Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Finding Focus

When I close my eyes, the memories of the beautiful beach are fading. Instead, I am dizzy. It has been slowly building the past few days. It feels as though my head is walking a few steps ahead of my eyes. I stagger a little when I walk. This has happened before, and I think is related to exertion, heat, and too much to do. My sister thinks it might be a strange occular migraine, and I think it might be Meniere's, an inner ear problem. It usually passes within a day or so, and is not totally debilitating, so I try as best as I can to soldier on. I just have to focus very hard on putting my feet in the correct spot to maintain the typical hominid walking pattern.

I thought maybe some fresh air would help, and had an 11:00 meeting with a friend nearby. I rode my bike (slowly, and with a helmet on) to Panera and was only a little dizzy. I sat at the front table for 20 minutes waiting, and then decided I must have gotten the wrong date. I did a quick glance around the restaurant, trying to stay oriented in a straight line, but didn't see her. As I biked home, my husband called. My friend had been in Panera waiting for me since 10:30. I was almost home. I felt bad, but I had not really even had that hour to easily spare.

I had to get back to schooling Asherel, and the dizziness was slowly growing. I spent the rest of the day lying down, and reading to Asherel as needed. And felt really bad for not connecting with my friend. The schedule when our school year starts is a whirlwind, and to top that off, we have a dog trial this weekend. Maybe I am just dizzy because I am running in circles too much trying to tackle it all....  What is a little daunting is that most of our extracurricular activities haven't even started yet. Life for a homeschooler is a masterclass in organizational skills. I get twenty emails a day of wonderful opportunities for my homeschooled daughter. I just delete most of them without even reading them. At some point, one just has to learn to say, no.

And I miss the beach. I would much rather close my eyes and see palm trees against a bluegreen sea, and have the wind swirling around me, rather than my eyes spinning inside my dizzy skull. I even loved the day we were at the Beach when the hurricane came visiting. I enjoyed the day of lying on the couch, watching tropical rain, and reading Lord of the Rings. Sometimes stillness is critical. For me, it almost always has to be enforced. I suspect that is why God has sent me this dizzy spell. I think He may be reminding me that I can too easily spin out of control, unless I keep my eyes focused on the one simple goal that He has put before me. Just keep my eyes on Him, and the body will go where it should.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-14

 12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind!

Matthew 11:29-30

29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The carrot or the stick

"First one packed and back to shore gets to dole out the oreos!"
I shouted.
The groaning teens, who did not want to leave the river and return to school work suddenly shot into action. Even the nearby Great Blue Heron perked up at the mention of Oreos.

"Oreos!" cried Josh.

He began racing around the sand bar, gathering his skim board, throwing on his life jacket, and hopped in the boat.
"What's the hurry?" asked Ben, who must not have heard me.
"I want to be the oreo doler!" cried Josh, shooting off into the current.
"Oreos!" said Ben, and he jumped in his boat and raced after Josh.
Asherel was slowly and methodically settling into her kayak. She had a secret weapon though. She knew the short cut under the low pier bridges along shore.

As the three kids raced each other back to shore, and I glanced happily at my watch, I knew that this time, we would beat rush hour traffic home. There was none of the usual dragging and dawdling. Why am I so dense to forget to use the "carrot" rather than the "stick" more often? The boats were unpacked, loaded in the car, and everyone settled with hungry faces in their seat exactly by my timetable. The oreo doler, who was not told he had to be fair, was some degree. There was one extra oreo and to avoid any semblance of favoritism, he ate it.
"Cause I'm just that kind of guy," he told the group glaring at him.

It was a wonderful day, as kayaking on the Catawba always is, but I learned (again) a very important lesson. It is perhaps the lesson most critical in raising happy children. Motivate and encourage with positives. Punishment and threats just don't build joy. Yet when I am at the end of my rope, patience, and energy, I reach for the easy solution, the "or else" solution.

God, as usual, knows best. We are made aware that Hell exists, and we do not want to go there. However, the overriding message of the Bible is that God loves us, and yearns for us to love Him and be with Him. He beckons continually with the offer of sweet mercy, forgiveness, grace, and eternal joy.

And I plan to keep a bag of oreos in my kayak kit.

Ruth 2:12
12 May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

Monday, August 29, 2011

My Food

"If you have evangelized the world and lost your family, you have failed," said the teacher at Sunday school. His message is one that has always resonated with me. I see the mission field as big as I can handle without leaving my street. Everywhere around me are people with needs; spiritual, emotional, physical. And that is before I walk out the door to get the paper. I truly admire missionaries who brave extreme deprivation to minister to distant people no one else cares about. It is all I can do to be a faithful minister to the ones that depend on me in my own family. So I really appreciated the teacher's message. Sometimes, it is most important to do a little thing well in your own little corner of the world. You can not be all things to all people, or in all likelihood, you will be no good to anyone.

I thought about that, as I left Asherel with a friend for the day, and went to the river alone. I had to meet with the marina owner anyway to set up a kayaking party for our science olympiad group. After arranging those details, I headed upstream. The current was not terrible, and the sun was not too hot. A cool breeze was in my face. I kayaked till I was halfway tired. This is not always easy to gauge. Sometimes I think I am only halfway tired, but when I turn to head home, I find out I was two thirds of the way tired, and then I stagger to the finish with melting muscles and buzzards circling overhead.

However, on this occasion, as I turned to head back, the dam waters must have been released behind me. The river swelled, and the current became swift, and the tail wind added another few mph to my ride. It was exhilarating. I flew down the river effortlessly and returned in a third of the time it had taken me to go upstream. Sometimes life is like this. Not often, but sometimes. Sometimes, one's dear Dad doesn't have pneumonia, and sometimes dear Mom is not developing a sore throat that may portend her own illness creeping in. Sometimes, one's husband doesn't have to struggle to find a job, and children do understand that some of the rules we set really are in their best interests. Sometimes...but not often, life flows downstream with a tailwind and it is all effortless.

When I returned at dinner time, Arvo was barbecuing some delectible smelling food. I was busily dealing with the backlog of the vacation week's neglected duties when he burst into the house.
"You are going to hate me," he said, "I just invited the new neighbor to dinner."
I glanced around the house- not a disaster zone, but not visitor clean.
"What will we feed her besides the meat?" I asked.
We had not done much shopping upon return from vacation yet.
"I don't know," he said.
I flew into action, made a salad, and microwaved some potatoes while Arvo scrubbed the back deck table.
"Do we have anything for dessert?" he asked, as I laid out the spotted, not quite clean placemats, thinking the plates would cover the spots.
"Freeze pops," I said.
The new neighbor knocked. We let her in, and opened the bottle of wine Matt had brought back from his Mexico honeymoon for us. Our neighbor was having a rough time, had been living with friends for 6 months in the midst of an unhappy divorce. All she currently had in her new house was a bed. She needed to do some work inside before she could move anything else in. She was tired of living with others. She wanted to be in her own home again, so with just her bed and her dog, she was slowly cleaning and readying her house. She had spent the day trimming the neglected trees in the back yard, and was tired.
"I didn't even have anything to bring over to offer you with dinner," she apologized.
"That's ok," I laughed, "All we have to offer you for dessert are freeze pops."

It was a wonderful evening. The flies were a little more numerous than I would have liked, but she is a lovely woman and I think we filled a real need for her with our thrown together meal and spotted placemats. I don't think she noticed the stains. I think she was just grateful for a place to settle among potential new friends and eat something that wasn't take-out.

 I have to admit, I would not have extended the invitation. I was too tired, and the house not in the condition I wanted a new neighbor to think I lived, and the placemats were not washed, and we didn't have anything ready to offer for dinner except the grilled meat. I am happy that my husband extended hospitality and kindness, however. Once we sat down together, it was like kayaking downstream with a tailwind.

