Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Holey Tongue

Facebook alerted me to two critical things yesterday. But Facebook is not God, and sadly did not warn me of a third critical event of the day. Number one, the reason for my dog not eating and acting listless was I had inadvertently poisoned him with chicken jerky from China. On Facebook, I read about the dangerous dog treat sold all over the place, recognized that Lucky was exhibiting the symptoms they described in the article posted there, and then read the label on the product I had at home- Made in China, Wagon Train Chicken Jerky. I threw the jerky rolls out and Lucky recovered. He quickly bounced back to his old self, but many dogs have died from this! Thankyou Facebook!

Number two, Facebook told me it is snowing on the ski slopes. We are scheduled to ski Monday for the first outing of the season, but as of yet, the slopes are not open. This recent snow bodes well for our upcoming trip. The Facebook post even included a picture of the very slope we would be on, covered in snow! Thankyou Facebook!

However, Facebook didn't warn me that as I walked in the house and bent down to greet my exuberant little dog, she would jump up, slamming my chin closed, snapping my teeth onto my tongue and gouging a hole in the edge of my tongue. You cannot imagine how much that hurts. I do not suggest you even try to find out. It only bled a little. The tongue seems to have enormous recuperative powers. However, it hurts to talk, eat, drink, swallow, or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I can't believe some people pierce holes in their tongue on purpose given the degree of pain this inadvertent hole produced.

So Facebook can do many things, but is not clairvoyant. It cannot prophesy and it cannot heal. I think this is important to point out because I would be willing to bet 90% of the world reads Facebook four times more than they read their Bible. Facebook is easy, instant gratification, immediate circle of "friends", with no real responsibility, obligations, or sacrifice required. It is the fastfood social world for a growing number of people. I love Facebook...but I do think it has danger. The danger lies not so much in what it provides, but in what it lures us away from  Instead of face to face with people, we are in isolated bubbles settling for virtual interaction. And instead of in the Holy Book , the living word of God, we are in a Facebook, which has no power to save, forgive, renew, or protect. I think we are exchanging Truth for  a very pleasant Fake.

I wonder if we are exchanging a Holy tongue...for a tongue with holes.

Isaiah 5:
24 Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw
   and as dry grass sinks down in the flames,
so their roots will decay
   and their flowers blow away like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the LORD Almighty
   and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.

Romans 1: 25
25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Secret to Happiness

It rained all day yesterday. It was gloomy and grey. It was a good day to be introspective. However, while musing introspectively, I discovered a shocking revelation in a little essay compiled from interviews with senior citizens about what brings happiness. Having lived so long, the over 70 set really ought to know. Introspection is not a key to happiness! According to the seniors, when they wallow in introspection, they invariably land upon all the bad choices they made, the risks they wished they took but  didn't, and the dreams and goals they forfeited.
"Ohoh," I thought introspectively, "Introspection is not conducive to happiness."
The list went on. Some I agreed with, some I didn't. But I found one glaring omission in this list. I have seen many studies that link deep spiritual beliefs with happiness. This one didn't mention faith at all.

I am reading a wonderful book by Chaim Potok, Davita's Harp. It is a book for introspective people. It is not a happy book. Such subjects as the holocaust, fascism, communism, pogroms, and Guernica are discussed. It was a book to match the gloomy grey day. The heroine, Ilana Davita ultimately finds happiness in her Jewish roots and traditions which her parents had not taught or believed. The book starts telling us Ilana was raised by a nonpracticing Catholic dad and a nonpracticing Jewish Mom. Of course I was hooked, as this was my story. My parents are fantastic, and have never tried to dissuade me from the yearnings of my heart. I, like Davita, found comfort and solace, and truth in the God that my parents had not embraced. The more I explored the richness of my Jewish and Christian roots, the more I felt the arms of contentment surrounding me. I cannot answer all the questions of faith, but I do rest in its joy, in its truth and rightness.

When I am 70 and the NY Times comes to ask me the secret to happiness, I will tell them I would like to ammend their former list. This is my contribution to the list, 15 years in advance:
Introspection leads to happiness...but only if I dig deep enough inside myself to find the seed of all creation, of all that I am, of all that I aspire to become- one with my Lord. Introspection, and faith, will be at the top of my list. Deep in my soul, I know God lives.

Job 19:
6 And after my skin has been destroyed,
   yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
   with my own eyes—I, and not another.
   How my heart yearns within me!

Monday, November 28, 2011

White as Snow

Our first snowboard/ski trip is in a week! It is forecast to be 70 degrees today, and the ski mountain is only 2 hours away. The ski season in NC is unpredictable, and it doesn't feel likely that there will be snow, even the fake snow those resorts can produce, given the current warmth. But you never know. The weather, like life, can turn on a dime.

I have been having an extended Facebook discussion with someone that I am not even sure how I know her. She feels that we should butt out of Iran's affairs, and if they want nuclear weapons, let them have them! She is unconcerned and in fact doesn't believe the threats that Iran's leader has made against Israel. We have had several back and forths about the moral/legal rights of the Jews vs. the Palestinians. I have learned a great deal in carrying on this discussion. For one, I have learned that I have vastly different views from this person and nothing I say seems to matter. But apparently a common argument for Palestinian rights to the land is that they are descended from the Philistines, who this woman claims, were there first. A little research blows that myth out of the water however. The Philistines were not even Arab. They were from Crete, and invaded the land of Canaan. They are now an extinct group- no one can legitimately claim roots to them, and if they could, they would recognize the Philistines have no legitimate claim on the Palestine area. The Palestinians were largely Jordanians, who upon the Jewish homeland being reestablished, became Palestinians overnight. There is no Palestinian nation, nor has there ever been one. Now, I can't read everything out there  but the several articles I did read supported this. However, the point that really hit me is that here was someone getting furious with me, using capital letters to scream at me in email, but she insists if we just treat the Arab nations more nicely, they would love us back. I don't know. History is not with her on this.

I remember when the cops subdued Rodney King, driving over a hundred miles an hour with 2 and 1/2 the legal blood alchohol limit. The cops were brutal when they caught him, and his plaintive oft quoted response later was, "Can't we all just get along?"
I certainly do not uphold police brutality, but honestly, this convicted felon who had a history of brutal crime and would go on to be arrested for other crimes was hardly the poster child to wonder why human beings aren't nicer to each other.

On the other hand, on one point, I could not agree with this Facebook acquaintance more. War is horrid. We should never enter war without the absolute most egregious provocation. But the discussion brought me in my own conscience to a more personal level. How well do I get along with my family or friends when we reach sharp differences in opinion? How well do I treat the people I meet who find my views wrong, or offensive? I have to admit that I doubt Jesus would be applauding my efforts at times. If I can't get along with those I love best perfectly, with motives as pure as the snow that I hope will be on the ski mountain in a could I begin to think nations would exist in peace? In the end, it all boils down to the human heart, and to be even more specific, my human heart. I don't know about you, but my heart is usually not holy and righteous. I try....really I do, but failure knocks me down at least a few hundred times a day.

And then I look at the little creche Asherel made for me. I keep it out all year long, as a reminder. Jesus came into the world that I might know peace, that I might understand purity, that I might be cleansed and restored to my eternal homeland. I fail, but He did not. He did exactly what He was born to do and He did it perfectly. I have four little creches out at Christmas. I need reminders wherever I look, and this season always thrills me....even when there is no snow.

Isaiah 1:17-19

17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
   Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
   plead the case of the widow.
 18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
   says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
   they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
   you will eat the good things of the land;

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Preparing for the Messiah

Day after Thanksgiving- legitimate to look like Christmas now.
So, as soon as Matt and Karissa were out the door on their way back to law school, I was in the closet, pulling out Christmas decorations. I am pretty sure my epitaph will read:
Let it never be said moss grew under this one's feet.

Everything with a hint of orange, ywllow, or brown went in the wash or the closet. Reds and greens were piled in a heap on the floor. Within three hours, Thanksgiving was obliterated and Christmas was coming. With one sad exception. I topped my gorgeous fully decorated tree with the star, turned on the switch and the star didn't light. And the crafty manufacturers made it in such a way that you can't get in it to change the bulb without breaking it. Materialistic creeps! Ruining my Christmas! So Arvo went out and got me an angel, a beautiful angel with white lights that match the white lights and crystal ornaments on my tree. However, the hole in the angel to slip her atop the tree is the wrong size for my tree. I am sure this can be fixed, but for now, my tree is topless. This is not the image of Christmas I am going for at all.

