Monday, February 28, 2011

It Was Glorious

As Comer settled into the front seat, placing the cane tip inside the door, the fresh springtime breeze blew magic around the land. I had been planning to just drop Comer at the Alzheimer unit to visit with his wife, Evelyn and then I would bring him back to his assisted living home when he was done. But the sun and the seventy degree unnatural warmth all beckoned that youth could be recaptured on such a day as this.
"Should we take Evelyn to a park, a lovely park with a lake? " I asked Comer.
"We can ask her, " he answered,"She hasn't been out of that prison in months."
Evelyn sat perched on the same chair we had found her yesterday.  She again looked up with her radiant smile when she saw Comer.
"Would you like to go to a park, Mother? "
Comer called his dear wife 'mother' in recognition of one of the great joys of their life - parenthood.
Comer had not even finished saying the last word before Evelyn chirped,"Yes!"
"We'll find a park with a lake and watch the ducks! " I exclaimed.
"I like ducks," said Evelyn.
As we signed her out, I asked, "And we can stop and pick up pastries or something on the way to the park!  Do you like pastries? "
"I like pastries, " said Evelyn,  clutching my and Comer's hands.

As we drove, I pointed to the redbud trees that had just that day burst into pink profusion.
"Isn't it beautiful! " I cried.
"Beautiful! " echoed Evelyn, smiling.
We saw a bicyclist pedaling in the warm sun .
"I love bikeriding," I said, "Did you ever bikeride?" I asked Evelyn.
"No, I never did bike ride," she answered.
"Yes you did!" said Comer from the back seat.

We drew near the bakery.
"What would you like?" I asked. Evelyn's face grew worried as she struggled to remember what she liked.
"Cinnamon rolls? " I asked, "Do you like cinnamon rolls?"
"I like cinnamon rolls," she said smiling at me.
"Mother, are you sure? You just ate," said Comer.
"I like cinnamon rolls," said Evelyn.
"And what would you like to drink?" I asked.
Again she looked frightened.
"Coke? Do you like coke?"
"I like coke," she said.

I handed the goodies out to my friends and we started off to find the park with a lake and ducks. Suddenly I remembered a park that I had discovered long ago, and had not been to in years. It was tucked away behind a small neighborhood in a little village adjoining ours. As we drove we passed the huge mall in our area.
"Have you been there?" I asked.
"No, never," said Evelyn.
Comer chuckled from the back, "Only about a hundred times."

We pulled into the park, and a swinging bench, the only unoccupied seat on this glorious day was right beside the parking lot. I helped my old friends to the bench, settled them with their drinks and cinnamon rolls and parked the car.

A fountain spurted liquid diamonds in the middle of the lake. Children and dogs bustled and climbed and laughed all around us. The ducks were far off on the other side of the lake. I asked how Evelyn and Comer had met. It had been love at first sight. Evelyn remembered the dance where she had first seen her future husband . I asked about where they had lived, rasied their family. Evelyn mentioned a town name I had not heard of. Comer nodded and they talked about the little town near Atlanta. Comer recounted all the jobs he had held and Evelyn smiled, nodding as they reminisced. She ate her cinnamon roll happily.
"So many children!" she smiled, looking around.

After a couple of hours in the sun, the hard bench began to bite at their bottoms, and we shuffled slowly arm in arm back to the car. As we drove back to the Senior Center where they lived, we passed another bicyclist.
"I love bicycle riding," said Evelyn wistfully.

She cried when Comer said he had to go now, but he would be back soon. He helped her lie down on her bed and kissed her sweetly.
"You don't know how it kills me to leave her," he said to me as we drove to his assisted living apartment.

As I let him out of the car, he said, "This has been the best day we have had in months. It was glorious."
And it was. Such a simple day, with such simple pleasures. But the glory of God had shown down on us, I thought as I wiped away specks of cinnamon roll from my shirt.

Psalm 16:10-11

10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
   nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
   you will fill me with joy in your presence,
   with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Joy of her Life

We walked into the Alzheimer's unit. Most of the residents were sleeping in chairs in front of a television. One sat across the room, awake, looking straight ahead, arms folded on her lap. Her eyes were vacant, staring at nothing. As my friend, her husband, moved towards her, her eyes slowly focused and her sad face brightened. As though a light were turned on within, the occupants suddenly flooding home gaily, her smile shattered the old landscape. She beamed at him with recognition.
"Your husband is here!" said a nurse.
"My husband!" repeated Evelyn.
Komer hugged his wife. He had been felled by two strokes and then pneumonia. He had been unable to visit her for a long time, and I know his greatest fear was she would no longer know him. Prior to the strokes, he had lived in an independent facility just around the corner from Evelyn. He had used a motorized chair to rumble over to see her every day. Now, he had no way to get to her from the much further assisted living portion of the grounds where he had to be moved. His visits would be dependent on a busy family...and friends. Evelyn had an excuse if she forgot him. I realized I had none.

"You remember Vicky?" Komer asked Evelyn, "Our neighbor Vicky?"
Evelyn looked at me, and repeated, "Neighbor Vicky....."
"You look beautiful, Evelyn!" I said, taking her small hand in mine.
"You look beautiful...too," she said.
We walked to her room and as she sat down, she hugged Komer again and said, "You look beautiful."
She sat on the edge of her bed and peered at me. Then she smiled, "Vicky- our neighbor from next door." She looked deeply in my eyes and I felt she remembered me and was trying to seal that memory in her failing brain.
I stayed only a few minutes and told them I would leave them now for as long as they would like and return when Komer was ready to head home.
Then I drove around, crying like a baby.

Komer had told me a few weeks back that his heart was breaking.
"She is alive," he said, "But there is no joy in her life."
Then he wept.

When I returned to pick him up, the nurse helped him out of the door and he slowly came to the car. As he slid in, I asked if he had a nice visit.
"It was tiring," he said, "She won't sit still. Every second she would get up and wander. I had to keep bringing her back."
"Well sounds like you got your exercise!" I said.
I returned Komer to his apartment, and as I walked him to the door, I told him, "Komer, remember how you told me Evelyn had no joy in her life? I think you were wrong. Did you see how she smiled when she saw you walk in today? Komer, you bring Evelyn joy."
He bowed his head, and cried softly.
"Would you like me to bring you again tomorrow, after we get back from church?"
He nodded quickly, "Please!"

I hugged Komer goodbye, and asked if it would be ok if I prayed with him. As I hugged him, I reminded him that the Lord who loves us longed for us to be with Him through all eternity, with bodies that didn't give out, never forgot a loved one, and would no more suffer. And the joy of our lives would be with us always.

He shuffled slowly away, his cane tapping the pavement like a beating heart.

Psalm 90:13-15

 13 Relent, LORD! How long will it be?
   Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
   that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
   for as many years as we have seen trouble.

Isaiah 49: 15-16

15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
   and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
   I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
   your walls are ever before me.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Success is fun

Like a zillion times before, Asherel stepped to the middle of the gym floor, held her helicopter with the tightly wound rubber band aloft and released it. But this time was not to be like all the other times when it fluttered to the ground with wobbly despair. This time it lifted to the tall gym ceiling, both rotors spinning, beautifully balanced. We began to be hopeful as thirty seconds went by and it was still scraping the ceiling, then a minute, then a minute thirty.... then two minutes....then three minutes. Then it stopped spinning and it was still on the ceiling. Its point had stuck into the ceiling tile. The kids shot it down with rubber bands and we tried again.

This time it flew for a minute and forty seconds. We were contenders. We put the helicopter away jubilantly. Short of a disaster, we should not embarrass ourselves at the Science Olympiad competition... and suddenly Asherel is talking about what they will do next year. A little success goes a long way towards motivation.

