Thursday, March 31, 2011

Light and Strong

The trebuchet team snagged a carbon fiber hockey stick for our trebuchet arm. In the name of science, they attended the Charlotte Checkers hockey game, noted the moment a stick was cracked, and raced to the hockey team to beg them for the broken stick. I wasn't there, but I bet I know how the discussion went:
"Can we have your broken hockey stick?" Josh pleaded.
"Are you nuts! These sticks sell for $500 or more a piece."
"They don't do you any good broken."
"What do you want it for? Cracking it over your brother's head? We don't condone violence, ya know."  Here they chuckled and bashed each other good naturedly on the knee caps.
"We have made a trebuchet and the arm is oak....strong but heavy. We made the Science Olympiad State competition with our strong team performance, but we are still flinging only about a third as far as we need to fling to have a shot at medalling at States."

The hockey players looked at each other, their eyes glistening with tears. They knew about the desire to win, and they loved the concept of warfare, which of course the trebuchet was designed for in the Middle Ages. All you need to do is attend one minute of any hockey game to know that these folk understand combat.

"Well, all right, you can have the stick. Do you get extra points for bruising the other contestants?"
"No, it's not really like hockey in that respect."

They grinned and skated back on the ice, smacking and hurtling the other team members out of the way with their $500 carbon fiber sticks.
"Wow," said Josh, "If our hockey stick arm throws stuff that far, we are gonna win!"

We test the super light, super strong stick today. It is a stronger arm, though half the weight of our oak arm. I love the image of this strong arm that could possibly hurl things 60 meters. It reminds me of the strongest arm I know. That arm is invisible but it reaches down, and snatches the worst of us out of the grip of destruction and sets us down safely an eternity away from the ravages of sin, if we let it. It holds us lightly, but its reach is infinite, and its strength can never be broken.

"Do you think all this effort with the new arm will be worth it?" asked my team. One nodded, one shook his head.
I shrugged. I thought of that other arm, strong but gentle, and so light upon us, beckoning and withholding the full power of His strength, longing to pull us toward Him but letting us decide which direction we will head.

Psalm 79:11
11 May the groans of the prisoners come before you;
   with your strong arm preserve those condemned to die.

2 Chronicles 15:
7 But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Being Watched

While Asherel had her horseback lesson, I offered to do some odd job to help out at the stable. The owner is a wonderful lady who dedicates her barn to God. It is called His Barn. I just love everything about it.

"Well, this back room really needs to be cleaned," said Jillian squinching up her nose, "... but it is a nasty job. It used to be stalls and all these boards need to be moved and the stuff underneath shoveled out. It is moldy and dusty. You probably don't want to do that.....?"

Of course I want to do that! Who in their right mind wouldn't want to do that!? I mean I just watched a video of the tsunami hitting Japan. I am just thankful to be alive and not own a house on the beach (for once!). I gathered tools and gloves and set to work. A lovely brown horse with a white blaze had his standing stall facing the room where I was working. He reached his muzzle out to me as I worked right in front of him.

Since my hands were gloved and gross already with dust and who knows what else, I touched my cheek to his muzzle. He breathed warm air on my face. There is almost nothing softer or sweeter than a horse's muzzle. If you want to ease all the aches of the world that lie on your heart, kiss a horse's muzzle. It goes a long way towards comfort. While I shoveled and scraped, and wondered if perhaps I really didn't want this job, the horse watched. Every few minutes, I would walk over to him and lean my face against his muzzle.
"What do you think?" I asked him, when I finished brooming the last of the debris away in the first section.
He looked at me with clear affirmation in his gentle eyes.
"Wow," said a young lady who volunteers there, "That looks great."
"Yeh.... If I would put this much effort into cleaning my house, imagine the results!"
"I know, or my bedroom..," she laughed.
We looked out over the clean stall, and wondered in silence why it is that we will sometimes ignore the obvious needs at home to do such wondrous works abroad.

The horse breathed in the now fresher air at his head. That's what I need in my kitchen- a horse watching. I would clean a lot more joyfully if I could just lay my cheek on a horse's accepting and appreciative muzzle now and then. Maybe I just need an audience. Someone clapping and cheering would be nice too. As mothers, and keepers of the home, we are usually more likely to hear notice when we have offered up something green on the dinner plate. It is rarely complimentary. Sometimes, what we do needs to be done with the clear conscience of doing what is good, what is right, just because it is good, and it is right. Sometimes, the most affirmation we will get is the soft air puffing out of a horse's muzzle. Often, we won't even get that.

A friend posted something on Facebook recently that stopped me short. She said that maybe being a selfish jerk was the way to go in this world. They seem to get all the rewards. Perhaps doing the responsible, and right thing just wasn't really worth it. Job, the Old Testament model of patient suffering, asked the same thing.
In Job 21, he cries out, " I am scrubbing toilets out of the goodness of my heart, and for this I get my children killed, my crops ruined, and hideous boils on my face ?" (This is a paraphrase , Vicky translation.)
The wicked do seem to thrive sometimes, while the righteous go on struggling, unnoticed, and often maligned. And God never really answers Job. He simply appears to Job near the end of the book, and Job needs no further explanation. Seeing God is all Job needs and he is content. I don't know exactly what he saw, but I suspect it was a glimpse of eternity.

I glanced at the dust bunnies hopping along my wall boards. Today I will tackle them. There isn't a horse in my kitchen with a soft muzzle and encouraging nicker, but I am being watched.

Genesis 16:13
“You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tangles of Life

Our Science Olympiad Helicopter team devised a clever way to retrieve our helicopters when they got stuck in the gym rafters. They tied fishing line to a big fat rubberband. Then Asherel positioned me, with my arms outstretched above my head, one end of the rubber band under my finger nail. She then lay on the floor, pulling the other end of the rubber band as far as she could and carefully aiming.
"Move left Mom! Not that left! The other left! Now forward. Too far! Back. Now don't move."
Then the rubber band would shoot up, twanging past my ear with its line of fishing string trailing, like a harpoon. We found the fishing line critical since we were losing too many rubber bands in the rafters. When they would finally hit the helicopter, they would tug on the fishing line and haul in the catch.

The only difficulty with this ingenious helicopter retrieval system is that no matter how carefully we put away our rubberband harpoon, the line always tangled when we needed it next.We could waste half our practice session untangling the fishing line. Fishing line is one of the most impossible materials to untangle. The only thing more difficult to untangle is life.

I won't share the specifics, but yesterday was one of those tangled life days that looked impossible to untangle. Just when we thought we were beginning to ease the knots a little in some fairly important aspects of our sojourn here on earth,  new undesirable events tugged in just the wrong direction. When I stopped blowing my nose and dabbing at my eyes, all I could see were hopeless, insurmountable tangles.

Our helicopter team discovered there were only two ways to untangle fishing line. The easiest is to just cut away the knot. Sometimes you can lose as much as half the line or more. I usually opt for the 'cut away the knot' method, but the kids have more patience, and something inside them just won't let them snip the errant section off. Instead, while I cross my arms, and tap my toes, and twiddle my fingers against my elbows, they methodically and carefully start at one end, and untie every tangle until we have at least enough line to shoot our rubberband harpoon again.

In the tangles of life, most of the time I can't use method one. It means cutting away my heart, or the equivalent, since it usually involves a loved one. I am stuck with method two. Slowly, laboriously, patiently starting at the first knot and with bloodied fingers, working it free....then moving onto the next.

In the midst of life knot untying yesterday, Asherel asked me to practice guitar with her. I am a horrid guitar player, but I do love it. Asherel is a good teacher and told me to pick a favorite song that I would love to practice. She would help me learn it. I spent a couple of days thinking about it. And then I told her I would like to learn "Eidelweiss".  I really didn't feel like leaving the tangled knots of life I was working on, even to practice Eidelweiss, but Asherel begged me. So I settled next to my dear daughter who finger plucked the melody while I strummed the chords and sang. My voice cackles and cracks more than it used to when my dad and I would belt it out on our Sunday drives. I have to strain to reach the high notes.... but some of the sadness of the day did melt away as I sang and made music with my girl.