I had never had a pretty accent for my mantel either, and after twenty years of living here with a shabbily adorned mantel, decided it was time to find a tasteful mantel decoration. Asherel came with me. This is our annual mother/daughter bonding time. We go to get a single Christmas decoration that we both agree upon. As you can imagine, this leads to very un-Christmasy arguments. This year, I wanted a pine swag for the mantel, and then whatever we could come up with to make it stand out.
"Should I get the prelit pine swag or plain? 6 ft. or 9 ft.? Berry or pine cone covered? Spruce or balsam? Snowcovered or rainbow?"
We surveyed our choices, and finally settled on the prelit 6 foot plain pine. Now to accessorize.
"How about ribbon?" I said.
"What will you do with ribbon?" asked Asherel.
"I don't know..." I said. I took her to a decorated tree in the store and showed her how they had crinkled fancy ribbon tastefully along the boughs. It was beautiful.
"Like that. We can do that."
So we headed to the ribbon section. There were at least 300 different ribbon choices. Some ribbon was $15 a yard! I found a remnant of silver ribbon for 70 cents a yard.
"How's this?"
"I like this better," she said, pointing to ribbon that was silver laced with sparkles of rainbow glitter. It was $1.20 a yard and I only needed 3 yards. Deal! We were ready to check out and hadn't had a single red faced blow up.
"What will you be doing with this?" asked the store clerk as she cut my ribbon.
I held out the pine swag, "I am going to tastefully crinkle it along this swag. That will be beautiful, right?"
She raised an eyebrow, "Sure."
"Good answer, Rudy," said her co-worker.
Of course, this made me suspicious that it might not be as beautiful as I hoped.

Still, we gathered our mantel decoration and headed home. I set it up, crinkled my ribbon and draped it tastefully across the pine swag, then plugged it in. The little white lights embedded in the pine sparkled and glinted with tiny specks of rainbow colors reflecting in the silver lacy ribbon. It was beautiful, at least in my eyes. I sat in the dark looking at my topless tree and my sparkle pined mantel for a long time.

Isaiah 28: 5
5 In that day the LORD Almighty
   will be a glorious crown,
a beautiful wreath
   for the remnant of his people.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Ferret care for a friend was on our list of Black Friday tasks. We brought Matt and his wife Karissa to visit the ferret with us. The ferret can ooze his long agile body through a space approximately 5 nanometers wide. Thus, it was no surprise to see the ferret, Leo, had escaped from his cage through a broken wire. He had had a heyday while the folks were away. The rabbit in a nearby cage had been terrorized- we could tell that by the spray of rabbit food all over the living room.  Then Leo had ripped open the ferret food bag and tossed it like confetti where the rabbit food hadn't quite reached. Next, he seems to have hopped the enclosure to the rest of the house, chewed up some small rubber things, and then decided the world was now his toilet. Little poop piles were scattered about like land mines. Not satisfied with the horror his family would feel upon returning to this mess, he had gotten in the potted plant and spewed dirt like projectile vomit all over that corner of the room. The strange thing is that unlike a dog, when we glared at him, he didn't look like he felt at all guilty.

Nonetheless, Karissa loved the ferret and wrapped him around her neck. She admitted she loves fur, but had made a pact with herself never to buy fur with a face. While holding the ferret, he went totally limp in her hands and fell fast asleep. I think there is a ferret in my son Matt's future.

What to do about the escape route? We rummaged in our friend's garage which is filled with tools, but not a thing that looked like it could fix the cage. Asherel finally found hose clamps which we unscrewed and straightend. Then clever Karissa spotted metal cooking spoons with long metal handles. We couldn't use duct tape or plastic or ties because Leo would chew through them. However, Karissa wedged the metal spoons securely in the bars, covering the gap and used the straightened hose clamps to criss-cross over the spoons and doubly insure they would stay put.

We returned that night with Arvo and a bag of tools,wire, clamps to make a more permanent fix, fully expecting the same catastrophe to meet our eyes. But Leo was asleep, the trap still secured. And a pile of poop inside the cage right near our fix confirmed that he had likely attempted escape and failed. Arvo decided the spoon fix was better than anything else we could have devised, so we left it. We had a nice visit with Leo and Bunny, and headed home victorious. In the battle of wits, we had beat a ferret. It is surprising how satisfying that was.

There are never ending battles in life. The battle to choose wisely, overcome greed, overcome pride, overcome anger, demonstrate compassion, give generously, love unreservedly, conquer illness, overcome the siren call of a 5 pound bag of gummy worms... The list goes on and on and on. Sometimes defeat pummels us far too often and victory seems to be only a dream others manage to grasp. We seem to fall short again and again.

I love the Psalms. I love them because the psalmists were realists. They were repeatedly felled by defeat, often the result of their own sin. They experienced and wrote about all the despair that continual failure wraps around even the strongest psyche. But the overwhelming message is that if they could manage to cling to God, however feebly through it all, they would ultimately taste victory. They recognized that their own efforts could only get them so far. With relief, they understood that their struggle was not just observed by an indifferent cosmic spectator, but was joined by a God who longed to help them. God did not always or even usually remove the battle, but He stood with them in the fray. And no matter the outcome, He would be able to gather their remains and lift them to a place of rest. They could curl around His presence, secure and confident that His solutions were the only ones worth having.

Leo burrowed under a blanket in his cage as we closed the cage door. He squirmed under his warm cave for a moment and then all was still. He was already asleep as we tiptoed out.

Proverbs 21: 30-31
30 There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan
   that can succeed against the LORD.
 31 The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
   but victory rests with the LORD.

Psalm 84: 1-3
  1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
   LORD Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
   for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
   for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
   and the swallow a nest for herself,
   where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
   LORD Almighty, my King and my God.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday- a Study in Contrast

Black Friday is when people go shopping and get great deals and fill their cars with all the items on their Christmas list for half the cost they might otherwise have incurred. Black doesn't seem to match the mood.
Good Friday is when Jesus was crucified, tortured, taunted, and killed. Good doesn't seem to match the mood there either.

This year, Black Friday really was black, My nutty son and adventurous wife left at 9 pm to be sure to get a good parking space for the midnight opening of the stores. It was cold and dark, an inky black sky. They planned to shop all night. Ah, to be young! I went to bed before their car wheels hit the street. It is exhausting preparing an enormous multi-dish meal that you hope to all come out hot simultaneously. It also required college level math computations. I had to compute when my make-ahead casseroles (5 of them) had to come out of the freezer/oven, and go in to the oven either concurrent or directly after the turkey came out. They all had different thaw times and different cook times, which made the careful computation necessary if they were all to emerge at exactly the same time from the oven, just as the turkey was done being carved, and the family seated with just the right amount of famished. It is a juggling act that those who have never attempted have no idea about the complexity involved.

So on Black Friday eve, I was happily snoring while the mobs scoured the malls for items that would change their life. It is really a custom that somewhat puzzles me. Thanksgiving is all about contentment and gratitude. But Black Friday really feeds upon discontent, and insatiable desire to have more. I understand the drive to save money on Christmas gifts or necessities, particularly if money is tight, but still....there just strikes me something inherently off with the biggest shopping day of the season following the day when we all wallow in contentment. And now it doesn't even just follow the day of Thanks; it begins as early as 9:00 the same day. We of course know where this is headed. Black Friday will completely engulf Thankful Thursday, gobble it up entirely, and instead of the family gathering for a feast and prayers to our Almighty Creator, we will be standing in line at Walmart gathering for prayers to the Almighty Dollar.

This is not to say that I can't wait to see what Matt and Karissa snagged on their all night foray when they wake up, which won't be til the middle of the day, I imagine. I just wish Black Friday could occur a few days after Thanksgiving. It would have a less incongruous feel. Even Jesus waited three full days after Good Friday to demonstrate why it was so good.

Job 28:3
3 Mortals put an end to the darkness;
   they search out the farthest recesses
   for ore in the blackest darkness.

