Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Old is Gone....or at least going....

     It is the last day of the year and I am sitting here realizing what a year filled with firsts it was. I am grateful to be sitting and not flat on my back coughing, sneezing, and worse...

     It was a nasty bug that attacked me for 5 days, but I have awoken today feeling almost normal! This is wonderful since my son Matthias and his wife Karissa, who makes the very air smile, will be here for the weekend. I am not filled with energy yet so the plans are simple and the meals will be made on the grill, which means not my domain, but the hubby's. My sisters pulled a fast one on me, though. They scheduled a visit to see my folks when I was sick so I was unable to go. And I would so want to see all of them. The world is never perfect.

    But it is the last day of 2011 and we seem to have survived. There was great upheaval in our home and as I mentioned, many firsts-  first year homeschooling high school with Asherel, first child getting married, first time ever learning Kreb's cycle so I understood it (sort of), first time ever Arvo was laid off from a job and a few painful months in a horrid economy without work, first book I have ever published, first time our little rescue dog ever double "Q'ed" at an agility trial, first time I made homemade cream of mushroom soup, and first time I followed a recipe from start to finish (except for one minor substitution not even worth mentioning, unless if by some quirky rule of cooking, you are not supposed to substitute sweet potatoes for onions....).

     There are others. For example, I joined my first "writer's club" only to find out it was developed for Indian writers. I am sure my strongly Christian book is being well received....The moderater kindly told me it was fine for me to join, nonetheless, and I have come to have a strong affinity to India so have enjoyed reading the group posts.

     The old is crawling out and the  new tumbling in. I won't be making any resolutions. I never do. I started recognizing many years ago that any change that comes over me permanently is not from me. It is the transformative wonder of God in me, the miraculous stripping away of what I have been to what I can be, and one day, will be.

     Happy New Year!

2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Don't ask why

I won't ask just is what it is. If there is a reason, I am not privy to it.

I looked at myself in the mirror, with my red and bloody nose, droopy eyes, and growly lungs. And I am in the best shape of all the friends and family I am currently in fervent prayer for. One friend's post was titled 'weary'. Knowing what that sweet woman has endured the past year, weary is a very mild understatement. But it is unlikely that if God never told Job 'why', He would tell me.

I guess 'why ' is not the right question anyway. I think the best question in the face of suffering, setback, and, despairing circumstances is perhaps 'how'.

How do I move on with contentment in the midst of the heavy hand I have been dealt?

Or even better,

How do I see beyond the pain to the beauty that surrounds me when I am too weary to open my eyes?

Ok, 'how' is almost as tough as 'why'.

'When' is definitely no better and fraught with frustration. None of us know when or even if the suffering will stop. 'Where' is easy but self evident thus silly. Same with 'what'. Usually what we struggle with is disturbingly apparent.

That leaves 'who'. 'Who' is our last hope in the wh family. On first blush, 'who' doesn't appear any more useful than 'where'. However, maybe 'who' is indeed the only answer. Who holds our future and our life in His hands and who knows what purpose every spark of being has in the whole vast universe? In the end, I suppose there is little else we can answer but that He must be trusted to ultimately bring a peace that surpasses understanding in the midst of unbearable times.

I won't ask why, but it is good for me to remember who.

Hebrews 2:6-9, 13-17 NIV

But there is a place where someone has testified:

"What is mankind that you are mindful of them,

a son of man that you care for him? You made them a little lower than the angels;

you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet."

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. And again,

"I will put my trust in him."

And again he says,

"Here am I, and the children God has given me." Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Details of the Plan

     I seem to be taking a turn for the better- the nausea and intense aches gone, and my nose drying up. Nothing makes one appreciate good health more than when you don't have it. I spent the day again lying around, but did drive Asherel home from her volunteer work.Arvo drove her there, since at that point, I was still not sure I would live.
     Asherel was helping out at a children's camp teaching the kids to draw. The organizer liked her so much, she asked her back for a second day. When I picked Asherel up, she was glowing. I feel the same way after extending myself for others. She had a picture in her hand.
     "What's that?" I asked.
     She handed it to me. It was an exquisite and detailed sketch of one of the fairy like creatures from our new Christmas gift game, Mario Smash Brothers. (Yes, I is a game where characters do indeed smash each other, and I did not allow my first two children to own it, much as Matt begged me. In my old age and with child number three, I am just worn out. I hope and pray she does not beg me for heroin next....)

     I took the drawing from her and gazed at it.
     "Did you have a picture to look at?" I asked.
     " was just from memory."
     It was astonishing. This is my greatest downfall as an artist. I have lousy visual memory. The exquisite detail in Asherel's drawing made the fairy jump off the page, as though she were alive. What a gift, I thought.

     That very day while driving to pick Asherel up, I had noticed a field that took my breath away. On the horizon were trees, stretching to a robin egg blue sky. In the foreground were rolling olive hills, and golden waves of reeds and grasses.
     "If only I could seal this in my mind and draw it when I get home," I thought.
     So when I got home I tried. I could picture the colors, and the emotion the scene had evoked in me, but unlike Asherel, I could not picture details.
     I find this extends to most areas of my life. I can remember the emotion of events, the general gestalt of events, but the specifics often elude me. I think I had to develop an imagination and a creative mind to fill in all those gaps that I can never remember.It is doubly disconcerting to me as I believe God is a God of details. All you have to do is read the Bible to see the excruciating exactness of God's plans, God's messages, and God's working in the lives of men. A very difficult passage for me to wade through is God's directions on how the Temple was to be built. Every minute detail is carefully mandated. Every measurement, every material, even how the carved angels wings are to meet over the ark of the covenant. How did David and Solomon even begin to think they could get it all right?

     David actually tells us how. He says God gave him the ability to understand His plan. This is remarkable and gives me great comfort. I cannot know God, not fully. I cannot understand Him, not completely. I certainly cannot discern the breadth of His plan for humankind, let alone for me. What hope do I have of following Him then? He Himself gives us the ability to follow His plan, just like He tells David in 1 Chronicles. If our heart's desire is to seek Him, to follow Him, He provides the details.

     "When did you draw this?" I asked Asherel, returning the gorgeous sketch.
     "In my spare time."
     "What did you have the kids draw today?"
     " A llama."
     " A llama! why a llama?"
     "It's what they voted for."
     "Have you ever drawn a llama before?" I asked.
     "No...but it turned out looking just like a llama."

1 Chronicles 28:
19 “All this,” David said, “I have in writing as a result of the LORD’s hand on me, and he enabled me to understand all the details of the plan.”
 20 David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A little droopy

       Sitting on the recliner all day left little  time to engage in much worth writing about. It has been a long time since I have been so incapacitated. I am not a good sick person.  and so little was left to me but to read.
      Unfortunately, I was in 2 Chronicles in my daily Bible reading. While I believe all parts of the Bible are inspired by God and useful for life, 2 Chronicles is not the most exhilarating read. For those of you who never took the time to delve into this book, it is list after list of geneologies. It serves a good purpose of demonstrating that the Bible is an exact and careful recording of facts, down to an excruciating detail of who begat who (or is that whom?) but my every instinct is to flip through those pages, skimming for the rare action verb.
     And then I came to Chronicles 11. In this chapter, King David is trapped behind Philistine lines and is dying of thirst. Like me, he was apparently feeling a little droopy. He mentions this, and at extreme risk, three of his mighty men break through enemy lines and get him water. Next comes what I have always considered among the most puzzling passages in scripture. When the mighty men return with the water that they risked their lives to obtain, David says he cannot drink water that was procured at such risk. So he pours it out on the ground.
     Now if it were me watching that precious water dumped after I almost died getting it, I would leap forward with cupped hands, shouting, "Are you nuts? After all I went through and that is how you treat my offering?
     I suspect I am missing some major point. Sometimes I think perhaps he wanted to dissuade such foolish risks from the men in the future. Our pastor said he poured it out in sacrifice to God, but frankly, I don't get that from the text. I am convinced the mighty men were looking at each other incredulously and whispering among themselves, "That's the last time we risk life and limb for him." The text doesn't really support that either. But one thing I do get is: be careful what you say when you are feeling droopy. Someone might take it to heart and it may lead to unnecessary hardship. I know that when I am droopy, the world looks very bleak and hopeless. But it is a temporary conditon. David would not always be thirsty and one day, I will not be so wilted.

