Sunday, July 31, 2011


The sandbar where we kayak so Asherel and friends can swim has become my social outlet, my coffee klatch, without the coffee. Whenever we anchor for very long at the sandbar, I meet fellow kayakers and eventually, they all have a story to tell. I am always curious to see what person God floats in my path. Will I be blessed, or happy day of happy day, be a blessing?

The first to float in my world that afternoon was a woman with two young boys. I was sitting in the water, watching Asherel and her friend swim. The lady docked at the sandbar, and instantly the two young boys decided they wanted to take the kayak out alone. (She had been in a double kayak with the less skilled boy.) They pushed off into the channel. I had noticed the current getting stronger, which happens when the dam water upriver is released. Sometimes the current is very strong then. I could see the kayak caught in the flow, and begin to move swiftly. The two boys began to paddle, but the kayak moved away, with the current. The lady stood up and looked poised to run, but still she waited, watching.

I watched too. I would not have waited, had they been my boys. But I knew I was a strong kayaker with a tow rope, and if needed, I could rescue the boys. She moved forward, tense, and then said to me, "I am wrestling here.... I need to decide when to go in after them."
"Well," I said, "I did meet a kayak instructor here last time who said one of his group was playing in the water when they released the dam water, and the current carried him all the way to that bridge." I waved in the distance, where the freeway crossed over the Catawba River.
She watched the boys, still fighting the current, but now at least inching back to the very shallow water.
"They are in no danger," I told her, "I mean you may have to tow them back but they have their life jackets."
I admired her restraint...or perhaps it was foolishness. I would have long ago been dragging those kids back to shore.

But then she said something that really struck me.
"This is the first thing my son has ever felt confident about. He is a strong kayaker for someone his age. He is so shy and timid, and won't ever try anything, but I finally got him to try this, and he loves it. If I rescue him now, I am afraid he will lose that."
I sat in the water, watching the struggle of the two boys against the current. I was as tense as she was now, willing and praying those boys to overcome the river. Slowly, they began to paddle the boat back towards us. The river tugged and they tugged back, and finally, triumphantly, they pulled back to the sand bar. The mother and I both exhaled, and I wished I had met her and had this discussion when my children were babies.

I have a well developed ability to envision the worst that can happen. I don't know if that is because of my training as an Occupational Therapist where I treated quadriplegics who one day were diving and the next moment paralyzed for life, but I find it very hard to let best case scenarios play themselves out.

I remember Jonah's argument against the Ninevites, where God had commanded him to go. The Ninevites hated Jonah's people, they would never listen to him, and may indeed just end up killing him. Yet God is always in the business of strengthening us by forcing us to confront the situations we can't imagine enduring, can't imagine surviving. Sometimes, we don't, but the reward is still there. We just don't necessarily collect it before shuffling off this mortal coil. But sometimes, even here on earth, even when we are young and unskilled, and still stumbling towards maturity, sometimes even then we manage to overcome the current and plant our feet on solid ground again, and  know what it is to triumph.

"See Mom," called the boy, "I'm a good kayaker."
"Yes you are," agreed his mother, unclenching her hands.

Jeremiah 1:19
19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Heaven Can Wait

Twelve hours in the car is a long time, but there is always something in the scenery that stays with me. As we headed home from visiting my parents, Arvo, my husband, and I took turns driving and snoozing. We tried to time it such that we did not do both simultaneously.

I was enthralled as always, by the rows and rows of blue mountains that ring the Shenandoah valley. As we drove the route that many civil war battlefields abut, I thought about what is worth dying for. And then a large double truck passed us. The back of the truck had a sign many of the trucks have- Please drive safely!  But under this truck's admonishment to drive safely was the logo of a casket company. The two trucks were filled with caskets. I glanced again at the safety sign. Beneath it in italics it reminded other drivers: Heaven Can Wait.

Sometimes. Sometimes it seems heaven can't wait. Sometimes the otherworldly grip is pulling very hard on those one would prefer that for now, it would leave alone. It is not that heaven is a bad place to be tugged into. There is no doubt in my mind it is a glorious place. There is just so much unfinished business here on earth. There are children to set on the right path, mistakes to try to make amends for, misunderstandings to be cleared, books to write, character to build, grandchildren to bounce on knees, broken hearts to heal, masterpieces to paint, jokes to finally get, unloved ones to love, and faith to fill souls that are broken. This is, of course, only a partial list. I didn't even mention finding the perfect haircut, or shoes that are both comfortable and beautiful. The problem is that while heaven can wait, it doesn't always do so.

We passed the casket truck with its cheery message as it struggled up the steep mountain. I found myself in prayer for a whole series of people that I want to drive safely through the tumultuous roads of life, for those that I hope heaven will open its arms to one day....but not yet!

Judges 6:18
And the LORD said, “I will wait until you return.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Heading Home

I hate it that families are always scattered across the universe. I hate having to leave loved ones or watch loved ones leave. I know it is the way of the world these days, now that we know it is round and we won't fall off the edge if we wander afar. But I still don't like it.

It is a beautiful path we will follow back home, amidst blue mountains that fade slowly into the sky as though they were all one. It is sometimes hard to distinguish where the mountain ends and the heavens begin.

And I suppose that is how it is with families. Generation begets generation and pieces of each are always with you, melding one into another. And all of us will be completely one again, listening to the final trumpet call...

The best solace of leaving is that one day we will be returning. It is the great hope of our Creator...and of this small piece of His creation.

1 Peter 2:25 NIV

For "you were like sheep going astray," but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
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Thursday, July 28, 2011


The inevitable first response to a herd of alpacas is laughter. They have such comically sweet expressions with the mop of Beatle-like hair atop their heads, that you just have to chuckle when they all stretch their curious faces atop unending necks towards you.

We had searched for several hours unsuccssfully to locate the farm the day before. Instead of finding alpaca, we had a lovely drive through gorgeous hills and fields in the Endless mountain section of Pennsylvania. But my dad was certain we would go back to Charlotte unfulfilled if we did not find the Alpaca farm, and so we set out again the next day to scour hill and dale for alpaca.

This time, armed with my droid Navigation system, we easily found the farm. It was nestled in the middle of nowhere, and the last thing one would expect to see there were a herd of llama like creatures that normally roam the Andes, Ecuador, and Bolivia. They seemed happy to be in Pennsylvania, however and I suspect, happy to be wherever there was food and shelter. The sweet owner let us in the pen and we were surrounded by alpaca of every shade from white to black. As we were petting the impossibly dense wool, the owner told me that alpaca have no natural defenses. Entire herds have been wiped out by a pack of dogs. They are gentle and peaceful creatures, whose worst offense is they spit at times, when disagreeing over rights to a female alpaca.

"Can't they kick?" I asked, glancing at their cloven hooves.
"Yes, but that isn't much good against predators."
Their only hope, I thought, was that the predator would be overcome by laughter and delight as we were upon seeing them. Sadly, in a fallen world, this is ofen not a satisfactory defense.

It really was a wonderful day, petting the gentle alpaca. I wondered about a creature created with so little ability to protect itself from a vicious world. Yet if I had to use one word to describe the expression on their faces, it would be trust. Those huge dark eyes, in the soft fuzzy face fringed with a mop of bouncy hair between their ears, were filled with trust. They would be cared for and protected, and in return, they would gladly give their luxurious wool.

It is not a bad way to live. I suppose if a pack of coyote came along, they might not be able to muster enough spit to shame the predators into giving up...but in the interim, trusting in the goodness and provision of life must contribute to the gentle, peaceful demeanor they all wore. In this respect, I would not mind being an alpaca.

Psalm 56:3 NIV

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Jig is up

The jig is up...or it will be after my parents read this post. First of all, some of you might think I meant to say the gig is up, but you would be illiterate ignoramuses just like I was before my parents pointed out I meant "jig", not "gig". If you have read my book, please cross out the g and insert a J when you find that phrase. Or just buy the paperback out in three weeks. I have done a better job of editing.

Now for the jig itself. My mom always has created lovely gardens and often intersperses zen type rock structures in her little special areas. One of her rock sculptures is of a series of 4 rocks stacked perfectly and harmoniously atop each other. The pinnacle is a small round rock balanced atop a flat cap rock. The middle layer is a 3 hole brick, on its side, so the sculpture looks like a lantern. The problem is the little round rock is forever falling off.

While we were sitting in the living room, Mom pointed out that the round rock had fallen...again.

"I can glue it," I suggested, "We still have some super glue left over from when I made you the reindeer."
"That would be nice," said Mom.

So I rummaged in the basement, found the glue, and hurried outside. It looked like a storm was imminent, but the glue dries quickly.