Matthew 27:
39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

Isaiah 53: 4-6
4 Surely he took up our pain
   and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
   stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
   and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
   each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Thankful! My sister just found out her pancreatic cyst is fully drained on its own! Her pancreas is healthy and they do not expect any recurrence of the dangerous pancreatic attacks that had her in the hospital for almost a month off and on.
Thankful! My wonderful good friend Andi who has had a string of men unworthy of her just got engaged last night to one of the nicest people on earth.
Thankful! My son and new wife chose to spend Thanksgiving with us and took hours from studying law school finals to advise and design a new more professional cover for my book.
Thankful! I figured out all by myself how to pair my bluetooth keyboard with my replacement phone after nearly 5 hours of bashing my head against the wall.
Thankful! I am surrounded by God, husband, family, and friends who support and encourage and love me despite what a wretched person I can be.
Thankful! For the beauty of the sunset, the grandeur of creation, the affinity with all God's creatures (except of course snakes...but let's not get carried away)
Thankful! For a country where we are free to worship whomever we choose in any way we choose, educate our children at home if we so desire, live in peace and prosperity, and govern our own affairs with minimal intervention (for now...) .
Thankful for eyes that see, ears that hear, mouth that speaks, legs that walk, hands that reach out and can still grasp dreams or clasp in prayer.
Thankful for the atoning sacrifice of Jesus that saves me from the prison of my sin, and assures me that no matter how thankless my days ahead may feel, in the end, I will see God.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Isaiah 52:
9 Burst into songs of joy together,
   you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people,
   he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The LORD will lay bare his holy arm
   in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
   the salvation of our God.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Leaves Abound

We have a pile 50 feet high and still the oak trees are only half bared. Since it is almost Thanksgiving, I will think of the leaves in a new light. We are blessed with leaves, abundantly and overflowing with the blessing of leaves. Our yard runneth over.

My bible verse this morning was about loving each other. This is not always easy, in fact I find it to be often quite hard. I want to love others, and I especially want them to love me. But others can be such irritating schmucks.

However, the prayer at the bottom of my study struck me. It said to view others as Christ sees them. And then added another little zinger about how we are forgiven and loved while we were yet sinners.  My love should overflow like the leaves in my yard. And my heart should be filled with forgiveness. And my eyes should be focused on the person that Christ knows he or she can be, not necessarily who he or she is at the moment. This is impossible, like raking all those leaves. And yet, it is what we are urged to do. Loving well, like raking, is a never ending task.

Isaiah 43:4 NIV

Since you are precious and honored in my sight,

and because I love you,

1 John 4:19 NIV

We love because he first loved us.

Romans 5:8 NIV

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Published with Blogger-droid v2.0.1

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hiding in the Fog

It is foggy outside this morning. I love fog- I love the sense of mystery, of things hidden that are waiting to be discovered. I love the way sound is dampened, and hard edges are softened. I think we all need a little fog, now and then. Hardness has a way of becoming brittle, of snapping, or cutting. I love the gentleness of fog.

I imagine so does the turkey. I love Thanksgiving, but I do feel sorry for the turkey. They really are a beautiful bird. How unfortunate for them that they taste good. If I were a wild turkey, I'd be praying for fog every day. Take courage turkey- a day is coming when the lion will lie down with the lamb and we will all be eating angel food (we hope...) for Thanksgiving. Oh, and every day will be Thanksgiving. For ever and ever. There will be no more crying, dying, sighing, or denying. It will be glorious.

I seem to have an increasingly large circle of friends undergoing very hard circumstances. They are all trying very hard to persevere, to be brave, and are applauded for how hard they work to overcome. But I know some of them are tired. They want to give up. They want to crawl into a corner and cry, but then someone might not think they are a hero, and everyone needs to be a hero to someone. Maybe sometimes God sends the fog to shroud those bitter moments of despair, when all we can do is cry out to Him, not certain of any response. Just hiding in the fog with the turkey. I think God sometimes whispers in the fog, "It's ok, even on a day of Thanksgiving to wonder if you have been forsaken. There is hope, but I know you might not always feel it, and the bright cheery sun is an affront. Dear child of mine, I bring you the fog to hide your tears, and when you are ready, my arms are reaching out to comfort you. Your sighing is never hidden from Me."
Gobble, says the feathered friend in the fog.
"Oh yes, Me and the turkey are here with you."

Psalm 38: 8-9, 21-22
8 I am feeble and utterly crushed;
   I groan in anguish of heart.
 9 All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
   my sighing is not hidden from you.
 21 LORD, do not forsake me;
   do not be far from me, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pointing to the Obvious

I love sitting in buildings that have stupendous architecture. As I sat in our enormous church yesterday, I was daydreaming during the sections that were convicting me about my hopeless character. I knew the punchline- yes, my heart is wicked...I have certainly seen that demonstrated often enough to not need to argue the point. But I also know that the miracle of God is that Jesus has washed me clean. I have hope that despite being guilty of pretty much every despicable sin there can be, I have (or will ultimately) overcome, not because of who I am but because of who God is. It is a major reason for Thanksgiving, but for some reason, maybe the little sleep over the past few days, I was focusing on the church architecture with one ear open to the Pastor.

Nearly every architectural line of this church is designed to draw your eye upward. The windows all end in upward triangles, the church itself has spires that point to heaven, all the pipes of the pipe organ are capped by upward wooden triangles, the balconies all ascend higher and higher, and on the ceiling itself, the Cross is lit and laid discretely against the roof. It took me a long time of searching to find the Cross in that church. It was like a spiritual, "Where's Waldo?" It's obvious if you look in the right place.

This is what church should be, I thought, as I squirmed at the list of character traits that Displease God. Church should convict us of sin. Too many of us accept our rottenness or rationalize it away. But if the church left us in that state, we would all leave church and drive off a cliff. The next major role of a good church is to point our focus, our hope, our gratitude upward- to God. And at the pinnacle of everything the church preaches, should be the Cross. Without the Cross, the Christian message is impossible. The entire Bible points to the cross, even more perfectly than the architecture of the magnificent church I sat in. The meaning of the Cross is so obvious, the need for the Cross so compelling, yet so many people miss it. I did too, to my great regret, for thirty years. But now that I know what to look for, I can't believe I didn't see it at first.

Proverbs 8:17
17 I love those who love me,
   and those who seek me find me.

1 Corinthians 1: 17-18

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.hrist Crucified Is God’s Power and Wisdom
 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 John 4: 9-10
9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Practical Advice on Keeping Thanksgiving Thankful

The beloved new daughter in law and son will be here in just two days. In preparation, I have cleaned a little every day for two weeks which means not what you would think. The house is not clean. It just is ready for me to start the line up of chores all over again. This is the problem with advance planning. For a house to be clean when guests arrive, you have to clean it two minutes before they walk in the door.
So right now, the house is not disgusting, and that may have to do....because: today is advance cooking day.

My normal recipe search on the internet always includes the word, "easy", for reasons that I have explained often on this blog. The Thanksgiving search has a slightly different permutation. It still includes the word, "easy", but I add "make ahead."  My plan is to make ahead all but the turkey so that on Thanksgiving day, I can enjoy my family instead of slaving in the kitchen. It worked perfectly last year with the one small problem that it was so cold, there was nothing to do on Thanksgiving except to twiddle our thumbs and wait for the turkey to be done. And of course to be thankful.

My daughter has long begged me to make my blog more interesting, to add items of useful impact to my readers since she feels I am becoming, or perhaps have always been, boring. So, I am going to share my secret for having Thanksgiving Day fuss free, leaving the cook completely available to just sit around and be thankful.If that doesn't entice new readers to my blog, nothing will.

First, I compile a menu. For you natural chefs out there, this seems obvious. For me, it was nothing short of an epiphany. (Good SAT test word, Asherel- look it up.) I called all my loved ones and asked their favorite Thanksgiving food. Then I sat down and wrote their choices to make my Thanksgiving feast:
turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes,deviled eggs, gummy worms.

Step number two, I developed a shopping list. Again, this is something seasoned cooks do automatically. I usually just wing it. I go to the grocery store and try to remember everything I will need. Given my memory skills, you can imagine what I come home with.
"Matzos?" says Arvo, pulling food from the bags, "Gefilte fish? Pascal lamb? Vicky...where is the turkey?"
"Yes, the traditional Thanksgiving turkey."
"OH! I knew I forgot something!"
"You forgot the turkey?"
"No, I forgot I was shopping for Thanksgiving! I skipped right over to Passover."
So this year, I have a list. At the top, I wrote THANKSGIVING, and underlined it.

