Saturday, April 30, 2011

The nanoworld

"So are nanos manmade? " I asked the student demonstator at the science olympiad "nanodays". The demonstations were set up for the arriving olympiads to further feed their scientific knowledge so they wouldn't have to grow up like me and ask if nanos are manmade.

"Well Nanotechnology is a process not a thing."
"I understand that but it is technology using nanos, right? Well do you create nanos or are they just here? "
"I need to get my professor, " she said. Maybe she was a cosmetology major filling in for her physics major friend. Or maybe she didn't know that there really are stupid questions.

The professor shook his head."Nanos are looking at things at the smallest level."
" But do you make nanos or are they already here waiting to be observed? "

Honestly, I am still a little fuzzy on Nanos, even after he explained. I think nanos are just really small molecules and certain materials or combinations of materials are made up of nanos. Really smart people can use those tiny little nanos to do tasks that only very small things can do, like squeeze through the dog door when you have locked yourself out of the house.

But the salient part about nanos for me was even though we can't see them, they can be harnessed to do very amazing things. As my helicopter and trebuchet teams go forth to their events today, they will be relying on hard work, effort, and skill. But they also will be drawing on the strength of something unseen. Something much bigger than nanos.

Romans 1:20 NIV

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
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Friday, April 29, 2011

You ain't nothin but a hound dog......

Our team will be howling in the opening Ceremony of the NC State Science Olympiad tonight wearing duct tape hound dog ears. Our team, the Science Hounds, needed a fun, easy way to show team spirit. Of course, my daughter, the duct tape queen suggested duct tape dog ears. The girl who is reduced to blubbering tears when I tell her she is required to wear a dress for church on Easter will not only be proudly sporting duck tape dog ears, but decorated hers with little bows.

You can not imagine the horror with which she recoils from me should I approach her with a barrette, or a blouse with a tiny ruffle at the neck. But hound dog ears of duct tape with little bows on the top? Bring em on!

And the entire team will be gathering before the ceremony with their own rolls of duct tape and scissors while the Duct Tape Queen instructs them in the fine art of hound dog ear construction. The team is taking it very seriously. The number of emails exchanged over the various questions, facts, etc. regarding the duct tape ears far exceeded any emails about the actual competition that is presumably the reason we will all be there. One email even said that the mom had been unable to buy the duct tape as her other daughter was in the ICU and had almost died....could her daughter share duct tape with someone? (The poor girl in ICU is doing better but it was apparently very scary for a while there.)
I can tell you, I would not have had the presence of mind to worry about the duct tape ears in that situation.

There were emails about ripping vs. cutting with scissors, what were the best kind of scissors, what colors, should there be two colors indicating inner/outer ear, would it rip out hair, when would be the best time to make the ears, should there be a group buy or should each choose their own, and so on and on.....

If the team put this much time and thought into their science olympiad events, we are going to win for sure. It put things in a bit of perspective for me on the eve of a contest that could make me a mass of jangled nerves if I run true to form. For the kids, this is a celebration. An excuse for a gathering of a bunch of really nice, fun, smart kids to stay in a hotel, splash in a pool, and wear goofy ears. They have spent a year working and finally succeeding on very difficult tasks. Only a small number of kids will walk away with awards, and it is so important to keep that all in mind. It was really all that went before Saturday's contest that matters.  Regardless of what happens Saturday at the contest, our team will walk away smiling, arms around each other, flapping duct tape dog ears.

Job 8:21
He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.

PS_ tomorrow morning will be a flurry of early mayhem and rushing. It is highly likely I will not get a post out but will update as soon as able!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Home

When I called Comer to tell him I would be picking him and Evelyn up for lunch from their wonderful new Assisted Living/Alzheimer home, he said she was having a very bad day. She had fallen the day before they moved, and while xrays showed no breaks, her hip was very sore, and she was "a mess".
"She's crying and won't settle.... we can't go anywhere today. She couldn't make it to the car! She's doing very poorly."
I looked sadly at the plateful of deviled eggs I had prepared for her, the vase of roses I had picked from the tree Comer had planted 12 years ago, the music CD filled with songs from the 40s.
"Shall I come visit anyway?" I asked, "I won't stay long, but I have deviled eggs and music for her."
"That would be so nice," he said.

I had not yet seen this new facility. It looked like an old victorian style home. Old black and white shows from my childhood were on the television in the living room. French doors opened onto beautiful gardens with benches lining the paths. The hallways had dress stands with long wedding gowns and dresses from a time when cars were ticketed for exceeding 10 mph.  As Comer led me towards Evelyn's room, I glanced at a kitchen area with a big table, and some residents sat watching an aide whisk a mixture in a bowl. It smelled lemony. I saw Evelyn painfully shuffling towards the table.

"Evelyn!" I said, "Hello! I brought you deviled eggs made with my secret recipe!"
She looked up and smiled, "Oh good!"
The whisk quieted and two other aides came and stood near.
"Well?" they said,"We want to hear this secret ingredient."
"Here, try one and see if you can figure it out."
Evelyn popped one in her mouth, followed quickly by another.
"Can you tell what my secret ingredient is?"
"mmfssspghwpppp," she said, enjoying her third deviled egg.

"What are you making?" I asked the whisking aide.
"Lemon cake, from scratch."
"Are you following a recipe?"
"Oh no," she giggled, "I just hope it works....."
We all sat around the table as the sounds and smells of cake making oozed like comfort around us. This was a home that was truly recreating a home for these old folk.
"Look!" said the aide, pointing to the glass oven door, "It's rising!"
"Good for you! What other kinds of cakes can you make without a box?"
"Carrot cake."
"Oh, I love carrot cake."
"I do too," said Evelyn between bites of egg.

I held up the CD.
"Music, Evelyn!" and called out some of the song titles. She sang the first line from each one as I called out the name, both of us laughing with delight at her perfect recall. The lady next to Evelyn watched us mutely, but smiled. I asked her if she wanted a deviled egg. She didn't seem to quite know how to respond so I brought her one and helped her clasp her fingers around it. She held it uncertainly.
"You can eat it," I urged, "It has a secret ingredient. See if you can tell what it is."
The lady smiled and brought it to her mouth.

Evelyn was still humming the last song I had called out.
"Here," said an aide, reaching for the CD "Shall I put it on the CD player ?"
She turned on the music while I gave away my deviled egg secret ingredient.

Later, Comer led us both to Evelyn's room. Her sunny window looked out over grass and trees. She sat in her chair, and I taught Comer how to operate the CD player Kristin had brought. Evelyn looked on with studious interest and said, "Oh I see."
"So now you can have music whenever you want," I told her.
"Oh how nice!" she said, with a happy laugh.
Comer stared at her shaking his head.
"This is night and day how she was earlier!" he said baffled.
"I prayed on the way over," I said.
He cocked his head and pointed a finger at me, with a knowing nod and grin.
"And the music. You know how they say music soothes the savage beast."
Evelyn chuckled, "It does!"

As I left them, sitting side by side, eating deviled eggs and listening to "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime", a nurse from Comer's floor saw me.
"How was Comer's wife?" she asked.
"Oh much better. She loves deviled eggs and music."
"Oh," said the nurse, "I'll go tell the aide to put that on her care chart right away then! We better get in a supply of deviled eggs."

Joshua 23

1 After a long time had passed and the LORD had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them, Joshua, by then a very old man, 2 summoned all Israel—their elders, leaders, judges and officials—and said to them: “I am very old. 3 You yourselves have seen everything the LORD your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the LORD your God who fought for you. 

Ruth 4:15
15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fiery Ordeals

One side of mouth:
"It has been a long time of a lot of work. I will be glad when it is over."
Other side of mouth:
"I'm sad it is ending."

These two statements came barely 24 hours apart, from the same 13 year old daughter over the same Science Olympiad work that ends this weekend with the State competition. Despair and delight. They are sometimes kissing cousins.

"I thought you were glad it is ending. I thought you were weary of all the work," I said.
"Well I am, but I will miss it too."
"We will make a point of seeing all your friends over the summer. We can take them kayaking."
She nodded.

But it isn't the same, even something as wonderful as kayaking. It is not the same as struggling together through what seem like insurmountable problems in areas  in which one has no knowledge or experience. It isn't the same, even something so beautiful and relaxing as kayaking through a shady inlet, as watching helicopter after helicopter smash to smithereens and stretching one's brain to understand how the design should be altered in an area that a few months ago, that brain would not have dared to travel. It isn't the same as being a team member, rebuilding a flinging machine week after week with hopes that the projectile will be flung forwards, not backwards....and then finally achieving success only to have the flinging arm break.