It was readily apparent where the little round rock was supposed to sit. There was a cleft in the cap flat rock miraculously right in the center. I squeezed a large blog of glue there and placed the little round rock. Then I stepped back and looked at the lovely rock sculpture. It really is an exquisite little creation through such minimal materials.
I knew a little about zen gardens, and later did some internet research to find out about what the use of rocks symbolized. Here is the explanation from wikipedia regarding the care of the rock placement:

"Make sure that all the stones, right down to the front of the arrangement, are placed with their best sides showing. If a stone has an ugly-looking top you should place it so as to give prominence to its side. Even if this means it has to lean at a considerable angle, no one will notice. There should always be more horizontal than vertical stones. If there are "running away" stones there must be "chasing" stones. If there are "leaning" stones, there must be "supporting" stones. "

I loved the description of the mutual roles of the stones. No stone could be placed with an active role like "chasing" unless it was accompanied by a counterpart with an opposite or neutral role, the "running away" in this example. There had to be balance, peace, for every yin; a corresponding yang. Everything was placed such that they balanced and held each other properly in their proper place.

As I feared, a massive storm hit shortly afterwards. We had gone out to lunch and I wondered how the little rock had managed through the storm.

We returned from our car drive and I glanced out at the rocks. The round rock was still atop the cap stone, and the glue must be dry. As Mom and Dad went inside, I went to double check on the firmness of the glue's hold. I paused and blinked... What was that white puddle of stuff that oozed from beneathe the round stone like icing? It was the glue. The glue was solid and secure, and had expanded like rising bread to cup the base of the round stone.

Oh no. So much for harmonious "leaning" and "supporting". The round stone was no longer balancing in exquisite counterpoint to the stability of the base. It was now being shackled in permanent bondage. I don't think this is the message Mom hoped to convey with her zen garden.

I showed Dad.
"The glue will turn black quickly and no one will notice," he said.
But Mom will notice when she reads this post. She will glance out the window as she reaches the critical paragraph, and I suspect for every tear, there will be a harmonious and corresponding chuckle.

So Mom, when you glance at your zen garden, here is the new message. Sometimes we lean on each other, but sometimes we need a firmer hand. Sometimes we need to be in the firm and unyielding grasp of the anchor of our soul. Sometimes balancing hopefully, counting on the gentleness of the wind or the storm, is bound to disappoint. Eventually the wind is harsh, and the storm is violent, and is going to topple us. Sometimes Super Glue is required, and sometimes it is ok if the source of our strength shows.

And I can guarantee that little round rock is not going to fall down any more.

Colossians 1:17 NIV

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Spoiled by dog doors

We're spoiled by a dog door. Do you know it is a little known fact that dogs can pee up to 7,846 times per hour? And that's only if you withold water. So while we are visiting our folks who do not have a dog door, we are at the mercy of the dogs' bladders. Our activities are limited by tolerance of the least controlled dog to remain dry.

Fortunately, 90% of a dog's day is spent sleeping. Sometimes I wonder why dogs were designed this way- to spend almost every waking hour peeing and every other available hour sleeping. It just seems a little dull. And then, I have to ask myself, why do I love dogs so much then?

Maybe it is because dogs don't ever pretend to be something they are not. You always know what you are getting with a dog, and then you make your choices accordingly.

Last night, despite being tired, I had to walk the dogs a last time. I had forgotten how glorious summer evenings in upstate NY can be. The air was washed by the recent rain, the stars were out, and a cool breeze was just the right amount of gentle against the waning warmth of the day. As the dogs and I walked through the cool evening, I realized how blessed I was that my folks didn't have a dog door and a fenced in back yard.

Psalm 22:20 NIV

Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
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Monday, July 25, 2011

Hidden Pearls

It is always a bit disconcerting to chomp down on something hard when eating something soft. There could be several scenarios played out here, one of which is that my tooth cap was never securely glued in place. It was with some trepidation that I discreetly removed the offending chunk. I had been eating oysters in black bean sauce at a Chinese Buffet with my folks so I had a momentary flutter of hope as I opened my hand to look at the chunk. Piece of tooth, or pearl? Hundreds of dollars of dental repair, or a rare jewel of the sea?
Blessing or curse?

Have you ever noticed that the Old Testament ends with a curse, but the New Testament with a blessing? At the end of the Old Testament, God warns that he is sending a prophet, Elijah, to warn the people of their destructive ways, of their wandering from God, and of the dire consequences and curse of unbelief.

But the New Testament ends with a reminder that Jesus will be coming again, soon, and with Him will be grace, and blessing to all who believe.

A curse, or a blessing? I opened my hand.

It was a pearl!

Malachi 4:5-6 NIV

"See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction."

Revelation 22:20-21 NIV

He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon."
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen.
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Blessings abound

There's a reason why moving service men are young and brawny. In case we had any dreams of opening a moving van company, they were squashed after the second load of heavy furniture from Matt's old apartment to his new one. I was happy to help my son and new daughter in law, but I might be past my prime for lifting bookshelves to the roof of minivans. Fortunately, hubby Arvo was with me and he managed to keep us both from being just another statistic, felled by a large couch. I slept like the dead last night though, dreaming about shoving elephants into vw bugs.

Matt hasn't even seen his new home yet. He and Karissa are in Florida for his law internship, but the old apartment lease ended this week in Virginia, and they needed a new apartment for the upcoming year. I don't know how they managed, but they found online a whole 2 bedroom house to themselves in a charming little village near their school, affordable, and signed the rental agreement...all from the comfort of their place in Florida. Just one tiny problem remained - to get the large stuff from the old to the new.

This is why God made mothers. Mothers will do anything for their dear children. And so will fathers when mothers ask them to.

Moving monstrous furniture in as few trips as possible requires exceptional visual spatial skills. After a few disagreements about which direction to shove a few choice items, we managed in just two trips to load, unload, clean the old place, and even get Matt's security deposit back, which was a bonus he wasn't expecting.

And as I stood on their new front porch and looked out, I saw a huge ring of mountains, almost close enough to touch. It gleamed blue and purple through the nearby trees.

How happy they will be to wake up and look out at that every morning! How wonderful to start a new life in such beautiful surroundings. Blessedness abounds, I thought gazing at that mountain.

(NIV)Genesis 49:26
Your father's blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills.
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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hope of Things Unseen

As my senior friends walked out of the Senior Home, I held up a proof of my book.
"What's this?" asked Comer.
He looked at the cover, and saw the picture of my dog, Honeybun, and then the author's name at the bottom.
"Why, this is by you!" he said, "Well my goodness!"

After I helped him in the car, he handed the book to Evelyn. She smiled as she turned the pages. I am not sure she got the full significance, but even through the limitations imposed by Alzheimers, I think she understood it was important to me.
As we drove off to "the world's finest BBQ", I glanced in my rear view mirror. Comer had removed his glasses and was already reading my book.

"I have another surprise for you," I said, turning on the new Engelbert Humperdinck tape Asherel and I had found.  These were some of his less well known songs, and even Evelyn only sang along with one or two. But Comer seemed to want to talk, even more than listen to his favorite singer.

"Did I tell you I sang on the radio once?" he asked.
He had mentioned it before. It must have been a very precious memory.
"How did that happen?" I asked.
"Well, I knew the general manager, and he asked me if I'd like to. I sang Blue Moon."
"Oh that's a good one! How did you do? Did you get lots of good reviews?"
"Quite a few people called to congratulate me. In those days there weren't many radio stations, and so I was heard all across Alabama."
"Wow! You sang to Alabama!"
 Comer fell silent and I saw him looking at my book again.

We ate  a glorious lunch of "the world's best BBQ" while  parked on the shore of Lake Wylie. BBQ dripped from our fingers as we  listened to Engelbert Humperdinck, and watched the water tickle the blue sky. As we returned to the Home, Comer said, "You know, I wrote lots of poetry."
"I didn't know that," I said, "Do you still have them?"
"Oh yes, and some short stories too."
"I'd love to see them," I said, "Can you bring them to me next time?"
"I sure can!" he said happily, "I once thought I was a pretty good writer."
"Would you like me to publish them for that I know how? Put them in a book just like mine?"
"Oh that would be grand!" he said, "Can you really do that? They are just written by hand....but they're legible."
"Sure! I can type them up for you and we will get you published. Maybe you will be famous!"
He unbuckled his seat belt with a smile, clutching my book to his side.

"This has been a wonderful day," he said, as he and Evelyn walked onto the little sidewalk, "It always is, but this was particularly nice."

