Monday, January 31, 2011

Coercing Wonder in Beauty

The story of the swans is even better than I thought! They are rescues from a SC bird rescue, who rescued them from Michigan. So far no one has filled me in on why they don't just fly away. Swans can fly and indeed are graceful flyers. In fact they can fly 55 mph! Their only problem with flight is taking off and landing. They need a huge runway to get that 30 pound body to overcome drag. And when they land, they need a long open stretch of water to skid their feet on. It is the only time a swan is not graceful.

I forced Asherel to walk with me to go look at the swans yesterday. I know. What a horrible mother, coercing beauty and wonder in God's creation on her child.
"I've seen swans before," she grumbled.
"Not wild swans," I said, "And not this far south. I am not sure I have ever even seen a wild swan."
"Well I have!" she snapped.
"Where?" I challenged.
"On the internet! Have you never heard of google images?" she said, rolling her eyes.
"Please tell me you are kidding. Please tell me you are not equating a photograph on the computer with coming to see in real life a wild swan, this beautiful creation of God. Please tell me you are kidding or I have failed you as a mother."
"OK, I'm excited about the swan. I'm jsut not excited about walking here to see it.I would have been excited to drive to see it."
(It is a 10 minute walk.)
"Please tell me you are kidding. Please tell me you are not wanting your muscles to dissolve into a blob of useless flesh, the wonderful muscles God gave you to use to walk and not grow walk to see a wild swan. Please tell  me you are kidding or I have failed on two counts."
She did not tell me she was kidding on that one.

We were stopped on our walk to the swans by two young girls on bicycles.
"Can you tell us where Shadow Lake is?" they asked.
I gave them directions and said, "Did you know there are swans there?"
"Yes!" they exclaimed, "That's why we are going there. We want to see them."
I looked pointedly at my daughter, the one I raised to love all creatures great and small, and to love the wonder of moving muscles God gave her that are strong and healthy.

When we arrived at the lake, the little girls were sitting on the shore, just watching the swans. The swans saw us and began to glide towards us.
"Aren't they beautiful!" I cried.
The girls nodded. Asherel was mute, like the swan.

"The one that is not quite white must be young," I said,"They turn all white when they are adults."
"I didn't know that," said the little girl politely.
"Yes. And those are Mute swans. The bigger one is a male. If they are still here in February, they will probably build a nest. They do that in late spring."
"Wow," said the little girl.

I didn't tell her about how swans mate for life, and are devoted parents. They carry the baby cygnets on their backs at times. The cygnets remain with the parents for as long as two years, though usually just one. That is still the longest any bird remains with its parents. A swan after my own heart!

They show affection by kissing bills, and the shape made by the two arched necks forms a heart.
Once a year they molt and for 6 weeks are unable to fly. Their feathers are hollow, like all birds, and they have a sac of waterproofing oil by their tail. So they spend hours preening to spread the oil over their feathers.Their longer neck allows them to retrieve water plants deeper than the other waterfowl, and thus contrary to the supposed contest between them and other waterfowl for food, they usually root for food in deeper water. Indeed, by pulling up plants shorter necked species can't reach, they often provide more not less food for competing species. I noticed they did not challenge the geese today. The geese floated placidly near them, and all the birds seemed content.

They glided to within a few feet of shore.
"They probably want food. But don't give them any," I warned the little girls. "If they get handouts they can become aggressive, demanding more."

The sweet girls nodded again, and we all stood another quiet moment watching the swans.
"Shall we go?" asked Asherel.
As we walked off, she told me, "You are becoming a swan nerd, Mom."

I sighed. I craned my neck to watch the swans til I could see them no more.

Psalm 111:
2 Great are the works of the LORD;
   they are pondered by all who delight in them.

Proverbs 8:30-32

 30 Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
   rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
   and delighting in mankind.
 32 “Now then, my children, listen to me;
   blessed are those who keep my ways.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Swan Songs

We were on autopilot, the dogs and I, on our usual run to the little lake in the adjoining neighborhood when I screeched to a stop along the shore. I really could not believe my eyes. On our dippy little pond, covered with water weeds were two magnificent swans.

The Canada Geese were all huddled at one end and looked like gnats next to the giant white swans. The swans had bright orange beaks with black knobs on them, and black extending to their dark eyes. The rest of the huge birds was pure white. Their necks curved in the classic sinuous s, and they made the little unassuming lake suddenly seem magical. I rubbed my eyes. Maybe they were really just large white geese? But no, these were swans. Out of the dregs of my memory I even clutched at the kind- Cygnet Swans. I knew cygnet also meant baby swan, but I vaguely recalled that this classic swan was also named Cygnet.

While I watched, the swans glided near, and my normally explosive dogs perked up, but were silent. I think they too were captivated by the beauty. A few geese also ventured near, thinking I had food most likely. With an explosion of enormous wings flapping, the larger swan tore after the geese, nipping at them. Several times over the many minutes I stood there, the swans attacked the geese. I felt sorry for the geese. After all, it had been their lake first.

 But swans! Here on little Shadow Lake! And it was a pair. Were they here to raise young?

I rarely see anyone by this little lake. The dogs and I go almost every day. It is lined on two sides by trees and a little path. The other two sides have houses along the banks. It is very small. No more than a quarter mile all around the edge. But I like to go to the tree covered path and look out over the little lake, and talk to the geese. I feel that for a moment, I am in nature. Not in the middle of a plain subdivision. My soul, which really belongs somewhere in the country soaks in those quiet moments of that little sanctuary, and then I am able to face the concrete and traffic again.

And now this in my little haven- swans!

Upon returning reluctantly home, I researched swans. The ones I had seen are indeed called Cygnet Swans, but more commonly Mute Swans. Their normal habitat usually only extends as far south as Maryland and North into Massachusetts and Canada. I wonder if they got tired of the constant onslaught of snow this year up North. I had instinctively known they were not in their usual setting.

Mute swans are not really mute. When angry or threatened, they emit a squawk.  Legends claim the swan is mute until its last moments. Upon dying, it breaks its silence and sings. Thus the famous "swan song". As far as I could tell, the only factual aspect of this might be that as it is dying, it is being threatened and it breaks its silence to squawk.

The Mute Swan is considered an invasive, non-indigenous species. For you kids preparing for your English AP exam, this means they crowd out other wildlife, and they were imported from somewhere else. Apparently, this is a source of controversy in the swan aficionado world. There is heated debate, with experts pointing to paintings from the 1500s of swans here in America, despite other experts claiming a latter importation date. And this is the part that floored me. In 2004, there was a nationwide program by our dear Uncle Sam to wipe out 85% of the mute swan population. This is because some experts claim that Mute Swans are so aggressive that they drive out other nesting wild fowl. Besides that, they eat prodigious amounts of water plants, leading to weed choked lakes no longer looking like green cesspools.(They phrased the danger a little differently.) Swans that become used to handouts from humans will become belligerant if food is then withheld. (so who doesn't?)

So as usual, the response is to kill them. Further research showed that the experts were wrong. Mute swans don't obliterate the vegetation, and don't chase out populations of wild fowl. And if people don't feed them, they will leave people alone, unless their nesting young are approached too closely. I for one, am rooting for the swans.

There are a lot of horrendous things going on in the world, even in my own small sphere of friends. Really horrible, unbearable difficulties. It is easy for sensitive souls to be swallowed up in all that despair. But then God sends a swan. Something beautiful, and unexpected. Something that makes me stop, catch my breath, clutch my heart. Something pure and white and holy in its loveliness. Something to remind me that even on the weed choked ponds of life, swans sometimes come to roost.

Psalm 104: 2-3,12,24

2 The LORD wraps himself in light as with a garment;
   he stretches out the heavens like a tent
 3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
12 The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
   they sing among the branches.
 24 How many are your works, LORD!
   In wisdom you made them all;
   the earth is full of your creatures.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Spring can't be far.....

The Northerners just got socked with another two feet of snow, and here in the South, it is expected to reach nearly 60 degrees. Everyone I meet says they are tired of the cold and ready for Spring, and it isn't even Groundhog day yet!

