Monday, October 31, 2011

Victory in Truth

My friend just won the Siberian National Agility Dog show. Won! First place in the nation! She is one of the nicest young ladies I know, so I am very pleased for her. She posted many scenes of her Siberian husky playing in the snow, the first snow that particular ambassador of the ancient breed of snow dogs had seen. Snow even before Reformation Day! That is early! (We don't celebrate Halloween so I prefer to try to marginalize it as much as possible and note instead that it is indeed the anniversary of Martin Luther's brave posting of the 95 thesis on the Church door to protest church abuse. He was a lone voice, finally excommunicated for his persistence, but he refused to not voice what he believed was right.)

However, this post is not about Reformation Day, but about being early. All over the northeast, people were saying it was too early for snow, especially snow in this amount. My friend's pictures showed her Siberian frolicking in drifts a foot deep!

While reading about the snow, I found an allusion to Daylight Saving Time ending on Saturday night. I was surprised the paper hadn't mentioned it, but nonetheless, told my family we could all sleep in an extra hour on Sunday morning. Then I went about setting all the clocks back an hour. On Sunday morning, I got up a little later than usual and noticed the atomic clock in the kitchen, a gift of my gadget crazy Dad, still thought it was an hour later.
"That's odd," I thought. I found the set time button, and set it an hour back. It registered the new time, and I made coffee. Then I glanced back at the atomic clock. It had reset itself to an hour ahead. Doesn't it recognize Daylight Saving Time, I wondered?

Then I looked at my phone. It also, like the clock, was still an hour ahead.
"You were supposed to fall back an hour!" I laughed at my phone scornfully, "And you think you are so smart!"
Next, I settled at the computer to write my blog, and noticed the computer also claimed it was still an hour ahead.
"This is strange," I said, in the cold dark morning, "Why don't the machines automatically register the new time?"
I went outside and got the paper. No headline about the time change. Had the reporters forgotten to warn their readers about the time change? This was a first!
Now, a little worried for my sanity, I did an internet search of time change in 2011. I saw again the chart that had told me it was Oct. 30, 2011.
"Is this 2011?" I asked myself, "I think it fact I am almost certain it is."
I turned on the television. The little clock in the corner of the screen, like all the deluded machines in our home, had forgotten to fall back an hour. The news people, uncharacteristically on this day, were not chiding their audience for getting up early and forgetting to fall back and get that happy extra hour of sleep.
I was frantic by now, certain I had lost my mind.
I woke Arvo up.
"I think we missed church," I said.
"Why?" he mumbled.
"I don't think we were supposed to set the clocks back."
He did a quick internet check and told me, "They fall back next weekend."

We didn't make church worship service, but we did get there in time for the adult class afterwards and Asherel's youth group. Our teacher is doing a fascinating and well considered study on the logical basis for faith. He is an extremely intelligent and well read man, and I am loving the class. One of his points he made yesterday is that a common mistake of proving anything is that we often start with the premise we want to prove, and only see "facts" that support that premise, or even worse, manipulate facts to support that premise. Sometimes we become so caught up in believing the truth of a false premise, that we refuse to relinquish our position, even in the face of overwhelming evidence otherwise. I thought of my morning fighting the clocks in our home, trying to reset them when they knew they were not supposed to fall back for a week. I was completely convinced the clocks all over the world were wrong, and I was the only poor soul who was going to know what time it was that day.

My teacher was demonstrating how the theory of evolution, despite insolvable flaws and evidence to the contrary, continues to be the dominant theory of how life evolved. It is always hard to believe that intelligent, dedicated masses of people could be so wrong, but from my research and study of the evidence, it sure looks wrong to me. Where are the transitional fossils, how does one explain "irreducibly complex" structures like the Krebs cycle or the mammalian eye which had to appear all at once intact or have no possible way of working? How did matter arise out of nothing if the universe had a beginning (Big Bang) and if it didn't have a beginning, why haven't the stars all burned out?  I sat in the class, and remembered my morning spent convinced that Daylight Saving Time had arrived, despite all the evidence that it had not.

When I was finally ready to concede that Daylight Saving Time would not arrive for a week, I had a new dilemma. Should I set every one of our multitudinous clocks in our home back to the correct time...or just let them be wrong for a week? I decided to set them to the correct time. I thought it was important that there be victory in truth.

Psalm 25:5

5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
   for you are God my Savior,
   and my hope is in you all day long.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Emoticons for Dummies

"How far should we expect a 65 cm trebuchet to shoot?" I asked the Science Olympiad internet forum. We had had a good trebuchet last year, but this year the size changed so we decided to cut ours down rather than totally rebuild. It was not shooting projectiles as far as last year, but it was smaller. I had no idea if our distances were competitive or not.
I received an answer: for the smallest counterweight, .5 kg., we could expect optimally a 20- 30 meter shot.
I blinked morosely at the computer. How could I ever tell my team? We were lucky to get 2 meters. How would we get ten times that amount? Should I tell them, I wondered.

At our trebuchet meeting, I decided it was early enough in the season that if we had to rebuild, we could. So I told them.
"And then," I said, "I told the forum I sure hoped they were joking."
"Did the message he sent you have a colon and a p at the end?" asked Asherel.
For those of you who need visuals, this looks like this:  (:p)

This is called an "emoticon" for those of you who don't have teenagers or are still living in the 19th century when people used words and vocal cords and facial expressions to convey human emotion.
"Well, yes!" I exclaimed, wondering how Asherel could have surmised what emoticon the message contained.
"That's the sign that he was joking. Oh good grief, Mom!"

Later as we were driving to her volunteer work at a nearby horsefarm, she started quizzing me.
"Do you know what a colon, slash symbol means?( :/)"
"Well yes, sort of...more like sadness. How about a semicolon parenthesis? ;)"
"That's easy, a wink."
"Mom, you really need to do a google search and study these."
"Most of them are commonsense."
"Yes, but good grief, you didn't know the forum messenger was joking."
"Don't you want to zone out with your headphone and iPod music like you usually do?"
"No, this is too important. You have to know this stuff."

Later my dad and I were discussing the origin of the universe. This is always good for raising my blood pressure a few points. My Dad ascribes to the theory that given an infinite amount of time, a monkey could write the entire work of Shakespeare randomly. I have heard this argument before- it is quite famous. However, mathematicians say that unless there is a sequence constraint at which a certain sequence of letters must first make sense, after which the monkeys can move on to the next sequence, such a task would require infinite monkeys with infinite time, and even then the probability is so low that it is certainly not possible if the universe had a beginning, or really, even if it didn't. It cannot be proven either- the so called research on this involved constrained sequences of information. That is cheating. The constraint requires intervention by Someone. Supposedly, the monkey believers are trying to write Someone out of the equation.

Then we moved on to stars. I had just heard a very interesting lecture that if the galaxy were infinitely old then due to the second law of thermodynamics, everything would tend to lose energy, to go to a steady state...and thus all those hots spots in the universe would have to have burned out. There would be no stars. This is partially why scientists believe the universe must have had a beginning.

And then of course, one has to ask, if the universe had a beginning, who began it? And who began the Beginner? Something or someone has to be infinite...but science seems to indicate it cannot be the universe.

I do expect a counter argument from my Dad, and I will let him have the last word. I can't take time to research monkeys or stars anymore. I have a whole list of emoticons my daughter wants me to memorize and the test is on Monday.

Genesis 1: 16-17
16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth,

Romans 1:20

20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Finding Balance

The problem with unlimited possibilities is that there are too many parameters for a limited mind to consider. This year, the Science Olympiad helicopter can be built out of any material, and the only limiting factor is the rotors can't be longer than 35 cm. The rubber motor (think: twisted rubber band) could be any length and weight. We could have a 500 foot rubber band motoring our copter if we wanted. The organizers were anticipating flights of 3-4 minutes. So naturally, our team set about building a copter with a long motor stick to handle the long motor we intended to use. Ben's copter flew well, though not as long as we hoped. The torque in the motor stick seemed to be absorbing the energy. He will need to figure out how to brace it without adding much weight. Asherel's motor stick was a good foot or so long, and very sturdy. She weighed her copter- over 7 grams! Almost double the weight of Ben's. In the rubber powered copter world, this is a machine that needs a little Lean Cuisine. We thought it was not likely this behemoth would leave the ground even with the huge motor. We were correct.

And this is the essence of the problem for the helicopter designer. Weight vs. stability. Strong helicopters tend to be heavy. Heavy weights require massive energy to lift off. This is why elephants don't fly. Light helicopters are immensely fragile. It doesn't take much to get them off the ground, but it also doesn't take much to snap their skinny little spars and motor sticks, sending hard working Science Olympiads crying weeweewee all the way home. In addition, light copters tend to flex, absorbing energy that is needed for lift. The perfect balance has to be found.