I will admit that I have had a philosophical conundrum throughout this year. I have heard more times than I would like to recount, "It has to be fun." I like fun as much as the next guy, but I have always countered with, "It is fun to do your best. There is a time and place for silliness, for goofing off, but that is not why I am volunteering my time to coach. Success is fun, believe me."

I think the joy on my helicopter teams' faces indicates they are beginning to understand fun.

I think most times 'fun' is equated with mindless, relaxing, ultimately meaningless endeavors. I don't think hard work, failure, repeated trials, frustration, despair is usually associated with 'fun'. But when the fruit of all those rough moments is victory.... suddenly looking back on it all, you realize that was fun, and you missed it.

I know I bring a pretty serious type A mindset to endeavors. I never enjoyed the silliness of fellow students growing up, just didn't get it. I am still not a big fan of silly. But I am wired for whatever neurotic reason to always try to do my best. And sad to say, that is what I expect of those around me. I am not the ideal coach by a long shot. I find it hard to motivate slackers. I just don't really relate to that mind set, and frankly, it makes me mad. But the science team needed coaches and so they were stuck with what they could scrounge up. Every time we finish a practice, I find myself praying, chastising myself for not being gentler, kinder, quieter. Maybe I just don't really understand fun.

As we left the gym, Asherel turned to me with a huge smile on her face, "THAT was fun," she said.

Psalm 20:5

5 May we shout for joy over your victory
   and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
   May the LORD grant all your requests.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Set Free

The trebuchet was flinging accurately, if not at amazing distances.
"We could cheat," suggested Josh.
"I didn't really mean it," he said, "They have very stiff penalties for cheating."
"What are they?" I asked, weighing the pros and cons.
"You can be banned from science olympiad for life," he answered.
(And this is a bad thing, how?)
"Maybe even thrown in jail. Science Olympiad jail," he continued.

That is where I already am. Day and escape. Helicopters whir and trebuchets catapult in my dreams.  Endless testing, charting, breaking, repairing.....Two more weeks of science olympiad jail and then I am! Unless we do well and go to States Competition.
Suddenly I knew what I had to do. I had to cheat to insure we did not make it on to States level.
"Do they feed you in this Science Olympiad jail?" I asked.

Some people take my every word seriously so I would like to categorically state right now that I am kidding. I would not cheat, even to avoid any more Science Olympiad. And the kids would not cheat even to win a trophy. They are upstanding and honest and wonderful kids. And they have survived my Attila the Hun leadership with remarkable good humor.

We have our flinging down to a science now. Now we have to just fling a few billion times and chart our results. Unless we break our copters, they are flying long enough to be respectable. The end is in sight. Soon we no longer be under the law of Science Olympiad. We will be free!

We are studying Galatians 4. It talks about no longer being a slave to the law once we have come to faith through believing that Jesus atoning death was the final and only sacrifice necessary for us to be freed to a righteous relationship with God. But Paul begins his letter in Chapter 3 to the Galatians with this phrase, "You foolish Galatians!"
Asherel was perplexed by this.
"He is trying to convince people to believe in Jesus, right?" she asked, "This doesn't seem the way one would talk to people you are trying to win over."
I don't know. Sometimes I need more than kindness. Sometimes I need a good swift kick in the pants to get me headed on the right path. Sometimes I need to be reminded that I am imprisoned, and there is a better way, a whole eternity of freedom that is beckoning me, if I would stop clinging to foolish and stubborn habits and sins.

Science Olympiad is not really so bad. But I am looking forward to the day when I will no longer be under its law, and I will no longer be a slave to the laws of flight and gravity.
But I think God might be urging me to contemplate even further than when I am not bound by Science Olympiad.
"You foolish coach...."  Be a slave no longer to the law but to the lawmaker alone.

Galatians 4: 3-7
...we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Be ye Perfect

I was working on the wedding portrait of my son and his bride to be, and flinging my brush with disgust every few strokes.
"OH NO!"
"What's wrong?" asked Asherel, glancing up from her math book.
"I ruined Karissa! It at least looked like her before. I don't know what I did to ruin it and now I don't know what to do to make it better."
Asherel who has an excellent artist eye, looked carefully at it.
"Her teeth are too dark and the shadows around Matt's eyes are too dark. And his nose is too long."
She left the room.
I went back to work on it and then stepped back.

"Don't do anything else!" cried Asherel returning.
"It does look like them all of a sudden, doesn't it?" I smiled.
"Yes," she said.
And if it doesn't look like them to them, in twenty years it won't look like them anyway and they will look back fondly on those days when they looked so young, so in love, so beautiful, so hopeful.  The strange thing is, I don't know what small change, what small dab of color transformed them from strangers to familiar faces. I am convinced that God got sick of waiting and just grabbed my hand and guided me.

In my art class yesterday, one of my most gifted students was drawing a portrait. I showed him where his line was off by miniscule centimeters.
"This may sound picky," I said, "But if you are off at all in a portrait..."
"It won't look like them!" we said in unison. It is gratifying to have someone who so completely gets it.

My friend Danielle is an agility handler. She is a lovely and unconsciously humble soul, comfortable in her own skin. Her husky is in the running for being one of the top agility dogs in his breed. She just finished a trial where she placed three times, with 2 seconds and a third. She found this a disappointing result.
"In my level," she told me, "You can't make any mistakes. You must be  perfect."

I seem to be bumping up against this message of perfection, time and time again. I am a perfectionist, or used to be. Until I got tired. I looked around my house with the bathroom that hasn't been scrubbed in....well, a long time..... and the dog smears on the windows, and the dust bunnies hopping in the corners. I would never have allowed that a few years ago. I also seem to be wearing stretchy polyester alot all of a sudden. Slowly, comfort and ease seem more alluring, and reaching for impossible standards less so.

And then God sent me the wedding portrait.

I sat in the car last night waiting for Asherel to leave youth group at Church. The minutes stretched on. So I pulled out my Droid, and started sketching the moon and the limbs of the tree against the sky. You may think all I was doing was killing time, and at first, that is what I thought too. But then I realized that a still, quiet voice in my soul was whispering, "If you reach for the moon, you may fall short, but if you don't reach for it, you will certainly never touch it."

Psalm 18:30
As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.

Isaiah 26:3
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

Matthew 5:48
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's All Downhill From Here

I stood at the top of the tall tall ski slope all alone and looked out over the deep steep descent before me. That is when my head began to swirl and I felt mildly nauseous. I backed from the edge til the sensation of vertigo passed. I have had vertigo before, but never before having to then careen downhill with nothing to stop me from tumbling  broken head over heels but my own (absent) skill.

"Now what, Sherlock?" I thought, as the dizziness slowly subsided. While I was contemplating what lunacy had made me think that someone afraid of heights and with a grand total of  3 days of skiing behind her should be on the blue diamond slope, just one color removed from the slope that only certified nutcases attempt, a small family hopped off the ski lift. It was a mom and dad and a small child,maybe 5. I watched in amazement as the dad gave explicit instructions to the little tyke about how he was to slowplow to the left, then to the right and zigzag down the slope, stopping at the end of each zig or zag.

Tremulously, I slid to the edge of the slope, and tried not to look out over the miles and miles of valley below me. Just look where you are going, I chanted in my head, and keep your focus just a few feet ahead. I knew that if I didn't go NOW, I would die on that mountain top. My racing heart would finally lap intself and give up and I would sink to the soft snow, a huddled mass yearning to not ski. (This is obscure, but I just want to point out to all of you that on the base of the statue of Liberty is a lovely poem, one line of which is "huddled masses yearning to breathe free". I hate for any potentially clever line to go unnoticed.)