I noticed a squirrel raiding our lawn chair cushion yesterday. She pulled out a huge wad of stuffing and absconded with it, scurrying up a towering oak. That can only mean she is building a nest which means baby squirrels are in the offing, which means spring must be near.

"Help yourself!" I called out as she returned for a second morsel of fluff. We never use those old cushions anyway. May as well pad the entry into the world of another rodent.

In my opinion, you can never have enough squirrels or helicopters. I love squirrels with their question mark tail. I love there cheerful chittering and their acrobatic antics as they leap among the leafy treetops. Squirrels make me smile.

Lately, however, helicopters make me cry.  As Science Olympiad now looms only 5 weeks away, a working helicopter is becoming more and more critical. A few weeks back we had two working helicopters. The team was already purchasing trophy cases for all the awards they would be racking up. And yesterday we went to practice with five completed helicopters in our hangar ( a large plastic box).  Each was of a slightly different design. Each held months of promise in their carefully sanded bodies and countless hours of effort.

Not one worked. Every single one broke as soon as we began winding the rubber motor. After some repairs, we did get two to fly for about 1 second each. And then they broke again.

As we left the practice gym, two dejected hours later, Asherel said , "That went well."
I glanced at her. Was she being sarcastic?
"We learned alot," she explained.
In my mind, that means the long season of educational winter is over. Someone on the planet in the sphere of my teaching has made the correct connection of what education is all about! Buds of comprehension are pushing through the dormant bark. Hallelujah!

One of the hardest jobs as a parent is trying to convince your children you know something they don't. And beyond that, you know something it would be wise for them to learn. The accumulation of facts, while a nice benefit for those with good memories, does not produce a well educated, functional member of society, nor does producing ten rubber helicopters that fly more than 2 seconds.  But a respectful and eager learner, who looks at failure as the opportunity to grow in understanding is a blessing beyond compare. And a child who begins to understand that those people God has placed in authority over them should be listened to is one who has the beginning of true wisdom.

Proverbs 9:9-12
9 Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
   teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.  10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
   and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
11 For through wisdom[b] your days will be many,
   and years will be added to your life.
12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;

Friday, January 28, 2011

LIttle Things Matter

The trebuchet arm was clicked back into place with the sling cradling the projectile.  The maiden launch of our finally completed Science Olympiad trebuchet was seconds from countdown. Even the dogs stood nearby watching, their ever-present barking momentarily silenced. The team donned the mandatory protective safety goggles.
Asherel slipped the counterweight  onto its hook. It swayed- its potential energy eagerly waiting to become kinetic. (Takes you back to those old physical science classrooms, doesn't it?)

"3-2-1, Fire!"

The trebuchet flinging arm snapped forward, pulling the sling along its track. The sling sliced through the air, and the free end slipped correctly off its nail to release the projectile. The projectile sailed over the dogs' heads and into the back yard..... backwards. The trebuchet had flung the projectile behind it.

The team laughed.
"Don't video tape it until it throws it forward," requested Josh.

All this meant was that the angle of sling release needed adjustment and eventually our sling was consistently flinging 20-30 feet forwards. This is not far enough, not by a long shot (Haha, pun intended....), but it is in the right direction at least. Now we have to analyze what is eating up our kinetic energy. Something is. That big arm should be tossing about three times that far.

This is a common thread of life in general- how to transform potential into action? How to eek out every last drop of potential to get the absolute best action possible. It is so easy for the potential energy to leak into areas we don't want it to go. The gaps it leaks through are manifold- worry, anger, sin, frivolous pursuits, mind numbing diversions, too many of even the good diversions .....
pretty soon all our potential energy is dried up, the river that started off is just a trickle, and the result is action that is weak and ineffectual.

So what is the key to optimizing all that potential?

In our trebuchet, we have to figure out how to channel all the energy of the power source into the desired action- maximum fling. What is interesting is that if we focus only on the arm, the one section attached to the power source, we may never find the energy-sucker. Energy might be leaking out of an unbalanced base, or a loose screw, or a sticky wheel.....The little things matter. We like to think that if we get the big things right and stay connected to our source of power, all will work out. And we will be flinging in the right direction, but we won't be all we could be until we take care to get the little things right.

Kindness when we don't feel kind, gentleness when we feel like raging, obedience when we know our way is best but our parents urge us otherwise, compassion when we look on the weak, the weary, the complaining, the angry, the hurting and the fallen, forgiveness when that is the last thing we want to do..... The little things matter.

Zechariah 4:10

 10 “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the LORD that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Not only the arm of flesh with us

Per the agent's instructions, I downloaded her template for my "updated proposal" and began to cut and paste from my apparently outdated proposal. Fortunately I had all the information, so it was not as though I were starting from scratch. Still, it is an overwhelming process. Especially when I reach sections like "Published Work."

I have to be very creative in these sections, because I have only sought publication with my two books I have written. I included "letters to the Editors" in this section. I realize this is a glaring deficiency but I did the best with what I had.

I finished reworking the proposal after a full day of hard work. What made it hard is the last vestiges of the nasty cold were still hanging on, and I had to blow my nose every few seconds or risk dripping on the keyboard. My head pounded, and really, I probably should have just spent one more day recovering instead of pursuing my life dream. But I finished and then wrote the agent telling her I would send it after I had looked it over more carefully. I did have a question. From what I could see, there was no section for a book synopsis. I found this strange since one would think publishers would want to know what the book was about....wouldn't they? Perhaps this was what made my proposal outdated? At any rate, was I missing something?

I sent the email and tiredly went to bed, eyes aching, throat raw.  In the morning, I felt much better and opened the agent's proposal template again to make sure I had included all the elements in my revised proposal before I sent it. And I had.....except I had completely missed the first 5 pages of the agent's template, including of course, the section for book title, author name, and synopsis.

Laying my head down, I softly pounded my fist against my numb brain. How had I missed that? I can see overlooking a paragraph....but 5 pages? I just didn't see how even in my compromised state of health I could have missed 5 pages....and the first 5 pages at that. Where all the critical introductory things appeared like a synopsis.... the same synopsis I had written an email to the agent about....wondering why her template didn't include a synopsis.

"I have just blown it," I groaned, "My last shot. The one agent who seemed to really want to give me a chance....despite my weak platform and my published work including letters to the editor."
I quickly wrote the agent and told her I don't know how I had missed it, but somehow I had. Chalk it up to illness. I would continue to rework my proposal and send it when done.

She didn't write back. I know she is busy- busy with authors that read carefully and thoughtfully and know that a proposal has to have a synopsis. Still, as Asherel reminded me, it is done and I can't take it back, so just move on. Today I will finish reworking the proposal, and pray it is not an exercise in futility.

While I was working, so was Asherel. She was concentrating with furrowed brow, hair falling across her face, and sanding the motor stick of the new helicopter she is designing. Her goal is to keep the helicopter to the bare minimum weight allowed by Science Olympiad, which is 4 grams. In case you have no concept of how light that is, that is the weight of 4 paper clips. Her helicopter that flew so well was 4 1/2 grams, but it broke. It is very hard to make something so light also be strong. That is the engineering challenge before the team,  with the added caveat that it has to fly. There have been many failures, many set backs, many tears.
It is very tempting to bag the whole thing, and just settle on the couch and eat potato chips.

King Hezekiah of the Bible is one of those kings that I relate to. He had moments of inspiration and greatness, but then plummets to depths only ingrained character flaws can carry one. He is someone who struggles mightily in his faithful walk, and sometimes he succeeds, and often he fails. I love characters like Hezekiah. It is not that I love imperfection- actually I hate it- but it is something I can honestly aspire to. Hezekiah is real.

In 2 Chronicles, the evil king of Assyria, Sennacherib has laid seige to Jerusalem. His army is far more powerful than Hezekiah's army. He is a savvy antagonist, and while laying seige to Jerusalem, taunts the people inside trying to undermine their hope. He understands that hope is sometimes all that keeps us fighting on.  So he calls out to the beleaguered Israelites:
 13 “Do you not know what I and my predecessors have done to all the peoples of the other lands? Were the gods of those nations ever able to deliver their land from my hand? 14 Who of all the gods of these nations that my predecessors destroyed has been able to save his people from me? How then can your god deliver you from my hand? 15 Now do not let Hezekiah deceive you and mislead you like this. Do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my predecessors. How much less will your god deliver you from my hand!”

