Friday, September 30, 2011

Fruit of the Harvest

I wandered the aisles of the vegetable section of the store. Harvest time has such a wonderful offering of fresh  fruits and vegetables- apples freshly picked from local orchards, cauliflower wrapped in their huge stiff leaves, peppers, onions, corn, coconuts...
Coconuts? Are coconuts a fall harvest fruit?
I picked up the coconut. Asherel had always wanted a coconut. She had been intrigued with coconuts even before seeing the Monty Python skit where two coconut halves are used to make the sound of horse hooves while the actor cantered around the room.  I turned the coconut over and pounded its hard shell. I had no idea how to open or use the coconut insides, but I put the coconut in my basket.

Later, Asherel passed by the coconut on the kitchen counter.
"You bought a coconut!" she cried in delight, "Why!?"
"Because I knew you wanted one and I love you. What will we make with the coconut?"
"I don't know," she said, "Can I cut it open?"
"Do you know how?"
"Well research it first."
Shortly after that she sent me a link. It listed the tools needed to open a coconut: pick, hacksaw, carving tools or sharp flexible knife.
I have always pictured coconuts as the  food of simple, indigenous people who wear skirts of grass and build huts of palm fronds. Somehow, I can't picture them with a hacksaw, as they prepare their Pina Colada.

Nonetheless, as soon as she finished school, she gathered the coconut demolition tools. First, she pierced the coconut soft spot with the pick, and drained the coconut water. Friends had advised me to drink that, but the pick had been a little dirty and a bunch of brown specks floated in the water. We dumped it. Some experts advise whacking the coconut with the back of a meat cleaver. It will split roughly in half. But Asherel wanted a clean cut for her horse imitation instrument, so she opted for the hacksaw.  Let me be the first to warn you, hacksawing a coconut in half is not as easy as you would think, which is why you don't see the indigenous grass skirted people using it. A half hour later, she had two clean halves of a very beautiful milky white centered coconut.
"Save the coconut meat," I said, "I will make something with it."
"What will you make?"
"I have no idea. I have never even seen the inside of a fresh coconut."
So next, she followed the instructions to pull the coconut meat away from the shell. At first, she had to laboriously shave away pieces, but then she reached the inside of the hard shell, pulled away a small section, and the other chunks were cleanly wedged away from the shell.

We both practiced cantering around the house, clapping the coconut halves together in the rhythm of a galloping horse. I have no rhythm, so wasn't very good, but Asherel made a creditable canter sound. I put the white insides in a bowl, and stuck them in the refrigerator. More research will be needed before I know what to do with it.

That night, I dreamt that Matt and his new wife Karissa, Asherel and I were all eating dinner at the top of a lighthouse that was perched in the ocean. The sea was violent, and the waves kept swirling higher, and then there was an explosion. The top of the lighthouse was blown into pieces and I clutched Asherel's hand as the four of us were catapulted into the raging water. I knew that we were all going to die. And then, all four of our heads popped back up above the water, and clinging to each other, we then swam safely and unharmed to shore.

I had bought the coconut remembering Asherel's younger days, and younger passions. I had also been thinking of my son Matt when he was young and how important his youthful desires seemed to him then, but all had morphed into adult dreams and goals. Long ago, my little boy Anders and I would dig "goo holes" in the sand, and believe perhaps if we dug far enough, we could reach China.  I had tried to satisfy their whims, to make their childhood magical when I could.

As I looked at the coconut, a sob had caught in my throat, thinking how fun it had all been. I miss my little children, I thought. They are all grown or nearly so. It is no longer as easy to satisfy the desires of their heart, or protect them from the disappointments or explosions of dreams.  All I can really do now is be near when I am able, and pray when I am not.

When Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, the Disciples felt abandoned. How would they make it without their leader? But He promised them, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." But He did leave their physical presence. None of us can still touch His hand, or feel His arms around us, protecting us from overwhelming waves or crumbling dreams. Still, He is there. He has not forsaken us. He is not beside us any longer, but inextricably within. Maybe, in a similar way, all those moments of joy with my little children were also being deeply imbedded in their soul, an indwelling reservoir that might buoy them to the surface when trials crashed over their head.

When the hard shell of the coconut split open, the fibrous, brown outside was starkly contrasted by the milky white of the inside. Asherel tasted a small piece of the fresh coconut.
"Mmmm, it's good," she said smiling.
Yes, I thought, what is hidden in the heart can be good, very good.

Exekial 11:
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Crown of Beauty

A second book club called and asked if I would come speak to their group. My book was on their reading list! With one book club gig now under my belt, I am as close as I will likely ever be to a celebrity. I readily accepted the second invitation. These little sparks of encouragement on my path to becoming a successful author are like sunflowers on the edge of the tumbledown empty lot I pass on my bicycle. Unexpected , breath catching bursts of beauty, of hope, of life.

A cousin wrote and told me her daughter was having trouble with a teacher. The teacher didn't believe in letting strong students read above their grade level. She felt the content of such books would be too mature, incomprehensible to a 5th grader. It didn't matter to her that the child might be capable of advanced reading and thus bored of the typical 5th grade book. To further turn the screws on this torture to a gifted young mind, the teacher required that the students read a half hour every day outside school time, but they were not allowed above the prescribed reading level.
"I'm sending her to school with your book," said my cousin,"And she will see if the teacher will let her read it." (Stories like this are one of the reasons I homeschool. I understand most teachers are not like this, but oh my! How stories like this hurt my heart!)
Later, my cousin reported back.
"The teacher looked at your book and couldn't find its level in the scholastic system. She said it appeared to be a book for adults, however. Then she looked at my child and told her she seemed to be reading at an advanced yes, she could read your book."
We will conquer the world, one 5th grader at a time.

I sat at the computer, reading the many notes from relatives who grew up watching "School house rock." They sent links to songs which would teach Asherel the Preamble of the Constitution, as well as most educational requirements through graduate school. I didn't grow up with School House Rock. I was a little too old when it came around. However, I was feeling a little down about how unenthusiastic and busy our homeschool seems to be this year. It feels overwhelming right now. Too much to do, too little time, and too little joy. Could School House Rock infuse delight over 9th grade writing assignments, too? I started our school day with a communal prayer with Asherel, who looked at me quizzically. We both start our day with Bible reading, but separately. We usually don't start with prayer together.
"Why?" she asked.
Oh, I thought, I have not been steering this ship properly.

So while musing about all I had been doing poorly, I got a little chat message on the side of my computer screen. It was from my daughter in the next room. I don't know what we did before computers when family members had to actually move from room to room to talk to each other.

I had modified the writing/history assignment that day. My assignment was sparked by a new passion of Asherel. She has a new computer game she loves called Minecraft. She tells me that it is critical she play this game for normal social development since everyone her age plays it. In this game, she builds a city out of lego like pieces, and she has to plan and wisely apportion her "wealth" to build the city with all the essentials it needs to thrive and grow. The city has enemies, like wolves that can attack, but apparently can be tamed and become useful. I am sure this description is somewhat inaccurate, but you get the idea. Anyway, my assignment was to rewrite the Preamble and the first 5 amendments of the constitution as though it were written for the Minecraft community. She had to keep the same concepts and meaning, but use terms the Minecraftians would understand.

So, the little chat window from Asherel on the edge of my computer screen said:
"I am working on the Minecraft Constitution. Can I send you the Preamble so you can be sure I am on the right track? This is FUN!"

