Monday, December 31, 2012

A New Fun Book!

What better way to end the year than publishing a new book! I am always writing a few projects simultaneously. My big more serious book, the one my brother tells me will make me a millionaire several times over, is still in the works, and may be for many more months. But my new little book, written in collaboration with the blind, deaf dog Tommy (mostly through telepathic means) is one of the most fun books I have ever written. I had to stop work on it through the Newtown horror because all the funny was drained out of me. But it was almost done by then, and this week I finished it. As Tommy philosophizes, life goes on and is meant to be lived forward with as much joy and tail wagging as possible. When it is available, I will send out a separate post with that info. And Tommy is pleased as any books sold through his rescue farm will be 100% profit to them and he is certain to be offered more of his favorite treats as a result. My book doesn't remove the horror of the world, but I am pretty sure it will make you laugh a little.

And I think God approves of laughter. If you don't believe me, do a word search of "laugh" in the Bible. You will be surprised. I think I need to laugh more, and so my New Year offering to all of you is this book, which I think will at least make you smile.

Psalm 2:4 (NIV)
The One enthroned in heaven laughs....

-save a dog-

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Do Good

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Proverbs 3:27

This verse begs the whom is good due? It seems to suggest that there are those to whom good is NOT due. Otherwise, the verse would just have said, "do not withhold good." I suspect that nuance is not where God wants me dwelling. I suspect the larger message is: when able, I need to be actively doing good. This, unfortunately, is not nearly so easy as trying to figure out who doesn't deserve 'good'. In fact, I think this is a problem that could quickly snowball into spending so much time discerning who is worthy of good that I don't manage to actually do one good thing for anyone. Perhaps it is best to just do good whenever I can, and let God deal with the issue of whether the recipient is due that goodness or not. Of course, then a new problem emerges...what exactly is "good" ?

Sometimes, those to whom good is due is clearcut. Like doing good to those devastated families and helpers of Newtown as much as it is in my power to do so. My cousin Sue from Newtown posted a letter from a father of one of the murdered children. He thanked the community, the world, for the outpouring of prayers, notes, and gifts. He said that with one breath at a time, together, they would get through this and that the prayers of so many did help.

Sometimes it is hard to do good, separated by time and distance from those to whom it is due. It was encouraging to know that prayers could be felt and appreciated by such a hurting soul. And prayers are ALWAYS in our power to accomplish.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Proverbs 3:27

-save a dog-

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Light in the Darkness

After the Newtown massacre, the Empire State Building was lit up in Gold and Blue. My cousin Sue told me those were the Newtown colors, the gold and blue of the only public high school in that small community. I loved the show of support from one of the biggest cities in the world to one of the tiniest. I find myself thinking a lot about how the biggest of us treat the tiniest, how the powerful treat the weak, how the rich treat the poor. Do we kick the dog or offer it a bone? Since there will always be someone who is smaller, weaker, and poorer than me, have I been lit up in support as I should towards that someone, a spark of light in the darkness?

2 Samuel 23:4 (NIV)
he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’

-save a dog-

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Higher Calling

I love Petsmart because you often run into cute dogs. We had the good fortune to bump into a St. Bernard pup yesterday. He was very young, could not have been under 150 pounds, and was maybe a week or two old. One look at his paws and you knew that dog would one day need his own planet. I cannot look at St Bernards without picturing them in the Swiss Alps, a beer keg hung around their neck, on an errand of mercy to find and revive avalanche victims. We begged the owner to let us pet the puppy, and I telepathically discussed with him the great and noble purposes of his breed. After whispering,"God speed you on your future of mercy!" we went on our way. But I saw the pup sit up a little taller, perk his floppy ears a little perkier as he thought about my reminder of what he was bred to do.
"A higher calling", thought the pup, "there is more to life than just slobber. I am destined to help others."

1 Timothy 5:10 (NIV)
and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

-save a dog-

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Undecoration Day

Round two of guests leave this morning, so now before Round Three shows up, it will be undecoration day today. My decorations went up the day after Thanksgiving and so now that Christmas is over, it is time to move on. I love decorating for Christmas, but I have to admit, undecorating does not carry quite the same level of excitement. I do like the clean surfaces and less cluttered corners when the Christmas villages and trees and wreathes and stockings and pine boughs get neatly stashed away. It is just a lot of effort and always a little sobering.

As always, I leave out the little clay creche Asherel made me one year. It sits on the piano all year to remind me that the promise of Christmas is still there, is always there, though at times hidden away such that it is easy sometimes to forget it is there. Behind the little holy family is a tin church with a candle inside. A silver cross is hung around the steeple. That one little scene says it all to me, and so it will sit on the piano that my son used to play, once filling our house with music. Both help me keep the joy of family and Jesus in my heart, the memories of what once was with the hope of what one day will be.

Psalm 55:22 (NIV)
Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.

-save a dog-

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Round Two

Round two of Christmas visitors begins now. Arvo's brother and s-i-l arrived yesterday eve and we dashed out to visit Mom K with them. We are not completely certain she recognized them, or at least not the context in which they belong. She seems to be thinking we all are gathering near in Germany to visit her mother. I must have looked weary because as we got up to leave she grasped my hand and said, "Poor Vicky."
"Poor Vicky?" I said, wondering what she had noticed, "Cause I'm ugly?"
She didn't comment on that, but exclaimed, "Your hands are so warm!"
This IS unusual for me, but her room was about 150 degrees ( Fahrenheit, not celsius) and I WAS quite hot. I don't think my hot hands are why I was "poor", however. I never did find that out.

Today we will rush out to replenish the empty refrigerator and begin Festivities Redux. It sapped all my culinary skills to try to cook festive yummy meals for six days for my visiting adult kids, so Arvo is taking over while his brother is here. Round three then starts up when Matt and Karissa return, en route back home from her Aunt's house, and they will stop here to pick up their new bunny. I will have had a breather, and should be in full force ready to come up with a yummy recipe again by then.

I love Christmas, and I love family here, and I love Facebook...but I will tell you what I don't love about the intersection of the three. Everyone keeps posting pictures of lobster, and shrimp appetizers artfully arranged, and fondues with twenty different dippers and sauces, and beautiful exotic desserts. Frankly, I feel inadequate. I try very hard to make wonderful things, but cooking has never been my gift, and it truly is a labor of love (emphasis on 'labor'). So many children have fond memories of the wonderful things their mom used to make for them. I fear this will not be a cherished memory of my own kids, and so I look at the Facebook pictures of fabulous food, and feel sad that I didn't or couldn't do THAT. I sometimes, in moments of melancholy, wonder, what WILL I be leaving memories of?

One life is just not enough to get it right. But since it is all we are given, I guess we have to make the best of it, and start today even if yesterday was undercooked asparagus and overspiced fish.