It isn't the same, peacefully lounging in the sun with the waves lapping against the hull, as crying one's eyes out because after 5 hours of painstaking work, the fragile structure breaks, and one must begin all over again. It isn't the same, exploring sun dappled coves with fragrant red flowers never seen before lining the shore while the kayak dips and bobs on gentle swells backwashed from the encounter with land, as lifting one's hand to release something you have crafted together and watching it soar to the peak of a glass ceiling where clouds and hawks circle just beyond. It isn't the same as firing a trebuchet, a word that was unknown to you just 9 months ago, a trebuchet you designed and built together and managed to erect without losing a single important body part, and then watching that trebuchet finally fling the projectile the full length of the driveway.

Resting from work is good....but it isn't the same as working beyond what you ever dreamed you could do, bearing struggles you felt were going to kill you, and coming out on the other side victorious.

Our Bible study was from 1 Peter 4. We spent the whole time discussing why the term "fiery ordeal" was used to describe the trials we should expect in our life walking with God. Why not just a less frightening term like "difficulties" or "struggles"? Who wants to know ahead of time that it will be a "fiery ordeal?" Given the choice, which of us would say wholeheartedly, "Send me into the furnace and burn me alive that I might emerge (if I emerge) stronger and purer?" I honestly believe I love God, however imperfectly, but personally, I think I could do without that fiery ordeal.

But to a small degree, that is what my Science Olympiad teams endured. It wasn't their health that was enduring anguish, but their time, their energy, their ability to persevere in a task that seemed impossible to accomplish, their working together withholding blame and acrimony when things went badly, and being generous in their praise and encouragement to the other when things went well. They may not have been vocally proclaiming Christ and suffering for their faith, but they were proclaiming him in character, as they struggled together through some very frustrating and desperate moments together. It would have been easy to give up, to scream, to be ugly and unkind....but they never were. All this for a 13 year old is a fiery ordeal of sorts. And now they are out of the furnace, and how funny that they will miss the heat.

1 Peter 4: 11-13
 12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What is the wrench for?

I knew that as soon as she rode away I would forget the list of instructions if I didn't write them down. As the three horses traipsed happily off to the shady forest with my daughter bouncing merrily to her lesson, I looked at the wrench in my hand.
"I hope you were listening, Marie, because I don't remember why we have this wrench, do you?"
Marie was my accomplice in helping out at the farm while our daughters had their riding lesson.
"I wasn't really listening," said Maire.
"Well maybe when we head over there, we will figure it out."

Our job was to drain and clean the algae covered watering troughs. At least, that was the job as I remembered it. But then that wrench in my hand seemed to indicate there was something else we were supposed to do, but for the life of me, I could not remember how it involved the wrench. There was no water supply for the one trough, if I recalled Jill's instructions correctly, which as we have already established, I did not. We were given two buckets, scrub brushes, a large bottle of bleach, and 2 pairs of plastic gloves....and the wrench.

We had to empty the grungy green water first, so we used the buckets and bucket by bucket tossed out the water.
"I do remember we were to leave a little water in the bottom, pour bleach in around the rim so it dribbles down and cleans the sides, and then scrub."
So I began to pour the bleach down the sides. I wasted half a bottle of bleach missing the sides. I was already having a bad day having tried to play Eidelweiss from memory on my guitar. I have been practicing it for 2 months now. I can't even consistently remember the first 6 notes, and struggle to pluck the right string without looking at it. I had been reduced to tears of frustration, and Asherel, who is teaching me, told me that for now it was ok if I didn't do any other music at all except Eidelweiss.
"That would be a good idea," I sniffled.
And now, I was wasting Jill's bleach because I couldn't pour steadily on the trough rim. And there was still that wrench, menacingly gaping its open jaws at me from the lawn beside us.

Marie and I scrubbed the trough which was so full of noxious bleach fumes that I could feel my hair turning white (r) as I breathed in. We cleaned it til every last bit of algae was gone. Then together, we hefted the huge trough over to drain the last bit of water.
"How do we refill it?"
"Or rinse it?"
The water pump was a good distance back at the barn.
"Well how about if we just get a couple of buckets full to rinse it, and then Jill might be back."
"Yes, and we will have to admit we don't know what the wrench is for.And that I wasted half her bleach."
We trudged back with our sloshing buckets, rinsed the trough, and then dumped it again by together tipping it and laboriously tossing water into it from that awkward angle. Satisfied we rolled it back, and that is when I noticed the drain...with a nut the perfect size for a wrench to open. Oh.

And I realized that most of my life, I ignore or forget that I have a wrench always available to help me through the hard parts, but I struggle to the point of despair on my own, not using the one useful tool I have been provided. As I settled into bed last night, I felt waves of sorrow wash over me, and panic about the upcoming State Science Olympiad, teaching calculus to my homeschooled girl when I never took calculus myself and this week could not figure out partial factors using induction, all the little details of the wedding trip and reservations still to be made, the dental appointment coming up, the 9th grade curriculum to be ordered.... I thought of how when Marie asked how I was, I said, "I am weary." No wonder, wrestling every night with all these rusted pipes of life with my bare hands.

After stewing for an hour, I grabbed my iPod from beside my bed and saw a new message. It was my daily Bible reading that pops up every morning. Must be after midnight, I thought. And there was a verse which as soon as I read it, my heart slowed, my panic retreated, and I fell asleep. The verse could have been, "Jesus is the light, the way, and the wrench...." but it wasn't.  It was a simple verse from Jeremiah, reminding me that I was not alone, and there was a source of relief for my weary soul....the wrench I too often forget.

 Jeremiah 31:25
I will satisfy the weary, and all who are faint I will replenish.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Reaching for the Moon

"If you're wrong, do we get a cookie?" asked my helicopter team, weary of testing yet another rubber motor for yet another helicopter.
If only all I lost every time I was wrong was a cookie, I think I'd be more willing to be wrong. But if cookies were to be the motivation for my helicopter team to finish strong in the race to Science Olympiad gold, so be it. I thought about giving some sort of motivational speech, but decided cookies were easier to hand out than words at that point. The State Science Olympiad contest this weekend could not come a moment too soon. If it arrives after the sugar high wears off, we are doomed. We all want to win, but it has been a long season with many long hours and even perfectionists lose steam.

I reach for the moon alot. One who reaches for the moon is bound to come away at times empty handed. This is not in the Bible, but it should be.

I was very sad to read that NASA has informed its already depleted astronaut staff that the chance of them going on any more outer space flights to the moon is "slim to nil."  A paltry few will be allowed to tag along on the Russian shuttles to the International Space station, but the future of any shuttle program here is dim. What will happen to all the young boys and girls who want to grow up to be astronauts? What happens to their dreams?

We are reading about the incredible era in US history when President Kennedy who was elected because he was by  far the most handsome man in the race, challenged us to have a man on the moon before the Communists. This is because the entire Western world was fearful of the Outer Space Domino effect, which meant that if the moon became communistic, one by one other heavenly bodies would topple to that form of government, and eventually, the sun itself would have to be addressed as "Citizen Sun Comrade." Subsequently, the daylight hours would have to be evenly distributed equally to every single inch of  land on Earth. This of course would require that the earth be unrolled since it would be physically impossible for a sphere to have an equal allotment of Citizen Sun. This would have cataclysmic repercussions, not the least of which Columbus would be wrong, the world would indeed be flat, and all our geography books would need to be revised. Thus, President Kennedy, being an excellent motivator, besides being handsome, urged us to "Hie thee to the moon!" pronto.

Our nation's eager and intellectually gifted children complied, took their science class a little more seriously, and in the end prevented the entire universe from being engulfed behind the Iron Curtain, planting a US flag on lunar soil first. At that time, we collectively reached for the moon and grasped it. Sometimes I wonder if our nation is worn out, tired of being a beacon of hard working, sensible, reasonable, altruistic, and noble aspirations. I think we may all be crumbling into a bunch of whiners who just want a cookie.

This is not to imply that my helicopter team is whiney. They are weary, but they worked their patooties off for 3 hours on Easter Sunday reaching for the moon....and for cookies.

Deuteronomy 33: 13-15
  “May the LORD bless his land
   with the precious dew from heaven above
   and with the deep waters that lie below;
14 with the best the sun brings forth
   and the finest the moon can yield;
15 with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains
   and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills;

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mystery of the Afikomen

He is risen!
The most encouraging words of all time.

As Jews who believe Jesus ( Yeshua) is the Messiah, besides celebrating Resurrection Day, we always do a Passover Seder(memorial dinner). Every year, when we arrive at the end of the Seder dinner, and the children are sent out to find the "Afikomen", I wonder anew at the symbolism of that part of the ceremony.