He plants doubt firmly in the minds of the beseiged. But here, Hezekiah rises to one of his scattered moments of greatness.  He understands the source of his strength and his hope and reminds his people:
7 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. 8 With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.

As I settle down to finish my proposal today, and Asherel slowly sands micrograms off her helicopter motor stick, it will be good to meditate on that verse....there is a greater power with us and He will help us fight our battles.

2 Chronicles 20:12
For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Blotting Out Transgressions

"How short do you want it?"
It seemed like an easy question.
Asherel sat in the hairdresser's chair in a nice salon for her first non-bargain basement haircut. She has gloriously thick, long, curly hair. It is also hot, and heavy, and takes forever to dry and manage. She was ready to have it cut off. Since the bargain basement was full for another hour, we went next door to the salon that offers coffee and pound cake. Since Asherel gets her hair cut about once every 6 months or so, I thought we could spring for a good haircut.

We had two criteria for the hairdresser. It had to be long enough to pull back into a ponytail, and it had to be a wash and go style.
"You may need to straighten it every day," said the stylist.
This should have been my first clue that we might not be in the hands of just the right stylist since of the two criteria, she did not seem to want to follow criteria 2.
"That isn't going to happen," I said, "It really needs to be a wash and go style. No hair drying, no straightening." (Besides, when you have gorgeous curly hair, why flatten it?)

That was when she needed some clarification on criteria #1.
"How short?"
"It has to be long enough to put in a pony tail," I reminded her, "She runs dog agility trials and has to be able to pull it back."
At that, I felt confident leaving Asherel in the hands of the professional and diving into the pile of junky magazines. Since I would never stoop to buy junky magazines, I can't wait to go to the hair salons and doctor's offices that have a full array of them. I became quickly immersed in which starlet was crusading for which noble cause while dressed in which designer jeans and stilettos. A peaceful snip snip snip in the background. A cup of green tea and honey in my hands.

When I looked up to see the hairdresser blow drying Asherel's hair, I felt a glimmer of dismay. She looked like a poodle....and not a poodle with ponytail length locks either. Clearly criteria #1 had been ignored. I am no expert, but it looked like while I was lost in the trials and tribulations of Brittany Spears, the hairdresser had closed her eyes and gone wild with the scissors on Asherel's head.

I saw her confer with Asherel and then pull out a hair iron. She began what turned into an hour of hair straightening. She was a very very nice young lady, but from a consumer point of view, she needed a little work. Of the two criteria we had given, she had now ignored both.

It is very hard for me to be brutally honest with hairdressers, and actually, after the hour and a half of styling, Asherel's hair did look nice. The stylist assured us it would also look fine curly. However, when Asherel washed it the next day and emerged with hair sticking out unevenly in all directions, I shuddered. I raced for hair goop and smoothed some over the recalcitrant curls, but it wasn't the curls that were the was how ineptly they had been cut.  I knew I had to call and request emergency repairs.

This was a well run salon, and the manager instantly set Asherel up with their top designer to repair the cut. We could never afford the top designer normally, so it almost made me glad that the original stylist had been so inept. The designer warned Asherel that while she could certainly repair the cut so that it would be a lovely wash and go style, she could not add back pony-tail length hair. And she would need to take off a little more length to repair the choppy mess left by the other.

In the end, Asherel emerged with a stupendous wash and go hair style, and her lovely face is framed by soft and luxurious, well-cut curls. It is much shorter than she wanted, but really looks stunning. I wish we could afford the designer. The designer told us to return in 6 weeks and she would do another complimentary shaping. And the manager told me in all her years in customer relations, she had never had someone with such a disastrous haircut request a do-over so nicely.  One of my eternal struggles and character flaws is to be kind to inept service providers. This was at least a little validation that my struggles are not always in vain.

But sadly graciousness and gentleness require constant surveillance in my life. I can never stop reminding myself that others almost never live up to my expectations and I need to learn to accept, encourage, and be kind especially then. As soon as I let my guard down, there I go again, irritable, angry, and regretting. I am slowly learning that in the face of this constant struggle, the least I need to do is perfect my apology. The manager of the hair salon did all the right things. She didn't challenge my perspective. She didn't try to convince me the haircut was really not as bad as I claimed it was. She didn't try to defend the stylist. And she asked what she could do to make it right and restore my confidence in her salon. And then this... this is perhaps the most amazing, she thanked me for pointing out where the salon had failed.
"If you don't let us know what we have done wrong, we have no opportunity to fix it," she said.

King David had the power to cut off Nathan's head when he came to David and told him that his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband was major commandment-breaking. David could have offered all kinds of rationalization for his sin, or just dispose of Nathan no questions asked. But instead, here is what he said:  “I have sinned against the LORD.”(2 Samuel 12:13) 

That's it. He offered no justification, no explanation, no attempt to wriggle out of accountability. A complete admission, and a complete understanding of ultimately who he had sinned against.

I pray today that I would learn to keep my character wholly in line with God's desires for me, but when I fail, which I know is probably likely, I pray that I could learn to apologize like David....and the manager of the hair salon.

Psalm 51: 1-17
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
   blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
   and cleanse me from my sin.  3 For I know my transgressions,
   and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
   and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
   and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
   sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
   you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
 7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
   wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
   let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
   and blot out all my iniquity.
 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
   or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
   so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
   you who are God my Savior,
   and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
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 broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart
   you, God, will not despise.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Then he was no more

To scare the nasty cold germs lurking in my chest, I bought the ingredients for Carolyn's Kick-A-Bug Juice. I lined them up on the kitchen half wall and stepped back.
"Tomorrow," I warned the viruses populating my chest and nose, "If you don't skedaddle, I mix all those vile things together and pour them down my throat. Consider yourself forewarned."
I made a doctor appointment also for tomorrow, in case the combination of viral threats and Kick-A-Bug juice didn't deliver the hoped for cure. Then I settled down and did what I haven't done enough of since getting sick. I rested.

Asherel was busily working on her Science Olympiad Trebuchet and Helicopter while I sketched the empty stool in the sunroom, the sun dancing across it's empty seat. I love empty chairs. There is so much expectation, anticipation, potential wonder that might settle on that stool. Will a future Scientist or famous artist sit there, or perhaps a future Supreme Court Justice that will finally convince our country to not ban hydrogenated oils in french fries that may clog our arteries but to ban procedures that murder developing babies?  Or maybe, just maybe, someday a writer who has published a book will sit on that stool, and remember the years of honing her craft and knocking on doors slammed in her face. She will watch the sun flicker across hands weathered by years and years of living, and drawing empty stools.

My coughing and sneezing was slowing notably the more I glanced at the Kick-A-Bug ingredients lined up on the shelf. They too were waiting. The whole world was holding its breath. The empty chair was still faintly warm from the sun beams though the sky was dark, and I was ready for bed. And then I read my email.
The agent who has my proposal for my book had finally replied. Six months of waiting was over. I didn't want to read her note. I have had so much discouragement, so much disappointment. Sometimes it is better to just look on the empty chair and imagine what might be rather than look at the failure of a dream that eventually settles there.

But I read the email. Ultimately, I would have to. She liked it. She liked my proposal and loved what I had done. She noted, as all the agents who have looked at my work have noted, that I don't have a "platform". That means I don't have hundreds of thousands of readers begging me to publish my book. She asked if my 20,000 hits on my blog were daily, weekly or monthly? Ohoh.  How about yearly? Why didn't she mention yearly?

Dear readers, I need a platform. If all of you just forward this post to ten thousand friends, I think I am almost there. I don't know what she will ultimately decide. I have gotten many notes from agents that agonize over my work saying they think it has potential, but ultimately, it is hard to promote a nobody.