Fun? Out of the midst of my funk over how hard our school days had become, learning the Constitution was being described as fun.

That night as I settled down to draw my iPod picture, which I draw each day, sunflowers popped out of my hand and onto the screen. I looked at the  happy faces of the sunny flowers and wondered what had sparked sunflowers from the creative swamp.

Isaiah 61:2-4

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
   and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
   instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
   instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
   instead of a spirit of despair.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

This day I will be better

Every single morning I pray that this day I will be completely patient, loving, gentle, kind, an excellent teacher to my delightful daughter. I pray every single morning that this day, I will glorify God in every interaction, and will reflect all the character that I want my dear children to see and adopt. And every single morning, by 10:00 latest, I blow it. 

So a couple of days ago, following my daily 'empower me to be better' prayer, Asherel and I settled down for our history lesson. I was determined that this day, I would not lose patience, or lose heart, or be irritated. This day, I had a plan. I would offer only reward based education. I would show no disappointment no matter what answers I received to the simple questions I posed during our history hour. Asherel is a very smart kid, and so my expectations are high. We are working our way through the forming of the US, and had just started on the writing of the constitution.

"I want you to memorize the preamble by Friday."
I took a deep cleansing breath.
"If you memorize the preamble by Friday, I will give you a bag of Skittles."
Now, I know what you are thinking. This bribery system is not only abhorrent, but will never work. I totally agree. It was a foolish thing to do, and I should have known better. I should have offered Gummy Worms.
"No thanks," she said.
"Ok," I said, with barely constrained fury, "We scrap the carrot, and go to the stick. If you don't memorize the preamble by Friday...."
"Ok, I will memorize it," she said quickly,"...but why do I need to memorize it when I can just look it up on my iPod?"
"You won't be allowed to bring your iPod into the SAT test, and besides, this is the most important document in our nation, if not the world. The whole stage of what is to come is laid out in the Preamble. If you have that knowledge at your finger tips, you will be able to understand, intelligently discuss, and defend the major tenets of the foundation of our country and why it is great!"
I think I lost her as soon as I said the iPod wouldn't be allowed in the SAT test. She was already mourning the 2 hours she would be "off the grid", disconnected.

We repeated the Preamble, and discussed its meaning, and then began reading the constitution. When I hit the bit about the electors and how our president is elected, we had to quit for the day. We had to quit because I know some states don't apportion the electors' votes the way it says they are supposed to in the constitution and I have no idea how they can do that. (Am I misreading or can someone explain that quickly before today?)

Meanwhile, we moved on to a discussion of Benjamin Franklin. "Benjamin was taught for a few years at home, " I read, "But that was enough to get him started. He continued to read every book he could get his hands on and became knowledgeable in math, science, philosophy, history...."
I paused and looked pointedly at Asherel.
"What?" she said.
"First of all, what form of education did Ben have?"
"He was home schooled."
"Correct. And notice what it says.... he read voraciously every book he could get his hands on...on his own. His parents got him started, but then his intellectual curiosity and delight took over. In the end, Benjamin Franklin became regarded as one of the most accomplished, well read, and influential figures of the 18th century."
I did not add that I would bet the mortgage his parents never had to bribe him with gummy worms.
"And your point is....?" said Asherel.

Before I go any further, I must say that Asherel is an incredible and wonderful kid. We are both struggling with an overfull schedule this year, but don't know how to cut back, as everything we are doing seems critical. We could cut out horseback, guitar, art, dog agility training, and fun...but that just doesn't seem wise either. So our days are long, and at times, she balks at the load. I am hoping things will settle as we adjust to the new school year. However, there is a low level panic ready to erupt at any moment, and hence the need for daily prayer and if that fails, bribes.

But it is refreshing to read about people like Benjamin Franklin or really any of the early leaders of our country. They were such self motivated, patriotic, Godly, and well rounded characters, by and large. Of course they had their issues that they struggled with. We all do. But the thread of common traits that weave these great people together are: strong work ethic, determined, persevering, self improvement, Godly, moral, sense of destiny and purpose above and beyond their own selfish desires.

Ben Franklin, famously quoted at age 80 during the Constitutional Convention, attempted to convince the delegates that daily prayer was critical, as it was in the days prior to the Revolution. He said:
'' ...we had daily prayers in this room. Do we imagine we no longer need assistance?
I have lived now a long time, and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God rules in the affairs of men."

So, once again, like Ben Franklin, I bow my head, and pray that this day, I will be better.

2 Chronicles 6: 39-40
39 then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you.  40 “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Rainbow World at the End

Maybe the world is ending. I took a nap, which never happens, and I was sick for a day which rarely happens.Next, my key wouldn't open or even go in the driver side door of the van, and a locksmith had to come and completely replace the lock which stopped working for no good reason.  This calamity, which has never happened to us before,  cost us money that unemployment makes increasingly scarce. Then later, the world was completely darkened for several hours when our entire area lost power last night over a relatively small storm. And then when power returned later than evening, my husband tried to turn the computer back on and a horrible screeching high pitched whine would wail. Finally he disconnected the battery back-up and printer, and the whine stopped.  I don't know how it could be any more obvious- the signs are all pointing to Armageddon.

The world ending raises mixed feelings in me. There is unfinished business I really was hoping to see. Will Matt get the great attorney job in Richmond, will Anders be home for Christmas and reach the point where hugging his mom is cool, will the newly cut down trebuchet toss projectiles as effectively as the old one, will my book go viral and become a bestseller, will Asherel finish her top secret art entry in time for the November contest deadline, will Arvo get the perfect job before our health insurance runs out, and then finally the big one, will all those beloved people I'm praying for open their hearts to the comfort and reality of the Risen Christ?

The end of the world is not without perks, hence my ambivalent feelings. Instead of just guessing about the nature of God, I will see Him face to face.   The streets of heaven will be paved in jewels, and I imagine will cast rainbow colors on the entire place. All those who died before me, including my beloved cat Friskey, will be there waiting for me. I can't wait to ask that dear cat why he ran away from a 9 year old whose world revolved around him. But the best part: no more crying, no more sighing, no more dying. Heaven sounds heavenly.

But if the Bible is true, and I believe it is, then you have to want to go there, and you have to believe in its Landlord. And you have to decide before the world ends. If I nap again today, I suspect you have less than 24 hours to make a decision as I can't remember ever ever napping two days in a row. For your sake, I will try desperately to stay awake.

Matthew 25: 11-13
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’    12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
   13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Monster in the Room

Gloomy, rainy weekends are good for me. They make me stay inside and catch up on my neglected work from the busy school theory. In reality, I finished a great novel, and took a nap. I never nap unless I am getting sick, so I fear my cough today and background headache may not be just a tickle in my throat. It could just be anxiety creeping in, much as I pray for God's assurance and peace. I think the fun part of unemployment is over for me. I am really hoping my dear hubby gets a job offer soon. But the job loss and all the issues surrounding that are only part of the monster in the room.

