreamer onto her lap to make
room for others. And that is what brought us to this moment, with a little girl melting into a distraught and inconsolable puddle on her mother's lap. She wanted her own seat back.

Grandma offered her candy, Daddy offered her a book, Mommy jiggled her. The cow dreamer was stiffening her body into an inflexible board, albeit a cute one in her little pink princess dress. The cries tumbling out of her were less endearing.

Suddenly, my purpose for existing was realized. I pulled out my iPod and quickly sketched a cow and then turned it towards the shrieking child.

"What's this?" I asked.
The little girls sobs were stilled mid shriek and her eyes opened wide.
"Cow!" she exclaimed, delighted.
"What does a cow say?" I asked.
"Moo!" she said happily, and smiled as she took the candy her daddy offered her.

The lost seat was forgotten and the joys of being a child returned.

I have dreams too. I don't recall dreaming of cows but I dreamed of being a famous artist one day. It does not look like that day will come anymore, except perhaps in the eyes of a 2 year old and maybe that will be enough.

I guess we don't always know what we are being prepared for.
Sometimes it will be great things and sometimes very small things.
I think true contentment hinges on not caring which it is.....a Mona Lisa that hangs in a museum or a sketch of a moo cow that gladdens a child for a moment.

Esther 4:14 (NIV)
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"

- Nothing is impossible with God

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When toll booths are like waves

We called my sister who is staying in a Disney resort but having flown in, had no car.

"I am only a few minutes away from you right now, at the grocery store. Do you want me to pick up groceries for you?", I offered.
I told her my GPS indicated I was only 5 minutes from her place.
She gratefully recited her shopping list and we bought the items and headed off in the car, guided by the ever faithful star of our Garmin GPS.

I began to grow concerned when Garmin told me to hop on the toll road. My act of kindness was going to cost me $1.75. Still, it assured me I was just three minutes away and perhaps that was a small price to pay for convenience. Relying completely on the all knowing sensors in my Garmin, I never consulted maps anymore. Even crowded, scary, new cities like Orlando no longer threatened to unravel my calm and ruffle-free picture perfect least to that moment. The tiniest snag appeared in my demeanor as we entered the toll booth.

I paid my toll and then saw that Garmin was directing me to go a half mile, do a u-turn and return down the toll road the way I had just come. To my untrained eye, it appeared that the Garmin was taunting me, sending me on a fool's errand. Or Garmin was lost and it's Maker had neglected to program it to say, "pull over and consult an old fashioned map as I am hopelessly lost and will now put you on an infinite loop of toll roads."

"It doesn't do any good to get upset," reminded Asherel, as she likely noticed lava beginning to trickle out of my nose.

I trust my Garmin- it has rarely steered me wrong so surely there was a reason for this.
Strangely, it reported my sister's resort as somewhat further away now. I did the u-turn and got to pay the toll ....again. (Oh happy day!) I had now travelled a mile and spent $3.50 for the privilege of doing so.

In a panic now,with visions of toll booths appearing regularly every few feet, crashing against my bank account like waves, I told my co-pilot Asherel to program the Garmin NOW to avoid toll roads. The full blown emotional volcanic eruption was unavoidable now, as I realized we were lost, surrounded by bright pink and yellow buildings cheerfully goading me with their unreal happy facades.

Asherel again reminded me that getting upset never helps when I threatened to build a fire fifty feet wide in which to throw Garmin and all his little GPS liars.

Thirty minutes later, we arrived at my sister 's place.

This is what life is like sometimes.
Things are not what they seem. Journeys that were supposed to be quick and easy become expensive and frustrating marathons. Tempers don't remain tempered.

Not only do we sometimes not move in the right direction, but sometimes we pay dearly for the
privilege of losing ground.
We are waves pouring desperately forward only to find our progress sucked back like the tide. And how do we respond?
With praise and thanksgiving for all we are learning? I think not.

As in all things, maybe God was teaching me in an area I seem to struggle with over and over again. I am not the one in control, much as I think I should be and stressing about it is probably not the response He is going for. He who can stop the waves can smooth my paths or, in His infinite wisdom, direct them through endless toll booths. Ultimately , I can choose to rant and rave or accept it all with good humor and even joy. I suspect my co-pilot would assure you that I have a long way yet to go in making the better choice...and I suspect God may be throwing a few more toll booths in my path to help me practice.

