Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Grass and Sin stain

As I walked alongside the pasture, a horse came galloping over to me.
"This horse really loves people," I thought, and so paused to wait for him to reach the fence. If he was that excited to greet a human , the least I could do was pause in my busy "holiday-overconsumption-reduction- mal-effects" program to say hello.

His beautiful head was held high, tail streaming behind him. He was glorious as he ran towards me. I was sure he was thinking the same about me. It was the first really cold day of the season, and I was wearing my warm and lovely white hat, white coat, and white mittens. Normally I don't wear white to Asherel's riding lessons because animals abound and animals always make a mess of white. However, this time I did, and the lovely white horse was dashing over to what I am sure he considered the lovely human in white.

As he reached the fence, he threw his head over it, begging me to stroke his muzzle. I lifted my pristine white gloved hand to pet his nose when he exploded.
I had never heard a horse sneeze or snort so emphatically and jumped back in surprise.

Then I looked down at my white coat. It was covered with shrapnel of sticky , gummy, green, staining grass. I automatically hurried to wipe it off and then my pristine white gloves were also covered with sticky, gummy, green, staining grass.

The horse stood there waiting to be pet. Then I noticed his friend in the field look up from his grazing, whinny, and come galloping over.

"Tell your friend I'd love to stay and chat,'but I have to get to the Dry Cleaner before it closes," I explained, hurrying on.

It almost seemed he had spit on me on purpose, and I wasn't certain, but I thought I heard the two horses laughing as I scurried away.

It's strange, but I was living the reverse of what the Bible tells us about stains. I was parading as clean as snow, white and perfect.
However, God tells us that the stain of sin is as scarlet, making us covered in filthy rags. Unlike
the horse, though our sins stain us, He reverses the process, and makes us clean. Jesus repeatedly railed against the hypocrisy of the folks who refused to see their own sin or the need for God Himself to cleanse them. Was the horse giving me a lesson and reminding me that I needed to make a trip to the Master Dry Cleaner?

I glanced back at the horses as I walked on. They were melting back to their grazing. How odd, I thought, are the messengers of God.

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.

-nothing is impossible with God

Monday, November 29, 2010

Broken and Beloved

"You want to save that?" Asherel asked laughing, as I pulled out a little bent paper angel from the ornament box.
"You made it, didn't you? Of course I am saving it," I answered.
"But it is bent," she observed.
So who isn't?, I thought.

We finished decorating the second tree which stands in the dining room. This tree is our colorful, whimsical tree. The elegant crystal and white tree is in the great room, and only carefully selected crystal, clear, or white ornaments (many from my parents' tree which my mom gave to me) are allowed to grace its more expensive pre-lit branches.

The dining room tree is for all the homemade ornaments from my friends, my family, my children and my art students over the years. There is no unifying theme other than bright and colorful..... and often old and slightly damaged . This has always been the tree the kids have decorated and I don't try to manage or direct how the ornaments are placed. In the past, it has often been pretty unusually balanced- most ornaments on the bottom three branches and none on the top.

"Did you make this?" I asked, holding up a wilted looking dragonfly.
"Yes," she laughed, "I think it is a dragonfly."
I am not sure what a dragonfly has to do with Christmas, but I clipped it on the tree.
I pulled out a little crocheted ornament, made by my neighbor with the date when Anders, my first son was born. It was stained around the edges.
"That looks a little old," said Asherel.
Yes, as old as the joy of my children gracing the earth's crust!

"Why are you hanging that one?" she asked, as I nestled a sleigh on an upper branch,"It only has one runner."
"My dad gave it to me, " I said, "When I set up my first Christmas tree."
And so the memories slowly paraded out of the box, a collection of misfits, damaged, and old ornaments of my life.

We stepped back when the last ornament went on the tree. Funny how all those broken, faded, ancient baubles looked so pretty and complete all together against the Christmas lights.

Our next adventure was to head out to the luthier and assess the cost of repairing Asherel's cracked guitar. I know many of you are surprised to see me use such an unusual word and until yesterday, I didn't know what it meant. A luthier is someone who repairs or works on stringed instuments, or luths(lutes). It did not occur to me as we drove to visit the luthier that we had spent a day amidst broken but beloved things.

Asherel lovingly opened her case and the luthier gazed at the Epiphone guitar.
"What do you think?" I asked.
"Honestly, I would get your money back unless you got a stupendous deal on it and buy one new for what it will cost to fix it."
I didn't look at Asherel's face, but I knew that would be the equivalent of throwing away the broken dragonfly ornament to her.
"How much did you pay for it?" he asked.
"I don't know," we answered, "My husband won't tell me."
"Well if you paid more than $200, it is not worth fixing. And even if we do fix it, the line of the crack will be repaired, but it will still show.  It will cost $100.... and that's if the electronics work." He fingered the loose volume knobs. The epiphone can be either acoustic or electric.
"Did anyone check to see if these work?" he asked. We somewhat abashedly shook our heads.
"She is really only using it right now as an acoustic guitar," I explained.

He was a kind man, and he touched the John Lennon signature.
"This is a good guitar," he said, "And the Lennon signature is cool. Why don't you call your husband and find out what he paid?"
So I did, but Arvo wouldn't tell me, so I handed the phone to the Luthier.
"Yes," I heard him say after he explained the situation to Arvo, "I understand. That is my favorite (meal) (Beatle) too."
Now I am not sure which he said but it is critical in guessing the guitar price, my dear Watson. You see, I think he said "meal" which means Arvo had said, "I can't tell them the price or I will have to eat some humble pie", which means he spent way too much for the broken guitar.
On the other hand, Asherel thinks he said, "Beatle" which means Arvo was explaining how much Asherel loves the Beatles, particularly John Lennon, and even though the guitar was broken, it was dirt cheap and he couldn't pass it up.

The luthier handed the phone back to me, and Arvo told me to go ahead and get it repaired.
I hung up and asked the luthier ,"He says fix it..... what did he pay for it?"
"I am sworn to secrecy," said the luthier.
"Well can you tell me this- was it worth it?"
"Depends on your income," he answered cryptically.
"What caused these cracks and damage?" I asked.
"Oh drinks spilling on it and not being wiped up...hard living. This guitar has needed a little TLC for a long time."
I smiled at Asherel, "I think God sent you this guitar just in time."

So none the wiser on the cost, we left the broken guitar with the luthier and headed home to our broken lifetime of ornaments. I reflected on the luthier's parting comment and thought about how all of us are in need of a little TLC. Sometimes it is a long, long time in coming, and we fear the crack will become more than just a surface blemish. Sometimes it threatens to break through into our core, and affect our ability to sing with the voice of wholeness and beauty that we were designed for.

But sometimes, in fact,  I think every time, if we get the whole broken mess of our soul to the Master Luthier in time, the cracks may still show, but they will not affect the ability to join in the Music. I smiled at our bright cheerful Christmas tree before I turned it off for the night.

Isaiah 65: 14, 17-18, 24-25
14 My servants will sing
   out of the joy of their hearts,
but you will cry out
   from anguish of heart
   and wail in brokenness of spirit.
 17 “See, I will create
   new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
   nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
   in what I will create,  
24 Before they call I will answer;
   while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
   and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
   and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
   on all my holy mountain,”
            says the LORD.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Stumbling through a Silent Night

I carefully screened all the notes- we knew all of them!
"Asherel!" I exclaimed, "We can play Silent Night!"
I plopped the guitar book down in front of her, terribly excited.  I had learned to read music as a child by playing a Christmas song. I think it was Hark the Herald Angels Sing (one of my young kids had asked me who was Harold and why was he singing....). Whatever the song, the notes had predictably climbed up and down the staff so that I could connect the key on the organ with the code on the music page. That somehow unlocked music reading for me. (Maybe it was The First Noel....as usual, my memory fails me....)

Anyway, Asherel is taking guitar lessons and I am a sucker fish, sitting in on her lesson, since I am the chauffeur, and absorbing as much as I can without having to pay for my instruction. When we get home, Asherel always sits me down and patiently practices with me.