School is in full swing for us now, with all the extras added in. This means that our home is now in perpetual controlled chaos. I know that's not the way it is supposed to be, but when you are juggling seven balls, one is bound to drop now and then. The all purpose table in the sunroom is covered with a dismantled trebuchet and tools. The dining room table has the cutting board and vise awaiting the last few pieces that need to be cut for Asherel's homemade agility jumps. The counter has her leaf experiment and tools, and the three huge binders with her checklists and questions for the week. My computer desk has ten sticky notes, each with a reminder of some critical issue that I must deal with. The wall calendar has scribbles over every large space for every single day til May, with additional sheets taped to it with all the extra things we can't forget. The sink is uncharacteristically full of dishes, because I haven't gotten to unloading the dishwasher yet. When I pulled out the Orange Juice this morning, I wrote myself another little note: Clean Refrigerator. Then I glanced at all the little sticky notes about the bookstores and bloggers I need to contact to promote my book. And the one about the chapter I am editing on my new book... and the one about moving our lunch date with our old friend Comer to today. I coughed.

I am under attack. This sort of implosion in our home is not common. I am generally an uber-organizer. I detest clutter, and unfinished projects. But sometimes, it all piles up, and before I know it, I am deluged, and unable to swim to the surface. The start of the school year is often like this but I don't recall it feeling this desperate before.

Then, I glanced at the little note holder on the computer table. It was shoved to a back corner, behind the stack of  sticky note urgent reminders. The little blue note holder has a picture of a favorite symbol- the beloved bald eagle, and a verse:
But they that wait upon the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings as eagles;
They shall run and not be weary;
And they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31

Sunday's sermon was about trusting and living one's faith when life seems impossible. The pastor reminded us that the Lord who could cast thousands of demons from the possessed man called Legion in the book of Mark, is able to deal with impossibilities. No matter how many monsters are attacking, none can ultimately overcome God's purpose for us. He is the alpha and omega- the beginning and the end. He is the beginning of all hope, all purpose, all life; and He is the end toward which all our struggles lead. If we keep that clearly in mind, the monsters have no power, at least not in the Battle that really matters; the battle for my soul.

I shifted the notes on my desk to the far corner, and placed my note holder with the verse from Isaiah in front of them.
"That's better," I thought.

Jeremiah 15:20
...they will fight against you
   but will not overcome you,
for I am with you
   to rescue and save you,”
            declares the LORD.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Forcing the New Into the Old

Modify what we already had made, or build a new one? The only difference in this year's Science Olympiad requirements from last year, was the size of the trebuchet-- ours was 10 centimeters too big in all dimensions. Still, it had been a great trebuchet, shooting as far as the National winning treb. I saw no need to scrap it altogether, and it seemed to me,  time wise and cost wise, this was the best option.

My husband, Arvo, would be the one working with the kids since this part of the coaching involved the use of power equipment that could remove a body part before you can say "ouch". My team was skeptical about rebuilding. However, in the end, they agreed to give it a shot. It is still early enough in the season that if it didn't work, we could build a new one. They could devote all their creative energies then to building an ingenious Trebuchet flinging arm using advanced calculus and physics to determine the perfect arm design. And if that failed, we could fall back on the tried and true: luck.

From the beginning, things did not go swimmingly. Asherel had covered our old treb with beautiful duct tape designs. We had been very proud of how our treb had been by far the prettiest treb at the State contest. However, the duct tape covered the screws that we needed to unscrew to dismantle the treb in order to chop it down 10 cm.  She and Ben had to first cut off the duct tape around each screw.  They had hoped to cut down the size with minimal dismantling, thus chose to cut out the middle of each of the treb's legs. It seemed, in theory, like a very good idea. The reality (like always!) was not quite so wonderful. The top of the legs must have been slightly off from the bottoms of the legs, and it was very hard to get a completely clean, parallel cut. Thus now, the treb legs didn't quite line up. We think we can shim, and glue, and bolt in such a way that it might work. We are willing to put one more day into trying, but the full afternoon of a Saturday wrenched from the talon grip of leisure time ended a little disappointingly.

Sometimes, you can't force the new into the old. Jesus knew that. He has a wonderful parable just on that very topic! He tells his disciples that they can't pour new wine into old wineskins. If they attempt to do so, He advises, the old wineskins will burst and all the wine will be wasted.  I pondered this while I was guzzling new wine after our day of Trebuchet dismemberment. I could see His concern in not wasting one drop of wine, however I think the disciples, being poor men were interested in frugality. Wine skins were not easy to make.

This is the conversation the Bible did not record:
"Jesus, what about the proverb 'waste not, want not?' We have oodles of these old wineskins. Surely you are not telling us to toss those away just because they are a little cracked?"
"That is exactly what I am telling you. HINT: think fermentation. What do you think will happen when we pour that new wine in the old skin?"
"We save money and can put it towards that new Ferrari I have my eye on?"
"Remember, I never teach you things on a purely physical level. There is always a spiritual message."
"Yeh, money grows on trees, at least for you. Remember when one is not God, money is a little harder to come by. Let us just give the old skins a good old college try."
"I will put it to you plainly just this once. Scribe, please don't record this in the Book. I prefer my people try to figure it out for themselves. The lesson seems to stick better. Ok you thick headed disciples, listen up. The old covenant is represented by those old wineskins. This is the covenant where if you are perfect, you get to be with me. But if you are not, you have to keep repenting and sacrificing to try to restore my good favor. Let's have a show of hands on which of you perfectly followed my old Covenant laws? I thought so. Now, the new wine is the New Covenant- the covenant of faith, where the one atoning sacrifice of Jesus is the only one you need for all eternity. You can't go back to the old Covenant of working towards God, when the new better way of faith in God's perfect, substitutionary sacrifice is bubbling up. The law is no longer is now written on your very heart. Yes, Thomas, you have a question?"
"Does that hurt?"
"Well of course it does, but believe me, it hurt Me, more than it will hurt you. You will have to give up some things, but there is no gain without pain."

The team and I looked at the dismantled Trebuchet.
"I don't think this is going to work," said Ben.
"Maybe not," I agreed, "But let's give it the old college try!"

Hebrews 8

1 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.  3 Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. 4 If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”[a] 6 But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.
 7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said[b]:
   “The days are coming, declares the Lord,
   when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
   and with the people of Judah.
9 It will not be like the covenant
   I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
   to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
   and I turned away from them,
            declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
   after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
   and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
   and they will be my people.
11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
   or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
   from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness
   and will remember their sins no more.”
 13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


One cat had a chewed off ear, but otherwise looked exactly like the other calico that came to greet us as we waited for Asherel's guitar lesson. The one with the chewed off ear was the guitar teacher's cat. The one with both ears intact was the next door bully cat. I think, but am not positive about this, that he was the one responsible for the chewed off ear of the other. They looked similar enough that I assumed they were from the same litter, but Lenny told us that was not the case.

"We don't like the neighbor's cat," he had told us, "He picks on my cat."
I glanced at the mauled ear.
Both cats overcame their hatred of the other to come purr at our feet and beg for attention. They glared at each other though, and I think had we not been there, the nice cat's other ear would have been in jeopardy.
"Bully!" I growled at the neighbor's cat.

One of the Gavel club speeches last week had been by a girl who said she had dreams of being an actress, and she had joined Gavel Club for that reason.
"You see," she said, "To be an actress, you have to be able to speak in front of people. I can be the greatest actor by myself in front of a mirror...but I can't do anything when people watch me. I used to be able to, but then there were some people that bullied me. I lost all my confidence. I am here trying to get it back." She looked down at her notes, her cheeks red, and took a deep breath.

