Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Fitting Message

Yesterday I almost drove over a mink looking creature, then a black cat, and then a deer. Earlier we saw a fox which had a stare down contest with us for several minutes, and behind him,we think was a wolf. But still no bear. I may have to go even deeper into the wilderness.

I warned Matt repeatedly that the deer were rampant in this area and to drive very slowly on his way to our condo late last night. I may have warned him one or twenty times more than was strictly necessary, but the only one who came close to hitting a deer was me. It is Matt I most want to survive the next two days til the wedding..... but I want to be there too. Maybe I will wait to look for the bear til after the wedding.

Matt told me he checked out the story on the family he gave the bed to. He called the church they said they volunteer for. The church confirmed this was a wonderful family. The husband had severely injured his back and not worked for 6 months, and was only recently able to. The house was close to foreclosure. Matt and Karissa could not have picked a nicer family in greater need to help, they were told.

So Matt asked me to make a card with my artistic skill, and write something inspirational. Then he and Karissa would enclose a check.

"What inspirational message do you want me to convey?" I asked.
"Hope," he said.

A fitting message two days before his wedding.

Romans 8:22-25 NIV

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Story That Will Make You Smile

"Want to hear a story that will make you cry?" Matt said over the phone.
I sat on the condo balcony, overlooking the shimmering lake with its sunset flakes of gold bobbing on the waves.
"If it has a happy ending," I said.

Matt was getting married in just four days. I sure didn't want to hear stories from him that were too sad.
Matt had cleaned out his Richmond apartment and was on his way back to Lynchburg. He would stay with us in the condo on the lake til his wedding. He only has a small car and we decided the best thing to do was sell the bed I'd bought him for his Richmond apartment.

"So I listed it on Craig's list," he told me," And a lady called me asking if I could sell it to her this weekend. She needed a bed for her two year old.
I told her no, sorry, I was getting married this weekend so it had to go today. She told me that wouldn't work out for her as her husband didn't get paid til this weekend. So I told her that I could reduce the price if that would help. But she said no, thanks, but it really wouldn't work for them. They lived paycheck to paycheck as her husband was a cook, so she would just pass on the bed.

By now, I am feeling really sorry for her, so I told her, please, just come take the bed for free. But when her husband got paid, maybe they could give a little money to a church of their choice. She told me they were very involved with their church and volunteer there a lot, so she would be overjoyed to do that.

So her husband comes to get the bed, big burly guy and super nice. And in the car is a cute curly haired little girl. The husband tells me that he works at Bojangles as a cook, and volunteers also cooking for church events."
Matt paused in his story, and I could hear his smile across the miles.

By now, of course, I am crying as I hear the story, thinking of the mercy and grace of God to have blessed me with a child of such kindness and compassion. And to have linked him to the family without a bed for their daughter. A family that themselves love God and were trusting Him for their provision.

"So," Matt continued,"I called Karissa and told her the story, and she started crying. And she said, 'Why don't we tithe our wedding gift money and give it to that family?'"

"So," Matt said,"I called the guy and told him that was what we'd like to do if that would be ok with them."

I worry, like every mother of all the cruelty and sorrow and broken dreams my dear son will have to overcome in this world. He seems so young, my baby who is about to be married. But that story reminded me that he was harboring a soul and gaining a wife who understood what the most important thing in all existance is....And he was trusting in the One who gave him the heart to want to give a two year old a soft place to lay her head that night.

3 John 1:4-6 NIV

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God.
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gift to the Insomniac

The benefit of being too filled up with thoughts to sleep is that at 2 a.m., the middle of nowhere is the center of a universe of stars. I crept to the balcony overlooking the lake and peered out. First I scanned the fields bordering the inlet looking for the telltale bulk of a bear. Then I looked up. The big dipper was as close as the railing. Heat lightning flashed in the distance and in response, the fireflies all around the lake lit up like lanterns. What a gift from God to the insomniac.

Psalm 105:4-5, 39 NIV

Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, He spread out a cloud as a covering,
and a fire to give light at night.
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Monday, June 27, 2011

Thar's bears in them hills

We arrived without mishap except for one small heart attack, but Holly, my sister, says the symptoms of a panic attack are often indistinguishable from cardiac arrest. We unpacked and gazed out the glorious deck overlooking Smith Mountain Lake. I would be spending a week before the wedding in these idyllic surroundings. Our condo sits right on the lake and from our second floor balcony, I can watch the osprey and bald eagles (just saw one!) , and the mountains in the distance.

Asherel and I walked down to the marina to talk about storing our kayaks there for the week. The owner,Trey was very accomodating and found us a little slip on the water where we can put them, at no charge!

"Kayaking on the lake is great," he said, "Yesterday a lady was right off that point" (he pointed just across the small inlet)"And she saw something large swimming. She went a little closer and realized it was a big black bear."
"Really?! I've never seen a bear in the wild."
"Yes you have," said Asherel, "What about the bear on roller skates?"
"Yes, but no one believes me about that one," I said.
Trey looked at me with an arched eyebrow.
"You'll see lots of wildlife."
"Will I havea chance seeing a bear on my morning run?" I asked.
"You will be likely to see a bear," he said, "They are all over the place. And see that nest up there? That's an osprey nest. And there are eagles, and deer..."
"Now back to the bears," I said with furrowing brow,"You said likely...."
"And lots of wildlife. Be careful if you run on the road though. They drive fast."
"But about the bears...."
"M'am, the bears will be more afraid of you than you are of them."

I'm thinking that for someone who is having minor heart attacks just thinking of all the events of the coming week, it is not likely the bear will be more afraid than me.

"But I hope I do see a bear," I told Asherel as we walked back to the condo, "In the distance...where they belong."

Lamentations 3:10-11, 21-23 NIV

Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Give your hearts a song to sing

I spent the day before the whirlwind wedding week resting. I lay down with my book and even napped. All the packing is done and the car is loaded and ready to carry me to one of the great joys of life- watching my son marry a wonderful girl. I know it will be hectic however, and I thought it would be a good idea to catch up on some resting before I was exhausted. So I spent the day gathering a backlog of peace.

In between my proactive resting, I decided to run out and visit Comer and Evelyn in the Senior Home. I knew I wouldn't see them for at least another week and I had some photos for them of our outing to the restaurant a few weeks back. It had been the only restaurant outing they had had together in a long, long time. I had framed the photos, hoping Evelyn would look at them and remember.....

Evelyn was sleeping, so I just visited with Comer. Visiting with old folk is very restful in its own right, and in many ways more rewarding than a nap. There is nothing hurried about old people. They are often so removed from the rest of humanity, that they cherish every word you say, hanging on every little particle of small talk. Old people really believe that you are worth sitting and listening to. It may be they can do little else, but nonetheless, it is gratifying. I always feel special when I sit and talk with Comer and Evelyn.  Though Evelyn isn't doing much talking anymore.

"And when she does talk," Comer told me, "You can't understand a word she says."
He looked down.
"Is she still singing?" I asked. I hadn't seen them for two weeks between the trip to help Amy in Texas and the wedding prep.
He brightened, "Oh yes! Every word of every song!"
"Can you understand her then?"
"Well then, keep her singing."
He smiled.

It was fitting that I was visiting this old couple who had remained married for 65 years, on the verge of  witnessing the marriage of the young couple starting this journey. It reminded me that despite the dire statistics and struggles of married folk, some do make it. And some make it with no words left, but with hearts still overflowing with song.

I wish you bluebirds
in the spring,
to give your heart
a song to sing.
and then a kiss
but more than this,
i wish you

Isaiah 62:4-6

4 No longer will they call you Deserted,
   or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
   and your land Beulah;
for the LORD will take delight in you,
   and your land will be married.
5 As a young man marries a young woman,
   so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
   so will your God rejoice over you.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Take a Sad Song and Make it Better

 "Why are the tomato plants dead?" asked Asherel.
Why indeed. Why, no matter how carefully I follow the directions on the fail safe packet of tomato seeds, do I never manage to get them past the seedling stage?
"Did you water them?"
"Well, I may have forgotten to water them this week. But I was watering them until now.....I think....."