The song is a simple one. It has a sweet simple melody and easy chords. It is about a flower. The Eidelweiss plant originated on the harsh steppes of Asia. It was able to survive there because of deep, fibrous roots, and also a felt like covering on its leaves. The deep roots help it to cling to the soil through the harsh winds of the steppes, and the covering of the leaves prevents scorching from the often brutal sun. In the movie, The Sound of Music, the song Eidelweiss becomes the anthem of freedom, love of homeland and family, the strength to persevere in the face of impossible circumstances.

"Can we videotape this song of you and me singing?" I asked Asherel. The girl who hates to have her picture taken finally acquiesced when I grovelled at her feet.
"Please, it would mean so much to me...and to my mom. It's her favorite song. I'll send her the video."
So we sang and played Eidelweiss about a thousand times. Sometimes we would start and she would miss a note. Take 2. Sometimes I would play the wrong chord.Take 3. Sometimes I would be unable to suppress unexplained laughter and we would have to cut and begin again.Take 4, 5, 6, etc. After about 290 takes, we finally got one that didn't sound too awful. As we watched the playback, I cringed. Is that old, serious looking lady really me? Why did it sound so beautiful while I was singing it? The American Idol judges would not only call it "pitchy," but I am pretty sure they would threaten to resign unless someone cut out my vocal cords immediately and fed them to the sharks before they could inflict more pain and suffering.

I may not send it to my mom. I may wait til the science of vocal transplant has been perfected. The tangles I was working on were still there when we finished our guitar lesson. But of their own accord, some of the knots seemed a little less tight. I will try to be an Eidelweiss, I decided.

After all, my roots are deep and I am covered.

Jeremiah 17: 7-8
 7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
   whose confidence is in him.
8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
   that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
   its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
   and never fails to bear fruit.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

Snow in Spring?

Mistake. Never head to church in spring clothes without checking the weather report first.
"I'm freezing!" I complained to Asherel, as we hurried across the church campus.
"Oh Mom, it's not cold! It's spring!"
I held out my hand, and caught a little snowflake.
"Then what is this? It is snowing!"
"No, it is It is snowing!"

This is just plain cruel of mother nature.All winter long we sit in the living room, bundled and ready with cross country skis in hand, scarfs triple wrapped around our throat, waterproof mittens on our hands, furlined boots on our feet. And we sweat, and wait.....any moment now the snow will arrive!

And it never does.

Until, we put on sandals and thin cotton capris, and yellow shirts.

Admittedly, the snow was very tiny, and very brief, and mixed in with the drizzling rain, so few people noticed, but it is still officially spring in the south and snow just shouldn't be making an appearance among the tulips and dogwood blossoms. Normally I love incongruity. It snaps me out of the doldrums. I like surprises. I like my neat little boxes around life shattered. I love the idea of a jumbo shrimp, a virgin giving birth, a boat built in the desert that has never seen rain until it rains for 40 days and nights, the least of all people on earth being chosen to produce the Savior of Mankind.....

But I hate being cold. And snow in the spring is just not funny.

Isaiah 64

 1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
   that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
   and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
   and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
   you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Goose Busters

As I pulled into the Alzheimers parking lot, I was behind a large van labeled, "Goose Busters". There was a big black circle with a slash painted through it over the photo of a Canada Goose. While I laughed, and found it a clever slogan, it bothered me too. Geese are considered a menace. I can understand this concern around airports where a single goose sucked into a giant jet engine can cripple an airplane. But the main reason people don't want geese in their parks or streets? Goose poop. Geese are messy and inconvenient, so who ya gonna call? Goose Busters!

I wonder how they bust the goose?

A half century ago, geese were almost extinct due to overhunting. Now, there are too many geese, and each goose produces as much as a pound a day of goose poop. While my dog Lucky considers goose poop a delicacy, most of us cringe at the sight of those greenish blobs scattered on our park walkways. So, surprisingly, there are many internet sites about "goose busting".

Some goose busters use trained border collies. The collies don't kill the geese. They herd them. That is what border collies love to do. But geese, it turns out, do not love to be herded. After a little border collie treatment, the geese fly off to someone else's yard or park to lay down their pound of poop. Or for just $900, you can invest in your own device, also called a Goosebuster. This utilizes sonic warfare. An audio device blasts rap music 24 hours a day which drives geese and old people away. This is a particularly popular item with the under 25 crowd. Actually, it uses "sound waves and audio signals" to disorient and confuse the geese. They don't specify the nature of these sound waves, thus I hypothesized rap music, but it is possible they are broadcasting "Ode to Joy". At any rate, the geese become so disoriented and bewildered that some have been known to immediately vacate the property in droves....flying in a wobbly line straight to the nearest Alzheimer unit.  None of them know why they are there, but even confused geese still poop a pound a day. That is why, I suspect, the Goose Buster truck was pulling into the parking lot as I was that day. I cannot help but wonder why the Goose Busters believe "disoriented and confused" geese to be less of a menace than geese with their full mental faculties intact.

I thought of all the things in the world I would love to see busted, and geese are not on the list. For starters, I would like to bust Alzheimers. Then, after clearing up that scourge I would move on to war, disease, natural disaster, and the coup de grace, plastic flowers planted outdoors around mailboxes.

But the dirty little secret, the part of goose busting that is implied but never explicitly mentioned....all these humane goose busters do indeed have impressive success rates driving the geese away. But the geese are not gone; just relocated and someone else's problem! This is the basis of nearly all the world's woes, in my opinion. As long as it doesn't hurt me, it is not a problem. If I am not the one sidestepping the goose poop, case closed!

I took a deep breath, stepped around the goose poop, and steeled myself for the walk through the Alzheimers unit to visit my old friend.

Exodus 4: 12-13
12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
 13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

Saturday, March 26, 2011

As Alexander the Great once said.......

The projectile headed up, up, up, through the tree limb and down down down. It had traveled about a meter forward.
After hours of adjustments to our trebuchet, hammering, filing, sawing, brainstorming..... it was shooting projectiles worse than ever.
"What are we doing wrong?" I groaned.
So back to the drawing board, back to tinkering, and now it is slightly better on average than it was before the regional Science Olympiad competition. Very slightly. I understand that some of the schools have scientists, engineers, experts in the field called in to consult with and work with  the kids. As homeschoolers, all my team has is me.

"We have to figure out if we want to use the short sling, the middle sling, or the long sling," I told Josh and Asherel, my trebuchet team.
"Well," said Josh solemnly, his chin thrust forward, "As Alexander the Great once said- it is not the high road, or the low road, but the middle road you should take."
I blinked at Josh.
"Did he really say that?" I asked.
"Probably!" declared Josh, "I mean he might have. He could have."

Right before our practice, I had received an email from the agent I most want to represent my book, the one I have been writing, editing, revising, and peddling for two years now. The agent said my proposal was very professional, and she was interested! BUT....always those buts that stick their noses in every bit of good news and mangle it, I needed to work on my 'platform' section, the part that indicates I have a market frothing at the mouth in anticipation of my book. For example, she continued, I don't mention radio or TV appearances. Radio or TV appearances?

I can see it now. The local news has caught wind that I want to publish a book. Put that newsreel on the bombing of Libya on hold! Someone has written a book and might publish it someday! Breaking news!  Can't you just picture the anchorman setting me down across from him:
"Well Vicky, before we begin, could you again reiterate exactly why we are interviewing you? My notes indicate you hope to publish a book? While this is indeed fascinating, can you tell me if there is anything you have actually done that might interest our viewers?"
I whisper a few hurried words in his ear.
"Hahaha, well no, I am not sure that raising a rabbit in 4H actually is the sort of thing I meant. Do you have any other accomplishments, something that raises you from the status of a nobody?"
And so on.

I wrote back and told the agent that while I fully expected someone might want to interview me for a radio or TV appearance after I published my book, I wasn't quite sure they could be persuaded to do so beforehand.