Earlier in the service, three pieces of Matzoh are placed in a tri-section bag. The middle section matzoh is broken and then half of the broken piece (afikomen) is hidden for the children to go find at the end of the Seder. The one who finds the afikomen  gets a reward of some kind traditionally, money or a new car, depending on how many ceremonial cups of wine the pappa has had. I have done a little research into why the traditional Jewish ceremony has a tri-section bag, and why in the middle of the most reverent Jewish ceremony of all, spoken throughout in Hebrew, a Greek word is thrown in at this pivotal ending. Afikomen. I find a good bit of disagreement over what all this symbolism means. One site tells me that Afikomen is not Greek, but Aramaic. The language of Jesus. This scholar says it is derived from "afiku" which means "to take out".  Most people seem to feel it is derived from the Greek work, epikomion, which means revelry or big celebration after dinner. However the most electrifying translation is the Greek verb-ikneomai- which means, "he came."

The afikomen of the Seder has come to mean the traditional last bite of food the Jewish family is to have until the next day. But why? As far as I can discern, no one seems to really know. They don't seem to agree or know why a tri-pouch bag is used, and why the middle afikomen is broken. One source said the afikomen is hidden to keep the children alert and interested in the ceremony.  For a ceremony so replete in symbolism, this strikes me as a cop-out. What is even more interesting is before Jesus, the Seder did not include the afikomen. That tradition only arose after Jesus lived on Earth.


The Seder is the celebration of the Jewish exodus, release from bondage to Egypt. It looks forward to the coming of the Messiah, and the symbolic and traditional passover lamb is a critical part of the ceremony. I love the symbolism of the triune pouch, from which the middle section is broken away, hidden, and then found.

"I found it!" shouted Asherel, holding the Afikomen high in victory.

He is risen!

1 Corinthians 5:6-8
7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Matthew 28:5-7

 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Search for Meaning

We got bumped by a funeral. Our last helicopter testing before the Science Olympiad next weekend was to be at the church with the ceilings that stretch 5 stories high towards heaven. However, the pastor hoped I would understand that the unexpected funeral took precedence over our helicopter flying. They would need the church to conduct the services.

As Ben, the other helicopter team member, had been sick for our penultimate test flight, his helicopter was as yet untested. (For those of you with a dictionary handy, I would encourage you to look up 'penultimate' if you don't know what it means. It is a very useful word. It is my second favorite word. My favorite is serendipity. Words just don't get any more fun to say than that one. Well, onomatopoeia is pretty delightful as well.)

But- back to the problem at hand. We could not wait til any later than Sunday to test, in case we destroyed our copters, which we do with alarming regularity. We would need time to rebuild them. We had to test this weekend, Easter or not.

I called the local mall. I didn't get through to highest management, though was put through to her voice mail.
"Hello," I said to the machine after it beeped its greeting, "I have a unique form of Easter entertainment for your mall shoppers. I need tall ceilings to test our rubber powered Science Olympiad helicopters and your facility has been selected from among thousands to be our test site. Please call _________ to schedule your exciting and free Helicopter to Heaven program today!"

Surprisingly, they did not call back.

I wrote back to the church with the 5 story tall ceilings.
"We are desperate. We totally understand the necessity of conducting the funeral in lieu of us having a shot at winning the State contest that we have worked a year now towards. What do the hopes and dreams of a child matter, after all, in contrast to the last wishes of a dead body? Nothing. But, would you consider canceling Easter services and we could fly Sunday?"

Ok, I am kidding. I had some of you though, right? I actually asked if after services on Sunday afternoon we could fly in their perfect ceilings. I  find the symbolism rather intriguing- the feeble attempts of mankind lifting towards God with whatever power can be mustered. Our designs would be destined to fall back to earth, no matter how strong the rubber band motor was. We could rise quite a bit on our own power, but to stay risen, one had to be Jesus or lifted in His hand.

"Yes," wrote back the facility manager, "After Easter services, the church will be empty. You can fly your copters then if you like."

I can't wait to hear Asherel's response when she awakens and reads my post today:
"That's a beautiful picture you drew today, Mom, but what does it have to do with your blog?"
"Nothing. Or everything. It depends on what message you got out of it."
"Well, what are my choices? It doesn't seem to be a God packed moral today. In fact, it seems a little selfish and perhaps even sacrilegious. I mean, should we be flying our helicopters on Easter?"
"He is risen," I said, "That is what we celebrate. We should all be looking up, because that is where risen things reside, like Messiahs.... and helicopters. The miracle of Easter is when He rose again, He continued to reach back down, to survey the whole earth, to reach His spirit into every valley and every field, touching the hearts of His sheep."
"You are stretching here, Mom. Besides, there are no sheep in this picture you drew."
"They're lost. That's the point. He took our sin upon Himself and bore our punishment that the lost might be found."
"Well don't you think you should have drawn at least one found sheep?"
"It's only Saturday. I think we need to spend some time wondering where we go to find the lost sheep."
"And I suppose sometimes that involves flying in helicopters?"
"Maybe.... it means going down or through or even up every path opened before you."
"You think there will be lost sheep in the rafters of the church?"
"No, probably not..... but I think there might be someone who wanders in, whose soul is heavy and burdened, and who doesn't feel the gravity of life will ever release him. You never know when you might lighten someone's heart with the Message of Hope, of our Risen Lord."
"Were you really thinking all this when you drew this picture, Mom? Or when you scheduled our helicopter practice for Easter?"
"It doesn't matter," I answered, "I'm thinking it now, aren't you?"

Isaiah 53:5-7

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.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
   each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.
 7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
   and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Devil Chased from the Deviled Eggs

When I walked in to the Alzheimer unit to pick up Comer and Evelyn, two unfamiliar women sat on the bed talking with them. Normally I get Comer from his building across the campus, and then we drive over to Evelyn's building. He called me cryptically before I left the house and told me to meet him at Evelyn's place. When I arrived, Comer and Evelyn were holding hands and Evelyn looked up at me, and smiled brightly.
"Are you the neighbor who takes Comer and Evelyn out every week?" asked one woman. She had a clipboard in her hand.
"One of them," I answered, "And we have a treat for today! Evelyn, I have a whole CD full of songs from the 40s!"
"Oh my!" she said, her eyes sparkling.
"Will you still be taking them out when they go to Sunrise?"
I paused and glanced at Comer. He grinned slyly back at me.
"Sunrise?" I asked.
"They will be moving there Tuesday," answered the other woman.
Evelyn's cheeks were sliding right off her face, she was smiling so big.
"Will they be together?" I asked.
All four heads bobbed.
"Same building, separated only by an elevator. They can see each other as long as they want, as often as they want, all day, every day."
"Oh Evelyn!" I cried, clutching her hand in mine, "No more saying Goodbye!"
"Yes," she said, laughing.
"Well then this will be a celebration lunch!" I said.
"Then we will be out of your hair," said the Sunrise representative. She leaned over and shook Comer's hand, "And we will see you Tuesday."

As we headed to the elevator, I said, "Comer! How did you keep this a secret?"
"I wanted to tell you myself, and see your face."
"Oh Evelyn, you must be so happy! What is your favorite food so we can celebrate in style!?"
Without pausing, she said, "Deviled eggs!"
"'re killin' me here.....I don't know any fast food place that sells deviled eggs. What is your second favorite?"
"Fried Chicken."
"Ok- we can do that, and how about a milkshake?"
"Oh yes!"
"And Asherel is ready in the car with a CD filled with songs you will know."
"Oh! Asherel is here!" said Evelyn merrily, her bubbling joy sincere.

We only spilled the milkshake once as we meandered through rainy neighborhoods. There were 50 songs on the CD and Evelyn knew every one. Somehow, in between singing, she managed to eat her entire meal, and all but the little bit of spilled milkshake.
"She's eating again," said Comer smiling, in reference to her month or so of listlessly wasting away.
"She sure seems like someone who discovered a reason to keep living," I said, smiling back at him.
"She sure seems to," he agreed.

As we returned to the Alzheimers Center, Evelyn gripped my arm offered in support, and we quietly sang , "When you're smiling...." which has become our anthem. As we passed a woman with a slack face, clutching her walker, she glanced up and began singing with us. We stopped in front of her and finished the song together.
"You have a lovely voice!" I told her, taking her hand in mine.
"I don't know where it's been hiding....maybe in my toes," she answered, patting my hand.
"Happy Easter everyone," I called to the solemn group of elderly folk ringing the room.
"Happy Easter," said one perpetually grinning man in a wheelchair.

