Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Struggling Alone

The rest of my family was worn out and no one seemed eager to haul the kayaks around again. I knew the week ahead held a host of nitpicky, not enjoyable tasks so decided carpe diem.... and off I went all alone to kayak the Catawba River. All alone, just me and the 3,000 other Charlotteans with this wonderful idea.

I don't love crowds when I am getting back to nature. When there are crowds, nature hides. I had to kayak quite far upriver from the popular rental place before I began seeing turtles sunning themselves along the shore again. There is safety in the crowd, and that is why we tend to cluster. I think at heart, most of us are scared to death. It is better to have someone to huddle against.

So I have very strong conflicting needs.  Every time I think of all the horrid things that could go wrong to a lone kayaker in an inflatable kayak, I almost don't dare go at all. But at the same time, there is a strong voice knocking on my ear drum telling me that I am one with nature, and I need to see the quiet, lonely, peaceful beauty unencumbered by consensus of the masses. So I usually choose a happy medium. The crowd is near, but I venture off to the fringes of it. And every time I move beyond the fringes, I feel thrill and terror comingled.

 I have never felt a strong need for company. I love being alone. My thoughts seem quite reasonable and are adequate companions for me most of the time. Until something goes wrong. Either my thoughts led me to someplace that they shouldn't have or I am in some sort of distress or trouble. At that point, I long for others to help hold me up. Knowing this about myself, I tend to be a better foul-weather than fair-weather friend. If my friends are doing fine, I don't seek them out as much as I should. But if they are hurting, I feel drawn to kindred sufferers and I want to help. It is really sort of strange.
I can relate to Jacob of the Old Testament. He was left alone when in fear of his brother's wrath, he sent all his servants and family away. As he steeled himself to meet the brother he felt would kill him,  a 'man' wrestled with him throughout the long lonely night. In the end, the 'man' touched Jacob's hip, wrenching it, because he saw Jacob would not be overcome. At that moment, the 'man' renamed Jacob Israel, which means literally "to prevail with God", and Jacob knew he had wrestled with God all night, and had overcome.

This is what I have found to be true in my life. When I am surrounded by others, I may feel safety, encouragement, and sometimes contentment.... but I only see God face to face when I am alone. He is sort of like the turtles on the shore. In all the turbulence of the crowds they disappear from direct sight. They are there, but I can't see them til I take myself to a quiet place, beyond the maddening crowd. And sometimes wrestling with God in my aloneness results  in pain, like Jacob's did, but ultimately it is only in that one on one struggle with God that one can truly overcome, truly prevail, truly believe.....

As I glided silently in peaceful lonely waters, I saw a huge 3 foot turtle. He watched me til I was nearly upon him, and then slowly slid into the water, leaving the gift of his presence in a swirling wake.

Genesis 32: 22-30
 22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”    But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
   “Jacob,” he answered.
 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
   But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

Monday, May 30, 2011

On the Rocks

It seems like a preponderance of loved ones are currently on the injured list. Our beloved agility mentor Polly has a badly broken wrist. She broke it the day we were to take her kayaking, before we showed up, I might add. Another friend is due any day to go in for a double mastectomy. And then poor dear sister Amy is back in the hospital with the second flare up of her pancreas in two weeks and on day 4 of no food. She advanced from being allowed just ice chips, to ice chips and water yesterday. That is her Memorial Day feast and she is not happy about it. And always there are our old friends in the Nursing home, who are waiting for a break in the ever present thunderstorms so I can take them to a "real steak restaurant." (We are scheduled for Thursday.0 I lay in bed last night thinking over all the aging, hurting, injured loved ones in my life and said out loud, "Help."

I feel guilty admitting I had a nice day kayaking with Arvo and Asherel and friend Josh on a lake I had never visited before. Oh sure, we got yelled at by the lake police, but it was not for a felony. They did speak harshly to us as though it were, however. We did the unthinkable crime of swimming in the lake. Yes, hardened criminals that we were, we actually dipped into the water on the 90 degree day. Good thing our government is so well funded that they can catch criminals like us. I think that alone should persuade congress to raise the debt ceiling. If 40 % of government services were cut back should they not raise the debt ceiling, who will apprehend the children swimming in the county lakes? Later we saw those same clever police pulling over a boat. They actually had red flashing lights on their police boat and moored themselves to the offending family of holiday boaters. I was not sure what the family had done, but I think they had been suspected of plotting to swim in the lake.

We kayaked to the middle of the lake where there was a picturesque cluster of large rocks. They were more picturesque from a distance, because up close it was clear that the rocks were used as the Latta Lake Goose Latrine. However, it was quite stunning, those big rocks sticking up in the  middle of the smooth blue water. We discovered as we kayaked that throughout this apparently shallow lake,  rocks lurked just below the surface. As I was in my inflatable kayak, I had to pay close attention, since a sharp rock could slice through my kayak.

This lake is just like life! It is very very beautiful from a distance. Serene even, surrounded by peaceful forests, quietly lapping water against pristine shores, rocks jutting in perfect composition to the whole delightful panorama. But then when you get down to the nitty gritty, to the actual navigating across that bucolic scene, you hit submerged rocks, goose poop, and are not allowed the relief of the cool waters.
Life is never smooth and never easy for long.

The apostle Paul was shipwrecked on rocks once. His fellow shipmates wanted to try to escape on lifeboats, or kill the prisoners the boat was carrying to justice, or save the heavy load of food . Most were succumbing to despair. But Paul told them not a single one would be lost to the sea and the rocks if they would just trust in his God. He urged them to cut away the lifeboats, throw the food overboard, and stay with the ship. In the end, everyone made it safely to shore. The rocks indeed splintered the ship, but it became the planks by which those who couldn't swim made it to the beach.

Despite the struggle of lifting the kayak back on the car, sweating to strap it down securely, packing up the multitude of necessary equipment for an outing on the lake, and having had a few anxious moments with the lake patrol and the lake rocks......I would still do it again. Hopefully tomorrow.

A few hours after we dropped Josh back home, I got an email from his mom. She told me Josh said he had a fantastic time, and by the way, there might be snails in the car, and I might want to go check.
I sent Asherel out to the car and she returned with a warm bottle of cooked snails.
"I think they are dead," she said.

To all my beloved ones crashing against the rocks of life today, I just want to lift a prayer for you- don't abandon the ship, and be thankful you are not snails.

 Acts 27: 29-32, 42-44
29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away. 42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


The "back forty" needs a bit of repair. I went walking the fence line yesterday morning and found that a dog even less wily than Emporer Escapist Lucky could manage to get out of our fence. Now it is true that all the damaged sections just lead to someone else's fenced in back yard, but depending which section Lucky decided to scale, the consequences could range from none to severe. There are four damaged areas, each leading to a different yard with different likely results.

Escape number one would be the safest choice and I am pretty sure that is the route Lucky usually chooses. It leads into Comer and Evelyn's back yard, and since they are currently in a Nursing Home, and no one has yet bought the house, it is empty. Their gate is a little tottery so Lucky can squeeze through that fairly easily to freedom. That section of decrepit fence would require some climbing and then scraping through some open wire, but it could be done, and I could tell, had been done.

Escape # 2 was at a low corner that led into Piper's yard. Piper is about 6 inches tall and loves Lucky. Those neighbors also love Lucky and have been very sweet about the few times they have found Lucky in their yard. Their fence is otherwise difficult to scale however, so Lucky chooses it less often as he only finds himself in another fenced in yard, and his entire nervous system seems wired to escape enclosures.

Escapte #3 was one I had not known about, and exceedingly disturbing. The picket fence was actually toppling and the wire was squished down . Any dog with half a terrier gene could figure out how to squeeze through that hole. This route was most unfortunate, as being very simple to navigate and leading into the jaws of the pitbull neighbor. This pitbull does not like other dogs, and growls when he sees us near the fence. However, that section is particularly tempting to a dog like Lucky because a.) it is an easy escape from our yard, and b.) the neighbor's fence has a large hole in it not big enough for the pitbull to get out of (supposedly) but big enough for wiry Lucky to slip through to complete freedom. All he'd have to do is get past the pitbull..... I tacked that section up immediately with all the old wire screening I could find and knew that any money left from this year of great expense had to go into a new fence. We just had no choice.