Psalm 51:10-12 (NIV)
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. [11] Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. [12] Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

-save a dog-

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! May the star of wonder illuminate your path and lead you to the only place worth traveling, fellow sojourners.

My beloved Matt, Karissa, and Anders all leave today. At 6 a.m., I found out I have a new batch of Arvo's relatives arriving this afternoon. We celebrated Christmas yesterday with our beloved kids and Grandma, and now we will celebrate again today with Esko and Denise and Grandma. (And with the washing machine, vacuum cleaner, and bathroom cleanser.) Fortunately, I was up at 5:45 to see Matt and Karissa off, so I got right to work, just like Santa, but instead of dropping presents down the chimney, I was cleaning it...and washing sheets and cleaning bathrooms. But first I turned on all the Christmas trees and Christmas lights. Oh how my world sparkled!

Last night, we all went to the Candlelight Service at church. It is a huge church, and it was filled to the brim. I cannot describe the awe of watching one candle light another until 5,000 candles were lit and 5,000 voices were raised singing "Silent Night". It felt like heaven, particularly since we were on the third story balcony looking down on 5,000 candles lighting the upturned face of 5,000 hopeful souls. Surrounding me to the left and right were my children and husband, all singing, all bathed in the light of their candle. If all my brothers and sisters and parents could have been here, it would have been heaven, but it was as close as I think it might get here on earth.

PS- FYI, when the recipe for German Stollen calls for 150 degrees Celsius, this is DIFFERENT from 150 degree Fahrenheit.

Psalm 85:10-13 (NIV)
Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. [11] Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. [12] The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. [13] Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.

-save a dog-

Monday, December 24, 2012

Be Gentle

Last night, my cousin Sue ran her Newtown Christmas Pageant with the little children from her church. Many had been directly involved in the Newtown horror a little over a week ago. She said it was wonderful to see them in the pageant, smiling again. I think some worried they might never smile again.

We all went to see the new movie, Lincoln, last night. It was the Christmas gift to us from Matt and Karissa, with giant popcorn and drinks the offering from Anders. It was a movie filled with deep messages, but one of the strong images I carried away was of the gentleness and kindness of Lincoln. He didn't waver from his convictions, but he always did so with gentleness and apparent respect and love for the frail and flawed humanity around him. He didn't lead by forcing his views on others...except of course that whole civil war thing....but by patiently and with humor and folksy stories endearing himself to all. It reminded me very much of Jesus with His parables. Lincoln didn't always explain his stories, but they left the desired impact anyway.

God sent a gentle offering to mankind as well. He didn't force Himself on us, but urged us to learn of Him, to abide with Him, initially through the sweet and gentle vehicle of a baby born to die for us. A baby cannot coerce; it can only plead, often through tears, and we respond as we choose.

The older I grow, the more I long for gentleness. It is such a harsh place, this world. I think that is why I was so enamored of the little angora rabbits we visited last week. There are few creatures more gentle than a bunny.

I enter Christmas Eve with visions of little children so recently facing raw evil now smiling as they reenact the story of Jesus' birth. My thoughts tumble about the image of a kind man who had to do very hard things to bring freedom to a suffering people. My hope kindles with the celebration of a little baby lying in a manger bearing the burden of all humanity on His tiny shoulders. And my heart rejoices over my children, home again for at least this week.

Philippians 4:5
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

-save a dog-

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Glimpses of Heaven

I love my family. I love having my kids all home for Christmas. Anders flew in from Boston, and we rarely see him. What a treat. And Matt drove in from Virginia. Matt is always a joy, and he brings his wife, an extra bonus. I love my daughter in law, Karissa, with her constant kindness towards me and her kindred spirit, and sense of fun. I love my Asherel, teenage angst and all, her gentleness and sweetness so apparent as she cradled the little bunny recently. And then Arvo and I went disc golfing with Anders while the others shopped. We lost two discs but it was a beautiful sunny day, and the fresh air and exercise made us all happy. I had a pinched nerve so every toss of the disc was accompanied by a stab of pain. Nonetheless, It was fun for me (despite my horrible skill and the twinge of pain) just to be with my loved ones. I know we will not always be able to gather like this, but for this brief moment in history, my life feels very close to perfect.

I wish I could bottle it and save it for the inevitable hard times, or send a little of the sense of peace and joy to sprinkle on Newtown. But since I cannot, I will try very hard to enjoy it, and praise God for the glimpses of Heaven He sends now and then. There are certainly enough glimpses of evil, but I pray that the hopeful message of Christmas will instead pervade my thoughts- in the end, the baby wins. Like my disc golf game, the blessings are often accompanied by pain along the way here on earth. It is best to try to focus on the blessings. But to all those who believe, perfect peace and perfect joy await us. In the interim, thank you Lord for the manifold blessings falling gently like snow around me- may I notice the beauty and not the cold.

Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

-save a dog-

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Decisions, decisions, decisions.....

The dogs started barking wildly, and we glanced outside. An entire herd of about 15 deer was standing across the street in our neighbor's yard. There were several young ones, no bucks, just a bunch of milling mamas and their youngsters. They seemed a little confused, as well they should be. We are in a subdivision and one street over backs up to a somewhat undeveloped area, but still, this is not where deer would want to be generally. It was quite spectacular. They rustled about for awhile, and finally started filing down the street. What a treat! A whole line of deer quietly walking single file among the houses. You could not help but think they had ditched Santa and were on strike. Maybe they finally just decided he was getting far too much attention on this sacred holiday.

"Now Dancer, really, don't you think this is going a bit far?"
"Prancer, for a thousand years I have pulled that sleigh making kids think Christmas morning was all about material greed."
Dasher chimed in, "And no overtime pay either!"
Comet nosed at them, "Keep it down. There are young ears listening. I don't think we want them considering there is something more important than Santa Claus."
The deer glanced back at the young ones, frolicking and butting against each other.
Vixen snorted, "Oh please, nothing you say will convince the little ones there is something more important than Santa Claus."
Rudolph, with his very shiny nose, who was leading the pack said, "Then why are we here? Why are we not back at the North Pole getting our muscle massages and vaseline jelly on our noses to prevent frostbite?" He waited patiently for their answer. He was a good leader in this matter, having felt persecution personally.

The deer paused and consternation filled their furry faces. This is actually the point in the discussion that we looked out our window and saw them. They ran in one direction, North, and then back South. Why were they here? Should they return and follow Santa, or...what? Some bolted, and then returned to the pack. There was evidently great indecision. And then one by one, they began filing down the street, going South, with Rudolph and his very shiny nose leading the way.