Balance in life... Every school year I struggle with the perfect balance. I know what it takes to get a kid through all those highschool courses, but I also know that when they finish highschool and head off to college, they leave me behind. This is how it should be, but still, I want those fleeting days remaining with us to be joyful. How can they be joyful when one is required to learn quadratic equations and the process by which ions in the thylakoid lumen are pumped throught the ATP synthase to become ATP? There just aren't enough hours in the day to learn everything that needs to be learned, or to do all the wonderful extra activities that one yearns to do. And not only was the helicopter not flying, but the trebuchet arm was now hitting the edge of the frame and it might take major re-engineering to correct this problem. Too much! Too much! Somehow, impossibly, in my opinion, one must find a balance.

There are countless examples in the Bible of God's leaders collapsing before Him, and saying, the task you gave me is too much. Many, including the great prophet Elijah cry out, Just kill me now. At one time or another, we all quake with the impossibility of life's demands. God agrees. Often it is too much. We can't do it. But He also reminds us, we don't need to do it by ourselves. Again, I am reminded that God's strength, added to my weakness equals success. He may define success differently, but really, as I look at the results of my labor, and compare it with the results of His in the glorious blazing background of Autumn, I know whose definition I better be using.

Mark 10: 26-31
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”  27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
 28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
   29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

Overcoming Instinct

"I did it!" exulted Asherel as she sat atop the horse, and just as I was about to say, "Scoot forward- you're too far back!", the horse started bucking wildly. It happened so fast that none of us had time to be scared. Asherel quickly slid off the horse, landing feet first, though a little closer to the kicking hooves than I would have preferred.. As soon as the horse felt her weight fall away, he stopped kicking and bucking.
"You were sitting too far back," I said.
I decided that was enough practice mounting a horse bareback and we led the horse back to Jill who was preparing for another lesson. Jill is a fantastic instructor and had only left Asherel with the horse knowing Asherel had ridden for many years, and also that I was there. I didn't fault her at all, but I had to tell her that the horse had bucked. She trains her horses so that you can drop a bomb and they won't flinch, but this was a fairly new horse for her.
"Asherel was sitting on his poor kidneys... I don't blame him," I said to Jill.
"No, I understand why he did it," said Jill, "But he can't be allowed to do it and still be in this program."
She showed us how to stand out of range of the back hooves and flick our hands along the horse's twitchy flanks.
"You keep doing that," she explained,"And the horse learns not to fear touch and pressure there. He was just reacting with instinct."
"You can overcome instinct?" I asked.
At that very moment, she glanced up to see her German Shepherd chasing a barn cat. He was snarling, and not looking like he was about to ask the cat over for a cup of tea.
"NO!" she shrieked to the dog.
He stopped in his tracks, looking sheepishly at her as the cat scuttled under my van.
"Yes," continued Jill, "You can overcome instinct but it takes a lot of time, persistence, and commitment."

We are finishing our reading about the American Revolution. I am time and again amazed at how universally beloved George Washington was. One of the most striking aspects of his character is that he was supposedly a man of a ferocious temper. However, he set about determinedly to control it, and became the model of dignified patience and decorum. Our baser nature can be overcome.

The SAT question of the day was a vocabulary question, but the content was about anger. The sentence said that research showed, contrary to what is often believed, that by expressing anger, one often increases its magnitude rather than reducing it. The lesson? Anger should be controlled.

I often pray what I call the "2x4" prayer. It goes something like this:
"Dear heavenly Father,
I am dense and thick headed, slow to understand, hard of spiritual hearing - and now that we mention it, physical hearing as well. Show me your will, but you may need to hit me over the head with a 2x4 with it, or it is quite likely I won't get it."
I think God was slamming me with a 2x4 yesterday. Anger and all its little precedents- criticism, frustration, irritation, demeaning comments, sarcasm- need to be eradicated. Anger may get the monkey off my back, but it may also get me thrown out of the program.

Proverbs 15

1 A gentle answer turns away wrath,

   but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 29:8

New International Version (NIV)
 8 Mockers stir up a city,
   but the wise turn away anger.

Proverbs 30:33

33 For as churning cream produces butter,
   and as twisting the nose produces blood,
   so stirring up anger produces strife.”

Psalm 86:15

15 But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
   slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Arguing with my Finer Self

I was lost in the story of The American by Henry James when the dogs began barking like maniacs. No one else was home, and it was dark. I had put on my PJs ( was only 8:00 but my days are long and my throat has been sore) and was huddled under an afghan reading.
"Quiet!" I yelled to the dogs.
Then there was a knock.
What to do?
I was in ratty PJs, and from my seat where I sat, no one at the door could see me. But I couldn't answer the door like this! And if I tried to run to a back room and change clothes, they would see me dart across the floor like a scuttling rat. What to do! What to do!
The dogs continued barking, and looking at me. The people at the door could surely see the dogs glancing back and forth from the door to someone in the room. They must have heard me screech at the dogs to be quiet.
I sat there motionless, frozen in my indecision.
"It is rude not to answer a door," my finer self said.
"No, it is my door and they should have called first," my less finer self countered.
"Remember that low score on Hospitality you received on the Spiritual Gifts Inventory? This is why."
"I am wearing pajamas!! And I don't know who it is! I am not opening the door to strangers while clad in pajamas."
"Well what are you doing putting on pajamas before 8:00 in the evening anyway?"
"They are comfy."
I paused arguing with my self when there was a rustling at the door.
"Oh dear Lord, please don't let them be breaking in...."
The dogs watched expectantly and then there was the sound of car doors slamming, and the dogs returned to the rug to lie down. I scurried to the blinds and lifted one to peer out. It was a car I didn't recognize.
"You are pathetic," said my finer self.

That day in our home school,  we had finally moved beyond Kreb's cycle into Photosynthesis in Biology. It was an appropriate section to cover at this time of the year because we learned what happens in the autumn when the leaves change color. During the shorter days of autumn, a chemical called auxin tells a band of cells leading to the leaf stem to close off. This reduces the water supply and the chloroplasts, which produce the chlorophyll, the photosynthetic green pigment of the leaves, rapidly disintegrate. The really interesting fact about leaves is that other pigments, carotene, and anthocyanin are always present in leaves along with chlorophyll, but the much more vigorous chlorophyll blocks those oranges and reds during the summer. When the chlorophyll dies, the reds and oranges and variations we see in fall can reveal themselves. For those few glorious weeks, the hidden aspects of the leaf are revealed and then the leaves die and the bare limbs of winter descend upon the trees.

Even in nature, the inner soul will ultimately be revealed! Nothing is hidden forever. All will be exposed.
"There are some people who would open the door with a smile on their face even while wearing ratty pajamas," said my finer self.
"That is true, I am sure," I said, "But surely there is something within me that is worthy upon closer scrutiny."
My finer self paused and looked me over, head to toe.

Then Asherel and Arvo returned. Asherel carried a bag of cookies in her hand and some literature from the church we are currently attending. We didn't really leave our old church- but Asherel loves this new youth group and never quite connected with our old church youth group. So for now, we are at a new church, so we can worship together as a family and Asherel can be in a place where she seems to be thriving. Apparently, the knock on the door was a visiting committee, and they left cookies. I was very glad they had done so, as I was feeling a little sorry for myself and the cookies were a delicious diversion.
"How do you feel about not answering the door now?" smirked my finer self.

Luke 10:
 21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
   22 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Seeking the right answer

Warning- I was wrong about the furminator. I found a small abrasion on poor Honeybun, which I strongly suspect is from the furminator. And we decided Lucky has two somewhat bald spots, again courtesy of the furminator. My grooming friend tells me the furminator is a blade on a handle, and most people (yours truly included) don't understand that and should be very careful using it. Guilty. Thus I retract my endorsement and will continue to vacuum 40 times a day to try to stay ahead of the dog hair collection. I will continue to use the low tech dog brush, which costs $5.95, but which poses no danger to our dogs.

With the furminator debacle laid to to rest, I went on a walk to Shadowlake, where the beautiful swans used to glide. It is not the same without the swans, but it is still a peaceful place to walk with the dogs. I was trying to work out the solution to the SAT question of the day. Once a day, I get a question sent to my email from the SAT organization, preparing me for college entrance exams. I do not intend to return to college, but I thought it would be good practice for both me and Asherel, and how long could one question a day take? The first two days, I got the questions correct in 10 seconds. So did Asherel. This was day three, and a math problem. A quadratic equation. Need I say more?