But to develop the list, I first went online and searched for "EASY, MAKE AHEAD Thanksgiving dishes."
There are a surprising number. I found make ahead mashed potatoes, make ahead green bean casserole, make ahead sweet potato casserole, and make ahead cranberry relish. Of course I can make the deviled eggs in advance, and I already have 5 pounds of gummy worms left over from the Agility trial Friday.

Today I will spend the whole day cooking and the rest of the week, I will relax and gaze in peace and gratitude upon my beloved family. And be thankful for one other thing- the internet and make ahead recipes.
In my opinion, make ahead recipes prove to all those doubters out there that there must be a God.

1 Chronicles 28:19
19 “All this,...I have in writing as a result of the LORD’s hand on me, and he enabled me to understand all the details of the plan.”

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Secret Dog Performance Enhancement Kit

Good friend Josh decided to accompany us for both days of the agility trial. It meant he had to be up and out at 6:30 a.m.
"I warn you Josh," I told him, "If you are not out there ready when we drive by, I will leave without you."
I take my nervous anxiety seriously. But Josh was up and ready and turned out to be a secret weapon in our Dog Performance Enhancement kit. Josh is incapable of being serious, at least as far as I have ever seen. Thus, he is a constant stream of entertainment. This had the very favorable effect of keeping Asherel very calm and relaxed. In some mother's eyes, she may have seemed a little too calm and relaxed and thus Danielle, another secret weapon in our Dog Performance Kit, came when she could to sit with me as Asherel's trial run times approached. She would pat my knee and say, "It's ok. It's still early. Calm down. Eating 50 gummy bears right before her run will not hurt her."
By the way, Danielle had showed up when we first arrived with a 6 pound bag of gummy bears for Asherel. She wanted to counteract the "mother hover effect" with sugar, a very sound strategy, at least in Asherel's eyes.

Meanwhile, good friend and mentor, Polly, watched the preceding day video of Asherel's very nice but non-qualifying run, and texted me:
"She needs to draw the line better for her dog. Nice run, but remind her to draw the line."
I told Asherel what Polly had said, as Josh listened.
"You need a laser pointer," said Josh, "Are you allowed to bring in a laser pointer?"
"Just imagine you have a laser pointer," I told Asherel, "Draw the path you want Honeybun to follow."
As Asherel got up and gathered the rewards and dear Honeybun, Josh and I chanted, "Draw the line. Laser pointer."
Asherel and Honeybun then ran the prettiest jumpers course she has ever run. Fast and no mistakes at all. Honeybun did briefly stop at one point, and consider defecting, but then went slowly to the weaves and nailed them the first time- a rarity for her. She not only qualified in Open Jumpers, thus securing her Open Jumpers Title and advancing to Excellent Level, but she placed second overall!

Time for her second run came- her Open Standard run. Honeybun never does as well with the standard classes, which include all the agility equipment, some of which we don't have at home thus can only infrequently practice.
Danielle showed up and sat beside me.
"Asherel, don't you think you should head down there?" I fretted.
"She's fine," said Danielle soothingly.
As she walked the course, Josh stood up in the stands and bellowed out to her, "Laser pointer!!!!"
Asherel looked up, and shook her head laughing. Had I been the one to shout that, I guarantee she would have been digging a hole to China. She returned from walking before the time was up.
"What are you doing back here?" I asked, "You should be walking til your time runs out."
"I tried to tell her that," said Josh knowingly, shaking his head at her, "You should walk it til you can close your eyes and see the course."
Josh has never run agility, but he was right on.
"OK," grumbled Asherel, returning to walk the course.
"Laser pointer!" called Josh.
When she returned, Josh, who had been studying the course map, quizzed her.
"What obstacle do you go to after jump 13?"
"What is 14?"
"The teeter," said Asherel.
"Very good!"
She again gathered Honeybun and headed down to the field.
"Laser pointer!" called Josh. I was too busy chewing my nails to say anything, and Danielle was repeating her mantra when she is around me at Agility trials:
"It's ok, she's fine...."
"But she never does well in standard..."
"But maybe she will," said Danielle, looking at me sternly.
"You're right!" I said, grasping her arm, "Maybe she will!" I settled back, wishing I were a calmer, more optimistic person.
Asherel walked onto the field. Honeybun was looking all around, everywhere except at Asherel.
"Oh no!" I said, "She is not paying attention."
"She will," said Danielle, "It's ok."
Honeybun looked at Asherel.
"Go," said the loudspeaker.
Honeybun barreled through the tire jump start. The first 6 or so obstacles went just as planned. Then she came to the weaves, her nemesis. She got half way through and then popped out of them.
"Oh dear!" I groaned.
"It's ok," said Danielle, "That's only one refusal. She can have one refusal."
Honeybun ran through the weaves beautifully on her second try. Then she raced to the "pause table" . She skittered onto it, and slid off.
"Ohhhhh! She never does that!" I groaned.
"It's ok," said Danielle, "That is a different error than a refusal. She can have two different mistakes in Open level. She can still qualify."
I nodded, and we both fell silent. She had to be perfect the rest of the run. And she was. Honeybun hit every obstacle beautifully after that, and as she sailed over the last jump, Danielle said, "I think she qualified."
Asherel assumed she had not, but she came back pleased with a good run.
I hurried over to the computer read out.
I saw that not only did she have a big fat Q after her name, but she placed third! And this was a major milestone in Honeybun's agility career. She had "double Q'ed",  the only time she has ever qualified in both her classes on a single day.
I came hurrying back to Asherel and her entourage.
"You q'ed!" I cried joygully, "You just got your first ever double Q!!"
Danielle smiled and said, "Good run, Asherel. And congrats on your new title."
"Oh does she get a title ribbon?" I asked, "Where do we go to get our ribbon?"
"Our ribbon?" asked Danielle, raising an eyebrow.

Later, I posted the perfect Open run video on facebook. The rescue group who three years ago had helped us when we found Honeybun, a boney aggressive mess, cheered and then reposted it on their farm page.
"The stray that became a star..." wrote Hollow Creek Farm.

In retrospect, I think saying OUR ribbon was perfectly apt. It is a ribbon that was earned by Hollow Creek Farm, Josh, Polly, Danielle, Laura, and all our other agility trainers, Asherel, Honeybun...and yes, even me. After all, I have to drive her to every practice...that counts for something, doesn't it?

God is so gracious. The double Q was very nice, and certainly a thrill, but that was not the real joy of the two days. The joy was sitting and laughing with friends, cheering them on and being cheered on, encouraging and being encouraged, and joining together in a common love. As a child, I had few friends. As an adult, I find myself encircled by support, even by people who know what a mess I am inside. My advice to everyone today- tell your friends how much you love and appreciate them. They are one of God's best tools in His  Human Performance Enhancement Kit, critical for any and every trial.

Proverbs 12: 25-26
25 Anxiety weighs down the heart,
   but a kind word cheers it up.   
26 The righteous choose their friends carefully,

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Pleasure of his Master

The four dogs lay down all alone at the end of the Obedience ring. Their owners were no where in sight. In fact, in the dogs' eyes, the owners had told the dogs to lie down, and then deserted them in this scary, unfamiliar place. Each dog lay down with ears perked forward, looking anxiously at the door the owner had walked out of. Eventually, during the long stay, the poodle lay down its head and went to sleep. Two other dogs remained alert, but calm. The Doberman however, was having a crisis within his loyal brain.

I stood just outside the ring with two friends, watching the drama unfold. Their good friend was the owner of the Doberman. The Doberman shifted his weight, as though to rise. All of us gasped. If he got up, the owner was disqualified. The poor dog settled again and I could see him thinking over his options. Then his rear haunches wriggled and rose off the ground. Again we gasped, as the dog paused, thinking through his action.
"If I get up, I will disappoint the Master...the one who has deserted me in my moment of need. Yet...I remember she doesn't like me to disobey her. And if I obey, I get a large piece of liver. I love liver. But I am scared, and I am lonely, and she has left me. She doesn't care anymore!"
He wriggled again, but then lowered his haunches back down. The minutes ticked interminably by. The Golden Retriever happily had enough of this nonsense and stood up. He headed to the ring exit, where the judge kindly leashed him to await the owner's return. The Doberman looked distraught.
"That Golden followed his heart...he disobeyed the Master. Why can't I? I can, I can...I don't need to obey. This long stay is a ridiculous rule anyway...."
Still, the Doberman wiggled, but didn't rise. The battle went on visibly within him.
"Can we help him in some way...indicate to him he should stay and she will be back?" I asked, almost as distraught as the Doberman.
"We could," said my friend, "But that would be cheating."
So we waited with the Doberman.
Finally, the blessed owner returned. The Doberman heaved a sigh of relief. His Master smiled at him. He had overcome temptation, and the reward was the pleasure of his Master. Nothing else mattered.