Job 38:11 (NIV)
when (God) said, `This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'

- Nothing is impossible with God

Monday, October 11, 2010

Compassion for creatures beyond Mickey mouse

The aquamarine glorious cascading waves of the ocean with long stretches of empty beach would have been the subject today, had I not met Kitty.
We ended our wonderful time splashing around in Cocoa Beach by heading to the pet boutique in Cocoa. Asherel had naturally researched all the pet boutiques in Florida. I suppose I played into the obsession telling her rich people lived in Cocoa Beach and there were undoubtedly fancy pet attire shops.

We found the boutique with rows of "very well made pet clothes". Asherel couldn't decide between a Hawaiian print beach shirt or blue polo or denim jacket with fur collar for Lucky. She showed great restraint in admitting Honeybun has enough clothes.

"Are you sure this is how you want to spend your money?" I asked.
"Yes," she answered , " I consider it a hobby."

And I would have considered it wanton waste, until I glanced down and saw Kitty. I had already met the three cats the owner had rescued from the streets, sweet and lovely pets. Kitty, however was suspended from a sling around her belly with strangely splayed back legs. She was supported by a four wheeled frame made of plastic pipes and with four little wheels.

"Is Kitty in rehab?" I asked the owner.
"Yes, her spine was damaged by a dog. We are retraining her muscles to walk. She lost bladder control so she has to wear a diaper and we hold it on by dressing her in cute outfits like that one. She is our fashion plate cat."

"Did you make that frame?"
I asked, impressed by the ingenuity and simple function.
"Yes," she laughed ,"Can you tell?"
Asherel decided on the Hawaiian print and after skootching Kitty, we tried again to tempt the parrot into saying"Hello!". He just mimicked laughing at us.

"Do you think Lucky will like it?" she asked, holding up the shirt.

"Well no, I think Lucky hates wearing clothes. But I am glad you supported that kind woman. Most people would have euthanized that cat."

I am glad I met her and Kitty. It brought this city of consumerism gone amok into some Godly perspective for me. As we left the store, the Parrot called out ,"Goodbye!"

Psalm 112:4 (NIV)
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.

- Nothing is impossible with God

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Leaping over lizards

There are more tempting stores and attractions to separate you from your money per square inch here in Orlando than anywhere else on earth. Everywhere you look there are signs announcing the finest, the funnest, the most exquisite and exhilarating options any human has ever faced to dispense with savings and retirement funds. This is not a town for those with weak will power. Everything I didn't know I needed or wanted flashed before my eyes, block after block. And that was just driving on the interstate. I felt like Odysseus, needing to be tied to the mast to resist the Siren's song.
"If I start spending money, you must tie my shoelaces together," I told Asherel.
"Good," she said, her eyes glazed with all the glitz around us, and I could she that once I was hobbled she intended to abscond with my credit card and go straight to the huge Best Buy and Petsmart palace.
They even provide free shuttles to the shopping outlet malls from all the area hotels. The Recession seems to have skipped over this city.

When we arrived at our lodging,
we knew we would need to put paper bags over our heads and glue our wallets shut or we would soon be begging for food on the corner with a cardboard sign that said , "Seduced by Mickey mouse and his friends. Penniless with nothing left but mickey mouse ears. Please help. "

We unrolled our creaky limbs out of the car and decided to explore the grounds of the place we were staying. As we walked in the warm and brilliant Florida sun, little lizards darted across the sidewalk. It was a reptilian stampede- droves of them dodged our toes. I had never seen anything like it. Lizards racing across the sidewalk like deer dodging cars.

They seemed to be waiting in the grass til we approached. And
then they all whispered quick strategy plans and in a flash, simultaneously scampered in our path. It was lizard hari-kari - a reptilian onslaught tempting death.
But why? What were they thinking?
Maybe they, like us, were looking temptation in the face and challenging fate. Perhaps they needed to prove to themselves they could overcome whatever danger approached. They were luckier than us however. We carefully stepped over them. But all those stores and entertainment parks are not so kind to us- they are not closing their doors so we don't spend money we don't have. We will have to exercise self-control.

Matthew 26:41 (NIV)
"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."

- Nothing is impossible with God

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Looking for Opportunity.....

The dogs know something is up. Suitcases keep being shuffled in droves to the car and thus far, no dog has been asked to "Get in!". They find this gravely ominous and are consulting what the best course of action might be.  Lucky of course is advising that they be proactive and escape immediately, before the car departs. Honeybun whose nature is really one of submissive obedience finds this suggestion abhorrent but was particularly disturbed when the iPod charger got put in the car. They intend to go away longer than an iPod remains charged, and this she knows means at least one full food cycle.