So I wandered along the lake shore thinking about the hint that was given with the question. It reminded me (tactfully suggesting that this was something I once knew in the first place) of the vertex quadratic formula. This hint did not help me at all, because in the formula were variables that I had no idea what they were, specifically h and k. I looked out at the peaceful waters of Shadowlake, and wished the swans were still there, then headed home to cheat.

  I did a google search on h. That gave me a whole series of new formulas and told me that h and k were the vertices of the parabola, graphed by the equation. This helped a little, believe it or not. I plugged in the one vertex I knew, and after about twenty steps, arrived at the correct answer. Now it was time to explain the answer to Asherel, who had also unsuccessfully attempted the question.

I brought her my two pages filled with computations. At the 4th or 5th step, I could not remember why I had done what I had done.
"Do you want me to go do Spanish while you figure this out?" she asked.
"No, I want you to try to figure it out with me."
Finally, about twenty minutes later, we plowed our way through  to the correct answer. It is perhaps a good thing that I am not intending to enter college again. And Asherel has four years of SAT question of the day to help prepare her. I hope this is a wise approach. I hope I am not inflicting hidden wounds, like the furminator.

Sometimes there are no Biblical precedents to help in some of the dilemmas of life. One has to glean from general guiding principles. In the midst of all this angst of the day, I was faced with a philosophical question. If the world seems to be swimming one way, people you even like and respect, yet your own conscience will not let you float along with them, do you fight the current? It is so much easier to hop on the bandwagon. Maybe my conscience is misdirecting me. Am I becoming legalistic, patronizing, self righteous? But why won't my conscience let me off the hook and give in to those things which a majority opinion seems to coalesce around?  I admit that I am growing weary of trying to stand against a flood. Every parent knows what I am talking about at some point in their role as guide and protector of our children. I won't go into specifics but the furminator episode made me wonder. Do we sometimes think we are doing something good, something wonderful...but we are abrading a soul underneath? I just don't know.

I looked over my computations for the quadratic equation. Under test conditions, would I have been able to arrive at the correct response in a timely manner without the hints? No, not yet. But if I did this every day, trained myself bit by bit, perhaps in a few years I could. I suppose seeking God and His Way is a similar process. Day by day, grow more sensitive to His voice speaking to my conscience, and perhaps each time the answer will come a little more easily, a little more clearly. This daily digging to the depth of how the Spirit is guiding me has the exact opposite effect of the furminator- it is the kind of scraping that heals wounds, not inflicts them.

Job 27:6
I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Furminator

My nightmares have been watching too many movies. The nightmare last night was right out of Hitchcock. It is a troubling one, because it is recurring. And now it has become more and more explicit and worst of all, I remember it. Last night was a variation on the theme, but they all follow the same basic pattern.

 Before I tell you last night's dream, I must preface with my dream from two nights ago. The recurring theme is I descend into a spooky basement. Two nights ago in my dream, my mother in law had cleaned the basement and I could not get over how unspooky it had become. It was no longer the terrifying dark pit filled with unknown horrors. It was neat and scrubbed. She had even put up fake windows with curtains on the concrete walls to give it a homey look. There were soft warm rugs on the concrete floors, and all the spider webs had been dusted away. This is the only time I recall the basement dream being pleasant. All other times it follows the pattern of last night's dream.
But before I tell you last night's dream, I must set the stage with the story of the furminator, which was heavy on my mind before going to bed. Our neighbor had loaned us her furminator to try out on our dogs. The furminator is a dog brush that costs $60, but is supposed to remove every stray dog hair from your dog in one brushing session. This could reduce the need to vacuum in our home by months, so I have been eager to try the furminator, but not eager to pay $60 for it.  I had heard you are not supposed to brush wiry terrier type fur with the furminator, but I wasn't sure if a reputable source told me that or not. So I tried it gently on Lucky. His fur began coming off in huge gobs with absolutely no effort. He loved it and stood happily while I collected a pile of fur ten feet high. When I was done, his undercoat of golden retriever like fur was more evident, and there was clearly less of the wiry wild hair. I wondered if I had ruined him. I was very surprised at how soft and silky and thick the undercoat was that we had never really seen before. You just never know what is under the surface.

Now fast forward to last night's dream. The dogs and I descended into the spooky basement. It was clean, but not nearly as decorated and clean as my mother-in-law had left it two nightmares ago. As always, in my basement dreams, I felt an unsettling sense of foreboding. I looked around and all was silent. There was no apparent cause for alarm. I started back up the stairs, and the dogs suddenly stopped and stared back down into the basement, hackles raised. I turned quickly and saw in the center of the room, a strange globular substance starting to rise out of the drain. As soon as I looked, it instantly disappeared, such that I wasn't even sure I had seen it. I started up the stairs again, and the dogs continued to stare and softly growl. Again, I swung around and this time the ooze was growing and it was clearly malignant. In terror, I tried desperately to say, "Jesus is Lord," which is a strategy I have used many times in overcoming nightmares. I don't know if this is a universal phenomenon, but when I try to say something out loud in the midst of a dream like that, I have to struggle and groan, and force each syllable. I am sure it is terrifying to my husband, who quickly awoke me, though not until I had garbled those victorious words, Jesus is Lord.

I know what the dream means. Evil lurks, and evil desires to overcome. It is usually hidden, biding its time. But it is a real and everpresent danger. It is like Lucky's undercoat- hidden, but always there. We just don't always notice it. What makes this particular nightmare even more unusual is how it came on the tail of the clean basement dream. It is an exact parallel of the story in Matthew 12, where a person cleans house. A demon leaves the person, and seeks other places to inhabit. It decides to return to the original host, and finds the house clean, orderly, and unoccupied. So the demon invites seven of his buddies to now go and take residence, and the poor person is worse off than ever!

To tell you the truth, I am not crazy about this passage. It is spooky, like my basement. It is not enough to just clean the unoccupied house, despite all the external trappings of purity and righteousness. Jesus must occupy the house. One must daily put her trust and reliance on God, or the demons return. Only God can ultimately defeat evil. When I awoke, I found myself praying, "What more can I do, Lord? I believe and I struggle daily to live my life in accordance with that belief. I don't know how to trust more."

And I think perhaps that is key. I, on my own, can't trust more. I can only submit, and watch God work, watch the bubble of evil disappear, and let Him show me His glory, in spite of my meager faith. He is capable of meeting any of us exactly where we are, with how ever little we have to offer. In His hands, little is enough.
He is the ultimate Furminator, sweeping away every thing that hides what we really are underneath, and exposing all weakness, all sources of defilement. We may stand shivering, exposed, and vulnerable before Him, but that is when we recognize most how desperately we need Him. Oh how I pray that I would trust the brush of His presence more!

And by the way, this week I intend to buy a furminator.

Matthew 12:43-45

   43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

Contemplating Perfection

After five tedious months, Asherel has completed her entry for the NRA Wildlife Youth Art Contest. She has spent 5-7 hours a day on it for the past two months, while I have read her school work to her. She spent several hours a day during the three months prior to that. It has really been a monumental effort. She knows that the judges will not care that she devoted 1/28th of her entire life on earth to this wolf, however, and she will be judged on the merit of the final outcome. And of course, that judgment is subjective, and may not go the way we hope it would. For now, she is just relieved to have finished it.

Now after all this time, the last thing she must do is name it. After five hard months of effort on a piece of art, it deserves a stupendous name.
I matted it for her and then held it up in all its finished splendor.
"What will be the title?" I asked, filled with expectant wonder.
"How about Wolf Standing on Rock?" she said.
I lowered the painting, "Can you think of something more poetic?"
"Wolf Standing on A Rock?"
"Let's just go all out and call it The Wolf Standing on A Rock."
Or maybe even The Wolf Standing on A Rock with Grass in the Background.

She was tired. The wolf was supposed to be done a month ago, we thought. And each night she told me it would be done the next day. But the level of detail was excruciating, and she refused to lower her standards so the wolf genesis crept along more slowly that the gestational period of real wolves.  I suppose there is no name that would give proper justice to how much struggle, time, effort, despair, and delight went into the wolf. I came out this morning and stood a long time looking at the picture. Maybe obvious is the best choice after all. What does one title a picture grasping so ardently for perfection?