(NIV)1 Chronicles 11:17-19, 38
David longed for water and said, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” [18] So the Three broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out to the Lord. [19] “God forbid that I should do this!” he said. “Should I drink the blood of these men who went at the risk of their lives?” Because they risked their lives to bring it back, David would not drink it. Such were the exploits of the three mighty warriors. [38] Joel the brother of Nathan, Mibhar son of Hagri,

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Forget Not all His Benefits

No sooner were the boys both on their way home than I was felled by an extraordinarily bad cold. I found myself unable to muster energy even to take the dogs for a walk, a mutually beloved activity. My throat felt like it had been rubbed with pumice, my nose matched Rudolph's, my eyes were watery and achy, and I would erupt in sneezing fits that tossed me like a rag doll. And this litany of complaints was topped by a very disturbing and encroaching malady...both wrists are in pain that seems to be increasing a little each day. I am willing to give up vacuuming and scrubbing toilets to heal my wrists...but how can I give up drawing and writing? I put braces on both wrists and crawled miserably out of bed this morning. It is raining. How does one plummet so precipitously from the heights of rapture over the Savior's birth celebrated with a house filled with family, to this cavernous emptiness echoing with sneezes and ouches as my aching wrists type?  I can only conclude I am fickle.

I returned from dropping Anders at the airport yesterday and crawled into the recliner with my Galaxy Tab. I spent the whole day drawing on it, and sneezing. Every so often I brushed away tears because I am always sad when my boys leave. Praise God for Asherel and her youth. I still get four years with her. Honeybun planted herself near me. She always hovers near, but particularly when she suspects I am about to dissolve into a blithering blob of hopeless grief that might not remember the dog's dinner time.

Arvo took one look at me and suggested he order pizza for dinner so I didn't need to move. I huddled with my Galaxy Tab, drawing and sneezing. Good thing, I thought, that God is a God of renewal, of mercy, and of redemption. Because otherwise, I would not be climbing out of this pit. Thank Goodness it only requires minimal wrist movement to press the Bible button on my Galaxy Tab.

Psalm 103: 1-5

1 Praise the LORD, my soul;
   all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
   and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
   and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Promise

One piece of my heart was ripped away yesterday as Matthias and Karissa left , and another piece gets ripped off in a few hours as Anders flies away home. I hate goodbyes. I hate that my loved ones are scattered like stars across the universe. I just want them all near. It is one of my deepest desires, but one I can never have, except for brief interludes. Not until we gather in Heaven.

I know how the day will go. I will drop Anders at the airport and then weep violently as I drive home. Then I will walk in the house that instead of looking decorated, just looks dirty, remarkably cluttered and empty simultaneously. And I will put away Christmas, struggling not to keep crying.

Arvo, Asherel, and I went on a walk after Matt and Karissa left. Anders was resting and didn't want to go. When we returned and stepped onto the porch, we heard music. Glorious, beautiful, piano as only someone who understands and loves music from the depth of his soul can play it. We all stopped and listened.  It was a Chopin medley, and I recognized strains of the song, "I'm always Chasing Rainbows." We were afraid if we opened the door, it would stop.

"We can't just stand here in the cold," whispered Asherel.

Much as we hated to, we opened the door. We all crept in without speaking, and the music went on. I sat nearby, hoping he wouldn't notice we had arrived and that blessing, that gift from a creative God to a creative, but very private young man would continue. Anders played the piano, while the Christmas tree sparkled behind him. I don't know if he was purposefully offering a gift to me, but nonetheless it was a gift as he played for several minutes. I have missed the sound of the piano in our home. I would have stood in the cold a long time, had it been only me, so that the music wouldn't stop.

Jesus tells his grieving apostles that there will come a time when they will no longer see Him. They will be scattered, and for a time, feel utterly abandoned. They will also be abandoning Jesus to His fate, the crucifixion, which He must endure alone. But He reminds them that He is not alone, for His father is with Him, just as He is ultimately with all of us. Jesus reminds the broken hearted to take heart- in the end when we open the door, the music doesn't stop. That is when it begins.

John 16: 31-33
  31 “Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. 32 “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
   33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Conquering Darkness

We sat in a church of 5,000 people last night. The lights were dimmed, and then the church was dark. One by one, the candles of the people on the aisle seats were lit. They turned  and lit the candle of their neighbor, who turned and lit the candle of their neighbor. Candle by candle from that birth of the single flame, a whole church of 5,000 people was soon ablaze in light. Darkness was overcome, and for a moment, there was peace on earth.

I heard a talk show host a few days ago berating those who want to hold back progress. In many ways, I agreed with him, but there was one statement that I found myself shaking my head at. He said the light bulb was one of the single most important inventions, because with the light bulb, we humans conquered the dark. As I reflected on this season, and all it means, I thought that is not true. The darkness was not overcome by Edison's light bulb. It was overcome by a little baby born some 2,000 years ago in a manger. In His light, we see light.

Merry Christmas!

Psalm 118: 26-28

 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
   From the house of the LORD we bless you.
27 The LORD is God,
   and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
   up to the horns of the altar.
 28 You are my God, and I will praise you;
   you are my God, and I will exalt you.

Isaiah 50: 10
Let the one who walks in the dark,
   who has no light,
trust in the name of the LORD
   and rely on their God.

Isaiah 53: 10-12
10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
   and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
   and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
   he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
   and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
   and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
   and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
   and made intercession for the transgressors.

2 Corinthians 4: 5-7

5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Happens to the Sheep?

Luke 2: 9-10
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

Terror gives way to great joy. That is what Christmas is about. I think complete faith casts out fear, because we know who holds us in His grip. I also think complete faith is probably impossible this side of Heaven. And when doubt enters, so does fear. I suspect most of us no matter what our spiritual inclination, ask now and then, "What if I am wrong?" Maybe there are people who have never felt that way. I am not one of them.

I find it so amazing that the terrified shepherds keeping watch over their sheep should be the first witness that the Savior was born.
The Bible oftentimes describes us as sheep waiting for the Good Shepherd. In that beautiful passage in Luke, the staff is passed. The earthly shepherds bow down before the Heavenly Shepherd. A star, never before seen, moves across the sky and leads them to the little manger. The angel has forewarned them that they will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, the Messiah.

The Bible doesn't recount much of what the shepherds say upon hearing this astonishing news. But surely they must have discussed this as they were following the star. And by the way, we are also not told what happens to the shepherd's sheep which they were supposed to be watching. Did the whole herd traipse after the star with them? God commands them to do the one thing they should never do...leave their sheep. What happens to the sheep?  I like to fill in gaps. Here is what I think may have transpired: (ps- this is not recorded in scripture and the names are not known. this is called imagination gone amok.)