Escape #4 was an unknown risk. It led to the neighbor's house where a new dog seems to visit every few weeks. The last one was a rottweiler, but I don't think he is there any more. This was the surprise box with a big question mark on it for Lucky. It was a route he must have used at least once, as the wire was squashed down with dog shaped squashes, but I don't think it was a route he used regularly. Lucky has an electric collar as well as a physical fence. The collar supposedly shocks him as he gets near the fence line, but freedom is such a lure to him that he withstands the small moment of discomfort for the greater glory of disobeying us.

So we called fence businesses for our requisite three estimates. The first man arrived quickly. He surveyed the fence, we outlined the issues with our dog and he came up with a fencing solution that should be difficult for even Lucky to escape through. As he left, he talked about our need to discuss with neighbors whether we should do a jointly erected (and hopefully split cost ) or should put up our own fence right beside their's.
"And people get really funny about these things. Really greedy. Must be republicans," he laughed.

Neither Arvo, my to-the-right-of-Atila-the-Hun husband, nor I smiled.
The fence man kept laughing, then slowly rolled to a grin, and then choked to a concerned look on his face in the ensuing silence.
"You ain't one of those, are you?" he asked.
I smiled sweetly, "Well yes, as a matter of fact, we are."
I suspect we will need to contact Fence Company Number two.

I was thinking about those escape routes and the results each choice would bring, and realized what a perfect picture they painted of the consequences of all our choices to sin and to stray in life.
#1 is a safe choice, no real thrill, no real danger, no horrible consequences in the short run. Of course, once out of the safety of our own "fence", any number of dangers could await us.
#2 is a mercy laden choice, into the confines of friends and loving reception by those who care for us and will restore us to our right place with little recrimination. If we must stray, it is best to stray towards those who will counsel and protect and ultimately restore.
#3 is a risky choice into obvious dangers that could maim or even destroy us. The route is easy and appealing in that respect, but the consequences are likely dire. This choice is suicidal, and one that few make except in desperation.
#4 is an unknown. The consequences could go either way depending on the day.We choose that route when we feel lucky.

Of course, the choice I wish we would make each time isn't listed. It is implicit however. Stay in your own fenced yard! Remain in the confines, rules, laws of the Master who put the fence there for your protection because He loves you and longs for you to thrive.

Since Lucky is unlikely to remain happy long with this best choice, we greedy Republicans will need to buy a new fence.

Psalm 88: 8-9
I am confined and cannot escape;
 9 my eyes are dim with grief.

2 Corinthians 10:13 (New International Version)

13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you.

Psalm 139:4-6 (New International Version)

4 Before a word is on my tongue
   you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
   and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
   too lofty for me to attain.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Three eyelids

"Oh look, there's the camel," I pointed as we drove a new friend to kayak with us.
"What?" Emma swirled her head around and stared, "Oh my! It is a camel! I haven't seen a camel since I was about 5 years old!"

I pulled over so we could walk up close to the camel. Even I have not seen a camel this close before. They have some of the most unusual mouths I have ever seen. The upper lip is cleft, and both lips are loose, like big flapping pancakes. The lower teeth point almost horizontally forward. When it chews, it does so with a circular motion, lips flapping open with every bite. The sign said, "May bite. Don't feed."
"What would you feed a camel anyway?" asked Emma.
"Sand," said Asherel.

We watched the camel eating not sand, but hay, our mutual gazes transfixed. It did not seem possible that those strange front teeth could chew anything but it seemed to be consuming the hay somehow. It had thin slitty nostrils which sparked a memory in my store of animal facts.
"Did you know they can shut their nostrils? " I asked.
"I didn't know that," said Emma politely.
"Yes, that's to keep the sand out in a sandstorm."
Asherel added, "They have three sets of eyelids. One set is clear so they can close them during sandstorms and still see."
"And did you know camels are natural pacers?" I asked, drawing on my recent knowledge gleaned after our Tioga Race Track experience and having researched if pacing was a natural gait for a horse.

"I rode a camel once," said Asherel.
"You rode an elephant....are you sure you rode a camel?"
"I think I did."
"How would you ride a one hump camel?" I asked, as we watched our one hump friend chewing, it's 3 eyelids currently  half closed, "I don't think you could ride on top of the hump. I think the hump changes size. I think it is where water is stored. I might be lying about that...but I think that is correct."
"But that's where the people ride in cartoons," said Asherel.
"Yes but people fall off cliffs and bounce in cartoons too," I said.
We watched the camel a few more minutes and then headed on to other adventures.

When I got home, I googled "Do Camel's store water in their humps?" I discovered that of the top ten animal myths, this one is number 3. Camels excel at retaining water in their kidneys and intestines, but the hump is just a mound of fat. However, if the camel comes across a journey where there is nothing to eat, he can live 3 weeks off of his hump. Of course, having enhanced my wealth of animal knowledge that far, I had to find out what was myth number one?

Animal Myth #1: Lemmings do not commit suicide by jumping off cliffs en masse. They do migrate in large numbers and their migrations do sometimes include jumping off cliffs and swimming, which they sometimes do to the point of exhaustion and then drown. They do not jump off the cliff in hopes of drowning, however. Intent makes all the difference.

"Why is the camel here?" asked Emma.
"It is part of a Christian theater group that does live nativities," I said. We glanced back at the donkey housed with the camel that undoubtedly was used to carry Mary to Bethlehem.

You just never know what you might see if you keep all your eyelids open, what wealth of interesting facts await your discovery. I have never ever understood boredom. Even flat on your back with no physical strength left, you have your thoughts.... and thoughts are miraculous in and of themselves. I can spend hours just circling around the phrase, "I think, therefore I am." I mean, how do you know you are thinking in the first place? And how do you know that thinking can be equated with reality? How do you know that you know? Etc....

At any rate, I think sometimes God throws in the unusual, the miraculous to jar us out of complacency. The more I examine the things I pass by every day, the more I am awash in wonder. How do three sets of eyelids evolve by accident? Personally, I think it is good we humans only have one set of eyelids. I think too often we are looking around with our eyes wide open and still missing what God is hoping we will see.

2 Kings 6:16-18 (New International Version)

 16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
 17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Friday, May 27, 2011

When I am Weak

As we were driving, I heard a somewhat frightening clunk on top of the car and glanced in my side view mirror. Ohoh. I could see the edge of the kayak hovering over the top of my side window. That can't be good.

I pulled over to discover that the kayak had indeed slipped. I don't think it could've outright fallen off the car, but was disturbed that my fool proof tie down method had proved to only be fool resistant. There always seem to be ways for fools to creep in.

With the kayak again tied securely with my ultra fool proof method, we started on our way again. But every bump or clatter or scritch sound made me jump and eye my mirror, the whites of my eyes gleaming. On top of my anxiety as we headed to the peaceful lake with Asherel and her friend, I had pulled an intercostal muscle hoisting the kayaks on top of the van. Normally one is completely unaware of intercostal muscles, and I would bet 90% of my readers don't know what an intercostal muscle is or why we have it. We have it so that God can remind us that 50+ year old ladies should not be hoisting kayaks on top of tall vans, even with the help of 13 year olds. I may be facing the sobering reality that most of us reach eventually. My body may not be up to the task.

Amy, my sister fresh out of the hospital after a week of pancreatitis texted me early this morning. She didn't wake me up, even though it was only 5:30 a.m. and my text notification ringer was on high volume. I was awake already with aching intercostal muscles, reminding me I am no longer 23 years old. The text told me she was back in the hospital. She has a cyst on her pancreas and she will be operated on, I presume today. She says this just sometimes happens after pancreatitis. She will update me as they know more details.

Suddenly my aching intercostal muscles don't feel so bad. Those of you who are of the prayerful variety, if you would please pray for my poor dear sister, I would appreciate it.