And then this blog I write. I get about 20,000 hits a year. The agent gets 20,000 hits a month on her blog. And even that is not enough. I need to find a way to find more people to read my blog. I need to increase my readership at least ten fold. Everyone has advised me on that. One suggestion- add interesting sidebars, like recipes to my blog.
"Oh yes," agreed Asherel, "Press the 2 button on the microwave."
"Now that was funny..." I said, "Disrespectful, but funny."
And alas, true. Josh had brought in the trebuchet and was chatting with us while I whipped up dinner.
I opened a box of chicken cordon bleu, ripped off the cellophane, plopped it on the cookie sheet and set the oven at 400. This special meal only occurs rarely.
"I make chicken cordon bleu!" said Josh.
"Do you pull it out of a box too?" I asked.
"Oh no, I roll ham, and provolone in the actual chicken breast. It is delicious. Then I coat it in breadcrumbs..."
Josh is 13. No, I don't think recipe sidebars on my blog are exactly my forte.

"Well," asks the TV anchorman, "Vicky, what exactly is your forte?"

At our helicopter practice, right before trebuchet practice, Ben insisted the .09 rubber band motor was going to be too strong for his helicopter.
"Look Ben, it is what the experts recommend. We have to try it to find out or we will never know."
So under protest, he wound the heavy rubber on his helicopter, which snapped off his motor hook , flailed around like a club and smashed his week of work to smithereens.
He looked pointedly at me.

"Vicky," said the anchorman, "I am waiting. We cut to commercial in 20 seconds. Can you summarize why exactly the producer put you on this show?"

"Well, as Alexander the Great once said, greatness is not measured by what you do, but by your heart."
The anchorman arched his eyebrow, "Did Alexander the Great really say that?"
"Probably! He might have....he could have."

Matthew 19:29-30

29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The times, they are a changin'

Every leaf that flutters by the front door causes an eruption of barking. We keep a squirt bottle labeled "No Bark Spray" by the front door. It is filled with highly noxious bark deterrent spray, chemically known as H2O. However, it only momentarily deters the barking.

"Have you tried adding vinegar to it?" asked Asherel.
"No, that just seems cruel."
"That's what the dog experts recommend."
"Then our dogs and house will smell like vinegar. That's worse than the barking."

The breeze blew and a twig skittered across the lawn. The dogs sensing the imminent Armageddon sure to follow again pierced our tiny ear drums with their vociferous warning.

We squirted them with the Bark Deterrent Spray, and collapsed heavily into the living room chairs.
"This is getting old," I pronounced, "How long have we been trying to change this behavior? Three years? When do you think they will change?"

Change is hard.

I taught my art class this week and one of my very talented artists sketched in a face she was drawing using a magazine picture as her guide. She is beyond the level of just drawing the roughly correct shapes. She needs guidance in more careful drawing of exactly what she sees. I told her she had drawn it beautifully, but she had drawn a face-on model, and the picture was of a model with her head turned. I held a ruler down the center of her picture and down the center of the model's face.
"See how much larger this side of the model's face is than this side? That's because her face is turned. Now do that with your picture."
She put the ruler on her picture and saw she equally divided the face.

"Can we just pretend the model is looking right at us?" she begged.
"You could," I said, "But then all your picture will be out of your head. Every single feature is drawn differently when the angle of the face changes. You will have to guess how to draw it. It won't be drawing what you see. My advice is to change it now before you get too far or every aspect of it will be a struggle."
She looked close to tears. I felt bad. Perhaps I should've just let it go. It is always touchy knowing how far to push my better students. But inevitably when they finish the picture if I don't help them correct those initial errors, they are dissatisfied, and by then, it is too late to do much more than say the change needed to be made long ago.

When I brought Comer to Evelyn in the Alzheimer unit yesterday, she looked up listlessly as we approached. There was no sparkling glow of recognition, no spreading smile of delight. I actually feared she was dead at first, her eyes looked so lifeless.
"Hey Mama," said Comer gently, pulling her up, "Stand up. Vicky is here to take us for a ride."
"Would you like to go for a ride?" I asked, "The wisteria are blooming."
"Go for a ride...." she said weakly, "Blooming...."
She walked between us and when we reached the elevator, she glanced at Comer.
"Oh," she said, "I love you so much!"
" I love you too, " smiled her dear old husband.
We got McDonald's icecream, which Evelyn ate with gusto and we drove to the millionaire development with streets and streets of mansions. We all pointed at the houses we loved, and oohed and aahed over the magnificence, the opulence.
Evelyn sat in the front seat with her icecream, and a smile on her face. She laughed at Comer's jokes, and then out of the blue asked me how much I felt my house was worth.

When we dropped her back at the Alzheimers building, and headed on to the Assisted Living apartment Comer lived in, he said sadly he didn't feel she was long for this world. She had stopped eating, the nurses said.
"She ate the icecream happily enough!" I said, surprised.
"I don't know why," said Comer, "But I have an overwhelming sense of guilt."
I'd like to say I knew exactly what words to offer that would explain, comfort.... but I didn't.
"You are doing all you can for her," I told him gently, "You are doing your best. That is all you can do."
He nodded and I saw him soundlessly crying as he shuffled off to the front door of his building.
I hopped out of the car and hurried past men carrying a mattress out of the building. It crossed my mind that someone must have died, and their furniture was being taken away. I caught up with Comer and hugged him again.
"You are doing the best you can," I told him again.

Change is hard. It is hard for dogs; it is hard for children struggling to learn new things; and it is hard for old folk struggling to adapt to a world that makes no sense and brings so much pain. Most of us kick and scream and rail against change. There is one final change we will all undergo, and that is the one we should keep our sights on. Our mortal body will be exchanged one final time for an immortal one.  I am hoping for a leggy, shapely blond one who always says the right things and knows how to comfort with a single word.

1 Corinthians 15: 50-58
 50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
 55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
   Where, O death, is your sting?”
 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
 58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dirty medicine

I love the fresh, scented warm breeze softly fluttering the curtains as it swirls into the house on these glorious spring days. With joy, I opened the window, and reached my winter white cheeks to the sun. I took a long deep breath, and then my lungs were instantly coated in yellow pollen, and my eyes suddenly looked as though a massive and sudden onset of conjunctivitis had ensnared me. My nose became a leaky faucet, trying in vain to wash away the allergens that were marching like soldiers through my respiratory system. Remember that rose and thorn symbol of yesterday's post? Spring is a rose with thorns for me.

I love spring. I love the radiant flowers, the blooming dogwood and cherry, the sweeping golden forsythia, the flocks of happy birds, the call of geese returning, the naked trees spectacularly and in a moment clothed in lime green, the warm days when tshirts are all one needs to wear.  But in the south, and in most areas, the enemy of the lovers of spring is the pollen. Here in Charlotte, a thick mustard yellow pollen covers everything in the spring.

I only have allergies for about 2 or 3 weeks right at this time of the year. But they become debilitating if I don't take allergy medicine. The sad thing is right when the weather is briefly the most perfect weather for opening windows and airing out the house, I can only do so at risk of being swallowed whole in a sneeze.

Did you know that many allergists believe that if we are not exposed to dirt while we are young we develop allergies? I don't get why I have allergies then, because I was a very dirty little girl. And I worked on a farm ingesting all kinds of worms, and filth there. Maybe I would have allergies all year instead of just those 3 weeks if I hadn't eaten all that dirt as a kid. Maybe I should have eaten more!  All those clean freak moms with those pristine, sterile homes, remember this information. It may prevent a life time of suffering for your children. Stop vacuuming, stop removing shoes when you enter your home, stop that compulsive scrubbing. You are setting your kids up for bankruptcy in kleenex purchases. Dirt may not taste good, and it may look ugly, but who knew that the filthy little urchins were prepping their immune system for future onslaught?