"Did you see what I think we just saw, Maliphosphor?" He rubbed his eyes.
Maliphosphor's eyes darted back and forth as he leaned in to Arpamismael, "What did you see?"
"That was an angel...and he was talking to us. And telling us strange things. What I don't get is why the sheep weren't frightened cause I was ready to pee in my cloak."
"Oh yeah! The sheep! What do we do with the sheep?"
"I don't know...but we can't disobey the angel. Do you think the Messiah really comes to us as a baby?"
"Do you think stars really move and angels really appear? Look Mali, none of this makes sense...but I have this very strong conviction that we need to check out this baby."
Maliphosphor sighed deeply, nodding, and turned to the sheep, commanding, "STAY!"
The sheep bleated and then lay down.
"If this is not the Messiah, we are risking our job security for nothing," said Arpamismael, as they set off after the star.
"Why a baby? The God who created the Universe could certainly have come up with a more dramatic form for the Savior, don't you think?" Maliphosphor cried out.
Arpamismael glanced back at the flock. One sheep was watching him, getting ready to stand.
"Lie down!" called Arpamismael. The sheep lowered himself again.
"Don't you read your Bible? We knew this was coming. Isaiah told us, remember, unto us a son shall be born, and the government shall be upon his shoulders. and we shall call him wonderful counselor, mighty God, prince of peace.... This is no ordinary baby."
"Do you think it is true? Could it really be the Messiah?"
Mali took one last look at the sheep as they crested a hill. They all were watching after the shepherds, disappearing into the distance. Their ears stood out in the moonlight as they huddled obediently and waited.
"It better be...or that flock is wolf bait."
"You know... I think we are doing the right thing...I mean it is God's messenger who told us to do it...but have we taken leave of our senses? We are shepherds. It's not rocket science, but it is an important duty in an agrarian society. We have one duty: watch the sheep."
"Maybe there is a duty more important."
Maliphosphor looked again over his shoulder. The night enveloped the horizon and he could no longer see the sheep, but as he looked ahead, the star shone like a flashlight on a little manger and there was singing as though all the stars had voices.

Isaiah 9: 6-7
6 For to us a child is born,
   to us a son is given,
   and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
   there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
   and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
   with justice and righteousness
   from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
   will accomplish this.

Luke 2: 8-20

 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Friday, December 23, 2011


I read that Steve Jobs, in his last moments before dying, while surrounded by his family, was looking just beyond them with a rapturous look on his face. His last words were, "OH WOW! OH WOW! OH WOW!"

I know very little about Steve Jobs. I don't know where he centered spiritually. But that response to something no one else in the room apparently saw reminds me of Anders as a very young boy once looking around him in wonder and telling me, "Mommy I see angels." His eyes were bright and sparkling, and he was looking delightedly in the air above him.

I love this season that celebrates miracles with Hanukkah, and the birth of God's son with Christmas. God is a God of Wonder, and there is so much wonder in the trappings and beauty of the Christmas celebration. I saw the dogs sitting before the Christmas tree just gazing at it, and I could almost see them discussing what it meant to bring a tree inside a house.

"I don't know, Lucky, it makes no sense."
"Humans don't make sense, Honeybun. Sometimes we just have to accept on faith that they know what they are doing."
"But at times they seem so rational. They seem to know we need food, exercise,and finally even rescinded that ridiculous rule that we couldn't sleep on the couches," said Honeybun, "And then...this." She shook her head sadly, looking at the tree.
"That's true, but then how can anyone explain those parts of their being we don't how could anyone kiss a nose that doesn't lick it's own butt?" asked Lucky, while noisily doing just that.
"I know....that is inexplicable. Or why they don't roll in dead animals and even worse, prevent us from doing so?"
"I guess there are just some things that we can never hope to comprehend, and must just make that leap of faith that our Master, while being incomprehensible, is Good," Lucky answered, with a philosophic tilt to his ears.
"What do you think is the good behind bringing a tree meant to live outdoors inside? And then covering it with lights, putting that angel on top there, and then plugging it in...a definite fire hazard?" Honeybun puzzled.
"Maybe  bringing it to a completely unexpected place, seemingly irrational, and so far from what one envisions a tree to be, makes us look at it in a new way. I know it does for me."
"How so, Lucky?"
"It just makes me want to say, oh wow...bow wow wow WoW!"

My beloved boys and delightful new daughter in law, dear daughter, and loving husband are all with me this Christmas. I am surrounded by miracles. This morning,I remembered  a favorite verse that has little to do with Christmas, but every thing to do with contentment in what God has provided, "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places."

"Listen to her," said Honeybun cocking an ear, "She's not so incomprehensible after all."
Lucky opened an eye, "Why? What did she say?"
"She said ,'Wow, bow wow wow wow!"

Psalm 16: 5-7
5 LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup;
   you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
   surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
   even at night my heart instructs me.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Best

    My book is the Kindle number one book in dog training for the second day running. This makes me laugh as while my dog is no longer vicious, she still barks like a demon when people come to the door, and the other dog still ignores us when he doesn't feel like being a good dog...which is most of the time.
     Additionally, my book is the Kindle Number 3 book in family relations. This also makes me laugh, as this may be the subject I am  second least qualified to speak upon, after dog training, as most people might note upon observing my family. If it ends up in the number two spot for Cooking, that may well make a trifecta of Irony. (PS- for those of you that don't follow horse racing, trifecta is when you bet on the first, second, and third place winners correctly.This will probably not be on the SAT college exam, but it is a good word to have in your arsenal, nonetheless.)
     I am sure my number one status will soon be upended. But for now, I am basking in the glory of being the best at something. I have rarely, if ever been the best at something. On the other hand, I have often been the worst at many things. I suppose maybe I have been the best at being the worst.
     However, speaking of being the worst, I have to come up with five days of dinners for my lovely family, all gathered here for the holidays. Since I am number three expert in family relations now, I think I need to take this duty perhaps more seriously than I have in the past. So I told hubby Arvo to go buy a brisket, as I knew everyone would like that, and had made it once before successfully.
     "Get one large enough to feed everyone," I requested, "I have had a lot of trouble finding brisket. I only found a small 2 pound hunk."
     He returned with a 20 pound brisket. I wasn't sure it would fit in the oven. I went on line and found a recipe for 'beer braised brisket". The alliteration alone was enough to convince me this should be meal #1 for the family mothered by the #3 author in family relations.

(I thought your book was about a dog. Why are you rated in the family relations category?
This is a good question, and one we should direct to Kindle while I continue to reign supreme.)

     Anyway, the recipe called for the brisket to bake for 6 hours, and every hour, I was to sacrifice a bottle of beer to the pan. None of us are beer drinkers, but Arvo keeps some on hand just in case a beer drinker ever walks in the house. We had an odd assortment of beer, including one called Chocolate Beer. Mmmmm, now that sounds good, doesn't it? We decided the chocolate beer would be just the thing for brisket.
     Since it was Hanukkah, I also made a triple recipe of latkes. For my non Jewish friends, latkes are potato and onion pancakes dripping with thousands of calories of deep fried grease. They are delicious, but if you have them more than once a year, you are considered a flammable substance and should never leave home without a fire extinguisher.
     Dinner was delicious- the brisket a hit. As well it better be, as I have 17 pounds of brisket left.
"Do you all mind if we have brisket again tomorrow?" If they minded, they didn't tell me, probably because they knew one should never cross the number 3 expert in family relations.

Vicky,we have come to really respect and desire your interpretation of your daily events to God's messages. It just sounds like all you have done is brag here. What did God tell you through your brisket and book experience?