When Ezekiel goes before the people of Israel to confront them with their sin, how short they fall from the righteousness of God, he uses the Temple as a goad to their conscience. He tells them to look upon the beautiful temple of God, designed in exact conformation to God's plan. He tells them to consider all its exits, and entrances, and the laws contained within. It was constructed exactly as God required, and it was described by Ezekiel as Perfection.  There are only 7 times the word Perfection is used in the Bible, and most are from Ezekiel. In every case, however, except the Perfection of the temple, the word was used in paragraphs that showed how perfection on earth was always temporal, always limited, always vanished in the end. There would be no lasting perfection made by man. However, the seventh time the word perfection is used is in the book of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews tells us if perfection could have been achieved by the old order of human striving and sacrifice in repentance when they fell short, then there would have been no need for Jesus. But humankind always would fall short, would never reach perfection, not on their own.

I stood in front of the wolf picture, marveling at my daughter's use of form, light and dark, design, color and especially the incredibly detailed rendering of every hair on the wolf in a very difficult medium. He has a pensive look on his face, as he stands atop a rock, looking out over the beauty of God's creation. How about Contemplating Perfection for a name?

Psalm 119: 96
96 To all perfection I see a limit,
   but your commands are boundless.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Guided by Foreign Tongues

I set out to find a special cloth I needed, armed only with my cell phone. First I did a google search on my phone for the required item, then searched stores in the area that would sell it. When the address of the store popped up in the window, I clicked on it, and then hit the navigate key. The phone,all by itself, showed a map of the area, found my current location, and began talking me through the route I needed to travel. It told me how many miles away I was and how long it would take me to get there.
"I love this phone," I said out loud.
Fifteen minutes later, my phone was directing me through a rather run down, dangerous looking neighborhood. Disguised speed bumps every few feet would suddenly catapult me and my phone ten feet off our seats and then crash back down with a vertebrae crunching bang.
"Where are you taking me?!" I screamed at my phone.
Then, the phone proclaimed we had found our destination, and turned me onto a road in a county park.
"This is not the fabric store!" I screeched at my phone, "This is a park!"
I noticed people sitting in the autumn sunshine with picnic baskets. They were lying back on the succulent grass, leaning on one shoulder and smiling at each other.
"Arrived at destination," said my phone.
"Wrong!" I yelled, and the picnickers glanced my way.
Furious over the wasted time, I grumbled, "I hate my phone", and looked for the address again. I repeated the process and slammed the phone back on my dashboard.
"Get it right this time or we are making a stop at Verizon and trading you in," I threatened.
The phone sighed.
"Are you sure about this?" it asked me, "It is a beautiful day of a waning year. There is peace and beauty here and it is free."
I shook the phone and looked over my list of applications. Was there one labeled "Counselor and advisor", maybe "Life planning"? Nope.
This time the phone took me to the fabric store, but I could tell it was not happy about it.

By now I had been out for three hours on errands. I had missed lunch. I pulled into a fast food drive-through, feeling weary.
"Hello!" said Carl at the window, "Would you like any sauce for your fries?"
"No thanks," I said.
"I know," he nodded, "Who needs sauce? You just love the taste of fries!"
"Yes, even though they are really bad for me. I do love them."
"Me too....well actually I don't. Unless I dip them in Singapore sauce."
"What's that?" I asked.
"Oh this stuff," he said, pulling out a packet. I don't think I am remembering what it was called correctly, but in essence, it was sweet and sour sauce.
"But it's not good for you either," he went on, "Listen to the list of ingredients...corn starch is first."
"So it's sugar."
"Yep, almost all sugar! And second ingredient is soy." He leaned closer to me, on the window edge and said in a conspiratorial voice, "You know, soy is not good for you either."
"I have heard that," I said, "How do you know that?" (It seemed odd to me that a teenage boy who worked at a fast food drive through would know about nutrition...or care.)
"I have a friend who's mom is a health freak. She says soy the way they make it in China is good, but not the way we do it here in America."
"Is fresh soy ok?" I asked.
"No, that's the worst. In China they put it in big vats and process it for two years. Then all the bad stuff is gone, but we don't do that."
"So how about if I get soy from a Chinese restaurant?"
"You can't get the Chinese soy here. You have to go to China."
By now, the other employees were tapping him on the shoulder and shoving my bag of food at him. He opened the bag and dropped the Singapore sauce in.
"Wait!" he cried, "What did I just do! You don't want that! It's bad for you!" He opened my bag and pulled the Singapore sauce back out.
I thanked him for chatting with me, and traveled on.

First my phone decides that my destination for the day should not have been errands but a beautiful park, and next I am lectured by a fast food worker on proper nutrition. It reminded me of Isaiah berating his people, who were turning to false Gods and foreign nations for wisdom. Isaiah begged them not to listen to the lies of those who did not know God, not to be lured by the pagan nations. And yet, God knew they would not listen, and so tells them, "Very message will come to you through those foreign lips."
He is always speaking, even when we don't open the Bible, He finds a way, desperate for our attention.
This is a strange day, I mused.

Proverbs 23:33

33 Your eyes will see strange sights,
   and your mind will imagine confusing things.

Isaiah 28: 11-12, 23-29

11 Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
   God will speak to this people,
12 to whom he said,
   “This is the resting place, let the weary rest”;
and, “This is the place of repose”23 Listen and hear my voice;
   pay attention and hear what I say.
24 When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually?
   Does he keep on breaking up and working the soil?
25 When he has leveled the surface,
   does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin?
Does he not plant wheat in its place,
   barley in its plot,
   and spelt in its field?
26 His God instructs him
   and teaches him the right way.
 27 Caraway is not threshed with a sledge,
   nor is the wheel of a cart rolled over cumin;
caraway is beaten out with a rod,
   and cumin with a stick.
28 Grain must be ground to make bread;
   so one does not go on threshing it forever.
The wheels of a threshing cart may be rolled over it,
   but one does not use horses to grind grain.
29 All this also comes from the LORD Almighty,
   whose plan is wonderful,
   whose wisdom is magnificent.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Too Wonderful to Know

I was invited to speak to a book club yesterday about my book, I'm Listening with a Broken Ear. I was there two hours, but it seems I ended up talking more about my children, the purpose of books, what makes literature great and uplifting, and the difficulty of getting published, as much as I did about the book itself. This is why I prefer to write, rather than speak. When I speak, it all becomes a vast tangled vine that leads in seemingly random swirls to topics I never really intended to arrive at. When I write, this happens as well, but a writer is blessed with an eraser. There is no eraser for the spoken word.

Now it's true, sometimes the writer doesn't use the eraser enough, and I am certainly guilty of that at times. But once a word is spoken, it is out there forever. It can't be taken back no matter how many times you wish you had not uttered it. So I always approach speaking engagements with some trepidation. If I censure too much of what I say, I will not be open, engaging, interesting. If I don't censure enough, I will be lying in bed all night thinking, "You idiot. Why did you say that?" 

I came home from my book club thinking we were done with the hard part of our biology section in our homeschool, but I was wrong. Kreb's cycle was over, but now we arrived at the oxidative phosphorylation step of cell respiration. Frankly, that made the Kreb cycle look like fun.The worst part is the video teacher was smiling, and saying, "you know this!" and using words like, "obviously!"  I am amazed at how many things have to happen for the cell to produce energy. If anyone thinks there isn't a God, all they have to do is look at one single cycle of cell respiration. The number of enzymes, coenzymes, electron carriers, molecules, and ions, and bonds that are broken at just the right point to emit energy is truly mind boggling. The cell, through a series of steps, sets up its own little battery, with an ingenious pumping mechanism that transports protons in a circuit to create energy. If any part of the machinery doesn't work, the whole thing doesn't work. Even something so basic to life as cellular respiration is so impossibly complex that if it wasn't designed that a designer... well it would instead operate much as my picture on the blog today and my talk to the Book Club, a tangled web with no clear beginning or end. But it is not a tangled mess. The universe is ordered, inexplicably ordered, right down to the cellular level and beyond.

Job of the Bible was full of questions, mostly concerning the cause of all his suffering at the hand of God. He begged God to allow him a chance to air his grievances and to state his case for how he believed the world should be ordered. God doesn't answer Job's questions, but does reveal Himself to Job. And all the fight leaves Job. Job realizes that his puny perspective cannot ever match God's. In the end, Job is content to admit that God is in control, was always in control, and will always be in control. It is with repentence, but also with relief that Job understands that God directs a world that is at times, "too wonderful for me to know."

Job 42:2-4

 2 “I know that you can do all things;
   no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
   Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
   things too wonderful for me to know.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Divergent Paths

For the record, practicing guitar is easier than learning Kreb's Cycle. If you don't remember Kreb's cycle, it is probably because you didn't understand it in the first place. Asherel and I made a chart, filled in all the co enzymes, products, ATPs, NADs, Acetyl CoA as needed, and then sat down together to do the end of section test.
"Don't answer unless we both agree," I warned her.
"What answer is most common, b or c?"
"That doesn't matter, we are not going to guess. We are going to determine the correct answer."
She looked dubious, "I think it is B. They almost never have A or D as the answer in multiple choice."