Resurrections come in many sizes. There is of course the Big one, the one we will celebrate on Sunday. That is Resurrection with a capital R. But there are little resurrections too, daily resurrections where hope that was but a flicker rekindles and songs from long ago leap across time to settle on ears that had ceased to listen for angels, for the triumph of miracles. And sometimes when you are smiling, the whole world really is smiling too.

Psalm 27:5-7

5 For in the day of trouble
   he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
   and set me high upon a rock.
 6 Then my head will be exalted
   above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
   I will sing and make music to the LORD.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I Don't Get Hockey

Our Charlotte Checkers Hockey team is in the playoffs. We went to the game last night, along with their 7 other fans. I don't get this. While I don't even like hockey for the same reason I don't like ripping wings off of living flies, even I found the game exciting. I love masterful skating, and I love the beauty of gliding so effortlessly across the ice, the athletic stops and twirls and explosive speed.....if only they would not consider beating each other up as part of the game, I would be a true fan. However, how often does our hometown team make the playoffs? One would think that there would be enough ticket sales for that event to at least pay for the electricity in the arena.

"Well I was hoping this game would convince you that hockey isn't as violent as you think," said Denny, an ex-hockey player who went with us, "But I guess that isn't the case?"
"Oh no, the refs only spent 43out of 45 minutes wrestling red faced thugs apart. There were probably at least 2 whole minutes of no one trying to bash someone else's brains against the ice. I expected a full 45 minutes of warfare."
"It's part of the game," explained my husband, "There is no anger in it. It is their job."
I am pretty sure that is what the pilot that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima said too.
"Afterwards," said Denny,"Those guys will all meet and go out for drinks."
"Unless of course," I added, "The hospital won't release them."

I suppose there are women fans, but I think hockey is one of those games best enjoyed with a heaping plate of testosterone.

I thought back to our Bible study that day. It was from James admonishing how one should behave in living out a life of faith. He had three guidelines in the chapter we read:
1. Be quick to listen
2. Be slow to speak
3. Be slow to anger.

Imagine how the game of hockey would be transformed if that were in the Hockey Rule book.

"Excuse me sir, I want to fully understand before I break your eye tooth.... what exactly was the deeper message you hoped to convey with slamming me into the boards? Did you have a troubled childhood? Did your parents look away when you ripped worms in half with your bare hands? Please explain so I might understand better this outburst of murderous rage in the guise of competition."

"Thank you so much for that gentle and measured response. Go ahead and shoot that puck into the goal, dear fellow. It is only a game, and your sweet soul is of immeasurable worth in the eyes of our Savior."

Then all the players would applaud the game winning shot, from both teams, hold hands and circle gracefully like in an ice show singing , "Kumbaya!"

We have another friend who is the chaplain for the Checkers hockey team. Again, I just have to wonder what his sermons are about, or his prayers before a game.
"Please dear Lord, stay our sticks that we might not inflict permanent damage on anyone's skeletal structure."
Or perhaps he reads them that passage from James, but they are all covering their ears and chanting, "Lalalalalalal!"

I just have a hard time with this game, but perhaps it is a genetic problem, an inability for someone lacking the y chromosome to ever truly understand.  I actually just go to the game because my husband gets free box seats from work and free wine and munchies are provided.

Denny told me his young daughter watched a game once, and then asked him if when he played the game, he too got in fights.
"A few," he told her.
"Did you get smashed against the wall?" she asked.
"Some times," he answered.
There was silence, and then the little girl asked, "Daddy, do you need a hug?"

 The strangest part is that Denny strikes me as one of the gentlest guys around. His kids are angels and his wife is a wonderful woman. They seem to have a loving and happy marriage, and I really am inspired by them all. The whole family is so full of love and kindness and Christ in action, that I am struggling with the disconnect. I guess I just really don't understand hockey. But I'm with Denny's daughter on this one.... I think all those hockey players need hugs.

Philippians 4: 4-5
 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

Asherel also said, "No one is going to know you know how to draw."
"What's wrong with this?" I asked, showing her the iPod picture, "Don't you think it looks just like me?"
She just gazed silently at me.
"Well, you can't imagine how difficult it is to draw a new picture every single day," I complained.
"If you want followers, you are going to need to draw better pictures."
"This is abstract art. Besides, I am getting bored with realism."
She again looked askance at me, as though my every word were not dripping with wisdom.
"You need to talk about something new on your blog, and you need to draw better pictures or you will lose followers."

We had returned from a bikeride to CD warehouse to scout for CDs from the 40s and 50s. We intend to fill our car with music when we pick up Comer and Evelyn from the Alzheimer unit for our Thursday outing. We had found two compilation CDs of music from that era and I was excited to see if Evelyn would know the words to all those songs. While choosing the music, a salesman came over and asked if there was anything else we might like.
Asherel is always on the prowl for the Beatle movies. She has two, and wants to collect all 5 of the movies they had made. I asked the man if they had any.
"Doubtful," he told us, but led us over to where we might find them. As we stood there gazing at the rows of CDs of which not a one was a Beatles movie, he proceeded to talk about the Beatles. He looked at me as though I might know what he was talking about, the little known tidbits of knowledge.
I pointed to Asherel, "She's the one you need to talk to. She knows everything there is to know about the Beatles." (She is hoping to graduate first in her class in Beatle Studies.)
He then proceeded to try to prove me wrong. He certainly did know a lot about the Beatles, but Asherel claims she knew every thing he mentioned.
"They were my parents' yours," he said, then quickly added, "Though my parents are older than you."
"Probably," I answered.
"They were born in '53," he said, "And so they grew up on the Beatles. That was what they played when I was young, so you know how in those teenage formative years, that music stays with you."
"Yes, I was just a very little girl then," I said, since I believe "very little girl" is until the age of about 25.
Then he started branching out into discussing music from every decade, and why it was so good.  I listened to very little music, outside of the old musicals, so I was mostly lost, but nodded and said "Uhhuh" at the appropriate spots.
When we left, Asherel told me she loved talking with people about that stuff. She added that I looked a little confused as he was discussing music of each decade. Nothing gets by that girl.
"I was confused," I told her, "I mean, I had heard of all the groups he talked about, but I probably couldn't name a single song of any of them. I was too busy bike riding, and finding stray animals, and working on the farm down the street. I didn't listen to music, and I never wanted to do what everyone else was doing."
I guess I am at heart, cantankerous.
"That's the good thing about being homeschooled," she said as we biked home, "I don't have to like what everyone else likes....and I don't worry about it."
I smiled. That is one of the benefits, relieving the horrible burden of peer pressure.
"But if I ever go to public school, I will be light to the world."
At least that is what I thought she said, with the wind blowing across my ear drum. For the few seconds before I clarified that statement, I thought all my struggles, my trials as a mother, as a teacher, as an example were coming to fruition. I had a child who wanted to be "light to the world." Harps began sounding in the background, and a heavenly choir began singing, "Hallelujah!"
"Asherel, that is wonderful!"
 She looked confused.
"Mom," she asked finally, "Why do you think it is wonderful that I want to Beatle-ize the world?"
"I thought you said 'Be Light to the world'."
"No. Beatle-ize the world."

I had been on one other adventure that day. Since Asherel had the day off for Spring Break, I went to hunt for sandals that would not blister my feet. I tried several stores and held my sore feet up to salesman after salesman.
"Can you help these?" I asked. None could. They tried, but all said a narrow footed, high arched, overpronated, swollen pinky toed individual such a me was a very hard customer to please. And then I went into the expensive store, the one I don't go in unless driven to the heights of despair, or lured by a "SALE!" sign. The big letters S-A-L-E called to me from 10 miles away. As I walked in, I saw row after row of high end sandals half price. I saw one that I loved, with a molded high arch, soft leather straps, and beautiful. No  way it would fit...or be in my price range. I flipped it over. It was half off. I could afford it. He brought me the shoe and I walked around. It felt like walking on pillows.
"I"ll take it!" I gushed.
Then as I was the only one in the tiny store, I asked him how he had been.
"I thought you were closing shop, going out of business. I was surprised to see you open again."
"Well, I have had to get really lean," he said, which may have explained all those half price sandals at the height of the summer sandal buying season.
"I have been dealing with my mom. She has alzheimers." His face was lined, weary, sad.
I put the shoes in the box and looked at him, "That's hard. I have a friend with Alzheimers. We have discovered that she feels much better, more normal when we play music from her era for her. She knows all the words. Have you tried that? Sometimes those old memories from music of their childhood helps."
I found out that his mom was in a home 2 hours away. He faithfully visits once a week.
"Alot of people ask me why I bother. She doesn't know me, and they tell me she doesn't care if I am there or not."
"Oh, she cares," I said, "She may not know you as her son, but she knows you as someone who is kind and is lifting the drabness of her day, doesn't she?"
He nodded.
"You know, the hardest part is my dad just died of Alzheimers 5 years ago, and then Mom was diagnosed."
He shook his head.
"That's just not fair," I said.
"No, it isn't fair."
As I paid for the shoes, I told him, "You are doing the right thing. You will never look back with regrets."
"That is exactly it," he said, "I wouldn't want to look back when she passes and feel I had neglected her."