This is again, a good question, and one that Kindle is probably unprepared to answer. I thought about being the best. I always try to be the best, but as I pointed out, in most cases, I do not succeed. For one glorious day going on two, I did. However, I don't think God is impressed with my #1 Book status. I do think, however, He desires that we offer our best to Him. Sometimes it will lead to accolades and maybe even riches (I hope, I hope....) but many times, it won't. However, it will always lead to blessing. I am not a good cook, I am not a perfect mother, and I am not an authority on dog training by any stretch of the imagination. But I do desire to be the best I can be before God. Unfortunately, oftentimes I don't live up to my desires. It is the miracle of the baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas that we have the Best lifting us up with Him. And His Book is the number 1 best selling book of all time, offered like mine for a limited time, for free.

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Light

I gazed despairingly at the wine stained library book. I had finished it, and defiled it, and now, my conscience would let me delay no longer- I must confess my crime. I pictured going to the library clerks and handing them the book, shame dripping from every pore.
"Forgive me, Library, for I have sinned."
I just could not do it. I could not face their wrath as they first beheld the book that they had loaned me in good faith, the book that was brand new with the binding yet uncreased, the pages creamy white...until I had dripped upon them. So instead, I wrote a note. I tucked the note into the book and asked Asherel if she wanted to join me on errands.
"First, to the library," I said, "I am returning the book and owning up to what I did."
"You wrote them a note?" she asked, looking at the little paper tucked in the book.
"Yes, and I will put the book in the book deposit and they will read the note and decide what my punishment will be. Read the note, and tell me what you think."
She picked up the book, looked at the purple stain on the edges, and pulled out my note. She read for a few seconds and then looked up at me.
"Grape juice? You said you spilled grape juice?"
"Well if I told them wine they would think I was reading their book in a drunken stupor. Anyway, it was grape juice....fermented grape juice."
"You are going to offer them the book you wrote as payment for the stain?" she asked reading on.
"Yes, doesn't that sound like a fair exchange? When we get there, take the book just inside the doors and drop it in the adult book depository. Be sure the note doesn't drop out. I am ready to bear the consequences of my sin." As long as it doesn't cost me too much....
"Except, I have to do it?" she asked, as I nudged her out of her seat when we reached the library.
She sighed, picked up the book, and hopped out of the car.

Earlier in the day, I had gathered an assortment of Christmas cookies. My boys and Karissa wouldn't be in till the evening, so my day was free. I had called Comer at the assisted living center the day before. He was still feeling too poorly for our weekly outing, and Evelyn was still recovering from a bad fall. I had so wanted to take them out to see Christmas Lights.The nurses in the Alzhiemer unit felt it best she remain resting. But, I thought, I could still visit, and bring Christmas cookies.
I knocked on Comer's door. No answer. I knocked more loudly. Still no answer. I pounded on the door. Then I heard shuffling steps and the blinds peeked open a little. I jumped up and down waving at him.

"Well hello!" he said, opening the door, "What a surprise!"
"I couldn't take you out to see Christmas, so I brought Christmas to you," I said, handing him the cookies.
He smiled, and said, "Come in, come in!"
I sat on a straight back chair facing him as he settled in his recliner.
"How's Evelyn?" I asked.
"Not well," he said, his eyes misting, head shaking, "She's in bed now."
"Well take those cookies to her later and you two share them, ok? That will perk her up."
"You know she fell," he said.
"Yes, I know."
"She's gained a lot of weight. She won't eat anything herself, so I feed her, you know, coax every bite."
"Maybe you don't need to coax quite as much," I suggested.
"Yes, I have decided that," he agreed, "I can't pick her up when she falls anymore!"
"But don't stop coaxing till after she has the cookies. No one should diet at Christmas."
"It was just a question of time before she fell."
"Maybe she needs a walker," I said.
"Yes, we are coming to that conclusion. She certainly won't be dancing."
"Were you two good dancers?"
"Oh yes, won many contests. On a cruise ship out of hundreds of couples we won first place in the rumba."
He smiled with twinkling eyes, and I could tell he was envisioning his beautiful bride dancing on the polished floors as the ship swayed in the ocean.
"Do you have Christmas plans?" I asked. I knew that usually the two old people spent the holidays in the Home. Comer had told me before that the holidays were just another day in this place.
However, his sad eyes lifted and he said, "Yes! My daughter is coming to bring us to her home for Christmas brunch."
I knew that Comer had been there for Thanksgiving, but not Evelyn. I think it was very hard for the daughter to handle the blunt trauma of Alzheimers and as far as I knew, since being afflicted, the old couple had never been to the daughter's nearby home, but that once for Comer alone.
"Both of you?" I asked surprised.
"Yes," he said, beaming, "She is making Christmas brunch for both of us."
God bless you, daughter, I thought.

Having dropped the library book, Asherel and I continued on to finish our errands. We were walking between stores when a very thin and very old woman stepped away from the wall where she had been leaning.
"Do you have something to eat?" she asked.
My first thought was how much money we were spending with all the kids home and Christmas gifts, and Asherel's various lessons and activities. The woman looked at me, but I didn't get the sense she was seeing me. Her eyes looked empty. I glanced at the store we stood beside. It was the grocery store.
"No, but let's get you something," I said. Asherel and the woman followed as I turned into the store.
"What would you like?"
"Rotisserie Chicken," she said.
I smiled. At least she had not lost a sense of what she wanted. We went to the hot chicken and she chose one.
"Do you have a place to stay?" I asked.
"I am in the Women's shelter," she said.
"What happened that landed you there?"
"I lost my job two months ago."
"Oh, what did you do?"
"Computer chips," she said, then mumbled some other explanations, but I was busy trying to figure out the self check out system.
"Are you involved with a church?" I asked, handing her the chicken as we stepped out of the store.
"Yes, salvation army."
"Well God Bless you, and I hope you find a job. Jesus loves you."
Asherel and I walked on.
"I wonder if she really was homeless," I said.
"She had awfully nice clothes," said Asherel.
"Yes, I noticed that, but she was working until 2 months ago. I guess we will never know if she was just scamming us...but I figure if someone would stoop that low, they do need help. Maybe an act of kindness will spur them on to hope in something better for themselves."

All my children arrived home safely and we played Wii games, and lit the first Hanukkah candle. Karissa, my daughter in law, had never seen the giant book I had made when the boys were young that tells the Hanukkah story. She good naturedly read it out loud while my now grown kids submitted to hearing the story again, as I turned the giant pages with my illustrations in brightly colored markers.
"As we light the candles in this home," Karissa read, "We are reminded of how Jesus, Yeshua, was light to the world, and lights the soul of all who come to Him. We are reminded to spread the light."