Matthew 1:22-23 (NIV)
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: [23] “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

-save a dog-

Friday, December 21, 2012

Wooly Comfort

For anyone that needs a smile and a moment of comfort, after reading Psalms, and donning a prayer shawl, perhaps the next most potent balm to sadness is to visit a rabbitry. And for extra magical joy, visit an angora rabbit rabbitry. My son Matthias and wife Karissa decided that demands of law school notwithstanding, they wanted a pet. They knew a dog was perhaps more than they could handle at this stage of their life, but perhaps a rabbit would be ok. Rabbits don't need walks, or letting out, or really much care at all other than cage cleaning and cuddling. And better yet, Angora Rabbits look just like the Tribles on the old Star Trek show. They are impossibly soft and cuddly with long hair that covers their face entirely. You have to smooth the hair away to even know there is a rabbit under all that fluff. Their ears stand up on the bottom half, and flop over on top with long silky hair.

When we arrived at the Rabbitry, an hour from our home, the owner plopped 3 month old bunnies in each of our arms. Within moments, the resolve to "just look" had melted into 4 potential sales. Asherel's bunny curled into her arms like a newborn baby, and fell asleep. Matt kept kissing his bunny. Karissa looked rapturous. I held the bunnies and wondered if they would take trade-ins on our dogs and bird...

The Angora rabbit is an ideal pet for the lazy pet owner who cannot move much and just wants an instant blood pressure reducer. They are almost uniformly docile and mellow. None of the rabbits we picked up did anything but melt into our arms and seemed to enjoy the stroking and petting, which no one who holds an Angora rabbit can help but do. They require little care except feeding and grooming. You must groom Angora's regularly or they get "wool balls" in their guts from self grooming, and since among their other lovely features, cannot vomit or pass gas, the wool balls kill them.

"I want this one," said Asherel beseechingly.
"We'll take this one," said Matt and Karissa.
"Can I live here?" I asked.

So, Matt and Karissa will pick up their bunny after Christmas break on their way back to law school. Their little snuggly study bunny will be the most spoiled rabbit on earth. They have already researched rabbit strollers, rabbit spring and summer outfits, rabbit harnesses, and rabbit carry purses. Even the two hour drive home in rush hour traffic did not obliterate the peace instilled in each of us from the rabbit therapy.

The comfort of God's word and God's people is critical. The comfort of His soft fuzzy creatures should not be underestimated.

Matthew 5:4 (NIV)
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

-save a dog-

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Prayer Shawl

Yesterday, I was overjoyed that all my children would be home that very night. The house was cleaned and decorated for Christmas, the refrigerator stocked with favorite foods, cookies and homemade pies on the counter, bathrooms sparkling, towels all laid neatly on the freshly made beds. I was preparing to leave to go pick up Anders, my oldest, from the airport, and Matt and his lovely wife Karissa were due in at any time. I was filled with joy and anticipation...but I must admit, there was a deep sadness as well. Sadness for the children and families of Newtown, sadness for the death of my friends Comer and Evelyn in the past two weeks, sadness for my hands and the strange growing lumps, sadness for the difficulties in our job situation...It has not been the easiest month. Still, I could not wait for my dear boys and daughter-in-law, and to to have us all together for a whole week under one roof.

I was racing out the door, a little late to leave for the airport, when I saw a strange car in the driveway.
"Oh oh," I thought, "Jehovah's witnesses...and I really have to go now!"
But it wasn't Jehovah's witnesses. It was a friend who I rarely see, but she went to our old church.
"Hi Pat," I said, "I am so sorry, but I am flying out the door to leave for the airport."
"I didn't come to stay," she said, "I just came to drop this off."
She handed me a gift bag.
Pat is a Facebook friend too, follows my blog, and lives near. However, I would never have expected a gift from her.
I guess I had a surprised expression on my face, as I took the bag, because she explained, "It is a prayer shawl. I had the sense you needed it."
My eyes welled with tears, I hugged and thanked her, and she returned to her car and drove away.

As I sat in the cell phone lot waiting for Anders' plane to land, I read the card she had enclosed. She, and a group of lovely ladies from the church, gather regularly and pray over these shawls as they knit them. They pray for the peace and love of God that surpasses all understanding to bathe the person who wraps that shawl around their shoulders. I wrapped the shawl around my shoulders, crying, and wondered how she knew how much I needed it. And how could such a soft and gentle thing as a homemade shawl bring so much comfort?

I think the funeral for one of the children in my Newtown cousin's church gets buried today. I have been drawing pictures of my thoughts of Newtown. I can't knit, so my art is my prayer shawl for my cousin, for Newtown, for our country, for my own troubled heart. God is wrapping his arms around children that will never again feel pain. And His emissaries are wrapping their prayer shawls, whatever form that offering takes, around His hurting people here on Earth.

Jeremiah 8:18 (NIV)
You who are my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV)
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, [4] who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. [5] For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

-save a dog-

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Don't Get Up Without Help

Mom K had a bump on her head and a contusion on her chin, but didn't break anything. Arvo had to leave the ER to go to a meeting, so I was the tag team. I walked into the ER room, where Mom K was being checked over thoroughly.
"Hello," she said, "Now I see why everyone doesn't want me to get up without help."
She has said that before, but unfortunately, the memory doesn't remain, and she will likely continue to get up without help, and fall. There is little we can do but pray she doesn't hurt herself too horribly.

As I drove her back to her nursing home, she told me that she had fallen after going shopping, and when she got out of the car, she got dizzy and fell on the steps into the house. That was true....ten years ago. This fall was in the bathroom at the nursing home. When we pulled up to the nursing home, she asked why we were there.
"To get you lunch," I told her.
And all her lovely friends were at the table, still eating a late lunch. I told them about my busy day, shopping, cleaning, cooking, baking in preparation for my boys coming home today.
"Then why did we stop here for lunch?!" asked Mom K.
And then the ladies asked me if I had heard about the Newtown murders. One knew about it because she is often on the computer.
They all shook their heads and said how terrible it was.
"I don't know how anyone gets through this life without God," said another.
"Me either," I said.
"Tell the waitress to bring you lunch," whispered Mom K.
I patted her hand and told her I had eaten already, and needed to head out now.
"Remember, don't try to get up without help," I said, kissing her goodbye.
The ladies at her table winked at me, and one promised me she would watch her.

My amazing cousin Sue has been contacted by children she taught in Kindergarten at Sandy Hook School 20 years ago! Judging from the comments, they still remember and adore her. The love and kindness she poured into them, they are now pouring back into her as she struggles through the hard days of memorializing the murdered children and helping those left behind.

Don't try to get up without help.
As I returned to my car, I thought of the Newtown children being buried this week and thought that was good advice for us all right now.
Father Lord, as you have helped me stand when my knees are weak, let me now help others.

John 8:16 (NIV)
... because I am not alone. I stand with the Father...

Job 30:28 (NIV)
... I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.