"I can't do it!" I cried, banging my head on my guitar.
"Yes you can Mom, you are getting better!"
"No, my fingers can never find the g or the e, and forget about the f or the c. It is impossible!"
"Mom, stop being negative. It hurts the teacher's feelings."

I glanced at her. Cruel , cruel world that makes children mirrors! I must have used that line many times in home school for it to spring so easily from her lips. What other teaching methods would I soon be subjected to?

"Would you like to do the chords for a while and I will finger pick?" she asked gently.
I am good at the chords....well, the F twangs and vibrates a bit unmelodiously but it is getting better. I rock at the C and G, and sound like a pro on E minor. 
I sniffled, "Okay."
She finger picked while I strummed "Silent Night."

There was no snow, but the Christmas tree was decorated all in white snowflakes and crystal icicles. It shimmered in the next room as my daughter and I slowly and somewhat inexpertly strolled through the song, the night no longer silent. The halting, but quietly beautiful notes of the hopes for humankind settling around the peaceful scene of another mother and child filled the room and our hearts.
"Good!" said Asherel with an encouraging lilt in her voice as the last chord slowly dissipated in the air.

We might have the song down by Christmas. Asherel certainly will. She is a very quick study, and her fingers seem to find the notes easily, and her memory allows her to have a song firmly in her brain after playing it just a few times. I, on the other hand, will have to play it every day, several times a day for the next month, and am pretty sure even then, I will not have memorized the notes, and my fingers will probably still stumble on the A and E.  But what I will have fully absorbed is the message. I never remember specifics, just like my fingers never seem to alight on the right string the first time, but I always remember what I am playing and Who I am playing it to. Fortunately, God honors the offering of the weak, and in this I will never disappoint Him. We stumble along, halting in speech, infirm, blind and lame in so many ways.... but God accepts the most despicable and imperfect soul as easily as the refined. 
"Just come to me", He beckons," I will give you fingers that will find the A and the E, and I will give you songs that sparkle in the silent night just as brightly as the stars that I have placed there to guide you!"

Psalm 37:24
"though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand."

Psalm 92
 1 It is good to praise the LORD
   and make music to your name, O Most High,
2 proclaiming your love in the morning
   and your faithfulness at night,
3 to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
   and the melody of the harp.
 4 For you make me glad by your deeds, LORD;
   I sing for joy at what your hands have done.
5 How great are your works, LORD

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Enjoying Life

I have never set foot near a store on Black Friday. I had heard too many horror stories about people entering the shopping vortex to be sucked down into the swirling consumerism, never to emerge again. However, my dear son Matt is a shopaholic, and loves deals, and he wanted to go shopping on Black Friday. And since I wanted to eek every last minute I could with my dear son, Asherel and I decided to join him. Arvo has an affliction known as "mall-walkingitis", and his little sore feet and he stayed home.

I did have a small list of things I needed, so with list in hand and my most comfortable shoes, we headed off to the hurricane force storm of shoppers.

I came away pleasantly surprised. First, no one was crushed to death by wild eyed consumers elbowing Grandma out of the way to grab the last "buy one get one free".  The sales people were unwaveringly friendly. When I produced my license as my ID for a purchase, I asked wistfully, "Does this still look like me?" (the license is a few years old.)
"Oh yes!" the two cashiers exclaimed, bending their heads over my photo, "Your hair is just shorter in this picture."
"I know....." I mused, "Do you think I look better in short hair?"
They peered at me and at the picture and then both agreed that yes, I did look better in short hair.
Drat! Just when I found a slightly longer style that I like and thought was becoming.
I was going to ask them which pair of jeans might look best on me, and if I should perhaps forgo contacts at my age and move on to trifocals, but the person behind me politely reminded me that "fashion advisory" was the next booth over.

The sales were amazing and I did finish every last bit of my Christmas shopping. I begin to see why Black Friday has such allure.  All my life I have been making fun of the sorry pieces of humanity that race out to buy, buy, buy. And while I still think that there is much more to life than buying things, Black Friday shopping ventures with loved ones is actually not really all about consumerism. The three of us had such fun wandering the aisles of goods, laughing, picturing a loved one in some outrageous outfit, fingering the $1500 dress Matt would love to buy his fiancee (but wisely didn't....couldn't....)  It is more about the joy of the hunt in a generation that no longer needs to shoot dinner, and the camaraderie in the pursuit. I realized that I am far too judgmental (again!) over things I don't quite relate to or haven't experienced. Goodness can indeed be found almost anywhere you look.

What would God think about Black Friday? The term originated in 1869 to describe the financial crisis in the US, but later was expanded to a more positive interpretation. On Black Friday, retailers make a profit, often for the first time of the year, and thus the "red ink" accounting of negative finances is replaced by black ink of profitability. I suspect that God would look at the motives of each shopper to determine His approval.

As we were crawling in a line of traffic to park, I saw a homeless man walk by the van in front of us. His clothes were tattered, his face grim and glassy eyed, his arms encircling a sign proclaiming his destitute status. The van driver rolled down his window and handed the man a bag and a rolled up blanket. The bag was filled with food, the blanket neatly tied with a ribbon. I felt certain the bag had a little note reminding the man that all is not lost, Jesus loves Him! I surmised that from the Christian bumper stickers on the van.

The whole day left a happy glow in my heart. I had been in the company of loved ones, I had gotten free hair advice, and I had seen an act of gentle, largely unnoticed kindness to a stranger down on his luck. I think God might be saying, "It's ok, just don't let it become the focus. In all things, give thanks!"

Ecclesiastes 8:15 (New International Version, ©2010)

15 So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving Thanks for Christ Mass

Normally I wait til the day after Thanksgiving to set up the tree, but since I had made all my dishes ahead of time,  I had nothing to do on Thanksgiving but be hungrily waiting for the meal and giving Thanks. So I decided to get going on Christmas, as long as I had helpers lounging around as well.

The helpers seemed less enthused about setting up for Christmas so I was mostly on my own. I was anxious to see if the tree I had bought for half price at the end of last season which I had never unboxed actually would light up. We had entered the new Christmas revolution, and bought a prelit tree for the first time. This means you just hook 3 parts together and flip a switch and you have instant Christmas.

Of course it is never in actuality EVER as easy as it seems.  For one thing, I read the instructions about sliding the midsection down on the bottom section AFTER I noticed there was a subtle mark on both sections that were supposed to line up. And then of course, I could not pull the two pieces apart. This little detail must not have been too critical however, because an hour later, huffing and puffing from my labor over a task that should have taken two minutes, the tree did indeed light up. And it was beautiful. I sat in my rearranged living room and gazed at it happily.

I had only meant to do a little of my Christmas transforming, but one little decoration led to another, and pretty soon the only thing that looked like Thanksgiving was the dining room table. All about it stood Christmas.

Which in a sense is the way it should always be.

Christmas is supposed to be all about the wonder and joy of the Messiah entering the world- the bearer of forgiveness and salvation and reunion with God. There should be a concurrent roar of Thanksgiving... but sometimes gratitude gets buried by greed and scurrying, and stress over things that really don't matter but seem to matter very much when we are living them.

And Thanksgiving should at its core be about the manifold blessings of our Creator, who loved us so much that He sent His one and only son as an innocent baby into the world. Christmas! The world is harsh, particularly to innocence, and Jesus did not have a happy time of it. But He accomplished all that He was to accomplish,  Christ Mass.  The term Mass means dismissal, or mission. Jesus was dismissed, sent to be the Christ, the one who would draw the world back to God.

So maybe having my Christmas decorations surrounding my Thanksgiving is not such a bad thing. A Bible word search of "Thanks" and "Christ" together had eight verses that linked the two. Asherel wore a Santa hat as we walked the dogs. Maybe some people thought we were just mixed up, with the Christmas tree lighting the front window, and the crazy girl in a Santa hat while everyone else was celebrating Thanksgiving. But I think I may make it our new tradition.

1 Corinthians 10:15-17 (New International Version, ©2010)

15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

If I only had a brain.....