I even bought the little fail safe peat pot starter kits, designed especially for people who can't seem to get past the difficulty of filling their own little cups with healthy dirt, placing a seed the right depth in the dirt and finding just the right window to place them in. With the fail safe peat pot kit, all I had to do was open the package, add water til the peat pots swelled to double their size and plop the seed in.

To my delight, they had sprouted, then had grown sweet little leaves, two on each, and then developed into snake like wispy long plants. No more leaves developed and they looked anorexic. And then I got busy with my worries over sister Amy and the wedding....and apparently, the little fellows died. Like all my seedlings die.

I went over and looked at them. They all lay like dead skinny worms flat across the fail safe peat pots. Just to be sure they were really dead, I added water and put them back in the window.

I have 4 hardy house plants in the sun room that I have not killed. I have had them for fourteen years. I know that because I got them when Asherel was born. They often look droopy and almost dead themselves, again because I may have forgotten to water them. But then they spring back to life and have soldiered on in this home of plant growing nincompoops for over a decade.They are the picture of resilience.

What makes my ineptitude in this area all the more puzzling is my mom can make anything grow. She would traipse through the woods, recognize and dig up obscure lovely wild flowers, and then transplant them in our wild flower garden back yard. And they thrived.

I even talk to my plants. I encourage them. I told those tomato seedlings how proud of them I was and how we were going to become good friends. They were safe and well cared for in a home with people who loved them.  But, there was that little lapse of not watering them.  Good intentions only get you so far with plants. In the end, they have to be watered.

I want to share a little creativity secret with you. I rarely know what I am going to write about each day, and I draw pictures hoping they might spark an idea. I sat down in between packing for the wedding yesterday and drew the bleak black picture at the top of the blog. I was thinking of the tomato plants I had killed. And then, before I clicked off my iPod, I started adding to the picture. A half hour later, the second picture in this post appeared. It doesn't have to be death. It can be life. So often relationships wither, marriages end, children lose joy and delight in the wonder of life, obstacles defeat rather than strengthen.....

It doesn't have to be that way.

As I am sure Asherel would be pointing out right now if she were writing this, "The Beatles knew that, Mom."
"Of course they did. And how do you know that?"
"Hey Jude, don't make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better...." she would sing.
And that's why so many Beatles' tribute bands end their concerts singing "Hey Jude!"  We all get handed sad songs at one time or another....sometimes we even write them ourselves. Sometimes tomato seedlings die even when we follow all the instructions. Sometimes pictures emerge from the artist's hand bleak and foreboding. We all are hoping it could be different. We could make it better.

Maybe if we just keep at it...water those plants, say a kind word, stroke a lonely hand, hug a hurting soul, draw the leaves that we want to swirl about our hands with hope and life and bathe it all in prayer, maybe we can make the saddest song a little less sad.......

And of course God knows that. That's what the whole book of James is about. Don't let trials defeat you. Don't think Satan wins just because grief and struggle threatens to lay you flat like those tomato plants. This isn't all He wrote. This is just the beginning. Take a sad life and make it better.

I peeked at my tomato plants.The water did not rejuvenate them. I guess only God can raise the dead. But I did scurry off and water my other plants, who were looking a little droopy.

James 1: 2-3
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Psalm 65: 8-9
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
    where morning dawns, where evening fades,
   you call forth songs of joy. You care for the land and water it;
   you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dead Ends

I stared at the facebook post and for a moment, felt like I had been punched. The agent who had been so encouraging, seemed so interested in my book, and so close to being the start of my literary career was closing her agency. For a variety of reasons, she had had it with the publishing industry. I hoped this wasn't a way of getting out of having to tell me she didn't want my book, but I think her frustration had nothing to do with me. I stared at the announcement. My book had been with this agent for a year. My proposal was much improved through her suggestions and the book more streamlined through my continued editing but a whole year of my hopes for publishing had rested on that agent, the one who now was closing shop.

Oh well. I will figure out what to do next after my son's wedding in a week. Fortunately, my plate is too full right now to spend too much time whining or despairing.

"You must have a reason,Lord," I said out loud.
"Yeh, your book stinks," said God, "You singlehandedly drove her out of the book publishing business."
"How could one author do that?" I asked.
"It isn't easy," He answered, "Maybe you should take up a new obsession. How about kite flying?"
"I thought the voice of God was supposed to be one of encouragement."
"This is encouragement,"He said,"Stick with what you are good at."
"Well then you need to come up with something other than kite flying."
God was silent after that.

When James, John, and Peter were washing their fishing nets after a discouraging session of not catching a single fish all night, Jesus walked by. "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch," He told them.
They argued that they had worked all night and not caught a single fish. However, rather than fight the Lord of Heaven and Earth, they did what He said. They caught so many fish that the nets threatened to snap and the boats to sink from the prodigious haul.

The lesson is not lost on me. When God wants us to succeed, He will grant us success. And success in His eyes may look different from success in our own.

"You don't really want me to take up kite flying instead of writing, do you?" I asked.
"No," He said, "But I would rest from this worry for the next week. Don't miss the joy I have set before you over the joy you thought you wanted but can't have right now."

Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

True Son in the Faith

I hope the bride and groom are holding up over these last few days til the knot tying better than I am. I feel like I am on the continual verge of a panic attack. This was somewhat accelerated when I read the bride's schedule of events she sent out today. The list sounded doable until I reached the event:

Mother/son dance

In a cruel stroke of timing, right after the mother/son dance, there will be a session where we will all learn a dance. I sent a polite request that we reverse that order....could I be taught to dance before the mother/ son dance?  Now I don't want to give the impression that I am totally hopeless....I actually can do a very creditable polka. Somehow I suspect the mother/son dance will not be a polka. Since a waltz is just a slow polka, I could get away with a waltz too. I am not sure young people waltz anymore.

When I was at Amy's house, she was watching me "move" to some music. I was cleaning and had started to dance a little to the background music. She watched silently from her perch on the couch, going through the stack of papers I had laid in front of her to sort into piles: keep, toss, shred, or eat before someone puts together the incriminating evidence. You know, the piles we all have....

Anyway, I became aware of the silence and the sensation of being watched and glanced up. Amy looked incredulous. Let it be known that Amy can dance. She can move with rhythm and grace without effort. She has always looked good on the dance floor. On the other hand, I have never been able to dance. I can't even clap more than 2 or 3 claps before I get off rhythm. It is truly miraculous that I made the elite highschool "Tigerettes of the Grid Iron" dance team. But that is another story, and one I think I told long ago in one of my posts.

"NO," said Amy, "Don't wiggle your shoulders that way...."
I gyrated my hips keeping my shoulders still.
"That's worse," she advised.
I began to twist.
"Stick with twisting," she said, "You can do that."
So I am hoping for "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B," "Twist and Shout", or the "Beer Barrel Polka" for the mother/son dance.

But in the end, thankfully, it is not about me.

Which is good, since I suspect I will be holding back a torrent of tears, and humming "Sunrise, sunset." Is this really the little boy I carried...the one who had undiagnosed allergies and was like an energizer bunny on uppers? Can the little whirlwind, tree climbing, non stop smiling torrent of energy that used to fit (momentarily) in my arms really be that 6 foot tall, handsome man that somehow I must reach up to dance with? Is he really the serious law student who told me I might have severely ruined his hopes of college by not buying him an xbox or Wii during the formative years when everyone else was practicing those game playing skills?

Paul of the Bible has a similar spark of incredulous pride, as he describes the young man he mentored and brought to faith. Of Timothy, he writes,
"Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well,  holding on to faith and a good conscience"
(1 Timothy 1:18-19)
Those prophecies about Timothy had to do with the gifts he had been given by God. Those gifts appear to have been unknown initially to Timothy- it was when the "elders laid hands on him" that the gifts were revealed to him. No one knew what the untested Timothy, new to faith, might become. In the end, it was all good however, as we know from Paul's warm greeting to him as , "Timothy, my true son in the faith." (1 Timothy 1:2)

 I may stumble on my son's toes, and look rather ungainly and spastic as I dance with him on this most memorable day soon upon us. I hope he will know that inside is a soul that is flowing with grace, and dancing with gratitude in the hands of God with my true son in the faith.