Anyway, you may wonder how I ended up on top of the mountain. First, many lifetimes ago, I veered off the green (beginner) path I had been on earlier, and did a very small section of a blue (intermediate) run. When I survived that, I skiied over to a chairlift with a big blue diamond on it and these words:
I sidled over to the chair lift operator.
"Do you think I could ski this?"
He looked a me with a grin, "It depends. Are you current on your vaccinations? What is your level of pain tolerance? Do you have an up to date last testament and will made out? How much do you want to see your son get married this side of heaven?"
"I take that as a no?"
I skied back to the green hill and again did a run veering to the small blue section.
Taking a deep breath, I skied back to the blue diamond chairlift.
A man and his boy were in line.
"Excuse me," I said, "Have you skied this run before?"
"We just did!" said the boy, "Only my second time on skis! I loved it!"
"Do you think I could do it?" I asked.
They both grinned, "It depends.How much do you enjoy walking without rods in your spine and surgically reconstructed hips?"

I skied back to the green hill. After a few more runs down Easy Street, veering again over to the small blue section, I decided it would be foolish to attempt a slope I wasn't sure I could ski. To what end, afterall? So I wait til next season to try an intermediate hill. I had done far better than I had expected and I should be grateful for all I had been blessed to experience without a single fall thus far, and the only ski injury one sustained in the ski lodge itself.

So with a sigh, I skied over to the blue diamond lift, and climbed on the chair lift. No turning back.  And that is how I ended up on top of a slope which gave me vertigo just looking down the path I must now somehow traverse.
Two young men now got off the ski lift and were adjusting their goggles.
"Excuse me," I said, "Can I ask you a favor?"
"Could you take my picture? I really can't believe I am up here, and neither will my family."
"Happy to!" they said, "Go stand on the edge there so they get a sense of how high up you are."
"No, I don't think I could do that."
"You will have to do that to ski down," one man reminded me.
"Is there no other way?" I asked.
"You can do it! Here, go slowly...."
"You won't push me and run away with my smartphone?"
"No, we promise. That's good.... a little closer to the edge...."
"Hurry," I moaned, "Take the picture."

Pocketing my camera, I strapped on my poles, and breathed a quick prayer. Then following the 5 year old's tracks, I was off down the steepest, highest mountain on the entire earth. I zigzagged slowly back and forth down the steep upper half. I only looked in front of me, never turning to look at the deep steep valley I was descending into. And soon, much sooner than I expected, I was on the bottom half which I had skied already from the green run. I jubilantly skied back to the blue chairlift.
"I did it!!!" I cried to the chair lift operator.
He ignored me and continued talking to his buddy.
I guess some victories that seem monumental to me no one else really cares about.
And the second time I stood on top of the mountain, I was no longer afraid. I felt no dizziness, and all I noticed was how breathtakingly beautiful it was. And I realized that mountains are meant to be climbed and one should never let fear dictate how much of life one is willing to embrace.

On top of the mountain, I got a text message. I snapped open my phone. It was from Asherel who had been skiing all morning on the bunny slope, insisting she was not ready for the Easy Street slope, the first real mountain slope for beginners. The text said, "Where are you? I am ready to ski Easy Street."
"On top of the mountain, wait for me. I am coming down."

Romans 8:14-16

 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mother Nature Lies

It was a near record high yesterday.  So of course, it made sense to schedule our last ski trip of the year for today. Goodbye winter. Hello summer. I broomed the front porch, washed the car, wore a short sleeved tshirt, watched the robins pecking at the new grass seed.
It won't last. Midweek forecast is destined to plunge us all into deep depression. I like winter, but when warmth taunts me, I don't like it any more.

We only have 2 weeks left til Science Olympiad, and only 10 weeks left of school. I have spring fever. I am impatient for all the hard work to be done.

It never is done though. It just changes to new and different hard work.
I wonder if the robins ever look at each other and lament, "This stinks. I mean, all we ever do is pull recalcitrant rubber worms out of hard packed earth. Tug tug tug. All day long, all life long."
I wonder if any of them ever have midlife crises, where they decide they will not eat another worm. Do they decide to just keep heading further south and go to Tahiti and lounge on the beach instead, drinking Mimosas and having their toenails clipped by a handsome bluebird?

"You feel this way at the end of every winter, Robby."
"Yes Roberta, I do, but this year I mean it. I am sick of frozen worms, and shivering when spring is not really here but just faked it....again."
"Sprng will come and you will have a complete change of heart. You will be glad again that you are a robin and can perch in the tree amid the blossoming dogwood."
"Not this time. This time I mean it. No more early birding to get the worm. I am sleeping in and waiting til summer to venture North. These false springs are killing me."

So I am being proactive. Snow and cold is expected in the mountains. Rather than hanging out in the flirting sunshine that we know is just teasing us, I will head to one last fling with Old Man Winter. Then back to the homestretch. I find it strange that those last few moments before victory is in sight are sometimes the hardest. Spring is just around the corner.... why is it suddenly so hard to wait?

Abraham had the same problem. God promised him that he would be the father of many nations, but Abraham was an old man, and Sarah was not producing even one small heir, let alone many nations. So Abrahan took matters into his own hands, and had an heir, Ishmael, through his maid servant Haggar. Then surprise, surprise, Sarah ended up getting pregnant with Isaac and poor Ishmael was out of luck.  A whole assortment of new problems arose as a result. You can't force Spring. Sometimes, you must wait.

And eat frozen worms.

Deuteronomy 11:13-15

 13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— 14 then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. 15 I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hopeful Petals

The dogs were sniffing at their usual spot when I noticed the small purple petal. Crocus! My daffodils were beginning to show green buds but none had opened yet. But here the crocus were now defying the certain return of frost and cold to brave raising their tender petals to the open air. We stood and marveled at the crocus for a little while.

God is such a good artist, I thought, with a tinge of jealousy. My own wedding portrait art work at home was not going so well. I had begun to paint in my son Matt's face and something was going very wrong with the mouth. I had obliterated it once already, but it was still not right. After many hours, I painted over it with a wash of flesh color and put away my brushes for the day. Karissa, the bride is almost done, and Matt's tux is painted in with a wash that gives an idea of the final color. They are a lovely couple, except for the groom without a mouth.

But the more I thought about it, the more I thought maybe that is the way man and woman should have been created. Man without mouth. "Just do what I say, no back talk, and no one gets hurt," should be in the wedding vows somewhere.
Alas, that is not the way God seems to have envisioned what the world should be. Not only does He give both the bride and groom a mouth, but He expects them to use it responsibly.

This is a tall order, especially if one hopes to be married for a lifetime. Honestly, I know I would have more success if I just hadn't been given a mouth to misuse in the first place. I am not second guessing God. I know He who brought forth the gentle crocus when the bitter cold was still raging around the corner knows best. He knows exactly how to bring a most unlikely hope in the midst of the winters of our lives. Perhaps that is why He longs and desires for marriage to last a lifetime.... it will take that long to paint in the mouth properly.

Psalm 141:3
  3 Set a guard over my mouth, LORD;
   keep watch over the door of my lips.

Psalm 19:14
 14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
   be pleasing in your sight,
   LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 17:3
  3 Though you probe my heart,
   though you examine me at night and test me,
you will find that I have planned no evil;
   my mouth has not transgressed.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Taken Captive

Portraits are not easy to paint. In case any of you want to take up portrait painting, I would recommend you first take a course in anger management. The difference between a picture that looks like the intended sweet daughter in law, or one that looks like a vampire is a small extra stroke of white. With one shaky misplaced stroke of gray I made my victim lose a tooth. The dogs gathered as dinner time came and went, and I kept painting, painting, painting. Finally Honeybun could stand it no more and came over and gently pried the paintbrush from my hand with her teeth.
"Feed the dogs. We are real. That painting is not."