As I kayaked on the peaceful lake, gliding so quietly to basking turtles on sunlit logs that they didn't take fright, I realized that I just may have to forego the heavier hard body kayak. I am still strong enough to handle the inflatable one. Friends can lift the hard shell ones on top of the van if they want to join us. Someday, friends may need to lift me when I can't stand up on my own power. This lesson of waning strength and failing bodies is beginning to threaten my normally sunny disposition.

The apostle Paul mentions many times that God's strength is perfected in our weakness. It is He that lifts us up, renews and restores. His power is most clearly revealed, most ardently called upon when intercostal muscles tear and pancreases swell. Anyone can deal with life when everything is perfect. It is a whole different story when it all gets shredded. I am so glad that I can hop in His kayak, and float in His strength when I can no longer lift the paddle myself.

Amy's hubby Jim just texted me. It is a "psuedo cyst" and will need draining, but it is minor surgery. I am hoping my intercostal aches and grey hair and waning strength is "psuedo aging" and also will just require minor alterations.

1 Chronicles 16:10-12 (New International Version)

10 Glory in his holy name;
   let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
11 Look to the LORD and his strength;
   seek his face always.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Crossing the Bridge

I stood about 60 feet above the middle of the swirling waters of the James River feeling dizzy.
"I can do this," I murmured to myself, forcing myself to walk forward. I stayed in the middle of the pedestrian bridge and looked straight ahead.
"If you want a really beautiful view," the guard had told me, "Take the pedestrian bridge over to Belle Isle."
And so here I was, on the pedestrian bridge over to Belle Isle, halfway across and doing LaMaze deep breathing to keep from keeling over. There may indeed have been a beautiful view but if I looked to the right or to the left, I would surely die.

I forced myself quick side glances. Waterfalls and rapids raced across the river bed.  The river was catapulting wildly downstream, crashing against rocks.  I noticed a goose trying to swim against the raging current with little success.

"If the bridge collapses, I am dead," I thought. But I had not gone on this morning run to this beautiful river to turn back in fear. I moved forward again and jogged all the way over to the island. The bridge was quite long, over a wide stretch of river. The guard rails were low. If I fainted with enough force, I could definitely topple over them. I snapped some photographs and knew I'd procrastinated long enough. I had to run back over the bridge now.

For those of you who have no fear of heights, this may seem stupid. And it is. But no matter how many times I tell myself it is stupid, I can't stop the sweating palms, the hyperventilating, the racing heart. As I ran back, I saw a homeless man in the middle of the bridge. He was watching me intently, leaning on the guard rail. I surmised he was homeless by his unkempt, dirty clothes, untrimmed hair, and slightly disturbed look in his eyes. Now not only did I have to contend with my intense fear of heights on the very scariest point of this treacherous crossing, but a potentially deranged man stood watching me, like a troll ready to pose the three questions I would have to answer before he would let me pass.

"Stop! Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three ere the other side he see."

"Really? Look, how about if I just give you money? Normally that is against my policy with homeless folk, but in view of my limited resources here, I am willing to make an exception."

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
   Tell me, if you understand.
 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
   Who stretched a measuring line across it?
 On what were its footings set,
   or who laid its cornerstone—
 while the morning stars sang together
   and all the angels shouted for joy?"

"That's 4 questions," I said, swaying as I tried to look at the distant shore, and not the waters cascading far below.

"The last one is extra credit," said the troll.

"Well, question number one is difficult. I don't know where I was at the beginning of time. Some folks think I was primordial ooze waiting to gum together and develop a brain."
The troll glared at me, and I feared he was about to shove me off the bridge to the carnivorous geese paddling in place beneath me.
"Ok, before I was born, God knew me. Is that close enough?"
"Question Two!" roared the Troll.
"Ok, that one I know. God was the one who marked the earth's dimensions and measured it."
The troll nodded, but his evil eyes glittered.
"Question Three!!!!?"
"On what were its footings set....that one is hard.....I'm not sure I know."

My own footing was growing perilously clammy. The river roared, and the bridge creaked. The troll began to lift his brown paper bag to point at me, and I shouted my answer,
"Faith! Its footing is set on faith!!!!"
"Move on," grumbled the troll, stepping aside, and taking a swig from his bag of curses.

I ran on to the other end of the bridge.
"I have to go get Asherel," I thought as I ran back to the hotel, "I can do that crossing again and she has to see the beautiful view."

Job 40

 1 The LORD said to Job:
 2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
   Let him who accuses God answer him!”

Job 42

 1 Then Job replied to the LORD:  2 “I know that you can do all things;
   no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
   Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
   things too wonderful for me to know.
 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
   I will question you,
   and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
   but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
   and repent in dust and ashes.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Penny Lane

I am pretty sure there is no other 13 year old on earth who can tell you the year every Beatles song was produced, where and when it was first performed, and which guitar John Lennon was playing. Oh sure, some kids with brains like that are well on the way to curing cancer. And perhaps this little Beatlemaniac will one day outgrow this passion. There is for now no indication of waning interest. Curing cancer is momentarily set aside.

We had spent the drive from my parents' house to Richmond listening to her complete Beatles collection. We drove through gorgeous green valleys lined in mountains. I kept a running commentary on the spectacular scenery but she was lost in the sounds and probably images of her beloved Beatles.

Now, wearing one of her nine Beatles shirts, she followed Matt, Karissa, and me into the Penny Lane Pub in Richmond.

I had gone walking for two hours while Matt finished his second day of law internship. I had never been to Richmond and love exploring by foot new places. Asherel stuck with me for an hour but the heat felled her, so she returned to the hotel.

I wandered on alone through this astonishingly beautiful historic city filled with huge stone and brick mansions, lacy iron work gates, and chiseled roses and faces in porticos above hotel doors. There seemed to be a large homeless population and we greeted each other with smiles and waves. My job was to find a quirky place for us all to eat that night. (Not the homeless people. They were on their own. I was charged to find food just for Matt and his bride to be, Asherel, and myself.)

"You won't believe what I found, " I texted Asherel.

As we entered Penny Lane pub, a red phone booth stood to my right. I smiled knowingly at Asherel. Red phone booths figure prominently in Beatle lore.

"Will I like this place?" she had asked when I had texted her with our dinner plans.

A Beatles song greeted us.
"Ok, I like it here, " she smiled.
So the four of us ate food Ringo, John, Paul, and George might have supped on while the only music played were Beatle songs. Pictures from Liverpool covered the wall. Matt drank a British concoction of cider and stout beer while telling us about his job as a law intern. Karissa, the world's most perfect fiancee had filled his apartment with food,bought him a bed, and arranged his parking permit while he worked. That night she would return to her own place an hour away to pack up and move out, newly graduated.

Asherel munched her fish and chips.

What is God saying to me today, I wondered. Sometimes you just have to pause and sing:

Penny lane is in my ears and in my eyes There beneath the blue suburban skies I sit...

Psalm 90:14 NIV

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My vision with some help

With all the difficult tasks my aging parents might need my relatively young arms to tackle, their request for this visit was to beautify the yellow blobs of hardened foam oozing from the woodpecker holes in the tree. My dad, in his ongoing attempt to keep wildlife and decay from snatching civilization, had filled in the large holes created by the hungry woodpeckers. He had used a bright yellow foam which not only clashed with the stately grey of the bark but also expanded to a pendulous unsightly blob. On two trees were two large bright blobs, each with another smaller blob above or below. My assignment was to paint the blobs to make them into an artistic creation, something to placate the neighbors and prevent little children from passing by and snickering.
I know my Dad, so with great foresight asked,"What is your vision for the blobs? "
"I don't want to influence you," he assured me, "Make it what you see fit."

So I set out with a ladder, my oil paints, and a variety of brushes. Dad had advised that the first tree blobs looked a little like a small four legged creature. I just didn't see that
I saw a bird holding a broken egg. I painted the bird clutching the oozing egg to her breast. This blob was my expression of all the cruel realities of nature, and angst of motherhood. Dad came out and watched for a while, telling me perhaps the feet clutching the so called egg needed better definition. And while I was at it, perhaps the egg didn't really look like an egg since eggs are not so round. But then he left and I suspect was wondering if he should have just had me vacuum the living room instead.

I finished the bird and moved on to the second set of blobs. At first I had seen a toucan in these blobs but as I examined them more closely, a horse appeared in my head.