I am providing a public service for those of you who are struggling to be thankful on this day when thankfulness is elevated to a superstar level. If the blessings of breathing, opening your eyes upon a vast blue sky hung with heavenly lights, hearing the sound of leaves rustling,  breathing the smell of wood fires in the cold, or nestling in the arms of a loving God who is always patting your back is not enough, here is something everyone can be thankful for. Be thankful you were not me yesterday in the rigors of extreme mortification at the hands of my treacherous tongue and vacationing brain.

I had brought my iPod to the Apple Genius Bar, to belly up for a little Happy Hour repair. The on/off button was sticking to the point where I had to hire a professional trainer to turn it off. Despite having cooked all day for two days in preparation for the Thanksgiving Feast, I was not at all focused on Thanksgiving. I was focused on whether I would have to be without my iPod for a day.

The Apple Genius approached me, and I told him I had made an appointment. My iPod was nestled safely in my purse. He was a congenial fellow, and after asking my name, smiled in a slightly conspiratorial way, and asked, "Turkey in the oven?"
Now I don't know why I had completely forgotten it was the day before Thanksgiving but the question caught me completely unawares. "What is he talking about? " was my first thought, followed by a vague recollection of the euphemism "bun in the oven" for pregnancy. Surely he is not asking me if I am pregnant, only a week after I was mistaken for a senior citizen at the Souper Salad buffet, is he? OH, I realized suddenly, this is Apple Genius code humor for "Do you have your iPod with you?"
 I smiled back, with a wink, to let him know I was with him on his repartee at the genius level, and patted my purse.
"Yep, my iPod is right here," I said.
He looked confused, and Asherel, perhaps the only human being more mortified than me, said, "MOM! He means Thanksgiving turkey....in the oven...."
As if I were seeking to embarrass myself further, I burst out laughing and added, "OH, I thought you were asking if I was pregnant."
By the way, I do not have a quiet voice.
So here is a grey haired lady with her apparent granddaughter, shouting out in the crowded Apple store that the employee is asking her if  she is pregnant.
The Apple Genius began to laugh so hard he was almost crying, as by now so was I and even the horrified Asherel who was actively praying for Jesus' Second Coming right now so she would not have to endure another moment at my side.
"That's a good one," chortled the Apple Genius, "That is one of the best I have heard in a long time."

Thankfully, a different genius was assigned to my case, and he swapped out my old iPod for a new one, which has a functioning on/off button. I think my brain, like my iPod, had been stuck in the OFF position. It happens sometimes. It is hard to believe that I actually share genetic material with my 15 year old nephew who just got a perfect score on his first college calculus final. His brain is obviously in the ON position. I could chalk it up to senility but this type of situation is not uncommon with me.

As we left the store, Asherel asked me if I had ever been so mortified in my life.
"Oh yes," I answered, "Many times. Remember I lived with Grandpa."
She nodded understandingly.
"When we would be in the marching band, or cheerleading, or marching with the dance drill team out on the football field at highschool games, he would stand up in the football bleachers and yodel to get our attention."
"Yodel?" she asked.
"Yes," I answered as we headed to the car, "Like this."
Of course at this point, with my brain still stuck on OFF, I yodeled.
"That's enough Mom," said Asherel, "I understand."

So be thankful all you people out there who think you have nothing to be thankful about. But you know what I am adding to my list of things to thank God for today? A crazy father who nurtured quirky kids and filled our lives, at least in retrospect, with laughter. And I hope someday Asherel may be able to say the same.

And I am thankful for my heavenly Father as well, who for reasons only He can answer, made me with a sticky on/off button.

Colossians 2:6-8

 6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Preparing to Give Thanks.....

My goal is to have nothing to do on Thanksgiving but sit back and smell food cooking that was all methodically prepared days in advance. Ideally, a small conveyor belt could be activated which would carry the covered, oven ready dishes in the refrigerator directly to the oven, set the temperature and timer, and then wake me up when they are all done at precisely the same moment.

To this end, when I google Thanksgiving day dishes, I always add the words- "make ahead" and "easy".  Then I get the list of all the no fuss, simple delectable dishes which will remain fresh in the refrigerator for days, and if I am very lucky, weeks, so that I can slowly build towards a feast of thankfulness.

My tradition is to ask every guest what their favorite dish for Thanksgiving is, and then I search for a make-ahead recipe. Unless a recipe specifically warns that it should not be prepared in advance and left to wallow in its juices for days, I assume it is a make ahead dish. I have had very few cases of food poisoning or inedible casseroles as a result, and thus the tradition lives on.  In this manner, I can pace myself. I can slowly build up to a proper attitude of gratitude.

Yesterday, I cooked three of the six major side items. All were bona fide make ahead recipes, though technically not supposed to be made more than a day in advance. There were bubbling, boiling, frying, and steaming pots and pans everywhere. It was hard to keep track. In fact at one point, Matt walked in the kitchen and asked if a pot was supposed to be spewing hot water all over the stove. I had just plumb forgotten about the potatoes!

Despite myself, the day ended with no mishaps or charred ceilings, and three make ahead casseroles sat waiting in the refrigerator for their big day. I settled a little wearily, but contentedly on the couch. That's when Asherel reported that there had been an alien abduction. She had looked everywhere and her iPod was missing. She had had it an hour ago at dinner, in her pocket, then had sat on the couch and played with the Wii, and now it was gone. She had looked under the couch, in the cushions, in her room, in the Wii basket of devices, and even in the freezer where she had grabbed a Klondike bar after dinner. The iPod had vanished. The four of us scoured the house, every nook and cranny for an hour. Arvo even tipped the huge heavy couch on its side and we all peered under, around, and through. No iPod.

Everyone drifted away, but the disconsolate Asherel and the baffled me.
"Let's pray," I suggested, "God is the Master at finding the Lost."
So I prayed with Asherel. We prayed about how even the most hopelessly, foundering lost souls are never out of God's sight. From our human standpoint, there is no chance that they will ever find their way to the peace and solace of our loving Father, but He always knows just where they are and He is always leaving a trail of Holy crumbs that lead them back to Him. No one is ever lost if they want to be found by Him. In the same way, we knew that God knew where the iPod was, and would He please guide us to its lonely side?

After we prayed we paused and looked at each other. Asherel disappeared to go hunt in her room again. I saw a tiny flashlight on the endtable and went to the couch side. I noticed a small slit in the back of the couch. I shone the flashlight there and saw a small glint of metal. Squelching the urge to shout until I was certain, I squeezed my arm through the too small opening. My finger tips brushed metal, and I excruciatingly slowly maneuvered my fingers around it, and pulled out the prodigal iPod.

"I found it!" I called out with joy, "Once it was lost but now it is found! Praise the Lord with Thanksgiving!"

It is so tempting sometimes to give up, throw your hands hopelessly in the air, and settle complacently back down to finish watching "Dancing With the Stars." I am not sure I go after the lost souls as diligently as I went after that iPod, or so intentionally as I had spent the day prepping our Thanksgiving feast. But the lost are sometimes so helplessly mired that more active, intentional seeking is required. And instead of bumbling along all alone, calling on the power of the One who longs that we had never wandered away in the first place should be the first resort....not the last.

And not that I begrudge a very excellent spiritual lesson, but I warned Asherel that from now on the iPod is ONLY to go in a zipped pocket. And I am reminded to maybe be preparing for Thanksgiving a little less, and giving thanks a little more.

Exekiel 34: 4-6, 11-16
4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Broken Instruments

She had fallen in love with the Epiphone guitar, with the John Lennon signature but we knew that we could not afford it. So she tried several guitars, but kept looking longingly at the Epiphone and returning to it. Arvo had promised her a guitar if the Giants won the World Series, but he didn't promise her a good guitar.

When we mentioned we were guitar shopping to her teacher, he asked which she was leaning towards.
"I liked the Lennon Epiphone," she said wistfully.
"That's a good one," he agreed.

Asherel is a good kid, and I knew she would not beg for a guitar we could not afford. On the other hand, she is begging for an iPhone, but she has offered to pay for it herself. Her dog sitting business is booming and the future is too distant to worry about things like how to pay for college or a car. She has set aside money that she plans to give to a worthy cause from her earnings, and the rest is burning a hole in her greed-control. However, it is not enough to buy the Epiphone. We discussed that she should spend a long time searching for just the right guitar, as it would be one she would likely own for many years.We knew the perfect guitar would find her.