I gathered our chart of Kreb's cycle and our notes that we had taken in front of us. Then I took a deep breath, which by the way, is part of how Kreb's cycle needs oxygen and is the basis of cell respiration. As Asherel's video teacher keeps telling us, "How cool is that?"
"Ready? OK, question number many ATPs are produced as the result of glycolosis and Kreb's cycle? We can do this! We know this! 2!"
"No, 4."
"Don't answer! We don't agree."
"Mom, it's 4."
"Should we just guess B? I think you are right that usually it is B or C."
"Mom, I know this one. It's 4."
"Are you certain?"
"Well then go for it. I think it is 2."
The little video quiz instantly pops up the correct answer. It was 4.
"Oh!" I said, "I misread the question. I just thought we were looking at glycolosis, not Kreb's cycle too!"
Asherel smirked at me, "Read the question carefully!"
I won't tell you our final score, but we didn't fail. At this point, that gives me hope.

"What are you going to do with that Kreb's cycle chart?" asked Asherel.
"Hang it in your room."
She looked horrified, obviously picturing John, Paul, George and Ringo having to give up one of their prime wall positions to let Krebs in.
"Well I want it to go somewhere where you will see it everyday and learn it."
(I would like to take a moment to let you parents doing early Christmas shopping know that if you have a teenager, you can cross the Kreb's Cycle poster off the Christmas list.)
"Maybe in the bathroom, then, " I said, picking up our Kreb's poster.

Guitar lesson was a blessed respite. Lenny taught her how to play another Beatles song, and I drew on my iPod. My brain ached.

I think Kreb's cycle is one of the harder things we will have to figure out in Biology. I can't wait for the sections on anatomy. Even genetics is easier than Kreb's. But the strange this is, I felt proud. I haven't worked that hard to understand something in a long time. Most of schooling high school level courses is providing mentors and resources in the areas I am not skilled in....which is all of them. Well, except for art. I think I am actually a pretty good art teacher. However, I took a subject I had not remembered at all, looked at several hours of text and videos with Asherel, and managed to understand it, at least to a small degree. And I am remembering something about school I had forgotten. Learning something that you were certain you could never learn is satisfying. Deeply satisfying.

We moved on to Poetry.
"Oh, today we read my favorite poem!"
"What is it?" She looked worried.
"The Road not Taken," I told Asherel.
I began to read. As I read, my eyes began to fill with tears. I could see Asherel rolling her eyes. Whenever  I read her a magnificent poem, I start crying.

"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

Tears rolled down my cheeks and I tried to choke out the words, "Why do you think he tells this with a sigh?"
Asherel was still rolling her eyes, but paused, "Hmmm. He feels sorry for the road?"
"He doesn't personify the road so you shouldn't either. What do you think he's feeling if he retells this with a sigh?"
"Yes!!!!! Why do you think he speaks with regret?"
(And please don't tell me because he had to learn Kreb's cycle before going on his walk in the woods.)
"Well, because he had to make a choice, and he wasn't certain it was the right one."
"You know," I told her, "Every choice means you must give up something else. So every choice involves loss. And sometimes, you will never know if the decisions you made were the right ones or not."
By now, I am really feeling like sobbing, because the poem touches the very core of my soul. So many decisions in life I look back on with regret, or with ambiguity. Was it the best choice?
"What does he mean in the lines-
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted I should ever come back."
"He won't pass that way again... the road leads him further and further away."
"Homeschooling is one of those divergent paths for me," I told her, "Every year I agonize whether taking that path is the best path. We give up alot as homeschoolers...but we also gain alot. I will never know if that choice was the best choice, but I can't go back, at least not to reclaim the years that have already passed."

I thought of all the choices, the really big choices in life that my beloved daughter will have to make. Later, without even knowing what sparked it, we were returning from guitar lesson and were discussing why I am so passionate, so strong in my opinion about certain things, mostly things of God.
"Of all the things I help you to choose, as a parent, what I desire more than anything is that you will choose God. It is the one path that I hope more than all others you will choose to follow. But all I can do is set forth the example, and my reasons while you are young. Ultimately, it will be your decision, not mine."
We were quiet for the rest of the ride home as I thought of the line from Frost's poem, "And that has made all the difference."

Joshua 24: 15
15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Perhaps it was the rain, or maybe it was the 3 hours of work that still loomed for my daughter, or maybe it was the muddy dog, or maybe the penciling in one more thing on the already overfull calendar...I am not sure what the catalyst was...oh, perhaps it was the list of catalysts  and enzymes Asherel is required to memorize for AP Biology which seemed like such a good idea when I was planning our highschool schedule in the summer and now as I read the details, less so....
BUT at any rate, something caused me to have a minor melt down. I have had worse. This one was contained and no permanent damage was done to those outside the 20 feet perimeter of the unexpected collapse of what had once been a functioning human being.

The art class had left, and as I scurried to clean up, I had one hour to get Asherel out the door and fed and ready for her church Youth Group. I had to vacuum immediately or the charcoal bits and dust from the class would spread like gangrene through the house. I grabbed the vacuum and then raced quickly to the refrigerator to be sure we had easy dinner food I could microwave. We did have chicken, and raw broccoli...that would do for two of the food groups. Carbs? What could I use for quick and easy carbs? Ah, leftover pizza. It would have to do.
Then I plugged in the vacuum and glanced at my watch. I had a half hour.
"I cannot do this," I said. And just like that, I melted into a panicked, overwhelmed, overburdened, pessimistic mess. Arvo, noting the vacant look and tendrils of radioactive dismay steaming from my nostrils asked if I needed help.
"I cannot do this," I repeated.
He took the vacuum and I robotically prepared the gourmet meal of leftover chicken, raw broccoli, and pizza. No one complained as we ate in near silence. I would've chatted but there was a tape playing in my head singing over and over again, "I cannot do this."

This, my friends, is a defeatist attitude. I have a wonderful family, and they try very hard. Asherel really could not be working any harder. She is a gem. Something has got to change in our schedule, but we are at a loss as to what it should be.

And then I started thinking about illegal aliens. Sometimes a mind that is melting does strange things. I am a nationalist, and I believe in sovereignty of nations, and I believe in borders, and in national pride etc...but for some reason, I started wondering if my premise was flawed. Why does one people have the sovereign right to close the borders to another? We are studying the Revolutionary War period, and both Asherel and I are filled with conflicting emotions. Yay, America! Oh, poor Britain. And especially oh poor Indians. The history of why we are a nation is really filled with courage, and ideals, but also with selfishness. Our claim to the land is based on who grabbed it more effectively from someone else. I know there are valid arguments for national rights, especially for a nation like Israel who has had a history of getting the snuff beat out of them no matter where they go. They need a nation to call their own, and they must defend it with every bit of energy they have. But I don't know. If I was a wretchedly poor native of a corrupt country, why should I, by accident of birth, not be allowed to go wherever I could make a better life? 
I think I am having a crisis of thought. This happens sometimes when I eat pizza, chicken, and raw broccoli for dinner. I did a word study of Nations in the Bible. There is no doubt God established and worked through nations. And He clearly chose Israel to be His chosen ones, a nation of people that He preserved, and untimately used to bring forth His Messiah, and plan of redemption of humankind. There are almost 400 references to nations, and how they will battle each other. Why so much unrest in my heart over nations? But then, in Psalm 10, God proclaims that in the eternal perspective, the Nations perish. The downtrodden will be heard.

I read over the AP Biology manual.
"Facts should not be taught over concepts," it said, "Lest the student be overwhelmed."
"Do you understand the concept of glycolosis?" I asked Asherel.
"I think so."
"Then we do an open book test tomorrow. If you get the concept, that is enough.You can just look up the enzymes."
I don't know about you, but sometimes a little perspective for me can provide a cooling flood of relief, and stay a nuclear meltdown.

Psalm 10:
16 The LORD is King for ever and ever;
   the nations will perish from his land.
17 You, LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted;
   you encourage them, and you listen to their cry

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Check the Roof

When we dropped our friend off at his house after Gavel Club, he said, "Where's my notebook?" Then with a sickening sinking of his heart, he realized he had put the notebook on top of the car while evading the attacks of a younger boy who had never been taught the meaning of "Stop." As a result, the notebook was likely somewhere on the road between Gavel Club and his home.