Matthew 5:
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How to Draw a Cat

     You just never know what adventures await you at the FedEx store. As I entered with my package, a woman stood at the counter writing on her box, "Happy Holidays Fed Ex!"
     "That is so sweet!" I said.
     "Yes, just think of all the packages they have to lift this season."
     "That's true. I love that idea!"
     So I took the marker and wrote, "Happy Holidays, Fed Ex" on my package, and then drew a smiley face and put a Santa hat on it.
     "Wow," said the lady behind the counter.
      "That's really good!" said the lady with the other package.
I looked at my smiley face Santa. It had taken 3 seconds, and honestly was at the bottom of my totem pole of drawing skill. What had they seen that I was taking for granted?
     " is just a smiley face."
     "But the way you drew that is just really good."
     Hmmmm. I looked at it again to try and see it through their eyes, "I am an artist."
     "I can't even draw a cat," said the lady behind the counter a little sadly, "Just this morning my daughter, she's 2 years old, told me 'Mama, draw me a cat.'  I just drew a blob. My daughter told me, 'That's not a cat, mama, draw me a cat."
    I laughed, " I can teach you how to draw a cat in ten seconds."
    "You can?"
     "Sure, got scrap paper?"
She quickly pulled some cashier tape off her roll. I picked up the magic marker again.
     "See, drawing is easy if you break it down into basic shapes. The head is a circle, the body is a triangle, the front legs are rectangles, back haunches half circles, and the paws are ovals. Then the tail is a banana shape. The ears are obviously triangles, the eyes lemon shapes, the nose a triangle, and the mouth a w."
     She peered at my drawing and took the magic marker from me. She repeated my steps out loud as she constructed her cat.
     "Well look at that," she said, looking happily at her drawing.
     "What's your daughter's name?"
 I took the magic marker and wrote on my drawing, "To Madison, Merry Christmas."
The lady clapped her hands and gathered up both drawings, "Well now I can draw a cat!"

     Thomas Paine once said, "The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."
This is often true, and helps me to wade through tortuous circumstances sometimes without giving up. However, sometimes the smaller the task, the easier the simple gesture of kindness, the more heart warming the triumph.
     One of my favorite stories from the Bible is when Elijah comes upon the widow of Zarephath. He is thirsty and hungry, but she is gathering the sticks for the last bit of food and water she and her son have. After they eat that tiny bit, they will lie down and die, she tells Elijah. With this cheery news, Elijah tells her that she should make him a loaf of bread to eat first, and then all will be well. I would likely have spit in his face, trying to take the bread out of my baby's mouth. However, the widow obeyed, with an act of infinite trust and kindness. She fed him her last loaf of bread. A tiny loaf, no doubt. An insignificant offering to the prophet of the most High and Holy God. As a result, her family never again ran out of bread and oil, and they provided not only for themselves, but for Elijah as well. Simple gestures of kindness never evaporate without a ripple of glory.
     I wish I could see the face of the sweating FedEx worker as he heaves two boxes in a row wishing him a Happy Holiday...or the face of little Madison when as if by magic, her mama who could not draw a cat this morning, could draw a cat tonight.

1 Kings 17:
7 Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
 12 “As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”
 13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.’”
 15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Looking Past the Stain

     I consort with some mighty amazing dogs....or at least their people. One such dog just finished her stint at the prestigious AKC Agility National Invitational. Only the best dogs get invited, a very small percentage of all the agile canines. My friend Danielle and her little Jack Russell Terrier, Dixie, were one of these elite agility teams invited to the national event in Orlando. I checked my Facebook page every few minutes hoping for updates on how Danielle and Dixie were doing. She sent pictures of the fun adventures they had on the way down, wandering beautiful Savannah, eating at fantastic seafood places, posing little Dixie in magnificent settings. I was so pleased that Danielle was making the whole week an adventure, not just the few minutes Dixie and she would actually be in the ring competing. Her wonderful friend and mentor Laura accompanied her, and there could not be a kinder more knowledgeable presence to be beside Danielle on this awesome adventure.
    The first Facebook post from the competition came in. Dixie had a clean Round 1. I cheered and told Asherel, who loves Danielle too. I had no idea how many rounds there were, but knew that Sunday was the day of the finals, for the dogs that advanced. This was Saturday, so I assumed there were two rounds, and then the finals. Later that evening, a second Facebook post came in. Dixie had been fast, but dropped a bar. I presumed that meant Dixie was out of it, since in all likelihood, the dogs that advanced had to have clean runs.  However, I was really proud of Danielle. I suspected that for Dixie to have been fast, Danielle had taken risks rather than playing it safe. Playing it safe wasn't going to win at this level, so I admired her courage.
     Late that night, I got a text from Danielle asking me to  encourage her, give her a pep talk.
     "She dropped that bar three jumps from the end. I just can't let it go," she said.
     I eagerly wrote back, sincerely filled with awe at what she had accomplished to reach this level.
     "You are never in control of the results," I told her, "But you can only be the best you can be at the moment. I love that you were fast and didn't hold back." I wrote some other stuff, including encouraging her to go get a huge ice cream sundae. She thanked me, and I prayed that she would indeed  be comforted with how well she had done at her first Invitational AKC.
    I had assumed she was done. It turns out she wasn't. She had two more rounds. Had I known that, I might have encouraged in a different vein. She did well in the end, two clean rounds out of the four. She was "smokin' fast", beating out all the other Jack Russells in speed. All in all, it was a very good first nationals for her. But I was berating myself now that I had encouraged her inadequately. I had written what I wrote thinking she was all done, and now just needed to be satisfied with the results and the whole picture of her amazing accomplishments. Ugh. I had not offered the proper help at the proper time to my friend.  I just couldn't let it go....

     The next day, I was reading a library book I had reserved months ago. A bestseller in a series, the brand new book had just come out and finally, it was in my hands! It glistened, hot off the press, perfect pages probably untouched by all but a handful of patrons before me. I sat down with a glass of red wine, and eagerly opened the book....and dripped red wine on the pristine, white pages.
    With horror I looked at the stain, and knew it was never coming out. What would happen now? Would I be thrown in jail and the key tossed into the muddy Mississippi? I tried to read the book, but instead of the pure,happy joy of reading the long awaited novel, I kept glancing at the purple stain, and lamenting what I could not undo. I would not like to share all the thoughts of how to evade the consequences of this disaster that leaped to mind. You would think less of me, and I don't want that to happen. I tried a little touch up bleach on the stain, and it did turn it a pretty blue instead of dark purple, but I could see that no matter what I did, the stain was not coming out. I googled "Getting wine stains out of new library books." You'd be surprised how many people were in a similar predicament. But the advice to all of us miscreants was the same, wherever I looked: "you are doomed." Many sites used a less family friendly word than "doomed." I decided to just read, and worry about what to do later, but my eyes hovered relentlessly on the stain.

   Danielle sent another Facebook post. She was on her way home. She said it had been an awesome experience, and one she was grateful to have been a part of. Her dog had not been perfect, but she was just one fault shy of being the top Jack Russell there! She had succeeded in moving on, I thought, in blotting the stain that had momentarily threatened to overtake the joy of the whole event.

     Of course, the supreme example of looking past the stain is God Himself. Though your sins be as scarlet, He tells us in Isaiah, I will make them white as snow.
     All sin? Even the awful things I've done?
     All. They will be blotted out forever; completely atoned for by the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus.
     I don't mean to argue...that is really great....but we are getting off scot free. Somehow that doesn't seem fair.
     It isn't fair. It is mercy. I know how you just can't get past your stains.
     You know...I have some rounds left to go. I might not run clean, Lord.
     You won't. Do your best and remember, I am cheering you on.
     I am grateful Lord. you have any extra heavenly stain cleaner that works on library books?