Dad wandered out again. The large pickle shaped blob had been painted like a horse snout
Above it but not connected to it was a small round blob. I had painted two eyes on that and then painted two ears right on the bark itself as I had no more blobs to work with.
"What happened to the toucan? " asked Dad.
"I don't know. When I started I saw a horse instead."
"But the eyes aren't connected to the nose! "
"Well use your imagination. "
"You need something between them connecting them."
"Dad, I had rather limited material to work with here! "
"Fine, its lovely! " but his face was troubled.
As we were watching television later, he exclaimed out of the blue, "How about a nose piece like horse bridles have? "
"But those aren't right under the eyes, " I said.
"We could buy more foam, " he said, " Fill in the gap."
"I could make a duck tape bridle, " suggested Asherel, "You need to fill in the gap. "
So Asherel made the bridle and I nailed it in place. She had made the nose piece by rolling several thicknesses of duct tape.

But then the painted bark to suggest ears no longer looked right. I made duck tape ears and tacked them on.

Dad wandered out again.
"Do you think the nosepiece is too wide for the face? " he asked, as I was putting away the ladder. I controlled the few spurts of steam wafting from my ears.
"Dad that is about 2 inches thick duck tape. I would need a saw to cut it down! "
"Oh... well then it is fine. It's lovely! " but as he walked away his face looked troubled.

So I put the ladder back under the tree and got some large pruning shears. I pulled out the nails and spent ten minutes sweating and grunting as I slowly mangled a cut through the thick wads of duck tape. Then I tacked it back up.

As I was folding the ladder, Asherel wandered out.
"That's not what horse ears look like, " she said.
I unfolded the ladder and sat down. "I'll wait here."
She returned a few minutes later with two perfect duck tape ears. I tacked them up.

As we all gathered to head off to lunch, all four of us gazed at the horse.
"It looks like a donkey, " said Mom.
"Fine, its a donkey! " I cried.
Fortunately they all agreed it was a lovely donkey and no one had any more input into "my" vision.

1 Corinthians 3:6-14 NIV

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God's service; you are God's field, God's building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.
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Monday, May 23, 2011

Instead He sends rainbows

My hometown near Binghamton is a small town and my folks don't quite have the stamina to kick up their heels like they used to. So our options for getting out and about are limited. That's how we ended up gambling and drinking at the race track.

Remember, I like to use exaggeration because it catches the reader's attention. So for all my horrified Christian friends,we didn't really gamble. We just picked our favorite horses in the program and pretended to lose our homes and livelihoods when our pseudo betting didn't pan out. Which was every time. We did have a small glass of wine to ease the discomfort of our bony butts getting pressure sores on the hard stadium seats.

Tioga Downs is a harness racing track and we were watching "pacers ". Pacers race in a modified trot where the legs on the same side of the body move forward together. It makes for an odd rocking motion of the horse. It is strange as the harness wont allow them to canter or gallop easily which is what a horse who wants to go fast would naturally want to break into. Pacing is like race walking. It is sort of like going your slowest gait but faster than all the others going their slowest gait. Pacing is a natural gait for some breeds and also for camels. There were no camels in the pacers we saw, which was too bad as watching race after race of pacing horses tends to get monotonous. Had they thrown in a pacing camel or better yet the less common pacing aardvark, I think even my dad might have stayed awake.

But I kept wondering how one goes about training a horse to go really fast in only second gear when he has 4 gears available. The horse is learning a very valuable spiritual lesson. How does one use unlimited power with restraint?

Amd of course I thought of God. He could force us to believe in Him, but He doesn't. He could punish us as we deserve for all our sins and transgressions, but instead He sent a substitute to die in our stead. He could destroy the world and start all over again since we have really been a disappointment from the get go but instead He sends rainbows.

There was one horse that won easily and we learned he was undefeated. This was his unprecedented 13th straight victory. This horse clearly understood that one can still win with restraint. That is God 's gamble as well. Psalm 78:38 NIV Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath.

Psalm 76:10 NIV

Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise,
and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.
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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Another reason for praise

"Would you like to donate to Help?",asked the cashier as she totalled the groceries.
"What's That?", I asked.
"It Gives money to the hungry ",she answered.
The grocery bagger perked up.
"I'm Hungry, " he chirped.
"Money For the poor! "emphasized the cashier.
"I'm Poor! " he countered.
She glared at him, "Money for the poor and hungry who don't have jobs and can't work!"
"Oh," he said finally defeated.

As we drove with my dear parents through the lovely countryside of upstate NY, my dad told me once the governor of NY, Rockefeller had driven similar roads and been amazed by all the mobile homes dotting his land.
"Go Find out why all these people are living in trailers," he told his underlings.
So his researchers went out, collected data and returned to filthy rich mogul, Rockerfeller.
"They Are too poor to buy a house, " they told him.

As we were playing Scrabble that evening, my dad was disturbed that Asherel didn't eat most of her dinner.
"I Hate to see food wasted," he said, and I was sure he was going to make some typical joke. Bit instead, he told us he had lived through the depression. It had been drummed in his head to eat every bite on his plate. It might be a long time before there was more.

I thought about being poor. We never have been. Or if we were, my folks kept it from being a source of anxiety. It struck me how fortunate I have been, what a charmed life I have led. But it wasn't just luck. My dad also spoke of the 3 jobs he worked when we were young. I hadn't known or remembered he worked three jobs to support us!

Sometimes I forget the most basic reasons to awaken praising God for the life I have been given...like thanking my dad that I never grew up worried that the crumb on my plate might be my last.

"I Could be poor and hungry without a job ", whined the grocery bagger.
"But You are not! " said the cashier.

Proverbs 22:1-2 NIV

A good name is more desirable than great riches;
to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. Rich and poor have this in common:
The Lord is the Maker of them all.
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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Unquestioning trust

As I drove through the mountains that I had spent most of my years growing up, drawing near to my old home, flashes of memories clattered about my brain. Random memories. Of course I thought of my mom and dad who I was anxious to see, but one isolated memory from my college years popped into my head.

Since I had recently reconnected with an old college friend , I thought of her and her husband with their very young child thirty years ago. I remembered when we had visited the young couple, and the husband Ed was playing outdoors with his daughter Kate.

He had pointed across the large expanse of grass and shouted, "Run Kate! Run to the shed! "
Without pause, the little girl shot off in the direction her father pointed.
"Run Kate! Keep going! ", he shouted.
And she ran as fast as her little legs could carry her. But we heard her call back as she raced away, "What's a shed? "

I have always chuckled when I recall that scene . I love the unquestioning trust that her daddy was sending her someplace she ought to go and how joyfully and instantly she obeyed his direction....without the slightest clue where she was being sent.

I wish that I could be so eager to hear my Father 's voice, to trust where He was sending me even when I didn't understand where I was going or why. I am always so anxious for the plan, the explanations, the detailed organized checklist .

Had I been Kate, no doubt this is how the story would have played out:
"Why am I running? How long will it take? Will I have enough food and water to sustain me on this run? How do I know that reaching the shed will be worth the effort? Are you sure I shouldn't just run to the slide which I am familiar with and can even define? There are many dangerous dips in the yard on route to the shed and I could fall down and get hurt. I already have a bit of an ache in my side And it is not wise to run so soon after lunch. Are you really sure I should run to the shed because I am not convinced it is a good idea. But if you really want me to ...."
"Forget it Kate. I'll send someone else to the shed."

(NIV)2 Corinthians 1:24
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.
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Friday, May 20, 2011

Statue of impending greatness

The statue didn't look like anyone famous I knew. In this historic city of Winchester there were buildings dating from Revolution times. Some streets were named for civil war heroes. Who was this young man depicted in metal, his head cocked confidently as he gazed out on a world he had yet to really know?

I went close to read the plaque. It was George Washington at age 16, as a new surveyor. Had that been all George ultimately accomplished, it is doubtful even a small gentle Southern town like Winchester would have erected a statue of him. But I found it touching that the town chose to memorialize him prior to his greatest accomplishments.