Deuteronomy 8: 5-7

5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.
 6 Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. 7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills

Psalm 128:1
1 Blessed are all who fear the LORD,
   who walk in obedience to him.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Good Day to be Ambassadors

Nice little break from school- we are off to two days of dog agility trials. Honeybun looks relaxed- snoring next to me as I write this. I think she may have stolen Lucky's breakfast too, so her fine athletic waist seems a little distended. Oh well. What matters, what really matters is that she and Asherel have fun, meet fellow dog lovers, and are ambassadors of light.
Honeybun perks an ear.
"What is this ambassador stuff? I am a dog and my duty is to jump satisfactorily enough that you pay me at the end with real sirloin."
"We are all ambassadors. This is not home. We are to conduct ourselves in such a way, that the whole world longs for our real home."
"The whole world? You been eating too many dog bones, Master. What about immigration quotas?"
"There are none in the land where we are headed,the one I hope we represent. Everyone who wants to can enter."
"You are speaking Greek," says the dog, closing her eyes again, "As if human English weren't difficult enough to understand."

That's what I hope is the outcome of our adventure today, I thought. Lord, help me and Asherel (and yes, even Honeybun) to be ambassadors that show the beauty, mercy, and grace of my King so convincingly that everyone will be clamoring to follow Him.
"You don't expect much out of ordinary events, do you?" asked Honeybun, opening one eye again, "Can't I just win a blue ribbon instead?"
"Well my plan doesn't preclude yours," I told her.
"Fine, you collect trophies for heaven, leave the earthly trophies to me."
We will keep you posted on how well each of us conducts our mission....

2 Corinthians 5: 19-21
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[a] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Who Am I?

My husband Arvo pointed his phone at the sky. There was Jupiter, right in the screen of my smart phone. And all the other stars and planets were named as well. I looked at the bright shining orb in the night, the real one, not the one on the phone screen.
"So that's Jupiter," I said in wonder.
"You can even look through the world to the sky on the other side," he said.
He pointed the phone down at the ground and the sky map showed other stars of the eastern hemisphere, including the sun which was of course currently shining on the other side of the world.
I was still entranced by Jupiter.
Arvo got our telescope out and beamed its lens on Jupiter. We couldn't see any details, but we could see several of Jupiter's moons. We dragged Asherel out to look at Jupiter's moons.
What a beautiful universe.

There is so much to fret over. We are such a self focused species. And yet, look at the night sky! Jupiter and all its moons suspended against a backdrop of limitless space, spinning around a sun in the dance of the infinite stars.
Why am I here, in the midst of all this grandeur? Have you ever stood before a mirror and gazed steadily into your own eyes, asking yourself who you are? I have. It is a little scary. To step outside oneself and look back trying to understand the nature of consciousness is, in my mind, as impenetrable a distance as the trek to Jupiter. Ultimately, I cannot stare very long into my own eyes. I turn away. So who just won that stare-down, I ask myself? And who exactly is staring at whom? There is an eerie "otherness" in the image staring back at me.

There is an interesting point/counterpoint of this very question in the Bible. If you do a word search of "Who am I", there are over 200 references. In each case, it is humans who frame the question with the words in that order - who, am, I .
God alone shifts the order. He alone says, "I am who I am." He is the author of all existence, and the only one who isn't wondering why He is here or who He is. This is perhaps the greatest statement of contentment there could be: "I am who I am."  And because God is secure in who He is, we can be secure in who we are, created by His hand, and placed where we could gaze out at shimmering Jupiter, suspended in the infinite darkness.

Exodus 3:11
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I...

Exodus 3:14
  14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Great Deleter

At my sister Holly's suggestion, I am reading The Greater Journey by David McCollough. I was really excited to read a tidbit about one of America's early wonder-boys. If I ever knew it, I had forgotten it. Samuel B. Morse, famous for inventing the telegraph, was first and foremost an accomplished artist! For a time, he studied under a particularly difficult task master who  praised infrequently, but was forever criticizing and showing Morse his mistakes. Morse resented this at first, but came to realize as his skills blossomed that "a flatterer is no friend."
"To really improve," Morse said, "I must see my faults."

I think most of us prefer flattery. I think most of us shrivel and become defensive under honest critique. Our self worth somehow becomes wrapped up in what we do, and a perceived attack on how well we do that thing becomes an attack on our personhood.  I know that in my weakness, this is true of me. It is very difficult to take criticism, however well intended or true. In Asherel's Gavel Club, criticism must always be presented by the "sandwich method"- the suggestions for improvement sandwiched between two comments of things the speaker has done well. This is a very good strategy and I need to employ it more often. It definitely softens the blow.

While I was checking my facebook page yesterday, I saw a post by an acquaintance about Sexual predators.The article was a sobering look at the dangers of sexual abuse and how to protect our children. Right below that post, was a video my sister had sent of some dangerous stunts. She added the caption, "sure hope my son doesn't see this."
I laughed at that because her son is a daredevil and I can recall many episodes of life threatening stunts he has pulled in front of my eyes.
So I typed my response, "Oh, knowing your son,  he has done all this and more!"
Chuckling, I pressed SEND.  I sat back to continue reading as my post appeared on Facebook. With absolute horror, I saw that I had responded with my little joke to the wrong message...I had posted my remark under the Sexual Predator post, and had just assured that acquaintance that her son had done all the horrid things outlined in that article...and more.
How do I get out of this!? I cried. Fortunately, in my wild punching of buttons, I found one that allowed me to delete my response.
Oh Lord, I prayed, I hope I deleted it before she saw it.
Then I read a post that said hackers are squirming into our facebook accounts and posting things that are really nasty and defaming.  One of my friends sent out a preemptive disclaimer:
"If you see any facebook post that seems out of character, please know it is a hacker and not me speaking."

I am thinking I should send out a similar preemptive post. In fact, I think I should just wear a sign that says that as well:
"If anything comes out of my mouth that seems uncharacteristic, it is a hacker...not me speaking."
I think this would protect me from myself. I am not as strong as Samuel Morse, I decided. When I do and say stupid things, or paint bad pictures, I want to be able to press a Delete button and have a do-over. I don't want to learn from my mistakes....I just don't want anyone to see them at all. I don't want to make the mistakes in the first place.

But alas, there is no delete button on me. And try as I may, I am usually replete with things that could be improved upon.  So I suppose Samuel Morse has the right idea. To really improve I must see my faults. Morse was a very devout man, and I think he was able to endure criticism by men because he was so convinced that in the end, all his imperfections were covered and forgiven. This is the best message of the Gospel- God sees our hearts and in His mercy, all our sins are indeed, deleted, and He promises that the Hacker will never overwrite the message of forgiveness.

 2 Chronicles 6: 29-30
29 and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel—being aware of their afflictions and pains, and spreading out their hands toward this temple— 30 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive, and deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know the human heart), 31 so that they will fear you and walk in obedience to you all the time they live in the land you gave our ancestors.

2 Chronicles 7:
14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Voice Crying Out

The voice that spoke out of nowhere in the dark morning was eerie, other-worldy. I stopped and swung around to confront whatever ghastly thing was crying out so near to me in the early morning while my family slept. There was no one. The dogs stood in front of me, wagging their tails and asking for breakfast. Had that plaintive cry come from one of them? I stood still, listening, but there was no repeat of that horrible, frightening cry. I thought it had said, "Vicky", but I couldn't be sure. I peeked in our room, but my husband still slept, and the sound had been right behind me, in the kitchen...I was certain of that. A little spooked, I fed the dogs and then sat down at the computer to start writing this post. And then, from behind me, the moaning, garbled cry again. I leaped to my feet and went running to the bird. Maybe he was choking on a seed. But no, the bird was standing on one foot, eyes closed, peacefully asleep. I returned, truly frightened now, to the computer. Something was in pain, something was calling me, and I could not help. I could not find what it was.