It is of course illustrative of another of God's clear teachings. It is the struggles, the trials, the dirt along the path that molds and shapes our character.  A little struggle now reaps the ability to overcome greater struggles then. That is why James who coincidentally wrote the book of James tells us to count it ALL joy when we encounter many trials. It strengthens us for the really really big trials that might otherwise consume us. If we haven't learned to overcome the little things, it is not likely we will be prepared to overcome the big things. Remember that students when you ask ,"Why do I need to do this math? I will never use it!" You might not use that particular quadratic equation, but I assure you, the brain cells being exercised by it will undoubtedly come in handy some day. Practice lying, you become a liar. Practice complaining, you become a complainer. Practice overcoming, you learn to overcome. You become an overcomer, instead of being the overcomee. You swallow the dirt instead of it swallowing you. Get my drift?

It is clear that I must take a moratorium on cleaning. Off to the verdant hills sprinkled with blossoms I will go to ingest my medicine of dirt.

John 16:32-33

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Life among the thorns

I got a call asking for a donation for the youth auction to fund a missionary trip they will be going on. Asherel cannot go because it is at the time of Matt's wedding, but every year I donate some art work. I never know if it sells. I don't want to know. If it doesn't sell, I will be depressed, and if it does sell, I might wish I had kept it. It is always a little agonizing, choosing the art to donate.  The artwork I create becomes a piece of me, almost like a child, and it is difficult to part with any of them. I fear I may never be able to draw like that again. So this year, I brought a few old favorites down from the attic and they watched me from their perch against the wall.
"So just like that, you are so willing to sever our relationship?" accused the ocean scene.
"It is not that I want to," I answered, "I  am doing a mitzvah."
"What's that?"
"I understand your confusion, since you see it so rarely from me. It is a good deed, a connection to God, with no hope of reward. You just do it because it is the right thing to do."
"You need more mitzvahs in your life," agreed the ocean scene, "But does it have to be at my expense?"
"Well what else am I going to do with you?"
"Save me for your son and future daughter in law. She seems to have good taste. I'll bet she would be thrilled to hang me on her wall. And what about your future grandchildren? Might they not want to remember when you had talent and produced beautiful things?"

So, in the end, I decided the ocean scene was correct. I instead took an old picture I had done of a rose, and let the Spirit guide my hand as I tried to create something beautiful. I knew the rose itself was somehow not enough. It was not complete.

When I finished it, I leaned it against the wall.
"Are you giving me up to the auction?" asked the rose, as it squirmed on its bed of thorns on the cross.
"Yes, I am afraid I have to. I have run out of time, and so you will have to find a new home among strangers."
"Well that is exactly where I belong!" said the rose, its perky petals blooming.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you already received my message. After all, you pulled it out of your subconscious to draw me. Now I need to go bless someone else."
I looked at the rose for a long time, and finally admitted, "The subconscious can be a deep and treacherous place. Can you tell me exactly what message I was supposed to be receiving?"
"No," said the rose, "Some things are better understood on your own."

Last night I had a dream that Asherel and I went on a bike trip. It was to be a trip where we would bike across a lovely countryside for a long time, and camp along the way. As we gathered to meet our team leader, I realized I had forgotten two things- our bikes.... and our camping supplies.  The two things I most needed for the journey, I didn't have.

Life is indeed a bed of roses....but not only roses. In the midst of that beauty and that fragrant life, there are thorns. And there is sacrifice. Without that, perhaps we miss the most important things. We may be in a good place....a beautiful place, but with no means to carry us to a better place, the best place.

As I handed the rose to the woman at the church collecting the auction donations, she smiled, "This is beautiful!"
"Thank you," I told her, "If it doesn't sell, may I have it back?"
The rose blushed. "Go in peace. You understand," she whispered.

Mark 15

 1 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.  2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.
   “You have said so,” Jesus replied.
 3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
 5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.
 6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
 9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
 12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
 13 “Crucify him!” they shouted.
 14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
   But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
 15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Isaiah 53:4-6

 4 Surely he took up our pain
   and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
   stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
   and by his wounds we are healed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring break

I counted the weeks til summer.
"Oh, we need to work in a spring break," I told Asherel.
She glanced up from a particularly pesky Algebra 2 function problem.
"Oh, do we have to?" she whined.
"Yes, you have worked very hard this year. All work and no play is not healthy."
"I don't want to stop our school days which drag from morning til night. What could be more fun than spending two hours on difficult math concepts that even you and dad cannot explain?  And why would I want to stop those beautifully painted images in words of the starving Jews as they freeze to death in Siberia? If we don't learn history, Mom, we are doomed to repeat it."
"I know dear, and all of that is indeed critical, but it is ok, even valuable to take time for relaxing."
"Mom, there is already too much knowledge to absorb in a single lifetime. I would prefer we just increase our school hours. ... not take a spring break. In fact, could we just move on to 9th grade and work over the summer? How many advanced classes do you think I should take?"
"I don't know. Maybe you should enjoy your fleeting childhood."
"Oh Mom, don't be silly! There is nothing, nothing more enjoyable than the privilege of learning, especially under so fine and well versed in all areas a teacher as yourself...."
"But you have had so little sleep this year, up so early every morning, and all that extra work on Science Olympiad which you had the misfortune to do well in so that now you have to work even harder to prepare for the State contest."
"Mom, I can sleep when I am in the grave. Now is the time to seize every moment of education my excellent brain can absorb. God has not given me this gift of intelligence only to squander it on Mario Cart or Rock Band."

At this point, I awoke.

We are indeed in the enviable position of needing to schedule a week off. The rest of the conversation above is a literary genre known as "complete fabrication." Sometimes my daydreams merge with reality and I have trouble discerning which is which. I remember a very convincing lunatic once messing with my brain and laying out rock solid logic for thinking dreams are the true reality and our waking moments only a dream. I had the same dismaying sense of losing my mind when I first began to truly try to understand the concept of eternity, or infinity, or for that matter, consciousness. There are so many concepts we toss about as though we can grasp them when they are impossible to understand.

It is ironic that the most impossible concept to grasp, an eternal, infinite, omniscient, omnipresent God addresses this issue of imponderables in the Bible. And what does He mention that can never be understood?

18 “There are three things that are too amazing for me,
   four that I do not understand:
19 the way of an eagle in the sky,
   the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
   and the way of a man with a young woman. (Proverbs 30)

Eagels, snakes, ships, and love. Those four great imponderables.  I have read this verse probably thousands of times....yet I never paused to say, "Of all the things that we limited humans cannot grasp....why are these 4 the great imponderables?" Honestly, I have not got the foggiest notion. I suspect the author didn't get out much. Maybe he needed a Spring break too. The key usually is in the subtle meanings of specific words. The writer doesn't understand in each case, the "way". The word 'way', in the earliest translations is the hebrew word 'derek', and it means a course of life, journey, mode of action, a road or path one trods.

Is this the same "way" as in Jesus 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me."? Well, one is Hebrew and the other is Greek. The "way" to Jesus is from the Greek word "hodos" and it means mode or means for a journey, or progress. In both cases, the mode of action is what is at question.  It means primarily the course or highway, but can also mean a way of thinking, feeling, and deciding. I think that helps me understand why the author of Proverbs found those 4 seemingly simple things imponderable. Understanding the Eagle's decisions in the path he chooses to fly, or the snake's thoughts that prompt him to choose that rock rather than another, or the captain's choice to steer his ship around that wave and not the next, or the thoughts that prompt a young man to choose one woman over another......

I think maybe it is the course of our decisions that guide our choices, be we eagles, snakes, or God-seekers that is so imponderable. Ultimately, any way about it, a path is chosen, and the Way to life in the Bible is abundantly clear.

"Could we find a way to go to NY city for spring break?" asked Asherel.

Joshua 3:4
4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.
Deuteronomy 29: 2-4
   Your eyes have seen all that the LORD did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. 3 With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those signs and great wonders. 4 But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Trimming Despair

I don't know why it didn't occur to me sooner. All I had to do was part my hair on the right instead of on the left, flop the bangs over the most disgusting healing freeze wounds, and no one would ever need to know that I had had an extended encounter with a dermatologist.

I went to church and interacted with people who had no idea what lurked under my bangs. I didn't feel the need to wear a burka anymore. I could show myself in public again, without evoking piteous glances.