I had suggested music to the man with a dying mother. I had bought some shoes that might help him keep his shop open. I smiled as I thought of Asherel's statement. It wasn't much, but I was Beatle-izing the world as best I could.

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter,
Little darling, it seems like years since its been here.
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun
And I say, it's all right..........

Psalm 23: 3-5
4 Even though I walk
   through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
   for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Worldly Riches

"You always draw trees," said Asherel, "It's getting boring."
"But I love trees."

"And you always write about the same things- the Science olympiad helicopters, or trebuchets....or Comer and Evelyn and Alzheimer's, or dog agility. You should write about something new."
"But I have to write about what I know. This blog is about seeing God in my life, in the common things around me. Maybe my life is boring."
"Maybe you should just blog once a week. Then you will have people anticipating when the next one will come out."
"But I have a duty to my readers. They expect me to brighten their morning. I can't let them down. Besides, yesterday I drew a Guinea Hen."
"Yes that was good."

So I sat at the computer this morning thinking what do I have to write about that is new, even if I drew trees again. Well, I got new blisters on my feet. I have been taking long walks in all my shoes in preparation for our upcoming trip to NY and Boston to visit my parents and my first born son. All of them hurt my feet.
When I showed the shoe saleslady my blisters, she said, "My, you must have sensitive feet! Have you tried these?"
She brought out ugly shoes. They looked very supportive.

When I was young, I told my mom I had ankles that "fell into the ground." I didn't realize it then, but I was correctly diagnosing overpronation. Later xrays further revealed that I am missing a bone in my foot. I have looked every where for it, and cannot find it. It must still be in Mom's uterus. Anyway, as a result, Mom got me "saddle shoes" as a child. I think they are considered somewhat "nuveau geek hip" now, but back then, they were just geek and geek was not cool. They were those sturdy black and white lace up numbers that orthopedic clients or sometimes nurses wore. I think that experience marred me for life. It is not Mom's fault. She was doing what every good parent tries to do- make kids grow up intact. 

But as a result, I am always on a quest for the perfect shoe. The shoe that is beautiful and doesn't hurt my feet. I have thus far failed in this quest.  But what is stranger than this obsession in an otherwise fairly non-materialistic individual is that my grandmother shared this trait.  She had a thing about shoes....and bread. She loved both with a passion. And I seem to have inherited the shoe bread gene. My gene also mutated and I have an extra chromosome for haircuts as well. After God, and family, the things I love most are perfect haircuts, shoes, and yummy fresh bread.

" have written about shoes before too."
"I have?"
"Yes....and haircuts. Do we really need to go into all this again?"
"Well if it is on my heart, then God must be sending me a message."
"Which is....?"
"Hmmm. Well, it did flit through my head last night that perhaps my heart is not being stayed on things from above, like it is supposed to be. Like, perhaps all my shoes blister my feet because in the grand scheme of things, nothing of this world ever will fit perfectly. It isn't even supposed to."

Yesterday, I heard someone on the radio attribute to some great philosopher,(can't recall who), that we are not to be of the world, just in the world.
"That wasn't some great philosopher!" I screamed at the radio, "That is in the Bible!"
It is a message that is very hard to live out in reality. Being immersed in the world, surrounded by people with shoes that are beautiful and don't blister their feet, I long for beautiful shoes that don't blister my feet. But I think the message of the Bible falsely attributed to that unknown philosopher is: don't worry about my feet. It is my heart and soul that matters.

"I still think you ought to consider writing your blog just once a week."
"Maybe you are right. But kayak season starts any day now. I can add that to my list of things to write about."
"Mom, you wrote all last summer about kayaking."

Oh well. Redundancy is the curse of old age. I wonder if there will be shoes in heaven?
A couple days ago, a friend who is agnostic and I were discussing God. She started the discussion. I try never to start such conversations, but wait for God to open the door. Anyway, as we were parting, I said something like, "Well, we may never know til we get to heaven."
"Maybe this is heaven!" she said.
I looked down at my blistered feet and guilty shoes.
"I sure hope not," I said.

Luke 16:10-12

   10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Repeating History

"Acawwwwlllllll!"  shrieked something from overhead. We peered into the tree. Two brownish spotted huge birds perched in the limbs. They looked like a cross between a turkey and a leopard- with a wattle and multitudinous white spots.
"What is it?" asked Arvo.
"I think it is a New Guinea Hen," I answered, from the dregs of some memory I had no idea from wence it sprang....(or is it sprung)?
Anyway, we looked it up on our incredibly useful smart phone, and discovered I was correct, sort of. It was indeed a Guinea Hen.

We took a trip back in time yesterday. First we went to Old Salem, the Moravian village from the 1700s, and then we saw "1964 The Beatles Tribute" band that evening. It didn't even occur to me til I wrote that  sentence that our activities of the day all involved stepping back in history. And as we settled into our concert, the opening act was a fantastic singer from Memphis who organized his songs with a running commentary that traced the history of rock in roll. I was grateful for all the instruction in history, because if the adage is true, we are now not doomed to repeat it.

The Guinea fowl are birds that were domesticated long ago as a useful food source and predator of ticks. They are native to Africa, but adapted so well to life in the US that many people believe they are indigenous, almost immediately upon discovering what that word means. They were very common on pre-1900 farms, thus their presence in this old Moravian settlement. They taste, not surprisingly, like chicken, or snakes, which also taste like chicken. The Guineafowl mate for life, though rarely do indulge in bigamy. Most prefer monogamy because they can't afford the prison time if caught with two hen spouses, and for sure the Moravians frowned upon it.

We sat and watched the Guineafowl for quite some time as our feet were tired from trodding across Old Salem. Then, in tribute to the Beatles Tribute we were about to see, we had fish and chips for dinner. Asherel would have fish and chips for every meal if we would allow it, and is investigating majoring in Beatles Studies at the university in Liverpool. This evening was a dream come true for her.

The colliseum was awash in people my age, and older. All the old hippies who survived were there. And all of them were singing along, twisting and shouting. The Beatles imitators themselves were remarkably Beatle like, with every nuance of the way the Beatles moved, held their guitars, danced, and even shook their hair.....until we got up close to the stage, which we did for the encore.

Up close, we saw that the Beatles had aged considerably....and the hair had to be wigs, or at best dyed. However, they were very talented, and we had a wonderful time reliving years that I hadn't fully lived the first time around. I really wish I had paid attention to the Beatles when they were alive. Now that they are dead, I want to be a groupie. Asherel, who is a natural musician, loves them and understands the genius of their music, something that eluded me when I was growing up and the world was gaga over them. I preferred to sit in willow trees , and eat apples and read books about guineafowl.

In front of the colliseum where the Beatles Tribute performed, were row after row of posts with the names of all the US wars on one side, and the fallen soldiers from the community on the other. I thought of Comer, my old friend and WW2 veteran who was 93 years old. The personal history of our country is slowly dying off. Recently the last WW1 soldier died. The oldest man on earth just died, and with him, the personal recollections of his grandfather who used to talk with him about his experiences as a soldier for the Union Army in the Civil war. Arvo and I shook our heads sadly thinking this powerful, shaping history of our nation was disappearing and no one seems to care much to remember it.
"We have new history now," comforted Asherel.
And yet, she stood there with the old folk with her fresh unwrinkled brow, twisting and shouting with the echoes of time marching past. I listened and sang too, with visions of soldiers from the past and of a lonely single pair of Guinea fowl nesting in a tree that had first budded on a new country.

And how fitting that we start this week remembering, this week that culminates in remembrance of a very ancient occurrence. It is the single most rocking occurrence of all time, and I don't mean the Beatles. It is the single most pivotal event of history- the death of a Man that claimed to be the savior of the world, and His resurrection. The tribute band playing His song will be strumming harps and lyres and they will not need to worry about wigs or makeup.  And as Asherel noted in a slightly different context, the old will be made new.

2 Corinthians 5: 7-8, 17-18

7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Soaring Behind the Iron Curtain

"Hi....I'm sick. I can still go if you want me to. I have a fever and chills...."
An hour before we were to leave for our helicopter testing in the soaring high ceilings of the giant church, Asherel's partner Ben called.
"No Ben, much as I would love to catch whatever nasty bug you have, it is perhaps best you stay home and rest. We'll test Asherel's helicopters today and yours at the church next week."