Deuteronomy 16:14
Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters

Proverbs 23:24

The father of a righteous child has great joy;
   a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Missed Nap

Having slept little the past few nights, I was developing less than beautiful bags under my eyes.
As soon as I dropped Asherel at her volunteer work site, I scurried home and settled on the recliner. The bathroom still needed scrubbing, and the piles to be packed for the trip were whining from the back room, but I closed my eyes.

I do not nap. I am genetically wired such that naps are impossible. I think it is probable that when I was manufactured, someone dropped coffee on the part of the blueprint that includd the "calm" gene, smudging that instruction so badly that the underpaid labor force just skipped over that ingredient. It is hard going through life without a calm gene, but it is even harder on my loved ones.

However, I had accumulated so little sleep over the past few weeks that when I settled my head against the recliner back, I felt the swirling of reality that often precedes sleep. And just as I knew I was going to actually nap despite the absence of a calm gene, the phone rang.

I leapt to my feet and saw the caller ID flashing "Air Experts". In a precocious leap of comprehension,I thought that meant that a manufacturer of inflatable kayaks was calling, and would advise me on a sale of inflatable kayaks guaranteed not to puncture over rapids and sharp rocks. Knowing this was the closest thing to consumer nirvana, I snatched the phone eagerly.
"Hello, this is Air Experts, how are you?"
"Thank you for calling!" I cried happily, "How are you?"
There was a momentary confused silence, and then the caller said, "I'm fine. Thank you for asking. People usually hang up on me. NO one ever asks how I am."
"I appreciate your call," I said, still thinking it was the internet store I had been dreamily perusing when I saw there was such a thing as inflatable kayaks with aluminum batting so they have the advantages of both a hard shell and inflatable. It never occured to me that the store would have no idea what my phone number was, or even that I was lusting after their boats.

"Well you have made my day," said the voice on the phone, "I am a small family air conditioning company and we will be in your area next week."

My hopes for an inflatable kayak with aluminum batting sale shattered to the floor around me. But now, after I had made her day being the first person ever to ask how she was, I could hardly back pedal and be the jerk I usually am to telemarketers.
"Oh, I wish I could help you," I said,"But we already use an AC service with the people we bought our unit from."
"Oh,certainly, I understand,"she said.
"Have a nice day," I added, humbled as I considered what the whole conversation would have looked like if I had known she was a telemarketer from the get-go.

I thought of the Bible story where the church is admonished for catering to all the needs and whims of their rich members, but disdaining the poor ones. Jesus reminds them that they are to love all children of God without discrimination, for all are created in His image....even the telemarketers.

I hate to admit it, but the lesson I received was of much more value than the missed nap.

Proverbs 12:25 NIV

Anxiety weighs down the heart,
but a kind word cheers it up.
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Tuesday, June 21, 2011


The kids with me shot through the rapids fine, and I followed with no trouble except for momentary cardiac fibrillation. However, the double kayak in our group hit a large rock sideways and the water washed over the two novice kayakers, filling the boat, and dumping them out. The guide shot over in his kayak and told them to just float with the current keeping their feet up. I kayaked near them as they bobbed like corks in the refreshing water of the Catawba. It took the guide twenty minutes to free the boat, dump the water out, and retrieve the human corks. He lost his glasses in the process. This is why one should never kayak alone.

There were only two sets of rapids on the section we kayaked, but I am not sure I would want to do it if I were the only adult. Later as the guide was walking with me back to my car, he asked if it had been fun for someone who had as much experience as I did kayaking.
"Oh yes," I said, "I would not have wanted to do those rapids alone with the kids. I mean most of the time, nothing goes wrong...but look what happened to the tandem kayak. What if I had been alone with the kids and that happened?"
"Things can happen," he nodded.

While the kids had a great time, they all found the flat water sections somewhat dull, and wished there had been more rapids. I enjoy the thrill of not smashing my skull against the rocks, but my favorite part of kayaking is the peaceful, flat water surrounded by wildlife one might not ordinarily see from the living room recliner. That is as much excitement as I can handle. We saw several herons and osprey. Bald eagles live along the river, along with mink and foxes, but we didn't see them this trip. It was a beautiful after dinner glide down a sparkling, swift river.

Afterwards, I settled back in the car with relief. One dream fulfilled and the entire group in my charge would be returned whole to their parents. I was glad I had done it, and I was glad it was over without mishap.

Now the craziness begins. I have a room covered with all the things I need to pack for the wedding trip to Virginia Sunday. We are staying a week at a condo on a lake, and have to bring all the linens, towels, soap, toilet paper, paper towels, dishwasher liquid, laundry detergent, wedding clothes, and of course the two very large boxes of the very specific vases I picked up at the mother of the bride's request. Then, there are the 6 kayaks. 3 are single person inflatables, 1 is a tandem inflatable, and must fit in the car.The two hard shells can go on top of the car. Of course to go with the kayaks, I need to pack 7 life jackets, 7 sets of oars, an anchor, wetbags, watershoes, locks, and emergency kits. Then naturally, we need to pack games for all the cousins to play, and there is some talk of packing the Wii and the rock band guitars. This pile of necessities is now sprawled like a homicide across the floor. Shooting the rapids is child's play compared to the daunting task of fitting all this in our car.

Funny how much is needed to survive just one week away from home. When I was younger, Arvo my husband and I bicycled across the country. We carried everything we needed for three months on the back of our bikes. I still remember how I vowed that I would always remember how little I really needed, and try to live like that for the rest of my life. Moses and the Israelites traveled 40 years in the desert and all they needed, God provided. He sent manna from heaven, and when they tired of that, He sent them quail. He produced water from the rocks to quench their thirst, and parted the sea so they could journey unhindered on dry land.

I looked at the pile of essentials spewed across my floor. I remembered the peaceful flow of the river lapping at my kayak, and the osprey circling overhead, and thought of the refrain from a song we sing in church, "All we have needed, you have provided."

Deuteronomy 2:7
 7 The LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.

Monday, June 20, 2011

the Desired Haven

"Quick! The sun is out- let's go for a bikeride."
"Wait, the sun is gone...."
"Batten the hatches! Looks like a tornado!"
"Quick! The sun is out- let's go for a bikeride."

And so it went, all Father's Day. In the end, we never did go for the Father's Day bikeride, never did get Pistachio frozen yogurt, and spent the day wondering what Mother Nature was up to. Summer in Charlotte is often like that. Late afternoon storms have a way of popping up and throwing trees around like toothpicks. In the end, we spent an uneventful day in the living room, waiting for a storm that never came.

Our 6 pm "after dinner" guided kayak trip tonight down the Catawba is going to undergo a similar scenario. Right now, thunderstorms are predicted, starting right as we are due to settle our derrieres into the kayaks. Once on the water, we don't have a lot of choice but to stay on it til we reach the take-out point 2 hours later. It is all but impossible to kayak upstream in that section of the Catawba. The river is fast, and filled with fun riffles of white water rapids. They are little ones, just class 1 rapids....or so I have been told. Having never traversed that section of the Catawba, Asherel and I are finally fulfilling a dream I have had for two years, to kayak an easy white water section near our home. But since I am not foolish, at least not this time, we are going with a paid guided group for this trip. If it doesn't kill us, we can do it again on our own. 

But those pesky thunderstorms are lurking. After our day of indecision, and finally not going on the bikeride, the thunderstorms never did materialize. We could have gone....but we chose to be safe rather than sorry. Now we are safe....and sorry. That is often the trade off.....

It seems I am often in the same dilemma as the thunderstorms. Do I stay or do I go? Do I risk the unknown and race off to a potential storm, or do I sit safe, fat, and regretful right where I am? Even my vacillating feelings over this kayak trip follow that pattern. The kayak trip is not without danger.... all one has to do is look at the three page fine print release we must sign before the guide will take charge of us. All kinds of awful things could happen.... and right on the cusp of my son's wedding day! What if I smash my face on rocks, get stuck in a copperhead nest, and subsequently have to hobble down the aisle with a ventilator strapped to my beautiful gown? It could happen....

But, I have wanted to do this trip for two years, ever since I discovered that other people have done that section regularly, and rave about it. So often, experiencing life's joy to the fullest involves taking a leap.... a leap of sanity, a leap of courage, a leap of faith. Not all things can be reasoned through with calm rational pros and cons.Sometimes one just has to throw the kayak in the water along with caution, and hang on for the sheer thrill of being carried to a place otherwise unseen.