I am not the only nobody that ever lived. I can take heart that some nobodies are even listed in the Bible.
Perhaps my favorite is Enoch. Enoch is the son of Cain, and in the list of all those early people who live a few hundred years, and then die.... Enoch alone is described a living and then "he was no more."  Before I tell you the rest of that wonderful verse about a nobody.... what exactly did Enoch do that got him this special treatment? A word search of every time Enoch is mentioned shows that Enoch had kids, like many nobodies.  His father named a city after him, but that had nothing to do with Enoch or his achievements. It was just the equivalent of handing out cigars back then. As far as we can tell, Enoch didn't work any miracles, save any people, lead any focus groups, or build or write or paint or invent.  There is only one sentence that tells us what Enoch did- 
"After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters." (Genesis 5:22)

That's all he did.... he walked faithfully with God 300 years. Lest we think too highly of Enoch, he lived 365 years, and one has to wonder what wild oats he was sowing for those first 65, since he only walked faithfully a mere 300. But the point is he didn't do anything that the world would find of particular note. He was a nobody, but he was a faithful nobody and he loved God. And in the end, he was rewarded by "being no more."

If the sentence ended there, we might all just as well throw in the towel.  In the end, we all are "no more", whether we are a nobody or a somebody.  Maybe it is better just to gaze at empty chairs and not bother to fill them..... but wait!! There is more to the sentence.....
24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.(Gen.5)

God took him! He was no more here because God took him be with God. His faithfulness was rewarded by the only reward he ever wanted, the reward his whole life of faith had prepared him for. He was in the eternal presence of the God he had waited faithfully for three hundred years to see.

I guess really the chair is never empty. We think it is, but it always holds the promise of significance, the symbol of faith. For faith is the presence of things unseen. And even nobodies can see God sitting there, pumping His fist in the air, and swirling the air with hope and promise.

Hebrews 11: 1-6

 1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.  3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
 4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
 5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

PS- Many folks read this post and wrote to tell me how sorry they were. The agent has not rejected me (at least not yet)- she is seeking more information and is interested. I just need to work on my "platform" and updating my proposal.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Cure

I think I might be getting better but this is because if I don't, my sweet neighbor Carolyn is going to send over her cure. Here is the list of ingredients:
Kick-A-Bug Juice- water, honey, apple cider vinegar, garlic, fresh ginger and cayenne pepper. After simmering for 20 minutes, you take a Tablespoon of the liquid and one of the garlic cloves every half hour.
She claims that this healed her relatives who were sick at her house over Thanksgiving. I think it is likely that after the 9th half hour of garlic cloves and that concoction, they convinced Carolyn they were better and then snuck out to check into a hospital. Either that, or the microbes infesting their bodies took one whiff of their hosts' breath after swigging this "juice" and decided to go find a sweeter smelling place to set up shop.

Actually, knowing Carolyn, I bet the concoction really works and if I come down with the flu, I am going to brew some and give it a go. It doesn't seem worth it just for a cold, albeit a pretty nasty one.  However, believe it or not, I have actually heard of stranger cures.

Back in Jesus' day, there was a man who was blind from birth. As far as I can tell from the passage in John 9, the man doesn't ask Jesus to heal him. He has known nothing but blindness and I suppose it doesn't occur to him there might be a better state of existing. But the townspeople, as is the way of so many of us, decide that the man is born blind as punishment- either to him or to his parents. Somebody must have sinned for such a horrible thing to have happened to him. Jesus steps in to quickly dispel that notion. It is not due to sin, he proclaims, but that God's work might be displayed. Then comes the quirkiest cure for blindness I have ever heard of. Jesus spits on the dirt, makes a mud pie, and slaps it on the man's eyes. Next, He tells the man to go wash the mud off in the pool of Siloam.  Siloam means "sent", and I don't think this is insignificant. The man washes off the mud and is cured of his blindness.

Personally I think the mud is a red herring. I think the key to the cure is that the man was sent, and he went. In the act of obeying  a God he couldn't see, he received a gift he hadn't asked for, and seems not to have known he wanted or needed, and ultimately looked upon the face of Jesus. What is so striking is the simple cluelessness of this blind man. When the Pharisees ask him how he was cured, he tells them, "I don't know. This guy Jesus came and stuck mud on my eyes, and told me to wash it off. Then voila, I could see, just like that!"
The Pharisees regard this cure with the same skepticism I regard Carolyn's Kick-A-Bug Juice.
"You big fat liar!" they proclaim, "Why should we believe a sinner blind from birth?" (BTW- as in many of my Biblical explanations, I try to keep the gist of the meaning, but paraphrased. I would always encourage you to check the original source to see if I have attempted to mislead you.)
"The proof is in the pudding," says the ex-blind man, "I was blind and now I am not. Don't you think that means Jesus is at the very least a prophet?"
Then he does the unpardonable sin of being sarcastic with the Pharisees, and their faces turn all red, and they toss him out of the temple, furious that he thinks someone who heals the blind might be more than just your average Joe.

Jesus finds the ex-blind man, tells him who it was that healed him, and the blind man does the only thing anyone should do at such a proclamation. Falls down and worships Him. That is the point at which the cure is complete.

I am hopeful I am on an upswing, because if not, I am going to need to buy another box of tissues. And I may have to go swill some of that Kick A Bug Juice.

John 9: 35-41
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
 37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
 38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
 40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
 41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Something Infinitely Better

I love Sundays. I love wondering what perfect message God might wrap in a sermon. I love the big fat Sunday newspaper. When it is warm outside, I even love the one time a week when I put on a dress to go to church. But this Sunday, I will be hunkering down with several cups of tea and my jar of Vicks Vaporub. Even if I felt well enough to leave the house, which I don't, I would not want to expose others to this nasty cold.

 I did discover why God gave me such a congested nose yesterday, however, so I am not complaining. It was the middle of the night, and I thought I smelled something rather awful, but being so very congested, decided it was my imagination. Then, when day broke and I walked out of my room, I was sure I smelled something awful. For a smell to permeate the solid gunk blocking my nasal passageways, it must be something exceedingly putrid. That's when I saw a big pile of watery poop. I had thought Honeybun looked a little under the weather last night, and she had gone to bed early in my closet, her favorite "den". I also went to bed early so the door got shut and she must not have gone out for her last evening business walk. She has never ever done this before, so I suspect she ate something she shouldn't have and it violently insisted on exiting her body.

If I had not had a cold, I don't think I could have cleaned that disgusting mess up. I gathered, and scrubbed, and disinfected, with barely a tear. I could with all honesty thank God for my cold and my stuffed up nose. Sometimes bad things are preventing you from worse things. You just never know, so to be on the safe side, praise God in all things.

Asherel is learning this lesson. She is spending countless hours on her trebuchet and helicopters for Science Olympiad. She has almost no free time, and as our contest date approaches, she recognizes that she has no choice but to give up her weekends to work on those projects.  This is bad, but not as bad as walking out in front of all those people on competition day, throwing the helicopter in the air, and having it flutter to the ground for a total flight of .06 seconds. That is worse.

There are countless Biblical examples of people in very bad situations- Joseph in the bottom of a well to be sold into slavery,  baby Moses floating in a tar pitch basket on the Nile, teenage virgin Mary pregnant and her fiancee was not the dad, Jonah in the decomposing acid churn of a fish stomach. My guess is all these folk thought the situation was not particularly to their liking. However, think of the result had they not undergone all those bad things:
1. Joseph's people would have ended up dying of starvation had he not been plucked from the well and ultimately become Pharoah's right hand man.
2. Moses would not have been preserved to go on and lead his people out of slavery and Jews might still be making straw bricks in Egypt
3. Baby Jesus would not have been born to the perfect fulfillment of prophecy and we would not have a Savior.
4. Jonah would not have gone on to preach to the Ninevites who then would not have repented and we would not have one of the best stories in the Bible!

There are countless examples, of which these are just a smattering, but I think God's point is clear, even to this stuffy headed invalid. Bad things only look bad to those of us bound by time and place. But an infinite, timeless God who sees the whole enchilada is probably preserving us not only from something much worse, but preparing us for something infinitely better.