John 4:34-36

   34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

You'll Never Walk Alone

The hurricane is knocking on my oldest boy's door this morning. I am waiting, and praying, as Irene hammers the area where many relatives, including my own parents, and my dear son all live. We experienced the outer bands while vacationing at Hilton Head, and that was enough for me.

It is eerie watching the frightening videos and having seen first hand the absolute blackness of the sky as the hurricane roars by. And then, there is the next day. The forecast for Boston tomorrow is 78 and sunny. Hang on, beloved son, dear family and friends! Brighter skies beckon!

After our brush with Irene, I went bike riding on the beach, early in the morning. The sun was rising and the last of the hurricane clouds still lingered. They were perhaps as reluctant as we were to leave lovely Hilton Head and return to work, and the incredible chaos of the start of a new school year. But through the clouds, little fingernails of sun were scratching away. And then suddenly, it clawed open a small hole and the endless streams of golden light shattered the darkness and danced in silvery diamond steps across the glowing sea.

I biked and sang, on the empty beach. I sang a triumphant song from an old musical, Carousel. It reminded me that no matter how dark the skies of my life turn, I am never facing the darkness alone. To all my dear family and friends, huddling under stormy skies today, I am praying for you. You are not alone.
R. Rodgers and O. Hammerstein II
When you walk through the storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
There's a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

Walk on, through the wind
Walk on, through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

John 16:32-33

...Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.    33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Saturday, August 27, 2011

When You Walk Through the Storm

We stepped onto the beach for one last sand sculpture, one last skim boarding , but the sky was black. Only the outer bands were to touch Hilton Head, but the sky was inky, perilously dark against the sea that still glinted with reflections of sun peeking from the other end of the sky. We had just unloaded our things from our beach cart when God decided we needed just a taste of a hurricane. Rain and wind exploded out of the blackness, so strong that we had trouble walking against it. Chairs and coolers and people's beach toys and towels were picked up with the now bullet pieces of sand, and were flying down the beach. We snatched our things and raced back to the car.
"That wasn't so bad," said Arvo.
"The rain was going sideways," countered Asherel.
The rest of the day was spent in the condo watching the rain, torrential at times.

Why did we stay, why were we not fleeing even the outer edges of this storm, my friends asked.

Because that evening, we were to go have dinner at a restaurant with a band that played 4 straight hours of Beatles. Asherel had been looking forward to it all week. When we arrived at 6:30, the rain finally had let up. There were only 3 or 4 tables of customers. It was clear they had braved the hurricane to hear the Beatles band too. Asherel munched on fish and chips while the band played, and took requests from the three tables of fans.
"Wow," the band said, as they took our sometimes obscure requests,"These are REAL Beatles fans."
"Here comes the sun!" called out a boy.
"We don't do that one during hurricanes," said the band.

We stayed for over two hours. It was a fitting and wonderful cap to our week at the beach. And in a week, our vacation reflected the story of life:

Anticipation, preparation, born to a new place, experiencing all the joys and wonders of life, building, creating, working and playing, family. Looming in the distance, a fearful threat, adversity, even terror. Reliance and trust and prayer to God, the fearful threat rages. Singing with delight in the midst of the storm. Awakening, reborn, the dreadful storm gone, birds singing, the skies blue again.

God's messages of redemption and restoration are never ending.

To those still to endure this storm, I pray for all of you.

Luke 8:23-25 NIV

As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!"
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. "Where is your faith?" he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."
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Friday, August 26, 2011

My sand frog

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Power Unleashed

We've been watching the hurricane news, in the midst of biking along the ocean, building sand creations, and skim boarding. The surf has been growing like a teenage boy, and the waves look like West coast waves. You just don't normally see surf like this in Hilton Head. This morning, as I sit on the back deck overlooking a lagoon, the limbs draped with spanish moss are snapping like flags in the wind. While the hurricane is supposed to miss us, it is headed for my boy in Boston. I am praying it will just quietly head out to sea and disappear.

However, the gusts that then swirl through the trees surrounding the lagoon are yelling their warning.The small birds in the trees are unusually vocal, squawking their tiny protest to the enormous power about to be unleashed.

I sat in the surf yesterday, in my little beach chair, after building a giant sand bullfrog. I even closed my eyes, thinking perhaps I should try this thing called napping on the beach. Then an enomous wave rolled in and toppled me over backwards.
That's what comes of napping on the beach.
"Oh we should have gotten that on video!" laughed Asherel.

Watching those waves, hearing the swirling wind now, and seeing the ominous images of the hurricane on the TV, I am increasingly aware of how small I am. I don't mean dress size...I mean how insignificant all humans are in the cosmos filled with pounding surf, category 3 hurricanes, earthquakes, or volcanos. When we are pitted against Mother Nature, we are going to have our little chairs toppled backwards every time.

Hurricanes have a way of bringing us to our knees...literally and figuratively. In the end, one way or another, my life is in His hands.
One can't appeal to a hurricane for mercy. But time and again, the one who can stir or scatter the hurricane winds reminds me He longs for me to make my appeal to Him.

Job 1:19 NIV

when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"

Psalm 80:2-7 NIV

before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us. Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved. How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smolder
against the prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have made them drink tears by the bowlful. You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us. Restore us, God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Neither jelly nor fish

Did you know that spanish moss is neither spanish...nor moss? Similarly jellyfish are neither jelly...nor fish?

Both of these misnamed life forms proliferate in Hilton Head. One to our delight; one to our dismay. As we biked yesterday, Asherel noted,"The spanish moss is so beautiful."
This was not her response to the jellyfish some painful hours later.
I poured meat tenderizer over her jellyfish sting, and a few minutes later over Arvo's jellyfish sting.

Nontheless, I had noticed on an earlier bikeride how beautiful the jellyfish are too, splayed like saran wrap filled with designs on the seashore. Yet they are a trecherous beauty, as my unfortunate family discovered.

Meanwhile, Spanish moss is beauty without treachery, but many people think it kills the tree it grows on. Spanish moss is not like kudzu, however. The tree and moss, that is not moss, grow symbiotically together with no harm to the other.

Spanish moss have developed a unique way of eating. As water drips from the tree limbs and leaves, the spanish moss processes the minerals from the water, and eats that. It survives with a gentle, harmonious, peaceful mode of digestion.

On the other hand, we saw what jellyfish do to survive on our evening bike ride. The beach was littered with jellyfish, perhaps blown in by the approaching hurricane. I saw silver glinting off of one, and biked near to peer more closely. Inside the transparent blob was a small fish. I think it may have still been alive. Jellyfish are carnivores. They sting their prey with those gruesome tentacles, and then draw the paralyzed victim into their mouth and inside their open viewing digestive system. We biked a little further and saw another jellyfish with a fish inside it. It was like a snow globe of the beach...I had an image of shaking it and watching the fish swirl in its jelly tomb.

In the Bible, names are carefully chosen, and even sometimes changed to reflect the character that God wants to be revealed. I love the name change of Abraham's wife. She was Sarai, when he married her. Many Hebrew scholars feel the name change, derived from the same root, makes no sense. But, God always makes sense,if not now, in the future. I found one explanation compelling. The childless and barren Sarai, was renamed Sarah when God promised her she would bear Isaac, who would become the father of all nations. Sarai means "my princess", more personal and intimate than Sarah, which means "THE leader or princess." It is a distinction that prophesies the unique role of Sarah as the mother of the son who would become the progenitor of many nations.