Psalm 107:23-31
23 Some went out on the sea in ships;
   they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the LORD,
   his wonderful deeds in the deep.
25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
   that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
   in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
   they were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
   and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
   the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
   and he guided them to their desired haven.
31 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Nothings gonna change my world

Sweat dribbled off my nose as I sat waiting for the library to open. My bicycle was locked at the side of the bench, and I sat dripping sweat on the black iron seat. In front of me, a bright purple tree was in full bloom. I wouldn't have given the tree more than a quick glance had the library been open, and I could have buzzed right in. But instead, since I had nothing else to do for the next 15 minutes but sweat, I gazed at the beautiful tree. I was grateful for the slowing of time to reflect upon the tree, with its varying shades of violet. The day would soon reach a tumultuous pace, and this forced time of reflection was a blessing.

I think that might be why we need Father's Day...and every other holiday. It makes us sit and pause and reflect for a brief time on the importance of the things we sometimes take for granted because they have always been there. It feels like they always will be. Really, I should be thanking God every moment that I have a father, that he always provided for us, that he always looked out for our best interests, and that he always filled our lives with rich experiences, that he always loved us. I should be praising every moment all the quirky, crazy, and unusual character qualities of my Dad....and when I think of it....I do. I just don't think of it as often as I should. Probably none of us do.

We sat for four hours last night at a Beatles' Music Party uptown. It was a concert of 28 different talented music groups from all over North Carolina gathered to celebrate the Beatles. Even for Asherel, four hours of Beatles is a lot of Beatles. I was astonished by the level of talent in just our one city. No wonder my book still isn't published, I thought. If music were as competitive as writing, and I suspect it is, there is an awful lot of talent out there that an unknown artist must rise above to gain notice. In between musing about talent and Beatles, I had to shake myself awake. I love the Beatles, but 240 straight minutes of them can try the attention of even those who normally stay awake beyond 9 pm.   We didn't get home til 11:30, and as I collapsed in bed, closing my eyes with a sigh of contentment, I did not fall asleep. In fact, the refrain from one of my favorite Beatles song, "Nothing's gonna change my world." kept pounding at my eardrums, long into the wee hours of the new day:

Sounds of laughter shades of life are ringing
Through my opened ears inciting and inviting me
Limitless undying Love which shines around me like a
million suns, and calls me on and on
Across the universe
Jai guru deva, om,
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.
Nothing's gonna change my world.
Nothing's gonna change my world.

I had never really listened to the words of the song. I just loved the melody and being a little hard of hearing, I have never understood exactly what the words were. I had thought it conveyed an arrogance, a feeling of invincibility that the singer was so secure in his place upon the earth that nothing could shake him, nothing could change him. But I realized that whether it is what the Beatles meant it to say or not, what the song is really about is that if one is rooted, grounded in love, nothing the world throws at them matters. Love really is what makes the universe spin but not throw us off.

That is the gift of a good father. To love a child so well that nothing's gonna change her world.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

1 John 4:12
12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Limitless undying Love which shines around me like a
million suns, and calls me on and on

1 John 4:16
16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
   God is love.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

He will provide the increase

I remember my sister telling me that in organizing one's life, it is important to keep a hedge of time around yourself.  Don't schedule every minute, she warned. Then when unexpected things occur....and the unexpected always will have time to handle them without the messier alternative of slitting your throat.

As I mentioned in my blog yesterday, my hope for this week was to put a hedge of time around myself, so I would be available for any last minute requests from the bride and groom or Mother of the bride. As I also mentioned in my blog, I had not done a very good job of hedging. And then a friend emailed and asked if we wanted to come see her new pups. Of course we did! We would squeeze that in somehow.....I did have a spare half hour on the way to errands. And then the mother of the Bride, Pam, called. I xxxxed out all other items on my to-do list, as this was the most important thing the mother of a groom does....whatever the bride needs her to do.

My job was to go to a wholesale store near me and find some very specific vases. In case the bride wants the reception to be a secret, I will not divulge the nature of these very specific vases, but Pam had gotten a great deal, and the price of shipping would exceed the price of the vases. Could I go pick them up and bring them with me when I drove up the following week? Of course! I knew we would have to pass up the puppies, but as Asherel said, "We've seen puppies before."

So we found the store and went to the manager to ask about these very specific vases. He pulled out a tape measure and we wandered up and down a few aisles looking for the exact correct size.
"Can it be 2 inches shorter?" he asked, "We have many of those."
"She was very specific," I said, "She needed that height."
"Why?" he asked.
I shrugged, "I don't know. Mine is not to question why, mine is but to do or die."

Finally, he found a box and pulled it out, and measured. Eureka! It was the very specific height, appeared to be the very specific shape, and he would give me 50% off.
I snapped a picture of the very specific vase and texted it to Pam. There was a catch....he could only find 5 and Pam needed 7 or 8.
"However" I told Pam, "He had lots of the shorter size...would you want to have both sizes to get the number you need?"
"Would that look ok?" she asked.
"I don't know...I've never done this before."
"Neither have I," said Pam.
"Asherel is very artistic," I said, "Should I ask her?"
"Yes," said Pam, "But you are an artist too...."
"But I can't visualize. Asherel can. Just a second."

In retrospect, it was a little odd that the mother and groom of an elaborate, elegant, formal wedding were seriously consulting with a 14 year old who is terrified of wearing dresses or anything that smacks of dressing up.
Asherel shook her head. Mixing sizes would not work, in her highly refined opinion.
"Let me call the florist and I will get back to you," said Pam.

In the meantime, Asherel and I went walking up and down every aisle and we found at the far hidden corner of the store, on display another of the very specific vases. I carried it over to the manager. He pulled out a tape measure. Yes, it was the right size.
I texted Pam, "We have 6 now!"
Then the store employee hurried over with one more, but with a small chip. I texted Pam, "We have 7, but the 7th has a small chip. You will get a discount, they said!"
Pam didn't answer the text as she was on the phone with the florist who was not happy about the less than very specific solution being proposed, but felt it would maybe be ok if it was the best that mother of the groom and her 14 year old consultant could manage.(In all fairness, both Pam and the florist were much more gracious than I am indicating, but the rest of the story is exactly as told.)

Pam called. I explained the current situation. She told me buy the 7 with the chipped one too, as surely everyone would be looking at the bride and not notice a small chip anyway. And just as I was about to pay, another employee came rushing out with another box of 4 of the very specific vases.
"We now have 11!" I cried delightedly to Pam.
"Get 8, in case one breaks," she said.

I felt a little like the widow in the story of the empty jars in 2 Kings of the Old Testament. The widow was out of money and food, and was ready to eat her last bit of bread with her son before closing her eyes to die. Elisha the prophet proposed that instead, she go out and gather as many empty jars as she could. She did so, with no further instructions. She had no idea why she was gathering the jars. She just knew that Elisha was a prophet of the God she trusted and loved, and she would obey unquestioning. In the end, she gathered the jars, Elisha told her to pour her last tiny bit of oil in the jars, and miraculously every one was filled. She then sold the oil and had enough to live on for her son and herself.

It is one of my favorite Bible stories and illustrates one of my favorite biblical principles. When you step out in faith, God miraculously supplies the increase. He miraculously fills the gaps, covers inadequacies, and reveals the location of the very specific vases.

"What is she going to do with all these?" asked the store owner as we checked out. If you saw the very specific nature of the vases, you might be tempted to ask the same thing.

"I don't know," I answered, "But I suspect it will be the anchor of their home decorating down the road."
She shook her head, laughing.

2 Kings 4:3
 3 Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.

Deuteronomy 30:16
16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

Luke 17:5-6
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
 6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Wise Scheduling

As soon as Amy's pancreatitis ordeal is over and done with, she is going to need to come help me clean out my house, I thought as I returned from the airport. I had spent the past four days helping my recuperating sister whip her house into shape in between doctor appointments and hospital stays. It was a sore disappointment to walk through the door of my own house, greeted by dust balls the size of small dinosaurs. All the papers and to-do sticky notes I had left four days ago were still there... including the one on top of the due library books I had asked to be returned to the library, requested of certain family members not to be named except under excruciating torture such as someone asking me politely.