Last night, Arvo called from work. He had been perusing Craig's List and had found an Epiphone guitar for sale. It was being sold by the cousin of the lead guitarist of the band, Kiss. It had a surface crack,just in the lacquer, but was otherwise in beautiful condition.
"Are you sure you should get it without asking Asherel?" I warned.
It was apparently a stupendous enough deal he was willing to take a chance.

So he lay the case down in front of Asherel and told her to open it. She obviously knew it was a guitar, but she didn't know which guitar.
"Oh wow," she said, smiling as she opened the case. The coveted Epihone gleamed before her. I don't think she even noticed the crack. She lifted it out of the case and strummed a few chords.
"It's easy to play!" she announced, "Thank you!"

I will look into the cost of having the crack repaired. However, there is something about the crack in the beloved guitar that reminds me of our relationship with God. We are all flawed, all cracked instruments in the hands of the Maestro. But when He looks at us, He doesn't see the cracks..... all He sees is our potential to make music with our souls that rise in response to His direction.

Maybe I should leave the crack as a reminder.....

2 Timothy 2: 20-22
...some are for special purposes and some for common use. 21 Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.  22 Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Psalm 51:16-18 (New International Version, ©2010)

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
   you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[a] a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart
   you, God, will not despise.

Monday, November 22, 2010

All Creation Will Bark!

Kaz, the old dog was not likely ever going to win, place, or even qualify in another agility trial. He was happy and healthy for such an old boy at least I think he is a boy. He has so much fluffy white hair covering everything but his happy mouth that gender is hard to determine. The equivalent of a 90 year old, the old dog was willing, but his aged bones just couldn't handle the jumps anymore. But a prize winning show dog since puppyhood, he loved the crowds, the applause, the being the center of attention. He couldn't just retire and go to the Old Folk's Doghouse. So the owners put him in Rally. Rally is a performance sport where the dog must stay right on the handler's heel and follow his lead to trot, walk, turn, pivot, sit, etc., with no leash tugs. Leash tugs result in penalties.

We had a break in our agility schedule, so we hurried over to the Rally building, hoping to see our old friend, Kaz. You can always find the owner Darius in a crowd, because as he moves through the throng, every person is getting hugged by him. We had fallen in love with Kaz watching him perform in the agility ring. He was far from the most skilled dog, but he was easily the biggest crowd pleaser. I met Darius and told him how much we enjoyed watching his dog. To meet Darius once insures that you will then be a dear friend, receive hugs like his many other dear friends, and be the recipient of delicious baked goodies at every trial. Some people, and some dogs, just have a gift for loving others.

Anyway, we had no idea when Kaz's class was but as luck (read: God) would have it, when we walked in the building, Kaz's class was starting. We got ringside seats and waited.  We knew when Darius and Kaz were up soon, because there was a wave of hugs going through the crowd, followed by a bushy white explosion of dog fur.  From the moment Kaz entered the ring, he began barking, happily looking up at Darius and wagging his tail. He trotted joyfully beside him, obeying with only slight, tension filled delay, and then barking his delight. Every time Darius would tell him to sit, he would look at him barking and slowly, slowly lower his hind end. Darius would lean back with a hopeful look on his face further and further til I was afraid he would topple, and finally the old dog would settle, barking, his bottom down. Darius would spring straight again, with a relieved look, and move on to the next command.

He never stopped barking til he finished the course. When they were done, the entire crowd erupted in applause. No other dog had received that kind of acclaim. As they were leaving the ring, I saw the judge call Darius back and they had an extended conversation. I could tell he wanted to hug her, but there are strict penalties for bribing AKC judges and he held back.

As I hurried over to congratulate him on a very nice job in the class, he was beaming.
"We q'ed (Qualified)!" he said, hugging me and three or four other people at once.
"Did you get extra points for barking?" I asked.
"No, that is what the judge was talking to me about," he laughed, "She told me that I would need to get the barking under control if we want to advance, but that she would not penalize me for it since there were so many dogs just outside the ring. She assumed the barking was in response to that. I told her , 'Oh that isn't because of the other dogs. That is what Kaz always does!"

You have to love his honesty. The judge just laughed, and gave him the Q anyway.

It reminds me of when the Jewish leaders, dismayed by the growing, clamorous followers of Jesus, tells Him to rebuke them, to disperse, and be quiet. Jesus tells them,  “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40) Can't you see the Pharisees scratching their heads, and wondering who is this lunatic that hears rocks talk? And what are all these rabble rousers excited about anyway- surely not this penniless, homeless carpenter from a little podunk town in the middle of nowhere?!

You cannot squelch the spirit that has savored the truth of his existence. All creation longs to speak with delight when they are walking with their Master.
I don't know how you tell a dog to stop shouting, "I am alive, and I am happy, and I am loved!" I suspect Darius doesn't either, and I am not sure it is worth all the Q's in the world to do so.

Isaiah 49:13
 13 Shout for joy, you heavens;
   rejoice, you earth;
   burst into song, you mountains!
For the LORD comforts his people
   and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Benefits of Losing

I drove to the early morning second dog show day, noticing the leaves were a little sparser, the colors a little less brilliant. It was still a gorgeous drive through the country, but clear that fall was fading, and the season of chapped lips was upon us.

I wonder if the trees mind losing their leaves? Loss is such a hard thing to take. Growing and flourishing and winning... all that is easy. Anyone can win. However, everyone will lose, just like those trees, but not everyone does either with grace and wisdom.

Honeybun and Asherel were again in the first class of the day and the last class. Polly, our beloved mentor, sat with us as Asherel stood on deck. It was a difficult jumpers course, lots of tight turns and potential pitfalls to confuse the dog if the handler were not steady. The weaves were at the very end. To my delight and surprise, Asherel negotiated the course beautifully. She bobbled a rear cross (don't ask me to explain- go to an agility show. You'll have fun) which cost her some time, but thus far no faults. Then she hit the weaves, with just two jumps left for a perfect run. Honeybun popped out of the weave immediately, so Asherel had to start her back again. One fault is allowed in Open level, which is the level Asherel is running, but the time factor of restarting the weaves can be deadly. If overtime with one fault, she would be NQ'ed. This means "not qualify", not "not Cute" which of course does not apply to either Honeybun or Asherel.
"Drat!" I said as she missed the weave. She did go on to perfectly complete the end, and thus had run very well, and certainly had a shot at qualifying.
As it turned out, she was just overtime, and missed a coveted "Q".  She had run well, and had had moments of brilliance. She was learning and gaining experience, and had a lovely attitude, win or lose. But still, checking off those "Q's" and bringing home ribbons to dust is surprisingly more fun.....
"That's ok," said Polly, "She will learn from her failures! You always learn more from your failures. What do you ever learn from winning?"
"Joy, delight, how good it feels..." I said.
"That's savoring," countered Polly, "Not learning. There is a difference."

And there is a difference. I think we would all be liars if we said we would rather lose than win. Savoring is a really nice verb, especially when applied to our life. But it is true that the things that promote the most change are usually the things that have hurt us most. It is sadly often not til we lose something that we realize how much we loved it, whether it is youth, health, beauty, the car keys, or the last brilliant golden leaf clinging tenaciously to the near naked tree. And when we lose, we say, "What can I do better?" (or at least, we should).  When we win, we pat ourselves on the back and forget we are imperfect.

We are almost never in control of winning or losing... there is always someone out there who will be better, smarter, prettier. Learning how to lose is perhaps the most important skill we need to make it through to the end. Learning how to savor what we have is one of the most important skills we need for contentment.

 I thought of how the one constant in my life is the nearness of God. He is always enveloping me, and yet how often do I savor the bounty of His grace, mercy, provision, and Presence? Long periods of time sometimes go by when I forget He is there, but I notice all the disappointments of an imperfect haircut.