Psalm 32:
4 For day and night
   your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
   as in the heat of summer.[a]
 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
   and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
   my transgressions to the LORD.”
And you forgave
   the guilt of my sin.
 6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
   while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
   will not reach them.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kindred Spirits

     On Saturdays when we aren't deluged with to-do lists, I drop Asherel at the barn she rides at- His Barn. For several hours, she and a handful of other teens volunteer. They do so because they want to be near horses, and also because Miss Jill, the single owner of this remarkable riding program, needs their help and they love Jill. Asherel has ridden here for years, with a brief foray into English riding.Jill's philosophy is one that I can fully embrace. Horses are one of God's creation, and riding/horse care can be done in such a way that His glory and creation is honored and He is magnified.
     Jill has to train the crew of teens and sometimes must wonder if the effort exceeds the results. Yet, she understands that in our urban,materialistic, computer based society, few kids understand the connection with nature. The Industrial revolution brought many wonderful things, but many wonderful things were lost.
     I always find it a little mystifying that the girl who loves to lie on the couch playing computer games, and moans when I order her outside to walk the dogs, or do chores...will gleefully get up early on Saturday (for her) and eagerly wave goodbye as the barn world envelops her. The work is hard, and she is usually exhausted when I pick her up several hours later, but the first thing she says when she sees me is,"Do I have to go?"
     "Can't I stay a little longer? We are letting the horses out soon," she asked as I found her with the group resting in the barn office. All of their pants were soaked from the knees down, doubtless from cleaning the troughs, which I had heard was on the agenda.
     "Sure," I answered, and went to sit in the van to wait, since it was a little cold outside. As I sat there, I watched Asherel take the horses out for a drink, and then run over to the bleachers along the riding ring. She climbed up on one where a fat cat was sunning itself. She gathered the cat in her arms. She was backlit by the sun and her hair streamed in the wind like a golden halo. She looked happy.
     I flashed back 45 years to when I was a young girl, working on a farm down the street from us. I used to race home every day after school, put on my old smelly barn clothes, and vanish to be with the horses, the goats, cows, cats, and dogs til dinner time. It was one of the happiest times of my life. I found myself a little choked up watching this girl who loved animals as much as I, and knew at a gut level that God created them to His glory, and our delight. I don't think it is any accident that in Proverbs 12, the righteous are linked with loving animals, and contrasted with the cruelty of the wicked.

Proverbs 12: 10
10 The righteous care for the needs of their animals,
   but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Asking Permission

     "Ma'am, do you have a license to fly in the mall?" the security officer asked, his hand on his walkie talkie, in case these dangerous 14 year olds decided to bolt.
     The kids held their helicopters and looked down, allowing their fearless coach to deal with this unexpected bump in the road to Science Olympiad success. Could we go to jail for unauthorized rubber powered helicopter flying in the mall?
     "No," I said.
     "I am afraid I am going to have to shut you down," he said, self importantly, puffing out his blue chest. It was like we were going to have to be shutting down a nuclear reactor the way he said it, rather than just opening a cardboard box and putting the 4 gram copters away.
     "I did ask permission," I added. I did not add that I had asked permission last year, "And no one ever got back to me. I left several messages."
That was true, and in reality, I was miffed that my request hadn't even been acknowledged.
     Next I employed the very best tactic when one wants to appear like one is confident and in control of the situation. One sucks up to the person who is really in charge.
     "Do you have a name and number of someone that might return my calls? I understand you are just doing your job. We just hoped that since the mall didn't open til 10 it would be ok to be here."
     "Well the mall gets a little funny about flying things while people are near. It could cause problems, you know."
     Like what, for crying out loud? These are 4 gram helicopters of soft balsa with rubber band motors. I didn't say that, but I thought it.
    "So who can I ask?"
     "Well. I can ask Tina for you, she's in charge, but I am pretty sure it won't be allowed."
     "Tina! That is the person who never returned my calls! Can I leave you my cell number and have her call me?"
     The kids were quietly packing up our dangerous helicopters, disappointed, as we have yet to have a whole lot of success in our flight practices.  We can practice in a nearby church, but only at limited times since they are so heavily used and they also don't want helicopters buzzing on parishioners heads. We need tall ceilings, like 3 or 4 stories tall, with no obstructions that could trap our copters. It has been nearly impossible to find this. We had hoped we could sneak in the mall during mall walking time before the stores open, but now that door was slammed in our criminal faces.
     Asking permission is at times a real drag on life. The word permission only occurs 12 times in the Bible, and so I can only conclude that asking permission is not a heavenly priority. In fact, in 11 of the 12 cases, it is someone (usually a righteous Godly one) asking permission of some tyrant who is in charge. The only example of permission being granted by a righteous ruler is when the demons who inhabited a man asked Jesus if they could be granted permission to instead inhabit a herd of pigs. Jesus grants them permission and then the pigs all race to a cliff edge, plunge over, and die. I have never understood that story. Were the demons making the pigs jump to their death? Were the pigs trying to escape the demons? And why on earth did the demons want to inhabit the pigs in the first place? Since I can't answer any of those questions, I will focus on the authority aspect of the whole thing. The demons got that part right.
     The only one with real authority is God, and yet how often do I ask Him permission to do anything? Most of the time, I just do it, and hope He approves. Maybe if I asked more frequently, life would proceed more smoothly. I suspect He is often shaking His head and telling the angels, "I am afraid you need to go in there again and shut her down."
     The angels then shake their heads, their halos tipping back and forth sadly, "You would think by now she would learn. She is so impulsive. Shall we send her into the herd of pigs?"
     "Now, now, Angelic host, let's see if we can bring her along more gently for now."
     "Sigh. OK, Lord, she's your creation. Let's go bail her out, sisters...."
     The next morning, I wrote to the church to ask permission to fly our copters.

Mark 5: 12-13
12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Reason for Leash Laws

     The picture in the blog today was my view from 3 inches above the dog in my precarious perch in the tree. You will have to trust me that I could have drawn a much nicer picture if I were able to bend the fingers in my drawing hand without sharp pain as a result of this divine encounter. I was not bitten, though not through any lack of intent. I escaped being bitten by kicking at the attacking monster, which he skillfully evaded. However, I had the good fortune (?) to crash into a tree, which I then scrambled up. The dog was small so could not quite reach me. It took the owner 5 minutes to finally catch the snarling, leaping dog. This was the same owner who as I stopped in the road when the dog, hackles raised, first started walking stifflegged towards me, called out, "Oh he's fine. He won't hurt you."

     As I climbed out of the tree, the adrenaline rush that had sent my heart coursing and given that superhuman ability for a 50+ year old woman to scramble up a tree, now left in its wake a flood of muscle liquifying chemicals. I almost collapsed.
     "Are you ok?" asked the owner.
     Very calmly, I said, " I would like to say something, and I would like you to listen to me."
     At this point, I didn't even know I had slammed my arm, cut it, and the swelling must have pinched a nerve, making precise drawing of sharp canine teeth almost impossible.
     "This is the reason there is a leash law. Any dog can bite, and any dog can be territorial. If that had been my rescue dog your little dog came after, and my daughter were walking her, she would have strongly protected herself. There would have been a nasty fight, and if anyone were hurt, you and your dog would be responsible. You now know your dog cannot be trusted. I walk this route all the time. I do not want to have to worry this will ever happen again."
     "He ran out the back door," said the man lamely.
     "That's fine. I understand, but that dog should never be off leash outdoors."

     I staggered off and didn't burst into tears until I was out of sight. And just that very day, not even an hour prior to that run, I was determined to have a positive attitude for the rest of my life. My arm began to throb and I noticed the small wound from my climb into the tree. It hurt to move my fingers, and I wondered if I had chipped a bone.

     This post is for all the stupid dog owners. It is a harsh word, but I am really mad. No dog can be trusted 100 %.  This was not a pitbull, doberman, rottweiler, or any of the so called bully breeds that attacked- it was a little mini dog, a rat terrier. I did nothing to provoke it and was walking on the other side of the street. There is a leash law for a reason.  If a dog is approaching a human being or another dog, the owner should always stop, restrain the dog, and ask if that human wants you to approach. Never just assume your dog is friendly and thus you have the right to invade another person/dog's space. My dogs will attack if dogs rush up to them. They are friendly, but they feel threatened when leashed and other dogs come near. And if your dog has ever shown aggression, you better be vigilant and careful that the back door is never open when that dog is near. And finally, HINT, if a dog has its hackles up, it is the height of ignorance to proclaim, "Oh don't worry, he won't hurt you."