Luke 16:24-26

24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
   25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Stellar Day of Learning

Asherel received her first dividend from her share of Disney stock. As she ripped open the envelope, I am sure she was thinking of all the amazing things she could now purchase. Only age 13 and an official investor! Would she get the iPhone she had been salivating for? Or maybe a trip to England to walk on the very ground the Beatles themselves had trod. She pulled out the dividend check.

40 cents. The check was for 40 cents.

It had cost more than that to mail it! And along with the check were all kinds of graphs and charts outlining how her stock was generating such amazing revenue for her.

Later we went to test our latest helicopters. All three broke. Now we have no working helicopter for Science Olympiad. And I have developed a nasty chest cold. I felt like taking that 40 cents and hopping on a plane as far as it would take me. How far can you fly on 40 cents?

I would research that myself but our computer broke.
Right before we went to test and break three helicopters.
When I realized I felt sick enough to consider the possibility of pneumonia.
After the bonanza of 40 cents to offset all those disappointments.

We all have days like that and i always exaggerate to make my points. But even without exaggerating, I think it is safe to say yesterday will not get a smiley face on the calendar.

Asherel is worn out building things and trying to keep up with a hectic school and extracurricular schedule and I am sick, probably from accompanying her on that hectic schedule. It is sometimes difficult to persevere when the things going wrong begin to pile up.

As I was sketching a forest yesterday, I noticed how dark, and empty the tree limbs were. The scene could have been gloomy except the sun poked through, laying spatters of golden light on the trunks and forest floor.
"It's Not so gloomy! " I thought.
And if we learn most from our failures, then it was a stellar day of learning.

Isaiah 29:18 NIV

In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll,
and out of gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind will see.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Friday, January 21, 2011

Running through the finish

Ohoh. The tool bit was lost somewhere in the clutter of Trebuchet parts dismantled on the ground, the day was waning, and the Dad who had offered to help the kids use the power tools to build the Trebuchet was growing dismayed. What he had hoped to be a one afternoon project was now stretching into its fourth day of work. This is what I have discovered to be true after my many years of coaching kids when the kids really do the work....rather than the adults. It takes at least ten times longer than you think it will, and you will grow weary of saying, "Ok, very funny. Back to work now," especially if you are working with middle schoolers.  And this is why most science projects appear to have been built by parents rather than their kids. They are! The parents start off with good intentions and maybe let little Johnny hold the wood in place, but within seconds, Little Johnny has been locked in his bedroom and Daddy spends all night making a project little Johnny will be proud of.

We really do want the kids, not us, to build the trebuchet, so it may or may not be done in time for Science Olympiad. We thought it was done.... but minor adjustments have a way of ballooning and pretty soon, tempers are worn thin, pieces are scattered, and everyone is wondering when the finish line will be in sight. This is of course not what we should all be straining to see. As soon as you start looking for the finish, you lose drill bits and patience and the piece you are cutting turns out crooked.

We had been at our agility class with Polly right before our Trebuchet building time. She was helping Asherel analyze Honeybun's agility trial this past weekend. One of the little frustrations at the trial was that Honeybun would weave properly through 11 of the 12 weave poles, and then pop out of the very last one, earning a fault, when she had been hundredths of a second from doing them perfectly.
"That's why," said Polly, "You should always run the weaves as if there were 2 more at the end."
I remembered in my racing days, when I used to run faster than the dead earthworms on the road, my coaches used to always remind me, "Run through the finish. If you run to the finish, you will slow down and you may be beat in the last second.Run as though the finish was 50 yards further."

This is good advice for life in general. If our sights are only set on the finish line, we are either discouraged by how impossibly far off it seems, frustrated by how slowly we approach it, or stop the moment our feet cross it and end up winning nothing but reaching the end.  So many times we are admonished to focus on the goal, and to be sure, we should not lose sight of the goal. But sometimes, the goal really is unattainable, and then what are we left with?

Enjoying the process, running with joy, as though the finish line were not even there or at least not the most important part of the race.... perhaps that is what we need more. I suppose it might be summed up with the Biblical admonition, in Hebrews, where we are reminded that we are not to give up, not to grow weary, but to run with perseverance for the Lord. It is not for the finish line we are running, it is how we are running, and for Whom.

As we headed home, Asherel said, "That was fun."  She waved happily at Josh, her partner, their priorities intact, if not their Trebuchet.

26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?(Matthew 16)

Hebrews 12

 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I was reading the biography of a famous artist and he said, "When I heard my first art teacher teach about 2 point perspective, I thought it was magical. That is what started it all...."

"I wonder what 2 point perspective is...?", I thought, the accomplished art teacher of twenty years and artist for around 50. Lest you think less highly of me than this admission might demand, in my defense, I know perspective and I use perspective in my art, but to my knowledge I was never taught anything more than one point perspective (all things go to a vanishing point on the horizon.)

And if this famous artist ( I think it was Remington- I read many bios this week) was so amazed that it launched his glorious career, it would behoove me to find out what 2 point perspective was. Once I knew what it was, I would teach it to my art students. Maybe I would help propel one of them to greatness. So I googled it and then quickly practiced. My students arrived shortly after that.....

It is a little confusing, but with a little practice, no line or angle that is used to create the effect of three dimensional space will ever be wrong again. First you draw a horizon line which is defined as your eye level on whatever scene you are gazing at. Then you draw two points on the two ends of that horizon line. All lines that converge from the left side of the page converge to the right vanishing point, and all non-vertical lines on the right side of the page converge to the left vanishing point.

My students were all initially confused as you must draw about 40 billion lines to set the drawing up.... but once they began to get the idea, they all were able to draw a realistic wall of lines of bricks receding to a corner, then coming back to the viewer. And, it looked real. While drawing the guide lines, many said, "I don't know why I am doing this, but I will trust you."  When they saw a realistic corner emerge in their drawing, they said one by one, "OH!!! Now I see!"

So I learned some very important things. First, God supplies all my needs. I didn't know what I was going to teach my art students that might revolutionize their drawing skill....but He did and He planted that one little sentence from a book my parents had given me in my mind.

Secondly, there is always something more to learn. Never be so arrogant as to think I know it all, even after 50 years working in my area of "expertise."  The only unteachable mind is one who won't listen.

Thirdly, and the most relevant for the day,  perspective is variable depending on where you stand....but from that vantage point, there is one and only one way to draw it accurately. This is a critical point, and I believe a spiritual one as well. (Of course....that is the purpose of all points....) Here is what I think God might be saying to me with the visual aid of my perspective lesson. We all are at different points in our walk towards God- where our horizon line lies varies on the page depending literally on our height and position. But if we want to find truth, there is really only one way to draw those lines accurately. (And don't start pontificating about abstract art or personal interpretation.... I am not talking about creativity but accurately depicting perspective.)  All lines MUST point to the vanishing point, or it will not be true. There is a truth here, and it is absolute, and it doesn't matter how sincerely you believe you can change that truth. If you draw it any other way it will look "off ".  It will be wrong. You will not sell that painting for a million dollars.

In fact, one of my students tried to challenge the truth of the vanishing point. She finished her window that receded into the corner and it looked pretty good. However, when I checked her drawing, the bottom line of the window did not converge to the vanishing point. I pointed that out to her.
"I know," she told me, "I decided rather than change my drawing, I would just change my vanishing point."
But then when she started to draw her lines of bricks, they were off. She could not do realistic details with shifting vanishing points. She came (rightly) to the conclusion that she must use the one true and only vanishing point, and with a sigh, corrected her misdrawn lines.

The Bible says if you know the truth, the truth will set you free. This is a rather strange statement given the constraints it seems to impose on there being only one way, a straight and narrow path at that, to reach God, and it is through faith in Jesus. Yet, like my rules of perspective, once I decide I will always make my lines converge on the true vanishing point, I am suddenly free to create a whole world of convincing art when before I would just crumple my paper and say, "No one can draw a receding wall of bricks and remain sane!"  But at the same time, we are all standing at different heights and different distances and our horizon varies.  The miraculous beauty of God is that from all those vantage points, there is always a clear and true path to His side.

John 14:6

 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Adding Salt

"Ready to fire! 3-2-1!"