While waiting for Asherel's last class, she bought Honeybun a Santa hat. The ever-compliant little dog walked through the prim and proper conformation show arena, with the competitors dressed in their Sunday best, wearing a Santa hat. Asherel and I chuckled the whole time, as everyone we passed pointed and smiled. It wasn't a ribbon, it wasn't that elusive and highly desired "Q", but it was savoring. It was savoring life, and joy, and a little dog and a wonderful girl with very big hearts.

"See how we are spreading joy?" laughed Asherel.

Psalm 37: 23-24
23 The LORD makes firm the steps
   of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
   for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Under Control

Kangaroo is the key. Honeybun's rapt attention was on Asherel at the Agility Trial yesterday. Breakfast had been scant, and Honeybun smelled kangaroo in Asherel's hand. Not only did she get kangaroo tidbits if she kept her eyes on her handler, but after her beautiful qualifying and third place win in Open Jumpers with Weaves class, she received a small bowl of real steak. That class was the first of the early day, and her second class was the last of the late afternoon.

For the next 6 hours, she lay on a cushion watching the other dogs and her well endowed mind was thinking.
"When I go fast and jump everything in sight, I get kangaroo and steak," she thought. For 6 hours, she contemplated this new wisdom.

When her next class, Novice Standard came, she had been watching the other dogs for some time now. She saw all the obstacles that one should normally climb but her mind was focused on "kangaroo-jump fast- steak".  This formula had worked well in the morning and she was certain it was key to the afternoon gustatory bonanza as well.

So as she waited at the start line, her tail was wagging. Her ears were perked. She could barely contain herself. Steak was calling.  And when Asherel told her "Okay!", she was off like a streak of stomach growling. She raced over the course, jumping everything she could see- she jumped over the braces of the dog walk support, and then back again, wagging her tail. It didn't matter if it was part of the course or not- if it could be jumped, she jumped. And she was fast! And happy! Her tail was wagging and she was glancing at Asherel and running and jumping like a fiend.

Finally she cleared the last jump and joyfully returned to Asherel. Surprisingly, she only had about 4 or 5 faults, enough to DQ her from any prizes, but it didn't matter. We were all laughing. Our beloved mentor Polly exclaimed, "This is good! This is very good! Honeybun has found 'drive'- now we just have to get it under control."

I can totally relate to Honeybun's last class. When I am after a reward, any reward, I race around, crashing into every obstacle, manically and exuberantly racing to succeed at whatever endeavor I am following. And quite often, my enthusiasm ends up driving me over jumps that were never meant to be jumped. It is a hard thing to learn, how to maintain that spark but keep it controlled.

God urges a similar message be absorbed. We all are running wildly with passion for the magnificent goodies the world has to offer.... but God tells us sometimes we are jumping over the wrong jumps, and our passion should be redirected to follow the Master's plan and purpose for us. "Say No to worldly passions," He warns us, "But be on fire for Me."

I understand Honeybun's issues. I have yet to master self control without losing my drive. Maybe I need some kangaroo......

Titus 2:12
It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,

Friday, November 19, 2010

Finding a Place of Serenity

There are people who need alarms and then there are people who are alarms. I fall into category two. That means that when I have to get up at 5:00 a.m., I awaken every 3 minutes all night long to check the clock. And in between my alarm checks, I pray.

I pray that maybe today will be the day when God makes me calm and patient. Maybe today will be the day God grants me a humble and gentle spirit. Maybe today God will give me the wisdom to enjoy what I have and not lament what I don't have.
Oh please Lord, I pray, maybe today make me better.
And I crawl out of bed and go to the computer and the Internet is down.

All my visions of peaceful scenes, of calm and loving meekness fly out the door as I throw things at the computer.

Ok, maybe tomorrow....

Deuteronomy 4:39-40 (NIV)
Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. [40] Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.

- Nothing is impossible with God
- hollowcreekfarm.org

Location:Finding a Place of Serenity

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Heavens Declare

"Why is that lady wrapped in shawls standing in the middle of the road with her head stuck in the up position?"
"I don't know dear, go back to sleep, it is only 5 a.m."
"But Mommy, I am worried about her. She has been out there ten minutes. I don't think she can move her head down. She looks stuck."
"I am sure she is fine. If she is still there when the sun rises, we'll call 911."
"But Mommy, it's frigid out there. Do you think she is one of the tragic results of our burgeoning debt and unemployment rate?"
"No dear, I suspect she is just crazy. Some people are."
"Do you think she is watching the stars?"
"That's possible but unlikely. The lampposts obliterate so much of the lovely night sky."
"Maybe that's why she is in the middle of the street, trying to see past the light pollution."
"Honey, go back to bed."
"Mommy, I read that the Leonid meteor showers were putting on a show big time this week. Why aren't we standing in the middle of the street looking at the stars?"
"Because dearest, you have to stand there in the frigid cold in the wee hours of the morning for a very long time. And even then you are not promised to see a single meteor."
"But you might, right Mommy?"
"It is not likely,with all the lights in our neighborhood, and how you must be looking at just the right spot at just the right time."
"Then why do you think she is bothering to try?"
"I don't know. She probably has nothing else to write about in her daily blog, and is hoping to see something that will usher in hope and joy and faith to a world that has grown cynical and hardened."
"I hope she sees one then, Mommy, or it will be so sad, won't it?"
"No dear, I suspect standing there looking at the stars is pleasure in itself......"
"What are you doing Mommy?"
"Getting our coats, silly, hurry while it is dark enough to see the stars!"

Psalm 19: 1-3
 1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
   the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
   night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
   no sound is heard from them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I heard a shriek from Asherel, and the sounds of joy and celebration erupting from the other room. What had happened? She is not a very ebullient personality type. When she won second place in the national art contest, she smiled. That was it. No jumping up and down, no dancing, no pumping an exultant fist in the air like some mothers who will remain unnamed. She just isn't given to histrionics. But something monumental must have happened. Asherel was almost dancing and shouting "Yay!!!!" with exuberant delight.

Had someone found life on Mars? Had the Taliban finally surrendered and gathered their opium fields and gone away? Had the surgeon general announced that vegetables were conclusively linked with increased heart attack rates and Ghiardelli chocolate cheesecake shown to cut that rate in half?

"iTunes got the Beatles!" she shrieked as I raced in with a defibrillator and bandages.

To those of you who still live in the horse and buggy age, iTunes is the online store which iPod, iPhone , iPad, and all I-devices use to buy music and applications that make life worth living. Asherel had been living in a state of continual suspense as Apple ( owners of I-things) was in top secret and prolonged negotiating with Apple Core, the copyright owners of all things Beatles. Apple had long coveted rights to sell Beatles albums, but Apple Core had consistently resisted... Until now.

Asherel had earned a lot of money dog sitting this year. She is required to put half in savings, give some to a worthy charity, and the rest she may spend.
"I am buying every album!" she announced, sparks flying out of her eyes.

So while she went to Spanish class, the Beatles were downloading onto her iPod. As soon as she returned she raced to her iPod and with delight plugged herself in.

A few moments later, she came to me with dismay etched across her lovely face.
"Problem," she lamented,"They charged me for everything but only one album downloaded."
Several phone calls to Apple revealed that no living person will ever answer a phone at the iTunes store. We wrote our email complaint and had to wait. No Beatles filled the evening for my disappointed girl.

It is a little thing but I think a recurring message. The world will always disappoint ultimately, even the Beatles. There are rarely days without problems and struggles. It is easy to be discouraged and wonder why nothing is ever easy.

The good news is that unlike iTunes store, there is a living God who answers when we call out and say "This is not what I paid for!"
He answered long ago and reminds us ,"Every cent is returned to you. This song of salvation I give you for free- satisfaction guaranteed."

Joshua 1:9 (NIV)
Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

- Nothing is impossible with God
- hollowcreekfarm.org

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Would someone who is an expert in 8th grade please write to me and tell me if my daughter really needs to be able to identify and name the rhetorical devices epizeuxis, epanalepsis, or polysyndeton? What makes this impossible list even more ironic is it comes from a book called Painless Poetry.  Painless for whom, I have to ask? Certainly not for the poor student who not only has to pronounce them, but define them as well.