Arvo and I had done that once, when we lived in California. We had taken our clothes to a laundromat and then while getting in the car, stopped to chat with someone. Arvo put the basket of clothes atop the car while we chatted. When we finished our conversation, we got in the car and drove home. Lots of people honked at us as we drove. Finally, Arvo realized the clothes were not in the car, and reached his hand to the roof. Ah...there they were! Another person honked wildly, pointing to our roof, and Arvo delivered perhaps the best line he has ever uttered,
"What's the matter? Haven't you ever heard of a car wash?"

When we got home from Gavel Club, my sister had sent me a "Spiritual Gifts Inventory." This 74 question document was supposed to reveal the gifts God has blessed me with so that I could be a mighty spiritual warrior in His kingdom. I really don't like self-analysis tests at all because they are predicated on two impossible premises:
1. That any of us are self aware and have hearts that are not continually self deceived, and
2. That we would be honest if the answer might reveal something we are ashamed of

For example, take the following trick question, "Do you seek opportunities to help others in need?"
It is clear what the Godly person would answer. But honestly, they needed to define their terms better. I could sincerely check off the box if by "seek" they mean, when you see a homeless person on the corner, you hand him a pre-made homeless person bag of food that you have stored in your car unless your teenager raids it in a fit of starvation which teens are prone to. However, if by "seek" they mean- do I drive around looking for homeless people to hand homeless people food bags to, well, then, no. I don't seek opportunities. So I checked the middle score. But was I being fair? Wasn't it seeking opportunity by having the prepared homeless food bag in the car in the first place? I erased the middle ground score and gave myself a higher score. But then, really, didn't I myself raid the homeless food bag when I was starving and wasn't it partially for selfish intent that I kept a stash of homeless food bags in the car? I erased my high score and gave myself the lowest score.

And then come those series of questions about inviting and entertaining people in your home. These questions aren't fair at all. It is too obvious that they are fishing for some proof that I lack the gift of hospitality, but who wants to own up to that? Besides, there is no place on the document where you can explain yourself. Nowhere does it ask, "If you had a home filled with beautiful furniture not buried under 6 inches of dog hair, and more in your refrigerator to offer guests besides homemade dill pickles and boxed wine, would you love inviting and entertaining guests?" My answer might be quite different given that caveat. Still, since it was a spiritual inventory, I decided to strive for brutal honesty. I checked the lowest score. Then I spent the rest of the day depressed because I felt like scum of the earth.

Oh, but then came the questions I could give myself the highest score on. Every single question about creativity I could honestly check off the top score of 5. I may be inhospitable, but I am creative about it!
Ohoh. Here come the faith questions. Honestly, I consider myself a faith filled individual but these questions were posed in such a way, that Jesus Himself was the only one that could pass. Every question was spent in agonizing introspection. I was smart enough to know what the question revealed, and then had to argue both sides in my defense nearly every time. I could envision God tapping His toe and pointing to His watch as I deliberated carefully over each answer.
"Do I pray for hours and days on end?"
Are they serious? Do they mean non-stop or cumulative snippets throughout the day?
"Do I fast regularly?"
Again, define your terms. I fast between meals. I rarely snack. That deserves some commendation in today's ready food society, don't you think?
And so on.

Then I scored my inventory. My highest score was evangelism! One of my lowest was faith. It would appear that I love to tell others about a God I apparently have some doubts about. Number two gift, close on the heels of evangelism, was "creative communication" and "encouragement". Ok, I agree on those ones. And third highest was wisdom and discernment. Worst score? No surprises here- hospitality. Well now, if you put all this together, given that I am wise and discerning, there must be a problem with hospitality that the less wise and less discerning don't know about. This is the only way I can live with my despicable, inhospitable self.  But that relatively low score on faith really bugged me. So I looked back on the questions that determined my lack of faith. First of all, there were only 4 questions. That in itself is a significant problem. 4 questions to assess something so critical as faith? And what were those questions that put me on the same ladder rung as Idi Amin.
"I love to take on challenging assignments in ministry because I know God will work things out in His own way."
Again, TRICK question! I would give myself a 5 on the end part but a 1 on the first part. So I gave myself a middle score.
Question 2 on faith-
"I don't tend to worry about material things because I believe God will take care of all I really need."
AMBIGUOUS!!! If you strike the word "worry" form the question, I score a 5. But any question with "tend not to worry" as part of it automatically disqualifies me from a score beyond 2, and even that is a stretch. Worry is unfaithful? This really worries me.
Question 3 on faith:
"When a situation seems impossible, I turned my concern over to God and experienced a wonderful peace, even when things didn't suddenly change."
All of that question was true for me except "wonderful peace", so I gave myself the next to highest score. Some might argue "wonderful peace" was the most important part of that sentence, but then I would have a lower faith score than I already have so I am sticking with my score.
Last question on faith:
"I enjoy praying with friends on a regular basis."
Tell me why this is under the category faith, and not intercession? And once again, this is a two or even three part question. Part 1: I enjoy praying ( highest score- I really do love to pray), part 2: with friends (very unbiblical question, what about how we are supposed to go pray in a closet? Lowest score but under protest), Part 3: on a regular basis- (undefined, fuzzy terms- what is meant by regular? middle score)

I threw the Inventory down in disgust. Am I really driving the road to God with my faith precariously balanced atop the car, along with hospitality? Don't all the other gifts rest on that bedrock? Shouldn't they be in the car with me?

I got a text message from my friend while I was ripping up the inventory.
"Found the notebook. All is well."

3 John 1:7-9

7 It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.

Psalm 119:30

30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Little Lower than Angels

As always, when I arrive, Comer and Evelyn were already waiting, seated on the foyer couch. They sat stock still, arms entwined, looking straight ahead with the same hopeful, expectant look. I noticed many residents of the assisted living home in the adjoining alcove, all singing while a perky lady played piano and conducted them, waving her arm in rhythm when she could break from a chord. I thought I recognized some folks from Evelyn's Alzheimer unit there as well.
"How nice," I thought, to see all those people joining together to sing. Evelyn loves to sing and I was surprised to see her mute, on Comer's arm, back ramrod straight, staring fixedly at the front door.
They recognized me then, and both smiled. I hugged them and helped Evelyn to her feet.
"Evelyn, you look lovely, as usual," I said.
"She's wearing her new outfit," said Comer.
"Oh? What's the occasion?"
"You," he said.

I remembered the frantic homeschool morning then, and how I had almost called to cancel our lunch outing. Asherel, sitting happily in the car with me still had hours of school work. I had muttered the whole drive over, "I don't have time for this."
I almost cried to think of Evelyn sitting there in her new outfit, and freshly coiffed hair, waiting for her lunch drive that almost hadn't come.

We decided on extra crispy KFC, and then found a neighborhood I had never driven them through. Most of it was rather run down, mediocre homes. They munched their extra crispy chicken and Comer told me about the nightclub he used to own that slowly lost money to a thieving manager. I had a "Romantic Songs of the 50's" tape on, and Evelyn sang along in between bites of potato wedges. Suddenly, a huge castle came into view. It was surrounded by a moat of water but we could only catch a glimpse of it. Thick stands of bamboo all along the property line occluded our view. We could see bits and pieces of the block long stone mansion, but not enough to really get a good sense of its beauty and size. Even Evelyn craned her neck, trying to peer through the small tree breaks at this enormous home, nestled so incongruously in the midst of modest, even ramshackle homes.
"I wonder who lives there," I said, "Wouldn't you love to be able to meet them?"
"I would," said Comer.
"You know, I have seen some of the rich people, and they look just like you and me."
"They do," said Comer, "In fact, some are just really down to earth. I once sat on a plane next to one of the top muckymucks at Coca Cola. We chatted the whole plane trip, and when it was over, I told him it had been a pleasure talking with him. He said the pleasure was all his. No one dared to talk to him normally, as he was so powerful, so rich, so influential. He said he was lonely."

It is startling sometimes to remember that even the rich people get lonely. And old. And feeble. Sometimes they get Alzheimers, just like the poor folk. In the end, God reminds us, death is the destiny of everyone.(Ecclesiastes 7:2). Even those people in the block long castle with the moat. They were not immune to the human condition any more than all their poor neighbors. The stand of trees might keep out intruders, might hide them from the curious onlookers, but it wouldn't hold back death.