Oh well, I sighed, at least I have my pancreas. This is a blessing for which we should all thank God on a regular basis.

I leave for my son's wedding in a week, and with the depth of all my experience and wisdom, I planned a social calendar that rivals the new Princess' of England list of engagements. Just the thing for one of the most happy and important and busy days of my life coming up! On this week that I need to be preparing to head to Virginia to be mother of the groom, I have planned a 3 hour Beatles Tribute Band night downtown on Saturday, a down-river 3 hour kayak trip for Monday, volunteer work for 5 hours on Tuesday,  a dog club awards dinner for Wednesday about an hour from us, and a hair appointment and hopeful visit to our Nursing Home friends on Thursday. So far on Friday, nothing is scheduled, but you can bet that in my Energizer Bunny mentality, it will be filled with something before noon today.

Why? Why do I do this to myself? So for everyone who is planning to ask me to do something else this week, I would just like to say NO. Except my son and his soon to be bride. Friday is all yours, my loved ones.

I wonder if God ever feels overwhelmed. If we are made in His image, then one could conclude upon viewing me at this moment that God is submerged in paperwork....along with dust and dog fur. But try as I might, I can't find a single Biblical reference to God slamming the door on His people and saying, "I am lying down now for a nap, hold all prayers til further notice." Not once. Every time one of us whiners lifts our hands to beseech that He help us out of yet another catastrophe, He is reputed to be always listening.

Sigh. Ok, who needs me Friday?

Psalm 121:2
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Close examination

"Do you think he dyes his hair?"Amy whispered.
I followed her gaze to the black haired man sitting across from us as we waited in the hospital for her CT
We would not be stooping to ridiculing others except that we had now been sitting in the hospital for over 3 hours waiting for her CT scan. Junk magazines and respectful discourse can only get you so far on an empty stomach.

He was at least 65 years old, and his face was wrinkled and carved by a rather ruthless finger of time. His hair unlike the rest of his washed out features was vibrant and dark like an 8 ball.
"It reminds me of the Beatles tribute band we saw a few months ago," I whispered back,"They looked great from the back of the stadium but when we went up to the front row, we realized they were old men wearing black wigs."

I began to sing to Amy.
"Yesterday, my skin was not so wrinkled, old and grey, now it looks as though it's here to stay, oh I looked good..."
"From far away!" she finished.
We collapsed in laughter, which eased us through the next few interminable minutes of waiting. Fortunately the black haired man thought we were laughing over the book I was reading about the Warren commission finding Oswald to be the lone gunman in Kennedy's assassination.

The CT scan was finally completed and we headed to her doctor to hear the verdict. Two docs came in and told her it was good news, the cyst was not growing and it might go away on its own. If she continued to feel good, she was free to go to Virginia for Matt's wedding in two weeks.
The scan confirmed that only one third of her pancreas is still healthy, but he didn't seem terribly concerned about that.
"Sure," Amy told me later, "It's not his pancreas!"
Down the road she will need some more procedures, but if all goes well they should not be too bad and we are hopeful they will eliminate reoccurance of the pancreatitis.

When we got back home, almost 11 hours from when we had left that morning, her cat, Albert Einstein was nowhere to be seen. He is a very old cat and likes to stick close to home. Amy hunted everywhere for Albert, behind the couch, the plants, the bed. Her sainted husband Jim came home and began hunting. Frankly, I feared the worse. This CAT scan might not end up being as hopeful as the morning CT scan. But happily, the old cat was just napping under the deck, and all was well.

And funny, all that waiting around was more exhausting to me than the 8 hour cleaning marathons we had been doing to whip Amy's house into shape so she could have time for at least some fun this summer. Upon close examination, hospitals are not cheery places.

I return home today. It was, as always, fun to spend time with my sister who makes me laugh more than anyone I know.

It was a visit filled with examining: examining how to declutter when the clutter is filled with precious memories, examining the humor in rather dreary circumstances, examining the hidden secrets of the often ignored pancreas, examining the hiding places of an old cat, examining just how quickly I could irritate my hosts so they would be grateful rather than mournful at my departure.....

God loves examination. He tells us that if we examine ourselves and our conscience is clear, we will be unashamed when we stand before Him in the final exam. No black wigs will fool Him. And He doesn't need a CT scan to penetrate to our soul. We can't hide from Him under the deck.
It would all be rather frightening except that just like the doctor, all that close examination is meant to bring to light what is harmful to our body and to our soul.

As we waited for the last few minutes to see the doctor, the man with the dark black hair came out of the examining room.
"Well," he said with a smile,"Seems you are following me everywhere!" And then finally, it was our turn to step in to the examining room.

Proverbs 5:21 NIV

For your ways are in full view of the Lord,
and he examines all your paths.
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mute answers

Sister Amy and I punched the elevator button for floor B again, and yet again, the elevator doors closed and then instantly reopened.
"We need to take the stairs then ," I said, frowning at the dystfunctional elevator.
We headed to the stairs, and noticed that the sign indicated we were already on floor B.
"The elevator was trying to tell us all along," I laughed, "It was speaking as clearly as a nonverbal inanimate object could."

Amy gets her CT scan this morning and then immediate consult with the doctor to discuss course of treatment. I prayed with her as we started our crack of dawn drive to the Dallas hospital.
"Dear Lord, please let the test results yield a miracle. That Amy's pancreas will be completely healed and normal and no further incidents will happen . We pray as always for your will, and ask for your mercy and compassion. Amen."
"That might be a tall order," said Amy.
"Well, He may choose not to answer it the way we want, but He certainly could produce a miracle," I said.
"So how come He doesn't get the blame for not answering,but gets the praise for when things go well?"
"Cause how many of us praise Him for all the miracles He is constantly thanking Him each time we draw a breath?"

God is a lot like the elevator. We may not hear Him....and we might be standing in the very place He meant for us to be and not even know it. Meantime, Amy and I are waiting for the CT scan and praying for a miracle.

Psalm 65:2 NIV

You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Party animals inTexas

I think I am having more fun than Amy as I am helping her clean and organize after her month in the hospital. I am trying to get her to just sit and watch me and rest. However, I am not sure it is restful for her.

For example, we have had an extended battle over an end table. I am certain that if we moved it 1 foot to the right, the couch would fit flush with the corner of the wall without sticking out an extra few inches as it does now. She won't even let me try and in fact threatens another pancreatic attack should I sneak it in that position while she is not looking.

“Can't we just go have fun?" she whined.
"This is fun," I warned her. At least it is as fun as I get.

The real fun was when I chanced upon the dead baby snake in the corner of the sun room. After I stopped screaming, we huddled together and gazed at the stiffly dried black squiggle.
"That's a worm," said Amy.
"No it's not! That is a snake- a baby snake."
Amy took a picture of the snake for her saintly husband, Jim.
When Jim came home from work, we showed him the snake.
"That's a worm,"he said.
I know everything is bigger in Texas but if that really was a worm, I sure hope I don't come across a Texas snake.

The rest of our cleaning proceeded relatively uneventfully. No more supersized worms or creatures lurked in hidden corners. And we both agreed the sun room looked sunnier after the worm/snake was removed and the day of organizing was coming to an end.

"Tomorrow, we get to do the kitchen!" I told her happily.
"My, you are a party animal!" She didn't exactly say that but I bet she was thinking it.

I have discovered it is much easier to clean and organize someone else's house rather than your own. It is also easier to do as I say and not necessarily as I do. However, I am so inspired by how nice a clean house looks that when I go home, I might even clean my own.

Psalm 18:20 NIV

The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
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Monday, June 13, 2011

Tear down that wall

"Would you like to see the Berlin Wall?" sister Amy asked after picking me up at the airport.
"In Texas? "
I thought the Berlin wall would be in Berlin, but what do I know?

I had come to Texas to help Amy who had been in the hospital for the better part of a month. The last thing she wanted or needed to do was worry about cleaning and organizing her house. So my job was to help her declutter without causing her more stress than the clutter would. This is much harder than it sounds. The devil you know is sometimes preferable to the devil you wish you didn't know with a trash bag and a mop.

But for the drive home, she and her saintly husband Jim would show me the sights first.