2 Samuel 22:7 (NIV)
“In my distress I called to the Lord; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears.

-save a dog-

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When You Can't Face the World

I came across Honeybun with her head buried under the couch cushions. She didn't move for the several moments it took me to find my camera, and take a photo. I can only surmise she found some delicious morsels buried there, though I could hear no crunching or nibbling noises. She remained completely still in that position for some time.

"I know how you feel," I told her, "Sometimes, you just have to bury your head."

My oldest comes home tomorrow, the one we get to see only a few times a year. I have a long list of all the things to do: cleaning, shopping, cooking....Oh, and I have to bathe the dogs. Maybe that's why Honeybun is hiding her head. Of course, the last time I bathed the dogs, I broke my tailbone. I am the one who should be hiding my head, or perhaps my tail.

In the midst of all the sadness for the Newtown victims of that horrendous shooting, it does seem like Honeybun has the right idea. Hide under a cushion and try to soften the pain of living, dampen the noises of a cruel hard world, cover one's eyes from looking on so much evil, hide from the inevitable bath....

But ultimately, she came out. She figured out she had to go on living, and since the couch had neither food, water, nor tasty biscuits, she realized hiding under the cushion would not suffice. There are beautiful things out in the world, the bath notwithstanding. And when she emerged, I scratched her behind her ears. She leaned into the touch of one who loves her dearly.

I was thinking of the Bible verse that promises strength to the broken-hearted, and peace that surpasses understanding in the midst of struggle and pain. Mom K had a panic attack a couple of days ago. My husband had to rush out to the Home, and finally, he was able to calm her down. No one knew what triggered the sudden emotional outburst, or what calmed it. And this morning, we got a call that she fell (again) and hit her head. Arvo is on the way now to take her to the ER. He feels at the end of his strength, like so many weary and broken-hearted souls this week.

When shaken to the core, feeling that every ounce of strength and courage has been stripped away, God is still there. I believe He is always there, but I think sometimes we don't realize how desperately we need Him until we reach the end of our own resources. I suppose that is the point at which many of us make a choice- hide under the cushion or embrace God and let Him cover us instead. But it is so hard sometimes, keeping the perspective of eternity.

Psalm 34:18 (NIV)
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 147:3 (NIV)
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

-save a dog-

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Window of Light

I spent most of the day in Columbia, SC interviewing the person who stars in my next book. It was a lot of driving and a long session of interviewing, but I was very glad I did so. The 4 hours I spent in the car, I listened to a few sermons, Christmas carols, and talk shows by pastors trying to make sense of the Newtown shooting. The time all by myself listening seemed to help me.

I heard many different viewpoints. Everyone processes grief in different ways. Some people, like me, need to be quiet and alone, and write their feelings down. Others want to try to solve the unsolvable. Others need to be busy, helping others. Others need to be in continual prayer. Some need to vent anger, some need to cry, some need to stare off into space. Some need to avoid it altogether and go shopping. (I have a touch of that in me too....)

All people seem to long for meaning in suffering. At least let there be a purpose and we can get through it! That is why senseless murder is so disturbing. What possible purpose can there be? I don't have the answer, but I have seem many posts on Facebook about parents hugging their children more, about recognition that our time on earth is an uncertain span and we need to use it more wisely, that we should never take our blessings for granted, that we need to pull together, and that God can comfort, even when we cannot understand where exactly He fits in this impossibly awful event. Strangers are reaching out to people they don't know, and offering condolences. What happened, whether due to malice, or mental illness, or both is inexcusable, and horrendous. But it is beautiful to see candle vigils, churches open all night, and people joined together in prayer. It is a window of light, beseeching God to somehow hold us together in a shattered world.

A few years ago, Asherel made little necklaces out of hand rolled cursive clay that spelled "Hope". At the time, Sue, my cousin from Newtown, who is the director of Children's Ministry in a church there and was a teacher of Sandy Hook School for ten years prior to that, asked Asherel to make about 70 of those Hope necklaces for the children of Newtown. It was the first (and I think last) sale of Asherel's clay bead business from her early teenage years. I pray that those necklaces and their message are still at hand for the children and families of Newtown.

Colossians 1:17,23 (NIV)
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. [23] if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven...

-save a dog-

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Little Thing

I went to finish my Christmas shopping- stocking stuffers, and a few odds and ends. On the way, I played Christmas music in the car, and thought of the children of Newtown, Connecticut. I sobbed my heart out as I listened to the music, crying for the bereaved families of Newtown. Sadness is so much sadder when it occurs during a time that is supposed to be filled with good cheer.

After shopping, as I was checking out, the cashier asked me if I wanted to get a credit card from her store and save 10%.
"I better not," I said
She continued telling me all the reasons why I really should get the store credit card.
I listened and then told her, "Well, you make a good case, but credit cards in my hands are dangerous. I am afraid I still better not."
She smiled at me, "Well thank you for listening to me. Most people cut me off when I'm in the middle of a word! I get so flustered...I mean, I have the whole spiel memorized. I can't stop...but they won't let me finish so I have to. I stand there with my mouth hanging open, and can't think what to say next! Anyway, thanks for listening."

It was a little thing...a very little thing. In a world filled with evil and heartache, I had just been thanked for not cutting someone off mid-sentence. It occurred to me how sorely we all need kindness. I also thought, with some guilt, how many thousands of times I had cut cashiers off mid-sentence because I really didn't need their credit card pitch. But those little things matter, and they add up. Perhaps there is hope. And if there is a little hope, maybe the world is not doomed.

On that horrific day in Newtown, there was one murderer, and he did awful things. But there were hundreds of compassionate helpers in the aftermath, including my cousin Sue, and now people reaching out from all over the world to that little community. It is good to try to focus on them, and the love and healing they extend. If those devastated families can clasp a loving hand, perhaps hope will one day rekindle. If there is a little hope, maybe the world is not doomed.

I drove home listening to Christmas carols, my heart still heavy, but this time I didn't cry. I just prayed silently and listened to the songs of Promise.

Psalm 31:24 (NIV)
Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.

Psalm 130:5 (NIV)
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.

-save a dog-

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dancing in Heaven

We knew he would be anxious to join his beloved wife. Yesterday morning, my old friend Comer passed away. He lasted only a couple of weeks from the death of his dear wife, Evelyn, and never really recovered from that loss. I am sad, but feel also a touch of wonder and joy. I know at this moment, freed from the devastation of Alzheimers, old aching joints, and terrible pain, they are dancing in Heaven in the light of The Lord.

Later in the day, I was on Facebook and read about the horror unfolding in Newtown, Connecticut. My dear cousin, Sue, used to work at the school where the murders occurred. She has lived there her whole life. She knew many of the people there. Her own son was home sick, and therefore safe. That was not the case for many of her friends.

A 93 year old man like Comer who has lived many years a good and glorious life, can pass on to Heaven, and while there is grief, it is the fate of all mankind, and expected at a certain point. But children should not die. And they should never see their years cut short by violence. It makes no sense and it is unbearable.