We are studying American History this year, and are currently in the early 1600s, starving and struggling with the Puritans in Massachusetts. One of the things that really struck me was that while they came seeking religious freedom for themselves, they were actually loathe to offer it to others. They hated the Quakers, and called them Quakers as an epithet, in mocking reference how they would sometimes "quake" and tremble when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Those who tried to suggest error in the Puritan religious or community life, were banned from the colony. If they wouldn't leave, they were imprisoned and hanged. And yet, the Puritans really believed that they were following God's will. Their pious nature was not in question, though their methods of spreading it were.

How and why does one slip into bullying? Why did the well fed, well cared for cat think it had to swipe off the ear of the nice cat? Both cats were neutered. It is not like this was a fight over a mate, which can be brutal in both the animal and human world. And what would prompt anyone to make fun of that sweet and gentle young lady at Gavel Club to the degree that she no longer dared to speak? How could love of God be disfigured into banishment, hangings, witch hunts....?

We have to be so careful. For me, I have to keep examining my motives. Any motive that only benefits me is in danger of becoming bullying. I am not an overt bully, but I think all of us have it in us to subjugate others, ridicule others, and denigrate others. I grow weary of how mixed my motives often are, and how I have to fight constantly against selfishness. Paul, of the Bible, is imprisoned by false seekers of God. The chilling fact, Paul recognizes is that even the message of God can be spoken out of selfish ambition and is the reason that he is in chains in prison. Nonetheless, he glorifies that the message is still disseminated. However, that truth brings me to my knees. How does one manage to keep a pure heart, a pure purpose, a pure motive? I think this is one of the hardest things to do. Am I all alone on this?

I glanced at the cat, the bully cat, imploring me to pet him. His green eyes were beseeching. I glanced again at the ruined ear of Lenny's cat.
"Oh, pet him," said Asherel.
I bent down and stroked the calico fur.
"We should both do better," I admonished him as he purred.

Psalm 119:35-37

35 Direct me in the path of your commands,
   for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward your statutes
   and not toward selfish gain.

Philippians 1:16-18

16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
   Yes, and I will continue to rejoice

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Message from the Future

Comer struggled to get in the car yesterday when I picked up he and Evelyn from the Assisted Living home.
"How are you today?" I asked.
"Oh fine except these legs are just not working the way they used to. You know I was always athletic. Now I can barely walk. I never thought I'd end up like this." 
This was uncharacteristic of Comer. He doesn't usually complain, at least not around me.
"Did you ever think you would make it to 93?" I asked.
"No, there were days in the war I didn't think I'd make it to that evening."
"Well maybe being a little weak in the legs is not a bad payoff."
"No, maybe not."
I had to scream every word during our outing, or he couldn't hear it. My throat was sore by the end of our time together. When we pulled up to the fast food window, I screamed our order. The cashier stepped back, with the force of my words.
"Mom," reminded Asherel quietly, "You don't need to shout to her." 
"Oh, that's true..." I said, glancing in the mirror at Comer and Evelyn, smiling and holding hands as usual.  "Thank you, " I whispered, as the cashier handed back the credit card.

I read in the paper that scientists think they have discovered a particle that moves faster than the speed of light. This throws Einstein out on the curb with the other discarded certainties of human discovery. But the really captivating part of that discovery is if it is true, then time travel is possible. Einstein had always said that if anything could be found to travel faster than light, then we could send a telegram to the past.  I thought about that. I could send a telegram to me yesterday before I used my finger to clean the inside of the sharp container and I would not be wearing a bandaid on a throbbing thumb today. Think of all the accidents that have had devastating consequences that could be avoided, and all the severed relationships that could be mended as words and actions were all taken back...or deleted as though they never happened. Think of all the wisdom of the years that we could write down to warn and guide our younger selves, our selves that were athletes before  the onslaught of time and muscle decay.

  Knowing what we know, what would we do differently? And if we did it differently, because of that time traveling telegram, when we reached the point in the future when the telegram would be sent, it would not need to be sent anymore, but if it was never sent, then the past would be see the problem. In my case, there would be too many telegrams that would need to be sent. About one every ten minutes.

"Vicky, this is a message from your future. I would strongly recommend you do not do what you are about to do."
"Vicky, this is another message from your future. I would highly suggest you do not say what you are about to say."
"Vicky, this is yet another message from your future. I want to warn you that your future is taking up so much time warning you about all the stupid things you are doing in your past, that when you get here, all you will be doing is writing warning messages. Not much of a life, if you ask me."

So God has solved the problem. He put every warning in a Book that could be adapted to every situation. And then, traveling faster than light, He looked back at what He had created, and He shook His head.
  "They mean well, sometimes, but they are not paying as much attention to the Book as I had hoped."

And so He knew what He had to do from the Beginnning, because being faster than Light, He could see even from that moment how badly we were going to manage even a simple task like not tasting a forbidden fruit.  So He arranged a telegram from the Future, that would travel all the way back to our Past, and all Pasts, and dwell within us to remind us all the time what we needed to remember so that our Future would not be one of continual regret, writing messages of all the things we should have done. And He saw that even then, we would blow it. So He sent the most perfect Solution of all creation. He sent Redemption and Atonement based not on what we could do, which we had proven was prone to disaster, but on what He could do. And the only requirement of us was Faith. Why faith, I often wonder. Here is what I think. You cannot take a leap of faith without humility. It is pride that makes us think we can achieve perfection. Pride that thinks we can be God. Pride that thinks we don't need anyone but ourselves. And time is the greatest humbler of all. None of us think those athletic legs will one day no longer be able to walk. All of us recoil from arrogance, and most of us don't see it in ourselves. Why do we all have such a negative response to arrogance? I think it is because it is in the end what separates us, from each other, from God.

I would write more, but I am getting telegrams by the minute from my future.....

2 Kings 19:22-23
22 Who is it you have ridiculed and blasphemed?
   Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes in pride?
   Against the Holy One of Israel!
23 By your messengers
   you have ridiculed the Lord.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Good Intentions

As I listened to the Gavel Club member, a little 11 year old giving her speech about the wonderful life she had, I was squirming in my seat. Her parents punctuate each day with a special meal, a special tradition. Every Sunday is French Toast and bacon. Every Friday eve, the dad takes the daughter out alone to a special meal. Every day, the kids harvest the garden they planted to make a fresh grown lunch for the family. She spent a long time talking about how wonderful those Sunday meals of French Toast were, and how she couldn't wait for Sunday.

I don't know about you, but I am really good at comparing myself with others and falling short. I know we are always counseled not to do this, but sometimes a little reality check is not a bad thing. I almost never make the kids breakfast. We have a breakfast food closet, and they learned from a young age to rummage there. I rarely bake wonderful goodies, and truth be told, I am not very fond of cooking. I eat to live, but I don't live to eat. Food just isn't very high on my priority list. As I listened to the little girl, however, I realized that I needed to be making more of an effort to make memories of a home filled with the smells of a loving mother making cookies, and french toast.

I think God was already preparing my spirit for this message. A week ago, I made a huge batch of cookies to send to Matt and his lovely new wife, Karissa. I made a second batch for my son Anders, who had just moved into a new apartment in Boston. And then I made a third batch for Asherel.  It was nice to have the house smell like something other than dogs.