They took me to an enormous hotel. Tucked in a corner with no identifying plaque stood a piece of what did appear to be part of the Berlin Wall. It had large steel girders exposed where the concrete had been hammered away and graffiti covered it.
"Are you sure this is the real Berlin wall?" I asked.
"What else would it be? " asked Jim.
"It looks like an artist rendition of the Berlin Wall. The graffiti doesn't look like regular people did this."

Besides that, there was no plaque or anything that identified this incredible symbol of the yearning of all mankind to be free. Surely there would be something to alert the passerby that the march of tyranny had once been halted and here stood the icon of that human victory. How had this hotel in Dallas scored to receive this limited edition?
"It used to have a plaque, " Amy told me.

Later as we wandered near the Dallas convention Center, I spotted a large abstract sculpture.
"I think that's a Henry Moore sculpture, " I said.
Unlike the Berlin Wall, there was a plaque that verified my hunch.

Later Jim googled the locations of pieces of the Berlin wall and it was indeed in Dallas. There is also a piece in Raleigh, NC. I could understand it being in Washington, DC. But what was it doing in a Dallas hotel and why was it unmarked?

And we were the only people looking at it. I know that winning the Cold war is old news and right now people are crowding thousands deep to see more interesting sights like Justin Bieber. Still, it struck me as odd that it stood there so unassuming and forgotten. No one else had been gaping at the Henry Moore sculpture either but at least if one were to gape, he would know what he was gaping at.

It made me think of all the walls in life, many that should be torn down and maybe would be torn down if we only knew them for what they really were. Like the wall of unbelief that separates us from God. Or the wall of pride that keeps us from saying words that might bring healing to someone we've harbored anger or resentment towards. Or the wall of indifference in the face of others' suffering and misfortune. Or the wall of despair when strength is gone and it just seems easier to give up.

There are other significant walls that came a tumbling down. The walls of Jericho were torn down. It is interesting that they were not demolished by catapults or hammers or wrecking balls. The walls were leveled by faith and obedience to God.

Each person that shatters the wall of unbelief gets a plaque of sorts. His name is carved eternally in the hands of God. We don't see that plaque either - at least not til the Final War is over.

Isaiah 49:16 NIV

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Triple Falls

I am wired strangely. Whenever I most need to sleep, I don't. It is only when the stress level is low and my body could probably do fine on 5 hours that I manage to snooze for the suggested 9.2. So I lay awake a good  portion of the night last night, reconfiguring in my mind the luggage I hoped to carry on the plane to Amy's house today.

It would have been better to have filled my head with images of the Triple Falls hike we had done that afternoon, en route home from the Beatles Tribute show. It was a perfect day for hiking, and Asherel's friend Emma was such an easy going companion as the three of us headed up the steep mountain.
"How about if I just find a picture on my iPod of a waterfall and we can just rest here?" suggested Asherel.
"Please tell me you don't mean that," I said.

Emma is a rock climber and there were rocks galore to climb, as long as one didn't mind 3 million gallons of water per second splashing against you. I dipped my feet in the frigid mountain water and watched the girls, each second weighing the potential for death or dismemberment in their chosen activity. I try not to let my own fears translate to too much restriction on those in my charge, but sometimes it is hard. Especially given the slippery rocks and the copperhead snake Emma had recoiled from as we reached this little paradise.

So I laid down some rules that I hoped would keep instant death at bay, and then held my breath as they scampered.  Then they looked back and Asherel beckoned to me to follow. They were going up...high...atop a boulder.
I shook my head. Other people were silhouetted against the sky, a couple of cliffs above them, standing by a third cascading deluge of water. They were tiny against the blue.

"Don't go any higher!" I called.
A lady with a Dalmatian passed me.
"It is really not as bad as it looks," she urged me, "I climb this all the time."
"Does your dalmatian smile?" I asked. As a breed, most dalmatians smile and it is why I love the breed. We owned one that smiled and one that didn't.
"Yes," she answered.
How could I not trust a lady with a smiling dalmatian?

So I groaned to my feet and climbed cautiously up after the girls. Emma led the way, knowing better than we which path would lead most likely to our chances of returning for our shoes in one piece. We reached the top of the first flat expanse where the second water fall took its plunge.
"No higher," I said, glancing at the view below with only a slight lurch of my stomach.
"It is fine, really,"  said the smiling Dalmation lady, who had left the happy dog with her husband below.
The girls looked beseechingly at me.
"Fine," I said, "But don't go anywhere near the edge when we get up there or I will die."
So the three of us, and the smiling Dalmation Lady all climbed the boulder to the next large flat table of rock. This time as I looked down, my stomach did more than a slight lurch, but the view was spectacular.
The smiling Dalmation lady took our picture so we could prove we had been there. And then the girls started to place their hands on a fourth upward soaring cliff.
"No," I said, "Not that I don't want to, of course, but we are out of time."

We climbed carefully back down, and when we reached the bottom, I cried out, "I did it!!!"
Emma pumped her fists in the air, and Asherel looked less embarrassed than  usual from my outbursts.

As we headed back to the car,  I told the girls about the story the dalmation lady told me. Two men with a canoe had done the climb we had just done and then gone down the waterfall in the canoe.
"They did it several times, til they flipped over."
"Don't worry," said Emma, "I promise I would never go down a waterfall in a canoe. I wonder why anyone would do that? It's so dangerous!"
"Well rock climbing is dangerous too," I pointed out, "But each time you do something and get good at it, you want to do something a little harder. I never thought I would dare go past the bunny slope skiing....but soon the bunny slope was boring."

And maybe that is why God sends us so many challenges in life. If we just hang out at those first baby steps of faith, we never know what mountains we might be able to conquer. We might never see the magnificent views that He has created for only those who don't lose heart. Life is filled with frights, and dangers, and it was never meant to be viewed from an iPod.

Isaiah 7: 3-4
3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field. 4 Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart..."

Saturday, June 11, 2011


I found myself comparing necks of the old hippies, these fellow Beatles fans gathered with me to hear The Return, the Beatles tribute band. Some of the women had once been beautiful, and some still had gorgeous hair, but it was framing faces that could never be disguised as young, no matter how many nips and tucks had been surgically applied to their chins. As we waited for the Beatles to reincarnate with as much enthusiasm as we waited for time to erase the ravages of sun and ticking clocks on our collective age spots, I did an informal survey.

There were by and large, two distinct groups in the crowd. One group could almost appear to be young adults with bright shiny hair and trendy clothes ...if you squinted. Their chins did not melt with indiscernible borders into jiggling necks. Group two wore polyester stretch pants and cotton shirts from Kmart. Their hair was coarse and grey and they didn't seem aware or at least to mind that gravity was slowly hooking their noses downward along with other flesh slowly pooling around their ankles. There was a small third group - bona fide young people like Asherel and her friend Emma, who hadn't known the Beatles the first time around.

We all came together with different agendas. Group one was recreating their past. Group two was remembering their past. Group three was recording a past that they wished they'd been around to see.

We had driven 3 1/2 hours through torrential rain to get to this time warp. We had passed a sign that said, "Orchard- Peach, apples,muffins ", and Asherel had squealed, "Look! A muffin orchard! Can we pick some muffins?! "
Emma had spotted a small herd of buffalo. We had wandered through the tiny town and watched a little league baseball game going on beside a barn filled with cows that mooed as i pet their big wet noses.

And then we all twisted and shouted while a singer that looked eerily like the real John Lennon made time stand still for all the anxiously old,and the accepting old, and the awaiting old.

I loved the concert, though it went on past my bedtime. I thought of how little I relish growing old and how little of my past i remember. Still, I wouldn't trade the tumult of my youth for the wisdom(for lack of a better word) of my middle years. Nonetheless, I certainly see the appeal of recapturing a time in history that sparkled. Especially as my own sparkle fades. It is a great comfort that unlike the audience of the Beatles Return, God Himself is unchanging, immortal, and promises that we who call upon His name will be like Him. All our grey hair and vanishing eyebrows will be suffused with the glow of heavenly light.

Back at the hotel, the difference in our ages reasserted itself. I climbed into bed and awoke at midnight to hear the girls still giggling over some computer game. "Lights out girls, " I said,voice croaky with sleep and too much singing .
"But its only midnight! " the youngsters protested.

I drifted back to sleep, my brain humming, "Yesterday, oh i believe in yesterday ..."