"Who will feed me?" is her overriding concern. But they both stand at the door, looking out, hearts a flutter.
"Now Lucky,"  I warn, "Some very nice girls will be coming 4 times a day to feed and walk you. If you chew the window sill off  or dig a hole in the wall, you will have to be crated. I don't want to get a call like we did a few  years ago when we were in Florida asking me if we had a dog named Lucky."
Lucky blinked at me as though he didn't remember that episode. The neighbor 2 streets over was kind enough to drop him back in our yard and we called the dog sitter to hurry over and barricade him in the house.

Fortunately Arvo will be here for another week so the dogs will only be alone about 3 days. A lot can happen in 3 days, however. In that brief time period, the Savior of the world was killed and then resurrected. If one man could manage to save an entire species in three days, imagine the havoc a crazed dog could create.

So we go with some trepidation. Asherel is much better, fever gone, and just some lingering congestion.... so the anxiety is no longer for her health.  But Lucky and Honeybun are looking ominously conspiratorial.
"God sees what you are planning, even when I don't," I remind them. Honeybun hangs her head, but Lucky stares back at me knowingly.

Micah 7: 3-4

3...the powerful dictate what they desire—  they all conspire together.
 4 The best of them is like a brier,
    the most upright worse than a thorn hedge.
    The day of your watchmen has come,
     the day God visits you.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Best Laid Plans of Mickey Mouse and Men...

48 hours before our trip to visit Mickey and Grandma in Florida, my child who never gets sick got sick. She huddled listlessly on her polka dotted bean bag chair with flushed cheeks. She fortunately doesn't have a high fever, and I am hopeful that when she awakens today, the worst will be over and we can still drive to Disney tomorrow.

We got free tickets to Disney through their volunteer "give a day, get a day" program. We were volunteering anyway, but the tickets were a nice perk. I am not a huge fan of amusement parks or spending a boatload of money for a day of noise, crowds, rides I don't like, and greasy overpriced food.... but Disney is an American Icon. No kid should grow up without having been there once. And Grandma lives an hour from there, so it seemed a good idea. Grandma is weak and weary, and I felt sure our visit would buoy her spirits. That was before we were loaded with contagion....

Many things seem to be a good idea when I plot them, and then when the actual enactment arrives, I sometimes wonder what I was thinking.....Fortunately, we will be in a Timeshare for the first few days, and will see Grandma at the latter half of the trip, so all germs should be safely off on some other unhappy child by then, possibly Asherel's cousins who are meeting us there.

I wonder why we continue to make plans when they so rarely come off as scheduled?  One of the saddest verses in the Bible involves ruined plans. Poor Job, when his sheep and cattle are destroyed, his children all killed, and then he himself covered with painful boils and wasting disease, cries out,
"My days have passed, my plans are shattered,
       and so are the desires of my heart." (Job 17:11).

I have never suffered to the extent Job did, but I can still relate. When everything seems to be caving in around me, and my plans are shattered, I almost lose the will to trudge on. But what even poor suffering Job realized in the midst of his unspeakable despair was that his Redeemer did live despite all evidence to the contrary, and ultimately, Job would see Him. How Job could utter such words of hope in the blackest of days, I find awe-inspiring. Only someone who knew His Lord intimately when the sun was shining could rely on that vision to carry him through the terrible times when the sun falls out of the sky.

I am not saying Asherel's cold is anything remotely resembling what Job endured, but sometimes our plans aren't quite what God's plans are. And I don't think God is telling us not to plan. I think perhaps He is telling us that His plan is better, and it will at times diverge from ours. And when He sends us down a path we don't think we want to walk, we sometimes just need to trust.... and alas, in Asherel's case, also sneeze.

Job 19:
 25 I know that my Redeemer  lives,
       and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
 26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
       yet in  my flesh I will see God;

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pausing to Discern

It was flipped upside down, from darting tongue to frantically wiggling tail. I don't know who had flipped it or why, but likely I had interupted a bird about to feast. I could see all its little underbelly scales which are used to propel snakes at an alarmingly fast 13 km/hr. It was orange-ish,  so I thought it might have been a corn snake or (horrors!) a copperhead.

The corn snake is a docile creature, reluctant to bite and very helpful in keeping the rodent population under control. It has an unfortunate similar color/markings to the poisonous copperhead, so my first response on seeing the baby wiggling helplessly upside down was to shriek and find someone to stomp on it. But that moment passed and I paused to watch it. I saw then that the distinctive poison snake triangle head was not there, thus deduced it was a harmless and even useful corn snake.