Knowing Comer as I did, I feel quite certain that as those sweet children from Newtown enter the pearly gates, he and Evelyn will spread open their arms and beckon them to dance with them, in a place where evil will never touch them again.
On the other hand, those left here still struggling on earth are wailing and numb. The best we can do is cling to those we love, and pray.

Psalm 31:9 (NIV)
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.

Psalm 30:11-12 (NIV)
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, [12] that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

-save a dog-

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fashion for Seniors

I went to visit Mom K at her nursing home, and offered to take her to the mall to see the Christmas decorations. She was not thrilled, seemed confused, but after a good bit of convincing, I got her coat on her. As we headed out the door, the activities director stopped me.
"Are you staying for the fashion show?" she asked us.
"Fashion show?"
"Some of the residents will model and Stein Mart is sponsoring it along with Mary Kay cosmetics."
In the dining room, a red runway had been rolled out. Chairs were lined up on either side. Hors-d'oeuvres were arranged on a platter in the entry room: cheese, crackers, dip, xmas cookies and punch.
"Sure," I said, "Want to stay, Mom?"
"Why not?" she said.
So we got prime position along the runway, after gathering a plate of goodies.
One of the models was Shirley, a table mate of Mom K. Shirley never stops smiling. Her face seems frozen in a smile. She is relatively spry for the Home, still walks tall with the use of a cane to aid her balance. The other models were workers and adult children of the residents, but the last model was a resident. She was a bit more feeble than Shirley, and walked down the runway on the arm of one of the tall strong males. From our vantage point, at first all we could see was her top half. She wore a slinky silk blue dress, lovely gold flashy jewelry and artfully made-up face, courtesy of Mary Kay cosmetics. Her eyes glittered at least as brightly as the dress, and she smiled, looking straight ahead as she tottered down the runway. She looked lovely. When she reached our end, and was in full view, I could see the completion of her ensemble- white bobby socks and flat house shoes. Of course you could not dress a 90 year old woman in stilettos, but the white ankle socks with the lovely dress were a somewhat jarring note.

"You look gorgeous!" called out the crowd along the runway. She smiled, and hung onto the arm of her escort.
"I have no idea what I'm doing," she whispered to him.
"You are doing just fine," he said, patting her arm.
The facility director snapped several photographs, telling her she looked stunning.
She beamed back at him.

Next there was a little seminar on how to tie a scarf. I learned a very intricate and lovely new way to tie a scarf. The announcer enumerated at least a thousand reasons why everyone should have a scarf. I do not have a scarf, but after the fashion show, I raced out to Stein Mart and got one, now that I know how to tie it. I have an interview this weekend for my new book I'm working on, and reason #576 for a scarf is that is gives that professional completion to any outfit.

By the third hour of sitting in the somewhat warm Home and enjoying time with Mom K, and then the fashion show, I was a little woozy. But I was glad I had gone. I almost never walk in that Home when there is not something wonderful and interesting happening. The Activities Director loves God, and her influence and hope is evident in everything she does for the residents. The nicest part of the whole affair was seeing a crowd cheer a 90 year old woman for looking so lovely in a splendid dress and ankle socks. The flurry and worry of holiday preparations are raging around us all. No one has the time for all the love and kindness we wish we could pour out on those we come into contact with. But here, in a small assisted living home in South Charlotte, the presence of God's love shines as brightly as the star that guided the wise men so long ago to the manger of the baby whose love would change a world. I left the Home thinking that love is still changing the world.

Colossians 1:3-6,9-12 (NIV)
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, [4] because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people--- [5] the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel [6] that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world---just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. [9] For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, [10] so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, [11] being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, [12] and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

-save a dog-

Thursday, December 13, 2012

a Leap of Faith

I gave my Destination Imagination team a rather difficult "instant challenge." They weren't quite sure how to go about solving it. One person grabbed the materials and just started playing with them.
"Do you have a plan?" asked another.
"No," she said, but as she worked the plan started to develop. Slowly the other kids began discussing how they could make the plan work. In the end, it wasn't necessarily the most amazing solution on earth, but it was A solution, and much better than nothing.

It made me think about how sometimes one must make a leap of faith, take action even when one is not quite sure where one will land. If the alternative is stagnation, nothingness, failure...that leap may be by far the best choice.

I slept poorly. One dream I remember was I suddenly had a newborn baby. I had no diapers for the baby, forgot to feed her and found her trying to eat oreo cookies. I snatched the cookies away knowing they were not what she needed. I had no carseat, no bottles, and no clothes for her. I had no clue of how to care for the baby and just felt a heavy weight of responsibility for a task I had no idea how to accomplish, with such a precious life depending on me.

I flicked on my phone and went to my Bible app, when I awoke from the troubling dream. Psalm 3 popped into view. I read the Psalm, had strange semi-conscious sensations and visions of being carried on waves, and then fell blissfully asleep. Honestly, without a leap of faith, I wonder how anyone makes it through life.

Psalm 3:1-5 (NIV)
Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! [2] Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him. ” [3] But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. [4] I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. [5] I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

-save a dog-

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

God's Handiwork

I painted a duck yesterday. I don't paint often. I draw, or more often, create on my iPad. But Asherel is entering the Junior Federal Duck Stamp Art contest, so in a show of solidarity, I sat with her and painted a duck. I did not want to stop. I have a lot of other obligations, and so I had to stop, but once I started painting my duck, I wanted to keep painting my duck.

In preparing Asherel for her duck painting session, I discussed the value of art. Art can and in fact, should, make the viewer see the world in a new way. If art doesn't do that, it really, in my opinion, isn't art. It might be craft, or decoration, but it isn't art. I am a bit of an art snob, loving art as I do, but it seems to me when you have the talent of a true artist (like, forgive me, Asherel does...) then you should take it to the next level...beyond pure excellence in technique and into the realm of discovery and even revelation.

I know. She is just painting a duck. Can a duck rise to the level of art? In the hand of a true artist, ANYTHING can be ART. For goodness sake, all you have to do is look around you and see CREATION. Now that is ART, and I love this season of celebrating the birth of the ARTIST of salvation, whose art reveals all one needs to know! What an incredible thought! You and I are God's handiwork, and like any piece of art, created to show the world something it might not otherwise see.

Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith---and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--- [9] not by works, so that no one can boast. [10] For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

-save a dog-

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Let It Snow

Well Christmas can come anytime now. Asherel bought Honeybun a Mrs. Claus outfit, complete with hat. With her usual equanimity, Honeybun submitted to trying on the outfit. As Honeybun trotted about the house, hat flipped jauntily over one ear, Asherel went back to her room.
"Come take the outfit off poor Honeybun!" I called out.
"Why?" asked Asherel.
Honeybun looked at me.
"Because it isn't even Christmas yet!"
Honeybun mouthed, "Thank you."
Asherel came and removed the outfit and Honeybun shook all over, then lay down with her head between her paws watching us. What next?