In our recent Bible class, the instructor had made a very interesting point. Jesus had to die but more importantly, He had to rise again. Death came into creation as a consequence of sin. In paying the penalty for sin for all time, He had to overcome death, or the penalty for sin remained. At the Creation, everything was perfect. There was no death; there was no sin. When sin entered the world, so did a whole host of really terrible things, not the least of which was an ongoing slavery to fashion beginning with fig leaves to cover our shame. (One thing many of us probably don't realize is that without that bite of forbidden fruit, there would be no Chanel, Mark Jacobs, or Tory Burch. Fashion Designing would not exist were it not for the disobedience of the one rule God said Adam could not break. Remember the first thing the poor, cringing first family did when confronted with their sin was to cover their nakedness, which prior to that forbidden tasting party, they had not felt any shame over.)

But back to Jesus, and the penalty for sin. As soon as sin enters the picture, the creation is separated from the Creator. This is not hard to understand. Look at how immediately disobedience, anger, irritability or any sin you would like to name hurts and even destroys relationships. The more I see the consequence of sin, the more I understand God's disgust, and the need for extreme measures to banish it. The more I consider the Divine plan of Jesus bearing our iniquities, the more I am in awe of the whole picture. Jesus came to reverse what happened in the Garden of Eden. One man (Adam) started humanity down the perilous road of separating from God; and one man, Jesus, returned humanity to His side. Death was the penalty for sin, and all men must die. Eternal Life was the blessing offered when sin was completely atoned for, and all men could live by accepting God again on His terms. Death itself would be reversed. Jesus couldn't just die for our sins, taking the punishment in our stead. If His punishment truly were eternally atoning, as the Bible claims, then the eternal consequence of sin- separation from God, eternal death, had to be reversed as well. I suppose I had known that, but had never heard it expressed so coherently before. Our physical bodies would still perish, but our eternal bodies would rise again to be with our heavenly Father, and with my first dog, who had been such a wondrous creature.

I walked my two old friends back to the Home. I helped Evelyn brush the extra crispy crumbs from her lovely new outfit. Comer put his arm around her shoulder and they slowly shuffled back inside.
"She wore that new outfit just to go out with us," I told Asherel , as I slid back into the car, "I am so glad we came."

Hebrews 2: 9-10
9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Two Mountains

I woke up early, but not so early that the sky should still look like the bottom of an ink well. Why is it still black outside? When do we 'fall back' an hour so that we wake up after the moon has gone to bed? In the inky darkness, I prayed for my friend with the broken pelvis and the one recovering from pancreatic cancer, and the new friend about to go under the knife for thyroid cancer. When I finished praying, the dog was still snoring, and the sky was still black, but I couldn't sleep. So I got up and read through the chapter I had left off in my last Bible reading. I can't remember ever noticing this before, although surely I have heard a sermon about it at one time or another and just don't recall. In Deuteronomy 27, as the Israelites have finally reached the Promised Land, crossed the River Jordan, and are now ready to drink  the long awaited milk and honey, God tells them to separate into two groups. One group is to stand on Mount Gerizim, and the other group is to stand on the adjacent Mount Ebal. The groups are separated by parentage- the Gerizim group are the children of Rachel and Leah, the lawful wives of Jacob. The Ebal group are children of the slaves of Jacob's wives. There is also Reuben,who committed an inexcusable offense and is lumped with these children born not of lawful wives. At any rate, the Gerizim group are told to bless the people, and the Ebal group to pronounce curses.  The Levites first remind the people of the laws they must obey or be cursed, and then the pronouncement of real curses gets underway. In the next chapter, the people are reminded of 54 verses of curses for various disobedient acts, but only 14 verses of blessings. The message is pretty clear....we are inclined to mess up and need powerful disincentives not to do so. I find this curious in many ways.

First of all, this is not the general philosophy of our society. I think we tend to want to shower with blessing, affirmation, positive reinforcement, ignore bad and accentuate good. I am not against any of this, by the way, but am seeking to understand something I never thought much about from God's perspective (as best as a finite, mortal, limited being can understand infinite, immortal, unlimited spirit.) We tend to excuse and rationalize bad behavior and understand compassionately its source. We are not big on consequences or punishment. We tend to look on ourselves as well-intentioned, but not always able to be good because of all the terrible obstacles that are put in our paths.

On the other hand, God seems to have a rather different view, at least in this portion of the Bible. The reminders of how we need to behave are quite lengthy and the immediate consequences of disobedience are not pleasant: pestilence, famine, disease, barrenness, sword, destruction and exile. Like any good teacher, God does indeed start with the list of blessings for obedience, but there are only 14 verses worth. Then He terrifies with 54 verses of really horrific outcomes of disobedience. This is not a God inclined to excuse or ignore bad behavior. And it is fairly clear that He felt the need to remind them strongly of what the Law required of them. Despite the reminders, if you read the whole story, you see that obeying the Law perfectly is impossible. We humans do not seem to be inclined naturally to obedience, or righteousness. We seem to prefer to take care of Number One, that all important ME, and if that means it is necessary to push Grandma over on the way, well so be it. God doesn't seem to feel we will follow the right way without a whole bunch of road signs to steer us... And 54 verses of reminders of what happens when we take a wrong turn. And a further caveat is added- if we disobey even one little portion of the law, we are held accountable for all of it, according to James 2:10.  Ouch.

So the groups on the two mountains are shouting out blessings and curses, while the people mill about, absorbing the message. Since the groups are the full population of Israelites, that means none are in the valley. They are standing on one hill or another. I think the message is clear. They are either blessed, or cursed. There is no in between.

But there is a mediator. Fortunately, in the midst of all this cursing, there is the reminder that after the people, who will sin, have been persecuted, dispersed, enslaved, and at times nearly annihilated, God will bring them back to him. They will be restored, prosper, and return to God. He tells us in Deuteronomy 30:6, that He will circumcise their hearts that they will love Him with all their heart and soul...and live. Again, this is a section I have never paid a lot of attention to, but it is rather startling. The people knew about physical circumcision as an outward sign of their allegiance to God, but what is this symbolic circumcision? (At least, they are hoping it is symbolic...)  Later, the circumcision of the heart is mentioned again, in the New Testament by Paul in the book of Romans. It will be "by the spirit", and the law will be written on our hearts. Our conscience, molded and tugged by the Holy Spirit, will be our guide. And Jesus takes the curses of our disobedience on Himself. We no longer need to stand on a mountain quivering as the curses cascade around us. Jesus will now be the infinite source of blessing. It is interesting that the people in Deuteronomy 10 are told to "circumcise their hearts", but apparently, they are to do this themselves. They are still bound by the law, by the impossible task of following God perfectly on their own power. In the New Testament however, God will circumcise their hearts. The struggle to do ends, and we can just be. We rest secure, redeemed forever.

I finished my study of those verses, and glanced outside. The day had appeared somehow. The night and the moon were gone. It is the beginning of a new day, a better day, I hope.

Ephesians 1:3

  3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Out of the Well

I love sitting and watching the Dog Agility trials- there are always surprises, inspirations, heart breaks, startling achievement, bitter failure, joy, despair. Nearly every aspect of the human condition can be symbolically expressed in less than one minute runs. But my favorite ones to watch are the surprises- the dogs that have struggled to stay focused, the owners that have wearied of ever 'getting it', the sudden inexplicable gathering all one's wits and training together to coalesce in victory. Those are the runs that make me remember this is a world of hope.

So my picture today on this post is not too great. I was distracted by the dogs, but also trying to draw in blinding sunlight. I was having trouble seeing the iPod screen.

One of my favorite dogs is a big standard poodle- Drew. We met Drew years ago when we started with our club. Drew has boundless energy and loves everyone. He is forever racing wildly around the field, and distracted by the desire to visit and lick the ring crew. I remember his owner, Carol, once telling me after another wild run at a trial that she felt like throwing in the towel. He just wasn't getting it.  Carol is a saint- a tireless worker at our club, and a caregiver for her aged, failing mom, while holding a full time job as well. She never complains, and is always smiling, at least when I see her. So I always try to watch Drew when they are at a trial we are attending. I always pray they will overcome their struggles.

It was time for Drew's Open Jumper's Run. I stopped at the sideline, as I was passing by, glad that I hadn't left and missed him. It started well, and then on the third jump, Drew veered and began his typical exuberant, happy to be alive sprint around the jump. Carol stayed calm, and kept calling him back. I think he circled the area three times, then noticed Carol, and cleared the jump he had initially refused. In Open level, the dog is allowed 2 mistakes. Despite the large time expenditure Drew's romp devoured, it only counted as one mistake. I could see that Drew could have broken off on another wild romp at any moment; he had that joyful edgy look in his bounding run. But Carol stayed confident and controlled, and kept signalling him to the next jump, then the next, and then finally the last. The rest of the run, which had started so likely to end in failure, had been clean, and masterfully run.  So many handlers would have panicked and given up after that out of control race around the field, thinking it was no use, they would never do well now, and the dog was obviously not focused on the handler anyway. The run would have gone from bad to awful. Instead, Carol ran the rest of the race as if the first bobble had never happened. She ran as though she knew she could succeed. And the wonderful surprise was not only did Drew Qualify in that run, he placed first, finished his Open Level title, and moved up to the Excellent level.