But after the little girl's speech, I knew a once every 6 month batch of cookies was not sufficient.
Asherel came out of her room to start school. She headed to the breakfast food rummage closet.
"Do you want me to make French Toast?:" I asked.
"Sure..." she said, a little confused, her voice trailing off in suspicion.
"What for?" she asked finally.
"You like French Toast, don't you?"
"Well, then I am making you some."
 She watched me a little warily out of the corner of her eye as she gathered her Bible study books.

I was surprised how I could still remember how to make French Toast. As I whipped up the eggs, I marveled at how wonderful the vanilla smelled and how lovely the golden color of milk swirling with the beaten eggs looked. The butter sizzled. Even the dogs' noses were twitching as they trolled for food, swarming like sharks in the kitchen. I plopped the French Toast in the pan, and hurried over to the computer to check my email, while that side cooked.

Oh no. Every morning I wake up to a disaster, sent me courtesy of the world wide web. I began typing my response, wondering how the world existed without my input in the days before email.

"I'm getting hungry, Mom," said Asherel, "When will the French Toast be done?"
The French Toast!
I leaped from the computer and raced to the blackened French Toast. I flipped them quickly. One side was perfect. The other was a bit charcoal. Would she notice? I quickly placed them burnt side down on the plate and smothered them with syrup.

"Looks yum!" she said, "Thanks!"
She was absorbed in her reading (thank God!) and didn't look too closely.
"How's the French Toast?" I called over, as I cleaned the scorched pan.
"It's good," she said. Like a starving dog, my children have learned that when it comes to food in our house, best to not be terribly discriminating.

Now in my defense, I do build memories of wonderful places, travels, adventures. Cooking has never been my forte...but nonetheless, I am feeling convicted that if I do offer up my cooking, it should be Fragrant...and not burnt.
God makes a big deal about memories in the Bible. He commands the Israelites throughout the Book of Leviticus to make fragrant "memorial offerings" to the Lord. I am always intrigued by that use of the word "fragrant". We are not supposed to offer up foul smelling memorials to God. They are to be "fragrant". I thought of my half burnt toast that my daughter happily ate. It was filled with good intention, but was it a "fragrant" offering? (I suspect not as fragrant as she would have ideally preferred.)

And do you know what was foreshadowed by the fragrant offering of the Bible ? God always operates at least on two levels- a physical and a spiritual. My guess is that the sweet smelling memorials and sacrifices were not just so He could freshen the air of Heaven with some good cooking scents. He tells us that ultimately, the sacrificial atonement by the death of Jesus on the cross would be a "fragrant sacrifice". It would be the best that He could give, and its fragrance was one of complete and total submission to the will and desires of the Creator.

I carefully watched the second batch and they came out perfectly. The exact golden brown they should be with crisp edges. I carefully covered them with saran wrap and put them on a plate for Asherel's breakfast tomorrow.
"Tomorrow's French Toast will be really good," I called out to her.

Leviticus 2:1-3

 1 “‘When anyone brings a grain offering to the LORD, their offering is to be of the finest flour. They are to pour olive oil on it, put incense on it 2 and take it to Aaron’s sons the priests. The priest shall take a handful of the flour and oil, together with all the incense, and burn this as a memorial  portion on the altar, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. 3 The rest of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the food offerings presented to the LORD.

Ephesians 5:2

2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How could anyone not believe....

Amy didn’t want friends to call, or email, or text. She wanted a weekend to just rest, try to calm her overactive pancreas, and rein in her depression. Two severe bouts of pancreatitis had transpired in less than three years. One major and several small bouts had occurred over the past year, leaving the doctors befuddled and Amy frightened, and weary. There did not appear to be an obvious cause. Yet, the horrifying effects of the last two severe bouts had landed her for over a week each time in the hospital, with no food or water allowed, to try to let the flaring pancreas heal. She almost died, and was brought back by a powerful chemical stimulant.
             Then the devastating news. Two thirds of her pancreas was dead or dying. I was with her when the doctor did further tests and confirmed his initial impression.
            “Two thirds of it is dead, essentially?” she asked him.
            “Yes,” he said.
            A person cannot live without a pancreas. There is no artificial pancreas, and no substitute for a pancreas. Without a pancreas, you die. It was clear that the past two severe episodes had each destroyed a third of Amy’s pancreas. The unspoken fear was one more episode would be the last one she could endure.
            Amy enrolled in a research study, in the hopes that other rare patients of pancreatitis of unknown origin might be helped. The study gathered information about this unique population, of which Amy was an unwilling member. If enough puzzle pieces fell in place, perhaps one day, a cause would be found.
            Amy had another few minor bouts of pancreatitis and the doctor decided to do a test where they would examine the pancreas by inserting a tube down her throat. The procedure was not without risk, which is why they had waited. The test itself could set off pancreatitis. But Amy had run out of options.
            I spent almost as many sleepless nights as Amy, praying to God. Amy is an enormously special person. I know everyone’s sister is enormously special, but I couldn’t think of any sister but my dear one in such need. When Amy was growing up, she was a pain in the rear. She carried grudges, she complained, she argued, and she was discontented. She drove my family nuts…but she was my beloved little sister. And when she had nightmares, and came into my room frightened, I always let her crawl into bed with me. I loved Amy, despite all her faults.
            And then she grew up. She became an interpreter for the deaf. She sent all the nieces and nephews gifts whenever she saw something they might like. She traveled to see all of us several times a year, despite having little money to do so. Family was all important, much more important than money. She cried whenever she left to return to her home. She never tired of helping friends in need, showering them with time, money, her impossibly creative crafts. In the past year, she took up water color painting and excelled in it. She sent all of us hand painted cards. Amy became in her husband’s words- “The finest person I know.” I agreed.  No one could have predicted that outcome based on her childhood.
            So I prayed in a way I had never prayed before. I asked God for a specific miracle. I prayed constantly and fervently, night after night.
            “I know this is often not the way you work,” I told God, “But I don’t think I can do without Amy…the world cannot do without Amy. I pray, dear Father, that you will restore her pancreas. All of it. Return life to the two thirds of it that are dead. And may you be given all the glory.” I knew this was a prayer that is not often answered, not in the way the distraught petitioner hopes.
            The procedure found the first semblance of an answer. Amy had a congenital defect of the pancreas.  In Pancreas Divisum, the duct that empties the waste from the pancreas fails to join in utero, as it should, and is divided into two ducts. In some unfortunate cases, the narrower ducts become blocked, backflow, and often cysts form, as well as the life threatening and excruciating pain of pancreatitis. All those awful things had happened to Amy. Doctors don't all agree that this defect causes pancreatitis, since many people have it with no symptoms whatsoever. 
           During the procedure to fix the defect, the doctor placed a stent in the narrow duct and repaired a hole in the pancreas. He left Amy's large cyst alone, as cyst drainage can introduce infection, another dangerous procedure. He hoped the cyst would drain on its own.
            Amy thought her troubles were over. The doctor said that in most cases, prognosis was good with the surgery he had performed. Yet after the surgery, Amy never returned to feeling normal, and continued to have small bouts of pancreatitis. She fasted often to decrease the strain on her pancreas, and grew despondent. We all knew she was one bad attack away from very severe consequences.
            “Please Father,” I prayed, “I know you know best. But I beg you, please heal Amy completely…completely. Restore her pancreas to full function. All of it. All three thirds of it. It’s Amy we are talking about.”
            “How are you?” I wrote to her in an email.
            “Squiggly,” she answered, “And very tender where my pancreas is.”
            “Have you told the doctor?”
            “Sort of… they do more tests next week.”
            “Hound the doctor!” I begged.
            She hounded the doctor. He told her to wait for the tests.
            “Please Lord,” I prayed, “Make her pancreas whole. Bring it back, restore it to full function.”
I told Amy I was praying for complete healing, a pancreas fully alive and healthy. The week dragged on, but Amy said she was feeling normal finally, at least for that brief time.