And she is half right. The painting is not real, but the love that motivates it is. I am doing a wedding portrait of my son Matthias and his future bride, Karissa. The bonus for me is I get to see the dress before anyone else. It is stunning. That's all I am going to say about it. They asked for a background of particular significance to them, and sent me the specifics of the wedding adornment. I have peppered them with questions that from any other mother would just be nosy: what jewelry will you wear, what will you do with your hair, what color eye shadow, what will your flowers look like....etc.   I bet if I phrased it carefully, I could find out all kinds of juicy gossip in the guise of needing background information for the psychological aspect of any great piece of art.

But I have been painting very carefully and very slowly. On one tree, near the happy couple, I actually painted in every leaf. This is highly unlike my normal expressionistic treatment of trees where a quick blob of various shades of green convey a tree with none of the anguish of detail.  Truth be told, I hate detail. Detail is hard, laborious, and exposes weakness. My whole soul races to finish in one broad stroke.... but the task at hand demands careful attention and detail, or a mouth that once was full of sparkling teeth becomes a pit of rotted, broken, gaps.

I was really ok til I hit the face. Karissa is a beautiful girl, and every viewer of the portrait will notice if I fall short of the mark. So I am using a brush where a single long hair picks up the paint, and painting micrometer by micrometer to build a face that if not exactly like hers, at least one she would want to claim.  And it is painfully obvious that if a face is not painted with exactly the correct proportion between the parts, and exactly the correct shadows to depict exactly the correct bone structure in exactly the correct space.... it ends up looking nothing like the model.

I have read that some if not most portrait artists cheat. They use a projector to flash the photo on the canvas and then copy. I don't get the point of that. Just take a photograph and be done with it. A painting, if it is a good painting is meant to capture more than just a likeness. It is supposed to capture a soul. That will be my excuse. It may not look like them on the outside but it is perfect on the inside.

As we were driving home from the mountains yesterday, Alex who has an artist's soul exclaimed, "Oh! Look at those blue mountains! I wish I had brought my camera.!"
"You should bring it the next time we go," I offered.
"I would.... but I am not sure I could get a good picture through the dog slime on the windows."
Out of the mouth of babes....
"I'll try to clean them before we go next time," I said.
"I love taking photos of landscapes.... or animals... or trees. Not people though. I never photograph people."
"Why not?" asked Asherel.
"Because I have heard when you take their picture you capture their soul."

Funny, I think of that as a good thing. That is exactly what I am trying to do when I paint. In my opinion, it is almost impossible to capture a soul. The only one who can really do that is God and it requires our permission. In fact, one of those pesky verses that I can never live out as fully as I would like to touches on this subject. We are to make "every thought captive to...Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Every thought?

I am lucky at times to get one thought out that I think God might want to hold near. Talk about being into detail! God doesn't seem to care if the vast bulk of my thoughts are in line with His desires. He uses the very tiniest brush available. He wants every thought....every little one. hoo boy.

And if He is sending me a message through the agonizing symbol of my painting, struggling molecule by molecule to paint a likeness and spirit of a beloved and familiar face.... then I suspect that I won't look anything like the image God desires to paint of me til every single itty bitty thought is captive to Him.

This painting is going to take a very long, long time.

Isaiah 49:8-10

 8 This is what the LORD says:    “In the time of my favor I will answer you,
   and in the day of salvation I will help you;
I will keep you and will make you
   to be a covenant for the people,
to restore the land
   and to reassign its desolate inheritances,
9 to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’
   and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’
   “They will feed beside the roads
   and find pasture on every barren hill.
10 They will neither hunger nor thirst,
   nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.
He who has compassion on them will guide them
   and lead them beside springs of water.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Into the Fog

"Mrs. Kaseorg, Can you see the road?"
"How do you know where to drive?"
"I am making educated guesses."
"When will you know if you guess wrong?"
"When we are hurtling off the edge of the mountain. I suggest you practice 'tuck and roll'."

The fog gave new meaning to "so thick you could cut it with a knife." I would have turned around but I could not see to either side of the steep, winding road climbing to the tallest ski mountain in NC. I was going 5 miles an hour, at times less, and straining to see the center line of the road. If I kept just a few inches to the right of that, I hoped (prayed) that we would make it to the top. I was bringing Asherel and her friends Alex and Ben to snowboard. It was spooky in that ghostly, milky white. How on earth could we ski in this? Had we just driven three hours for nothing? Well, not for nothing. We had driven three hours to endanger life and limb. The adrenalin rush driving in the fog was more than I ever got skiing.

Finally we reached the parking lot. We could not see the mountain, the lodge , or anything  except fog and the few people within inches of us gliding silently by. I had never tried to ski in fog. I don't have much experience with this sport. And I was responsible for 3 young souls.
"Excuse me?" I asked a skier returning to his car, materializing like a specter from the gloom, "Can you ski in this stuff?"
"It's not easy," he said, "You have to go slow."

Surprisingly the parking lot was mobbed. All these people couldn't be wrong, could they? So we got our equipment and lift tickets and hustled Ben off to his lesson for his first snowboard experience. I knew the kids would not leave the bunny slope so they were in little danger. But at this point, the bunny slope was not fun for me so I headed to find a chair lift. The fog was so thick that I couldn't see chairlifts, or any slopes. but eventually I asked enough people to steer me to the right place, and climbed on the chairlift taking me to a slope I was told was for beginners, but was shrouded completely in the cloud dancing on earth.

It was eerily silent on the chair lift, sound muffled by the fog. Skiers right below me would glide into view and then fade away into whiteness. Visible life was only a few hundred feet in any direction. The rest of the world could have been Mars. It was very disconcerting, yet oddly peaceful having that limited vision, all visual choices narrowed to the world immediately around me. It is not often in life that so much of the madness around you is suddenly shut off, obliterated.

I rode the quiet chairlift through the cloud and thought of God. They say when you die, you see a long white tunnel with light at the end. All around you is whiteness. Near-death survivors speak very similarly of this sensation. There is a little too much going on in my life right now. Maybe always....School, science olympiad in 2 weeks, fixing our projects so we won't be humiliated, a painting for Matt's wedding to finish, a painting of a pitbull to start for Hollow Creek Farm, the rehearsal dinner to plan, the travel and tux and dress arrangements to be made for the wedding, the dogs and upcoming agility trial, the elderly grandma that should not be living alone but is still fighting any efforts to convince her otherwise, the constant struggle to be what God wants me to be.....It all clamors and bumps against me.

But here, all alone on a chairlift in the milky fog, quietly going up up up into the whiteness, it was all shrouded, quieted, momentarily gone.  I would not have asked for fog had God been sending out a request form, but I realized that perhaps fog is exactly what I needed that day.

The fog had dissipated on the road up the mountain, and our drive down was easy and uneventful. The glorious vistas that we had not seen on the harrowing drive up were revealed. Mountains and mountains in receding shades of blue filled the horizon. The kids chattered away, bursting with the success of their snowboarding. I said little, wrapped in the memory of the peaceful whiteness.

Isaiah 44:
22 I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
   your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me,
   for I have redeemed you.”  23 Sing for joy, you heavens, for the LORD has done this;
   shout aloud, you earth beneath.
Burst into song, you mountains,
   you forests and all your trees,
for the LORD has redeemed Jacob,
   he displays his glory in Israel.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Better than Trophies

I am an animal lover so rest assured that though the picture indicates we flung a cat in our cat-apult (trebuchet), we did not. I will not tell you what I wanted to fling due to the young audience and tender ears that might be within shouting distance of this blog. I will say in calmly, carefully measured tones that when Science Olympiad ends, if I never see another trebuchet or model helicopter in my entire life, it will be too soon.......