We have all been like Joseph of the Bible, languishing in the bottom of a well, thinking our world couldn't get any darker or more hopeless. And then when we are pulled out of the well, we become slaves. And then we are unjustly accused and thrown in prison. And sometimes, we think that means it is all over. There is no reason to try any more, there is no hope, and the unfairness of life has finally battered us to the point where we decide to give up. However, in the end, Joseph ended up the right hand man of the King, and singlehandedly saved his people from starvation. And Carol and Drew won first place, believing that when you don't give up, wonderful blessings ensue.

Genesis 24: 56
56 But he said to them, “Do not detain me, now that the LORD has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Que Sera, Sera

I heard people grumbling as the first few dogs came off the course. The several inch layer of sand that had been unexpectedly covered over the hard pack dirt might have been fine for horses- but the agility handlers and their dogs were straining to run. Most of the dogs were disqualified or dropping bars on jumps they rarely miss. Asherel and Honeybun rocketed off the start line, exuberant and excited, and then it was clear that Asherel could hardly move. Honeybun was leaping and running, but leaving poor Asherel in the dust. Somehow they finished the course admirably, but Asherel was breathless and distraught, "I can't run in that!"
"Well, you did a very good job considering, and since you can't change it, just enjoy the next runs for what they are. Don't worry about doing well, just have fun and learn new things."

It was not the fault of  my dog club, who was sponsoring the event. They had rented the facility  with the nice hard pack dirt surface long ago, and were informed the night before the trial that the expected hard pack surface was now sand covered. The participants had long ago sent the checks, made hotel reservations, and packed their dogs for the trial. There was no way my club could change plans now. They hoped the surface wouldn't be as bad as it seemed likely to be.

The grumbling escalated. Several handlers told the organizers they were going home. I was in charge of finding workers for the first two classes. Since I looked official, with clip board and microphone in hand, I was a target for some of the frustration.
"I just wasted $400 on this weekend," said one upset lady, "They can just have my entry fee, but I am going home. I can't risk my knees or my dogs, running on this surface."
I glanced at my unfilled worker clipboard, "Oh...would you want to work the next class then? We need a ring crew..."
The woman glared at me and shook her head, storming off.
"Is that a 'no' then?" I called after her.

Finally, the judges and organizers called a powwow. There was a plot of grass outside the sand covered arena. If they used just one ring instead of two, meaning the show would take twice as long, they could move all the equipment to the grass. Everyone there had to unanimously agree to this change, or they would just slog along with the dangerous and impossible sand surface. There was one dissenter, and the whole new scheme was almost tabled, but then the dissenter was dipped in boiling tar, and surprisingly changed her mind. The entire mob of dog handlers now moved together to take down the temporary fence encircling the sand ring, and erect it around the grass ring. The heavy equipment was moved piece by piece, with the hundred or so participants each swarming about with agility jumps, tunnels, chutes, tables, A-frames, teeters, and numbered cones in hand, like army ants. Within less than an hour, the show continued on the grass field.

Many people still went home.  They didn't want to have to wait several hours (for some) between their classes. We ourselves had two to three hours between each of our three classes, but it was a beautiful, warm sunny day. There was some consternation that the show might not end til after dark, and Asherel might miss the party she was so anxious to attend with fellow homeschoolers that night. Still, it was hard to not be cheery in 70 degree sunshine, under blue skies in the middle of a quiet peaceful country. The show was at an animal farm, and I took a break and walked for an hour, looping along paths with zebra, ostriches, camels, potbellied pigs, guinea hens, turkeys, emus, and horses. The rest of the time, I worked all the classes except the ones Asherel was running in. Shockingly, Honeybun did not seem interested in all the animals, and was wonderfully focused on Asherel. She missed her first attempt at the Weaves in the Open Standard class, but then nailed it on the second try. That was the only mistake she made and in Open level, one mistake at the weaves is allowed. We suspected she had Qualified. (Qualifying means the dog performed with no more than two mistakes in the open class, and within the time limit, without knocking down any jumps. When a dog qualifies enough times at each level, he moves to the next higher level.) The crowd that remained was remarkably happy, and enjoying the slow pace of the one ring agility trial. It had all seemed so awful at first, with so many unhappy people and that impossible situation. Now, we all had sunburnt noses, and were sitting in our chairs on the grassy field, basking in the sun and watching each dog as it ran the course, cheering in unison when it finished. No one was grumbling anymore, and despite the long day, it had all gone smoothly. I think, it was even nicer out there rather than in the covered arena anyway,  there on the sunny field, with the exotic animals dotting the adjacent pastures. Not only had the mutiny been quelled, but the mutineers were all smiling.

And then, the last class of the day, as the handlers were walking the course, they all broke out spontaneously into song.
"Que sera, sera," they sang, "Whatever will be, will be. The future's not ours to see, Que Sera, Sera! What will be, will be."

I had been in the bathroom at the time, but I heard the voices swell together, and I laughed. How wonderfully these fine people had tackled adversity, and made the best of a disappointing situation. I love that song and it reminded me of a favorite prayer: "God grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen."

Then, I checked Asherel's score on the computer at the judges' table- she had indeed Qualified...and won first place.

 Isaiah 29:24:
Those who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who
grumble will accept instruction.

Joshua 1: 16,17
...“Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 ...Only may the LORD your God be with you....

Friday, October 14, 2011

Straight Hair

If we shaved Asherel's head, we would have enough hair to cover 3 normal girls and maybe a small pony. The reason I know this is that I spent an hour straightening her corkscrew shoulder length curls. She has an agility dog trial for the next two days, and the more she runs, the more her thick hair curls and puffs. By the end of a typical agility day, she has hair so voluminous and broad in its range that it sometimes trips the dogs in the adjacent ring. She also has a strong, and inexplicable aversion to barrettes, headbands, pony tails, braids, bobby pins, or any other hair restraining device known to human kind. So she requested I straighten her hair, and she hoped it would stay that way for the next two days. She claims straight hair is "not so annoying."

She fortified herself with a cup of goldfish crackers at her side, and on the table in front of her, the art contest work she is laboring night and day to complete before the deadline. I came armed with a huge round brush, several hair clips, a large high power curling iron, and smooth silky hair serum. Her hair is so recalcitrantly curly that I have to go through it not once, but three times with the curling iron, or those persistent kinks still broing out of control.

Since she had specifically requested I do this, I did not get the typical complaining, eye rolling, and "when will we be done" mantra repeated till my eardrums were permanently distorted by the sound waves of that phrase. Additionally, I knew that I was amassing enough good works in her eyes that I would be able to have her pose for a photograph when I was done. I did get some eye rolls when I told her it was time for her photo, but she ultimately acquiesced and smiled. When I finally finished, her hair was smooth and silky and luxuriously thick. I love her curly hair, but she did look gorgeous with her sleek and shiny straight locks.

And as she disappeared and I put away the curling iron, the large round brush, the hairdryer, the four hair clips, the shiny styling serum, and the cracker box, I wondered why curly haired people always want straight hair, and straight haired people always want curls. Are we all doomed forever to wanting what we cannot have, and then struggling to fit in places we were never meant to be? If one word only could be used to describe the human race, I think it would have to be: dissatisfaction.  I know this for a fact. When I was young, my hair was straight. I wanted curls. When it was short, I wanted it long. When I hit adolescence, it became curly. I wanted it straight. I grew it long and I wanted it short. When I had bangs, I wanted sideswept chin scraping hair instead. When I had sideswept chin scraping hair, I wanted bangs.

I cannot think of a single time in the Bible when Jesus reported being unhappy with His hair, or His looks, or His circumstances. Even when confronted with the Cross, He only said, "If it be your will, take this cup from me." This is an exceedingly mild request to His Father, and honestly, doesn't hold a candle to the circumstances I typically complain about. If anyone had a reason to complain, He did. But He didn't. Do you know that the word "uncomplaining" doesn't occur at all in the Bible, but complaining or grumbling at least 75 times? This ought to tell us something, and frankly, makes me a little ashamed.

There is a secret to contentment. I am certain of it. I am equally certain, I am not going to find it looking in the mirror, straightening the misplaced hairs.

Exodus 16:6-8

 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.”

Job 36:11
11 If they obey and serve him,
   they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity
   and their years in contentment.