I thought of all the things in pain that might be calling me. Yesterday, we collected the food from the neighborhood dogfood drive we had organized for Hollow Creek Farm Rescue. I collected only 6 bags, some dog food cans, and two large containers of biscuits. In the past we have gotten almost 300 pounds of food. I was disappointed, but Asherel kept reminding me, "How wonderful! We have 100 pounds of food for them that they wouldn't have otherwise had."  She is right, of course, but it was hard not to be sad that I couldn't help more. I know Hollow Creek, like all the charities and rescues are hurting in this economy of "hope and change."

"Mom!" called the terrifying, desperate voice.
I jumped up again and stood by Asherel's door. She was also asleep.
My boys need me! I thought .  They are both off on their own now, but I had no doubt that if God wanted to alert me to the need for prayer or assistance to them, He would call me in some way. I had not expected it to be so audible. I prayed for them, and walked nervously around the room, listening.

I had read yesterday in 1 Samuel about how God audibly spoke to the young boy, Samuel, calling him by name. It is one of the few times when God spoke in an unmistakable, audible voice, and He did so because He had a message for the priest Eli. Eli's sons were desecrating the temple, and Eli's people were turning from God. God spoke with a dire warning and a message that Samuel was to convey. As I read that passage, I thought how terrifying it would be to hear a voice out of the early morning darkness, not knowing who was speaking or why. And now, here I was in just that same situation! A voice was clearly calling to me in this very room. Something I could not see. The voice had called me by name and then identified me by the most important role I had been given on earth: Mom.

I stood in the kitchen, quivering.
"Speak Lord, your servant is listening."
Just then, the voice returned, "On this day in 1851, Moby Dick was published...."
I glanced on the counter. My smart phone was on. I had looked at the email from the History Channel when I had first come out, but was almost certain I had turned it off afterwards. I had been unaware that there was a setting that would allow the news from this day in history to be read out loud, but somehow, inadvertently, I must have pushed some button that activated this feature.

However, I sat down and prayed fervently. I prayed for my sons so far away with all the struggles that young men starting out in life might endure. I prayed for my parents, and for whatever unknown voice might be calling out in distress, thinking it was all alone, unheard. And having never read Moby Dick, I think God might want me to read that next....

Hebrews 4: 6-7

 6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:
   “Today, if you hear his voice,
   do not harden your hearts.”

1 Samuel 3: 9-10

9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
 10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
   Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tragedy Averted

Normally, I don't use this blog for book reviews, but this is a book that has an important message. I have been reading a classic by Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy. It is considered one of the best examples of "pathos" in literature. That is putting it mildly. I had to read it holding it at arm's length while peeking through my fingers. It was compelling and I couldn't put it down, but it was wrenching, as well. In short, it is about a man who plots to murder one girl after falling in love with a second. Christianity is mocked through most of the book, but in the end, in a rather shocking turn around, it is the devout mother and a selfless pastor that are able to finally bring the villain to a true understanding of what he had done, repentance, and peace. No other character in the book shows really any admirable quality. I suspect Dreiser didn't intend that to be the case, based on his sentiments about devout Christians through 9/10 of the book. But in the end, the only character I would want to be were the two Christians who appear at the end of the book.

The book was also compelling because the events were staged in upstate NY where I grew up. My hometown is mentioned, as was the very small town where my folks had a lake house. The hero, who is simultaneously a villain, starts off discontented but very likable. Throughout the book, I am rooting for him, even when he makes horrible, immoral choices. I keep praying he will change, seeing that he is spiraling downward into deeper and more consequential sin.

However, he never sees it, not till the very end of the book when confronted with a loving and uncompromising Christian. I almost threw the book aside in disgust as Christians were mocked, sin was rampant, and undesirable characters seemed to win the day. But now, having finished it, I am so glad I stuck with it. In the end, God wins. And Dreiser was a magnificent writer, somehow making the despicable main character one I sympathized with, struggled with, and prayed would overcome his significant frailties. I think it might be a book everyone should read, because it shows as well as anything I have ever read how small sins balloon into a life of sin. And yet even after a ruinous descent to becoming the handmaiden to Satan, God was there in the end to exhort, rebuke, uplift, and ultimately forgive.

In interviews during his lifetime, Dreiser said that , "Life is an accident from the beginning." He also believed that Christianity might keep our daughters virtuous and has some value for that reason, but it would never last. He could not accept or believe that the teachings of Christ were eternal. I find this very consistent with what I saw through 9/10 of his book, but it cheers me to see that in the final outcome, even this brilliant writer,  at best an agnostic cynic, could only find peace and redemption for his character through Jesus. I am again struck how ultimately, unwittingly perhaps, we all end up proclaiming the power and glory of God .

Isaiah 1: 16-20

 16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
   Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
   stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
   Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
   plead the case of the widow.
 18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
   says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
   they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
   you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
   you will be devoured by the sword.”
            For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Fine World War II Veteran

Right before asking a WW2 veteran out to lunch, I was at the computer and heard a loud  "clunk!"  I went to the back sunroom, thinking the sound had come from there, and saw a stunned robin sprawled on the deck floor. One wing was open and the bird was half on its side, its beak open and panting.

The dogs raced outside to investigate the clunk, but ran right past the fallen robin. I quietly cupped my hands around him, gently bringing his wing into proper position against his body. He didn't try to fight me or fly, just huddled in my hands. After showing him to Asherel, I brought him to the garden in the front yard (remember- whenever I use terms like "garden" in connection with my yard, you may get a better picture if you think more along the lines of "tumbled mass of hodge podge vegetation") and I placed him hidden among the foliage.

Then I drove over to the Senior Living Center, arriving fifteen minutes early. Already waiting in the foyer, Comer sat with Evelyn, who he had fetched even earlier from the Alzheimer's floor. I had called to surprise them. It was not our planned lunch outing day, but it struck me that on veterans day, this kind old WWII vet should be treated to a special day. As I walked up to them, Comer handed me a dog training book. It had a red sticker on it and had obviously been pre-owned.
"Got this for you," he said.
I know he never goes anywhere so the home must have had a rummage sale and he had thought of me and wanted to give me a gift.
"Oh how sweet of you," I said, "But I am the one that should be giving you a gift. I want to thank you right now for your service to our country."
"What for?" he asked. Evelyn beamed at me, happy to see the stranger that always bought her french fries.
"Today is Veteran's Day!" I said.
"Oh...that," he said.
"So has the home made a big special to-do for the veterans?"
"Not a thing," he said, "You are the only one to mention it."
"Evelyn," I said, "You be nice to him today. This is a day that honors Comer."
"Me and 15 million others," he laughed.
"Well I am not taking 15 million others to lunch," I said.
When we got in the car, I put a 50's rock and roll CD on the tape player. Evelyn instantly began singing and Comer laughed, patting her hand. It was going to be a good day. Evelyn was smiling and singing every word. On our last outing, she had remained silent most of the trip.  Even during the  "weem-a-whep, aweem-a-whep" section of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Evelyn was singing. She looked straight ahead, a serious look on her face as she sang that silly refrain. I glanced back at her, laughing.
"You know everything!" I said.
Comer looked lovingly at her, entwining his fingers through hers.

"When I was in Papua New Guinea, there was a Salvation Army man that would fly over regularly from Australia. When it was almost Thanksgiving, I gave him  $100 and told him to get me as many complete turkey dinners with all the fixins' that he could bring back. And he did! He came back with enough dinners for 23 people. So I gave my entire gun crew a full feast on Thanksgiving."
"Didn't the army do that for them?" I asked.
"Oh no, not then. We were blockaded at least part of that time by the Japanese. For two weeks, all we ate was chocolate pudding."
"Chocolate pudding?"
"The Japanese destroyed all our other rations, but for some reason they didn't touch the chocolate pudding."
"You were kept from starvation by chocolate pudding?"
"Do you still like chocolate pudding?"
"Love it," he said.

Arby's is one of Comer's favorite places. As I pulled up to the drive-through window, I tested Evelyn. In her bad days, all she can do is echo the last word I say.
"Evelyn, do you want a chocolate milk shake or a coke?"
"Chocolate milk shake!"
Yes, it was a good day.

When I got back home and was settled back to my book editing at the computer, I heard another loud, "Clunk!"
Impossible, I thought. Birds never fly into our window. That could not have been a second bird in one day smashing against the window. I resumed my editing, but my conscience gnawed at me. What if it had been a bird, and the poor thing was out there suffering?
With a sigh, I went to the back door. In the exact spot where the robin had been, a little wren now sprawled on the deck. It's head was bent at a strange angle and I feared its neck was broken. I carefully cupped my hands around it and straightened its wings. Like the robin, it nestled in my hands. It straightened its head and blinked but didn't struggle. I took it to the side yard, outside the dog fence, and nestled it in some thick soft leaves under the bushes. Then I stood up and smiled encouragingly at the little bird.
It looked up at me, its neck seemingly fine.