Asherel had the opposite problem. She had a beautiful young face with bangs that were falling over her eyes. Given the horrific results of her last haircut, she was adamant that no hairdresser would touch anything but her bangs. She has seen the result of my own self clipping and wanted no part of me playing hairdresser for a day either. I was hoping that if we could get her to a good hairdresser, she might fix all the uneven mess left by the last one. I hoped she would also be well trained in psychology because I had not been able to persuade Asherel that sometimes cutting more off, just a little more, made the whole cut work.

We went to a hairdresser that had cut Asherel's hair years ago. The hairdresser had a parrot and this was a huge draw for Asherel. As we headed out, I was thinking of the sweet lady I often sit behind in church. Over the years, I have come to know her and knew that one of the tormenting struggles in her life was an estranged daughter. The daughter married a man that seems to have poisoned her against her family. This time, as I caught up with my friend in the few minutes before church, I found out the man has bipolar illness. And he doesn't take his medicine, because he doesn't like the way it makes him feel. The family had only found this out recently, after two years of enduring the distancing daughter, and the hateful son in law.
"So what do I do?" mourned my friend, "Her birthday is coming but how can I invite her over with him? He is so hateful."
"You know, it is probably the disease you are seeing, not him," I said, "Someone he trusts needs to convince him to take the medicine."
Church started and I sat in my pew praying for the poor sad situation.

I snapped back to the present dilemma as the hairdresser, Carla, approached.
"Who needs a haircut?" she asked, "Ah you!" She looked markedly at me with my new part and sideswept bangs concealing a forehead of horrors. She looked perilously close to touching my festering forehead.
"NO, her!" I exclaimed thrusting Asherel forward.
"The last hairdresser cut off all her beautiful hair far shorter than she wanted, and look at how uneven and well.... can you do anything to help it?"
"And cut off my bangs," said Asherel.
"Oh you poor thing!" cried Carla. (This is a woman after my own heart, one who understands the trauma of a bad haircut.)
"Come with me," she cooed, putting her arm around Asherel," I can make this better. And I promise, I will not cut one millimeter off than I have to."
She spent an hour on the cut. Midway through she came in my direction to get supplies and whispered, "That last cut was so uneven! Was the hairdresser blindfolded?"
"Is she letting you shape it?" I asked.
"Oh yes," smiled Carla, "It is going to be beautiful."
And it was.
"This is soooo much less annoying!" said Asherel to me as she walked over with the beaming Carla, who knew she had produced a small miracle.
Less annoying. Not what I am usually going for when I slap down money for a haircut, but high praise from my daughter.

And of course the two big traumas of the day had a similar message- the angry, disturbed young man who refused to take his medicine and  didn't realize how a whole family of tortured people was unraveling with this decision,  and the head of unruly hair that just needed a loving and compassionate loss of a few carefully snipped millimeters to be harmonious and lovely. Sometimes when the world is spinning out of control, in big issues like the bipolar husband, or little things like curly hair that flies off every which way, it is easiest to just hunker down, grit your teeth, and try to stay the course through sheer will power and time. But sometimes, it is best to do what you don't want to do, to let someone who perhaps has experience, and maybe knows better, to administer what you don't understand you need.

I think faith is sometimes like that. It was for me anyway. I came to belief in Jesus with much kicking, and fighting, and screaming. And as soon as I angrily cried out that I believed, but that my belief was very very small, and my doubt was very very great.... I felt something monumental had changed within me. It wasn't that famous sense of peace- that has only slowly grown in me. But it was an instantaneous love of people. I felt for perhaps the first time in my life compassion for all us wretched souls trying so desperately to make it in a cranky world. And now that I have faith, I would never ever go back to a life of unbelief. I had no idea how badly I needed it, in fact fought against it. I shake my head bewildered over that, given what I know now.

Asherel walked beside me, her shining cap of glossy beautiful hair dancing on her head.
"What are you looking at?" she said, but smiling.
The small miracles that I hope portend big ones, I thought.

Isaiah 18: 4-6
4 This is what the LORD says to me:
   “I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place,
like shimmering heat in the sunshine,
   like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”
5 For, before the harvest, when the blossom is gone
   and the flower becomes a ripening grape,
he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives,
   and cut down and take away the spreading branches.
6 They will all be left to the mountain birds of prey
   and to the wild animals;
the birds will feed on them all summer,
   the wild animals all winter. 

Romans 11:23-25

23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In Splendor

"Are you finding what you are looking for?" asked the sales lady.
Peace, world harmony, eternal joy with no more suffering or tears, no more illness, no more struggle....
"Well, no.... I need a bathing suit for my daughter."
"Oh, is she not here?" The sales woman peered around the thirty suits I had in my hand.
"Oh no, you cannot imagine how awful it is if I bring her shopping with me."
"How old is she?"
"And she lets you pick out her clothes?"
"Well, no, but it is even worse if I bring her. Trust me. She is very picky. And she hates shopping. But she needs a new bathing suit."
"What does she want?"
"No patterns, no frills, nothing fancy like God forbid a shiny bead or ribbon, blues or maybe greens, tankini top and boy shorts bottom, but not the kind that every store sells but the kind with the attached inner brief, and not old persony."
The sales lady sat down and mopped her forehead. "I see your problem."
We gazed disconsolately over the sea of suits before us.
"How will you know what size she is?" asked the woman.
"I try them on and I can guage her size from that pretty accurately. We are close to the same size."
The sales woman cocked an eyebrow.
"This is a most unusual method of shopping for bathing suits."
She let me in the dressing room and I proceeded to try them all on, taking photos of each with my phone camera by pointing it at the mirror as I modeled them. Then I texted the photo home to Asherel.
"Me no likeee!!!!" she wailed. It was almost like having her with me.
"Not those kind of shorts!!! "
"No polka dots or plaids!!!!"
"Can I have candy?"

knock knock knock.
"M'am, is everything all right in there? Do you need a new size?"
"No everything is just dandy. I'm just discussing the options with my daughter."
"Oh? Did she decide to join you after all?"

"Yes, in a manner of speaking. She likes the $200 suit."
"A lovely choice, shall I ring it up for you?"
"Only if you are paying for it."

and so it went....
I spent 3 hours trudging from store to store. I found at least 50 suits I liked, and shoes too, though that was a sinful side trip. ( Mostly because I had not chosen the ideal shoes to walk all day in, and blisters were forming on my heels.) And then in the last store I knew I could manage, I saw a pair of solid blue shorts like she had requested. The matching top was geometric greens and blues, no frills, no ribbons, no horrifying bows.
"Eureka, I have found it!" I texted to Asherel. (and, on sale, and much much less than I would have been  willing to spend by that point in the pilgrimage.)
"Found what?" she texted back.
I sent the photo.
"I don't hate it," she wrote.
Good enough!

I know now why God gave children to us. He can clothe the lovely peach tree however He sees fit. The peach  tree doesn't throw off her blossoms and decide pink is just for sissies.He knew children would try even His eternal patience.

When I came home and Asherel tried on the suit, and liked it, we gathered the dogs and Arvo and went off to see the blossoming peach orchard and walk around a beautiful lake. The forest was slowly being adorned with lime green buds, small yellow flowers along the marsh, sunshine sparkling on water. Nothing I had seen in the mall could top that.

Matthew 6: 28-29
   28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bringing What is Inside....Outside

A friend had dropped by to show me her daughter's beautiful art work. Rachel seemed uninterested in my praise, glancing at the yard instead of at me, and then quietly said, "Is he ok?"
I followed her gaze. Lucky was doing the classical "dog about to vomit" walk, and then spewed over the front yard.
"Well at least he is outdoors," I sighed. He hadn't eaten breakfast either, and had followed us around all day. I suspected the feathers floating in his water bowl had something to do with all this. He looked over at us and wagged his tail cheerfully. I love how quickly dogs "get over it." And there is no concealment with dogs. What you see is who they are. No dog ever felt the need to dye his fur, or paint his eyelashes.