With that pronouncement, the culmination of months of researching, planning, and testing flung its projectile 25 feet. Not bad for our first fling with our Trebuchet.  The kids were ecstatic, pausing in their flings only long enough to let frightened neighbors drive away to a safe distance.

After about 10 flings, the catapult arm splintered, the wheels flew off their track and we knew we had to go reconstruct some things, but the design worked and we knew we would not embarrass ourselves at the Science Olympiad. We had chosen to build a more advanced design called a "Floating Arm Trebuchet" also known as F.A.T.  We chose this because first, it is such a fun acronym, but secondly because the guidelines said first year students at this event should stick with the simpler fixed arm design. No way were we going to let some expert tell us what we could realistically accomplish!!!  While we had some pictures and some guidelines, we had to design it ultimately on our own. There was not a single (free) design available anywhere on line or in books that we could lay our hands on. And our design had to fit in a 75 cm we had to actually use some measurements in giving us the longest flinging arm possible within those constraints. But if I wanted to, I could just go throw a projectile 25 feet.....and it wouldn't take me months of work to do so.

So, as I considered how incredibly difficult it had been to build a machine that the dimwitted denizens of the dark ages had produced in their sleep.... I wondered, was it worth it?  Every parent at some point lays down and thinks they are settling in for a good night's sleep when their eyes pop open and they think, "Was all I put my kid through so they would eat with a fork and not their fingers.... was it worth it?"  There are infinite permutations of this age old question but it boils down to the same query- is the effort and time I am putting forth in this endeavor worthy of the place it brings me to?

The Bible phrases it slightly differently but it is the same question at heart.  What is this endeavor going to cost me, have I thought through what it will result in, and will I be able to complete it with some measure of success? Jesus asks the question by telling a story, which is what He usually does. ( If you don't think Literary Analysis is an important subject, students, you will never understand Jesus.) He asks the people who are pausing in their busy day of idol worship to listen to Him- who would go out and build a tower unless he first considered whether he would be able to finish it? Half a tower would not only be a waste of time, but would make his friends laugh at him. Or, He continues, who would go to war without making sure he has more soldiers than the one he intends to fight? And then Jesus concludes that passage in Luke 14 talking about salt. He tells the people, as if it makes any logical sense to be discussing salt after these
"counting the cost" parables:
34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

I love these apparent incongruities.... when I am reading along smoothly and effortlessly following the train of thought and then come smack up against a strange statement that seems not to relate at all to the paragraph.
At this point, I am forced to pause and put on my thinking cap.( I wish I had a better thinking cap....the one I have is getting worn out. So is my elbow grease which I used to have in abundant supply....)

I am no expert, which I probably do not need to remind a single reader, but I can fling guesses as accurately as our new Trebuchet flings projectiles. Nothing tastes like salt except salt. ( I think nowadays there might be salt substitutes, but back in Jesus' time, if the salt was gone, you had to have your popcorn plain. ycccch.)
Furthermore, in that time there were no Fridgidaires or Maytags.... and if you wanted to keep food from going rancid, you used salt to preserve it. So salt was particularly critical, especially back then, for its unique power to season and preserve.  And perhaps, that is the measuring stick to help us gauge what endeavors we should undertake and how we should consider the cost. Is the result one that will ultimately add spice (joy, encouragement, heavenly delight) to life, and will it prevent the rot and decay that so easily can creep in to all our intentions and desires? What do you always always say when the cook asks, "What does it need?" 
Of course- " a little salt."

Asherel and her partner have learned so much this year, building their trebuchet. They learned creative problem solving, mathematical application to real life problems, perseverance, value of diligence and hard work. But here is what I think might be the salt of the whole experience. While building together, our team member's family was always nearby. I saw the father wrestle his older son briefly, pulling him into a bear hug and telling him how proud he was of him. I saw the little 6 year old creep over with the writing exercise she had been working on with her mother and hand it to her dad. The careful letters said, "I love you all the way to the moon."  I saw the younger son, Asherel's partner, smile and laugh and joke when things weren't going as swimmingly on our construction as we hoped, and he made us smile too. And when the arm cracked on our trebuchet, I heard everyone say, "We can fix that! We know it works now!"

Perhaps the tower itself that we are building is not the main event.... maybe it is how we are building that ultimately matters. So yes.... it has been worth it.

Luke 14: 28-30
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.’

Psalm 126: 5-6
5 Those who sow with tears
   will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
   carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
   carrying sheaves with them.

Galations 6: 7-9
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

His Signature

AKC has recognized a new breed, or more accurately an old breed that has finally passed the test of pure untainted blood unsullied by riffraff like most of the dogs that populate the animal shelters. This breed is the  Xoloitzcuintli and is best known for putting most people's normally agile tongues into loopdeloops. The breed is rare and considered the oldest breed perhaps in the Americas, having crossed over the Bering Strait land bridge back when mothers used to make blueberry pancakes from scratch.

I take offense at this because this is exactly what is said to be true of the Carolina Dog. Our Honeybun is a Carolina Dog, despite what naysayers insist is just a "yeller mongrel."  The Carolina Dog is an ancient breed, and I am sure more ancient than the Xoloitzcuintli. It is also a cuter breed. If you don't trust me on this, go look at a picture of a Xoloitzcuintli.  The Carolina Dog, not yet accepted by AKC, is still found roaming in feral packs in the swamplands of the Carolinas (hence the clever name.) They too were considered to have crossed into America over the Bering Strait land bridge but back before the Xoloitzcuintli. We know this to be true because there have been archeological digs of remnants of the Xoloitzcuintli's ancient scribblings that indicate they wanted to cross over when the Carolina Dogs were making the trek, but the immigration officials could not pronounce their name and suspected they were terrorists.

At any rate,  now that I am privy to some of the inner workings of the AKC since I receive updates and newsletters, I was curious to see what happens when a new breed is recognized. Within nanoseconds, one can follow the new breed announcement all the way to why everyone should want a Xoloitzcuintli and right to the information on how to buy one. By following the links, I found out that there is Xoloitzcuintli Club of America, and I can get a puppy with free shipping for only $1000.

 Contrast this with how much we paid for our rare and even more ancient Carolina Dog. Nothing! We found her half dead on the roadside. And even covered with ticks and red clay and sores and skin and bones, I thought she was cuter than the Xoloitzcuintli....but beauty is of course subjective.

Which is what I had intended to write about today. Beauty. How much I reveled in the beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains on our recent trip. Meanwhile, back home, the snow has melted leaving gobs of mud where grass would be if we could manage to ever grow grass. Leaves still unraked from the fall are piled along the fence. It is rainy and grey. I miss overwhelming, glorious beauty. There is much to be said about Charlotte, but it is not an area I would call spectacularly beautiful.

But then looking at the pictures of the rare Xoloitzcuintli, it is clear that some people consider this a spectacularly beautiful dog. Those who know all the breed traits intimately rave about these hairless dogs that require weekly lotion baths to keep their skin from flaking off and making them both hairless and skinless. Beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder. And I began to think about some of the smaller parts of Charlotte that do take my breath the branches coated in ice after the recent storm against the deep Carolina blue sky. Sometimes I am looking too far out, looking for majestic mountains towering on a distant horizon, when I should just be looking up and noticing the elegant curves and meanderings of the branches of the trees.

Maybe God is telling me to find beauty where I am. The Creator who designed our gorgeous Carolina Dog designed the hairless Xoloitxcuintli too. He made those glorious mountains, but He also made the foothills with the icy branches after the storm.  Everything created by God has the marks of His hands upon it, and maybe I need to look more carefully for His signature.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Watching Carefully

The sign on the door of the arena where the huge Dog Agility contest was being held said, "No dogs allowed!"  Walking my own dog, as I was chuckling over that sign posted near the signs for the Dog Agility Trial, I noticed a man entering the arena with a three legged dog. While it clearly was agile in its own right, I doubt the dog could've cleared a jump or run the course. Perhaps he was just coming to watch, to dream of what could've been.It certainly brought a smile to my face. Then I passed a woman who was speaking to her dogs, who were voraciously sniffing every wet spot beneath the bushes.
"OK" she said, "Time to go now. Have you read all your P-mail?"