I wondered why this day had loomed so large in his estimation. Really, on our weekly outings, we always get nice food, we often listen to music, we often reminisce,and this time we had not even talked much at all. We had just watched the lake lap at the shore, and he had held my book. But I realized that the memories of his singing on the radio, and the poetry he had written must have held particular meaning for him. Was this 93 year old man joyful today because there was the potential of a long held dream maybe coming true? I don't suppose anyone writes with the intention of it being hidden. There are thoughts that tumble unseen in our heads for that. Was he still eager to leave a mark, some sort of tangible imprint that said, "I was here and I mattered?"  I knew I would have to transcribe and publish that book of poetry soon. Time was rushing by my old friend.

I had been surprised that a 93 year old man would care about such a thing. I guess I thought by that age, dreams had all died. But as I pondered how God had arranged the universe, it struck me that some of the greatest hopes in life are of things unseen, and as yet, unrealized. The hope of something better, something greater, something more perfect, something eternal. I guess that until Jesus calls us home, we are all hoping that what we don't yet see, will one day be.......

Hebrews 11:
1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.

Friday, July 22, 2011

When the Music Starts

There is a magnificent pipe organ that fills an entire wall of the megachurch in Charlotte. Most of the time, that huge organ is silent. We have visited that church often, and only once did I hear the pipe organ. The richness of the tones that rolled out of the stunning pipes would have shattered the 3-story floor to ceiling glass if the sound people were not more adept. The organist we heard was a professional who tours with a brass group and he was spectacular. There are at least 5 keyboards on the oversized organ, and the organist was playing all of them while the pipes bellowed. When one speaks in such a manner, one can afford to be silent for most of the time.

We had a spate of good news this week. My second oldest son, who just got married, also just found out that he was admitted to Law Review. This is a tremendous honor and highly competitive. He had spent the month before his wedding taking his first year law school finals, starting his first law internship, his first full time work week, and writing a twenty page rigorous paper to vie for acceptance to Law Review. I don't know how he survived that month. But not only did he survive, somehow he thrived. And snagged me the world's best daughter in law in the process.

And then yesterday we found out that our oldest son just sold his start up business KSplice to Oracle. In the computing world, Oracle is huge....and this rocketed my son way out of starving entrepreneur status. I knew he had Bill Gates potential....but now he is on the way to Bill Gates status.

My boys are quiet. All my kids are, especially my oldest. I process thoughts by speaking, or writing. Not my children. I rarely hear from the oldest, though he usually manages to pass on the critical information when we need to hear it. I thought about their verbal reticence. When one has magnificent talent, one can afford to be quiet for long the pipe organ. But when the music does start, oh my, how it fills the air!

Ecclesiastes 5:6-8

6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? 7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The New Blonde

I knew it was going to be an adventure when I pulled into the parking lot around two policemen wrestling a huge young man to the ground, and handcuffing him. My neck turned to rubber and I almost hit a telephone pole. It was just like you see on television.

I wanted to roll down the window and thank the sweating, huffing cops for protecting our fair city, but thought better of it and parked a little further away at the DMV. The DMV is as beloved as the dentist, but I have wised up in my golden years- I never enter the DMV without an appointment. I walked past the two hour long line of people glaring at me as they stood in the 98 degree sunshine. The receptionist took my name, told me to have a seat, and less than a minute later, I was called up to the man who would give me the road sign and vision test and help me renew my driver license.

By now, I was filled with good cheer. I felt safe from thugs, and I was actually being helped one minute early at the DMV. Wonders will never cease!

"Hello!" I said happily to the DMV worker, "I just saw someone being handcuffed by the police right out front."
He startled and looked out the front window.
"Down by the road," I explained.
"Wow, that's pretty exciting," he said.

I was actually a little nervous. I had studied the road signs right before leaving, but they always throw in a tricky one. I know I am not dumb, but I struggle to remember what some of those signs mean when they take the words off, and really, taking the words off is not a fair test. In reality, we will never see a road sign without the proper words, unless some prankster does something cute like add the word "Smiling" after the word "Stop".

And true to form, there was one sign that was just a telltale words to clue the clueless.
I began to shudder, anxiety slowly filling my brain instead of the answer.
"Normally that is a railroad crossing, but it always has an x on it...." I said uncertainly.
"You got it," he said.
I sat back.
"How many did I get right?" I said trembling.
"All of them!"
"Oh thank Goodness! I was so worried."
He glanced up, and looked at me as though something were wrong with wanting to do well on his test.

He began to fill out the form for the new license. He looked at me again.
"Hair color?" he asked.
"Do you mean originally?" I said.
"We can put brown like on your old license," he offered kindly.
"Does my hair look brown to you?" I asked.
I could see him wrestle with his conscience, and then he said, "No."
"Well you better put grey then."
"Yes ma'am."
"You know grey is the new blonde."
"It sure is," he said. I'm not certain he was complimenting me.

As the photographer took my picture, I smiled hugely. I had done my hair, and wore a shirt that went well with my eyes. If  I am going to carry this license around for the next ten years, I want to look my best.
"Is all the information correct?" asked the photographer, with a bored look.
I glanced at the hair color section. Grey. All the other info was the same as on my last license.
"It is," I said, smiling at him.
"Have a nice day," he said, smiling back.

It is such an unusual blessing to have everything work the way it is supposed to. The bad guys apprehended by the good guys, everyone on time for appointments, young men respectful and kind to grey haired ladies, and smiles replacing boredom. I suspect I had just been given the teeniest little taste of heaven....the way life was supposed to be before the Fall from grace, before the Fall into sin and desire to replace God's plans with our own plans.

"You're a smart lady to make an appointment rather than stand in line," said the young man.
"I am growing wise in my old age," I laughed.

Leviticus 19:32
"‘You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A True Peer

Our little goodwill ambassador sat in the kayak with her lopsided ears perked forward. People in other kayaks floated by and everyone smiled. There is something about a dog in a boat that produces happiness. You don't often see dogs in kayaks. We headed to our favorite swimming sandbar with Honeybun perched in front. One small boy and his mother bobbed on their kayaks by the sandbar where we always moor.

"I am entirely waterproof," said the boy, "From head to toe everything I am wearing is waterproof."
"That's good since you are in the water," I said. I could tell within 3 words from his mouth that this child was a genius, and probably had some extra labels thrown in as well. As an Occupational Therapist in my life before homeschooling, I had worked with many gifted children with varying disabilities, including autism and Aspergers- the spectrum of autism of the genius with few social skills. Besides that, having a genius as an oldest son, my radar for genius is finely tuned. Even the cadence of speech seems to give them away. There are a whole host of issues with any difference in intellect from the norm. I knew it from my work, and I knew it from my life with my own son. Much of it is wonderful, but much of it is very, very hard.

"And would you like to see my shell I found? It has shades of purple in it," said the boy.
"I'd love to," I said, taking the shell from his outstretched hand.
Then he turned and disappeared under water and splashed off to pet Honeybun.

His mom began chatting with me, and soon was telling me her woes about finding a school that fit the needs of her son.
"He was just diagnosed with Aspergers," she said. I could see she was still reeling from that news.
"Is it hard to find him friends?" I asked.
She nodded vigorously, "I thought in a smaller school setting he might do better."
"Well, I have a son who is now graduated from college, but he is a genius, and finding true peers for him was one of the hardest parts of growing up for him. I prayed and prayed about it, and he always managed to have one good friend nearby. If you can help him find one really good friend he can relate to, it might help him alot. How old is he?"
"Nine years old today!" she said, smiling at her son. It spoke volumes that this 9 year old was celebrating his birthday without a friend in sight....just him and his mom.

"Did your son go to college....graduate.....and now.....Is he ok now?"
I could hear the depth of worry in this devoted mother's voice, starting off this uncharted journey with a 9 year old that most people didn't understand, and was already on a road to isolation.
"Yes," I said, "And in college he did find true peers. He loved it there. He works in a business he helped start, and has a wonderful girl friend. He is happy now and doing well."
"I am so happy to hear that," she said, sighing, "It gives me hope."
"Try to find him a friend," I encouraged her, "Someone of his intellect who accepts him. Just one is enough."

We talked quite a while, and then she told the boy it was time to head back. Without a moment's hesitation the boy pulled his kayak off the sandbar, settled in place, and headed down stream.
"Well??? " he called back to his mother, "You said it was time to go. I am going."
She stopped her chatting with me abruptly and said, "He's always so literal."
I watched them kayak away, and said a little prayer for the journey of joy and heartache those two were on.

I remember hearing a show on the radio once of a mother with a genius child who was sadly telling the Christian host, "I just want him to have a friend."
"He always has a friend in Jesus," said the host gently.
"I was hoping for someone closer to his age," said the mother.

I suspect Jesus would be hoping for the same.

Honeybun sat back in the kayak as we started back upriver to our car. Invariably, every kayaker that passed us said, "Oh look! There's a dog in that kayak!"  Asherel was paddling a little slower against the current than she had on the downriver trip earlier. Honeybun wriggled and seemed anxious to get back to fresh cold water and dogfood and AC.
Being different can be a good thing....but sometimes there are spots of upstream struggle along the way.