We went to collect more data on our trebuchet which was not flinging far, but it was flinging accurately. We knew we could not win, flinging approximately half as far (on a good day) as past winners.... but we hoped to lose with style. That hope flew away further than the projectiles our treb was supposed to be flinging when the release pin of our sling broke off. I had known that would happen at some point. I had just hoped it would happen after the competition was over. I don't care if dust and moths corrupt once I am done with the thing.....

The good thing was that I could now impress upon the kids why the idea for the sling release I had had earlier might be a wise way to go. Since we had to come up with they agreed to try it. It is top secret, in case it works, although with 3 weeks to go til the contest, one would hope our sentences were not so littered with words like "if it works."  Besides the ominous doom and gloom message of the release pin breaking.... the sling was suddenly tangling and not slinging at all. And Josh, our partner was recovering from either the flu or Valentinitis, which is the disease resulting from inhaling 3 pounds of candy in less than 10 minutes.  We have never worked so dispiritedly for so many hours straight. They smiled....but weakly.

"It is all about the journey," my sister Holly said.
"Yes, it is," I agreed, "The journey has been Hell."

Now this is not entirely true. There have been brief moments of success and we went from knowing nothing to knowing a few things. And we met 3 delightful fellow homeschool students that have developed into fun and happy friendships. On occasion, the devices we constructed have worked, and may surprise us and work in the contest. But if they don't..... I need to start preparing my speech so the kids go away feeling it has all been worth it. Because it has....hasn't it?

When a friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer and would be going in for a double mastectomy, I asked what I could do for her. She said she would like a painting with the following verse on it:
Habakkuk 3: 17-18
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
   and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
   and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
   and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
   I will be joyful in God my Savior.

When all the blessings and good things don't flow our way, when frustrations and calamities mount, when it seems that the sun has forgotten there is this little corner of the world where it should be shining..... that is when it is hardest to find the joy, to find the rejoicing. And yet, it is then and only then when faith is truly put to the test. If God can be Lord of your life in the trenches, He can be Lord of your life anywhere. And if He is Lord, and His promises are true, then in the end, "I will see God."(Job:19:26)

Unfortunately, these kids will probably experience greater frustrations and setbacks some day than catapults that couldn't fling a cat even if they wanted to, or helicopters that consistently don't fly. If Science Olympiad has taught me one overriding lesson, it has been that sometimes things don't go as planned even when we put forth our best effort. Sometimes despite giving our all, we fail.  But that doesn't mean it wasn't worth the effort. No matter how hard we fight it, someday every one of us will die. That doesn't mean that in the interim, we shouldn't live.

To emerge from failure and still be smiling, still be rejoicing, still be looking for the spring in the dead of winter.... that is the lesson I think we may be steering towards. And in the end, it will probably serve us better than a trophy anyway.

1 Thessalonians 1: 2-10
2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  4 For we know, brothers and sisters[b] loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Earthquakes of Consciousness

If all you have ever known is the sky above you and the earth beneathe, you begin to take it for granted. It has always been there. It always will be.  When something shakes you, some earthquake of consciousness, you begin to realize all that you have that is sometimes held by the tiniest of threads. And you realize how much that landscape of your life, that you have come to expect, and perhaps not notice, is something precious....and something that could be lost.

When I listened to the truant officer in Illinois during the hearing on Bill 136 who supported the bill requiring homeschoolers to register with the state ed department, I felt a small earthquake. This officer, who has the power to have our children seized from us, said that he welcomed the proposed Bill. It would give him the power, he claimed , to "help" the homeschoolers. He could then not just confront potential truants loitering on the streets day after day, but he could go to the homes of whomever he wished, and snoop around to see if they were properly educating their children.
His analysis of how to determine guilt- if they let him in their home. If they didn't welcome him, then they must be hiding something.

I pulled out the constitution, my little pocket book copy that sits by the computer. I called Asherel over and we read the preamble and then the first four amendments of the constitution that guides our government and limits its powers such that we are a nation of freedom. Then we watched the video of the truant officer claiming he should have the right, even obligation, to enter a law abiding citizen's home, guilty of no wrong doing and with no evidence of any wrong doing. His presumption of guilt? That would be determined by whether the homeowner willingly let him in to trample her 4th amendment rights. My 13 year old could see this was unconstitutional. Nonetheless, she didn't find the study as enthralling as I did.... and I realized freedom is all she has ever known. A state that respects the enumerated limits of its own power is what she has grown to expect, like waking to the sky above her and the ground beneath her. It is all I have ever known as well, but I am only a generation removed from the ancestors Hitler disposed of. I feel their cries of anguish in my soul.

I understand this bill is just tabled for now. It is not dead. A compromise is being sought. What I really want to know is did anyone grab that truant officer after the hearing. Did someone from the Public Education system pick up a constitution and open it to the 4th amendment and tell him he needed to memorize that section and pass a test on it before he returned to work? Were those committee members as appalled as I was by the ignorance of the constitutional rights that he,they, supposedly were entrusted to uphold? Did they not see where this bill was leading? Surely they were not so blind, or so ignorant. I can only assume they know what they are doing.

The enemies of freedom would never succeed if they came revealing the full extent of their plan. We are frogs being slowly boiled to death because the first warm drops don't seem to matter, creating just a hint of lethargy.

In the history of God's people as they entered and conquered foreign lands, they were told not to intermarry lest they be entrapped by the false gods of the foreign nations. Yet time after time, the people would slowly adopt the pagan practices little by little despite God's commands, and they would stumble into idolatry. God, in His merciful wrath, would create 'earthquakes of consciousness' to shake them out of their complacency and they would veer back, at least for a while, to His path.

I would write more, but I hear a knock on the door. It is a truant officer and he is pointing a finger at me, demanding proof that I taught my algebra lesson yesterday, and he wants to interview my child privately to be sure I didn't withhold Twinkies and milk. Since I did nothing wrong.... I don't have to worry.....right?

2 Kings 17:15-17

15 They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the LORD had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.”
 16 They forsook all the commands of the LORD their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. 17 They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, arousing his anger.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Quiet Revolution

A quiet revolution has been going on in Illinois. A state senator proposed a bill that would require homeschoolers to register with the state education department.  Taken completely by surprise, Sen. Maloney was dumbfounded as 4,000 homeschoolers stood outside the committee room while the committee deliberated. The homeschoolers sang "America the Beautiful" in 4 part though it had been rehearsed. 4,000 strangers lifting their voices in a common purpose and a common love of freedom, children, and the right to raise them without the state regulating how they do so.

I heard this morning that Senator Maloney has backed down, and will not attempt to bring the proposed bill to a vote.  Committee members seem confused. Folks there at the scene reported some committee members as saying, "Who would want to spend so much time with their children anyway?", and the bill was only meant to weed out the "sinister" element in homeschoolers.

I watched the video of the 4000 homeschoolers, moms, dads, and their kids all singing America. The guards stood by, watching. The committee members behind closed doors had to have heard. Did it occur to any of them that the government could never improve on the honest and respectful and beautiful citizenry being raised in the homeschool movement? If the song alone doesn't convince you, maybe all the studies and statistics on homeschooled students will. They outperform public and private schools on average in every area measured....including civic involvement.

The National Education Association wants to get rid of homeschoolers. At least we are equal in this respect. I want to get rid of the NEA.

I cried watching my fellow homeschoolers, united in love of their country,  and their children singing the anthem of freedom.