So Asherel, rather dispiritedly, and I headed to the church with her four helicopters to test. The five story ceilings, made of glass, showed the tornado-watch clouds racing overhead. The church was empty that Saturday afternoon. Just one lone security guard sat watch. He was expecting us, and watched as we set up and sent our first copters soaring to the pinnacle of those exquisite glass peaks.

"Did you buy these?" he asked, as he came to look at the copters more closely. He spoke with a heavy accent. He was an older man, maybe in his sixties.
"No," said Asherel, "I made them."
"By yourself!" he exclaimed, "Can I buy one?"
We explained how in two weeks these copters would be in the State Competition for Science Olympiad.
"May I touch one?" he asked.
"No," I said, "They are really fragile. We only pick them up to fly them."
He understood, but looked a little sad.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
I glanced at Asherel and said, "We are studying about Siberia in our home school. During the USSR days."
"Yes, that is when I lived there."

In fact, the book we are currently reading is about the facade of freedom and prosperity that the Soviet Union would portray to visitors, but the reality was in sharp contrast to that front. The author was one of the first evangelists to step behind the Iron Curtain. He found a hunger for the Word there, but one that was trampled on by those in power. It was illegal and dangerous to proclaim Jesus behind the Iron Curtain. As we read the book, I wondered if Asherel or even I  could get a true sense of what it really meant to not have freedom- freedom in any sense, but especially freedom to worship God. The book was well written, but it is very hard to relate to something so totally outside our own world of experience.

Asherel was busily lubricating and stretching the rubber motor, so I asked the man, "What brought you to the United States?"
"I came after Perestroika," he answered, "It was hard life to be a believer in Russia."
I looked at Asherel. She was listening.
"It was illegal, wasn't it?" I asked.
"Oh yes. I was watched...followed, by the KGB. I started a radio station that told Christian stories. It was, how you say it, like theater. I wrote stories, and acted out Bible stories, then broadcast them."
"How did you do that?"
"Oh it was all underground."
"What would have happened if you were caught?" I asked.
He laughed mirthlessly and shook his head.
"Would you be shot?"
"Not outright, not most of time. Put in prison. My friend, who worked with me was put in prison. He died in prison. He was ripped apart limb by limb by large dogs."
"So how did you come to believe in Jesus in the first place?"
"It is long story," he said. He went to his guard counter and rolled out the chair so he could sit near. Even Asherel seemed to understand that listening to the long story right now was more important than flying her helicopter.
"My family did not believe," he said, "Especially my father. He said he never give up his vodka!"
I laughed.
"But my mother, she began to see God was real. She began to believe."
"How?" I asked.
"People came, told her about the Bible."
"What would have happened to them if they were caught?"
"Oh they always watching the door. They go to prison if they were caught. But they come, and tell my mother. She try to tell my father, but he say, no, it just nonsense. He not believe. Then one day, he grow suddenly very sick. He clutch his chest, and he pound it to try to make him breathe. His heart stop, his breathing stop. He lay on floor. And he tell us later that he suddenly felt an incredible love start at his head and go down his whole body. He know it is God. And his heart start, and he is fine. He become a Christian. But then, Satan always try to bring doubt. My father start saying it wasn't God. It was just a coincidence."
"Yes," I said, "I often hear that."
"So, it happen again! 3 times it happen. And each time, my father feel that love, his heart start again. And finally he become Christian, and he stay Christian."
He paused and watched as Asherel stood and hooked the motor rubber band onto her helicopter.
"Three miracles," he said.
We'd listened spellbound for half an hour, but now we had to get back to work.
He continued talking while we wound the motor. This is a big no-no since winding the motor is actually precise and difficult. If we don't do it right, we destroy helicopters. I just didn't have the heart to say shush. Not to a man like that.
And when Asherel released the helicopter, it flew straight down and smashed into  pieces. She had wound it the wrong way. It was my fault too. As "holder", I was supposed to check that she was winding properly. I'd been distracted.

The Russian, Asherel, and I looked down at the destroyed helicopter.
"Now you can hold it," I said to the man.

The other copters did supremely well. I can't give any more specifics til after the State contest. I don't want to unwittingly give any information out that might be a  disadvantage to our team. But it was a miraculous day....and I don't mean just the helicopter flights. We sat in the church glass portico, the three of us, watching copter after copter soar 5 stories high, against a shimmering backdrop of sun breaking through rain and clouds racing across the sky in a cosmic Kentucky Derby. Three people from three stages of life- one who had seen oppression, and tyranny, had struggled and overcome in the faith; one who longed that her daughter would understand the blessings of freedom won by others, the miracles of God, and the sacrifice so many faced in living for Him; and one who was still learning to test and trust Heaven.

The helicopter soared, it rotors spinning as it lifted to the sky.

Hebrews 11

 1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.  3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Hebrews 12:3-5

3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,    “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
   and do not lose heart when he rebukes you

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Soaring upward on a wing and a prayer

Today we go to the gorgeous pink church, with a ceiling 5 stories high. The ceiling is magnificent, free of rafters or speakers or any impediments to the prayers of the devout below from soaring without encumbrance...or of helicopters doing likewise. The ceiling is taller than trees, with no branches that might rip delicate tissue or snarl hopefully whirling rotors.

"I have an unusual request," I told the head pastor of the largest church in Charlotte.
We sat in a huge magnificently appointed conference room. The conference table could seat 50. Asherel and I sat across from the Pastor and the facilities manager. Our voices echoed in the room.
"We have Science Olympiad helicopters that we think can break the 2 minute barrier..."
The Pastor tilted his head and narrowed an eye.
"Not a real helicopter!" I added quickly,"It is powered by a rubber band. And we need a really tall ceiling to test it adequately. I have always admired your tall, your church."
"Are you sure you don't want me to pray for a loved one or perhaps for your salvation?" (he didn't really say that but I think that was more in line of what he was expecting.)
"Oh, you certainly may if you like, but I am a believer already. I am sure your church is excellent at those functions, and now, I am offering you an opportunity to expand the definition of soaring to heaven."(I didn't really say that either, but isn't it a perfect hypothetical retort to a hypothetical question?)

"Where have you tested in the past?" he asked. (He did really say that because I think he was hoping we might wish to test there again.)
"In a gym," said Asherel, "And it gets stuck and sometimes broken in the rafters."
"Your ceiling has nothing to get stuck on," I added, "We have had to shoot it down in the past."
The pastor cringed.
"With rubber bands!" I said, "There isn't anything we do that would hurt your church." At least not physically....
"Where would you want to do these practice flights?"
"The portico entryway is perfect," I said, "Although the Sanctuary itself has even higher ceilings. Would it be sacrilegious to fly in there?"
He nodded.
"The portico is perfect then."
The pastor looked at the facilities manager.
"They could fly next Friday," he said.
"During the funeral?"
"Oh, no that would not be proper. How about Saturday the 16th?"

So today we will attend the largest church in Charlotte to fly helicopters. But we will be in the right place because we will be praying. We will be praying that it breaks the 2 minute barrier. The state Science Olympiad contest is just two weeks away. I find it very appropriate that our final test flight will be in a church. I suspect it will give us a special anointing that less spiritual helicopter teams won't have.

One of my favorite Bible verses is "I lift my eyes unto the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord , the maker of Heaven and Earth."  The best dreams I ever have are of flying. Heaven is always described as above up, up, up. Why? Why do we lift our eyes...why do we want to soar....why do we look up when looking for God?  God is infinite, and all around us. Up is only part of where God resides. All those pilots who have gone as far up as we can go have never reported seeing pearly gates, or even a glimpse of the saints gathered in joyous song.

Maybe it is because when we look up, our eyes are opened as wide as they can go. Try it. You can't look up with squinty eyes. It hurts the muscles. I think God intends for us to acknowledge Him with our hearts and eyes fully open. The evidence for God is all around us but we have to be looking. And today, I will be looking up for we pray at least 120 seconds.