Romans 15:
 30 I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In the River

There was a dead body along the very same section of the very same river we kayaked on the very same day we were there. The body was found, reported the newspaper, by recreational kayakers.

I put the paper down. I had just returned from that part of the Catawba. I had been largely alone for the hour I kayaked upriver. Funny, as I had been paddling, thinking how quiet and peaceful it all was, how wonderfully still and isolated, it had also flashed through my mind that it would be a good place to stash a dead body.

This body appeared to be there because it wanted to be. The corpse had been involved in a hit and run accident earlier in the day, and had been seen leaving the scene of the crime. Of course, at that point it had not yet been a corpse. An autopsy would be performed to determine cause of death,but my guess was the conscience of the man had gotten a hold of him,and he could not live with what he had done. Who knows what other demons were torturing his soul that made him throw himself in the river, the place of refuge where I go not to die, but to live!

I had gone to the river all alone, unable to entice my family to go with me. I am working on getting the e-book ready for publication as a paperback, and also working on my next book. I needed a break. So I blasted songs from my new Rodgers and Hammerstein collection on my portable CD and sang along as I drove to the river.

Once I was out of earshot of the few kayakers I saw on the river (were they the ones that discovered the corpse?), I began to sing. Softly at first, furtively glancing around to make sure that no one but the crows were listening and then began belting out such classics as "Can't help lovin that man of mine," and "We kiss in the shadows". I glided along, feeling my mood rise with each dip of the oar. I could almost see Asherel rolling her eyes and wincing as I screeched to the high notes. I saw a bald eagle fly right over me, and no one told me, "That's not a bald eagle; it's too small."

Once home, refreshed and re-spirited, I thought about the poor corpse. Nothing is ever so bad that it is worth sullying the waters of such a beautiful river with something so tragic as a suicide. There is always the potential for change, the chance for redemption, the promise of tomorrow. It is the message of the Gospel- we are all broken, we are all headed for destruction, but it doesn't have to be the end of the story. Our loving God is waiting at the end of the river, and He is probably even singing along quietly with us.

Isaiah 66:12 NIV

For this is what the Lord says:
"I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
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Monday, July 18, 2011

A World of Grief

In proofing the copy of my book, I was struck again by the world I had found myself plunged into- animal rescue. I had known nothing about the depths of suffering that animals endure for human pleasure and comfort. But my year of rehabilitating the dog we rescued, Honeybun, and of working with Hollow Creek Farm Equine and Canine Rescue  (HCF) taught me that human beings are not very kind to the creatures they are supposed to be caring for during our mutual stay on our melting planet.

I have been reflective of late, as I reread the book and ponder the lessons of Honeybun. Would I be able to do it all over again? If I found another dying dog with all those horrendous issues, could I manage to do what I did with Honeybun? HCF deals with this every day, and has for years. Honestly, I don't know how they do it. I don't know how I did it with just one dog.  After talking with some very dear people who asked me to tell them about Honeybun's story, they joked as they drove away, "I sure hope we don't see a dog dying on the side of the road as we head home...."

And that's the thing....a strong conscience will not let you keep your eyes closed forever. And suffering dogs are just one small part of the suffering organisms here on earth....what about the house spiders getting trampled on in every kitchen millions of times a day, not to mention starving children in Africa? It is overwhelming the amount of grief that lurks at every turn. No wonder as a people we drown ourselves in drugs, and alcohol, and stupid television shows.

When I was a little girl, I remember going down the street thinking about things like this even at the tender age of 5,  and crying. I remember one of my parents' friends stopping me and asking why I was crying. I immediately stopped crying, shrugged my shoulders and trudged on. When he was out of sight, I started crying again.

So I went kayaking with Asherel to have an hour of communing with nature, with man and creature in balance along the lovely Catawba river. I know the better choice to walking down the road crying is to seek the good, do the good you can, and trust the results to God. I peacefully dipped in and out of protected coves along the shore, watching the Great Blue herons hunting, and then settling into their nests overhead. Peaceful quiet enveloped the river and turtles popped their heads out into the sunlight.

Suddenly there was the high pitched roar of a jet ski. The water beneathe me became an ocean of waves as it roared past me, obviously ignoring the sign, "SLOW-- no wake."  Perched on the front handlebar, held firmly there by its owner was a daschund, with its long ears whipped straight back. It had a look of terror on its pointy little face.

So much for harmony of man and creature, I thought.

Ezekiel 34:2-4

2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


It was a rainy day, so Asherel and I and 2,475,896 other residents of our city went to the mall. We went to the funky music store there to look for Engelbert Humperdinck albums for our senior friends to listen to on our weekly car ride. We were only temporarily waylaid by Aunt Annie's soft pretzles with glaze.

Not only did we find a plethora of Humperdinck albums, but I found a collection of Rodgers and Hammerstein. My family regularly accuses me of not liking music, but that is not true. I cut my teeth on the old musicals, not too unlike the songs my senior friends love, and that is where my musical heart lies. So I clutched the Rodgers and Hammerstein CD to my heart and told Asherel now she would hear real music.

My car is one of those basic types that doesn't even have a CD player. So to play music for Comer and Evelyn, our old friends, we have to plug Asherel's computer into the car and operate the CDs in the computer. But I saw that in this modern day and age, one can actually purchase compact CD players to use in the car! I found one on sale for $15. We hurried out with our bundle of musical nirvana and I told Asherel before we left the mall, we had to test all our purchases out. This particular mall is an hour from us, and if the CD player didn't work, I wanted to return it immediately.

I opened the portable CD player while Asherel cooed, "How cute!" With dismay, I discovered that while it was ac/dc compatible, no plug was included with it. That must've been why it was on sale.
"Come on," I grumbled, "Let's go get an adapter from Best Buy." 
We were parked right outside Best Buy so it was not too awful a journey, though we were both a little tired and anxious to get home. It was almost dinner time, we still had an hour drive, and the caloric effects of the pretzel were wearing off.

I brought the CD player in with me and the manager at the door greeted us.
"This," I said, pulling it out of the bag, "Needs an adapter."
"Ah, right over here," he directed me. He checked the voltage needed, and found me the proper box. It was marked half price, $7.
"Must've been opened," he said. I saw the sale sticker and grabbed it.
"Perfect!" I said.

We scurried back to the car with our new adapter and quickly set about plugging it in. It was a universal adapter and we had a choice of several prongs to plug on its end. Asherel matched the correct size to the CD Player and then she plugged it in. I have an outlet strip that plugs into the car outlet, and that is where she plugged the adapter. We put the new Rodgers and Hammerstein collection in the CD player and sat back with a happy smile.

Nothing. No spinning CD, no telltale on light. No music.

Asherel reread the instructions. One is just supposed to press the play button and it is supposed to work.
"We have to return it," I said, crestfallen. The music store in this mall was literally a half mile walk to the other end of the mall. That is not normally a big walk for us, but we were getting cranky.

So we repackaged the portable CD player, the universal adapter on sale, and trudged back through the doors of the Best Buy, which connected to the rest of the mall. The cheery manager was still at the door.
He glanced at us.
"Remember us?" I said glumly, "It doesn't work. Either the adapter or the CD player is broken. Would you be able to tell which?"
"Probably," he said.  I handed him both our new on sale purchases.
He looked at the back of the adapter. There was a switch with a bunch of numbers.
"Did you turn this switch to 4.5? That's the voltage of your CD player."
"Well it is a universal adapter, so you need to adapt it to whatever device you are using. See this number on the CD player here? That tells you what voltage you need. Always check that, because you can burn out your device if you overload it."
"Did I do that to my device?"
"No, you left it on 0. It wasn't getting any juice."
I was collecting it back, a little sheepishly, when Asherel said, "Can we test it here?"
 She did not want to have to trek back in.
"Sure, we can do that."
He plugged in the adapter and pushed the on button. Nothing. No spinning CD or telltale green on light.
He peered at the adapter prong Asherel had selected out of her choice of six.
"This is the wrong one," he said.
I looked at Asherel.
"You picked the wrong one," she said.
"I did not!" I said.
"You didn't? I guess you didn't."
"Did you hear that?" I asked the guard standing nearby watching the whole exchange, "She tried to accuse me!"
"I did notice that," he said.
The manager plugged the correct prong and plugged the adapter back in. The portable CD began to spin and the on light came on.