But, like spanish moss and jellyfish, there is one notably "misnamed" Bible character. Lucifer, means "angel of light." Any one who knows the story is aware that Lucifer is no angel of light. However, Satan means adversary, derived from the hebrew noun which translates to obstructor. That sounds more appropriate. And as I thought about the fish in the jellyfish, I realized that is probably very much what hell is like. You are trapped forever in a place you can never escape, being slowly consumed in a hideous way, but you can still see the world around you, the one you have lost, the beautiful creation moments ago you were swimming in and took for granted.

"Don't you ever just nap on the beach?" My cousin asked me.
How could anyone nap when God is begging me to keep my eyes peeled for His revelations?

Genesis 17:15-17 NIV

God also said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her." Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?"

1 Timothy 1:15 NIV

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Melting to the Sea, but You Remain

"The code is 241," I whispered to the mother with the baby seat on her bike. The guard was not going to let her ride through the bike path gate without the code, and she was fumbling through her phone trying to find it. I was leaving the gate, where the code is written, to remind all the exclusive Sea Pine residents of the number sequence they would need to return. I see the point of gated communities, but something about it irks me to the core.

I had come by the code the way I always do. I ride up the beach, and when I have had enough of headwinds, I cut over to one of the paths that lead into Sea Pines from the beach. No code is required on the hundreds of beach access paths.

Yesterday, on the morning I came across the mother who couldn't remember the code, I had ridden all the way to the end of the island along the beach. It had been effortless biking, and I had been rewarded with a whole flotilla of dolphin just off shore. Then I headed back, and realized it had been effortless because I had had hurricane force tailwinds. I would never be able to return along the beach with the headwinds that were slowly removing my eyebrows and outer layer of skin.That's how I ended up on the Sea Pines bike paths.

And I was formulating my design plan for the sand sculpting that afternoon. It would be a surprise for Asherel.

When we got to the beach later that day, I had to race against the incoming tide. I had about two hours to build my creation before the tides engulfed it. I began shoveling piles of sand in the appropriate places.
"What are you making?" she asked.
"It's a surprise."
She watched for a few minutes as I began sculpting a nose on a submerged head. Then she glanced at the hourglass shaped pile of sand below the head.
"John Lennon playing guitar?"
The girl is good.

"Yes," I said, "And I have to hurry. The tide is coming in."
What kind of guitar?" She asked.
"What year is this?"
"I don't know. The year he had long hair."
"The magical mystery tour album?"
"Sure. I need help on the guitar. I did the general shape but I don't know the details."
She went right to work, and left me to handle Lennon's face. Several people came with cameras and asked if they could take a picture.
"Of course," I said, "But it isn't nearly done. Do you even know who it is?"
"Come back in half an hour. You will."
"Do you want me to make his glasses out of reeds?" asked my husband, Arvo.
"Yes, please!"
The tide crept closer as all three of us worked on our assorted tasks. The photographers kept coming back, gazing a moment, and then returning to their chairs.

Asherel was carving detailed frets, pick ups, knobs and designs.
"Is that a Rickenbacker?" asked one man.
Arvo plopped the glasses on my nearly completed head.
"John Lennon!" cried the man.
Now a horde of photographers descended, and all agreed, the sand had become John Lennon. I drew a peace sign on his chest.
"Perfect!" said one man.

Within half an hour, the tide began to swirl around the Rickenbacker. Then John Lennon's hands began to melt into the sea.
"How sad," I said, "He is dying again."
"Nothing's gonna change my world," sang Arvo, as we remembered John Lennon's song and watched him slowly crumble away.

I had been humming that song all day. But I didn't agree with the message. Things change my world every day....every moment. A lost job, an alligator snout poking above the surface from a long ago history, a great blue heron with a neck gracefully curved, a word of encouragement, a stranger helping a stranger, a family building together in the sand, a God of mercy and grace who engineered a world of such exquisite beauty that sometimes I want nothing more than to melt into it with the glorious green blue tide.

Psalm 102:25-28 NIV

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded. But you remain the same,
and your years will never end. The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you."
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Artistic Designs

"It is too flat and the head is too big," said Asherel.
"This is hard," I said,"I can't make it any bigger. I am using artistic license."
I paused and looked at my sand creature.
"No one will know what it is, will they?" I groaned.
"But you will, and isn't that why you do it?" said Asherel.
But then she continued to watch me and agreed. No one would know what it is.

"Wow," said a passerby,"That's great!"
"Do you know what it is?" I asked,brushing sand off my cheek.
"Uhh...some sort of animal. But a really well done one! What would I know? I'm a Jersey girl."
She walked on. I continued to shape my creation while Asherel smirked.

My sand creature took much longer to craft than usual. I struggled to make the back taller and rounder, the nostrils dilated (Not easy in sand), and the creases of the skin visible. Almost two hours later, it was nearing completion. A little girl, no more than 3 or 4 years old, came rushing over. Her father followed her.
"Oh, look Cindy, do you know what that is?"
She smiled and nodded with wide sweeping dips of her chin, her ponytails dancing against her shoulders.
"Well say it! It's an armadillo, isn't it!?" he said.
"Does it look like an armadillo?" I asked little Cindy.
She smiled widely at me and nodded, "Daddy, I want one."
"Oh I can't do that!" he said.
"Sure you can," I encouraged him.

He and Cindy headed a little ways off and sat down in the sand, making a pile that would be shaped into an animal. I grinned at Asherel.
"The three year old knew it was an armadillo," I said.

I thought how eerily similar to yesterday this little vignette of life was. Maybe my job for the week at the beach was to spurn moms and dads to build with their little ones, to come together finding joy in the recreation of God's glorious creatures. To find the creative urge in each of us in a communal endeavor.

I walked over as the man waved and said, "Well, we did it!"
It was a small creation, only about a foot long and a few inches tall.
"That is a wonderful armadillo!" I said to the little girl.
"It's a turtle," she said.
"Of course! It looks just like a turtle too!" I said, smiling at her.

Exodus 35:10, 31-34 NIV

"All who are skilled among you are to come and make everything the Lord has commanded: and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others.
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Monday, August 22, 2011

The Day of Small Things

The little boy had been standing near, silently watching me as I labored in the sand. The sand dog was slowly taking form, more slowly than our usual family sculptures since certain unnamed members of the family were relaxing at the beach, rather than helping.

It was ok. The sand sculptures are my beach activity. I love being at the ocean, but not of the ocean. There are too many biting, stinging, sliming, and frightening creatures in the ocean to make swimming a relaxing experience for me. It would not be a vacation would be more like paramilitary training camp.

So I was making my sand sculpture, happily safe from the sharks, jellyfish, blowfish, sea urchins, and genetically altered poisonous sponges. The little boy had wandered over and not even said Hi. He just watched me with big brown eyes. It became clear if there was to be any interaction, I would have to initiate it.
"Hi, do you like to build sand things?"
He nodded.
"Can tell what this is?"
"A dog."
More silence. As I patted the sand carefully on the dog's head, he followed me and leaned in, watching me with a serious scowl. I moved to the front paw, and he moved with me. As I crouched near, he crouched near, behind me, peering under my arm as the sand dog took shape.
"Do you want to build a sand creature?"
"It looks hard," he said.
"It's not. I'll teach you. Come over here."
We walked a few feet from my dog."
"Ok, first what do you want to build? Choose something simple, like a clam shell."
He looked at me, his face blank.
"How about a crab? They're pretty easy."
He nodded.
"Ok, first you draw an outline on the sand."
I used my sand shovel and drew the outline of a crab. He watched with furowed brow, and nodded.
I wondered where the child's mother was, and why she was letting him talk with a stranger.
"Then you dig a trench outside the outline like this and pile the sand on the shape. Later you will patt that sand smooth and in shape like you saw me do with the dog. Do you have a sand shovel?"
He nodded, looking at the crab.
I went back to work on my dog and he stood still. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his mother appear with two shovels.
"Would you like me to help you build an animal?"she asked.
He nodded smiling and they hurried over to their own space of sand several yards away.