Comic vignette after vignette flashed across my screen, as I watched life broadcast all around me. And I thought of all the information, all the messages, all the laughter that is ever present if I just manage to be alert and look for it. I have never been terribly enamored with movies or television, though I can lose myself permanently in a good book. But I think the reason I don't like to commit myself to the hours of watching actors portray life is I am so anxious to just go out and live it myself. I don't mean that as a slam to those who love movies or TV- when I do manage to watch some shows, I see the attraction and there is much to learn and enjoy.  But my spirit is bent peculiarly, and I am certain that if I am not awake and prowling, eyes wide open and scanning the horizon, God is sending me an important message that I might miss. I am like the dog, reading every spot of P-mail, certain that one dog has something so crucial to say that it is worth ripping the owner's arm off to not be budged from that enticing message.              

And so I was pondering those three seemingly unconnected events, linked only by the time in which they occurred- the sign prohibiting the very animals the show was based upon, the handicapped dog who clearly was entering an arena he could never succeed in, and the dog sniffing every message that was being conveyed by every member of his species as best he could within the limits of the leash.  The first two were humorously incongruous, and in a way, so was the third. We humans do not go around seeking information by smelling each others' derrieres or sniffing out where we have pee'd.  Some humans are disgusted by the fact that dogs do this. However, some humans understand- like the owner who called it "P-mail."  She was able to step outside her species-specific comprehension to think like a dog, and respect his needs, though they were certainly not her own (one would presume). And even more importantly, she gave his needs a dignity and respect commensurate with her own. Just as she could not start her morning without strong coffee and reading her email, she knew the dog needed to sniff bottoms and pee spots.

When Honeybun finished reading her "p-mail", we returned to the arena and prepared for her next class. For me, that meant reaching a target heart rate of 200 beats a minute, breathing deeply, and practicing some of the relaxation techniques I learned birthing my 9 pound babies.  And I am just spectating. I cannot imagine what I would be like if I were the handler running the course. Asherel seems cool and nonplussed, though surely she must feel some trepidation. Honeybun, curiously, sits on the bleacher steps and with laser focus, watches the competition. I am not a dog, so can only humanize what she is thinking, but she certainly seems to be sizing up her chances, watching and memorizing the course, and deciding how she will behave when her turn comes. Further down the arena, the three legged dog was watching too. And I will bet there were some potential contenders who read the "No dogs allowed" sign, and with a deep and self pitying sigh, drove home.

Honeybun had sized up the competition in more ways than just watching. She had also sniffed out the pheromones of every dog in the place and she had established the pack hierarchy and pecking order. She knew more about the dogs in that arena than the owners did.

And when her turn came, she decided she hadn't a snowball's chance in Charlotte of beating those border collies, so instead, she raced exuberantly around, popping into play position, and occasionally glancing Asherel's way. She was not focused, but she had a lot of fun, and Polly, our mentor, tells us that is what it is all about. She didn't "Q" (qualify) that day, or ribbon, but she taught Asherel some valuable insights in handling a nervous, excited dog.

And later that day, a woman stopped me, when she saw me walk by with Honeybun.
"Was it  you handling that dog this morning?" she asked.
"No, that was my daughter."
"Well give her a message for me. I was so impressed. The dog was obviously excited and nervous and your daughter stayed so calm. She gave the dog exactly what was needed. She handled her superbly. She has obviously had some excellent training."
(Thankyou Polly, Deb, and all the trainers at Charlotte Dog Training Club for that last part!)

So while the day didn't end in ribbons, Asherel glowed a little when I told her what the lady said. I realized then the connection of those three seemingly unconnected events of the morning walk. First, if you are being told don't enter the arena where you know you are supposed to be, don't listen!!! Go in anyway!! Secondly, if you have handicaps that prevent you from being a contender, don't be afraid to enjoy the wonder of life around you. Your very presence may be making someone smile. And thirdly, understand what others are feeling and go out of your way to find out about them and communicate a message, especially one of hope and encouragement.

Deuteronomy 15: 10
10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.

Micah 7:7
 7 But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD,
   I wait for God my Savior;
   my God will hear me.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A long sit-stay

I was again walking exultantly across the expansive field ringed by rows of blue mountains when i saw the dog. She was a black lab and her owner knelt at her side, ruffled her fur, and told her to sit.
Then he stood up, told the retriever,"Stay!", and began walking purposefully away.

The dog watched his master stride up the hill. I glanced back, sure the owner would now turn and call the good dog. But he didn't. He kept walking further and further and disappeared down a little valley. Every muscle of the dog now quivered, but she did not break the stay. I stopped and turned to watch. The owner was out of sight yet the dog still sat. Her ears were perked forward. Her eyes were focused on the hill the master had dipped behind and still the dog did not break the sit.

By now I felt weepy at the expectant trust of that good, obedient dog. I kept watch with her and finally we saw the owner reappear on a distant ridge. The dog trembled and leaned forward but her haunches remained planted. And still he didn't call her. He stopped and turned.
"Please Call her now!" I breathed, but he just stood, looking at her.

Finally, interminable minutes later, he shouted, "Go!"
The dog leapt forward and sprinted towards him, her tail streaming like a celebration. When she reached him, she wagged her whole body and he kneeled on the ground, burying his face in her fur.

I remembered the story of Moses, who told his people he was going to the top of Mount Sinai to meet with and worship God. He told them to wait for his return and then headed up the mountain to collect the 10 Commandments. After 40 days, the people gave up. They decided he wasn't coming back and made an idol, a golden calf to worship instead of God who delayed so long. Of course it was as they were bowing down to this false god that Moses returned, with the tablets of the Ten Commandments in hand. Talk about egg on your face!

Sometimes we are commanded to do a long sit-stay. It is not easy to trust the Master when He has walked far away, we can no longer see Him, and we don't know when He is coming back.....or even if He is coming back. Every muscle trembles and we don't know how we can continue to trust, to obey, when our hopes are melting without His presence. Has He forgotten us? Have we been cast off forever? Why, if He loves us does He tarry?

And then, if we are listening, ears perked in His direction, we hear Him call. And if we have waited obediently, hopefully, expectantly, He will hold out His arms when He gathers us to Him, saying, "Good and faithful servant- well done!"

Asherel 's last run of the day yesterday was in the presence of her beloved brother. Matt had never seen Asherel run agility and she was so anxious to do well before him. She had not done exceptionally well thus far this weekend, and was sick with a sore throat and cold to boot. Knowing God was busy with many more important things, i tried not to pray too often that Asherel would be granted a good run in front of Matt. Polly, our mentor had warned her not to run to impress anyone, but to run the course for the joy of it. But thus far, Honey was distracted and Asherel was too hoarse to recall her well. Then Matt arrived with dear fiance Karissa and her brother, John. They settled in to watch just as Asherel's class began. I held my breath, and prayed.

And Honeybun, dear Honeybun ran the course with no faults. Asherel qualified, thus securing a fourth place ribbon in a very large class, and completed the points for her Novice Standard agility title with the little dog we had found half dead on a roadside two years ago.

Sometimes it is a long sit-stay, but it is always worth it feeling the Master's pleasure if we just don't lose hope.

Psalm 130:5 NIV

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Smiling Dogs

As the dalmation cleared the last jump, I was the ring crew right in the path of his snarling teeth. But fortunately, my first dog was a dalmation and I knew the classic breed tendency to smile. It brought back a flood of memories of my beloved dog Lady and her constant smile that strangers mistook for a grimace or a snarl. You just gotta love a dog that comes barreling off an agility course with a smile on his face.

Honeybun is happy too and having fun, though no ribbons or qualifying scores thus far. She is running well, despite poor Asherel being sick. Her sore throat won't allow her to call out to Honeybun so her attention is not optimal.

But. I am loving the surroundings. The arena is on a small mountain overlooking Blue Ridge mountains all around us. I climbed to the hilltop in a vast open field, peered furtively around me, and then began belting out: "The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years, my heart will be filled with the sound of music...." etc etc .... I thanked God for the ring of glorious mountains, the happy dog and daughter inside, and the fact that my throat was not too sore to burst out in song.