There is a lesson here. There always is. Everything has to be right for the whole to work. All the parts have to be the right part, playing its role correctly or the whole thing falls short. Nothing works. One of the songs I was delightedly singing along with was called "All or Nothing."  That is exactly what had happened with our portable CD player. And it happens with every social unit. It happens with families- if one member is hurting, the whole family unit is broken. It happens with the family of God, too, the Bible warns us. Each of us has our role, our part in the Christian walk, and when any of us stumble, the whole body stumbles. No part is insignificant.  All parts, no matter how small, affect the outcome and performance of the whole. One missing piece and the on button won't come on. It behooves all of us to help each other. We might be just a tiny little prong , but without us, the circuit is broken and the juice is off.

As we drove home, I blasted Rodgers and Hammerstein classics on our new CD player that worked like a charm. Asherel quickly put on her headset and listened to her complete collection of Beatles on her iPod. I sang the whole way home, feeling an affinity with my friend Evelyn with Alzheimers. I cannot remember my son's phone number, but I remembered every song, every word, some of which I had not heard in 40 years.
I have always loved music, I thought, as I sang, just not the music most people of my era love.
"If you can't give me all, give me nothing," I sang, "And nothing's what you'll get from me!"

1 Corinthians 12: 15-26
Now if the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rocking Around the Clock

My geriatric friend Comer had told me his favorite singer was Englebert Humperdinck. Asherel and I scoured music stores and CD Warehouse for weeks, but we could not find Humperdinck CDs. We found some hits from the 50s, and some Elvis albums, and settled for that. Then right before we were to go pick up our old friends for our weekly drive and fast food fest, Asherel asked if I would like her to download Englebert from the iTunes store. There was one album.

Comer and Evelyn were sitting on the porch of the Assisted Living Home waiting for us when we pulled in a few minutes late. I was busting with excitement.
"Have I got a surprise for you!" I exclaimed, leaping from the car. Evelyn was beaming, with a sparkling smile of recognition.
"Evelyn! You look gorgeous! It is so good to see you!" I said hugging her.
"Well," she laughed, "It is good to see you too!"
She hadn't said a single coherent sentence last visit, so it was clear that for today, the demons of Alzheimer had retreated a bit.
I even ventured to offer her a choice in our fast food take out.Often choices are too overwhelming for her, but it goes against every fiber of my being to make choices for a sentient adult.
"Fried chicken again, or burgers?"
"Chicken!" she nodded, her smile still wide and lovely.
I pushed my luck with a second question, "Breast or thigh?"
"Breast," she nodded, her eyes focusing on me like they did in the days before her disease had progressed.
"You seem really happy today," I said.
"When you're smiling," she sang.
I sang with her, to the end of the song, after which we both crumpled in laughter and I think even Asherel smiled from the front seat.
"That sure is true," said Comer, listening to the words of the song, as he got in his side of the van.

"Ready for your surprise?" I asked Comer.
He is hard of hearing, so I cranked the radio speaker to which the iPod was linked full blast. I scream at my family for doing this because as of yet, no one is hard of hearing but me, and the volume at which they listen to music is certainly felling the otolythic crystals that remain to conduct sound waves in my inner ear.
Comer smiled as the music trumpeted against his ear drum.
"Oh my, he sure can sing, can't he?"
Evelyn knew every song, as usual, and sang along. Even I knew most of them and sang the phrases I remembered.The two, as usual held hands and we collected our fried chicken and drove to the "old money" neighborhood. Comer loves looking at big houses. He never seems to tire of it. When the Englebert album ended, I told them we would try the 50s album next. It was filled with upbeat songs, like "Rock Around the Clock" which I didn't expect my old friends to know or like. However, as soon as the rocking rolling vibes filled the car, Evelyn's foot started tapping, her hands swaying, and she began singing Rock Around the Clock. I sang along and danced from the waist up in the driver's seat. The car behind me honked as I missed the change of lights, rocking with Evelyn. I saw Comer in my rear view mirror jiggling back and forth to the beat as well. Asherel was videotaping me, promising that payback was coming in the form of a movie she intended to make of me making a fool of myself.

Then when the song ended, with an evil smile, she switched on her iPod gallery of videos and the sound of me straining through Eidelweiss, playing my guitar in fits and stops and singing came over the speakers. Evelyn began laughing, but then we both sang along. When there would be long pauses as I searched for the correct chord, Evelyn chortled happily. I have never had so much fun being humiliated.

When the song ended, Comer said, "Well now, was that you playing guitar?"
"Yes," I said.
"You didn't sound bad," he said.
"Ready for TV?" I laughed.
"Well you might want a little more practice for that," he said.

We pulled back into the senior home then, and still laughing, I opened the door and helped Evelyn out.
"That was fun," I said.
"It sure was," she said, still chuckling, while I brushed the fried chicken crumbs off her shirt.

In the book of Isaiah, the rebellious people have abandoned God's way and He warns them of the punishment to come in judgement of their disobedience. I find it curious that in that time, God mentions that the young will rise up against the old.  The implicit message is of course that in the right way of things, the old should be honored, revered, loved.  But it seems that so often the old are shuttered away, ignored, and disrespected, the wealth of their wisdom and experience lost to the people who need it the most....the young.
I never come away from my time with Comer and Evelyn without a deep sense of joy and satisfaction.

"I will pick you up next Friday," I said, hugging my old, still smiling friends goodbye.
"How about if we find barbecue next time?" asked Comer.
"You got it," I said waving.

Isaiah 3

Judgment on Jerusalem and Judah
 1 See now, the Lord,
   the LORD Almighty,
is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah
   both supply and support:
all supplies of food and all supplies of water,
 2 the hero and the warrior,
the judge and the prophet,
   the diviner and the elder,
3 the captain of fifty and the man of rank,
   the counselor, skilled craftsman and clever enchanter.  4 “I will make mere youths their officials;
   children will rule over them.”
 5 People will oppress each other—
   man against man, neighbor against neighbor.
The young will rise up against the old,
   the nobody against the honored.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Against the Current

I always try to arrange our kayak adventures with friends such that if we are on the Catawba River, we time any upstream returns to dock such that the current is not amplified by the daily dam water flow release. When the dam is opened, the current becomes very strong, the water level rises, and those of us in the otherwise slow but steady inflatables now are slower and unsteady. Inflatables, being light and airy like marshmallow puffs, do not do super well in strong winds, or strong currents.

So the four of us were playing in the river and I was just about to warn them we had better head back upstream now, when Danielle pointed at the visibly rushing water swirling by.
"I think they opened the dam."

It was only 3 pm, and I had been told the dam is opened around 3:30.  I guess from now on I better head back at 2. Danielle and Asherel on the hard shell kayaks did fine, but Ben and I were straining like draft horses pulling a tank in our inflatables. It was slow and exhausting going. The last few hundred feet, Ben said, "I can't do it."
"You have to do it, Ben, " I warned, "You stop paddling now, you will just be swept back down the river."
We finally rounded the corner to our dock, where we saw Danielle and Asherel lying on their backs on shore, watching the birds fly overhead.

Fortunately, we had had enough fun up to that point that I think Ben still thought it was worth accompanying us that day.  But I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt it is more fun to paddle downstream than upstream. Normally the section we paddle is calm, and the current is barely noticeable,  but it cannot escape notice when the dam is opened.

As always, I think God was sending me a little reminder. There are times when despite our best preparation and organization, the dams in life open early, and we find ourselves struggling upstream against an unbearable current. The temptation is to stop paddling, stop trying, give up and cry and suck our thumb. But if we do that, we get swept back to places we are no longer supposed to be. The only hope of reaching shore is to just soldier on, ignore as best as possible the aching muscles, the growing thirst, and the rumbling stomach. And it is also not wise to watch the progress as we inch our way up the shore. It is best to keep our eyes on the goal and keep paddling as steadily as we can, however slowly. Perhaps one of the greatest discouragements is to compare our progress with that of travelers in different boats. Everyone reaches the shore at different times depending on a whole host of factors. We will reach the shore when we get there in the boat we began our journey. Wishing we were in a different boat only causes envy and despair on top of weariness. The parallel to life is hard to miss.

As we pulled into shore and with our last ounce of energy dragged our boats ashore, I looked up at the sky.
"A bald eagle!" I cried.
"Yep," said Danielle, "It sure looks like one. It has a white head."
"It's too small," said Ben.
I ignored him. I had just made it to shore and the eagle was my reward.

Jonah 2:3-6 NIV
You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me. I said, 'I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.' The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Kayak I Don't Love

I am a walking time bomb. My molar fillings are 50 years old. They will not last much longer. So every dentist visit I live in dread of the news that they will all need to be replaced. Nice as my dentist is as a human being, I hate visiting him. But yesterday, I dragged myself step by wretched step to his office for my cleaning appointment. I knew it was going to always does. I have a couple of spots with receeding gums and I shoot through the roof when they try to scrape any tartar off those areas. I warn them, and they put the numbing gel on, but it only takes the edge off. It still hurts. And I feel bad that I react because the hygienist always is so apologetic. I wish pain were more easily contained.