Isaiah 52:7-9

 7 How beautiful on the mountains
   are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
   who bring good tidings,
   who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
   “Your God reigns!”
8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
   together they shout for joy.
When the LORD returns to Zion,
   they will see it with their own eyes.
9 Burst into songs of joy together,
   you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people,
   he has redeemed Jerusalem.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Just Beyond Reach

The horse stood straining, its neck stretched as far as it could go, but it could not dip low enough to reach the few tufts of grass on the other side of the fence. I was walking while waiting for Asherel's riding class to end and I had seen the horse in the distance. As I approached him, he had not yet moved a muscle. He stood parked like a show horse, his body elegantly stretched, his eyes focused before him. As I neared I saw the delectable object of his protracted interest- there were 4 distinct but small tufts of grass just beyond his muzzle.

His field was covered with grass, albeit short and cropped by him and his friends. Still, I was surprised that he had noticed those few little off limits morsels, and that he was fruitlessly giving them such unwavering attention. He barely acknowledged me as I approached.

"Hello," I said, "What a glorious day to be a horse, isn't it!? Sun shining, blue sky, warm wind lifting your mane. What more could anyone want?!"
The horse stared at those 4 small tufts of grass just beyond his reach.
I chattered on, "Friends in the pasture, four strong legs to carry you where you want to go, owners who love and brush you. You have it made, pal!"
The horse glanced briefly at me, and then returned his lockjaw gaze to the 4 small tufts of grass just beyond his reach.
"And look at that magnificent well kept barn! I bet you lay your head in splendor on soft fresh straw every night, lulled to sleep by the sound of barn owls and doves."
The horse was not interested in counting his blessings. His neck pressed down heavily on the top of the fence, the corral that prevented him from snatching those 4 small tufts of grass just beyond his reach.

"Do you want me to get the grass for you?" I asked.
He didn't look at me. His gaze was on....well, you know.
So I bent down and carefully gathered 2 of the 4 small tufts of grass just beyond his reach, and held them out to him, with my palm flat.
He nibbled them and then looked at me as I scratched his forehead.

As I walked on, he stretched his neck over the fence, his muscles straining, reaching, stretching to the 2 small tufts of grass just beyond his reach.

God sent me two messages via the hungry and determined horse. First, we are never satisfied. It is quite often what we do not have that we most desperately want. Sometimes we throw away all the rest of the joy of existence with our futile attempts to secure exactly what we have been fenced off from reaching. The open and glorious pasture is ours to canter across, feeling the ecstasy of rippling muscles, and the wind in our mane but instead we ache and long for the forbidden thing that will give us but a moment's joy and be gone.

However, it is also possible that God was reminding me that if we long for something with single minded determination and devotion, if it is worth having, don't give up. You never know when God's merciful hand will prompt a friend to reach across a divide we are unable to leap on our own.

On one hand, the Bible talks about the pearl of great beauty that the man found and sold all his possessions to secure. Nothing else mattered, and the rest of his life could be sacrificed if he could but only have that treasure. And on the other hand, the Bible tells us that by trusting and obeying the "fences" that God has erected by obeying His word, only then are we truly free to experience the full joy of all He is offering us. Adam and Eve learned that lesson the hard way.

So which horse am I? The one reaching futilely for what I can't have.....or the one seeking the one thing that is truly worth having above all else?

On my second lap, I handed the unwavering horse the other two small tufts of grass just beyond his reach.

Matthew 13:
  44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.    45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Romans 7:21-25
 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love in Action

The little Welsh Corgi with a broken back was dumped at a shelter by his owner . His back legs hung uselessly behind him and he dragged them along to get around. This would not have been a very cheery story for Valentine's day, but it is a story of love and victory in the end and worth reading.

Hollow Creek Farm is the quirkiest animal rescue I know. They don't rescue the animals that most people rescue. They rescue the blind, the lame, the wounded, the vicious... and they restore them and place them in a forever home, or they give them a home on their beautiful farm dotted with rescued cows, horses, deer, goats, pigs, and dogs dogs dogs. They prowl the kill lists sent from the surrounding shelters and the most tragic cases are the ones they snag. The ones no one else thinks should be bothered with.

Speedy, the little corgi was brought home to Hollow Creek. They started a fund raising plea on Facebook for "wheels" for Speedy. But whether they got the funds or not, they began the process of fitting Speedy to special dog cart wheels so that he could run and play again. You can go to their website ( and watch the little corgi learn within seconds that he could walk again. And within three days, Speedy was playing fetch, and herding the pack of dogs like every Corgi is innately wired to do.
He already knows how to wheel his cart to his special pillow where his front end lies luxuriously and his motionless back end is supported on his new wheels.

Donations are at an all time low, and the needs are at an all time high. It was in this wretched economy that Speedy was loved enough by a little rescue farm to be given a chance to be a corgi again, doing what corgis love to do.

Jesus told us that it is when we act on behalf of the "least of us" that we most fully reveal our love of Him. I know that He is speaking of humans specifically, but if God created the animals, surely He cares for them as well. Proverbs 12:10 says the "righteous care of the needs of their animals."

There is plenty of suffering to go around, and plenty of human and non-human places to send our money that might ease the pain for some creature of God. But I hear there is a paralyzed goat at Hollow Creek Farm watching Speedy enviously....hoping for funds for her wheels so she can race the little corgi and rip open and dump all the feed bags like all the other goats.

Matthew 25:40
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Luke 9:46
For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

Sunday, February 13, 2011

True Believers

My mother always said, if you wait long enough, everything you own will come back in style. My drawer full of every size, style, material, and color of fanny packs will now be the most coveted fashion accessory of the year. Haute couture runways throughout the fashion world are parading tall sleek models sporting FANNY PACKS!!!!!
I kid you not! And listen to what the reporters of the Wall Street Journal are saying about these staples of my wardrobe:

"Diane von Furstenberg, creative director Yvan Mispelaere- His $325 DVF belted satchels hitting stores this month aren't actually called fanny packs, of course. Mr. Mispelaere refers to them as "hands-free bags"—a name, he says, that helps convey "a functional shape, but with a touch of glamour, a touch of luxury and a touch of seriousness."

"accessory that has been decidedly démodé for at least two decades: the fanny pack. "

"Korean-American handbag designer Sang A Im-Propp, who sells an alligator version for $1,995, calls hers a "belt bag." The term "fanny pack," she says, "is just eww, so cheesy, so tacky, so horrible." Celebrities, increasingly keen to emphasize lower-body curves, have been early adopters. Singer Rihanna was captured by paparazzi while wearing a Louis Vuitton fanny pack on a trip to London in late 2009. Ciara, in her "Gimmie Dat" video, pairs stripper heels and a leather bustier with a giant red fanny pack that spells the word "FLY." Despite the lampooning, the usefulness of the item has never eluded true believers. "

So that is what I am!!! I am a "true believer". I have been one of those "decidedly demode" laughed at "touristy types" that have worn fanny packs for two decades.... Now finally, finally the world has figured out fanny packs are incredibly practical and comfortable. I just cannot wait to start parading out in my fanny packs again. My lovely black embroidered velvet one for dress occasions, my 30 gallon rip stop nylon one for serious tourism, my small and convenient biking/skiing one with water bottle holders.....OH life is worth living again!!!!

You cannot imagine the abuse that has been heaped upon me by so-called "loved ones" because of my fanny pack fetish. At last, it is I in my fanny pack that will be featured on the cover of Vogue, the prescient wise and ever so glamorous one. I see that the only mistake I made was in not properly naming this accessory. If only I had thought to call it a "hands free" bag.... I would never have had to suffer through purses.