            There was a message yesterday on my phone that Amy had called. I knew her test was this week, but I had forgotten the day. I called her back.
            “I am on my way from the doctor’s ,” she told me.
            “Oh! The tests were today! What did they find? Is the cyst draining?”
            “The cyst is draining. But listen to this. Remember the middle third of the pancreas that was, as the doctor put it, dead as a doornail?”
            “Yes.” How could I forget?
            “It is alive. And remember the back section that couldn’t communicate with the front section because the middle was dead, and the back third was dying?”
            “It is healing. They don’t know why, they don’t know how, but my pancreas is alive. All of it.”
            I jumped up out of my seat and Asherel raised an eyebrow as I danced around the room, waving my arms in the air. I shrieked and I think Amy might have a damaged ear drum after that resounding exclamation of pure and unbridled delight, praise, joy, gratitude….praise.
            “That is just what I prayed for!!!!!!”
            “I know, I told the doctor my sister would be happy to know that the miracle she had prayed for had been provided.”
            She had called me first. Not even her husband knew yet.
            “You didn’t call Jim!?” I asked.
            “No, if he was praying for a miracle, he never told me,” she said, “You told me. You are the only person I have called.”
            “Well I am sure he was praying. Call him now. This is maybe the most wonderful thing I have ever heard!”
            After dancing and hollering, while Asherel watched with a bemused look on her face, I could not stop smiling.  God knows how small my faith is, how tenuous my hope, how fragile my walk with Him. I don’t pray with assurance…I often pray with despair. Sometimes life seems so overwhelming that I don’t pray with words. I pray with groans, that slowly cascade into tears.  But how could I not believe?  How could anyone not believe?

Romans 8:25-27
New International Version (NIV)
25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Flood of Music

The groundhog was drenched and huddled on a broken piece of lumber that was wedged in some sticks on the edge of the flood driven waterfall. The poor creature shivered, its soaked matted hair dripping. It clung to the small plank, with no escape. I watched this footage of the Owego Flood on a youtube video. Then the scene switched to nearby railroad tracks, which were as far as the flood waters rose. The groundhog stood somewhat dazed, but alive, on the tracks.
"We saved this little guy, " said the caption, on the video.

"How's the flood patrol?" I texted my brother, who was still ensconced in his flood zone home. It would still be a month before his family would be able to return, but he would not leave it to be robbed or violated any further than the flood itself had done.
"Great! We have heat, water, and electricity now!"
"And I got three Stakmore tables!"
"How many people did you have to kill?"
"None! I just sweet talked the nice lady at the Stakmore factory. Christmas came early to Owego!"
"Did you get enough chairs for them all?"
"No...  :( "
"Well, I suspect with residents returning your prime looting days are over."
"Yeh, probably. You know, truth be told, we made out like bandits on this flood."
"Yeh, if it weren't for that $100,000 deductible on your flood insurance...."
"Well, it's only money.  We can make more of that. You know it is the love of money that is the root of all evil...not just having money."
"So I've heard...I wouldn't know from personal experience."

I thought of the video John had sent me. His son, Greg and he had gone wandering the flood receding streets, where piles of belongings were strewn on every curb. Then he passed a piano. John stopped as Greg filmed. John began playing simple tunes on the water damaged piano, battered and ruined, dumped on the street of the flooded city. It didn't sound as awful as you might think. In fact, it was a victorious melody, of sorts. A car slowed, stopped, and honked, waving a fist. The video closed with John laughing, and waving at his new comrade, forged in the wake of disaster.

Those two images kept popping up in my head all day- the shivering groundhog clinging to a plank while water raged around him, and my brother playing the ruined piano. I wondered how the groundhog had been saved. The water was rushing violently around him, on the edge of a waterfall. I can't imagine he was saved without some risk to his savior. I think Salvation always involves danger, and suffering for the Savior. It must have seemed  like pretty grim chances of survival to the groundhog.  As soon as he dried out, lifted miraculously from the flood, he would have two choices. He could cry out in anger to the world that had so suddenly shifted beneath him and allowed a flood to carry him so far from his comfortable place...or he could play a metaphorical piano, lifting a melody of comfort and gratitude to a species not accustomed to music in a flood.
Psalm 6 : 1-9
 1 LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
   or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint;
   heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.
3 My soul is in deep anguish.
   How long, LORD, how long?
 4 Turn, LORD, and deliver me;
   save me because of your unfailing love.
5 Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
   Who praises you from the grave?
 6 I am worn out from my groaning.
   All night long I flood my bed with weeping
   and drench my couch with tears.
7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
   they fail because of all my foes.
 8 Away from me, all you who do evil,
   for the LORD has heard my weeping.
9 The LORD has heard my cry for mercy;
   the LORD accepts my prayer.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Shadow Lake

The swan is gone. The lake is just covered with Canada Geese and a few ducks...and probably lurking snapping turtles of the sort that attacked the poor swan. I walked along the little path at the edge of the lake. I saw an owl there a few days ago, peering at me with his great round eyes. I looked out over the lake. I had been calling it Swan Lake for months, though its real name is Shadow lake

"At least I went here almost every day to see the swans," I thought, "I felt like they would always be here, but still I came, because they were so beautiful. I enjoyed their presence as fully as I could while they were here. I'm glad of that, at least."

My dear friend, writing about missing her grown children said ," I never thought they might be living in a different state. But we did that to all our parents."

Another friend, reading the section of my book about the sadness of adult children growing distant lives, separate from me, told me she had to put the book down at that point. She has one child on the cusp of adulthood. She couldn't think about that, while the night in its dark forboding silence crept about her. Every parent of grown children feels the tormenting tug of time, I think. I thought of my sons in far away lands, and my parents, and sisters, and brother.

When the swans were still here, circling the lake, I loved to stand and watch them. There was almost never anyone else there. Why weren't the shores thronged with people wondering at the lovely white forms gliding so magically across the sparkling water? At first I would take lots of photographs. But then, I realized I couldn't capture what I felt watching the swans in a photograph. It was better to just stand there in silent awe and enjoy the ephemeral moment. Now, gazing at the still water, I thought that perhaps they had gone to a better place, a place where waters are still, and dangers no longer lurk below. Beauty and peace rest upon a New World.

So, I sighed, the swans are gone. Their beautiful S curved necks are just a shadow of a memory. I walked away wondering what I should turn my gaze upon now,  quickly, before it vanished too and entered the realm of Shadow.

Job 14: 1-2

 1 “Mortals, born of woman,
   are of few days and full of trouble.
2 They spring up like flowers and wither away;
   like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.

James 1:16-18

 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
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Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Two Faces of a Swan

Do you ever get that message on your computer as you wait an interminable time for a page to load: "Not Responding."
"No kidding! I never dreamed it was something you weren't doing properly, my dear Dell, I just thought that God had put a stop to time."
The computer doesn't understand sarcasm however, and remains unresponsive until it decides it is good and ready to begin working again.