As I watched, it reminded me of a turtle on its back, flailing helplessly unable to flip over. I thought briefly about helping it, but that idea quickly passed as I remembered how much I abhor snakes. But somehow, my better nature wouldn't allow me to pass it by. It was a baby, afterall. So I stood there, shielding it from whatever predator had flipped it, and cheered it on.

"You can do it, snake!" I encouraged, "Exert yourself!"
The snake wriggled frantically. I knew I would have nightmares, but I continued to watch the mortal struggle. The darker diamond markings would have fooled anyone. Why would a harmless and even in the snake world, docile snake want to look like the murderous Copperhead? How many innocent corn snakes had been stomped on by herpetophobics?

Finally, beginning with the tail, the little underscales began to grab at the ground, and as it slowly found traction, it began to flop over. Before it could totally unroll and escape with the possibility of darting into my shoes and paralyzing me with fear, I hurried on with my interrupted walk. 

But I continued to consider the thought of the benign masquerading as poisonous.  It was the opposite of the snake in the Bible who was death itself masquerading as life. In both cases, I think God was telling me that what was needed was discernment.  Things are not always what they seem. First blush responses are sometimes not based on truth. At times, it is best to overcome aversion, prejudice, fear, preconceptions.... and pause long enough to discern what is dangerous, and what is not.  I am an impulsive creature with an almost pathological desire to do things quickly and early. The older I get, and the more slowly my neurons fire and my muscles respond, I am being forced to slow down and consider more before action. And I am finding more and more that sometimes those Copperheads in life are really Corn snakes.
What looks like death, is really benign, even useful.

Even the disciples were thrown into dismay when their "so-called" Lord was carried from the cross, dead.
All their hopes and dreams of the victorious Messiah gone.  And then, He appeared, resurrected, back from the hellish journey where He had to bear separation from His Father long enough to carry the horrific burden of our sins and pay the penalty we would now not have to. What looked like defeat was the Ultimate Victory. Perfect Justice and Perfect Mercy all rolled up in one act.

I am glad I stopped and watched the baby snake. As it slithered off in one direction, I scurried off in the other, smiling instead of shuddering.

Genesis 50:20
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Mathematics of Chickens

The introduction she wrote for the moderator to announce her speech tantalized the audience:
"The next speaker will be answering a question that has been asked since time began. She has spent weeks researching the topic, and will now help solve this ancient mystery."
Then Asherel, my shy 13 year old, strode to the lectern and said,
"Why DID the chicken cross the road?"

For the next 5 minutes, she gave a thoughtful and scholarly discourse on exactly what might have tempted the chicken to cross the road. She gave some ancient philosophers' takes on the matter ( e.g. Einstein: Did the chicken cross the road, or did the road move beneath her?") She discussed the sorts of food and habits that may have induced the chicken to cross the road. She mentioned that chickens live in the here and now, with little to no attention to consequences or past successes. She noted that chickens, contrary to what you may think about the implication of their name, are really quite brave.

The coup de force was when she went to the chalkboard to show the mathematical probability of the chicken crossing the road successfully with an average car speed of 55 mph, and a maximum chicken speed of 9 mph, and an average road width. She used her research on chicken vision and when it would have first discerned the car, then the formula rate times time equals distance to calculate how long it would take the car to reach the chicken, and the same formula to determine how fast the chicken would cross the road. She showed objectively with her careful calculations that the thrill seeking chicken would cross the road safely with .2 seconds to spare.

Finally she closed her speech saying really the question was a 2 part conundrum. "Why?" is a question that has never been successfully answered. Who, what, where, and when are objective and easily dispatched, but "Why" is an elusive query that has plagued mankind since time immemorial. The second part of the question can be easily now answered: Did the chicken cross the road? Yes.

As I watched my once shy child return to her seat to laughter and applause, I thought, "She has grown up before my eyes. She is funny and sweet and kind... all of a sudden she is someone I not only love, but really really like."  This is why parenting is worth every wretched, sleep deprived, hand wringing moment. Sometimes they become even more than what you hoped.

I wonder if my heavenly Father looks down on me, and ever smiles to Himself and says, "Wow, she has transformed. I knew it would happen of course, since I know everything, but my my, it is nice to be proven right!" So much of transformation is hidden, elusive, unobserved and unexplainable until suddenly it is there. A soul has ripped across the gulf of disbelief and reached the other side, where Jesus claps and delights, as the forces that might have crushed now whiz harmlessly by.