     -OK, Miss little prophet of the Most High, seeker of heavenly symbols...what did that one mean?
    - I am not sure. I think God is pointing out that no matter what happens in our own heart, evil is real, present, and a danger. We should always be vigilant.
    - People are going to laugh at you for being treed by a 10 inch tall dog.
    - Maybe, but half its height was teeth.  

      My hand feels almost normal this morning although it really hurts to touch the spot near the wound. I suspect if it were broken, I would feel worse than I do. Thank you for letting me rant and rave. Now I intend to return to my positive attitude for the rest of my life.

2 Corinthians 5: 9-10
9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fantastic Being

     Well, some slopes are open on the ski mountain, but the group decided that it was not water skiing they were after...and after a string of 60 degree days, the manmade snow was really more like manmade soup. So instead, we will look forward to a full day of exciting homeschool, learning about such perennial favorites as the Civil War, inhumane factory conditions, and maybe even a worm dissection.
     As you can imagine, Asherel is disappointed.
     But as I lay in bed this morning, I felt a distinct urging in my heart to look on the world with a more upbeat perspective. There is so much disappointment in life that it is sometimes very easy to wallow in it.
     I often pass a happy person on my neighborhood walks. She is an ex-principal of an elementary school. She is just the sort of person that should have been involved in childrens' lives. Every single time I see her, I always say, "How are you?" and she always answers, "Fantastic!"
     Now we all know that no one is always fantastic. But if we dig deeply enough, somewhere we can find something of that level of delight. The word fantastic is derived from the Greek phantastikos, which roughly translates, producing mental images (e.g. fantasy). I find this quite liberating. I suspect that is also the origin of the ex-principal's state of constant fantasticness.  If I can just produce mental images of optimistic delight, I can be fantastic every day too!
     I remember the recent visit home. I went with my mom to the doc's office  to have her stitches removed.
     "Think calming thoughts!" I called after her, "Like green pastures and still waters!"
     So as I lay in bed this morning, conjuring fantastic thoughts, this is what I came up with:    

Psalm 23

 1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
 5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Living With Anticipation

     Of over one million books sold in the Kindle store, I am now ranked the 1,130 top selling book of all books. This includes all the bestsellers, all the classics, all the everything!  Not that I am checking every 5 minutes to watch my rank change or anything so obsessive like that.....
   I keep hoping that on one of my visits to the site, I will see a row of 5 cherries click in to place, a whole bunch of bells and whistles will sound, and a gameshow host voice will shout out,"It's official! I'm Listening with a Broken Ear, Kaseorg's debut novel, has gone viral! Ding ding ding!" It could happen. Dreams can come true....
     In between clicking on my sales, I visit the ski slope update site of Sugar mountain, where we are supposed to go on our first ski trip of the season tomorrow. Each day, with the warm front hovering atop the mountain, the snow melts more, and the number of ski runs open dwindle. They are down to three runs open, at the moment. They do happen to be the runs we most use, but I doubt they will survive through the expected 60 degree day. I suspect our first day of skiing will not materialize.
     This is too bad on many levels. For one thing, it will be the second time our first ski date of the season will be canceled. And secondly, the car is already packed with our skis, boots, snowboards, jackets, mittens, hats, sunglasses, change of clothes, extra jackets, snowpants, wool sweaters, helmets, emergency rations, blankets, water bottles, emergency water, satellite radio, towels, tissues, suntan lotion, first aid kits, and full body emergency casts.
     "How long are you going for this ski trip?" asks the little Elf crouching in his corner of the car.
     "At least 6 or 7 hours," I tell him.
     "All this for one day of skiing?"
     "I like to be prepared."
     "And you did this how many days in advance?"
     "Only 5."
     " I see. And if skiing is canceled?"
     " I have to unpack it all. Because then a few days from now, both sons and one new wife will be home and I need the car to transport them and their stuff."
     "You live a good bit of your life in anticipation. Did you know that?"
     "Is that a compliment?"
     "How will you feel if your book doesn't go viral?"
     "Honestly? Disappointed."
     "Uh huh. And how will you feel if you have to unpack all this stuff without being able to use it when the ski day is canceled?"
     "Then I don't think it is a compliment."
     "Now don't you think that is a little harsh? I mean the Bible talks about waiting in expectation."
     "About books selling or packing for ski dates a week in advance?"
     "Maybe not specifically, but all creation is waiting breathlessly and preparing. I'm just giving that pose of expectant waiting a dry run on smaller things."
     "You better be careful about how you apply Biblical verses to your life."
       I hang my head in shame as the little car elf crawls back under the seat.
     "By the way," his tiny voice calls from his hiding place, " I have my fingers crossed on that viral thing."

Romans 8: 18-21
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sniffing Deeply of Life

    There is a small problem with the Christmas favorite- Bourbon Balls. These little innocuous sugar coated cookies can give you a hangover if you make them the way my mother did...and I always make them the way my mother did.
     I love the recipe she wrote for me when I left home and asked for all those special meals and treats she had made before she decided to boycott cooking forever.
     Bourbon balls:  2 c nuts, 1 lb. vanilla wafers, 3 T karo, and 3 oz. bourbon....or so....
     She always made them the or so way... and so do I. So yesterday, the house reeked of bourbon. At 10 a.m, my husband walked into the kitchen to see me poised at the counter with a bottle of bourbon in my hands. Not even a cup. It was like walking into the Bowery.
He raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment.
     I made a double batch and mailed some to my mom. It was her favorite Christmas cookie, and drink...all in one small package.  I freeze mine so that I don't eat them all before the kids come home. That rarely works. I almost always have to make another batch. I just chip my teeth eating frozen bourbon balls.
     After completing my baking for the day, I took the dogs on a walk. At one point, Honeybun must have found a particularly tantalizing scent because I started to walk forward, and my shoulder dislocated as she planted her feet and wouldn't budge. Her nose was sniffing a mile a minute, and she had crouched low to the ground so that I could not remove her from that scent no matter how hard I tried. I stood there 5 minutes, indulging her. After all, it is almost Christmas and I was filled with a charitable spirit. Finally, I wrenched her away. I wondered if smells for a dog were like a good book to me. Had I just forced her to slam shut the equivalent of a book she couldn't put down?  We continued (she reluctantly) on, and I thought about all the little joys in life. Christmas memories, bourbon balls, wonderful smells. I remembered a Facebook post from a friend yesterday. All it said was "I am a blessed woman." No explanation. Just a recognition of blessedness.
     This is the proper attitude towards life, I thought. Smelling deeply of our profound blessings.

Psalm 34:
8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;
   blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Pumpkin Lover Makes my Day

     After an exhilarating run of almost 2,000 of my e-bboks snatched up during the free promotional, it is now full price again, a whopping $2.99, and I hope sales will still skyrocket being as now I would actually get paid for them....
     However, I was paid in an unexpected way. Not with money, but as we all know, money can't buy happiness. (Don't get me wrong- go out and buy my book in droves so I can fully test that theory....) My payment came in a review from someone who calls herself  "Love my Pumpkins". I have no idea who this is. I was looking at my book site which no longer shows me the ranking in my category since the promotion ended. But I did notice a new review. Pumpkin Lover stated better than I could what I had hoped to accomplish with my book.  So today, I will post her review instead of my own thoughts because she was the encouraging voice of God channeled in my direction :

I just love this book. I'm sure my family/friends are sick of hearing me gush over it, but it really is a must-read. I don't care if you're atheist or "cat" person, it's the kind of compassion and self-depreciation that Vicky shows that really makes you want to be a better person yourself! This tale (tail?) ends up being a self-help book since you can't help but reflect on your own reliance and values.