I know everything has a purpose. In every event, God is sending a message that ultimately points back to Him. It is something I have believed since I was a very young child. This Veteran's Day, I had been thinking about war. I know there is war in the Bible, and even nations that God helps win battles. But my heart is fully convinced that war is not what God desires. It is an abomination. But are there things worth dying for, worth fighting for? I can list quite a few, not the least of which is protecting my beloved family from harm. Iit may be the way we are forced to confront evil, but it is not the way I wish the world was. It is as unsettling, as jarring, as abhorrent as a beautiful bird in flight smashing against what it thought was clear air into an impenetrable , taunting facsimile of open space. Some survive the collision; some don't.

When I helped Evelyn out of the car, she began shuffling immediately towards the front door of the Home. Comer came around from his side of the car, and I hugged him goodbye.
"You enjoy the rest of this Veteran's Day," I said, "And thank you again. I really appreciate your sacrifice on my behalf."
"War is awful," he said, "You may think you know that, but until you have been through it...."
 He shook his head.
"Well I am glad you survived," I said.
"Almost didn't... the time I..."
I glanced at the front door. Evelyn had opened it and was squeezing through.
"Ohoh," said Comer, "Better go catch her."
I watched the WWII Veteran who had once bought his entire starving gun crew a Thanksgiving Feast now hobble as quickly as he could after his wife. I knew he would catch up with her, and arm in arm they would return to the "Reminisces" unit.  The war zone had changed, but he was still in a battle, I thought.
When I returned home, the bird in the front garden stirred, and then flew to a tree top.

1 Samuel 17: 47
47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

Psalm 55: 17-18
17 Evening, morning and noon
   I cry out in distress,
   and he hears my voice.
18 He rescues me unharmed
   from the battle waged against me,

Hosea 2: 18
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
   with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
   and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
   I will abolish from the land,
   so that all may lie down in safety.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Trusting in Spider Webs

While Asherel rode, my job at the barn was to sweep and knock down cobwebs. Both are jobs that are self sustaining. No cobweb knocker will ever be out of work. No sooner does one web come down than the spider is instantly hopping to a more distant rafter and spinning again. And don't think that killing the spider on the web will help. I once read that no matter where you are at any time, there is a spider within 3 feet of you. They send in new recruits faster than you can hyperventilate from this disturbing fact.

And then job number two: sweeping the hay aisles where the hay is stored and the goats hang out. No sooner do I sweep a section clean than a goat walks over with innocent eyes and re-poops the aisle. And I used to think vacuuming my house was a never ending task! It is not nearly as daunting as keeping a barn full of creatures clean, however.

The cobweb knocking was the hardest task for another reason. Right after riding lesson, I had a hair appointment. Since half the fun of a haircut is having someone else wash my hair, I didn't intend to wash it after working at the barn. But I was pretty sure that the hairdresser was going to find a spider lodged in my hair. So I would knock a spider web and then leap to the side as the dislodged dust and debris came tumbling down. It was exhausting work, all that dancing under the cobwebs.

Afterwards, I settled happily in the hairdresser's chair.
"Wow, your hair is getting long!"
"Yes, I decided I will grow it out."
"But you just got it cut short two months ago. Are you sure?"
"Yes, I am very wishy washy. It is my prerogative. I am the kind of client you hairdressers hate, huh?"
I was making a joke but she didn't laugh. Wait til she finds a spider in my hair, I thought, then she will be laughing even less.

Do you know that in proportion to their weight, spiders eat the equivalent in bugs, as us eating 12,400,000 people per day? They consume nearly 2 billion pounds of bug food per day! Imagine if there were no spiders. There would be 2 billion more pounds of bugs lurking on our planet. Spiders are perhaps one of the most maligned creatures on the planet. It did not escape me the incongruity of knocking down all those spider webs in the barn while cans of horsefly spray stood on the nearby shelf. And I began to feel a little sorry for the spiders of the world. They usually don't build the webs right in your face. They try to find a high unobtrusive place where the web won't bother anyone but the bugs. And the web isn't made of concrete. It is fragile and easily knocked down. It is their kitchen and stove, all in one tenuous collection of thread. Their entire culinary system depends on those webs that I was so callously sweeping away.
Silly spiders, trusting in so flimsy a system!
And I thought about how similarly tenuous the systems we humans rely upon are. Financial institutions the world over are beginning to implode, our own economy stinks, and people who thought their jobs were secure are suddenly facing unemployment. The health care "panacea" is causing people's insurance rates to skyrocket, and "quelle surprise", Iran is looking like it might want to develop nuclear weapons. At least the spiders can quickly rebuild their webs.
Perhaps our trust is in all the wrong things.

My haircut was over and I came out of the semi-trance I go in when someone else cares more about making me beautiful than I do.
"It looks great!" I said happily, "Did you find any spiders?"
The hairdresser raised an eyebrow and scurried away.

Job 8:
13 Such is the destiny of all who forget God;
   so perishes the hope of the godless.
14 What they trust in is fragile
   what they rely on is a spider’s web.
15 They lean on the web, but it gives way;
   they cling to it, but it does not hold.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In Search of Pink Flamingos

It's not as easy as you might think to find a pink flamingo lawn ornament in November. And it is frankly humiliating to make the calls tracking one down. Forgive me if you are of the pink flamingo lawn decorating type, but I felt I had to justify myself each time the salesperson picked up the phone.
First I tried local stores:
"Hello, I need a pink flamingo...."
"You can't get those here. You should try Florida."
"Not a real one, the lawn ornament things with the metal stick legs."
I could see the sneer through the phone.
"It's not for our lawn...although I could see putting a Santa hat on one for a Christmas decoration. It is for my daughter's speech."
"I see. We don't carry those. Try a schlocky store...."
Finally, I tracked one down in Tennessee.
"How much is it?"
"You can have the pair for $20. And shipping...another $10"
"$30 for a cheesy plastic lawn ornament?!"
"They are really quite pretty, the color never fades."
"Thanks...I will see if I can find them locally first."
"Before you go, we also carry little wooden fat people gardening with their cute little bums hanging out."
"Thanks, I'll make a note of that for my Christmas list."

I called a respectable garden store.
"We used to carry them...but at this time of year they are hard to find. I know we had one. Let me go check."
I found myself praying for a pink flamingo, but of course only if it "be thy will."
The saleswoman returned, "No, it is gone. Must have sold out."
Oh no! There is a run on pink flamingos just when we need one. I canvased my friends. No one had one.

"When you talk to the salesmen," called Asherel from the couch where she was doing her geometry, "Be sure to ask for the good kind."
The good kind? Asherel has been researching pink flamingo lawn ornaments for a month now, so I presume she was serious.
"The original kind, made by Featherstone," she added.
I quickly did an internet search. There are indeed the good kind of pink flamingo lawn ornaments. They are in many ways indistinguishable from the cheap knock-offs. The good kind are stamped on the bottom with Don Featherstone's signature.In the pink flamingo lawn ornament world, they are the creme-de-la-creme. Who knew there could be such a thing as a pink flamingo snob?
One salesperson suggested I try Black Hawk Hardware store. It was one of those old time family owned businesses that had been in Charlotte for decades. It is filled with the types of things my grandparents could once buy in a day when mass produced uniformity was not quite so prevalent.

"Hello?" I said, as the Black Hawk saleswoman answered the phone, " I am looking for a pink flamingo lawn ornament."
"Oh....this isn't really the season for those..."
Is it ever? I didn't say that, in case she was  the type that put them in her garden.
"Well it isn't for my lawn..." (why do I care so much what an anonymous stranger thinks of my decorating taste?) "It is for my daughter. She is doing a speech and needs one by Tuesday."
"Let me check in our warehouse."

Dear Lord, I understand that there are many more important needs before you this day. So if you need to divert your energy to someone with cancer or a fatal disease, please disregard this plea. But if possible, could you somehow produce a pink flamingo in the warehouse?