He was cast in stone at a time when his hopes and dreams were yet forming, when his ideals were likely still intact and he was confident he could tackle whatever life threw at him. At least if he was like most 16 year olds.

I thought of my son Matt, not many years past teenagerhood starting off next week to his law internship for the summer and to a new marriage a few weeks later. Sometimes the most wondrous moment of life is standing perched on the brink of engaging it. The whole world stretches before you and there is nothing you cannot grasp.

I also know that most of us will step off the precipice and find life not to be what we expected. I think God did us a favor in not connecting all our neurons to the frontal lobe of our brains til well into our 20s. Otherwise, who would dare stride forward into the maelstrom of life?

I gazed at the statue of George. Later that evening I sent my son some verses that I felt tugging at my heart.

Be still and know that I am God.


The Lord is my shepherd ; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.

Go forth bravely, perhaps even blindly, but keep your hand on God 's shoulder.
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reading the Kelp

"Oh-oh," I said, glancing at the threatening sky as we headed out a couple of days ago to our kayak trip, "It looks like a storm is brewing."
Josh, who was accompanying my daughter Asherel on this kayak adventure quickly responded, "Hmmm, well let me read the kelp."
"Read the kelp?" I laughed. Josh is forever making me laugh. He comes out with the quirkiest responses to the most mundane discussions.
"Well you can predict weather with kelp, but if you don't have kelp you can use sawdust too."

I shook my head, wondering what circuitry in Josh's brain allows such deadpan humor to fly out with such regularity.
"Like reading the tea leaves?" I chided him.
"Well maybe, anything that absorbs moisture will swell when there is high humidity, like when a storm is coming."
I was silent. That actually sounded plausible, in fact probable.
"How do you know these things, Josh?"
"I read," he answered.

Once again, I am forced to conclude that life is simple. It is we who make it hard.

When crazy Josh makes more sense than the entire staff of weather forecasters, it is time to pause and reflect. Sometimes simple, obvious clues are staring us right in the face, and we purposely ignore them and look in the most unlikely places for absurd connections. I find the whole how life began issue to be of this caliber of clue hunting. In my humble opinion, all the clues point to a Designer, a Creator. Science at the microscopic level continues to expand the case for impossible odds of all the minute mechanics of even the smallest levels of cellular organization to happen just by chance. Yet, it is not "science" if all the design clues point to a Designer. That is "faith".  I don't know. That logic just drives me nuts.

"In my experience," continued Josh, "Weatherman are usually wrong. Kelp is never wrong."

Psalm 19:7

 7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
   refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
   making wise the simple.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Idols in disguise

As the chair tipped back and the warm water began to sprint through my hair, I almost jumped out of my seat. Large lumpy things began to squiggle and move in the small of my back. Suddenly, as the stylist began massaging my scalp, the chair became alive with leather fingers kneading the knots out of my neck and back. After the initial fright, I closed my eyes and thought this is what all the struggle was for. I have found Peace at last.

As I drifted deeper towards Nirvana, I thought I heard a voice telling me it was time to go get my hair cut now. I was being urged to leave the only complete relaxation I had ever known. I didn't open my eyes.
"How about it you just go cut my hair without me?" I urged.
The stylist laughed, "It will be a beautiful cut."
"If it is half as good as the chair, it will be," I murmured, "Can I buy the Chair instead?"

 I was desperate for a haircut, as I leave to see my folks tomorrow, and my hair after 10 weeks without a cut was all over the place.This is not my regular hair cuttery. However, it will be now. I didn't care what she did to my hair, as long as I would be allowed to visit the Chair again. I knew there were different levels of stylists here, and of course, I chose the less pricey one.
 I wondered if the level 4 stylists let their clients stay an extra few minutes in the Chair. I think I would have become a criminal to support my Chair habit.
I followed the stylist reluctantly to her salon station, glancing back repeatedly at the Chair.

This is not really Heaven, I had to keep telling myself. Heaven will be much more wonderful. Once again, here I am on earth trying to substitute temporal pleasures for what my heart really longs for- the eternal pleasures of God. I don't think I am alone on this one. The writer of "a bird in hand is worth two in the bush" gets my point of view. Even the Bible while not necessarily condoning my false idols, understands the allure. Who can forget one of my favorite verses: A live lion is better than a dead dog.?I may have come to the salon with the purpose of a haircut, but the temptation of eternal massage by the chair was fuzzying my intentions.

I settle for too little, because it is so easily available, because it is present, because it removes the kink in my spine. I get distracted by things that are nice, but only satisfy for a season. I forget the things that will satisfy for eternity. Worthy goals are sometimes sidetracked by momentary pleasure. I would tackle and shove aside my grandmother (if she were still alive) for one minute in the Chair, but sometimes can't rouse the energy and attention for 30 seconds of communing with the God who created both her and me. Idols are not always made of Gold and given obvious worship. Sometimes idolatry is subtle, and that is when it is perhaps most dangerous.

"When would you like to book your next appointment?" the stylist asked, as I gazed at my new, lovely haircut.
"Tomorrow," I said, "Unless you have an opening this afternoon."

1 Samuel 12:20-22

 20 “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Grass Really is Greener on the other Side

As I was scrubbing feed buckets covered with spiders and all the little packages of fast-food flies wrapped in silk to-go boxes, I saw another volunteer at His Barn walk by leading a pony by his chin. The black pony had no halter or lead rope. He followed obediently, like a dog being pulled by his ruff.

Then she walked him to the front yard, the unfenced front yard with a road in front of it, and let him loose. I stood up, shocked.
"Wait... do you mean to let him loose? I mean with no tie or anything?"
Jill, the owner, was off on a trail ride with Asherel while I did my little corner of work to help her out.
The volunteer nodded, "Yes, he just stays."
"But how?"
"Oh he's trained."

Jack, the pony went right to work mowing the lawn. Jill runs the barn on her own with an assortment of volunteers. There is never enough money or hours in the day to do all that is required. I was happy to see she had found a time saving method of keeping her lawn cut.

The sky became dangerously dark, and just as my daughter's group returned, the heavens let loose, and rain gushed from the sky.  Jack came slowly back to the barn and peered in.
"What do you think you are doing?" asked Jill.
Jack looked at his stall, his forelock dripping.
"You aren't done with your job yet," said Jill.
Jack turned and went back to mowing the lawn.
"Doesn't he go in the road?" I asked.

Jack was meandering towards the road. He stood at the side of it and looked back.
JIll watched him.
"No, not unless I am inside and then sometimes I will see him look at the house, and make sure I am not around and then he will cross it."
I watched Jack. The grass on the other side of the road really was greener, and tall, and lush.
"How did you train him to do this?" I asked.
"I made it very unpleasant for him when he stepped in the road, banging pans, yelling, screaming, making noise. And as soon as he stepped back on the yard, I made it quiet and peaceful.It's all about pressure and then removing pressure in training a horse."

I remembered that morning with my Science Olympiad kids. I had invited them out for an afternoon of kayaking as a celebration/thank you for all their hard work this year. I had enough kayaks between our inflatable ones and hard shells for all the kids to be able to kayak together. I was the kayak cop, in my beloved little inflatable. When I saw them bumping each other, and  (in my eyes) tipping perilously as they grabbed at each others' boats, I made a lot of noise. I was employing Jill's horse training method.
"No bashing into each other, and no grabbing each other's boats!" I shrieked, "Those are the rules. If  you follow the rules, I will follow far far behind you. If you don't follow the rules, I will be right on your tail."

They weren't pleased that I was preventing their escalating attempts to dislodge each other into the lake of snapping turtles, but they had no desire for me to be bobbing in their midst either. So they obeyed the rules. They knew the grass was greener on the other side of the rules, but since I was in sight, they thought it best to obey.

But I kept thinking last night about Jack the pony. Well-trained as he is, even a pony figures out that when the Master is not around, he can cross the road to the greener grass. He knows it is wrong, but the enticement is too strong, the scent of the succulent thick grass too overpowering.  Similarly, I have little doubt that if I left those kayaking kids and said, "I am off to go get a pedicure, see you in two hours", every one of them would soon be upturned in the lake with half their toes nibbled off by the snapping turtles.