So unless the 8th grade expert writes and tells me I have to make Asherel memorize these, we are just learning that they do exist and a few choice ones I am making sure she knows. Like Paraprosdokian.  I don't care what it means- you have to love a word like paraprosdokian. Can you see all the little 5th grade boys fighting on the playground and shouting with disdain, "Well your mama is a paraprosdokian!!!"

We were doing our schoolwork on a late afternoon, and I had dispiritedly checked the website for the NRA art contest results. They had judged the artwork several days ago, one of which my own dear student had worked on for 8 months.  I had the timeline from an email from one of the organizers, and knew the winners were to be notified within a day or two of judging. So I sadly told Asherel that she hadn't won. I was anxious for the winners work to be posted on the website so I could tell what blockheads the judges were to have chosen any of them over Asherel's beautiful and so lovingly and tediously produced work. So far, the winners pictures were not online, though promised to come as soon as the work was scanned in. There had been some 1200 entries.  I had seen past year winners and knew that every one of those kids had to have cheated.... there was no way any child could draw like that. Still, I really had thought that Asherel's inventive and lovely art had a shot. Oh well. There are certainly more important things in life to be dismayed about.

While sucking on these sour grapes, the phone rang. I ignored it. I hate the phone. It is almost always someone trying to convince me that I alone have the power to save the world if I just send them $50. I get weary with all the need in the universe.  But it kept ringing, and something inside me told me I ought to get it.
I slogged over and grabbed it.
"Is Asherel there?" asked a deep, man's voice.
I glanced at caller ID. NRA was calling. Either Asherel was purchasing a firearm, or something good was about to happen.
I handed her the phone.
"Oh," she sparkled, "That's wonderful! Thank you so much!"
She handed me back the phone.
"I won second place," she said, "Does that mean I don't have to finish my Painless Poetry?"
"Paraprosdokian!!!!! You are living your Painless Poetry!!!!"
Paraprosdokian means "surprise ending."

Far too often I write the ending before God does. I wallow in dismay because life is not the way it should be. Evil is rewarded. Good people suffer. Innocence is abused and God is mocked. Cancers come back, children make poor decisions that can have eternal repercussions, dogs pee on my leg.  The happy ending is too many sequels away and in the meantime, the hero is getting crushed.  The Bible is one long story about people crying out, "When are you going to finish the book and give us the happy ending you promised!?"
And He repeatedly tells us, "It ain't over til the fat angel sings...." or a close facsimile of that.
This is a slight paraphrase, but  He does tell us that the end is Paraprosdokian.... we will not believe it but unless we do, we won't be there to see it.

Deuteronomy 8:15-17 (New International Version)

15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.

John 3:11-13 (New International Version)

11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.[a]

Monday, November 15, 2010


When we study poetry, or literature, there are often clues to understanding. A major clue is repetition.  This rhetorical device is called anadiplosis, latin for "doubling back". In the world of a family, this is called "nagging". In the spiritual realm, it is called "conviction". They all mean the same thing- the pounding over the head of thick skilled Neanderthals the meaning one wishes to impart. I cannot tell you how many times I have told Asherel during our Bible study time, " if God repeats it, pay attention!"

We had an exciting afternoon planned. We were to visit the guitar shop so Asherel could begin testing various instruments. The Giants won the World Series and Asherel was holding her dad to his promise of a new guitar in that event. There were hundreds of guitars to strum- ranging in cost from a little over a hundred to thousands of dollars. I could not so much hear the difference between the varying potential bankruptcy provokers, as feel the difference. The more expensive guitars felt better and played more easily. The wood was heftier and more beautifully grained. The expensive guitars were beautiful. The cheaper guitars looked cheap. Asherel most loved the guitar with the mass produced autograph of John Lennon etched on it.

"Don't look at the outside," we warned her, "Find a guitar that is easy to play, that sounds good, that feels right. How it looks is not important."
My words to my Mom that very afternoon echoed back to me. We were commiserating about the insults of old age upon our bodies, and she mentioned a litany of the less than delightful results of walking on earth for a few decades, one of which was "alligator skin."
"Yes," I agreed, "But it is as it should be. The external wastes away but the internal spirit grows more beautiful each day.... at least in theory."
And here I was reminding Asherel of the same message. Look beyond externals!

After trying many guitars, we went next door  to have dinner at the Souper Salad. It appears that it is a favorite haunt of senior citizens. We settled down to our meal with Asherel and I continued my highly illuminating discussion about selecting the right guitar.
 Arvo warned her that while the autograph was a nice touch, she may regret it down the road. Perhaps she would grow disenchanted with John Lennon, but the autograph was permanent.
"You must choose a guitar based on its insides," I advised, "It is almost a spiritual connection with your guitar."
She looked at me with skepticism, as though I were not advising with the wealth of fifty years of experience and knowledge and a spirit growing daily more beautiful from the inside out.
"I mean," I explained, "Choosing a guitar is a very individual thing. Each person finds the one that feels just perfect in your hands. You will sense when you have found just the right one."
(This wise advice of course coming from someone who has never, not even once, selected a guitar.)

I went on in this vein, waxing poetic about the music of the soul reaching from the depth of spiritual praise to grasp the beautifully crafted instrument that had been prepared just for her very fingers....when Arvo began to chuckle. He was looking at the bill from the restaurant. He handed it to me and pointed to the top line.
"Senior Citizen discount- 10%" it said.
"WHAT!?" I exclaimed, "They didn't even ask us how old we were! What is a senior in this place- 50? Surely they don't think we are 65. Please tell me I don't look 65!!!" I fell silent, and on the drive home rubbed gently at my clasped hands with their alligator skin.

And this is why God needs to repeat His message so frequently. The human heart is resistant to learning the truths that really matter.

1 Peter 3:4-5 (NIV)
Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. [5] For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.

Deuteronomy 7:6-8 (NIV)
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. [7] The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. [8] But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Piles to go before I sleep.....

"Does she have a pulse?" asked Nicole.
I saw her nod her head weakly, but she didn't move any other aching muscle.
We had just finished shoveling approximately 4,000 pounds of dog poop, give or take a ton or two. It was a beautiful day and fortunately not too hot, but all those dogs at Hollow Creek Rescue Farm (HCF ) produce a lot of fertilizer.

Our wonderful neighborhood had responded to our biannual HCF food and blanket drive with an outpouring of blankets and donations, so Asherel and I drove them to HCF and stayed to help with chores. Our jobs out there almost always involve the transfer of animal excrement from one place to another. It is not glamorous but it is unskilled, and thus where we are usually assigned.

While shoveling interminable piles, I thought that this could be a suitable job for the inmates of Hell. A lake of fire might almost be refreshing after a job like this for all eternity. Yet, while shoveling away, and ignoring the cries of our tiring back and aching shoulders, a pack of dogs came barreling towards us, just let outside for their chance to add to our work. Among the pack was our old friend Walter, the wobbly pitbull with cerebellar hypoplasia. Given his excitement in conjunction with his ataxia, he crashed into me as he enthusiastically greeted me, sending poop flying and my joints adjusting in unacceptable new alignments.  Among his cohorts were other pitbulls, all overjoyed to see us, all gentle, all sweet. It is not what one would expect of a pitbull pack based on news reports. It made the shoveling bearable, all those dogs so happy to see us.

As we worked in the midst of all those pitbulls who could not contain their delight in seeing us, I thought of the reputation these dogs enjoy. There is a strong movement to ban the entire breed.... which isn't even a breed but many different breeds. While pitbulls are indeed a strong group of canines, and need proper and responsible pet ownership, did you know you are far more likely to be killed by an SUV? So why is there no public outcry to shoot all the SUVs? In fact, one study I read said more people die tripping over their own slippers than from dog attack. Yet we all wear slippers with barely a thought of the potential mortal danger we are tempting!

I am not a pitbull expert but there is one thing I know. I was much closer to death from shoveling poop for 2 hours than I was from my interaction with the pack of pitbulls. I am just saying......