"Hello?" said the Black Hawk saleswoman, "I have a box of two left."
Praise God!
"Can you hold them for me? I will be there in half an hour."
"Sure, it will be behind the counter."
"Please don't sell them to anyone else. There has been a run on pink flamingos. Do you want my VISA number?"
"That won't be necessary."
"I can be there in fifteen if I speed."
"Please don't speed. The flamingos are in a box waiting for you."
"Do you promise you won't let someone else have them, no matter how much money they offer you?"
"Yes, ma'am, I promise."
"Cross your heart and hope to die?"
"Ma'am, the flamingos will be here. Goodbye."

I didn't speed, but I was out the door and going at the maximum allowable speed limit in a flash. I hurried into the store and was met by a friendly saleswoman at the door.
"I'm the one who called," I cried breathlessly.
"Called about what?"
"The pink flamingos! Please don't tell me they are gone!"
Another woman at a cash register glanced up.
"I have them, just a moment." She exchanged glances with the store greeter.
And then she emerged with a box, with two of the most beautiful bright pink flamingos I had ever seen. And right on the box it said, "Don Featherstone original pink flamingos."
I paid joyfully and as soon as I emerged from the store, I called Asherel.
"Guess what!?" I said.
"I got the original Don Featherstone pink flamingos!!!"
"Great. Thanks. I gotta finish school. Bye."

As I was carrying my prize to the car, I passed an old woman sitting on a bench. She looked tired, worn down by life.
"Excuse me," she said.
I unconsciously held my original Don Featherstone pink flamingos close to my breast.
"Can you spare some change?"
"For what?" I asked.
It occurred to me that I could spare change for something like penicillin or a heart transplant, but I was certainly not going to spare change if she was just wanting something silly, something frivolous, something cheesy.....
"A soda," she said looking down, "I've been out of work and knocking on doors all morning. I'm so thirsty and I don't have any change."
I pulled some money out of my purse, putting the pink flamingo under my arm.
"Of course. And God bless you."
As I drove home, I glanced over to where the woman sat. She still sat there, head down, looking weary.

Dear Lord, I prayed, please help her find a job.
I have to say, there was something mocking in the pink flamingo's eye.

Matthew 10:41-42

41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Vote as though your world depended on it...cause it does

When I went in to vote, there was no one else voting. No one. And we are a district that usually surpasses the others in voting attendance. The Republicans were trounced in Charlotte. I read that it was because of voter apathy, low turnout.

"Why are you wearing your I Voted sticker?" asked Asherel.
"To encourage others to vote," I said.
I was too weary to launch into my duty as a citizen speech. She has it memorized, anyway. Doesn't our country understand what a privilege voting is? Do they want to have a leader like Gaddafi? Can't we all get off our lazy butts once a year to go pull a few levers that will decide what kind of a government we will have? If you didn't vote, shame on you. The only thing worse than not voting is voting ignorantly. If we are going to vote, we better have some idea of why and who we are voting for. Some people don't like straight ticket voting, but I think that is way better than voting because you saw a yard sign and that person had a nice smile. Hitler had a nice smile. With straight party voting, you are voting for a philosophy of what you believe government should be. If you can't or won't be informed on each and every politician, at least be informed on the differences between the major parties.

So when the school board candidates side-by-side summaries came out, I read them all. There were 13 candidates. I circled the names of those whose views I agreed with. I wasn't thrilled with most of them, but I did like two of them. I got to vote for three. So when I went to the polls, I selected my two, and then was in a quandary. I hate to waste a vote, but how could I vote for candidates I didn't like or didn't feel I could accurately assess? Then I knew what I should do. I voted for my husband. Chuckling a little, I put his name in the write-in slot. Now this was not a protest vote. I think Arvo would be a very good school board member. He has strong opinions based on very sound convictions that are well thought out and meticulously researched. He doesn't have a politician's temperament...I am not sure diplomacy is his strong suit, but he was better in my mind than my other choices. I had a hard time not laughing, and since I was the only voter in the large echoing gym, the poll workers kept looking nervously at me. I don't think they could recall any humor on the dry and short ballot this year.

When I got home, I knocked on the office in our house where Arvo works.
"I just voted for you for school board," I told him, "Just thought you ought to know in case you win."
Then I went to my facebook page. I wrote to all my friends that my husband already had one vote for school board.
"Drat, I wish I'd known!" said one friend, "I just voted!"
"Go vote again!" I urged, "Use your neighbor's name. It is very low turnout...they probably didn't vote."
"Vote early, vote often!" she said.
"It's the American way!" I added laughing.
A few more friends chimed in-  Arvo 2012! Go Arvo! and the like. I think I was developing a groundswell of support. If only we had campaigned a day earlier.

Alas, he didn't win. I opened the paper to somber news. I don't think any of my candidates won. I am definitely not going to gamble in Vegas this week.....

Later in the day I got a phone call.
"Vicky? This is Frank at the bookstore. I sold out of your books. Can you bring me ten more? This book is selling really well. A customer came in and just asked for a few copies. Said she was told she had to read this book."
Well! The day was not a total loss.

One of my favorite verses is from Joshua, when he is chiding his wishy washy people to make a choice for who will lead them. Either choose those old gods that the pagans worshiped, or choose the one true God, he admonishes them. But don't sit on the fence. Fence sitters get toppled with the first strong breeze.
"But as for me and my household," he proclaims, "We will serve the Lord."
We get the future we choose, I thought. It applies to elections and it applies to eternity.

Joshua 24:14-16

 14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 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.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


The email said: "We have to write a paper on our favorite artist. I picked you. Can you answer the following questions about yourself?"

This was a strong encouragement in my hectic day. My ex-student had to write a school paper on famous artists...and she chose me! I looked happily at the list of questions.
#1.  When were you born?
"That's easy," I said, typing in ,"Not yesterday."
#2. What style of art? What medium?
"Hmmm...eclectic, I guess...but probably would be most aligned with the expressionistic movement. (Google it- I'm not writing your paper for you!) However, I don't really have a single style. In fact, a major criticism I often hear is that I have no style...but you might not want to put that in your paper."
#3  What makes you significant?
"You mean other than being the only one in the family with green eyes?"

Now this is a hard question. It is the sort of answer that is engraved on tombstones. Living people rarely know their significance. Or if they do, they are a little self absorbed, don't you think? I suppose by significance, the teacher doesn't want to know what makes every human being significant, that she  has been created by a loving God who knew her before He knit her together in the womb and numbers every hair on her head? Or that I am part of the body of Christ and that if any part of the body does not be who she was designed to be, the whole body suffers?"
I paused and considered all the implications of this question.
We all yearn for significance. We all want to love and be loved. We all experience pain and suffering and despair and most of us find the strength to weather it one way or another. We all had mothers and fathers and most of us were the light of their life. Still, even beyond that, all of us want to have impacted the world in some important way.

On this day in 1895, physicist Wilhelm Rontgen observed xrays, forever changing medicine and disease detection, as well as pornographic machines at the airport screening gate. Now that is significance! Picasso changed the flavor of modern art, dabbling in so many different break-through styles, that he set the art world's heads spinning out of control. Rachel could have chosen Picasso....he was undoubtedly significant.

But the young girl that I had taught for years in my little art class chose me. I suppose, from her perspective, I was a great artist, in the same way that all parents are great until the child reaches age 13.

#3.' can answer this one!

I thought of Enoch, in Genesis Chapter 5, who has four sentences in the Bible about him. All we know of Enoch is that he was born, had some kids, and then:
"24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away."
In a litany of births and deaths recounted in that chapter, the refreshing significance of Enoch was that he didn't exactly die...he was no more, taken away by God. We presume it was because he was so faithful in his walk with God, that even God could not bear to see him die.
Now that's significance!

#3 Significance- the paper is due soon. Answer now, or I am moving on to some other second rate great artist wannabe.

"Ok, I am significant in that I am the world's foremost iPod artist. I draw at least one picture a day on my iPod, and have over 700 iPod masterpieces. I feel very confident no other artist can make this claim."

Oh, how I wish I could be a fly on the wall when Rachel's teacher reads her paper. Her teacher probably won't understand that my significance has nothing to do with my talent or my style or my medium. My significance was that a little girl who loved to draw lived nearby and came to my art classes. I loved her and I loved art, and a little of my passion must have spilled over into her heart. And perhaps that is as significant as I will ever be to anyone, but for today, it has made me glow with deep satisfaction.

Genesis 5:
 21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. 24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.