It is almost impossible to resist the siren call of the forbidden. This is a lesson Adam and Eve learned to their most unhappy rebuke. The most ironic thing of that whole Garden of Eden thing is that they knew God was watching.... that God is always watching.  Even Jack the pony checks to make sure Jill isn't there before he crosses the line. It really is hopeless, if we are forced to depend on ourselves. Who of us can deny cheesecake sitting on the counter, no matter how many caloric and cholesterol warning signs are posted? Or any host of forbidden sins? It is easy to point fingers at the "idiots" who come out of lung cancer treatment and light up a cigarette as soon as they leave the hospital....but how about at myself, when I speak a harsh word to a loved one, or gossip, or cling selfishly to my possessions (like my beloved kayak that I won't let anyone else get in......)?  Why is it so hard to be obedient?

As Jack mowed the lawn, Jill told me she had been through a year of very pressing medical issues with Jack. She had been with him night and day through many bouts of colic.
"We formed such a relationship that honestly, if he turned around and started speaking to me, I would not be surprised."
That, I thought, that is the key. Not making noise, or rules, or even dire repercussions, but forging a relationship so based on love and care that hearts long to beat only in rhythm with their Master. We obey because we love, and we know that to disappoint the One who cares for us above all else is not worth any pleasure, not even lush, green, glorious grass.
 Jack glanced at Jill and moved away from the road.

1 Corinthians 4

 1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cleaning House

I paid for that day of laziness two days ago.....one always does in the end. I was ready to settle down for day 2 of letting the happy bathroom microbes proliferate and hobnob with the dust blowing cheerfully about the livingroom while I read my book, when the phone rang. Dear son Matt and his lovely bride- to- be were making an unexpected trip and would be there tonight...was that ok? I glanced around at the negelected home, with its collection of disordered surfaces and floors speckled with grass clippings that the dog had shed throughout his meanderings from room to room.
"Absolutely!" I cried, "We'd love to have you."
"Don't go to any trouble," he said, "We can fend for ourselves."
"Ok," I said, and as soon as I turned off the phone, I raced to Asherel's room.
"Hop to it!" I shouted, "Matt and Karissa are coming. You need to clean your room, vacuum, and then dust!" Then I swirled away to go attack the bathrooms. So much for laziness. Together we dusted, vacuumed, scrubbed, did dishes...Sweat dripped from my forehead as I tackled  sheet changing, laying out bathroom towels, shining, arranging, organizing. Arvo was given a long grocery list and shooed away from his Sunday paper.

Asherel had gone with a friend to a huge youth group in a palatial church that morning. I was told they would be done at 12 and to wait for her in the back of the sanctuary. We had attended the service in that sanctuary which has 5 stories of seats and was filled with something like 5,000 people. I'd never been in such an enormous church.  But now, at 12, I crept back into the chapel and it was empty. That vast place of worship that had reverberated with 5,000 voices lifted in worship and song that morning, was now silent.

I sat in a back pew, and looked out the huge floor to ceiling window. I thought of the message that morning. A large portion of it had been a celebration of their church members sponsoring the translation of the Bible for the Subu people in Ethiopia. One of the Subu people was a guest speaker, and held the new Bible aloft as though it were a tiara of diamonds. We did a lot of standing ovations. This was not a church for lazy people, or for those who faint if they stand up too quickly. But the message that stuck with me as I sat in the vast, silent sanctuary, the only seat filled of 5,000 empty ones, was ,"We are not to compromise, or reach truth by consensus. You don't find Truth by consensus. We should not 'fit in' to the culture, we should transform it."

I totally agree with that sentiment. You don't settle in darkness when you are the only one with a flashlight. You light the way. There will certainly be people who scream that, a.) who gave you the right to proclaim light better than darkness, and b.) what narcissistic, arrogance to think you should be holding the only light.

There are so many areas in life that it is easier to just let the overwhelming tide of group consensus sweep away what you know to be good, to be righteous. It feels like fighting the decadence in our culture is like standing all alone with ridiculous, out dated morals. It is not unlike doing battle with a house that has slowly disintegrated in the wake of a year too busy with homeschool, Science Olympiad, volunteer, and paid work elsewhere. I looked around at the huge empty church, the silence like a universe holding its breath.
One seat filled, one soul watching the world outside that towering window whirl by, thinking about how best to reach out and touch it, maybe even spin it the other way.

As I gave Asherel another job, I promised her it would be the last one. The house was almost clean. She said, "Why Mom? They won't care."
"No, but I will," I said.

Romans 12:2 (New International Version)

2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Job 28:5 (New International Version)

5 The earth, from which food comes,
   is transformed below as by fire;

Sunday, May 15, 2011

When Good is distorted

I must be getting old...or lazy. Probably both. I curled up with a book, on the off and on rainy day while little tumbleweeds of dog fur blew about the house. The bathrooms, while not yet to the level of disgusting could use a good swipe. Yet, I curled up with a wonderful whodunnit book and read to my heart's content. Honeybun curled up on the couch next to me and we supined the day  away. An oasis of hours in a whirlwind year.

My sister Amy called from the hospital. I hadn't heard her voice in almost a week and after how perilously sick she was, it was music to my ears, albeit drugged, groggy, slooooooow music. She sounded a little like a record played at half speed.  She advanced yesterday to a liquid diet. Until then, she has been fed only through an IV for almost a week.
"Oh, a 5 star liquid diet too," she said, slurring a little through the pain killers, "I even got jello!"
"Jello is liquid?" I asked.
"Yes, this is a little known fact...."
"Wow, well then I suppose you got some yogurt too?"
"No silly, don't you know the meaning of 'opaque'?"

"So Amy, I was looking up what happens during pancreatitis. It is an autoimmune response."
"I know," she drawled with an indignant rise in her carefully paced voice, "Can you believe how dumb a design that is...to make an organ that decides to eat itself?"
And indeed that does seem a little silly. The pancreas produces enzymes that help with digestion, but for various reasons, in Amy's case- unkown reasons, the enzymes turn against their maker...and begin to eat away at the pancreas instead.

This is not unlike sin. Most, if not all sin, is an extreme of a normal and good purpose or function.  It is only when what was intended for good is triggered to exaggeration and goes haywire, devouring itself and unfortunately others in its distorted path. Hunger is good; gluttony is not. Sex in the healthy and safe context of marriage is good; promiscuity is not. Self care is good; narcissism is not. Rest after hard work is good; laziness is not. Etc. etc. etc. (One etc. is good....three etc. is overkill....)

The inevitable result of a distorted good is self destruction. Like a pancreas eating itself.....

Amy has spent a week in the hospital in a very not fun treatment. She was not allowed even a sip of water for almost the whole week. The treatment for pancreatitis is complete cessation of digestion so the pancreas can heal, along with healthy doses of antibiotics.

The treatment for sin is a little trickier. The Bible advises to flee when possible. Sometimes it still overtakes us. God knows of course that it will. So He gave us a book to shore ourselves up, to remind and encourage us, and He gave us a covering so the ravages of sin eating away at a fallen world doesn't chomp on our vulnerable weak souls....but on Him who is able to overcome instead. Ultimately, good will be restored and all things will work as they were intended to work at the dawn of creation.

I got a text message from Amy's saintly husband, Jim last night:
"Amy had solid food!"

Job 20:13
14 yet his food will turn sour in his stomach;
   it will become the venom of serpents within him.
15 He will spit out the riches he swallowed;
   God will make his stomach vomit them up.

1 Corinthians 6:12-14 

  12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On the heels of his master

Strong storms expected again today. I could tell before I read the forecast because Lucky is stuck to my heel. Everywhere I go, he follows, head low, tail between legs. He knows the barometric pressure is dropping like the Social Security funds and he is taking no chances. I don't know what he thinks I will be able to do for him should an F5 Tornado decide to pick on a house more challenging than a double wide. But he knows I am the master and he trusts that the master will have a plan.

And I do. I always have plans. As soon as I see the funnel cloud, I will bring all living beings into the bathtub. We will close the door and huddle and pray. There are some circumstances in life when our plans just are not sufficient for the threat.