Job 8:8-9 NIV

"Ask the former generation
and find out what their ancestors learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing,
and our days on earth are but a shadow.

Hebrews 13:8 NIV

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
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Friday, June 10, 2011

Real Fakes

When we watch the Beatles Tribute band tonight in the cool blue mountains of NC, I will be paying close attention to the strumming fingers position. That is because during Asherel's work with me yesterday on my guitar, she told me I needed to see a video of myself playing. I protested, but she insisted it would be helpful. I could tell by the way she was laughing too hard to speak that there was something to be revealed on video that I was not going to like, something about how I was strumming.

I noticed a major problem immediately as she played back the video of me playing the one song I am struggling to learn.
"Some one has replaced my face," I said, "And stolen my smooth skin and stretched out my neck like an old rubberband."
The angle Asherel had chosen to video tape me was looking up from the floor, right into the wattles of my chin flapping around and the dark slits of carvernous nostrils.
"I look like a parrot," i said glumly, "Don't you think you could have found a more flattering angle?"
She studied me carefully, and then said, "No....but just focus on your hand."
"It looks like a claw," I said.
"What should I do?"
"Strum with your fingers open, like this." She showed me.
"Ok, but delete that video."
"I will, later."
"No, now!"
I snatched the camera and deleted it myself with a shudder.
I just don't remember transitioning to ....this. When did all this disintegration happen?

"Try it again," said Asherel, "Keep your fingers open."
So I sang my one song and strummed with my fingers open as best I could. Asherel played back the video. The same face that had scared me on the first video still taunted me. The fingers were still clawed.
"Why don't other guitar players hands look so awful?" I asked.
"Here, maybe it is the guitar. Try mine. It is easier to play."

I know this sounds like an excuse, but honestly, my small hand doesn't easily span the fat neck of my good guitar, so I use the $10 3/4th size guitar we found in the trash. My fingers can get around the thinner neck, but the guitar is hard to play otherwise. Asherel has a good guitar, signed by John Lennon.
"Is it his real signature!?" asked her friend Josh, amazed.
"Yes," she told him, "It is a print of his real signature, so it is a fake real  signature."

There is a lot of fake realness around. The Beatles we are going to see tonight are fake real Beatles, in fact.
There are fake designer clothes and fake Rolex watches sold for $10 in NYC that are indistinguishable from the real ones. There are fake plants in our homes, and even one homeowner in a nearby neighborhood that plants fake plastic flowers around his mailbox. Most of the beautiful people in magazines have fake body parts surgically altered to perfection. The promises of the blaring commercials for total happiness if only we would just buy that are all fake, all empty, all moth wings that crumble into a puff of dust when you examine them closely.

Remember that child's story about the toy bunny that wanted to be real? He was admonished to wait....eventually, if he was loved enough, he would become real. Of course, since it is a tale meant to soothe children to sleep, he does become real in the end. I like the moral, but the story is fake. Toys don't become real no matter how much you love them. Believe me, I have tried.

The master Faker is disguised as an angel of light. He promises a world that is not his to give, and fills our hearts with deceptions and lies that ridicule the only Reality worth knowing. In Psalm 144, the psalmist recognizes that by praising the One who defeats the Faker, he can sing a new song.... a real original song.....and he does so with a stringed instrument. I'll bet his fingers are not clawed as he makes the only music that lasts forever.

I looked at the video Asherel had just shot of me. I still had clawed hands, still had dripping skin, and still missed half my notes, even with the good guitar.
"It's better, said Asherel, "But maybe you should try a new song."
Maybe I should.

Psalm 144:7-9

7 Reach down your hand from on high;
   deliver me and rescue me
from the mighty waters,
   from the hands of foreigners
8 whose mouths are full of lies,
   whose right hands are deceitful.
 9 I will sing a new song to you, my God;
   on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you,

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cinderella Moment

"Your bridesmaid dress is here!" I said, as the dog's security alert system became fully operative. I pulled in the package as the FedEx truck drove away.
Asherel glanced up from her latest top secret creative endeavor.

"Com'on, we need to go get the fitting done, so hopefully it will be back before I leave for Texas."
She followed me out, wearing the silver shoes she would wear to the wedding. As though putting my fancyclothesphobic daughter in a strapless, full length gown were not harrowing enough for her, she had to wear fancy shoes too. We had fortuitously found silvery sequined sandals with just a tiny heel that she acquiesced to with only minor face contortions. They were really just glorified flip-flops but Karissa the bride had approved them.
"Who ever invented long gowns?" she grumbled.
"Asherel," I warned. She pasted a smile on her face. She remembered that there would be no complaining in the face of this honor her future sister had bestowed upon her. She hates dresses....but she loves Karissa and thus far in the battle being waged in her soul, Karissa was winning.

We headed off to the alteration shop.I helped her take the dress out of its bag and found a long length of satin tie.
"What's this for?" I asked.
Then we realized that she had to be laced into the dress at the back, like trussing a turkey. We both giggled as I did so, she less than I as I pulled the laces tight.
"They have to be tight or the dress will fall down."
As she stepped onto the little round fitting platform before the mirrors, I pulled out my camera.
"What are you doing!?" she cried.
"Asherel, don't start this. Karissa will want a picture."
She sucked down her protests, but glared.
"She won't want a picture of that face. Smile."
Asherel forced a smile on her face. She really looked beautiful. The seamstress came and turned up the hem.
"It fits perfectly," she said, checking the snugness of all the seams.
This is an incredible blessing. My dress took three fittings and rather major alterations before it fit. Since I will be out of town for almost all of the next two weeks til we leave for the wedding, I had wondered how we would manage if the fittings took longer than a day. I wondered as Asherel gazed at herself in the 3 way mirror if she had any Cinderella thoughts.
"Can I take this off now?" she whispered. Ok, probably if there were any Cinderella thoughts, they were brief.

We drove on to another store.
"You will need a dress for the rehearsal dinner," I said.
"Let's not worry about that now," she said.
I found a dress, well ok, 3 dresses for the rehearsal dinner, for me, but Asherel was still holding out for a reprieve. As we checked out, she saw candy at the counter.
"I have an idea," she said, "How about every time I wear a dress, you get me gummy worms?"
"Deal!" I said.

This is the time honored parenting method known as bribery. Some parents have negotiating, compromising, and educated approaches to raising children well. I am on my third teenager and I wasn't young when I started this whole adventure. Bribery teaches no life skills, except perhaps as a future extortionist, but frankly, I am hoping Jesus comes again before the fruit of my poor choices falls rotten at my feet.

What would Jesus do? This is the question that should guide every aspect of my behavior, but I can find no example in the Bible of a girl who hated dressing up. All I can find are warnings of not putting too much stock in externals, or being pure and lovely on the inside, caring less for what one eats, drinks, or wears on the outside. I have to say in all honesty that maybe Asherel is on the right track on this one.

But then, there is that verse about the wedding guests....and the ones that try to barge in without being properly dressed. They are chastised and thrown out. The warning is be ready for what the occasion demands. I suspect Jesus cared less about dressing for a wedding, and more about being ready when the King of King returns.  It will not be a casual event. But I suspect most of us spend more time getting ready for a dinner out than for the return of the Author of all Creation.

"We have to buy your dress tomorrow then if the one in your closet doesn't fit," I warned.
"Sure, for gummy bears!"
"No, no gummy bears unless you wear the dress to an event. You don't get gummy bears just for trying them on."
I was proud for my exemplary standards in raising this daughter of God.

Matthew 22: 11-14
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
   13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
   14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


So I lied. I wasn't done with the wedding painting like I proclaimed a mere two days ago. I kept looking at the painting of my son and his soon to be wife, and I couldn't stand it any more. I know I insisted I was done, but it just doesn't quite look right. I had to go in and change it....again.

"Your soul sucking painting?" Amy asked me later when I called to see how she was recuperating from her nasty bout of pancreatitis.
"Yes, that one."
"Send me just Matt's head and let me see if I can help," asked Amy.
So I sent her Matt's head, not on a platter, but on gmail.

She sent back a photoshopped correction of what she felt was wrong. She lengthened the nose, dipped the upper lip, and squared the chin....the very changes Asherel told me to paint out last week. I am beginning to feel like a yo yo.