I'd been reading with Asherel about missionaries who had gone to Africa risking their lives and heads bringing the gospel to cannibals. I have never felt called to leave my own country. But I do pray every time I leave the house that God would open my eyes to the world of suffering, loneliness, and need around me and that perhaps, I could be a blessing to someone.

It seems that God has not gifted me with an ability to do large things, to do great things. But He has taught me never to despise the day of small things.

I carved the name of my book in the sand by my sculpture and wrote also, "available at" in careful sand script. You just never know what might be used of God, I thought, glancing at the mother and boy busily building a creature in the sand together.

Zechariah 4:10 NIV

"Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?"
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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Seeking him with heart and soul

This year, our family beach trip is missing the sons. The oldest, Anders,is busy working for a new company, and the middle son,Matt, was heading back up north from his law internship in Florida. On the very same day we were heading to Hilton Head, travelling south, Matt was returning to his new bride, and law school, travelling north.

It occured to us that we would likely be intersecting in the universe right around lunch time. Through the miracles of cellphones, GPS, and UrbanSpoon Restaurant finder, we met at the only point in our respective trips that for a moment, would collide. We had a wonderful lunch with a wonderful young man that we cherish more and more as he grows into such a fine adult.

It amazed me that with all the infinite coordinates of space, we were fortunate enough to have engineered this meeting. We hadn't seen him for 6 weeks, and it could be another long stretch before we see him again. We recognize and honor the fact that his new wife has first dibs on him. So it was particularly wonderful to overcome time and chance and have the cosmic alignment cooperate. So often, people pass each other like ships in the night.

And it reminded me again that relationships must be intentional. If too much is left to spontaneity and chance, or even inspiration, they slowly die. It is true of human relationships, and it is true of our relationship with God. Sometimes meeting others half way is the hardest thing we are called upon to do. It is much easier to drive right on past, our own routes and goals clearly mapped out. It is easier not to find time to read the Bible, to Pray, or to sit in quiet,regular communion with the Father of all relationships.

"That was really nice," sighed Arvo, as we continued our journey southward and Matt headed on northward.
"It was," I agreed happily,"He is such a wonderful young man."

Deuteronomy 4:28-31 NIV

There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.
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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Homeschooling Highschool

One week of highschool under our belt. Having survived Asherel's first week of 9th grade in my rusty homeschool, we leave now for a week at the beach. I think this is a schedule every highschool should adopt- a week of traditional work, a week at the beach for field work. I guarantee that more kids would graduate under this plan.

If I am creative, I might even be able to justify some high school credit out of the beach week. I don't think anyone could argue that skim boarding, body surfing, and beach bicycling should go towards her PE credit.  The huge sand sculpture we always construct will surely span several academic fields, including earth science, engineering, and fine art. And of course, there is the obvious pursuit of biology in examining jelly fish, starfish, and dolphins.Astronomy: as we look at the millions of stars that you can't see from a suburb of a large city. Geometry: spatial orientation and angles calculated in order to fit all the necessary items in the car, leaving enough space for us to sit down.  Botany: the diversity of plant life and its difference from region to region. Specific study question-  at what latitude do palm trees first appear, and why? Geography: the topography, states, cities, and major rivers in the Atlantic southeast. History: the Native American tribes that once populated the area, as evidenced by the names such as Cootiewootchie river (Or something like that.... I am a little fuzzy on my highschool subjects, which is why I need a trip to the beach.) Public Speaking and Debate: "Why can't I have the triple scoop covered with gummy worms? Let us analyze the pros and cons together." Comparative Literature: Arby's sign, McDonalds sign. Government and Law: Do not feed the alligators. Penal code URN4it.  Economics: Horseback riding on the beach- $45 per person. Bike ridinig on the beach- free. Discern the most appropriate economic decision for a family with no current income.

So, in the end, I don't think I will even need to list this week as a vacation. I suspect it will be the most educational week of our school year. Which reminds me, once again, why I love home school. The world really is our classroom. I just hope we remember to have fun with all the subjects we need to cover this week.

Colossians 4:5
5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Good news and Bad news

Today's headline in our local paper was not encouraging to a family like ours, with the husband in finance laid off and looking for work- Bank of America to cut 3500 jobs!
Oh goody. Now the glut of jobs in finance that numbered about 0 last week will be negative 3500. The good news is, God specializes in impossible odds. The bad news is I was already a little worried.
Fortunately, our yearly beach vacation is locked in, and already paid for. We can run away and hide our heads in the sand for a deep, white Hilton Head sand. Dog sitters are lined up, neighbors watching the house, car packed.... we run away tomorrow.

Fourteen years ago, we went to a free weekend on Hilton Head, with a little catch. We had to listen to a Time Share sales pitch. We thought it was worth a free weekend at the beach. The problem is, they were very convincing, and the weekend ended up being far from free. We bought the timeshare. This was so out of character for my conservative, frugal, careful husband that my sister, Holly , told me the timeshare buy was more of a shock than my news that at age 40, after 9 years of thinking babies were no longer in our future, I was pregnant.

But, for the past fourteen years, our family has had a guaranteed, glorious week at the beach, at a 3 bedroom palace. Back then, I had no idea that kids really did grow up and move away, and develop a life that was separate from Mommy and Daddy. They were always there, and it just seemed they always would be.

Of course, that is not how it works. Sadly, I know that now. But one of the most wonderful things we did together every year, as a family, was spend that week with each other on the beach. Financially, I am pretty sure it was not the smartest move we ever made. But in other ways, it gave our lives a common memory of joy that I hope will shore us up when times are not so merry, or when we are scattered far afield. We would have always found reasons why we should not have spent the money for such a wonderful vacation. Instead, we knew that no matter what else was going on in the world, we would have that week together watching the sun set over the ocean, the dolphin leap in the early morning surf, and the warm sand tickle our toes as we constructed giant sand sculptures together.

3500 jobs cut. I threw the paper aside. I have packing to do, and sometimes it is best to snatch joy while you can. It is the gift of God, and should not be disdained.

Ecclesiastes 8: 15
15 So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Not without honor

I love it when it cools down enough that I can do errands using my bicycle. This has been a beastly hot summer, and not at all pleasant biking weather. But this past week, the temperature has stayed below 90, low humidity, and I got my hair cut to a short pixie, all events conspiring to let me run some errands on my bike.

I had to mail a package first, and then head to the drugstore for some suntan lotion for our upcoming last hurrah of summer beach trip. And then, I was done with my errands. The relative coolness of the air beckoned, and as often happens, instead of turning homeward, my bike took over and ferried me off to the Greenway.

"Where are we going?" I asked my bike, "I really need to get back to promoting my book and quizzing Asherel on her school work."
"There will be time for that," my bike said, "Do you realize you barely rode me at all this summer?"
"It was too hot, and it got awfully busy. I had to marry off a son, visit my folks, go to Texas to help my sister, publish my book, promote my book, and edit and publish Comer's book. And then I started working on editing my next book. By the way, I thought it was much better when I first wrote it...."
"That doesn't sound like vacation."
"It was a working vacation."
"Well forget work for the next hour. I am taking you someplace special."
"The Greenway? What makes it special? I've been here thousands of times."
"Have you seen the sunset a thousand times?"
"Is it still special?"
" that you mention it, yes."
"That's the kind of special I mean. The familiar seen with grateful eyes."
"I get where you are going with this, Star."
(I name all my bikes keeps life simple.)