Lucky's dour Eyore pessimism is in sharp contrast to how I feel today, however. There was only one dark cloud on a day of sunshine yesterday- one of my blogposts had disappeared perhaps forever.  I spent much of yesterday copying the year of blog posts and saving them in a word doc. I had thought of them as safe til Blogspot went down yesterday. For a day and a half, my post from Thursday was gone, totally gone. What if I had said something that should have been recorded for all time? What if I had uttered words so profound that it would be chiseled over " I think therefore I am." ?  I decided rather than take that chance, I better back up and copy my precious words.

And so I relived my year in about two hours. This is similar to your life passing before your eyes that so many people describe right before a near death experience. I was not near death fortunately; in fact my joy yesterday was so bubbly that I felt I could live forever. But I was struck by how often in the past year I wrote about horrible, dire, impossible circumstances that there seemed no way out..... and then at the last possible second, in the nick of time, so often some miraculous solution appeared.

I know this doesn't always happen. I know life is not a fairy tale and sometimes the pauper doesn't marry a prince; the dog doesn't find his way home, the beloved child doesn't return contrite and grateful, and the ark springs a leak before dry ground appears.  But one theme that occurs over and over again in my blog posts, the chronicle of the past 18 months of my life, is that whenever things turn around on a miracle, it is because I have been close on the heels of my Master. Lucky perhaps has the right idea.

Matthew 25:21
  21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Friday, May 13, 2011

It is Well

As I pulled up to the Senior Home in the van, our two elderly friends sat side by side holding hands on the porch bench. Evelyn wore a dazzling blazer with pants that picked up the  subtle rose tones of the jacket. She had sparkling silver shoes, and her make up and hair were perfect. Comer wore a suit, with shined shoes, and neatly combed hair.
"All dressed up to go for a ride in the car?" said Asherel to me later, incredulous. As you may recall, I had to hogtie her and threaten no dinner for the rest of her life if she did not dress nicely for church on Easter.
"And balancing fast food on their lap at that," I added, "But remember Asherel, this is the highlight of their week. This is their date every week."
I drive them around and get fast food to eat in the car because they are both so frail and have trouble walking. My preference would be much more exciting adventures but there is not much more they can do. They always tell me "no" when I ask if they want to get out of the car and go walk to the lovely bench on the lake shores we visit.
However, that poignant image of them all gussied up, holding hands with big expectant smiles on their faces as I drove up stuck to my conscience like flypaper.
We found a beautiful hidden lake and a gorgeous neighborhood where the rich hide out. I also got lost in the country, and we passed broken down trailers and pre-fab homes with rusted cars dotting the front yard.
"I'm showing you how the po' folk live," I called back to them.
"I know how the po' folk live , " said Comer.
"How's the banana shake? Is it good?" I asked Evelyn, hoping it wasn't spilling on her beautiful outfit.
"The banana shake is good," she answered, in between humming with the old 50's music playing on the CD.
"Music, banana shakes..... all we need is candlelight!" I said.
"Yes," she laughed, "candlelight...."
"How's the chicken , Comer?"
"Oh it was fine!"
"But what you really want is a steak, right?"
"Oh that would be a treat!"

As I helped them out of the car, I held Evelyn's hands and said, "I think we need to get Comer a steak next time. He is a meat man."
"He is," she laughed, "He sure is a meat man."
"Comer, do you think you and Evelyn could walk to the back of a restaurant along the water? We could eat at that steak place on Lake Wylie next time if you would like."
"Oh, I think we could!" he said happily, brushing chicken sandwich crumbs off his fine suit.
"How does that sound Evelyn, eating while sitting outside watching the ducks float by?"
"That sounds.....," she struggled to come up with the word on her own, ".....good!"

Jim, my brother in law, texted me from the hospital this morning.
"Amy's blood work is normal! She can start on a liquid diet today! She walked in the hallway with me...it is so nice to hear her talk again."

My boy Matt called today. From the depths of despair with no first year law school internships knocking at his door and a marriage in July that he hoped to have some sort of income to support....he got two job offers last night! Both good, both wonderful experience, both fantastic well-paid opportunities, and he can do both. He accepted both of them.
"So I will need you for one favor, Mom.... I'll need you to drive my car down to Florida cause Karissa and I will be flying straight from the honeymoon to Florida. How does that sound?"

"That sounds.....," I struggled to find the word to express what was overflowing from my heart, "....good."

Psalm 34:8

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

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sufficient unto itself

Sometimes in between ripping out your hair, you just gotta smile. Amy is still in the hospital and still on heavy duty drugs for pain, though being weaned from them. But Matt got an awesome job offer for a summer internship. First year law students have a very hard time getting paid internships. He was willing to do one for free.  He still isn't certain about all the specifics and how it will work, and especially will his soon to be wife be able to join him in the Florida job til he returns to law school in August. But right now, it sure feels like a gift hand delivered by God. Every time I opened my eyes in the night I whispered, "Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou....."

He did get one other offer but I won't share too many of the details on that in case there are hit men out looking for him. Not only was that one unpaid, but he would be required to carry a sealed envelope back and forth between DC and Tehran. They cautioned there were certain risks involved in this law internship, one of which was wearing a belt that detonated when he pushed a little red button, blowing him and the "sensitive" contents of the envelope to smithereens.
"I am not sure this is the kind of position I am hoping for," said Matt.
"Son, beggars cannot be choosers," said the lawyer, pushing the arrest warrant to the side of his desk unobtrusively.
Matt hemmed and hawed over that one, so i am really grateful this second one seems to be coming through for him.

Holly, who with her incredible attorney friend Bertha was a huge help in linking Matt with the sane and reputable lawyer, and I were discussing how very hard it is for young adults to get started in life. We remembered how idealistic we were in our young twenties. I crossed the country to start grad school in California in a beaten up old car wth a grand total of $200. I had no money for tuition,  which would be due in a month, and no idea how I was going to get it. But I had a head filled with hopes and dreams and fluff.....and somehow, it all worked out.

Face it, if we were born with the list of all we would have to overcome before we returned to dust, most of us would crawl right back in the womb. It is one of God's greatest gifts that He keeps the next day veiled. The one comfort Solomon discovered is that the day is sufficient unto itself. Enjoy the gifts God gives you for this moment. It might be the only one you have this side of eternity. Smile whenever the urge seizes you. Tomorrow could be filled with frowns.

Hebrews 3:13

13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Reward at the end of the tunnel

"We are going back to kindergarten," said Polly, our beloved agility trainer. Since Honeybun had gotten a few faults at the last agility trial by running right by the tunnels, and not through them, Polly told us we needed to show her that going through the tunnel would be well worth the effort.

Asherel loaded a little plate with steak, and Polly set it at the end of the tunnel.
"Now bring her here," Polly said, "Be sure she sees the reward."
Honeybun got a sniff of that steak and was standing up on her hind legs lunging for it.
"Now take her right by the entrance of the tunnel and send her," Polly said.
Honeybun didn't have to be asked twice. As soon as the leash came off, she shot through the tunnel, a blazing golden bullet.
"Do it again, but bring her a little further back."
Each time, Asherel started Honeybun further back, and finally put a jump in between her start and the tunnel. And unfailingly, Honeybun raced over the jump and like a cheetah was on her tail through the tunnel to the sumptuous reward.
"Problem solved," I laughed.

My boy is in a bit of a tunnel these days. Law school was a ton of work, but he survived his first year well. Now he is working day and night on his entry for Law Review, which is what all aspiring attorneys want to be accepted in but it is fiercely competitive. And in the midst of all this, he is trying to find a summer legal internship, preferably paid which very few first year law students can hope to secure. Thus far he has had little luck. He is getting married in July, and I think all these stressors are beginning to take their toll. He is probably thinking like Honeybun had been before our session, "Perhaps I should just avoid the tunnel altogether."

In agility trials, the tunnel is quite long, and often curved so that the entry angle is not always on an obvious line from the last obstacle. While in the dark tunnel, the dog can't see the end due to the twists and curves. She must run through it because she has been taught to expect that her master will be waiting at the other end, and she will be lavishly rewarded when she finishes her run.