Meanwhile, I looked in the mirror and wondered how long til I got over the freeze dried wounds the dermatologist had blasted onto my face. I looked like I had chicken pox. The doctor had said that it was fine to wear make up over it. However, I have a confession to make. I have never worn makeup. I wouldn't even know where to start. I have done eyeshadow as a teen, and mascara on rare occasion, but that is the extent of my foray into beautification. I don't dye my hair either, and now grey is considered the new chic that Hollywood is discovering. Discovering? I have worn grey for 20 years.  This is in no way to suggest I am not vain. I look at my face, covered with sores in the name of cancer prevention, and I wince. I keep my hair brushed over as much as my face as I can.

I just have never found the allure of makeup or dye or tatoos as beauty enhancers...I just don't get it. I figure in general God gave us the hair and face we were supposed to have and it really is a marvel and unique and wonderful as is. I know most of the world differs with me on this. And I am often not gracious in expressing my opinions. This is something I do wish I could "cover" a little more effectively. I need "character makeup". I need something that seals all those pores of critcal-ness, irritation, anger, despair, selfishness, bitterness, ingratitude.....I need something that makes all those ugly parts look beautiful and glowing and youthful and innocent. So far, I haven't found any instant fixes for these, nothing that I can pour out of a bottle, smear over my face, and be the new me on the inside that I long to be.

I read a funny facebook story yesterday. A friend was standing in line at Burger King, and the customer in front of her turned and asked, "Are you washed in the blood of Jesus?" My friend said she left quickly. She was no longer hungry.

Now I understand the response totally- blood and dinner just don't sit pretty together on the same plate of imagery right before eating. And I understand the motivation of the customer as well- it was his idea of evangelism and he presumably spoke out of a desire that all should know what he believes to be true.If you truly believe that someone is about to step off a cliff and plunge to their death, it is love and kindness to reach out to stop them. Still, it is usually about as well-received as me telling the world, why are you spending a fortune masking the beautiful you that God made with chemicals and dyes that are frequently produced by parts of other living creatures? It is a matter of timing, and grace.... two qualities that I am often in short supply of.

So there was something about my retching dog, my festering face, and the Burger King evangelist that all vied for my connecting the dots tendency. And I felt in each case, there was something that needed desperately to come out. Nothing would stop it, and by the evacuation of that thing, health and happiness would be restored. Lucky got the dead bird germs out of his gut, and ate dinner contentedly. My precancerous cells were bubbling off my dermis and into the atmosphere. The Burger King evangelist had shared, however ineffectively his obvious burning inner desire to tell the world about the only food he knew that would satisfy eternally.

So much of the focus of the world is on externals, but the real problem is deep inside us. And if we don't get those issues out of us, exposed and if necessary, eradicated.... they will become poison.  It is easy to think of deadly toxins building when we eat food like dead birds, feathers and all. It isn't difficult to understand that cancer causing cells must be cut out, despite the painful cure, because we know they will grow and destroy us if left inside.  But it is less obvious why the Burger King evangelist felt the need to ruin my friend's dinner with his question. However, he is in good company. The prophet Jeremiah said that if he didn't share his knowledge of God, it was like fire burning away his bones, and Job moaned that by speaking, his pain didn't leave, but if he didn't speak, it was even worse. It isn't makeup we need. It is compassion, and tact, and timing.... and a better understanding of how to bring what is inside outside without making those around us want to run.

Jeremiah 20:9

9 But if I say, “I will not mention his word
   or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
   a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
   indeed, I cannot.

Job 16: 6, 19-21
6 “Yet if I speak, my pain is not relieved;
   and if I refrain, it does not go away. 18 “Earth, do not cover my blood;
   may my cry never be laid to rest!
19 Even now my witness is in heaven;
   my advocate is on high.
20 My intercessor is my friend
   as my eyes pour out tears to God;
21 on behalf of a man he pleads with God
   as one pleads for a friend.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Death Adders and Fish Stories

Comer, Eveylyn and I sat on the bench facing the lake watching the fisherman.
"I have a fish story but no one believes it ," Comer said,
Well isn't that the nature of all fish stories, I thought.
"Oh tell it!" I said.
"Well, ok, but you aren't going to believe it."

It didn't matter anyway whether I believed it or not. What I did believe in was the healing caress of the sun as it bathed their old wrinkled faces, Evelyn's crinkled in a smile as she listened to Comer's story. She nestled her hand in the crook of his elbow, and then watched the Canada goose on the shore. She giggled when Comer acted out some of the funny parts. It was hard to believe that in an hour she would have to be returned to the Alzheimer unit.

"So the next day we checked the trap," continued Comer,"And there was a catfish as big as you! 95 pounds it weighed! We had to kill it with an ax."

This is actually not too unbelievable. There have been  documented catches of some catfish as big as 350 pounds. Most of these live downriver from nuclear plants.

"And did I tell you about gigging for bullfrogs?"
"Yes, didn't you ever gig for bullfrogs?"
"No....what would you do with them after you gigged them?"
"Eat them!"
"Oh, no, we fried their legs."
"Did they taste like chicken?"  Evelyn giggled.
"OH better!"
I made a face. "Evelyn," I asked, "Did you ever eat bullfrog legs."
"No!" she cried.
"Yes you did!" said Comer.
Some memories I don't blame her for losing.

"Did I ever tell you about the death adders in Papua New Guinea?"
"I hope it didn't bite you."
"No, if it did I wouldn't be here. One bite and you are dead before you hit the ground."
"Well, ok, tell me."
"Well, I was there with the army, and a friend and I went out walking. But the friend had two cats. Strange cats with big heads from the area. He told me we were to always under all circumstances STAY BEHIND THE CATS. And if the cats stopped, we were to stop. And he told me don't you even think of moving if the cat stops. So we set out, and one cat stopped."
"Please tell me you stopped too," I begged.
"You bet I did! And then the other cat stopped. And then there was this ferocious scuffling and explosion of movement, and the cat comes trotting back with the death adder in its mouth."
"Was it dead?"
"Oh yes, the cats were experts in killing them. And then my friend must have seen what I was thinking because he said,'Now we go back step by step, slowly, no running, just like we came down here, following the cats."

I cannot help but remember the Bible account of the Israelites in the Wilderness following God, who came as a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night to lead them. Their survival depended on following that cloud. It was God who preserved them those 40 years, sending them water from rocks, and manna from heaven. Woe to any who decided to step away from the safety He provided as they went through that treacherous, barren land. And it is the same today, though perhaps He isn't leading with clouds and fire. I smiled to know that not only do we have His Bible, His Holy Spirit, and our own convicting conscience..... but sometimes He even sends cats.

We headed reluctantly back and passed miles and miles of peach trees all in bloom stretching to the horizon.
"I have never seen that!" I said, with delight. The lake is one we hike around in the fall, or kayak on in the summer, but I guess I had never seen it in the spring. Funny how sometimes those in the winter of life can bring a season us younger folk might otherwise have overlooked.

Later I recounted Comer's stories to Asherel, who laughed with me.  I thought of Comer looking so delighted when I said we would try to make Thursdays our outing day.
"It's easy to forget there is a beautiful world out there when I am in here," he said after we dropped Evelyn off, "Anything I have scheduled for Thursdays, anything, I will cancel when you call!"

I glanced heavenward, and echoed the sentiment to the leader by cloud and cat.

Nehemiah 9:18-20

18 even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies.
 19 “Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Tides of Life

I brushed my hair over my speckled sunspot zapped forehead. The doctor had said I would look like this for a couple of weeks. I know this is really a very little thing....but I felt like I had to apologize every time I walked into a room. The good news is the sideswept bangs that all but cover my eyes got me all kinds of compliments.
"I like your new hairstyle!"
"Did you get a new hair cut? Very nice?"
"No," I answered, my hair puffing out with each breath exposing brief glances at my traumatized skin, "I am in hiding."