First off, Kaseorg is a wonderful soul who grapples with her inner-monologue....dialogue....trialogue, if there is such a thing. There is a dog, Honeybun, who wants so little from life. But like most people, Kaseorg's world is stuffed full of "commitments" that she barely sees the space for this sad mutt. Unbeknownst to the author, Honeybun is barely a mutt but an American Dingo and a fantastic agility dog! What Kaseorg and her daughter teach this dog comes back to them ten-fold when this four-legged wonder gives them lessons on life.

"I'm Listening With a Broken Ear" isn't a 'happy-ending' kind or book, nor is is a 'happy-start'. It's the kind of book that gives you a correlation between spiritual beliefs (the Bible), familial controversies and good old-fashioned dog behavioral tips. Kudos to Kaseorg for putting into words what so many of us can't! 

When I finished reading this review, I was in tears. So this is what I had set out to do, I thought! This Pumpkin Lover nailed it. I love how she reminds us...and me.... that time commitments can crowd out eternal blessings and prevent us from doing what we really should. Pumpkin Lover, whoever you are, Thankyou for that beautiful and encouraging reminder today.

Acts 15: 31
31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Book of Hope

     My e-book version of I'm Listening With a Broken Ear is having a promotion. It was advertised to Kindle owners and offered free for download to any mobile device/computer/iPod for two days. For some reason, it is still free. I am not sure how long that will last. However, I had forgotten that they would be doing a promotion and just happened to check the website where I can track my book sales. I do that occasionally when I feel like tormenting myself and lowering my self esteem. It was in the morning yesterday.
     "That's odd," I told my husband Arvo, "I have sold a hundred books this morning."
     I then checked an hour later.
     "I have sold 300!" I was becoming famous and I wasn't even dead yet!
    Within the next hour, I had sold almost a thousand. I get no royalties during the promotion, but it didn't matter. My book was flying off the shelves. It had started as something like the 410,000 most popular e-book in it's category. By the end of the day, it soared to #2. Some people wrote to tell me they enjoyed the e-book so much that they were ordering the print version. The print version is currently about the 1 millionth best selling book on Amazon....but you just never know what a little promotion might do. A blizzard starts with one snowflake.
     My son Matt found the promotional site, which I had not even seen, and there were comments, from strangers all over the country. They said things like, "This one looks really good. I've started it and it is so interesting."  Another comment said, "This one looks like a tear jerker. I don't want to read another sad dog story."
     NO! , I wanted to tell her, it is not another sad dog story! In this one the dog overcomes!The dog  is even still alive when the book ends. This is a book of hope! This is the perfect book for Christmas. Similarly,who could have imagined that  the story of a frightened, unmarried teenager who finds herself pregnant and then  travels on a donkey hundreds of miles just before going into labor, and then huddles in a manger as there was no room in the inn to finally birth this seemingly illegitimate child  would end so happily?
Speaker#1:   Happily....? He ends up on the cross.
Speaker#2:   That's not the ending. You are forgetting what happened three days later.
Speaker#1:   Well yes...that part was happy.
Speaker#2:    And then what happens eternally to all who believe.....if that's not happy, I don't know what is!      
    My son Matt called late that evening, "Mom, I got a call back on the Federal Reserve internship for this summer."
    It was a day full of hopeful surprises.

Psalm 31: 4
4 Be strong and take heart,
   all you who hope in the LORD.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Unexpected Rewards

     A huge package arrived at my doorstep yesterday. It came from  Williams Sonoma. I know little about this store except it is very expensive and exclusive and I could not imagine who would be sending me an enormous gift from such a place.
     I put the box on the counter and went back to work. I had called Comer, our elderly friend at the Nursing Home earlier in the week to suggest a Christmas Lights outing. I thought his wife Evelyn, even with Alzheimers eating away at her brain, would enjoy looking for homes covered with Christmas decorations. I had already put two Christmas music CDs in the car, knowing that Evelyn might not speak, but she would sing.
     "Hello," croaked Comer, answering the phone.
     "Comer! You don't sound so good."
     "I feel awful. Thought I was going to die."
     "Oh dear! I am so sorry! What is it?"
    "Feels like some flu, or bad sinus infection.I haven't left my bed in three days."
"Oh my! Well I was calling to invite you out to look at Christmas lights this week...but maybe we should wait til next week?"
"Yes, I couldn't go anywhere this week. I feel too poorly. I am getting better. I should be fine by next week."
"I know in the past Evelyn doesn't do well at night. Do you think she would be ok if we go out in the evening but we will go as soon as the sun sets?" Evelyn, like many people afflicted with Alzheimers, would sometimes become agitated at night. At least she used to. Since moving to the new facility where Comer was just down the hall, she had been doing much better emotionally.
"Oh, I don't know. You know she never speaks at all anymore. Still sings though."
"Well I have lots of Christmas music for her to sing. Listen, why don't you check with her nurse and let me know? We could go next week if you are feeling better."
"Oh, I am sure I will be," he said.
"Well then you rest, and I will call you next week. We will get yummy food and hot chocolate and go find beautiful homes dressed up for Christmas."
"Thank you darling," he said, his voice gravelly and strained.
     I hung up and returned to my computer woes. I had developed a GoogleGroup list for the Homeschool Ski Club I was forming, and already there were problems. Half the people had not received the invitation to join the Google Group, which meant I had to go back to my inbox, find every one who had written but not joined the group and then try to find another way to add them to the Group. I had been at it for hours.
     Volunteer work just doesn't pay, I thought. I glanced at the huge Sonoma Williams box. What could that be, and who had sent it? I didn't want to spoil a Christmas surprise by opening the card, but curiosity was overcoming my hesitance. I put it under the tree and my forehead grazed the sparkling Crystal Squirrel ornament. It spun on a silver thread, little blue gems in the eyes shimmery points of color. Every year, Asherel and I go out to look for one crystal ornament to add to our tree. My tree is decorated in all crystal clear onrnaments and white lights. It is very elegant. My mom had a tree like that, and I loved the simple elegance of it, so continued that tradition in our own home. Asherel and I usually take quite a while to agree on the yearly ornament, but as soon as we saw the squirrel, we both knew this was the one we wanted.
     "It reminds me of Squirrel Nutkin!" I said happily. Nutkin was a baby squirrel that had fallen from a tree in our yard a few years ago, rescued by Lucky from the freezing rain, and then restored to health by us. Ultimately, since he was only 6 weeks old when we saved him, we brought him to a rehab specialist who released him safely to the wild when he was fully grown. Asherel and I had loved our few weeks nursing the little baby who had almost died back to health.
     "Yes, let's get that one," said Asherel.
     I smiled at my little squirrel ornament and the happy memories it evoked.Then I sobered as I looked back at the computer and rubbed my wrist.The tendonitis from all my computer work was flaring and every word I typed hurt. But I had to fix the issues with the skiing google group. I had volunteered, and like it or not, I had to follow through now. I glanced at the mysterious package under the slowly swinging crystal squirrel. I could stand the suspense no longer. I opened the card on the giant expensively wrapped box.
     "Thank you for your kindness to my parents," the card said. It was from Comer and Evelyn's daughter.

Luke 14:

13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”