She is such a patient dog. She seems to understand that Asherel, for whatever reason, enjoys seeing her dressed like a little human. I went to the mall yesterday and saw a couple shopping...with a dog in a stroller. Gimme a break. I am pretty sure that isn't even legal. Service dogs in a shopping mall are one thing, but dogs that are in the pitiable position of being forced to pretend to be humans...that is a whole other enchilada.
We humans do such ridiculous things to dogs.

We treat many things as something they are not. Christmas itself is one of those things. How did it get so far from what it was intended to be? It is supposed to be about the celebration of the birth of the Savior of the world. How did Santa Claus, and reindeer, and grinches enter in?

I wanted to shake the couple with the dog in the stroller. I wanted to yell, "That is not a baby! It is a dog! Dogs don't belong in strollers!"

But I passed them by, and wondered if the dog was pleased by this idolatry, or did he submit with the same stoic resignation as Honeybun, knowing that in the end, they would recognize he really was just a dog?

Jeremiah 16:19-21 (NIV)
Lord, my strength and my fortress, my refuge in time of distress, to you the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, “Our ancestors possessed nothing but false gods, worthless idols that did them no good. [20] Do people make their own gods? Yes, but they are not gods!” [21] “Therefore I will teach them---this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the Lord.

-save a dog-

Monday, December 10, 2012

Overcome by Inertia

Yesterday, I came across Lucky with his bottom sitting on the couch, but his front legs on the ground. It was clear, he had decided to get off the couch, but then, mid stride, changed his mind. So he was sitting/standing, pondering his choices. I don't know how long he had been in that position, but he didn't move when I walked in the room. He looked a little mournfully at me, as though I could help him with this difficult decision. Did he want to lie back down on the comfy couch, or did he want to get up and deal with his daily to-do list? He just couldn't make up his mind.

It is how I feel. I can totally relate. The house needs massive cleaning before my boys come home for Christmas, gifts need mailing, cards need warm and personal messages before sealing, home-school work needs reviewing, and I have three interviews for my latest book that I need to find a way to conduct in the midst of both the interviewees' and my life. Not to mention visit my friend Comer in the Hospice house, and Mom K in her Assisted Living Home. I have to get all that done, sooner rather than later, but it is so much simpler just to nap.

I can't remember which Christmas cartoon the song is from, but I remember a line that went something like this: "Just put one foot in front of the other, and soon you'll be running out the door." I vaguely recall some overwhelmed elf feeling there was no possible way he could do all that needed doing. Like many of us in that situation, the tendency was just to give up, not move, succumb to inertia. But his friend wisely advised him to just get started. Ultimately, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

If Lucky were the praying type, he might have aided his decision by prayer. God does give a few guidelines when we are overcome by inertia, unable to move the mountain or part the sea, peering at a path obscured by worry or fatigue. Examine your heart and be sure of your motives, fix your eyes on God, and do nothing in word or deed that is evil. And then get your bottom off the couch and let your hind legs follow your forelegs. Soon you will be running out the door.

Proverbs 4:23-27 (NIV)
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. [24] Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. [25] Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. [26] Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. [27] Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

-save a dog-

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Broken Hearted

We lit the first Hanukkah candle last night. My kids love being Jews who believe the Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus) has come. They get to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. Asherel was feeling mournful since it was the anniversary of the day John Lennon was shot, so I was glad that her Hanukkah gift was a Beatles' folder.

First we light the "shamash", the servant candle, and then we use the shamash to light the first candle of Hanukkah. I love the symbol of the servant slowly bringing light to an entire world of candles. I also love how the shamash is placed in a little holder higher than the other candles of a hannukiah. One would not normally think of a servant as higher than those it serves. What a perfect symbol for Yeshua, who came to serve and who we serve and glorify in the end. I hoped the pretty ceremony, bible verse, and Beatles folder lifted the gloom for Asherel.

It had been a somber day for me as well. I knew it was the anniversary of John Lennon's death, and that actually made me a little sad too. Such senseless waste of a troubled but talented man. But that was not the only reason for my somber-ness. I drove out to visit Comer, my 93 year old newly widowed friend, who now was fading rapidly in a hospice center. He did not clasp my hand this time, when I said hello. He didn't open his eyes. However, he breathed rapidly, and his mouth moved as though he wanted to speak. I knew he could hear me and knew I was there. So I talked to him as though he could respond. I told him about the beautiful summer like weather, the preparations for Christmas, the gorgeous salon haircut Asherel had gotten. And I told him that I had finished the proofing of his book, and it was now online, and in print, live and available. He breathed rapidly and his mouth moved. I hope that meant he was excited to hear that news.

So in honor of my friend Comer, his second poetry e-book is now available for free for the next two days-

His print book is available as well, and any proceeds go to his account. I hope and pray that he will miraculously recover and be able to use that money. But I don't hold a lot of hope for that, really. At age 93, with the love of his life now dancing unencumbered with Jesus, the world may have lost its allure.

As we lit the Hanukkah candles, I said a silent prayer for Comer, that the One who could light the darkness was even now flickering in Comer's midst. May He be in your's, and in mine, the Servant who would be King.

Proverbs 18:14 (NIV)
The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?

Psalm 34:18 (NIV)
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

-save a dog-

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Reaching Out with Damaged Hands

"Did You Know...
Hitting a ganglion cyst with a book is not recommended?"

This bit of insightful medical advice is from Mercks Manual, the disease and treatment Bible. I am sorry to say that I have strange things developing in my hands. One started off as what the doc thought was a nerve ganglion that grew after I caught a frisbee smack dab in the joint at the base of my thumb with a resounding and painful thwack. That was about two years ago. Lately, it has grown slowly such that now it has enlongated and stretched up the tendon in my thumb. And then, I noticed a hard nodule in the palm of the other hand. I made another doctor appointment, but first did my own internet diagnosing.

For all of you tempted to self diagnose, always be prepared to be freaked out. Quite often, many diseases have risks, such as death associated with them. The internet has no bedside manner, and doesn't care if its pronouncements make you pee in your pants. Nonetheless, I took a deep breath and prowled the internet. The very first hit I got when I searched, "nodules in hand" said that the vast majority of people who have nodules in the hand have a disease called "dupuytren's contractures." This is not a favored disease of artists and writers as, while not fatal, it is progressive in most cases, and can lead to crippling hand contractures. Ronald Reagan had this disease, which made me feel that at least I was in good company.