If I were a dalmation, I would've been smiling.

Job 29:24 NIV When I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it; the light of my face was precious to them.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Friday, January 14, 2011


Honeybun and I sat at the hotel room sliding glass door,watching the sun set behind the mountains before us. We had encountered no snow and no black ice and no wind to blow us off the mountain. Our trip had been uneventful. God seems to know when my spirit can bear no more.

Right before leaving, I had found out some very bad news about a dear friend. Hearing the horror of what she will need to endure made all my concerns so frivolous.

So I am sitting in front of the vista of mountains upon mountains and thinking of the agonizing journey before my friend. And praying. Sometimes that is the best you can do.

And be grateful of course. Be grateful for every beautiful sunset you are blessed to see, for every mountain you've been given the strength to climb, for every hard working husband who drags himself to work each day, for every distant son who surprises you and texts a brief hello, for every diligent college boy who calls with news of excellent grades, for every daughter who loves to train her dog to leap over jumps and skitter through tunnels on command, for every dog that lies at your feet snoring all night.

He who made the joyful easy things made the painful hard things too. How can we accept the one and not trust Him in the other? Meanwhile friends, it is very hard to do so, and I am praying.

Psalm 3:4 NIV

I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Place Prepared for Me

We head out to the Dog Agility trial in Virginia today, and all we have to do is make it over a huge mountain that looks out over a valley 3 miles below where a high wind advisory is in effect.

Here is what the Department of Transportation advises:

       While traveling north on 77, keep a firm grip on the steering wheel. Winds are clocked at speeds known to wrench vehicles from driver's control and carry them like cotton balls to the mountain edge where a precipice overlooks a 3 mile free-fall. For passenger safety, strap all passengers and small animals tightly in place. Be sure that all documents, especially wills and last testaments are current.

I have taken some liberty with the wording, but the message is exactly as conveyed in their more formal manner. Now I am not an alarmist, contrary to what my sisters will tell you. I am a realist. There is indeed a high wind advisory and it is indeed for the giant mountain on the border of NC and Va. which I never drive over with my eyes fully open. The blood to my fingertips pools as my knuckles blanch for the full 3 mile ride over the mountain. It is the only bad part of the trip, as long as no snow showers are forecast for the next hour leg of the journey which they actually are today.  Thus, I hope my diastolic/systolic pressure is on the low side this morning or we may have some issues.

Why do I do this, I ask myself? Why do I plan a trip in mid-winter over mountains known to carry snow and ice in their back pockets? And for that a dog and a girl can go jump over some obstacles in new surroundings.....? This is insane. And yet, I am looking forward to it. There is a large part of me that is constantly restless, constantly yearning to explore, to see new sunsets, to look out over new vistas. This is the polar opposite of my post a few days ago about finding contentment at home. I am content at home, at least for a while,  but soon I yearn to wander.

Maybe it is because my roots are supposedly of a nomadic people. But actually, while the Jews are often depicted as nomadic, they were clearly not, and there is no historical or Biblical support that they were. They dug wells, farmed, and settled in cities. Nomads don't do that. They were forced to leave their homes countless times, but they were not anxious to do so. If anything their fierce clinging to Israel, their only homeland would demonstrate a people that desperately long to just be left alone at home.

Perhaps my wanderlust is due to something even deeper than my roots. Maybe it is reflective of the search for an eternal home, back where it all started, in the bosom of my Creator. Maybe that constant sense that I am not there yet is planted by a Father who thinks we might settle in a place we don't really belong. Just think of all the times in the Bible when Abraham, or Joseph, or Moses or Noah, or the Babel-builders tried to settle and dig roots so no one would budge them. Yet time and time again God told them , "Go! Scatter! Disperse! And while you are at it, sow seeds of Me that all might reap Joy in My Presence."

So with that in mind, I will brave the mountain. Perhaps someone is waiting for something that only our jumping dog and exuberant girl can provide. I guess we won't know til we get there.

Exodus 23:20
20 “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


"I remember now why I left New York," I mumbled, sprawled on the icy driveway rubbing my sore hip.
I had mumbled similar thoughts for the past hour as I chipped away the sheet of ice from our treacherous driveway.
("You have used that word 'treacherous' four times today," Asherel told me later that evening.)

And I as I was splayed on the recliner later, a heating pad over my bruised muscles, rubbing my sore wrists, I decided winter is a season for young people. Of course, raking leaves is no picnic for back and arm muscles either, and I guess cutting the grass in the spring and summer takes its toll on ancient joints and lungs too.  I think it is possible I am crossing the bridge into wimpdom. My mom was running marathons at my age..... I dread to think what I will be like in a few years.

 And it is not even just that the spirit is willing but the body is weak. If I must be honest, the spirit is not all that willing. Chipping icy driveways and falling on cold hard concrete is just not as riveting as settling down with a cup of tea and a good book. I used to be a bundle of energy, but I am becoming lazy.

As I was moaning and settling into the warm recliner, I read an article about the overdriven aspect of modern life. Everything is competitive to the point where students of educational institutions that once used to center on the joy of learning for the sake of being well-learned now center on cramming whatever facts they need into their bursting brains to get the best grade and best job and best house on the block by beating out all the other students. A spirit of communal joy in knowledge and cooperation has been replaced by cut throat competition. The author pointed out in counterpoint that "Lions sleep 20 hours a day."

I thought about that. I don't know what to do about the competitive nature of education, so went straight to thinking about the lazy lion. Why would God have designed a creature that only really lived for 4 hours a day? For that matter, there are tiny frogs in the Sahara that will sometimes burrow for years until a good rainstorm finally shows up. Then they pop out of the ground like pimples on a teenager and start racing around to eat, mate, and hop. As soon as the rain ends, they head back to burrow their life away. And some frogs hibernate in the winter and their bodies, which possess a natural antifreeze slow down so they can last all winter long without needing to kiss a single princess. Some can even withstand their bodies being frozen solid and still thaw out alive in the spring!  My tired mind meandered on pondering these strange facts. For someone who knows all creation points to the Creator, I had to wonder, "Why?"  Why would God create creatures who only reached the potential of liondom, or frogdom for such brief flickers of time? It just didn't make sense to me.....

Except, I realized, in the monumental and everpresent lesson of patience and perseverance. If anything can teach us about that, it is the lion and the Sahara frog. So much of life is spent learning how to wait and while waiting, learning how not to despair.  For example, after six full months of waiting for my book proposal to be read by the agent I am hanging my hopes on, she just wrote to tell me she lost it! (I wrote about this in an earlier blog post.) Then she said if I would resend it, she would read it by Friday....this past Friday. I know all of you who like the lazy lion sleep 20 hours a day while waiting for news about my life were wondering when Friday came and went, why I didn't mention what she said about my book. Well, Friday came and went with no word from her.  I agonized about whether I should bug her, or just wait patiently and while waiting, what should I do? By Tuesday, I was sure that blood vessels were slowly exploding as I held my breath, so I finally broke down and wrote to her.

"I don't mean to bug you....well actually, truth be told, I do mean to bug you...." I wrote.
It turns out she was deathly ill, and ordered to bed and rest for a solid week. She had not forgotten me. She gave no timeline this time on when she would read my proposal and I realized, I must look to the Sahara frog as my guide, and hunker down for perhaps another long season of drought.

I think one of the best Biblical examples of expectant, faithful waiting is Noah. Noah was told to build that big boat, the Ark, in a land that had never seen rain, hundreds of miles from any water. For three years he built a boat while his neighbors all came and laughed at him. So he built and he waited.... and finally the rains came, and he definitely had the last laugh.

So this season of waiting, and resting, is not just a great cosmic flub. It is planned, and ordained, and even blessed! God is always preparing us for something. Sometimes it requires that we hunker down for a good long while, nursing aching joints, or flagging energy, waiting for His call to rain down on us, prompting us to hop into His arms in the fullness of life when to every onlooker, we seemed half dead.

Proverbs 8: 34-35
34 Blessed are those who listen to me,
   watching daily at my doors,
   waiting at my doorway.
35 For those who find me find life
   and receive favor from the LORD.