Deuteronomy 11: 11-12
11 But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. 12 It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Seeing What I Could Be

The idea of building a 6 gram helicopter was disrupting my sleep. How on earth were the kids going to do it? As I read over the Science Olympiad forums though, it was clear that the best helicopters came very close to that minimum weight. With the model of my double plastic cup rubber band powered helicopter in mind, I headed to the Hobby store. I would consult with the experts.

There are clearly some people who should not be in customer relations jobs. I think if you don't like people, you should work with sharks or maybe gardens.... but you shouldn't own a Hobby shop. Because HELLO, guess who is doing the hobbies? People!

But I had the ill fortune to walk into a hobby shop where the owner clearly did not have the patience or inclination to deal with beginning hobby-ists.  As I grow older, I must rely more on my wit and charm to help people get past my inanity. My good looks just don't seem to cut it anymore. Unfortunately, my wit and charm is not always all that it could be either.....

"Hi! " I said cheerily, noting I was the only one in the empty shop, yet the owner did not bother to look up or move towards me in any kind of welcoming stance.
"I need to build a helicopter," I began, sure that would elicit some response.
"Just sold the last one," he grunted without glancing my way.
"Well I need to build it myself, and I would like some advice on materials. It can only weigh 4 grams."
That did make him look up.
"4 grams?"
"So I am thinking balsam wood."

Later when I recounted the story to Asherel, she cringed and said, "You didn't say balsam wood, did you? It is BALSA wood."
I looked it up and indeed it is balsa wood, though there is a Balsam wood also:

Balsam Wood. Palo Balsamo.—This is a South American wood, derived from an unknown tree, which is believed to contain guaiacin, and which yields to distillation nearly six parts of a thick viscous aromatic oil. This contains as its chief constituent a crystalline solid of alcoholic character, melting at 91° C. (195.8° F.) and corresponding closely to the formula C14H24O. It has found employment in perfumery. (Schim. Rep., April and Oct., 1892.)

Balsam is useful in making incense. Balsa, on the other hand, is a very light wood and is what I did indeed mean, but the Hobby Shop man overlooked my mistake and waved me in the direction of the Balsa.
He called out to another morose and rather unfriendly fellow in the back to help me find the Balsa.
This man looked like he hadn't slept in a week, and perhaps that explains his taciturnity.
He showed me the balsa strips and I asked him how we would shape the strips to form a helicopter rotor frame. I knew we soaked them, but asked him how long.
"Til they bend," he said.
"How long is that, though?"
"Long enough to get what you want," shouted the most disagreeable owner from the front of the store.
"I read that I will need a bearing also," I said.
"For what?"
"For the rotor to spin against," I declared.
But then he felt the need to clarify what this bearing would be attached to and how. Of course, I didn't have the foggiest notion but tried to bluster my way through it, the way my dad taught me. Use a lot of words and hand movements and say things like, "Of course" and "obviously".  In the end, Mr. Taciturn said, "I suggest you draw up some plans and then come back."
"Oh we will," I assured him, "I just want some materials for them to play with and practice, trial and error.... you know how useful trial and error can be."
He didn't answer and I think the Hobby Blobby in the front shook his head.
"But we won't get the bearing for now, just the balsam and the tissue paper covering. Will that rip? It doesn't look very sturdy."
No it was not very sturdy, but if I was careful, it would not rip. They rang up my supplies and hurried me out the store. Mr. Hobby Blobby didn't look up as I said, "Goodbye now! Thanks for all your help!"

When I left the store, I realized that I felt bad... and stupid.  Now while this might be true, there are some people whose company I leave, and no matter what I say or do, they make me feel encouraged, hopeful, and respected.  I wondered what  people feel upon leaving my company. I am often irritated by incompetence and carelessness. I do not respond well to people who exhibit those traits. But I remember a Bible study once where we are admonished to treat others as though we see them with God's eyes, with all the potential of what they could become. That attitude gives a whole different perspective on what we are viewing.What might have happened if instead of seeing an ill-prepared, uninformed, and bumbling neophtye, the store owner had seen an aeronautic engineer in the making? What enthusiasm might he have sparked, and latent genius uncovered?
I left with a prayer for my own attitude, "Oh Lord, let me see the potential in every creature you have made, and treat them as though they have already become what you designed them to be."

Mark 10:20-22 (New International Version)

 20"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."
 21Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
 22At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.