Yesterday, before I had received this life-changing news, my own lovely purse that Asherel made for me out of duct tape must have had a premonition. This is a TRUE story. I was at the phone store dealing with my phone exorcism (yesterday's post for those of you who think I am making this up), when all of a sudden, the strap of my purse snapped off. I grabbed the purse and had to carry it without a strap until Asherel could repair it. My own purse was giving me a message. Hands free bags- the wave of the future!

I cannot understand why my future daughter in law has not responded to my email asking her what color she wants my mother of the groom fanny pack to be. And why did my son see this news about the fanny pack, send me the link with only one word in his email: " Great." I think perhaps these beloved ones are not true believers.

Surprisingly, the Bible does discuss fanny packs... though of course back in those days they weren't called fanny packs, or even hands free packs.  They were called "purses that will not wear out." They were used as a symbol of what we should be clothing ourselves with. We should be thinking less of fashion,  and more of what covers us with eternal beauty. That is of course Jesus Himself, who hands us fanny packs that will never go out of style.

Luke 12:23
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

Psalm 65:12
The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.

"Nothing is impossible with God"

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dumb Phones

I had not known demonic possession could apply to phones until yesterday. My so called "smart" phone suddenly went berserk. First it wouldn't turn on. I did everything I knew to do. I even offered it Starbucks Extra Extra Robust coffee. It still lay there dead. And then, on its own, it suddenly blasted into life. It began vibrating and lighting up, and dialing random numbers.  Random applications flashed across its touch screen. It buzzed and struggled to open windows which then fluttered, flashed off and on, and then disappeared altogether. It was downright spooky.

I called Verizon.
I listened to the automated list of "Problems I was experiencing". Then a recorded voice asked where I would like to be directed. I said "Priests."
The phone put me through to the technician.
"Hello!" said a cheery voice,"What is your name, please?"
"Well hello Vicky! How can I help you? What's going on?"
"My phone needs an exorcism."
"Oh, I am sorry to hear you are experiencing difficulties. Let's see if we can help you out, shall we?"
"I'd appreciate that, because right now, I am a little afraid to be in the same room with it."
"What exactly is it doing?" he asked.
I glanced at the phone. It had gotten off the counter and was choking the dog.  Not really, but I would not have been surprised if it did.
"It is flashing and dialing random numbers, and then vibrating and shuddering."
"Hmmm. Let me check the owner's manual, Vicky. I am real sorry you are experiencing problems and I do apologize for the inconvenience."
He put me on hold, during which period I tied a clove of garlic around my neck and pointed a weapon menacingly at the phone in case it attacked.
"Well," he said, returning to the call,"It appears this is not normal..."
Do ya think not?

I knew what God was up to here. He knows my thorn in the side, my perennial weakness in the face of frustration and irritation with products that cost a bundle and then don't work. Add to that technicians who are unfailingly polite and trained to empathize with irate customers but quite often don't know the product very well and I tend to become....hmmmm.... like the smart phone gone dumb.I buzz and vibrate and whine and my light that draws others to God grows a little dim and erratic.

So they sent me a new smart phone. Faxed it overnight. When it arrived, the first problem emerged. Neither Asherel nor I could get the battery door on it. I put it in a bag in my purse and we headed to Verizon. I would have them put on the battery door and activate the phone, and all my woes would be over. Praise the Lord.

At the Verizon store, I handed the technician the phone, after explaining we couldn't get the battery door on.
He took it from my hand, and then looked at me.
"It seems to have put the door on itself," he said.
Asherel and I both knew that battery door had NOT been on. This should have been my first clue that this smart phone was a genius.... I knew it remained to be seen if it was a force for good or for evil.
"As long as I am here, can you activate it and be sure all my apps are installed correctly?"
"Sure," he said, "I can talk you through everything." (What he was quickly realizing was that the smart phone user who could not put on the battery door without help might find the next few steps beyond her, where reading and comprehension were critical.)
"Hmmm," he said,"That's odd...."
"What's odd?" My lemon radar was up.
"It won't input the information....."
I saw that it was starting off doing the same wacko things the other phone had done. It was not responding to the touch screen and then it would vibrate, flash, and respond randomly. It seemed to settle down for him, and he brushed off my concerns that Mephistopheles 2 was taking control of my my phone.
"All set!" he said, a half hour later.
I took the phone and we went to our next errand. On the drive, the phone began going crazy, flipping out like the last one had.
 I am worn out. Sometimes I wonder if technology is worth it.
Verizon says I can go look at other phones and see if I would prefer a different one that works.

When Timothy was sent to encourage and check up on the church at Thessalonica, he was worried. He knew they were undergoing many trials, and he was pretty sure they were crumbling under the pressure. And none of them were even dealing with demonic smart phones. To his delight, he found that their faith still stood. And the result of seeing the faith of those who were suffering hardships and persecution was that Timothy and Paul and others were strengthened and encouraged. Hard as it is to remain a loving and shining servant of God when frustration is mounting in many areas, if we do stand firm, we are shoring others up as well. It gives at least some purpose to struggles....small ones like haywire phones, and big ones like grave illness or broken hearts.

I think my phone is giving me a wake-up call. Maybe it is smarter than I thought.....

1 Thessalonians 3: 1-8

 1 So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain. 6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.

Friday, February 11, 2011


The ski patrol medic held my hand. I winced.
"These injuries do hurt alot," he said sympathetically.

He rummaged in the medicine cabinet searching for supplies.
"Ah, here is the one I need," he said pulling out a roll of gauze, scissors, and tape.
"I think I dislocated it," I said,"And felt like passing out, but I wrenched it back in its socket. It hurts alot though."
"This is the most common ski injury," he said, "They call it skiers thumb. Jamming their hand against the ground when they fall."
I nodded, and grimaced as he gently began to wrap my thumb.
"How'd you do it?" he asked.

Drat. I knew he might end up asking that. And first he would want to know how I had enjoyed my day, had I been there since the slope opened at 8, was I on one of those dreaded Black Devil runs......?
Truth be told, I had not yet set foot on the slope.....

"I was tightening my kid's ski boot for her," I admitted.
He didn't bat an eye. They must hear and see alot of wild stories on the ski slopes.
"I was afraid I would go into shock," I said, "Like I did the first time I injured my thumb like this."
"What did you do that time?" he asked, wrapping the thumb carefully.
"I was pushing a grocery cart," I said.
"Yeh, you gotta be careful with contact sports like that," he sympathized

He finished up.
"How does it feel?" he asked.
I pulled my ski glove over it.
"It feels great!" I said, "I don't use my poles anyway. I think I will be fine. Thankyou!"

And off I went to the safer sport of actually skiing.

I had known some sort of punishment awaited me. I am always guilty of something. I was relatively glad I had gotten off so easily. Thankfully, despite a good 20 or 30 runs down the mountain, I didn't fall so I didn't get skiers thumb the way most skiers get it. And Asherel and her friend Alex were making remarkable progress on their snowboards.

It reminded me of another serious injury I had once sustained- a concussion. I got that one vacuuming.

I suppose my life is why I have no problem accepting the Bible as literal truth. No one would believe anything I said if they weren't there to observe it. Fact is always stranger than fiction. But my injury made me think of poor old Jeremiah of the Old Testament, trying to convince the Israelites to stop disobeying God, and trust Him. Sometimes we are afflicted,  and we must endure, because there is no other choice. But ultimately, it is all for good if it turns us back to the only one who can heal our sick soul as well as our dislocated thumbs.

Jeremiah 10: 19-22
 19 Woe to me because of my injury!
   My wound is incurable!
Yet I said to myself,
   “This is my sickness, and I must endure it.”
20 My tent is destroyed;
   all its ropes are snapped.
My children are gone from me and are no more;
   no one is left now to pitch my tent
   or to set up my shelter.
21 The shepherds are senseless
   and do not inquire of the LORD;
so they do not prosper
   and all their flock is scattered.
22 Listen! The report is coming—
   a great commotion from the land of the north!
It will make the towns of Judah desolate,
   a haunt of jackals.