All around me however, spring is in full bloom. I hope to carve out time today to take our old senior friends in the Alzheimers unit out for a drive to go sit along a quiet lake. The neighbors have been wonderful. We are all staying in touch with each other updating on the health of our old friends Comer and Evelyn as we take turns visiting them. Kristin has been exceptionally enterprising, hanging a bird feeder outside Comer's second floor window. Kristin's kids had to climb on her shoulders to accomplish that feat. And then Kristin got them fast food and they had a picnic in Comer's room. She said you would have thought she had taken them to Disney with how grateful they were. Sweet Carolyn manages to visit after her long days of work. And Andi sent girlscout cookies.

In our homeschool, we are studying World War 2. This is one of the least cheery moments of our human endeavors. We are currently reading a true story about an entire Jewish community shipped to Siberia. The horror and degradation they endured is incomprehensible to us as we sit in our free nation, surrounded by wealth and daffodils. One line struck both Asherel and me powerfully. The author, Esther Hautzig wrote of a beautiful young woman who when told to grab her most precious few possessions and then be herded onto the cattle car bound for Siberia, snatched up her makeup/toiletry kit. Throughout the grueling ordeal while the starving, freezing, louse covered, unbathed Jews struggled to survive, this one young woman continued to put on her make up, cleanse away the day's grime from her face, and oil and brush her long hair. The author wrote that she was "elevating vanity into courage."  I love that line. In all the dehumanizing, degrading, horrific events of her life under Hitler's world, she said in her small way, "I am human, and I have worth."

I suspect it is hard for Evelyn to cling to that, separated from those she loves, lost in her own  decomposing memory. Or Comer, longing for the beautiful home he no longer has the strength to remain in. Or for the Japanese swept away by a powerful ocean that treats their buildings as though they are toothpicks in the tsunami. It all reminds me we are in this together. And precancerous lesions frozen off my forehead are nothing in the vast panorama of human suffering. In every one of those events, I hear God reminding me that the body is not what will be preserved, and it will get knocked around, kicked around, and ultimately destroyed. But when all is stripped away, our soul remains, and as the tides of life recede, we are left on dry land clinging to the hand of the One that is left standing.

But until then, thank goodness for long bangs.

Matthew 10: 26-30
 26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nagging into heaven

We looked at the feathers floating in Lucky's water bowl.
"How did those get there?" I asked.
Lucky looked at me, his face a tangle of unreadable wiry hair.

We glanced over at Tallin, Asherel's bird, who still perched happily in his cage. The bird wasn't talking to us either. This would remain one of those mysteries of life.
 It is likely my sensitive heart would be better off not knowing the source of those feathers floating in the water.

The day already was not going to be recorded as one of my top ten. I had to go visit the dermatologist, due to an annoying habit of aging skin. She took one look at my face and decided it was time to start "zapping" off pre-cancerous spots.
"Zapping?" I said, "What is involved in zapping?"
"It's no big deal," she answered.

Now I have found that it is much easier for the one inflicting the pain to say that than the one receiving the pain.
"I will just freeze them off with this."
She held up a metal device that looked like a submachine gun.
"You don't have any special events coming in the next month that you care what you look like?" she asked.
"You mean like walking down the street ?"
"No, I mean like a wedding or any event where photos will be taken."
"Not in the next month...but to tell you the truth, I am not sure I love the vein of this conversation. I can safely conclude I will be in no position to have a photo taken of me after you finish blasting my face with that weapon?"
She ignored me and said, "Here comes the 'ouchy'."
About 20 ouchies later, my forehead, arms and even hand had lovely bubbling, brown eruptions on them. This was the prettiest stage. For the next week they would turn red, inflamed, scab, and then fall off.

I hope you weren't eating breakfast when you read that.

"But then ," she promised me, "Your forehead will look much better and it will be safer. You don't mind needles, do you?"
"Needles?" I said weakly, wondering how long the stinging of the twenty or so new wounds lasted, "Yes I mind needles. Why?"
"We need to take this mole off your back."
Maybe Lucky had the kinder method, just gobble me up whole.

I went to bed at 8:00. I was worn out from all the intrusive procedures that we must endure as we cook here on earth. I thought of Paul telling the Philippians in our morning Bible study that morning, "It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again." In other words, he was saying, "It won't hurt me to nag you til you listen." It was like the doctor, not zapping just one spot off me, but every spot, every potential cancer forming spot.

This verse confused Asherel. That's because she had never seen nagging elevated to gospel before.
 And I conjectured, given he begins this gentle letter to the Philippians with the assurance that he isn't being hurt by his need to repeat things to them, we can presume they had just asked him, "Doesn't it bother you to have to keep teaching us knuckleheads the same issues over and over again?"

I like the Philippians. I get the sense that they had receptive, humble hearts that longed to learn, despite their failures and need to be constantly reminded by Paul. I am sure that his convicting messages and reminders were at times as painful as the zapper on my sunspots, but they knew that their safety and eternal well being depended on the holy transformative message.

Sometimes healing hurts. But in the end, when the scabs fall off, and we are renewed, transformed, made whole again....the ouchies are just a blip in eternity.

Philippians 3: 1, 12-14, 17-21

 1 Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.

 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Overcoming Limitations

The tennis ball lobbed back and forth, baseline to baseline of the court. I stopped and watched, amazed. Normally, tennis on our nearby courts doesn't transfix me, but this little game did. Both contestants were in wheelchairs. How on earth are they getting the power to smack the ball so hard when they are unable to use any power but the strength of their arm? I put my whole body momentum and force behind my shots! And how are they able to zip around the court quickly enough to reach the shot in the first place?

One man saw me watching as he paused to retrieve a ball. I waved. He waved back and returned to his game. I walked on, inspired. Never succumb to limitations. So many can be overcome.

That afternoon my trebuchet team gathered at Josh's house again. They spent four hours brainstorming and tinkering.
"When we go to Nationals," began Josh.
"Nationals?" I said, "We have to win at States to do that."
"I know," he said, "I intend to. Well at least to medal."
Now I know that means their trebuchet has to fire projectiles three times, if not four times, further than it currently is.... but I had the vision of tennis players in wheelchairs that stilled my pessimism.

They came up with ingenious ideas which I cannot divulge in case the spies for teams throughout the world are hitting the blogosphere. They spent four hours. Darkness descended, and we were still firing the trebuchet into the night while the little sisters begged us to go home so they could go to bed. I don't know if all the effort made significant changes or not. But I do know that something special had happened to my team that had just missed medaling in this event at the regional competition. They realized how close they were to victory. And they were perhaps even seized by the scientific fever, the desire to understand, to explore, to figure out, to find the elegant solution that had eluded them....well ok. Maybe not. Maybe it was just the allure of round shiny medals on satin hung around their necks. But someday, they would look back on it all and realize they had learned something too, and that was the more valued prize of the whole shebang.

Asherel and I are studying the book of Philippians, and she asked me about a portion of a verse that puzzled her.
"What does it mean in Phillipians 2:10, that every knee shall bow to Christ, even those under the earth?"

I love Asherel's questions. They are often about phrases I have glossed over in my own reading.
"Well, if you look at the whole verse, it says at the name of Jesus, all will ultimately worship him, whether in heaven, on earth, or under earth. I presume it means hell. Ultimately, even those who rejected Him and turned their backs on Him will see that He is indeed who He claimed to be. They make a conscious decision to reject Him, but even in the torment of Hell, the further torment of seeing the truth of the One they did not want to believe in will perhaps be the worst torment of all. But no one ends up there that doesn't want to be there. God desires that everyone would come to Him.  So if we believe that, what is the message for us today, in how we live?"
"We should tell others," she said.
"And even further, what should we do to be able to tell others well?"
"We need to be gracious," she said, "And prepared."
"And that is what this whole life of education is about," I told her, "You never ever know when something you have learned will be useful. So learn all you can, absorb all you can, while you are young and your brain that is so strong and gifted can do so. You never know when some fact, some experience, something you learned may make a difference."

Maybe my team is just finding out about how to pound out every imperfection of a flinging machine. But maybe, just maybe, they are also finding out how to squeeze every bit of knowledge out of an experience that someday they may be quite unexpectedly called upon to use.  You just never know where life will take you and what strengths or wisdom or character you will have to have developed to follow the path you will need to follow. You never know when some idea, or fact, or experience, may tip the scale and usher someone from a descent into Hell the other way.  I closed my eyes and saw tennis players in wheelchairs, laughing in the sunlit court.