2 Samuel 22:11
11 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
   he soared on the wings of the wind.

Friday, April 15, 2011

When You are Smiling

As soon as Evelyn saw Comer and me walk into the Alzheimer Unit, she smiled.
"Well you seem happy," I said.
"What a smile!" said Comer.
Suddenly Evelyn began to sing, "When you're smiling, when you're smiling...."
"The whole world smiles with you," I sang in unison.
She beamed at me and we linked arms singing as we approached my car. Asherel sat in the front seat watching us, trying to control the horror in her eyes.
"But when you're crying, you bring on the rain," sang Evelyn.
"So keep on smiling, be happy again!" I crooned.
"When you're smiling, when you're smiling! The whole world smiles with you!" we belted out together.
"Well now," said Comer, "That was right pretty."
"How about this one," I said, "You are my sunshine...."
"My only sunshine," sang Evelyn.
When we finished that one, I called out, "Bicycle built for two!"
"Daisy, daisy, give me your answer true...." we sang.
"Alfie!" I called back from the front seat.
"What's it all about, Alfie.....," her voice rang out in perfect tune.
"White Cliffs of Dover!"
"There'll be bluebirds over, the white cliffs of Dover, tomorrow just you wait and seee....."
"Red Sails in the Sunset!"
"Red sails in the sunset, way out on the sea, come carry my loved one, home safely to me...."
When she faltered, which was seldom, on the words, I remembered them. Together we reprised the 1940s and 50's. Comer joined in on some of the ballads, but mostly just listened, his mouth agape like he didn't know this woman he had lived with for 75 years.
"You have a beautiful voice!" I told Evelyn, "How do you remember all those songs?"
"I do remember them," she said, beaming.
"I didn't know you knew all those!" said Comer, "I wasn't expecting such a fine concert today."

I remember them because they are the songs I used to sing with my dad on our Sunday drives. While all my friends were listening to rock and roll and heavy metal, I was crooning Judy Garland ballads. The only time on the 2 hour drive we were silent was when the KFC chicken was handed back to the old couple holding hands. Evelyn ate every bite of her two piece meal.

When we returned to the Alzheimer center, I didn't give her a chance to collapse into the inevitable tears and dismay. As I pulled the car to the door, I began singing, "When you're smiling....."
She joined in, "When you're smiling.... the whole world smiles with you."
I started dancing, "When you're laughing, when you're laughing..."
She swayed to the music, her arms linked in mine and danced beside me, "The sun comes shining through!"

As we waltzed through the chairs of slack faced men and women lost in the throes of Alzheimer's, Evelyn and I were still singing and dancing, Comer following behind. The startled faces lifted and watched us.
"You know Evelyn had three pieces of fried chicken at lunch," shouted out one of the aides.
"And we just fed her two more," I said.
Evelyn looked slyly at me and giggled.

As Evelyn settled onto her bed, her face took on briefly the look that always preceded weeping.
"When you're smiling," I sang softly, as I helped her feet up over the edge of the bed.
"When you're smiling," she sang along.
Comer and I shuffled out the door, and as we closed it behind us, we heard her still singing.

Proverbs 15:13
A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.

Job 29:24
24 When I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it;
   the light of my face was precious to them.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Work of An Artist's Hand

Once I was painting the ocean and squeezed out red from my paint tube. A man approached me and said, " I had to come see your painting. I own a gallery and when I saw you dip your brush in red paint to paint the ocean in the middle of the day....I thought I better have a look."
He gazed at my watercolor, then handed me his card, and told me to see him with a my portfolio when I had a chance. I found it gratifying that from a tiny sketch of a red tinged ocean this gallery owner thought he saw something worth looking into further.

I wonder if my son and his bride will gaze at the colors in their faces on the wedding portrait I am painting and feel similarly.
"Why are their faces so red?" asked Asherel.
"Too much?" I asked.
She nodded.
"I suppose you will tell me the purple shadow beside the nose has to go too?"
I am struggling with this portrait. I mixed up more realistic flesh tones and got back to work. And then I noticed that the bright white dress I had painted, might not really be a bright white dress.
I emailed Karissa, the beautiful bride to be.
She was studying for finals, and writing class papers, and applying to law schools. I knew she would drop it all to answer me over this important question.
"Does your dress have a touch of ivory in it?"
There was the email equivalent of arched eyebrows and a long pause.
"I have no idea," came the response, "It's white- exactly like the picture I sent."
But white has a thousand potential nuances. And my printer doesn't print exactly as the monitor displays the color....
"It definitely has a touch of ivory in it," said Asherel.
So back to work on the dress which I had actually thought was done months ago.
"Does Matt's hair really look like a basketball?" asked Asherel, of course in the kindest manner possible.
It was too perfectly coiffed and rounded. I sighed. I am using water soluble oil paints so they are easily cleaned like acrylics, but take a week or so to fully dry, unlike acrylics. That means any big changes require at times a week of waiting between new coats. It seems that every time I lay down my brushes and say, "It is finished!", when I look back at it, or Asherel does, a new flaw emerges. And when I change one thing....well then suddenly everything around it needs changing. This is one of the most laborious labors of love I have ever engaged in.

How did God get it all done in a week?
There is one thing that all the struggles, turmoils, stumbles, and falls of my life have taught me. I am not God.
If I had been, we would all be walking around with one eye 3 cm higher than the other, noses just slightly off center and teeth that curved and meandered. Our cheeks would be suffused with a greenish purple glow and our necks would have an extra tendon. For this reason alone, it is good that I am not God.

However, I think one of the hardest lessons of my life has been that even if I were offered the job, I would not want to be God, nor am I qualified. As a kid, I think I thought I could pass muster. The older and "wiser" I get, the more I understand that running a universe smoothly is much harder than one would think.

And maybe similarly, my perspective is as limited as my qualifications. Perhaps all that I see is my little corner, but the real God has to see every corner....simultaneously. Maybe all this senseless stuff makes sense to the one who can gather it all into one canvas.

Last night, I finished the last sparkle of white on my portraits' eyes and stepped back.
"It is good!" I said.
But that is what I said before I started repainting them this morning too......
"Well ok, it is good for today. We will see about tomorrow when it comes."
Unlike God, I can't see around the corner either.

Song of Solomon 7:1
 1 How beautiful your sandaled feet,
   O prince’s daughter!
Your graceful legs are like jewels,
   the work of an artist’s hands.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Lesson of Honeybun

Only one speech to go and Asherel would finish her manual in Gavel Club.I believe she gets some sort of title, like "Novice Speaker Able to Talk for Ten Minutes Without Visible Heart Palpitations or eyeballs falling out of your head", or something like that. She had to do her final speech outside of the actual Gavel club class as the coordinator wanted all the kids who were so close to completing a book to have the opportunity to do so. That meant scheduling extra time after Gavel Club ended for the day.

As a result, she would be giving her speech in front of the coordinator, the timer, one other speaker who would go next...and me. So our little group gathered and Asherel gave her speech. A friend and mother wandered in to listen. Asherel's speech had specific parameters that had to be adhered to, the most important being it was to be "inspirational."

The title of her speech was "Honeybun."

In her talk, Asherel recounted how we found the starving, dying, mud-encrusted dog, bereft of newly born pups, covered with ticks. I felt tears start to trickle in the corners of my eyes.
"Don't cry, don't cry, " I murmured inside.
Then Asherel told how we had no money or desire for a second dog but how we ended up bringing her home anyway. She spoke about how Honeybun became aggressive, attacking our other dog, and threatening people as well.  As she continued the story of how we tried to get rid of Honeybun, I was digging my fingernails into my palms so I would not weep. She recounted those hard, hard days, when our every waking moment was centered on keeping Honeybun from killing Lucky or neighbors while trying to hoist her off on someone, anyone else. She told how Hollow Creek Farm helped us work with Honeybun since we had absolutely no knowledge or skill to help the little dog, but we were hesitant to send her to Animal control, knowing aggressive dogs are euthanized.

Fortunately, Asherel studiously avoided looking at me during her speech or she would have seen me biting my lip and swatting at my eyes. I remembered those days, how hopeless they seemed, how insurmountable the obstacles, how impossible the odds of success. I remembered Hollow Creek Farm warning us that this "fear aggression" was the hardest to heal, and could take years. Years! I remember losing weight, taking the dogs on 5 mile power walks twice a day to exhaust them, reading every dog training book I could find, muzzling and tethering Honeybun when I could not be holding her leash. I remember thinking I can not live this way for 5 more minutes. And then when 5 minutes passed, certain I could not live 5 minutes more.

Then Asherel spoke about how she began training Honeybun in Agility. She told about building the agility course out of sticks and furniture in our backyard, and how Honeybun seemed to like it. It became part of her therapy. She told about Honeybun's eventual entrance into Agility Trials, winning ribbons and titles, and transforming over the next 3 years to a docile and beloved pet.

"Saving one little dog doesn't make much of a difference considering all the dogs that don't have homes and are in rescues and humane societies. There are many many more dogs that are waiting to be saved. But for one little dog, for Honeybun, it meant everything."  With that conclusion, her last speech for the school year ended. She had spoken a bit fast, so that it was hard to quite understand every word. Had she slowed down, I might still be sobbing. She delivered her 10 minute speech in 6 minutes. 6 minutes that described one of the hardest years of my life.