I even incorporated math into the process. I measured the distance between all Matt's features and then set up a ratio/algebraic equation to discern if my painting ratios matched. I found one measurement off by 1 cm., corrected that, and felt it did help. I may not be much of an artist, but I was pretty self-impressed by my math skills.

If I had another year....I think I could do it. But I only have two days. Then we are off to a Beatles tribute concert and then to go take care of recuperating sister Amy. Then it is wedding time.

Now I wish I hadn't made fun of all those portrait artists that use projectors to trace their subjects from a photo. At this point, I would be sorely tempted to cheat that way. It's like how I chastised my mom for all those years for dying her hair. Now that I am old and grey....if I hadn't made so much sport of her maybe I would become a blond and see if I had more fun. Smugness has a way of rebounding onto oneself.

And I must say, I have a whole new respect for God's skill in making each of us look exactly the way we are supposed to. It is much harder than you would think.

Karissa, the lovely bride to be, is nothing but grace and kindness. They will love the painting, she writes, because it was made by me. It is very sweet of her, and I almost want to paint a mustache on both of them just to see how far that sentiment could survive.

"Does it look like Matt?" I asked husband, Arvo.
"Do you have a picture of him?" he asked.
I didn't say what was in my mind, which was, "It is your son....remember him?"
I showed him a picture, which he scrutinized. He gave some good and thankfully simple advice. I agreed with those observations, mostly because I could do them without totally repainting any feature. I have noticed that my receptivity to any advice on the painting is in direct proportion to how easily I can incorporate the changes.

I have reached this point of total frustration in my art many times. Sometimes, I let the bitter defeatism take over and I take a glob of black paint and paint over my struggle with frantic, vicious strokes.( This might be that "lack of maturity" the art gallery owner who rejected my work was referring to.) I have had to leave the room to prevent this from happening to this year long labor of love. Funny how anyone looking at the final result would never suspect it took me a year to get even this far. They can't see the layers and layers and layers of failure underneath the current layer.

Again, I knew God was painting me a message. To many people, I think I appear to be at least on the fringe of respectable normalcy. I mostly can get through each day without causing too much damage to myself or others. But there are layers and layers and layers of failure underneath the surface....and the surface is still not what it should be.

I guess if it were, I wouldn't recognize my need for God. Perhaps all that failure is a blessing. Success never seems to bring me quite so desperately to His side, begging Him to take my brush and guide my hand.

Two days aren't enough....but it is all I have. So I better stop writing and make the most of my time.

Job 7:3
3 so I have been allotted months of futility,
   and nights of misery have been assigned to me.

Daniel 12:13
  13 “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Asherel fell on the sword for her friends....she would take the inflatable kayak so they could have the two easier to paddle hard shell ones. I love my inflatable kayak, but it is more work to paddle than the more hydrodynamic plastic shells that slice through the water.  So it was no suprise that Asherel's two friends were gradually disappearing into the sunset while Asherel paddled for all she was worth, and was exhausted in ten minutes. Since I am used to the effort involved in paddling my inflatable, I have become proficient. I stayed near her, encouraging her to keep paddling, but it was clear, her muscles were jellifying.

"Do you want me to help? I have a rope. I can pull you, but you have to keep paddling," I offered.
Relieved, she nodded, drips of sweat splashing down her nose.

So I tethered her kayak to mine and off we went. At first, I thought this wasn't too terribly hard. But soon, my arms were aching, lungs bursting. I glanced back. Asherel was leaning back in her kayak, arms nestled behind her head, possibly snoring.

"Hey!" I shouted, "This is not easy! You have to keep paddling! I can't paddle for both of us! You have to help!" And she did....for a little while. But then she would grow tired and I could tell she would take a break, while I strained to pull the weight of both inflatable kayaks.  If I had the strength of God, I could have done it, but edging towards my 55th birthday, I did not have the strength of God. I did not even have the strength of me a few years ago. However, there is a little reservoir of reserve that somehow flows when you are towing someone you love.  I let her rest, and I did all the work off and on as we headed to our swimming hole.
"Untie me now!" she called as we neared the sandbar where the kids could safely swim. I paddled slowly, a little tiredly to the sandbar, trailing behind her now as she skimmed over to her friends and they all raced into the water.

What a picture of motherhood this is!

When the kids have yet to reach their full strength, their full potential, when they are yet uncertain, flexing muscles that haven't fully developed to navigate all the channels where life may flow...parents are always floating near. And sometimes, the parents have to throw them a tow line. Sometimes the parents are even doing all the work, and wonder when the child will ever learn to pick up his own paddle. And then, when the parent is almost done in, old and weary and worn from carrying the weight of those fledglings, they decide it is time to untie the tether.

What a picture of God that is!

When we are burdened beyond what we can bear, He gathers us to Himself, and tells us we never have to go on our own strength. He never wearies, never tires, never lets the current carry us from Him unless it is what we desire.  But if we choose, we can remain, and should remain securely moored by lines of faith, prayer, and love.

"Whew!" I said, settling back in the car as we packed up all the kayaks, three hours later, "I'm exhausted! Are you all tired?"
"No!" laughed Asherel.
"No," whispered God.

Psalm 28:8-9

New International Version (NIV)
 8 The LORD is the strength of his people,
   a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
9 Save your people and bless your inheritance;
   be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Monday, June 6, 2011


I sent the art gallery owner an album of photographs of my art work. I felt before lugging all my work over to a meeting with her, it would be wise to have her select the pieces she was most interested in. Then I set about daydreaming of how to spend the millions I would make when my undiscovered talent was finally discovered. I thought of how she would open that album, and within seconds would be on the phone, telling me my work was not only to take center stage in the gallery but she wanted to set up a one woman show now, today, and begin printing flyers.
"How does The Future of Art is Here in Charlotte sound for a title?" she asked me in my happy musings.
My phone was blinking, alerting me to a new email.
I smugly scrolled to my gmail, and opened the letter from the gallery. I could almost hear the applause.

"Thankyou for sharing your album," she wrote,"While your work has a great deal of creativity and energy, it is not quite at the maturity level I am seeking for our gallery......"  There was more. She still wanted to meet to discuss greeting card art for which she felt I was suited, and she would be willing to display, and she could suggest how to improve my fine art portfolio. I will take her up on that....later. With my visit to help Amy and my son's wedding looming, I don't have the time or energy for another project. Frankly, all my energy was siphoning off into keeping a stiff upper lip.
"Please don't be discouraged..." she wrote, as though that would somehow pick my chin up off the floor.

Her gallery did display some truly gorgeous art. I shouldn't be ashamed that I lack that level of "maturity"....whatever that means. But what really distresses me is that I was deluded enough to think I did. Am I like one of those early entrants in American Idol tryouts, that everyone laughs at, and they put on TV because no one can imagine how anyone that sings like that could even begin to think they could be the next American Idol? How many other areas of my life am I faking myself out in that way?  Will the next gmail be from one of my kids:
"Dear Mom, while you get an A for effort, you lack the maturity to be a convincing and effective mother. However, you seem to have a talent for raising dogs. Perhaps you should focus your energies in that direction instead."
And most disturbing, a gmail from the toilet:
"Dear homekeeper, while I applaud your efforts at approximating cleanliness, you lack the maturity to do a truly thorough job and I would suggest you apply your energies towards a low skilled job that would pay for a house cleaner that knows what she is doing."

But I am not discouraged. Discouragement looks like someone bawling her eyes out while the dog creeps from his bed and lays his silky chin on her lap and lets her run tear stained fingers through his ruff......

Arvo and I went on a walk in the excruciating heat on a treelined sidewalk while Asherel was in youth group. The sun tried valiantly to melt us but it couldn't quite vaporize us through all the shadows cast by the overhanging limbs. Light and dark danced around us.  That's just how it is sometimes. Life is filled with lightness and darkness. Exaltation and Disappointment. Sickness and healing. Reality and Delusion. The pastor at the church had mentioned that in heaven there will be no darkness. It will all be light. And all the fears that assail us in the middle of the dark night will be forever gone.  It occurred to me, does that mean no more sleep in heaven? Because frankly, I really look forward to going to bed each night, curling up with a good book, and drifting off to a land of not created by my own delusions of grandeur.

John 12:
35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.”