Philippians 2: 9-13
 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
   and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.
 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hearing without sound

Well, ok, if we are going to the State Science Olympiad contest, I suppose it behooves me to try to figure out how we could make our trebuchet fling further. The trebuchet issue is like a tree- the trunk is solid but there are millions of limbs of variables that sway and flex and absorb energy. We have to find every one of those, and make it energy efficient. To that end, our partner's family called Asherel and me over last night. We live nearby. They had piled the treb in their car after the competition Saturday, and so it was currently at their house.

"We have a neighbor who is a genius type looking at the treb. Can you and Asherel come right away?"
We walked over to see a whole crowd of people in the driveway surrounding our treb. It takes a village to build a trebuchet.....

One of the neighbor kids standing with his chin in his hand, listening with complete absorption clearly had some sort of physical disability. He didn't say much, but his eyes bored into my face as I spoke and gave my analysis of what I thought was going wrong. Soon all 6 adults and 6 kids were waving arms, pointing, jabbing, suggesting, groaning, crouching, peering at it at different angles. I was making my case for chopping off the front end of the treb, but no one was listening as they were busy analyzing how to make the tracks for the wheels more efficient, when suddenly the young man with the disability leaned in, put his weight heavily on the treb, and began making sounds. My yearlong rule to the kids has been ,"Don't lean on the trebuchet!!! If any of the components buckle or bend, it throws off our data and we have to rebuild!"

But Josh's mom quickly said, "Josh, tell him in sign language to not lean on it."
Oh, I realized, I should have known. He's deaf!
"You know sign language?" I asked Josh, who continues to surprise me, as does this whole delightful family God plopped me in the presence of.
"We know our version of sign language," said his brother Alex.
They motioned to the boy, who backed off but then earnestly made chopping motions and pointed vigorously at me and at the treb. He understood me and agreed. Chop off the front and bring the dropping pivot point forward. I was totally with him on this, and wondered how he had understood this concept and why it was such a good idea. However, in the end, we decided it would be too much work to do that for now. We would alter easier limbs of our tree of problems first, and if the treb still wasn't flinging far, we would go to that rather drastic plan.

We all looked at our watches. 7:30!  We had spent two hours throwing out creative ideas about how to save our treb....even forgetting about dinner. A neighborhood had gathered to help us. Even the dog and cat came over to look at it, and the toddler crouched and gazed at it from her perspective. It is funny that my favorite moments in this year long journey of Science Olympiad have nothing to do with science.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Send me

After Asherel's helicopter finished its flight at the Science Olympiad contest, she didn't want to put it down. She cradled it in her hands, and smiled as coaches from other teams came to look at it. It had flown one minute thirty seconds....not its personal best of 1:40, but still under the stress of contest conditions, a long and beautiful flight. And at that point, the team was in first place. Her partner Ben's copter flew almost as long, and the second flight would be the tie breaker so we were confident we had done well.  I spent the time before and after the flight body blocking objects that came too close to the fragile helicopter, and glaring at anyone who dared come within a 6 foot radius. This 4 gram thin balsa and tissue structure was the culmination of 9 months of excruciating labor and to the best of my ability, I was not going to let it die under my watch.

"Excuse me!" I barked to the lady pushing down on the helicopter point, "Please please don't touch it!" I was in no danger of winning the Gracious Spirit award, but I knew that the 1/16th inch balsa would break with very little effort. She snapped her hand back.
"I should've known better," she said.
 As she had transgressed in this almost unpardonable sin after instead of before our flight, I was magnanimous in my forgiveness.
"It's ok, just don't let it happen again."
(OK folks, I didn't really say that, but I did then put a yellow "no crossing" tape around my team and their copters.)

Our trebuchet did not fire as beautifully as we hoped, and though it came close to hitting the "castle", we saw several teams actually land in the castle. We knew we didn't win that one, but we were somewhere in the middle. Our trebuchet didn't do well with light counterweights, so we had been hoping for a heavy counterweight to be given during the contest, but alas, it was a very light conterweight. However, no trebuchet came even close to the beauty and elegance of the beautiful duct tape pattern and covering Asherel had put on ours. We may lose, but we surely won style points. If they were awarded. Which they are not. Sigh.

Her third event was Experimental Design. The three team members came out after half an hour- with half their allotted time still left.
"It was so easy," they said. Ohoh. That is not always a good sign.

I was designated our club photographer for the awards ceremony, so went as close to the front center of the arena as I could get. There was an empty seat next to a woman who was sitting with a large school. All the other teams there were huge. Our little homeschool team took a small sliver of a small corner of the arena. The powerhouse schools had several teams in every division and I heard whispers that kids had to try out for a place on the team! In contrast, our team had to accost innocent homeschoolers and beg them to join.
At any rate, the woman I sat next to asked if I was a homeschooler. Now how did she know that? I was not wearing the prerequisite denim jumper, I did not have wool freshly sheared that morning that I was busily spinning into yarn, nor did I have a backpack filled with teacher guides in every subject from every grade.
"Well yes," I answered, "But how did you know that?"
"It says Science at Home on your shirt."
"It does? Are you sure? I thought it said Science Hounds."
She looked again.
"Oh, so it does. I thought for sure it said Science at Home."
We laughed and she told me she had a daughter she homeschools herself, and one that she had had to send to school, or she would kill her.
"Why?" I asked.
"Well, we suspect she had neurological issues, but we didn't know that when I was trying to school her. She has just been diagnosed with ADD and we are in the process of trying to do more testing as no one knows what to do with her."
"Have you ever heard of occupational therapy?" I asked.

In my former life, the one before homeschooling and raising three kids, I was (am) an occupational therapist. As I explained to the woman, I had been in private practice many years, and had specialized in pediatrics, specifically children with learning disabilities and attention deficit issues. I had worked in an area called Sensory Integration. (Those words had not tumbled off my lips in years, I realized as I spoke with her.)
As she described some of the baffling issues with her child, I saw a child who very likely had a Sensory Integration type of problem. She could be helped. I gave her a list of resources, and then did a little mini-therapy session to show her something she could try with her child immediately. Then I left to do my duty as team photographer.

Event after event, our team was called to the arena floor to collect medals. Nearly every kid won a medal in our middle school club. My own teams did wonderfully well. Asherel and Ben placed third in helicopter, Josh and Asherel placed 7th in Trebuchet (how....not sure..... maybe the judges gave us extra credit for the beauty of our treb), and her experimental design team placed 5th. The top 5 schools would advance to the State competition. Our club placed 4th.
"Oh goody," I thought, "6 more weeks of breaking helicopters and flinging things at our as yet unbroken windows."

As I returned up the thronging aisles to find my happy team, the lady I had been sitting next to stopped me.
"Do you mind if I get your telephone number?" she asked, "Forgive me, but I feel like you have helped me so much in such a short time....well, would that be ok?"
"Of course," I said, giving her my number. As I returned to my kids, overflowing with joy at the very unexpected results, I was marveling not only at them and where their perseverance had brought them. But I was also thinking of the patient and exquisite engineering of God that had placed me with my little bit of something I do know about next to a woman who sorely needed to hear it. And I returned to the teams I had coached in something I knew nothing about, at least when we started 9 months ago, who were now clasping the shiny medals around their neck.

In the end, you never know how you will be used. Moses begged God not to use him to lead his people, as he spoke with halting speech. Jonah ran from God's direction to speak His words to Ninevah. Sarah laughed and secretly mocked God when told by angels she would birth the father of many nations in her advanced age. Yet in the end, Moses led his people out of slavery, Jonah preached to the Ninevites who miraculously repented and turned to God, and Sarah did indeed give birth to Isaac, who was the father of the entire Hebrew nations.  God can do anything....with anyone.  All He needs is a willing spirit. How often I need to be bonked over the head with that message!

It was fitting that as Asherel's helicopter was disappearing into the rafters, an entire arena full of people were looking to heaven.

Isaiah 6:8
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”