There is no accepted treatment outside of surgery, and no cure. There are promising alternative treatments suggested, and I quickly hurried to read about those. One is to rub vitamin E on the nodules, as well as take it orally. I am little and know that fat soluble vitamins like E can be overdosed with bad results, so decided to start with just the rub on treatment. I actually think the nodules might be a touch softer after two weeks of this treatment. I am praying for a miracle and that they will just disappear on their own. My hands are currently highly useful in writing and drawing, and also in covering my mouth in horror when I read things on the internet that scare the pants off me.

The doctor agreed my self-diagnosis of Dupuytrens could be correct. She also felt that they seemed like three separate nerve ganglion cysts. She assured me they were not cancer- cancer in the hands is almost unheard of. She felt comfortable just measuring the lumps, and watching to see if they change. IF they do grow or become painful, I need to see an orthopedist, but for now, we are just watching. If you are the praying type, I would covet your prayers. Surprisingly, my blood pressure was only 102/60.
"That's really fantastically low! What's your secret?" asked the nurse.
"I guess it must be job concerns, having a good friend die, another on death's doorstep, and developing strange hand diseases," I confided, "Also, I prayed this morning."

Fortunately, as with all troubles, I rush to a book of great comfort. It is on my iPhone, iPad, and a print copy of it in almost every one of the many bookshelves in our home. It has many references to hands- hands that stretch out, perform wonders, and especially clasp my own always, even when they are gnarled, and painful, and lumpy.

Psalm 77:1-7,10-12,19 (NIV)
I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. [2] When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted. [3] I remembered you, God, and I groaned; I meditated, and my spirit grew faint. [4] You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. [5] I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; [6] I remembered my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked: [7] “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? [10] Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. [11] I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. [12] I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” [19] Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.

-save a dog-

Friday, December 7, 2012

Wreathes of Kindness

Mom K lives in a great Assisted Living home. Last night they had a Festival of Wreathes, that benefited Alzheimer's organizations, and was open to anyone. The residents, staff, and contributors made gorgeous wreathes which decked the entire bottom floor of Elmcroft. They had a spread of hors d'oeuvres including big fat shrimp, artichoke dip, finger size quiche pastry, and several varieties of wine and eggnog (spiked and non spiked). We hurried past this feast to go get Mom K out of her room. She was on her bed asleep.
"Get up!" we said, "We're going to a party!"
We dashed a brush through her hair, and hurried back to the shrimp.

I bid on several wreathes, but I think I was outbid on them all. However, I more than made the evening worthwhile, feasting on cabernet and shrimp. We bought a few handmade xmas cards from one of my favorite veterans who resides there. At one point, while I was looking at wreathes, one resident reached her hand out to me and with a huge smile said, "Just stay as sweet as you are."
I didn't know her, and she really had no basis to proclaim me sweet now or ever. However, I took her hand and told her I would try.

And I suppose I will have no trouble staying as sweet as I is trying to be SWEETER that gives the rub.

All in all it was really a delightful evening, and once again, I was terribly impressed by this Home and how much a vibrant and loving community they have created for their residents. I know those residents pay money to stay in that wonderful place, but the management and caregivers don't act as though it is about the money. They seem to honestly believe and behave as though the residents are their adopted family, and everyone there is co-heir to the bounty of kindness and love.

My Bible reading for the day was about God sending Jesus to change our relationship to Him and to sin forevermore. With Jesus and the Spirit of God now released into our hearts, we were no longer bound by sin. We were now adopted into the family of God, and co-heirs of His kingdom. I think even more than a feast of shrimp and eggnog awaits me there, surrounded by Family in my eternal Home.

Galatians 4:4-7 (NIV)
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, [5] to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. [6] Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba , Father.” [7] So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

-save a dog-

Thursday, December 6, 2012

the Pause Button

I love the 'pause' button. As one is zipping through a video, it all flies by so fast, it is easy to miss important parts. Using the pause button helps to discover not only the parts one might otherwise have missed, but also the parts one saw but misunderstood! The parts that were so breathtakingly beautiful that one could weep for the joy of it, can be stopped so one can just stand there gazing with rapturous eyes. I wish there were a pause button on life. I think I need one.

1 Samuel 12:16 (NIV)
“Now then, stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes!

-save a dog-

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How to Draw a Dragon

I had a rare private art student yesterday. She is one of my favorites- brilliant, fun to chat with, and loves to draw. She brought a picture of a dragon to draw from, though she told me her mom doesn't really like dragons and would have preferred she draw her grandparents. I don't particularly like dragons either, but one thing I have learned over thirty years of teaching art is that students work harder if they like what they are drawing. So, H and I sat together side by side, and I showed her step by step how to draw a dragon.

Over the course of the hour, we discussed many things, including why slaves only counted as 3/5ths of a person in the early constitution. We also discussed how dragons were quite likely real, and seemed to have been described in the Bible. Part of the joy of private students is it is very peaceful and you have lots of time to really connect. Unfortunately, I can't take the time to teach private students, so it is a very rare privilege, for me, and I hope for the student as well.

As we drew the dragon, I found myself beginning to like dragons. I liked the curve of their necks, the scowl of their lips, the malevolent shape of their eyes, the upsweep of their horns, the intricate overlay of their scales....By the end of the hour, I discovered I was wrong. Dragons are very fun to draw, and I decided, without a doubt, I liked dragons.

When H first arrived, she told me that she has a friend who laughs at her when she shows him her art. She said he can draw dragons that look ready to jump off the page.
"So will yours," I promised her.
"I doubt it," she said.
When she finished her dragon, she said, "I can't wait to show this to my friend. I think he will be impressed."
Mission accomplished.

Drawing a dragon is like drawing anything. You look for the basic shapes, you correct the outline, you decide where your source of light is, and you shade accordingly. In the end, if you didn't love what you were drawing at first, you probably will by the last. It is really not all that different from a life well lived. You find the shape of the life you desire, you try to correct your choices to guide you to that life, you recognize that the source of all light is God, and you shade your moments accordingly. If you didn't love the life you were given at the first, I suspect with that method, you will love it in the end.

Psalm 36:9 (NIV)
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

-save a dog-

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

In the Midst of Sadness

I told Angie, Comer's daughter, I could videotape his wife Evelyn's memorial service, since he was unable to leave his bed to attend. That way, he could still watch the service. She liked that idea, though I warned her, all I had was a camera, and I was not certain the battery would hold out.

There was no official announcement that I was videotaping NOT because I was an unbelievably insensitive oaf, but because I was doing so at the daughter's behest for the husband who was too ill to attend his wife's funeral. Thus, in this unspeakably sad and somber occasion, I tried to find a subtle way to videotape the whole thing. Nonetheless, I felt very conspicuous, and knew many people behind me were shooting daggers with their eyes.