Fear is such a huge motivator in most people's lives. We fear cholesterol, too much sugar, too little exercise, too much exercise, bad grades, bad investments, big dogs, little dogs, Global Warming, Global cooling, Death, life...... the list is endless. Yet we thumb our noses at the one thing we should fear, the One who has the power to cast out all fear.

Asherel lifted her head weakly as we pulled away from our successful completion of our poop collecting.
"Can I have a Mcflurry with oreo pieces?"
"Yes," I promised, "You earned it. Do not fear!"

Luke 12:5 (New International Version)

5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Giving The Best Part of You

"Does it fly?" I asked Asherel, returning from errands I had to do before our Science Olympiad class. She had been working on it for several hours. I had spent the past couple of weeks reading very complex flight documents and had taken copious notes. I had tried to understand what I was reading and then restate it in a way the helicopter team would understand. I had no idea if a rubber band powered 4 gram helicopter would follow the same principles as a full scale helicopter, but if our model never flew, at the very least, the kids could go on a creditable job interview to build a rotor.

They would listen, a little glassy eyed, and I would then try to help them understand how we might put all that theory into action.

"Now team, this is critical. Listen! Compressibility effect needs to be minimized or your blade will produce high drag coefficients."
"English please?" said Ben.
"What is compressibility effect?" asked Asherel.
"I don't know," I said, "But I do know we have to avoid it and they tell us how. That is the important part so take careful notes here."
It was only later that afternoon that I went back on- line to try to better understand compressibility effect that I learned this will only matter at speeds greater than the speed of sound.
"Does your helicopter fly faster than the speed of sound?" I called back to Asherel.
"Not yet!"

But as we prepared to go to class, Asherel had still refused to tell me if her helicopter she had completely designed and built herself flew.
"You will see in class," she said.

It was a beautiful day. We have a glorious autumn in NC. It is still warm during the day, high 60s and 70s, with deep blue skies and red and yellow maple dancing across the still green grass. I went walking along the park paths during Asherel's first science class, my head momentarily emptied of any thoughts of compressibility effect, lift, drag, or cost of competition rubber bands. The leaves drifted to the ground, floating on the air currents and I envied God His perfect knowledge of aerodynamics that had designed them so flawlessly.

When I called my team together in the gym with high ceilings (should we ever produce a hovering, lifting airfoil), I asked first that they show me what they had built and learned over the week. The season is still young, and I really didn't expect any of our models to fly for a good couple of months yet. However, as my life attests to, we often learn more from our mistakes than our victories.
Asherel was busily winding her motor. This means that she was twisting her rotor blades at least a thousand revolutions to give the rubber band the power to drive the rotors. I was impatient to get to my lecture with a hundred more complex theoretical aspects of rotor design that my team should try to implement to make a model that would fly.
"Come on already!" I called, "We need to learn about how to make these babies fly! Shake a leg!"
"I'm almost ready," said Asherel, winding, winding, winding.

Finally, she let the rotor go, while holding her helicopter out at arms length. The rotor spun gracefully and she opened her hand. I stood in amazement and then cheered as the helicopter lifted out of her hand.... and flew.
It flew maybe 5 seconds or so, and on a second flight more like 10 before its delicate motor stick broke.
"I can fix that," she said, smiling.

I felt for a moment how Orville and Wilbur must have felt when they first saw their airplane defy gravity and lift skyward. It seemed miraculous,but it wasn't. It was the result of hours and hours of careful study, and research, and testing, and trial and error. The only miracle was that anyone ever felt it possible and worthy to attempt.  And that is the miracle that I overlook often in my busy homeschool life with my daughter. Of all the things she could be doing with her time, she has chosen to immerse herself in balsa and crazy glue and principles of aeordynamics and try to defy gravity. 

"Way to go!" I called to the helicopter, its spiraling flight magnificently beautiful.
"Way to go!" I called to the geese as they negotiated wing tip vortices to their advantage.
"Way to go!" I whispered in the night as I thought of my girl and the gifts God had bestowed upon her that she was choosing so wisely to use.

Numbers 18:29
You must present as the LORD’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’

Friday, November 12, 2010

Does God wear a belly pack?

Ten bags of books that will bless and mold in someone else's shelves are now in the car, ready to go off to be donated. I still have hundreds of books remaining.
"Who could read so many books anyway!" said Asherel as I gazed a little wistfully at my books that were soon to be adopted out.
"I did!" I said, "I have read every one of them." (some two or three times!)
I pulled Ulysees by James Joyce out. I have never gotten past about page 300 of this thousand or so page behemoth.
"I'll keep trying with this one," I said, putting it back.

And so the newly dusted, book-denuded living room looks better, though if someone with decorating sense would walk in and work a little magic, I think I would have a better shot at the cover of "Home Beautiful."

I sat down in the chair by the nice clean bookshelf. Now as my books were arranged somewhat by topic and size, my photo albums on the bottom shelf, it was easier to grab what I wanted. I pulled out a little photo album that had been deeply buried behind dusty old books. As I opened it, and began to relive my life 20 years ago, I wondered if I would have remembered any of it had I not had the pictures.
"It is almost as though I were never there," I thought a little sadly. Because of my lousy memory, the only moment I really have is the one I am living.

My eyes fell on a picture of my boys when they were 4 and 6. Anders has his arms outstretched, in a most uncharacteristic pose of joy and uninhibited delight. Matthias has a tough guy look on his cute little face, arms in a fighter stance and feet somewhat akimbo. And he is wearing a bright orange belly pack. Yes folks, I am sure I am about to be carted away by Social Services.... I put my 4 year old son in an orange belly pack.
This is the newly engaged son, now 22, whose first horrified admission to his fiancee about his family was that , "My mother wears a belly pack."

Honestly, I do not remember that I had done that. But I must have. The evidence is conclusive. And as I perused the little dusty album, I discovered that on our trip to Washington, DC, I had put both boys in a belly pack. It's a wonder they grew up to have any friends at all. Asherel would have had many belly pack pictures as well, but now I am vaguely remembering that she refused to wear belly packs.

"Oh Lord, forgive me," I breathed, "I know not what I do."

How many other horrible things had I done to those sweet innocent creatures, not realizing that I was not normal? I meant well. They had valuable things to carry on those outings, things that would fall out of little rambunctious pockets. The belly pack was a burden of love. In my own belly pack were all the things needed to mend knees that had torn, heads that were aching, and candy to soothe the wild beasts that always showed up at the end of our long treks to wonderful places.

And I think there is a good bit of evidence that God Himself wears a belly pack. Do a word search and see how often the Bible tells us that God carries our burdens for us. There are roughly six and a half billion people on the earth. Simple logic tells us there is no way God can carry all that without a belly pack.

But whether or not He wears a belly pack is up for discussion. Greater minds than mine will wrestle with that question for millenium. What is clearly stated is that when our burdens are too great, we don't need a belly pack. God will carry them for us.

Psalm 28:8-9 (New International Version)

 8 The LORD is the strength of his people,
   a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
9 Save your people and bless your inheritance;
   be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

But is it art?

"Did you download the new app I sent you?" (shorthand for application, which for those of you who have lives and aren't attached surgically to iPods or other such devices, this means a program that accomplishes all kinds of cool things like books on-line, games, art programs, or making the iPod sound like a jar of jellybeans when you shake it.)

"Not yet," I told Asherel, "I have been busy trying to find out how to make helicopters fly and how to build a trebuchet."
She threw up her arms in frustration, "You have to download the app! It is really cool. You will love it."
I was driving at the time, on our way home from yet another extracurricular activity. Like many homeschoolers, we are never home.
We should be renamed "Rushing somewhere schoolers".

"See," continued Asherel, holding up her iPod, "I just drew this picture."
I glanced at a beautiful underwater looking seascape, full of waving bright colored plants.
"You did that just now?" I asked.
"Yes, in about 5 seconds."
"You don't do art in 5 seconds," I said.
"Why not? Art is not defined by how long it takes," she countered.
"Did you actually draw that?"
"Sort of."
"So it is 'sort of'' art?"
"No, I mean I did draw it, but the iPod kind of does the rest."
"You mean you need no skill or talent or even art awareness?"
"No! You do need talent. People who are good artists definitely draw better pictures."
"Except it isn't them drawing, it is the iPod."
"Well no, I mean, you are drawing, but the iPod kind of takes what you start and follows through by itself."