When I look back on my life, the things I remember with the greatest satisfaction are the things that were the hardest to accomplish. The most difficult struggles that I felt could not be overcome, but somehow...were....those are the memories that give me the most joy.  Of course, like everyone, when I was going through those struggles, I was pretty ticked off at God at times.
"Why did you send me this dog, and then watch me suffer financially, physically, emotionally, for 2 years after I did a kind thing? Is that how you repay compassion!? No wonder so few people reach out to be the Good Samaritan if this is the result!"

It is hard to value the lesson, the transformation, while you are enduring it. In fact, it usually hurts to the point where you are not certain you can bear it. It is so easy to toss your crumpled dreams and life into the nearest waste basket and settle into all the piles of scratched out, erased, and mangled hopes.

Those little victories, eeked out in the midst of battle after battle after battle of a world that seems bent towards hopelessness, complacency, and despair may make little difference in the grand scheme of things.....
but in the end, mean everything.

Isaiah 57: 9
10 You wearied yourself by such going about,
   but you would not say, ‘It is hopeless.’
You found renewal of your strength,
   and so you did not faint.

Job 6:10-11

10 Then I would still have this consolation—
   my joy in unrelenting pain—
   that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.
 11 “What strength do I have, that I should still hope?
   What prospects, that I should be patient?

Psalm 31:24

24 Be strong and take heart,
   all you who hope in the LORD.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cleaning from the Inside Out

Four grody, mud encrusted horse blankets hung over the fence. My job was to ungrody them. Jill gave me a hose and a horse brush.
"Just get them to the point that I won't be kicked out of the laundromat," she requested.

While Asherel has her riding lesson, peacefully rocking on the back of a warm, fuzzy animal with gentle brown eyes, meandering through a trail in the shadowy forest......I volunteer to do whatever disgusting jobs have accumulated. I love Jill and I love her vision for His Barn, a riding instruction farm that also gives benefits for Healing Horses Rescue, and looks at animals as gifts from God that we should cherish, nurture, and protect. So, I am happy to do what I can to help during that hour.

Horse blankets that covered horses all winter, that have been rolled in, sweated in, and rain spattered mudded on have a special scent all their own when dry. I cannot begin to describe the odor when wet. I thought I was getting off easy not being told to muck the stalls until the stream of water from the hose began to fully release the "eau de caballo" from within those blankets. And to scrub the blankets, I had to get my face right up to them so one hand could hold the flapping bottom taut while the other scrubbed.

"Well," I thought, "At least my arms are being toned for the sleeveless gown I will be wearing at Matt's wedding."
My sister Holly had warned me that old skin like mine is best seen covered. I can't wait til she is my age and I can repay all these loving comments she showers with regularity on her older sisters as though old skin is unique only to us. However, I do remember in my younger days watching older folks' flapping triceps jiggling like pancakes,  so I see her point.
"No pancake triceps for me," I muttered as grime and horse hair flowed away with the water. I had to keep switching hands to scrub because my jiggly triceps were actually getting pretty weary after just a few moments.

At first, I did just try to get off the chunks, but then something happened inside me. I was determined these blankets would look clean enough that perhaps the laundromat would not be necessary. My shirt and shorts and shoes were soaked with splotches of mud and horse detritus spattered all over me. My arms ached and I am pretty sure that passerbys were not calling Vogue to report a sighting of the next supermodel.  My old lady triceps jiggled and scrubbed, scrubbed, scrubbed. A horse fly bit me and left a huge welt, and still I scrubbed. Then I heard the voices of the returning riders. I turned off the hose, and stepped back to survey my handiwork.

"Wow," said Jill, "I was just hoping you would get off the chunks."
The four blankets, while not looking brand new, did look clean.
Asherel and her friend, Kathryn, who rides with her came over and the four of us gazed at the blankets, drying in the abnormally warm spring sun.
"Aren't they beautiful!" I exclaimed. The girls nodded, but didn't effuse the way one would expect over a minor miracle like this.

But I knew that this was a victory for me. I am a "just get the chunks off" kind of person. My sister Amy calls me a "surface cleaner".  My house is neat and organized....until you open a cabinet. We never do so unless we are swathed in full armor. Things leap out at us with astounding force. And I am sorry to say that this is probably a personality defect. It is hard to scrub beneath the surface. It is hard to look beyond what is obvious, and deal with what is hidden, til it is really clean.

I cringe every time I read Jesus' reprimand of the Pharisees.
"You clean the outside of the cup while the inside is filthy! You get off the chunks...but you leave the stains. After you clean the horse blankets, the laundromat consistently kicks you out."
He didn't mention the horse blankets, but the Bible is a living document that can fit any situation.
In actuality, Jesus was talking about souls. We look pretty on the least some of us do,( but no one over Holly's age according to her)......while our spirits are filled with corruption, deceit, and sin. Jesus doesn't mind us scrubbing off the chunks, but He advises we clean the inside parts thoroughly first. And He is willing to send His spirit along to help us. Since God is outside of time and space and age.... I suspect His triceps aren't jiggly.

Luke 11:38-40

38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
 39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?
41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.


Monday, April 11, 2011

My First Born Son

Defying certain death by sneezing til my nose completely severed from my face, I sat on the front porch, dusting aside the glaze of pollen. I could not resist. The azaleas were blooming, and I love to sit on the porch rocker and watch the bees make gluttons of themselves on those fragrant pink blossoms. Some flowers had been crushed and ripped from their moorings by hailstone the size of cannonballs the day before. The remaining hardy ones lifted their triumphant faces to the sun.

"Do you mind if I sit here with you?" I asked them.
 The pink blooms glanced at each other, shimmering gossamer petals in the wind. They didn't answer, so I took that as affirmation.
I sketched, in between sneezes... . and I realized that I rarely do whole pictures, whole objects, whole landscapes any more. Part of this is because I am drawing on an iPod with a 2x4 inch screen. The other part is that the older I get, the more I find significance in details. One would think that with a lifetime of experience, I would rather take in the whole picture. But instead, I sit and marvel at the thread-thin stripes of slightly darker magenta against the pink petals of the azalea. What a beautiful little added touch, as if the flower wasn't glorious enough!

My first born son entered this world 25 years ago today. I had no clue what one does with such a supremely perfect creature in one's care. I often focused on the whole picture- all that I would need to do to successfully launch him into a wide open sea of independent life. It was often overwhelming, and like all first borns, he suffered through my mistakes and ignorance. But he is now launched and fully on his own. He pays his own bills ( I presume...), goes to his own dentist ( I hope......) and prays on his own initiative (I desperately desire.....).  I got him through his years with us educating him, exposing him to a world of opportunities and experiences, pointing him to the God I cherish and believe in, and keeping the tally of broken bones to just one in his years with us in charge. But now, settling on the porch rocker of my memories, it is the seemingly inconsequential details that flood my mind.

Like once when I walked in his room, and he was just a small boy, lying on his back in his bed, with his eyes focused on another world.
"Mommy, I see angels."
He smiled at the ceiling, "Sparkling everywhere."

Or the morning of departure from our first family vacation to the beach. He lay in bed, propped up against his pillow, his tiny face framed in tears.
"Anders! What's wrong?"
"It was such a nice vacation. I don't want it to end."

Or when as a 5 year old, attending a "Masters Class" in piano with highschool age kids, the instructor listened to him, and not wanting to condescend, barked out a rather harsh, and loud critique as though she were dealing with someone who was old enough to sift through the overbearing delivery and find the message without the tone.
When she finished, he looked at her and in his little man voice said, "OK."
The Master's face softened, and the entire classroom murmured, "Awwwww......"
Tears welled in my eyes for the little boy whose talent sometimes put him in a world of men perhaps too soon.

But my hardest job as a parent wasn't the 18 years of homeschooling him, or chauffeuring him to special piano and math contests and classes that fed his exceptional abilities, or finding a group that opened their arms to him and taught him to juggle, or feeding him healthy meals, or developing his college transcript.....all that pales to the job, the duty, the necessity of unclasping my hand from his, of letting him go.

I totally get the magnitude of God's love demonstrated by the sacrifice of His son. I don't think there is anything harder that any parent could ever be called upon to do. I struggled just to watch my son march off to a wonderful future a thousand miles away from me. I can't imagine watching a son march to the cross. At one time I thought that indicated how little God cared for His own son. But now I see how supremely God longs and cares for us...for me.

So I sit on the porch, looking at the fine lines of the beautiful azalea, and I remember those snippets of the brief time I was the one my boy most longed to sit with, rocking and listening to the bees hum as they gorged on the fragrant blossoms.

1 Samuel 1:10-12
11 And she made a vow, saying, “LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life