I don't handle pain or really any stress well. Some people, like my son Anders barely notice when they are hurt. When he was a little boy, he once sliced his foot open to the point where it required ten stitches. He came toddling over to me and said, "Mommy, I think I might have hurt my foot."  Might have? I almost passed out just looking at it, let alone living it.

But as I tried to engage the hygienist in conversation to delay the inevitable, I found out she was a fellow Christian and her goal in life was to spread encouragement and joy. Despite the pain, I found myself glad that she was chattering away to me with her fingers in my mouth. As I left, shaky but alive, I wondered what it is about some people that they just glow with acceptance of me. Maybe it is just that she doesn't know me. Still, it is a quality I long to hold within myself. I don't know if one cultivates that kind of character, or if it just flows more easily out of some people. If I could buy it and pour it into my soul, I would. But I suspect it is one of those things you can't manufacture.

After the dentist appointment, we took our beloved friend Polly and her visiting three grandchildren kayaking. I brought all my kayaks, and assigned poor grandson Nicholas the kayak "I don't love."
I have a total of 6 kayaks, though 2 belong to Matt and his new wife. Two are hard shell kayaks that we put on top of the car at much expense to my vertebrae. The rest fit inside the car when deflated. 3 are the fantastic inflatable ones that are very well made and a joy to paddle, and one is the kayak I don't love. The kayak I don't love is actually a two person kayak and is really too small for any but the smallest of two people, but too big for any but the biggest of one people. Since Nicholas at age 16 was the biggest of us, he was given the kayak I don't love.
"Why don't you love it?"
"You'll see."

So the 6 of us set forth, like a gaggle of geese floating off on our kayaks. I had figured these kids would last maybe forty minutes. Two hours later, we had kayaked to a sandy shore and jumped off a dock, kayaked to two enormous rocks sticking up out of the middle of the lake and moored there, played like otters scampering and leaping from the rock, and kayaked back exchanging stories of lives that intersected just for a moment at this little point in time. Nicholas led the pack most of the way in the kayak I don't love.

They were delightful kids- friendly, smart, polite, and found joy in every part of our lake journey. They clearly loved and respected Grandma Polly, and her lovely face sparkled with the delight of these precious souls in her presence. I had one of the nicest afternoons I had had in a long time just being in the presence of people who appreciated simple pleasures of life, and of each other.

As I deflated the kayaks and rolled them up to pack them in the car, I carried the kayak I now loved with a little more respect.

Romans 15:7
 7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wobbly Weebles

Consumed with all the work surrounding my book publication, our summer that was meant to be calm and fun was taking a disturbing turn. So I carved out a few hours each afternoon this week for us to do something happy, something summery. Yesterday we snatched two of Asherel's friends and scurried off to Lake Wylie. It was supposed to be a record hot day, around 104 or so heat index. It was like stepping outside onto the surface of pizza fresh from the oven. Nonetheless, armed with water, kayaks, and skimboards, we headed off to Ebenezer Park. From the park we can kayak just a few minutes across to a little island. We usually dock at the island and the kids swim while I kayak along the shore and pretend I'm Gilligan from that old TV show Gilligan's Island, forced to survive having shipwrecked on this distant and unexplored land. I have it a little easier than Gilligan since I have a smart phone with which I can google the nearest take-out restaurant.

Before leaving, my friend Nicole suggested I develop a website for my author and book information. Several people suggested I do this, so I knew I should. One person told me it needed to be professional....not like my blog. Smarting a little from that compliment, I reeled into the world of web site development. As though figuring how to publish and market a book were not taxing enough on a brain accustomed to daydreaming about how to survive when shipwrecked on islands 500 feet from the mainland, I now applied its remaining 4 brain cells to this new task.  I found a free web host, and prayed that it was not riddled with viruses that would noodle their way into my hard drive. I was very pleased with myself as I filled out the necessary forms, gave myself a domain name (though I had to run and ask Arvo- "Before I do this....what exactly is a domain name?"), and then accepted their terms. Pushing the button "Accept terms" is as terrifying as "submit" which I discussed in yesterday's post. However, these terms were brief and I had no obligation to do much of anything, as far as I could tell, and those are the kinds of terms I can most readily accept. But then when I tried to do anything on my new website, I could not figure out how to even put my name on it.

Nicole wrote and offered to help. She told me while I was out kayaking to think of font style, colors, and content I wanted on my web page.
"Just make it green," I advised, "That's my favorite color."
That gives you a proper sense of how well equipped I was to tackle web development.

So off we went into the leaden heat. We brought Josh with us, which guaranteed that we would have nonstop entertainment of one type or another. While Alex and Asherel submerged themselves up to their eyeballs in the cooling water, Josh ran up and down the shore for two hours skim-boarding.
"Come on Asherel, Alex! Ready, this is all you do, drop the board, run, jump on.....see? It's easy. Now ready, GO!"
Occasionally, Asherel would make feeble attempts to follow the steps up to the point she was to leap on the board and skim, but usually opted out of that part.
I kayaked back and forth off shore from them, ready to leap in should there be any need to dial 911. The only emergency was when Josh got a little cut in his foot, and then a little pebble embedded itself in his cut. While I sat nearby, he gouged the pebble out, giving me step by step analysis of the treatment procedure, and then ripped the flap of damaged skin off.
"There!" he said, and was back to his skim boarding. I admire someone who knows what needs to be done, and just does it without flinching. The girls continued to submerge like hippos hiding from the African sun. Josh continued to beg and cajole and demonstrate how easy it was.
Finally Josh called out, "Come on Asherel- you are making me feel bad that I am so good!"

I returned the kids largely in one piece, minus a small flap of skin on one, to their parents, and settled back in front of the computer to have another go at my web page. My friend had sent me a new web hosting server and suggested I try working a web page from that host. I was happy to take her advice for two reasons:
1. She had developed web pages before and was knowledgable, and I was not, and
2. The web host was called "weebly" and my web page would be . Who could pass up a name like that? Weebles wobble but they don't fall down. 

With that encouraging refrain in my head, I followed the directions, and downloaded 4 pictures successfully and then put a page of text on my new web page. It looked horrible and crowded, and I could not for the life of me figure out how to make the paragraph stay in a nice little contained space instead of sprawling like spilled milk across my page. And most disturbing was when I showed the site in progress to Nicole, she told me the author photo looked like I was wearing no pants. I was kneeling beside Honeybun in that photo, and since my shorts didn't show, just my huge foreshortened knees, I could see where one might think that. This would not have been at all a big would be easy enough to change the web page photo....but it was also the photo on the back of my new book....the proof of which was coming tomorrow. Since nudity is not the message I am hoping my book will convey, I saw that there were already going to have to be changes to my book, and publication date was going to be delayed even further. Unlike Josh, I was not so good at this that I was making my friends look bad. And I had unhappy thoughts that in this case, the weeble might very well fall down.

Nicole quickly discerned that my skills were not finely honed in this area, and offered to work with the site a little and see what she could do. An hour later she sent me a beautiful, elegant web page.
 It was her first stab at it, and "not even close" she said, but I could have an idea of what was needed.
And I did now have an idea of what was needed....someone other than me doing it is what was needed. I was like the girls submerged in the water watching the master skim board past me. No one was in any danger of feeling bad because I was so good.

But I also remembered Josh ripping that piece of skin off without a moment's hesitation and I told Nicole that it was gorgeous, a wondrous start of my web page, and I would play with it today to add the necessary text. I didn't know how to train a dog with intense fear aggression when I started with Honeybun, but Nicole helped me then as well, and in the end, we succeeded. I didn't know how to write a book or try to publish it, but several agents offered free advice, and in the end, we succeeded. I didn't know how to walk at one time,  but my mother held my hands and supported my first few steps, and in the end we succeeded.

Life is too hard. Way too hard. But fortunately, I am not all alone on the island. While daydreaming about being all on my own trying to tackle the trauma of survival on a distant island, I was surrounded by friends willing to put themselves out on my behalf.  I think there is no better expression of God's spirit within us and around us.  Wobbling, I signed back into my weeble account.

Exodus 23:4-6

 4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dogfood in a home without a dog

"We saw this great sale on dogfood and bought three bags," the lady said as she handed them to me.
"Do you have a dog?" I asked looking around the house.
"No. But we thought of Hollow Creek Farm and the good work they do. We thought it might help them and we noticed you didn't do a dog food drive like you usually do around this time of year."
"Yeh, I was busy marrying off my son. But Hollow Creek Farm really appreciates this. It is very kind of you."