I don't love lack of response. I don't love it in computers, in my children, or in my prayers. It I ask a question or make a request, I expect an answer. And given the exceptionally rapid connection between my sensory and motor neurons, I expect an answer quickly. Some people refer to my personality type as "hyper". i prefer to think of it as "super conductivity between nerve synapses."

I headed to the swan lake a second time yesterday, hoping again that my prayers for the lonely male swan would be answered. I prayed that his mate would have returned. Instead, the lake was swarming with boats, and men with long poles with nets on the end, circling around the poor swan. I hurried to the water's edge where a woman with a large, fancy camera stood filming. I presumed she was a reporter of some kind.

"What's going on?" I asked.
"They are trying to catch him," she said, "He's injured and they hope to bring him to the humane society."
He looked fine to me, though frightened, as he continued to elude his captors. I presumed that since he didn't fly away, he was unable to fly. I know when he came to the lake, he had been injured in some way as the Neighborhood Association had gotten the pair of swans from a Bird Rehab center.
"He looks ok," I said.
"This side of him does," she answered, "But a snapping turtle got him. Ripped off half his face on the other side."
The swan turned and I saw what she was talking about. I saw how capturing the swan would be a kindness.
(This is not exactly the answer to prayer I was going for, I whispered to God.)
"What happened to the mate?" I asked, choking back tears, "Did the turtle kill her?"
"No, she flew away before this happened."
She flew away!? That ungrateful hussy.
"The male swan will often starve himself to death if the mate leaves. They mate for life," she said.
I knew then what had happened. The swan I had seen moping for his mate all week, never leaving the center rock in the lake, had stopped eating. His strength gone, he had succumbed to the advances of a snapping turtle. I was almost certain turtles never attacked grown swans, only babies. He must have already been weak.
I watched a little while longer, but unable to stand it any more, headed back home. I didn't want to write about this. It makes me unbearably sad. But it is impossible to not write about what fills my heart.

I am reading (again) Daniel Deronda by George Elliot. It is a great classic, and one everyone should read, as soon as they finish my book, I am Listening with a Broken Ear. In it, the protagonist is tormented by her own guilt over a choice she made that improved her life, but at the expense of others. She asks a friend, who has unwittingly become  her conscience: what would be best- to be miserable oneself or to be the cause of another's misery? He answers immediately, not knowing the specifics of her situation, that the first is far better.
"But what if you have no choice?" she asks.
"Then," he tells her, "Do everything you can to spread goodness. If you can't help the one you harmed, then perhaps you can help others."

I do believe this is the only antidote to the horror of life. There are two sides of life, and sometimes it is the beautiful face of a swan, but sometimes it turns and the destruction, and suffering, and agonies of loneliness, betrayal,and despair are exposed. I suppose first one should decide whether to be the female swan that flew away, or the lonely, ruined male she left behind. I pray that whenever I can, I choose not to consciously inflict pain on others. And if the choices I make have led to the irreversible pain of others, the best I can do now is try to find ways to bring joy to the world I have yet to encounter. Horrifying as it is, it is better to be the ruined, dying swan.

I liked the symbol of the swans, I told God, lying in bed feeling depressed, all the way until the mate flew away. And did the poor swan who was left really have to go through all that agony? Why do your lessons have to include pain?

God didn't answer. Instead, He put me to sleep, and sent me a dream. It was a dream so beautiful, so hopeful, so redemptive that I didn't want to wake up. And when I did wake up, I could not remember the dream, only its joy.

1 Corinthians 10:23-25

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

For Want of a Spring...

The one area of perfection that continues to elude the dogs is evident when someone approaches the house. I have tried all I know to do to reduce their ear splitting barking at that time. Thus far, I have failed. And a new woe appeared. When our friend walked over a couple of days ago, the dogs erupted into their frenzied barking and lunged against the screen door. They jumped up, reaching for the handle, and opened the door. I grabbed them, and slammed the screen door shut. As soon as I let them loose, they opened the door again.

They are clever dogs, but not that clever. I examined the handle. It was missing something inside the handle that makes it latch closed. So the dogs just had to shove the door with their noses, and it opened. Even when you are not in a flood, like my poor brother, houses break. There is always something in life that needs fixing.

"All you need is a little spring," said Arvo examining the handle. He gave me the door knob and Asherel and I headed to Lowes, the building store. When we arrived, I showed the door knob to one of the orange clad workers, presumably a building expert..
"I need to fix this," I said.
"How does it work?" he asked.
"I don't know...I was hoping you would know."
He fiddled with the latch . It flopped ineffectually back and forth.
"See, it is missing the little spring here," I explained. The worker played with the floppy latch a little more and then shook his head.
"Follow me."
He brought us to the spring section and pulled down a spring ten times the size of the doorknob.
"I don't think that will work," I said.
"We don't have springs small enough...and I am not sure it would work anywhere. I don't see where the spring would attach."
"What would you recommend?"
"A new doorknob."
He took us to the doorknob section of the store. The cheapest new set, and you must buy the whole set though only the latch portion of ours didn't work, was $30.
I took it wearily from his hands. When one's husband is unemployed, even $30 is not be be sneezed at. And it was especially rancorous in that a 10 cent spring could fix the otherwise perfectly fine door knob set we already had.

"What about a Bic pen?" said Asherel.
"You need a pen?"
"No, I mean what about the spring on a click pen?"
I blinked at her.
"Can I see the old door knob?" she asked.
I handed it to her and she looked carefully at it. She moved the broken latch back and forth.
"I think I can fix this," she said.
I bought the $30 door knob just in case, and put the receipt in the bag with it. If she succeeded, I could bring it back.
"It might not work," she said, "But we have nothing to lose except a pen."

Back at home, she laid out an assortment of pens and dismantled them all. Then she carefully chose the strongest spring that she thought might fit. After about ten minutes of tinkering, she looked up and smiled, holding the door knob out to me.
"It works," she said.
Arvo put the doorknob back on the door, and the dogs glared at us. They nuzzled the door but it remained latched.

"Asherel, you are a genius. And you are a scientist. I think one day, you will change the world."

I give up too easily. And I don't have a scientific mind. I can't tinker and find solutions. I can draw and I can write, I can represent the world...but I can't fix it. God loves those who take the time to repair the broken. It is, in fact, His specialty. He could easily just toss all of us away, and start fresh.And most of the time, we deserve it. Instead, He seeks to repair and to restore. I don't know about you, but there are many times I have hung my head and said," I am broken beyond repair. It is not worth bothering anymore with me."
Every time, God lays a gentle arm around my shoulder that feels like a silken sunbeam, and whispers, "Nothing I create is beyond repair. Just trust me, I can make you better than new."

"Does it work?"  I asked Arvo, as he finished screwing the doorknob in place.
"Good as new," he said.

Isaiah 58:11-13

11 The LORD will guide you always;
   he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
   and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
   like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
   and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
   Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dispelling the Darkness

When I walked in the Assisted Living Home, Comer and Evelyn were sitting side by side under the entry way chandelier. They were holding hands, looking straight ahead, dressed in Sunday clothes. Evelyn wore a beautiful necklace, and pink leather shoes. Comer wore a sports coat, and pinstriped shirt.Their expressions and posture were poised in expectant waiting.And I was 5 minutes early. I wondered how long they had been sitting there, leaning forward in their seats, dressed in all their finery, waiting.