The bike path was nearly empty. I rode happily, and saw nothing of particular note. It was peaceful, and quiet in the dappled forest surrounding my route. It occurred to me that it was just as lovely, in its own way, as the ocean bike paths I would be riding next week.

I have often wondered at Jesus saying that a prophet is unrecognized in his home town. There is something about being very familiar with people, places, and things that makes you no longer see them for what they really are. We take them for granted. They become invisible, uninspiring, unimportant.  I looked around at the beauty of the Greenway, and patted my bike's head. (For those of you who don't think of your bicycle as a horse, that would be the handlebars.)
"Thank you , Star," I said.

Matthew 13:56-58

56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.
   But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”
 58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Your old men will dream dreams

Comer watched me pull the book out of the cardboard protector, and said, "Tada!"
I held it up for him. His face smiled back at him from the cover, his name emblazoned across the bottom.
"Well would you look at that?" he said, taking it reverently in his hands.
He looked at the cover several minutes. Then he slowly began leafing through his book. I was silent, letting him enjoy these first few moments of realizing he was now a published author. His poetry would not die with him.
"Isn't this something," he said, shaking his head, and blowing his nose.
"Shall we bring it to show Evelyn?" I asked.
"Oh she won't know what it is," he said. Evelyn, his wife of over sixty years, has Alzheimers, and was slowly losing her memory and her language. The little speech she had was becoming almost always just echoes of what others said to her.
"I think she will," I said, "May I go with you? Can we go now?"
"Sure we can," he said, gathering his cane, "But first, I wrote a poem last night. What do you think of it?"
He handed me a sheet with several verses. Comer had said last week that he could no longer write. The verses that used to flood his mind no longer came to him, he said.

I read it happily. It was beautiful.
"You haven't lost your touch, Comer. This will be book 2."
"The sequel," he said smiling.
"But name them," I said. His poems in his book were mostly unnamed, "It helps the reader. Think about the main point of what you are trying to say, and come up with a name."
"I'll call this one Shadows," he said.

Comer led the way to the Memory Care section downstairs. On the way, we passed by the receptionist.
Comer silently went to her, and handed her his book.
"Comer! You write poetry? You never let on!" she said, "I got to read one."
Comer and I stood quietly as she read a poem.
"That is wonderful ," she said, returning his book.
We headed to the elevator, where a nurse's aide stepped out.
Comer silently handed her his book.
"What's this? You write poetry!? So how come you never go with me to poetry time on Wednesday! You gotta come and read to us from your book!"
"Comer," I admonished, "You definitely need to go."
"Ok," he said, "We're going to go show this to Mama," he told the aide, "She won't know what it is, of course."
"I think she will," I said.

We found Evelyn in her room, lying in bed, covered with a bright quilt. She opened her eyes as we entered.
"We have a surprise for you, Evelyn," I said.
She lifted her hands and took the book from me, then smiled broadly.
"Comer Hawkins!" she read.
"Your husband wrote this book," I told her.
Her smile stretched across years, and she said, "Well now, isn't that something!?"
"And look," I said , flipping it over to the back, to the photo of her with Comer.
"Oh my!" said Evelyn. She opened the book and began to turn the pages. Comer watched her.
"Look at this," I said, as she opened to the dedication page, "Read it, Evelyn."
"She can't read," said Comer softly.
Evelyn put her fingers under the words and read each carefully, a bit haltingly, out loud:
"To my wife, who is the wind in my sails and the love of my life."
"Who is he talking about?" I asked her.
She smiled radiantly, "Me!"
"What do you think?"
"I am so proud of my husband," she said, looking at Comer, who was wiping his eyes.

As I drove home, I felt a sense of deep gratification. My mom told me on my last visit home that she realized what I was. I had tilted my head, and wondered what she could mean.
"You are a dream facilitator," she said.
I don't think anyone has ever told me anything that made me understand, or be happier with myself more. I wanted to be a great artist, but I am only good. I wanted to be a great writer, but life interfered and the need to raise children, and send them successfully on their own roads, after their own dreams. And then, I wanted to be a great Christian, but somehow end up tripping and stumbling despite my desire each day to do better.  But my mom made me realize that some of the happiest moments in my life have been when I have had a part in helping someone realize a dream.

It's funny that it took half a century for me to see that this was a gift from God that I never really knew was there, nor really of any value. Joseph of the Bible was a dreamer. His brothers scoffed at his dreams and what they represented. In the end, they threw him in a pit, and left him for dead because of his dreams. And then Joseph went on to interpret the king's dream, and was released from prison, and given authority over all the land. And his understanding of dreams saved his nation. God clearly doesn't treat dreams lightly. I think God is saying, "Pay attention to dreams. They matter to me."
I smiled as I drove home, remembering Comer clutching his book. Dreams matter to me, too.

Genesis 37: 19-20
19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

Joel 2: 27-29

27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
   that I am the LORD your God,
   and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.
 28 “And afterward,
   I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
   your old men will dream dreams

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I'll be waiting

Our homeschool officially started...and then took a three hour skimboarding break in the middle of the day. This is one of the reasons we love homeschool. When the day is a perfect, low humidity, 83 degree, blue sky, sunshiney day; and a friend knocks on the door and tells us there is a creek with a stretch of sand along the edge that might work for skimboarding....the student can mark her place in her history book and just go. Since the math and spanish books don't even arrive for another week, school is light the first couple of weeks anyway. And we are both pooped from the early mornings and long days of the Dog Agility trial this weekend. It was nice to start our school year, so that we don't fear the enormity of the task before us so much, but it was also nice to slip in and out of it.

And then the mail came and Comer's book arrived! For those unfortunate few of you who don't follow my blog with the fervor of a rabid fox, Comer is my 93 year old friend who lives with his wife, who has Alzheimers, in an assisted living home. When he wistfully told me he wrote poetry and always thought one day he would do something with all those poems, I collected them, compiled them, edited them, and published his book of poetry. The proof now lay in my hands.  I was not happy with my editing skills. I had missed a typo, and the spacing between the poems was not regular. It is only a proof, but I had hoped it would be perfect, since at age 93, Comer may not have long for me to perfect my editing talent.  But it was a bona fide book with a black and white photo of him as a young man on the cover. I called him immediately.

"Comer! It's Vicky!"
"Hiyeee," he said, the same curious intonation with which he always greets me, "How're you?"
"I'm fine, how are your eyes? Recovering ok from the cataract surgery?"
"Well, I see much better, but they hurt, especially at night."
"Oh? Have you talked with the doctor about that?"
"Well, I'm sure it is just part of the healing process."
"Well, I have your book! It came today! Would you like me to bring it and take you and Evelyn to lunch tomorrow?"
"I'd love you to bring it, but I don't think I am up for our usual lunch. I have been feeling a mite woozy."

This concerned me. Comer had not felt like going out for the past three weeks now. He used to look forward to our outings as the highlight of his week. How I wish the proof were a better sample with perfect spacing! I have discovered that editing is one of those jobs that is never over. There is always a better word, or a better sentence construction, or a more apt phrase. At some point, editors just have to say, "This is good enough." I don't think perfection will ever enter the editor's world. And when one is 93 years old, good enough might have to arrive sooner rather than later.

I thought of how the universe itself is waiting in expectation, knowing perfection is possible, but not yet arrived. In the book of James, the Bible author describes how the farmer waits for the valuable crop, knowing it will come, it will be ready for the harvest one day, and he will bring in the wealth of his time and energy rewarded. We are the crop, I thought, and God the harvester...patiently waiting till we reached the fullness of growth, the fruitful abundance of faith.