I glanced askance at her, and she knew the look. It was the "you have got to be kidding if you think you are going to sucker me into downloading this anti-art app" look. She has seen it before.

However, when we got home, she pestered me some more.
"Just try it," she said, thrusting her iPod at me.
With a defeated groan, I took her iPod and shook my head.
"OK, what do I do?"
"Just draw on the iPod. You'll see."
So I did. I made an elegant s curve on the blank screen. Suddenly forms of gorgeous color swirled from under my finger, roughly following the pattern I traced but then twirling off the path into sworls of delicate tendrils. It was unbelievably beautiful.

I downloaded the app.

Is it art? I don't know. It isn't really science, and as my husband says, if it isn't science, it is art. Does it require artistic talent? I don't know. Asherel's productions are exquisite, and controlled. Each is different and roughly the effect she is attempting to create. It certainly is fun, and magical. It seems too easy to be art.... but then is art defined by how many tears one sheds producing it?

I can hear my father now. I know exactly what he is saying, though he is 700 miles away.
"Not only is this not art," he is bellowing, "But it is destroying art that really is art. No longer will talent be required or perfecting a skill, or honing a craft. Anyone will be able to produce it, and thus it will no longer inspire or exalt."

I had a fantastic art professor who asked us to define why the magnificent nudes of the great Masters are not pornography. Why are they on Museum walls, and not on the pages of Playboy?
His answer was INTENT. An artist's intent is to interpret the world as he sees it with beauty or even ugliness, but with truth.  His goal is always honesty and truth. A pornographer's intent is to incite lust.

So that of course begs the question, what is Truth?

The Bible tells us. This should not surprise anyone. When Pilate asked Jesus, who had been handed over to him to be crucified, to tell him if Jesus was a king, Jesus answered the way He always answered questions, with more questions.  Jesus always wants us to discover for ourselves what is in our hearts. He is the ultimate socratic-method Teacher. He guides us to the Answer, but He never just tells us. So he never directly answers Pilate, but he does tell him in so many words that those who truly seek the Truth, will find it. They will know it.... and the Truth will set them free. Jesus wasn't interested in sparring with Pilate. He was interested only in the state of his soul, and if his soul was captive to God, he would not have needed to ask if Jesus was King or not. Pilate would hear the truth deep within himself speaking loud and clear.

"Do you like it?" Asherel asked me smiling.
"Just what I need, another addiction," I said as I swirled the beautiful tendrils on my iPod.

John 18: 33-38
 33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
   34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
 35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
   Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
 38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.
John 17:17
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Where One little thing might lead.....

"Now what?"
There I stood with the couch upended precariously. It weighed at least 5 times more than me and I still had 30 feet to inch it forward.... and fit it through a door. But my muscles were doing crazy mushy limp giving up kind of wiggles.
"Can I get a little more help here?" I panted to Asherel, who had been drafted into couch moving duty. At first she had thought this was a good exchange for not doing math, but now she was anxious to return to math.

It had started with moving just one little white lamp. And then a few pictures.... and then a broken end table, and then a book shelf and than a rocking chair, and then a small couch, and now here I stood with a queen size sleeper sofa upended and my muscles had quit on me. It was a nuclear arms race of home decorating. To all of you thinking of moving "just that little lamp over there", I warn you, consider the cost carefully first.

"Measure the door," I wheezed weakly.
"Shouldn't we have done that before we moved it? " she asked.
"Don't live life backwards. Move forward! Now measure, please."
"33 inches."
"How wide is the door? Will it fit? "
"30 inches."
"Couches squish. Can we shove it through?"
"I don't know Mom, you measure."
Hmmm. Not likely. The width of the couch was solid wood frame. No squish room at all. We would have to upend and walk it in, pivoting it around the corner.
"Why are we doing this?" asked Asherel.
I chose not to answer, mostly because I was gasping for oxygen to fuel my muscles that were increasingly wobbly.
"Hold the couch, please," I said, though in all honesty, I am not sure I said "please". For this I will toss and turn on my bed when Asherel goes off to college.
While Asherel obediently waited with the behemoth couch, I ran and got the furniture dolly. Arvo got me one the last time I moved "just one little lamp."

We managed to get the dolly under the couch, wrestled it through the door and then slid it through a just wide enough passage beside the pool table.

"Where will it go?" asked Asherel.
"Along that wall," I answered, leaning my blue face against the cushions.
"Will it fit?"
"We will make it fit. That may entail moving that one little wall over there....."
We huffed and we puffed and the couch slid finally into its new home. It fit perfectly. We collapsed on the couch and gazed happily at our work.
At least I gazed happily. Asherel again asked, "Why did we do this?"
"Go do your math," I groaned.

Ironically, at her gavel club meeting the next hour, one student did a speech on ripping her arm half way out of her shoulder joint by moving a heavy object. I was listening, though my eyes were closed and my head was on the table, and my aching arms were stretched out in a facsimile of sleep. The student closed the speech saying, "I never thought that something so simple as moving something heavy could result in so much pain and such a bad injury." I peeked through one eye at the gruesome pictures she was showing of the actual operation to stitch her bone back into her shoulder joint.

I have heard a few messages about "counting the cost" lately. God is naturally in on this discussion as well.
He gives us plenty of incentives to follow Him, but He also doesn't want us to take faith lightly. Once we take the leap, we are admonished not to turn back. Being a true disciple in any endeavor involves commitment and passion to see it through to the end. Half hearted devotion to God is as crazy as moving a 500 pound couch, standing it on its end, and thinking, "That's enough."

Proverbs 20:25 (New International Version)

 25 It is a trap to dedicate something rashly
   and only later to consider one’s vows.

Luke 14:30-32 (New International Version)

 28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.
   31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Portion Forever

As I walked along the pasture fence, the horse's head jerked up from her grazing. She saw me coming up the road, and trotted over, lifting her nose and blowing out her nostrils.
"Hello," I said companionably, as she thrust her neck over the fence. Her ears were pricked forward, and she looked as though she were saying, "Where were you? I have been waiting and waiting with nothing to do but separate the grass from the grubs. I don't mind an occasional crunchy ant but you can't imagine how much it grosses me out to eat a slimeball grub."

"I don't like them either," I agreed, as I began walking along the dirt path that paralleled the pasture. The horse trotted alongside.
"So," said the Horse, "You are here for your daughter's lesson again?"
"You could not ask for a nicer day," she whinnied, "And the view! Look out my back window!"
I didn't need to be reminded. I had already developed a neck crick from walking and gazing at the hills and the fall foliage just beyond the pasture to my right. I saw Asherel in the distance bouncing on her horse with the other students. I never pass up an opportunity to walk, especially when I can be in the company of horses.

"Where's your baby?" I asked the horse. I remembered three adorable foals and their dams had been in this pasture over the summer.
"I AM the baby!" nickered the horse.
"Wow, really?! That was fast!" I said, eying her full stature.
"Well you know the adage- he who hesitates....."
"I do," I nodded, "It's my motto."
"Well in your case you may want to hesitate a tad longer at times."
"What do you mean?"
"Well hesitating too long is one thing, but leaping without looking or thinking.... that is entirely a different but equally critical message you may want to add to your lexicon."
"Look Horse, I am not out here for psychoanalysis. I just want to walk and talk with God and commune with nature."
The horse was silent, her head bobbing with each step that she matched to mine.
I saw the students filing out of the practice arena.
"Oh, gotta go," I called to the horse. She nodded and headed back to the middle of the pasture. I saw her munching and then heard her spit and say,"Yuck, another nasty grub! Bleh!"

As I reflected on my time walking with the horse, I thought, "How happy I am! The sun is shining, the day is warm, and no matter where I go, I never walk alone."

Psalm 73:21-26
21 When my heart was grieved
   and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
   I was a brute beast before you.  23 Yet I am always with you;
   you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart
   and my portion forever.