 23 LORD, I know that people’s lives are not their own;
   it is not for them to direct their steps.
24 Discipline me, LORD, but only in due measure—
   not in your anger,
   or you will reduce me to nothing.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ascents and Descents

The phone rang but I ignored it. I never answer the phone when I am teaching art class as I don't want to deprive the kids of one second of my wisdom. After a brief silence it rang again. I still ignored it. It rang a third time and I went to see who was calling. An unknown number. Probably a telemarketer. I returned to my art class where one of the students held up his phone- "Leigh's mom wants to talk to you...."

Lucky, the dog who cannot exist without a day of mischief, had been left loose with his electronic collar on so he could greet the students who came in through the open gate. He had busted out of the electric fence. And now Deenee, my art student's mom, had him in the street, but he didn't want to go back through the electric fence. She had called my home phone three times. I was grumbling about the stupid dog and wondering why Deenee didn't just take off the electric collar to coerce him back in the yard.... when I saw her and Lucky in the street. She was on crutches with a cast on one leg. She held Lucky, tottering on her crutches.

Do you ever feel like you have made really poor choices? You weigh the options, choose a course of action, and then feel like a jerk with the full result of your choices slamming you in the face? And stupid poor choices are one thing. Morally poor choices totally another. Those are accompanied by regret and shame as well as feeling like a knucklehead. I cannot begin to express how deeply I long for wisdom.... for continual, reliable wisdom. And goodness. It just doesn't flow out of me the way it should after all these years of walking with God. It is funny that despite having the world's worst memory, I remember in excruciating clarity every poor choice I have made,  and continue to make. Those haunt me, tugging with icy fingers at my joie de vivre.

Asherel spent another frustrating many days and countless hours on her helicopter, and we did a test flight yesterday morning. After all that work, again, failure. The new wire attachment idea worked, so it didn't break, but it flapped to the ground. She picked it up and the wound rubber band rewound with a resounding smack against her newly repaired rotor, breaking it....again. And then she realized that on both the newly repaired copters, she had attached the rotors backwards. They were flying exactly as they should with rotors pushing them down, down, down....towards Hell.  My usually good natured girl is very close to the breaking point. The very air around her is crystalized...ready to shatter with one more setback.

She went back to work. I went back to prayer. Finally she reemerged with the repaired copters and a woebegone look on her face.
"It won't work," she said.
"Let's try it, " I urged, sighing deeply. I have come to loathe Science Olympiad.
I thought of the highschool student in my art class who is doing the highschool division of the helicopter event.
He has still not started building his, nor researching, nor gathering supplies....and there are now 3 weeks til the contest.
"I suggest you start," I warned grimly.
So we wound Asherel's rubber motor, and she lifted her hand, her face downcast. The helicopter rose out of her hand, and one of the rotors flew off the copter, spiralling to the ground. Miraculously, on just three rotors the helicopter flew for about 20 seconds. This bodes well for what it will do with 4 working rotors.
"Fix it and call that one done. We won't test it again til the team meeting."
There is only so much stress a twig can take before it snaps.

So once again, we are leaving our 70 hour weeks behind and going skiing today. The mountains have fresh powder that was supposed to fall all night but stop conveniently in time for the plows to clear the roads. Asherel and I need to purposely race downward instead of being dragged down against our will.

Continual failure and set backs marked the journey of the Jewish people out of Egypt into the promised land. Some of the failure was due to their own stubborn disobedience, and some due to the evil idolatry and corruption of the people in the lands they traveled through. Any way about it, the Jews struggled in a perpetual see-saw between trusting and following God with joyful wholeheartedness, and giving over into sin and despair over failure after failure after failure. What Asherel, Lucky, and I are experiencing is nothing new. Failure and setbacks are a part of life, sometimes a huge part. Somehow, one has to waddle through the mud of tribulation.

I have a few favorite verses in the Bible, but the past few mornings, one in particular keeps coming back to me, "I lift mine eyes unto the hills. Where does my help come from? "  Yes, I can identify with that despair, looking all around wondering when will triumph blast its trumpet in my ear? I know Asherel can relate. But the rest of the verse is the part that suddenly covers me with relief and peace:
"My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth."

To the snow covered hills we will lift our eyes today. The creator or heaven and earth will hopefully be working on the helicopter while we are gone.......

Psalm 121

A song of ascents. 1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
   where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
   the Maker of heaven and earth.
 3 He will not let your foot slip—
   he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
   will neither slumber nor sleep.
 5 The LORD watches over you—
   the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
   nor the moon by night.
 7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
   he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
   both now and forevermore.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Engraved Names

Honeybun NA, NAJ.
This is our dog's official name now, according to AKC. She is a titled dog. We got the proof in the mail yesterday. We laughed at the simple, unobtrusive name, incongruously followed by titles. She doesn't act any differently. She sniffed her official notification, printed in fancy, framable letters. Big deal, so she jumps and navigates agility obstacles now beyond novice level. She isn't going to get sucked into this fame and fortune thing.
But we are.

"Mom," said Asherel, "We can get a medallion with her name and titles engraved on it."
"How much?"
"They start at $25."
"I don't think so," I said.

But while she wasn't looking, I read the fine print. The back of the medallion is left blank so the owner can engrave the dog's name and title on it...themselves....It isn't even engraved for $25!

This reminds me of the American Poetry Assoc... or some similarly named group contest that Matthias entered when he was a young boy. He wrote a lovely poem, which of course as his mom I cherished .  Lo and behold, he received an official paper with his name and poem on it, claiming he was one of their "winners" and his prize was publication in their book. We could order the book with all the "winners" poetry for just $150!  I am a rotten, cynical mother, so instead, I cut out his poem, and hung it on the refrigerator.

We are such a vain species. We so long for recognition. If we don't get it by doing good things, we seek after it by doing bad things. We hate to think we are just a nobody, a speck of dust floating by like all the other nameless specks of dust. I like to challenge myself to try to understand- "who am I when no one is looking...when no one knows what I am doing, thinking, being?"  I am not sure I can answer that question. Not fully. The closest I can get is to consider what brings me unquenchable joy. When I am in the presence of unquenchable joy, I am probably most who I am at the core. We all have different lists of what brings that overwhelming joy, but I think it is a good list to ponder.

Solomon is probably the most famous of these kinds of seekers. In the Bible book Ecclesiastes, he searches for the meaning of life, what gives him value, satisfaction, joy.  He admits it is not wealth, women, or wild living. He tried all those things, and ultimately realized they failed him. It is not fame- he was King! Still he was not convinced life was anything greater than a futile grasping of the wind.

I think this is why I like dogs so much. They are seemingly so content to be fed, loved, and eat an occasional dead squirrel or chase a ball. Their needs are so simple. They appear to find joy in simply being. How many of us can honestly say that? I know I can't.  I am not content to just be.... I want titles after my name that could be engraved on a silver medalion.

The funny thing is... I have that.

When the disciples returned from one of the missions Jesus had sent them on to proclaim His name, they are pretty full of themselves, because  "even the demons submit to us!" It is a heady thing, power. But Jesus quickly reminds them that is not what they should be rejoicing over. Instead, He tells them, their names are engraved by God Himself. Rejoice over that. My name is engraved in Heaven.

I threw away the AKC medallion offer. Honeybun still curled up at my feet that night and turned adoring eyes upon me. Her name was engraved on my heart, and that is all she cared about.

Luke 10: 17-20
 17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
 18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”