I smiled when I caught sight of them, so eager for their outing, and waved. Comer, the 93 year old new author of a book of poetry, stood to greet me with a bag in his hand. Evelyn's face broke into a beaming smile of recognition, always surprising me in her struggles with Alzheimers, and threw her arms around me.
"Ready for lunch?" I said. She hugged me tightly.
Comer handed me the bag, "Six of my books, one for each neighbor."
"Oh, they will be thrilled! Did you sign them?"
"I did."
"Well then let's celebrate. How about Kentucky Fried Chicken?"
"Yes," smiled Evelyn.
"Extra crispy," said Comer.
"You got it!"

Our outing was our typical peaceful drive, while balancing fast food on our laps, and meandering through rich people's neighborhoods. Asherel was in charge of the music, and switched CDs from Engelbert Humperdinck to Romantic Melodies from the 50's. Even Comer sang along on a few of them today.

"I got a short story I want you to read," he said.
"Oh I would love to! Are we printing a book of short stories next?"
"Oh no, I don't have but three of them. But this one is particularly poignant. I wrote it years ago."
"What's it about?"
"I'm not going to tell you. You will have to read it."
"Haha! Well ok. Bring it next week."
"I sure will. It is about a Canada Goose."
"Oh, I love Canada Geese!" I said, "You know they mate for life."
"I know," he said, "That's in the story."
"I thought so," I said, glancing in the rear view mirror. He sat next to Evelyn, clutching her hand.
"Did you know Evelyn when you wrote it?"
"Oh yes," he said.
"I thought so."

I remembered my walks to the swan pond this week. I have been going twice a day, hoping against hope that I am not seeing what I am seeing. All week there has only been one swan. One lone swan, where for a year there have been two. I keep hoping I will see the second, hidden behind the brush. The lone swan has not moved from a little feeder island in the middle of the pond. A huge flock of Canada Geese float on the other end of the pond. The swan is all alone. His mate appears to be gone. My heart breaks every time I see him. Swans mate for life too, and his mate is gone.

"I've been editing my second book," I told Comer.
"What's it about?"
"Oh dear, I'm afraid I just spilled my entire drink on your floor. I am making a real mess."
"Don't worry, it needs cleaning anyway. Hey, have you been working on your new poems?"
"I have written 2 or 3."
"Well soon we will be publishing book #2 for you too!"
"Oh no, I'll die before then."
"You just never know what God might be preserving you for," I said.

Sometimes things seem so unbearably sad- old people with terrible afflictions, swans just reaching the age of producing cygnets, and the mate dies...full drinks spilling before we have a chance to sip them. But it is life. It is all part of life. Like Asherel's writing prompt yesterday said, do we truly value what we have not had to struggle to obtain?

Brother John texted me from his flood zone house last night. He'd been looting again, when the sun set.
"Scored a stakmore table!"
"Good for you! This flood is really turning out to be worth it after all!"
"I think tomorrow I'll just go to the Stakmore factory and ask them politely for the things they don't want."
"Haha, with your shotgun in hand?"
"Of course not. Way too noisy. I'll bring the Derringer."
"Got power yet?"
"No, but we ditched the generator and hooked into the neighbor's deck."
"The neighbor's have power?"
Oh good. Then John is not all alone in the flood. The neighbors are there, and they have power and warm showers, and light to cast away the darkness.

2 Samuel 22:29
29 You, LORD, are my lamp;
   the LORD turns my darkness into light.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Rear Guard

I think my brother might be getting bored and lonely, looking for looters all alone in his deserted flooded town. His son returned to Buffalo.  All the fun of the flood has lost its sparkle.
"Oh boo hoo," he texted, "Being in a flood sux."

He says it will be a month before the house can be lived in again. I don't know if he intends to hole up there with his shotgun that whole time. He didn't text for long with me, last night. His phone is giving him problems. It keeps texting dollar signs. I thought he was making a statement about what is happening to his bank account with the destruction of his home by the flood. However, the phone has been typing those dollar signs all by itself.

So I tried to divert his attention from his woes by telling him about the new helicopter challenge in Science Olympiad. We could build a copter very similar to what we did last year, or for three times the score, we can build a "non co-axial helicopter."
I quickly researched non co-axial helicopters. The two rotors are on different motor sticks, rather than one, like last years. I didn't read much about how to accomplish our task. I was just trying to define terms.
"So, I texted John, "I think we are going to build a non coaxial helicopter."
"How will you counteract torque?"
"Good plan, Missy!"
"It's all I got."
"Better get another."
"Nah, actually if they spin opposite to each other, won't that counteract torque?"

I discussed some other top secret design issues with him, but he only texted back one word answers. His phone was losing heart in the aftermath of the flood. And adding the costs in the aftermath of the flood. It was texting line after line of dollar signs.

I would presume people will be straggling back to the town as the water recedes, and he won't need to stay there as constantly. Power and heat will be back by Saturday, and maybe then, internet so he can use his computer.
"Living off the grid," as he put it, stinks after the first flush of novelty wears off.

Meanwhile, in between homeschooling, I have been editing Book #2. I wrote it last year, and did the stupidest thing a writer can do. With only cursory editing, I had sent it off to a few agents. As I am rereading it now, I am surprised by how many liked it. It really was not nearly ready to be seen by anyone but a vigorous revising pen. I am discovering that the more wonderful I think my writing is when I first write it...the worse it is in actuality. I think book #2 has potential, but I spent a full day yesterday, 8 hours, editing a 6 page chapter.
Well maybe 7 hours. The other hour was spent banging my head against the wall, ripping out my hair, and asking myself out loud why on earth I had sent this unedited work to agents, thus securing the likelihood of never finding a publisher for it.

I have read that one of the biggest mistakes of new authors is sending their work to agents before it is polished enough, before it is carefully edited, before it is ready. Guilty, I thought, reading and editing Book #2 and wondering how on earth I had thought it was any good. I stink, I thought wearily. I guess both John and I were feeling similarly dispirited by the long haul.

I had a dream of fighting some big and dangerous enemy, last night. I don't know who or even what it was, but it was relentless. It kept coming after me, sneaking up on me, attacking me. I knew I had no choice. I had to kill it. With a venom I had not realized I had in me, I caught it off balance on a cliff edge, and then I hurled it to the rocks below. Its head smashed against the rocks and burst. The enemy was destroyed, but I awoke in a panicked sweat. Trembling, I grabbed my bedside Bible and began to read. I don't know if the enemy crawled back up from the cliff in later dreams that night. I don't remember any other dreams.

Too much confidence is not a good thing. It makes one do idiotic things like send manuscripts off to agents when it is only in stage one revision. But loss of confidence, despair, is worse. It becomes an enemy that will kill you if you don't kill it. It's an enemy that doesn't stay dead, either. I have had this dream before. Fortunately, God warns us that there is an antidote. If we enter His house, and listen to Him, we may avoid offering the sacrifice of fools. Listen, learn, and don't be hasty. The enemy is on the prowl, but God is my rearguard.
I wonder what John dreamed about last night.

Ecclesiastes 5

 1]Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  2 Do not be quick with your mouth,
   do not be hasty in your heart
   to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
   and you are on earth,
   so let your words be few.
3 A dream comes when there are many cares,
   and many words mark the speech of a fool.

Isaiah 52:

12 But you will not leave in haste
   or go in flight;
for the LORD will go before you,
   the God of Israel will be your rear guard.