"It's not perfect," I warned Comer, "And it is no problem resubmitting it if you want me to. But I will bring it tomorrow around 11."
"Thank you so much," he said, his voice a little weaker than I like, "I'll be waiting."
Yes, dear friend, please be waiting!

James 5:7

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Unnatural path

Hooray! School starts today! We will be the first ones to crack open and sniff those new book smells! We will be exploring the wonders of highschool, with a thirst for knowledge that knows no bounds. We will be like Honeybun in the agility trial this weekend, streaming joyfully over the jumps she so loves to clear..... reality, we will be able to figure out how to program the online biology course if we are lucky, and begin maybe to decipher the somewhat complicated check list system of the curriculum.

I am more like a dog learning weaves for agility trials. It is not a natural motion for a dog and if they don't practice it regularly, they lose the skill. Homeschool is like that for me. Over the summer, I forget how to do it. Sometimes even why we do it.....

Then usually, within a few days, it feels comfortable again and I remember how happy I am to have those extra hours with my kids that most people don't get the privilege of having. Because when they graduate, they are gone, and it is nice to have a backlog of memories to fall back on.

At the Dog Agility trial yesterday, after 3 classes of messing up her weaves, Honeybun finally got them the first time in the last class. Asherel decided that maybe she was trying to run too quickly through the weave section. Honeybun was stressed, as many dogs are at trials, and was forgetting all the training and acting like she had never seen a weave pole. So Asherel decided to just take the weave section slowly, one pole at a time, encouraging Honeybun each step of the way. And Honeybun got them! It was slow, but she followed the path perfectly.

The disciples lamented that they wanted to follow Jesus when He warned them He would be going away, but they didn't know the way, He reminded them, "I am the way, the truth, and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me."

I have often wondered about this direction of Jesus. If I had been one of those mournful disciples, I think I would have just felt more lost and confused. I once was seriously lost in a forest as night was falling. I was terribly frightened, and looking desperately for the way out of the forest, back to the campground. If a guide had been with me and just as I needed directions, he had said, "Don't worry, I know the way out, I am your ticket to s'mores and the campfire" and then disappeared, I might have felt a similar confusion.
If you are the way, why are you leaving? It seems the purpose of a trail that leads me home is to stay right where it is, under my feet, clearly marked.  But that's not what Jesus did. He told them He was the Way, the only Way, and like it or not, He was leaving. But, He assures them, if they sought Him, they would find Him. And then He goes on to lead them step by step through the unnatural process of faith. It is a powerful chapter, John 14, where the Way to God is outlined. It is a perfect chapter to dwell on when one is frightened, or insecure, or unsure that the way set before them is a path they can truly navigate. Like a dog facing the weave poles.....

As I pop open the wilderness of the highschool teacher's guide today, I am going to hold the Bible open to that page.

John 14: 1-21
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Victory lap

I saw the lady in Ring Two with a cane walking the agility course with the other handlers. I assumed she was counseling someone else out there, preparing to run their dog. She had very short hair, like she had perhaps just finished a round of chemo for cancer and it was only just begun to grow back. She did not move easily and leaned heavily on the cane.

Then I became distracted by all the dogs running in Ring One, and only glanced back at Ring Two when I heard a roar of cheering. The lady with the cane was finishing the run with her dog! All I caught was the dog clearing the last jump. The lady shook a victorious fist in the air, and then her legs slowly began to crumple. She fought to remain upright, but it was clear her body had other plans. As she slowly struggled to remain upright, three other dog handlers came rushing onto the field. They held her up and then half carried her to a chair alongside the ring. Her dog followed, prancing.

Asherel and Honeybun did a wonderful job. No "Q's" (qualify) or ribbons today, but good, fast runs with some wonderful portions. It was a long day, starting at 5:30 a.m. and not ending till 5 pm.  If I was exhausted, I can't imagine how the lady with the cane felt. I would suspect very tired, but elated. Born aloft by a goal, and courage;  fighting to the last ounce of strength to finish a run around an impossible stretch.

Our homeschool is back in session Monday. Like every year, I am looking at the list of subjects and extracurriculars we need to tackle this first year of highschool, and I am certain, like I am every year, that it is impossible. We cannot do it. I have never been able to do it. After twenty years of doing it, I still know it cannot be done. Not on my own power.

But this Monday morning, I will keep in my heart not just the the verse, "All things are possible with God", but the image of a dog and a lady with very short hair and a cane, running in the agility trial, who doesn't collapse till she crosses the finish line. And then it is ok.

Psalm 37:23-25

 23 The LORD makes firm the steps
   of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
   for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Waking to dog noses

"Ugh....5:30.....why are we so gung-ho about dog agility trials?"
Meanwhile, Honeybun was wagging her tail, "Oh boy! 5:30 and she is getting up! I get breakfast an hour early!!!!"

(by the way, did you know the origin of the phrase "gung ho" is Mandarin and had to do with the Chinese call to rebuild and thrive when the Japanese destroyed their factories? It translates to "work together.")

It didn't help the waking up and acting like there was sunshine in my cup with the fact that the neurotic dog, Lucky, had felt it necessary to tell me repeatedly through the stormy night, "There are thunderstorms lurking everywhere." Then he would stick his cold wet nose in my formerly sleeping face. I think I slept about 5 minutes last night, in between two thunderclaps.

After breakfast, Honeybun crashed back in her bed. Meanwhile, I am trying to rub the bags out from under my eyes with hydrochloric acid.  Fortunately, I will be all weekend in the presence of dog people. Dog people aren't looking at the dog owners anyway. Dark circles the size of Texas under my eyes won't be noticed.

And really, having hit another  birthday milestone yesterday, I think I should be praising God for every day I awaken. I should be doing that no matter how cranky I feel, or how early the morning shows up.

But just for the record, I am hoping that there will be no thunderstorms tonight. Gung ho! Off to the trial!

 1 Samuel 26:12
No one saw or knew about it, nor did anyone wake up. They were all sleeping, because the LORD had put them into a deep sleep.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Time Won't Wait

Comer didn't feel up to our weekly drive. At age 93, he had just had cataract surgery, and his vision was still blurry, his eyes still puffy.
"I don't believe I could go out in the sun," he said.
"Well then I will just drop by and pick up your editing of your poems. Did you finish?"
"Oh yes, I read through them twice, and I believe I have caught all the little mistakes."
"Then I will be there in a few minutes and pick them up, if that's ok."

I hurried off to the Senior Assisted Living Center. I had spent the week before typing the poems from Comer's yellowing stash of carefully folded scraps of paper. While Comer reviewed and proofed the typed pages, Asherel helped me develop a cover page for the book we were helping our old friend publish. She spent half a day on it, not satisfied with her initial copy.
"That looks fine to me," I said, and it did. It looked beautiful, and far superior to what I could have done.

"No, it will be pixely.... I can make it better." And she started all over.

Meanwhile, I watched the clock. At age 93, you can't take any minute for granted. I had to order the proof, allow about a week of shipping time, and then, finally this sweet old friend's dream would be in his hands. But a week...
"Please hurry," I urged Asherel, "I am anxious that Comer reach this goal in his lifetime."

I picked up the poems from Comer and he handed me a neatly written piece of paper with all the information I needed to set up his account with the publishing company. As soon as I had ordered the proof and the set- up was done, I would transfer the account to be managed by his daughter.

Comer looked weary, with his puffy eyes. The cataract surgery had not been bad, he told me, but the blurry vision in one eye concerned him.The whole ordeal seemed to have knocked him out.
"That's very common," I assured him, "It will get better."
"That's what they tell me," he said.
He walked me to the door.
"What did you think of your poetry," I asked, "Having reread all your work now?"
"I don't know where it came from," he answered.
"Where did it come from?" I asked.
"From somewhere in the night," he said, "I tried thinking of some verses lying in bed last night, and not a one came to me."
"Well, you're out of practice," I said, "Keep trying. Then we will add an addendum to your book."