It wasn't til later, as I was considering that kind older couple's donation that I thought how odd it was that they didn't even have a dog, but noticed the sale on dog food, and bought 3 huge bags for a rescue farm they had never even seen.

Asherel and I had spent the day finishing off the set-up for my book cover. Now that we had a better idea of what is involved after the less than happy day before preparing the pdf file of the book contents, we sailed through the cover construction. That only took us about three hours. Then I got to the last button on my computer screen on our easy book publishing check list.This was not just an e-book, wonderful as it was for me to publish even that. This was a bone fide real physical book, that people could find in any bookstore and spill coffee on.  All I had to hit was "submit".

There is a lot of connotation packed into that one little 6 letter word. It is a much maligned word, raising images of cringing peasants crumpled under cruel landowner's whips. Dictatorial husbands love to quote that verse in the Bible about how wives are to submit to their husbands, and thus required to accede to whatever cockamamie opinion the husband holds whether the wife holds it or not. That word evokes fear of subjugating everything we are to an authority we sometimes don't even know.

I stood poised with my finger over the button, trembling.

If I submit this book and someone sees himself in it and doesn't like the portrayal...will he sue me? Like my son? If I submit this book and the publisher decides it is not worthy and sends it back after the review, will I be able to handle rejection....again? Particularly from a publishing venue that accepts everything as long as it is formatted correctly? If I submit this book and only 2 people buy it, my mom and me, will I ever dare pursue a dream again?

"Should I submit now?" I asked Asherel.
She raised an eyebrow, and looked at me, cocking her head.  The gesture spoke for her: why do you think we just spent two full days sweating over this very specific formatting and coming close to blows if not to this end?

"Let's say a prayer first," I said.
And so we bowed our heads and asked God to take this book where it needed to go, to melt the hearts of the people who ought to read it, and to be a blessing in the hands of those who maybe needed the encouragement of my story to never give up, never give in to despair, never lose hope. Or that's what I meant to pray anyway. In actuality I think I said, "If it be your will, let this book pass the review."
I poised my finger again over the submit button.

And here is the big part of submission that those who try to force submission don't seem to understand. Submission is voluntary. If you force submission, it is not submission. It is slavery. defines submit with terms like: accede, acquiesce, yield, surrender......
And the Bible goes a step further. While it does indeed say wives are to submit to their husbands, that is only part of the section. It is preceded by the critical verse- Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21). Why is that one so often ignored in the whole Christian submission debate? Just think how wonderful the world would be if every action were dictated by that verse? To submit one to another, one would have to know the other's desires, and one would have to want to please the other, and one would have to understand that by so doing, one was revering Christ Himself! How could anyone object to such a selfless and gentle spirit with which to tackle life? What if everyone thought so givingly of each other that they would buy dogfood for others when they themselves don't even own a dog?

I hit the button that said, "Submit" and watched as my book lifted off magically to its destiny.

As I finished writing this post, I got an email. My book has been accepted and is ready for proofing and publishing.

Job 22:
21 “Submit to God and be at peace with him;
   in this way prosperity will come to you.
22 Accept instruction from his mouth
   and lay up his words in your heart.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Easy Step by Step Directions

There are two kinds of days; those when hair is allowed to grow undisturbed and those when you rip it out. Yesterday was a hair ripping day. Not anxious to spend $1000 so someone else could prep my book for publishing as a paperback, I decided to do it myself.  A few hours later, I realized that $1,000 was dirt cheap for someone else to prep my book.

I am not talking about editing. I have spent two years revising and editing. I dare anyone to find an editorial, proof-reading error.

"You need a comma here," said Asherel as she casually glanced at my book while downloading the proper font for the cover page.

Asherel is my paid employee. I have not offered her $1000, but I do intend to get her a mega bag of gummy worms when this book is ready for press. The problem stems from not having a publishing program on my computer but the type of electronic file that must be sent to the publisher is a PDF file. All I can do are TIF, JPEG or even PNG files, and my book is on a word doc. I can throw around all these acronyms with ease now, but still have no idea what even one of those letters represents.

"Google it," said Asherel.
I was close to tears. "What on earth would I google?"
"How about converting word doc to PDF?"
It is astonishing but no matter how you phrase any question, no matter how obscure or absurd the question, someone else has already asked it. Don't believe me? Try googling "Do aardvarks need deoderant?" There are pages of responses to that query. (By the way, one response began- The answer may surprise you....)

And I assure you that the answers to that question are much easier to understand than how to convert a word doc to a PDF file.  The conversion itself was relatively simple, only taking us about 4 hours and 10 tries. However, I had to convert my book to a PDF file at exactly the correct trim size for the book I wanted. The book size I wanted was 6x9, and the closest I got was to create a 6x9 rectangle of print on an 8.5x11 image. The publisher needed the 6x9 paper size....I think.

There are of course, "easy" step by step directions that promise you will have a book ready to go in a few minutes. I will give you a graphic example of what reading the simple step by step directions was like for me. Go get any directions on how to set your watch. Now flip it over to the side that has the directions in Japanese. Now cross your eyes, and stand on your head. That gives you a sense of what went through my brain as I followed the easy step by step directions.

At 9 pm, about 9 hours or so later, the book was finally least the interior. Today we tackle the book cover which includes the spine and back jacket as well. This part of the process "should not be undertaken unless you are a professional graphic artist."


At this point, I think we could consider ourselves pros. I envision it being another hair ripping sort of day.
It came as no big surprise to me that I don't handle frustration well. So God, in His wisdom, is constantly throwing frustrating situations my way. This is a kindness, I have been assured, so that I will learn to conquer this nemesis.

The universe itself is subjected to frustration, according to the book of Romans in Bible, and the subjecting was caused by none other than God Himself. What does that verse mean?  How can the universe, all creation, be frustrated? I imagine the discussion between God and the Black Hole.
"Heavenly Father, I understand that all things have a purpose but I have tried and tried and tried to quit sucking light and emit light instead. It only leads to frustration."
"For now you are in bondage," God answers in my musings, "But a day will come when you will be a New Creation."
"What will that creation look like for me?" asks the Black Hole.
God doesn't answer because the future is not ours to see, but I know what it will look like in part. All my loved ones, all my friends, all the earth will reflect the holiness, the goodness, the glory of God. And as an added bonus, PDF files will be instantly converted from word docs.

Romans 8:19-21

19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


The lady had to be at least 60, and yet  she pulled her kayak out of the lake,  dragged it to her car, and singlehandedly hoisted it atop the roof.
I was pumping up my 12 pound inflatable kayak with my nifty little foot pump. I watched out of the corner of my eye as the lady strapped the kayak down, tightening the buckles while varicose veins popped out against her sun damaged arms. I felt inexplicably silly standing there with my rubber boat slowly expanding under the patient pumping of my foot.

"How much does that weigh?" I asked. Her skin was bronzed to an unhealthy leathery tan by the sun. This was someone who was not well acquainted with Coppertone.
"28 pounds," she said.
"Wow, that's pretty amazing that you can handle that yourself."
"I brought men with me to help before," she said, "Bunch of wimps. I ended up doing it myself anyway."
She pointed to the two kayaks on the roof of my van.
"Who got those up there?"
"Oh my daughter and I, but we nearly killed ourselves doing it. It's hard with such a tall roof. That's why I use my inflatable when I go alone."
We chatted a little longer and as I carried my kayak to the lake, she called out, "Someone know you are out here?"
"Yes, thanks," I said, touched that a total stranger would care enough to be sure I had exercised proper safety caution. (which I had....but only as an afterthought.)

I had sent my announcement about my book publishing that morning to the many agents who had read it, given wonderful feedback, encouraged me, but in the end decided they couldn't take a chance on an unknown new writer. They wrote back, sounding truly delighted for me.
"You go girl!" wrote one.
"I love happy endings!" wrote another.
"Great marketing!" wrote a third.
All strangers. All in their own way cheering on a fellow co-conspirator in the mystery of life.

As I kayaked, I wondered why the lake was empty. It was hot and muggy, but it was a Saturday afternoon. I passed a few people on their docks, sitting in the shade of an umbrella. Children were jumping from the back of a boat at one dock, trying to touch an American flag fluttering from the dock as they leaped into the air.
They waved, and we all agreed it was hot hot hot.

I thought of Honeybun, our little dog and heroine of my book, as I kayaked along the shore of the silvery lake. I was a stranger when she first saw me. And she had run from others who had tried to help her. For whatever reason, she had let me approach, and tolerated a stranger's hand upon her, a stranger's offering of a drink of water on a similarly blistering hot day.

A vet who had never met me, a total stranger, offered to look over the abandoned dog for free, and split the cost of a heartworm test with me. A total stranger saw my internet posting of Honeybun and offered a list of trainers that might help me with her impossible issues. And a total stranger emailed me and said if I was willing to save the dog, she would help....for free.