Life is not unlike an agility tunnel. Sometimes the right way to go is not easily apparent. And then sometimes we enter a stretch of dark, curving, twisted events and it takes all our courage to keep moving forward. Sometimes the tunnel doesn't seem worth all that effort, all that angst. We can't see the Master, and we just have to trust He is always there just on the other side of the wall that separates us....or that He will still be there when we come out on the other side....
If we do manage to make it all the way through, we hope to find a reward that assures us all that struggle was worth it if we hope to dare navigate another tunnel. And there is always another tunnel.......

I wish I could find an easy solution for my beloved boy, something so simple as putting a plate of sirloin at the end of his tunnel. But in this case, I am not the Master, and I can't help him. I am in a bit of a tunnel myself, the tunnel of trust and faith that his Master is indeed there, waiting, and the reward will be there if he perseveres.

All God's heroes reached periods of despair. Even Jesus cried out, "If it be possible, take this cup from my hand!"  No one enters hardship without struggle. God gave us tears for a reason. There is no shame in despair....only in letting it lead to giving up. Sometimes the reward comes immediately at the end of the tunnel, and sometimes not til the agility class is over.... and sometimes the reward is not sirloin, but just a pat on the back saying, "Well done. You did your best, and nothing more can be asked of anyone."

But if any one of you knows a lawyer looking for a summer intern, a really smart, sweet, and able young man could use a reward waiting at the end of the tunnel.

Revelation 2:2
2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Medical Slave Trade

I was covered with dust and dead spiders. My chore at the farm had been to organize the tack room/office. Jill the wonderful owner of His Barn had just returned with her trail riders and was now letting the ponies in from the field. She opened the gate and all the ponies quietly filed en masse into the barn and then split like billiard balls into their correct stall. It always amazes me to watch them do this as though choreographed. One pony sauntered in wearing a muzzle. it was a big plastic contraption around his nose, just like what you see vicious dogs wear to prevent biting.

What could this pony have done to deserve this muzzle? He seemed like such a nice pony. Had he been attacking the other ponies, fighting over his acre of grass? Or worse, had he bitten Jill, the hand that fed him?

"What's with the muzzle?" I asked.
"Oh that's because he's fat," she said, "It keeps him from overeating in the field."
Well of course I had images of the new billion dollar industry I could form curing obesity by developing a similar contraption for people. Asherel could decorate it with patterned duct tape.
"It has a little hole at the bottom so he can eat a little grass, but he can't gorge," she continued explaining.

Perfect, I thought. it would be like an enforced Weight Watchers plan. The size of the hole could be expanded as people began to lose weight and get a better idea of portion control. I could have graduated muzzlers based on the number of pounds one wanted to lose, and how quickly one wanted to shed them. I could call it the "Weight Grate". The marketing slogans were endless- "Put your muzzle where your mouth is", or "Take the bite out of fat", or "Use it and lose it!" 

I'd had a brief scare while cleaning the barn office. One of Jill's volunteers came in, and I noticed he had a health care logo on his shirt. He worked in the medical field.
"Hi," he said, "I guess Jill isn't here?"
"No, she is on a trail ride right now."
"Ah, I'm here to say goodbye to take a last ride with my patients."
I glanced at the medical logo. I thought it said he worked in I.T. (Computers), but maybe he took a personal interest in the facilities' patients as well.
"Oh, that's nice," I said.
"Yeh....being sold so I wanted to have one last ride."
Sold? He was selling patients? I wondered if the authorities knew about this! I glanced at the phone. I was cornered in the office. This slave trader could be eyeing me as well.
Keep him talking....that is what the murder mystery writers all say you should do with the villain. Stall for time, and develop a rapport. They were less likely to kill you if you kept babbling.
"Why are you selling them?" I asked, my voice squeaking just a little.
"Down-sizing," he said.
Oh it was worse than I thought. he was selling the weak and infirm to reduce the load on his facilities 'cash flow! Despicable! Scum!
"Yeh, I've been riding Patience for years."
"Wait....is Patience a horse?"
He looked at me like I was the slave trader, and a dumb one at that.
"Yes, the one in that stall over there."
Oh praise God. I was saved from a fate worse than death.

But I thought of a second entrepreneurial venture with the horse muzzle. People like me, so quick to speak and make fools of themselves could benefit greatly from something that hampered quick and easy speech, snapped on over that flapping tongue. I remember a friend once telling me, "Vicky, if I didn't know you were smart, I would think you were really not."

I wondered why God put me on Earth. Could it be just for comic relief to a serious world? I know you may think I am making the patients/patience story up, but it really happened. That is honestly the split second thought that coursed through my brain. I also thought of my poor sister, doped up on pain killers with pancreatitis, hoping that today she will be allowed her first sip of water in two days. 'Patients' and 'Patience' are actually a lot more interlinked than you would think on first blush.

Ecclesiastes 7:8

 8 The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
   and patience is better than pride.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Queen for a day

My poor sister is hospitalized again with pancreatitis. No one knows why she got it the first time, or the second. I did a little research into causes and one cause is kawasaki disease. This is probably an unsatiated longing for motorcycles, though I didn't look up the definition on that one. Anyway, all you praying types, if you would pause a moment to pray for Amy, I would sure appreciate it. Amy is the funniest, kindest person I know and it will be a bummer if we discover that that is what is causing her pancreatitis.

So while Amy was suffering in the hospital, I was with my family that made me queen for a day on Mother's Day. They made my meals, cleaned the kitchen, took me shopping and out to eat the day before, made me lovely cards, and then told me we could do whatever I wanted with our day. I had been waiting for this opening. I had been begging for a year to go do the whole new Riverwalk in Fort Mill. It is along the Catawba river and starts at the spot where I hope to launch the kayaks this summer. Then the river races down 3 miles to River Park where we would disembark. I have been longing to walk the route along the Catawba to decide if this would be dangerous to the point of death, or just to the point of foolishness.

My family calls my love of hiking in nature "forced marches." I believe, in fact it was Amy, the same Amy groaning in the hospital right now, that coined that phrase to describe me. It stuck. I have a difficult time urging the rest of my family that walking all day in the sunshine along a river is as wonderful as playing Mario Cart and eating gummy worms. But yesterday I was offered carte blanche the activity of my choice.

It was as beautiful and peaceful as I had hoped. The river ran fast and high, and already there were kayakers on it. We decided that should I run into problems kayaking it in the future, the trail stays along the route nearly the whole way, so I could conceivably drag my body out of the water, and stumble to the trail for help if needed. Oh sure, I might need to battle moccasin snakes or venomous copperheads, and copses of poison ivy, and maybe on a really bad day a rabid fox to crawl up the steep bank and thick vegetation to reach the trail. It was not preferable, but it was doable if necessary.

At one point on the trail, there were 4 carved seats in logs, side by side. The seats looked like thrones, with a high curved back. There was a large throne, a medium throne, a small throne, and a baby throne. I sat on the throne, the medium one, overlooking the sparkling Catawba. The weather could not have been more lovely, and my family was treating me the way I wish I could be always treated. I sat on my throne, Queen for a day.

"I wish every day was mother's day," I sighed. This was a selfish thought, but at the moment I didn't know my poor sister was in the hospital wishing Mother's Day would end with a cocktail of strong pain killers.

That's the problem with this world. It isn't perfect. If one corner is perfect, almost for sure the adjacent corner is wrinkled.
"But then you would need a special super Mother's Day because you would get used to every day being Mother's Day," said Asherel.
And she's right. Here on earth, everything is relative. For Amy, I'll bet cleaning toilets without pain sounds like a pretty special day right now.

As I reflected on this, I thought of the series on Ecclesiastes our pastor is preaching this month. Solomon understood all this. He found that there was nothing under the sun that was permanent, nothing that was not infused with futility, no pursuit of man  that would ultimately satisfy. But he did see that the best one could do was to look upon everything as a gift of God to be enjoyed for a season.

And know that all things would have their day, but that day would end. It is true lamentably for Mother's Day, and joyfully for Pancreatitis.

Psalm 16:6-8

 6The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.
 7I will bless the LORD, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.
 8I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.