However, I know what he is talking about. When I dare to enter the dark spooky attic where piles of my old paintings are stored, I sometimes look at them and think, "Who was this person who painted these...and how did she do it?" Creativity is such an elusive quality. It does not spring forth out of rationality, though it is not irrational either, or it is not good. But like faith, it requires a leap.  I understood how at age 93, that leap might be over just too great a chasm for weary legs.

This morning, the files I submitted for Comer's book were accepted and I ordered the proof. The clock is ticking loudly as we settle back now to wait.

Jeremiah 21:2
Perhaps the LORD will perform wonders for us as in times past

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Spirit of the Law

"I just have two rules," I told the kids, as Asherel and her friends, Josh and Emma, tied their kayaks to the reeds at our favorite swimming sandbar, "No diving- always hit the water feet first. Secondly, when you take off your life jackets, or put down your paddles, be sure everything goes in the boat. When they release the dam water, the water level rises and if it is on the sandbar, it will float away."
The kids all nodded.
"I am just going to kayak along the shore line, but I will always be in sight," I told them.

So, any of you who have kids know what happened next. First, I slid quietly up one shore across from them, and right away noticed they were skim boarding on the sandbar, and there were two life jackets on the sandbar, in the shallow water. I kayaked back.
"Remember rule number two. Nothing can be out of the boat or it will float away," I admonished.
Then I kayaked away up the other shore, but heard Josh say to Emma, as he was teaching her to skim board, "Have you ever had stitches?"
"No," said Emma.
"Then you have not really lived!" cried Josh.

I stayed close, watching them for a while. They seemed to be safe, so I circled in larger circles, keeping them in my sights, but loving the peace and beauty of the river shores. I saw a Great Blue Heron trying to remain hidden in the shore reeds. Then I heard a bird screeching and noticed a huge Bald Eagle in the top of a dead tree. At least I think it was a Bald Eagle. It had a white head. It was calling to another large bird swooping in the sky nearby. Then the eagle flapped enormous wings and began to circle with the other bird. They flew in tandem, in an elaborate aerial dance. Swooping, rising, turning, flapping all in synchrony. And then in the distance, the coordinated flight ended and they flew in separate directions. I sighed, filled with the peace and joy of it all.

I glanced back at the kids. They had overturned one kayak and were standing on it in the deeper water. I noticed with satisfaction that all the lifejackets and oars were inside the other boats. Rule number two was being followed. However, then I saw my daughter leap into the air and do a flip. She had never done a flip, to the best of my knowledge. I realized that I had not been explicit enough with Rule number one. Technically, if a flip is done correctly, one does indeed hit the water feet first, but otherwise, it has all the dangers of a severed vertebrae as the neck hits submerged logs as diving would. These are good kids, I thought as I paddled quickly over. I was sure that they had discussed Rule Number One before the three of them began flipping off the boat.
I am certain this is how the conversation went:
Josh: "Can you do a flip, Asherel?"
Asherel: "No, but I've never tried."
Josh: "Then you haven't lived!"
Emma: "Josh, I know what you are thinking. What about Rule #1?"
Josh: "Let's examine that. As you recall, the rule was we must enter the water feet first, correct?"
Girls: "Correct."
Josh: "When one does a properly executed flip, you enter the water feet first."
Asherel: "What if you do an improperly executed flip?"
Josh:  " We will only do properly executed flips."
Emma: "I'm not sure this is following the spirit of the law...."
Josh: "The spirit of the law involves keeping us safe and returning us whole to our parents, correct?"
Girls: "Correct."
Josh: "Someone who has never done a flip is not returning whole to her parent. She is but a shell of what a teenager should be, thus, it is only by doing the flip that we are following the full spirit of Rule #1."

As I was kayaking over, I was pretty sure the conversation I imagined had been accurate. Asherel later verified I had been correct. Josh is one of my favorite people on earth, but one must consider all wiggle room in setting rules with Josh. His parents must collapse at the end of the day. However, as I kayaked over,  I saw all three of them doing perfect flips. Asherel had mentioned earlier in the summer she wished she could do a flip. I remembered doing flips into swimming pools as a child, and feeling that if I could master a flip, I could conquer the world.
"Oh Lord," I prayed as I kayaked near, "Give me the right heart, the right words."

I pulled up to the kids.
"Ok, I am sure you all discussed this and decided that flips were ok, since you are entering the water feet first....right?"
They all nodded and waited for me to handcuff them and throw them in the boat and drag them back in a floating prisoner line.
"Ok, then here is the new rule. Before flipping, I want one of you to check underwater in the area where the kid is flipping into and make sure there are no submerged logs. Secondly, I want you all to tell your parents when I bring you home with a broken neck that it is not my fault."
"Deal!" they cried.
"And be sure you are only flipping in water over your head."

I kayaked off again, but not quite as far, and bobbed under the shade of an overhanging tree, watching them.  A whole flotilla of other kayakers had now docked at the sandbar, and other kids had flipped their kayaks over and were doing flips into the river.

I thought about laws and rules. I am a rule bound person. I know rules are in place to protect us, but rules can also become the source of life, rather than the appropriate containment of life. I don't think rules are made to be broken, but I do think sometimes rules strangle what they are meant to save.  Jesus recognized that when He was accused of breaking the sabbath to gather corn from a field to feed Himself and His disciples on the Sabbath.
"The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath," He explained to those who would hold the Rule more holy than the life the rule was made to honor and protect.

Being a parent is not easy. No child would survive without parental rules. But sometimes......
I watched my daughter do a back flip and found it more awe inspiring than the eagle circling heaven.

Romans 7:
6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Mark 2:26-28

26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Heavenly Neon Signs

God is everywhere so it should have been no surprise to find Him encouraging me from a corner of a bookstore.

I spent another morning writing and calling local, and national book store chains. If my book was going to be promoted, it was up to me, or it would die a sad and lonely death on the $1 pile of discarded writers' dreams. Two major chains were willing to have me send them a copy to review, so I sent those off, and followed up on a suggestion to contact a local independent retailer. The owner was very kind, and happy to work with me, and told me to bring my books and come in right away.

This was my first time walking in a bookstore with the intent of selling my book. In all the firsts of this year, this was yet another scary walking forward in an area I knew absolutely nothing about. I took a deep breath as I put my hand on the door knob, said a brief prayer, and was about to enter the store. Then I noticed a little sign affixed to the bookstore door. There was a picture of a little dog on it that looked surprisingly like Honeybun, the dog heroine of my book. This dog, Lula, wandered about the store, and was friendly, the sign informed me, but if anyone was bothered by her presence, the owner would put her in a back room.

I entered the bookstore, which was bustling with people. The owner glanced up, saw my armload of books, and urged me to come to the other side of the counter. I walked around to where he pointed, and saw curled in the corner, Lula, the dog.
"Is that a rescue dog?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Do you know what breed?"
"Well the vet says she is a mix, part corgi maybe and the other part is American Dingo."
I laughed with delight and held up my book, "This is Honeybun! She is an American Dingo, a Carolina Dog!"
The owner picked up my book and looked at the cover photo, as did a few of the busy employees.
"What's your book about?" asked one.
"Well we found our Carolina Dog half dead on a roadside. And when she recovered her health, she became vicious to our other dog and to strangers. The book is about a very hard year trying to save a dog that everyone told me was not worth saving."