We are all sojourners at one time or another, all strangers in a foreign land at some point in our life. Some of us feel like strangers no matter how long we have known those around us. But sometimes strangers make marks in our lives that even we don't recognize are lasting, with eternal repercussions. You just never know when someone aching for encouragement might cross your path, and a simple word of reassurance, of kindness, of caring might be a sip of water to a dehydrated spirit.

I love how the Bible reminds us to not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, we may be entertaining angels unawares. I am pretty sure I have been in the company of angels more times than not. 

As I kayaked around the bend from the parking lot, I glanced back. The lady with the kayak now firmly tied to her car stood on the shore, watching me as I crossed to the open water.

Hebrews 13

 1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

You are Mine

For about two hours, I stared at the same image on the computer. There it was, after three years of working towards this end, my book was on Amazon, with my name beside the word Author. Within minutes of it appearing on the Amazon e-book store, several copies had sold. And no, I wasn't the sole customer. I only bought one copy.

When I told the friend who had been a huge part of the story, the rescue farm volunteer who had helped me with our vicious dog, she told me, "See? You want to get something done, you do it yourself."
That was what I had learned in rescuing the dog, and it was what I discovered in publishing my book.

I spent the morning reading a second time the agreement between me and the publisher, and then spent a few hours getting the book uploaded and ready. After a year of writing and two years of peddling it to agents hesitant to let a nobody in the door, my book was published. I was a published author, a dream I had nurtured since writing in my dairies at age 5.

To celebrate, we invited Asherel's friend Alex kayaking with us, and took off to a wonderful section of Lake Wylie.  It is a favorite kayak place. We kayak from the shore to a little sandy beach island and swim off the island. Right before  I walked out the door, I got some very bad news. It is not insurmountable, but it was bad enough to take my breath away. I left for kayaking as the girls chattered happily with one side of my face dancing with joy over the book, and the other side struggling not to slide off into my feet in despair.

As soon as we unloaded the boats with only a minor ripping of some crucial back muscles, the sky clouded over. We zipped out to the island but I kept a wary eye on the sky. It had the dark purply color tinged with green that means massive thunderstorms are hiding nearby. We squeezed out one and a half hours of swimming at the island, and the rain started.
"I think we better head back," I said.
Then the deluge started. Alex stretched out her arms and lifted her face to the pounding rain.
"I love the rain," she cried, her kayak bouncing on the waves, while the rain fell so thickly that she was obscured in grey opaque sheets of water.

That image described my day. My beloved kayak bobbing on waves, gloriously gliding on the beautiful lake,  ....and the raging storm closing in on me. Delight and Despair all in a single moment. Victory and Defeat. Hope and Worry.

As we raced to shore, I heard that little whisper in my soul that sustains me when I threaten to crumple.
"I know what I'm doing....," He said.
"You do?" I answered, "I mean, you DO!  But I don't, and sometimes that makes it hard."
"If you can trust me in the little things, you can trust me in the big ones," He reminded.
I let the rain beat that message into my pores.

When I got home, I gazed another few hours at the Amazon site with my book on it, and my name beside the word Author.  It was mine, that book that could be viewed by millions was my book, written by my hand, of my experiences. I felt such pride and love for my little book that I could hardly contain myself. And then the very bad news came tumbling back into my thoughts.

"And you are mine," said the still, quiet voice, "Trust me."
kindle edition but kindle app can be downloaded to any smart phone, ipod, ipad, iphone, MAC or PC, or reading device.

Ephesians 3: 20-21
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Manager on site

I was assigned a chore from the honeymooning couple. They needed an apartment in Florida where Matt will be interning for a District Attorney for 6 weeks. We had all assumed that when the snow birds returned North in the hot Florida summer months, there would be oodles of cheap apartments waiting eagerly to be sublet, but Matt had not found any and was beginning to worry.

I told my son I was delighted to help. I have become an intimate friend of Craig's List as a result, and could tell you the names of all the major realtors in Broward county. I also can tell you that sublet apartments in the better sections of Fort Lauderdale do not come cheaply. Furthermore, there are alot of sinkhole dwellings that I would not let my pet rat (if I had one) live in.

I became very excited about an apartment I found for them on the beach, in the safe area, a mile from his job, and even negotiated a price within their budget. Then I sent them the info.  I warned them to check reviews on the place before they put down a deposit. Job well done, I rubbed my hands together, and decided to check the reviews myself. There were pictures from just a week ago of a toilet with mysterious pink stains all over it, outlets hanging off the wall, and locks that didn't even keep the door closed, let alone safe.Other reviews listed drug deals going down in the apartment next to them. I hurriedly emailed my dear ones to not put a deposit on that ideal place. It wasn't as ideal as I had hoped. The manager called me, as I had unfortunately left a message when I thought this wasn't a place reserved for people who love bed bugs and scabies.
"Have you read the reviews and seen the pictures on Trip Advisor?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Do they concern you?"
"OH, I have to go now. Let me call you back." Click.
Surprise, call back!

Horrified, I checked the reviews on a second place I had recommended. That manager was due to call me back soon as well. Those reviews were not much better. That place had leaking water pipes that the manager refused to fix, dirty linens on the bed, and filth throughout. And all this could be secured for over a thousand a month! For an extra hundred, they would throw in some cockroaches. As I was emailing the happy honeymooners to scratch that one off their list, that manager called back.
I was blunt, "Have you read the reviews about your place?:
"Well no, not lately. But those are old reviews. The place has been renovated in the past few months."
"I don't think they were old reviews," I said politely.
"Honestly," he said, "I haven't been there since the renovations...."
He manages a place he hasn't seen in months?
"But," he continued, " I am pretty sure those are old reviews. I will look at them myself."
Meanwhile, he would gather recent photos and give me the bottom line fee for the 40 day stay.
I hung up. Within 2 minutes, the phone rang again, "Vicky? I just read the reviews. They are from last week. Don't stay there. In fact, I am quitting my job as manager."

I did finally find them a very small studio apartment that still looks good upon closer inspection and another place that is a little further than they would like but was recommended by a friend of a friend of a friend who had stayed there.The owners of both options are willing to let them stay for a trial period so all has ended well.

In the midst of sifting through slums , I took my old friends Comer and Evelyn out for a drive. I picked them up from the Memory Care Senior Center. Evelyn has stopped wearing her wig and she went a little wild this day on her rouge application. She looked at me as though this time, she didn't know who I was.Sometimes she seems to know me, but not this time. I am not hurt by the lack of recognition. I find it challenging to see if each time she sees me, I can be pleasant enough that she will like me as a new friend. It is a good way to practice social grace over and over again.

However, each time I see her, I proceed on the assumption that she does remember me and I converse happily about my life as though she could rip open the shroud of Alzheimers.
"The wedding of my son was beautiful. You should have seen the bride! She wore a one shoulder dress with a beautiful long train!"
"Oh my," said Evelyn, "That must be lovely."
"Oh it was!" I said, "Do you remember what you wore at your wedding?"
"No," she said.
"I'm sure it was lovely too. Shall we go out for fried chicken?" I asked.
"We just ate," said Comer.
"Yes, fried chicken, " said Evelyn, her brightly rouged cheeks lifting with her smile.
Comer shrugged.
So we went out for fried chicken, and drove to see mansions while munching extra crispy drumsticks. The mansions were a sharp contrast to the web pictures of the apartments I had been prowling through on Craig's list. They were happy just to be out of the home, feeling the sunshine across their cheeks, munching junk food. It struck me again how little they really wanted out of life. They were content to just be able to hold each other's hand, sing along with music from an era that somehow still lived for them, and eat food that the doctor strongly discouraged.

What a day of contrasts! The new, smooth cheeked couple starting out, wide eyed and hopeful searching for their first small home together..... the old, rouge cheeked couple with cataracts, settled in the last home they would ever know together this side of heaven. One honeymooning at a resort with all the sumptuous food and drink they could want at their beck and call, the other relishing extra crispy fried chicken balanced on their laps, looking at mansions from afar. One looking ahead to a life of promise and hope; the other looking back to a life they were having trouble remembering.
"Is it ok if I thank God for the food?" I asked Comer and Evelyn as we opened our boxes of cholesterol laden delight.
"Please do!" said Comer, "I pray hundreds of times a day."

Well that is one thing the new couple and the old couple share, I thought, the one thing that I know is never in short supply, never gets bad reviews, and the manager is always on site.

Psalm 119:115-117

115 Away from me, you evildoers,
   that I may keep the commands of my God!
116 Sustain me, my God, according to your promise, and I will live;
   do not let my hopes be dashed.
117 Uphold me, and I will be delivered;
   I will always have regard for your decrees.