Lula came over to me and let me scratch behind her ears. If she had been a Labrador or poodle, it would not have been an omen. But Carolina Dogs are a rare breed, and few people even know about them.( and I can hear my friend, Nicole, chuckling in the background of my mind insisting there is no such thing as a Carolina Dog.) However, for the owner not only to have one in his bookstore, but to have rescued her, and have identified her as a Carolina Dog was in my eyes God putting a big neon arrow over his head saying, "This is where you are to sell your book!"

I signed the contract, and he then set up my first book signing.
"I would like to bring Honeybun to the book signing," I said, "Will that be ok?"
"That would be great," he said.
So here I am, a little nobody, with a little dog nobody wanted, set to sign our published book about the miracles nobodies can be a part of when empowered by Somebody, the biggest Somebody. Whomever might want my autographed book can find me on September 11, 2-4, at Park Road Books in the Park Rd. shopping center. My symbol of overcoming impossible situations will be sitting next to me, wagging her tail.

As I blasted through the door at home, excitement dripping off me like a waterfall, I called out to Asherel.
"I need you to teach Honeybun to shake paws!"
"She doesn't know how to shake.... she never has for me."
"She can do anything!" I said, thinking of Lula and the amazing encouragements of God.

Genesis 18: 14
Is anything too hard for the LORD?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Helmets in season and out of season

On the record near hottest day of the year, we went shopping for snowboard helmets. I always do my winter shopping in summer. I usually save 50-75%. Presuming this isn't the end of the world, much as recent events would suggest it might be, Asherel needs a snow board helmet. She had been wearing her bicycle helmet the past two ski seasons, but sport helmets are specialized for a reason. The number one reason is, of course, that the helmet companies want to make money. The second reason is that a bike helmet covers only the top of the head, but a snowboard helmet circumnavigates the skull.  Lining the helmets of various sports up against each other, it is easy to determine which sport is most likely to shatter one's skull into tiny fragments.

We found a helmet that was 50% off because it was a 2010 model. It fit Asherel, was a pretty  1970's countertop green, and the price was right.
"You should get a helmet too," said Asherel.
"Why? My bike helmet is fine.... Wait.....Do I embarrass you skiing in my bike helmet?"
"Oh no," she said quickly, "Why would a 50 year old woman skiing in a child's pink with purple flower bike helmet embarrass me?"
I bought a snowboard helmet at the sharply reduced rate as well.

Truth be told, I hate wearing helmets. They never quite fit my small head correctly (which is why I wear a pink child's bike helmet) and they rub my hair and pull on it. However, I do realize that helmets are a safeguard, and sensible, and it is foolish to take up a high speed, crazy sport like skiing or snowboarding without wearing a helmet.

And, helmets are biblical. God warns us in both the new and the old Testaments to "put on the helmet of salvation."  Helmets protect the head, the part of the body that thinks, sees, hears, smells, and tastes. If we want our senses and our thoughts to be safe, we put on a helmet of salvation. Evil lurks as real to the believer (or anyone...) as the likelihood of a fall lurks in the day of a snowboarder. Only a fool refuses to wear a helmet, or pretends he will never fall.

Putting on the snowboard helmet was easy, once I found the right size- xxs.  How does one put on a "helmet of salvation", however?  Fortunately, we don't even have to do that ourselves. If we believe in Jesus, He does it for us. And fortunately, we don't even need to wait for a sale on salvation, out of season. It is always free!

Ephesians 6:16-18

16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 

Isaiah 59:17

He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head

1 Thessalonians 5: 8-10

8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 

Monday, August 8, 2011


As I sat in church listening to the sermon on following Jesus, I was gazing out the enormous window at the vast green field. At that very moment, a whole line of Canadian geese were following the head goose, all in step, all in synch, all following the Master bird. They marched right past the window, all in a line, as the pastor spoke on what it means to follow the Master.

I love the images and symbols that God sends to remind me that He is there and that He has a sense of humor. It would be hard to follow a God that didn't tolerate laughter. I also love his choice of disciples. As the pastor pointed out, their character traits included: impulsivity, uneducated, stubborn, nobodies, doubters, shady businessmen, betrayers....
If they can be disciples of the living, breathing Messiah....surely I can!

I watched the geese till they had marched out of my line of vision. A solid wall now blocked my sight of them for about a hundred feet.  I wondered where they were all off to in their neat, orderly procession. I knew geese flew in formation, but had not known they walked that way as well.

The pastor spoke on about how what we are when we choose to follow Jesus is not the important part. It is what we can become when we are in step with Him.  The pastor concluded that when we follow the Master, we are no longer on our own...whatever He asks us to do, He will equip and empower us to accomplish.

At that moment, the geese emerged on the other side of the solid wall, and I saw them through the adjacent huge window. They were all flying now, their wings stretched and soaring to the sky.

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

Psalm 139:8-10

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
   if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why aren't the fish dead?

Having spent the morning working on my 93 year old friend's poetry book, editing, designing the cover, and setting up his account, I took Asherel and her friend Alex kayaking in the afternoon. We had a window of three hours before thunderstorms were due.

We kayaked to a rock in the middle of the lake. Undeterred by the goose poop all over the rock, the girls clambered up it's slimy sides and spent two hours leaping into the lake. I circled around them in my kayak, ready if need be to jump in and try to recover the body. I kept one wary eye on the sky. As the clouds began to roll in, I warned them it was time to go.

I got the predictable response when children are risking life and limb for thrills that cut their parents' lives in half.
"Awwwww, do we have to?"
"Yes, the thunderstorm is due by 5."
"But the sky still has blue in it."
There was a distant rumble.
"That was a car back-firing," said Asherel.
Mind you, we were in the middle of the lake, which bordered a deserted peninsula spit of land and nature preserve.
"Cars back firing sound like gunshots," said Alex, "I don't think that is what it was."
"Girls, time to go NOW. We don't want to be on the lake in a thunderstorm."
They did comply, though not with the quick and cheerful joy I might have hoped for. I heard another rumble as we raced back to shore.
"Oh Mom," said Asherel, "If it was so dangerous being on the water when lightning strikes, why aren't all the fish dead?"

Now, I hate to admit it, but I wasn't sure why the fish weren't all dead. So, during my sleepless 3 a.m. rendezvous with my conscience, I looked that up on the internet. I learned many interesting facts about lightning and discovered that we were not the only people who didn't know, and wondered why all the fish weren't dead.

Fish do indeed die when lightning strikes the water, but only the unlucky few that are swimming near or on the surface. It seems that lightning likes to hit the surface but it can't go very deep. Instead, it fans out across the surface. The sites I read didn't say how far it fans out, but anything in its path will be not so much electrocuted as "boiled" alive. That sounds fun!  Scuba divers, if they go down deep enough, are safe in a lightning storm. Snorkelers are not. And those stuck in small boats are in a particularly vulnerable situation. The lightning will strike the highest point in the immediate vicinity, and if you are in a boat on a body of water, that would be you. You will be fried. Your only defense is to huddle in the middle of the boat and don't touch any surface (thus quickly learn to self elevate), and then clasp your hands tightly together, and pray.

Furthermore, I learned, the most dangerous times are as the storm is rolling in, and as much as half an hour later. That is because no one is expecting lightning when the storm seems far off, but lightning can strike 20 miles from the thundercloud! Lightning can strike from a completely blue, cloudless sky if there is a storm twenty miles away.

Sometimes I wonder how any of us survive to adulthood. In the end, I thought about God and His marvelous creation. His creation is fearfully and wonderfully made, and every hair on our head is numbered....but still, He does subject us to many horrible and fearsome earth situations. In the end, I have to conclude the fish aren't all dead because that is the way God wants it.

Joshua 9:25
25 We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you.