I have the world's best friends. One offered to drive me and the other neighbors to the service. Another walked with me to the ideal videotaping seat, not afraid to sit with the pariah upon whom the crowd looked with disdain as I pulled out my camera during the piano overture. In fact, Kristen even made the clever suggestion to place the camera under the aisle seat in front of me, and shift the focus upward at the lectern where presumably most of the action would be occurring. We had not considered the unfortunate angle that shot might have at ladies passing by in skirts, but clever editing later could always be done...if I could find a clever editor.

It would have been a devastatingly sad service, complete with a moving poem written by Comer, except that Kristen and I were often distracted by the need to make compelling video. I only broke down a bit during the poem, which Comer's grandson read. I had compiled over a hundred of Comer's poems, and was in the process of publishing them. The proof had arrived only a week before, and now, her grandson held the proof and read one of the poems Comer had written about the day he knew would come when he would have to say goodbye to his wife. The other teary moment was when the pastor read the 23rd psalm, saying it was Evelyn's favorite psalm. I hadn't known that, but wondered if that was why Comer squeezed my hand so hard when I told him the day before I wanted to recite to him my favorite psalm...the 23rd psalm.

After the service, I tried mightily for an hour to try to download and find a way to send the video to Angie. Finally, at wit's end, I emailed Brian, one of the world's smartest and most compassionate computer gurus, and lucky for me, a good friend. He told me to bring the camera SD card to him, and he would make a CD of the video. As a bonus, while Brian worked on the CD, I got to visit with his wife, Melissa, another one of my all time favorite people. Brian emerged from his home office not only with a CD, but with a CD that had a lovely and elegant plastic case with the title professionally typed on the label, and on the video itself, he had added the title and date.

I brought the CD immediately to Angie's house and hung it on her door so she could bring it to Comer in the morning. And I thought that though the day had indeed had moments of excruciating sadness, it had also been filled with the love and prayers of many family members and dear, considerate friends.
I learned some very important lessons, only one of which was I should not consider a career in video-photography.

God's people are never alone. They, of course, always have God, but the community of believers displays its most beautiful face in the midst of sadness and struggle. Honestly, I don't know how I would get through death of loved ones without God, or without the support of His people.

2 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

-save a dog-

Monday, December 3, 2012

And all God's People say Amen

Comer's daughter Angie texted me Sunday after church. Comer was too weak to leave hospice, about 45 minutes from my home, and would not be at the service for his wife's funeral on Monday. So after church, and praying for God's comfort on my friend, I headed to the Hospice House. Angie warned me he was non-responsive, rarely wakening, but when he did, he saw his deceased wife Evelyn, reaching for him. Angie felt he would not know I had even visited. Nonetheless, I felt it was important that I go.

I have never been in a Hospice Center before. I was very impressed. It smelled clean, and had a sense of peace about it. The room doors were all open, and I glanced in as I walked to the nurse's station. All the patients seemed to be asleep, and as old as the earth. The nurse told me Comer's room number, and added that he had declined rapidly upon hearing of his wife's death. She told me that he would probably not wake up or acknowledge I was there, but not to be afraid to hold his hand or to speak to him.

I went in his room and was somewhat shocked by how small he seemed, and how frail. He was asleep when I walked in.
"Comer," I said softly.
HIs eyes opened and he looked at me, and groaned.
I took his hand and he squeezed my hand, hard. So hard, that in a few minutes my fingers were numb, but I held on.
"I am so sorry Comer," I told him. He squeezed harder and I saw a tear form in the corner of one eye, "You will see her again one day, in a place with no more tears, or sadness, or disease."
He squeezed my hand.
"Would you like me to tell you my favorite psalm?"
He blinked.
I recited Psalm 23, and he gripped my hand as though it were a lifeline. I read him several Psalms, and then I read him the last chapter of Revelation. I reminded him that God promised that one day, believers would be reunited with their loved ones. I thought of his twin brother, who had died some years back.
Then I read him 1 John, while he hung on to my numb fingers. I finished with the verse: 1 John 5:20

"We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life."

Comer struggled mightily to speak, and finally he said, "Amen."
"Do you want me to read any more?" I asked.
"No," he said.
I could tell he wanted to say more, but he couldn't.
"It's ok," I told him, "You don't need to talk. You have been a beloved friend, and I have been so blessed to know you. If I could take away your grief, I would."
He raised his other hand as though to cover mine, but then settled it wearily on his chest, and heaved a great sigh. Many years ago, I had sat at the bedside of a friend's child who was dying. I had been terrified that he might die in my presence. That child did die that evening, but ten minutes after I left. I always felt guilty that I had been so frightened, unable to stay just ten more minutes.

But now, sitting beside this man struggling with such overwhelming grief and betrayal of body, I found myself hoping that God would take him home immediately, reunite him in the blink of an eye with the wife he mourned so deeply now. I sat there a long time, silently holding his hand feeling the helplessness of mortal beings who wish, for just a moment, to have the healing power of God.

Revelation 22:17,20-21 (NIV)
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. [20] He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. [21] The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

-save a dog-

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Heart is my Canvas

I had 6 teenagers over to paint their Destination Imagination backdrop yesterday. Fortunately, it was a warm day so the pack of teens had 10 cans of house paint open outside in the back yard, rather than inside my precious home. I shudder to think what I will do on a day too cold to let them loose out back.

Before they painted their backdrop, they had to finish constructing the frame. Since I am not allowed to interfere or assist in any manner, I felt the best idea was for me to go just outside the sunroom where they were building, and rake. I heard a few worrisome loud bangs, and a few shrieks, but nothing that rose to the level of "Call 911".

They all seemed quite proud of the well built structures that they carried out on to the lawn. I gave some final hopeful instructions on the paint, and went indoors. There was a lot of laughter, and again, those disconcerting shrieks. I wandered out every so often just to be sure no one was practicing painting our tree trunks. They never did, though once when I poked out my head, they were painting one team member. I put the kibosh on that, and warned them that no blue person would be allowed in the house.

They all knew the rule no shoes in the house after going in our muddy/dog-poop minefield. So they all took their shoes off, left them dutifully on the back deck, and walked in their bare feet on the muddy/dog-poop minefield. Then when they came inside, of course, they left their footprints...
"Wait!" I called out, "Put your shoes on before you walk in the house with those muddy feet!"
"But you told us no shoes in the house," cautioned one wise teen.
"That's if you walked in the muddy backyard in your shoes," I said, "But right now, your shoes are cleaner than your feet."

Other than that, the afternoon seemed to go well, and they seemed to have a lot of fun. They delegated roles, and everyone had a part, though at times there was some standing around trying to figure out where exactly their skills fit in. Not everything they worked on was successful. I saw some ideas started and abandoned, but creativity rarely springs forth in one completed and perfect swoosh.

Perhaps most importantly, they were figuring out how to manage and complete a complex project with little adult supervision and no assistance. It is what I love most about Destination Imagination. It teaches kids that with organized team work and self reliance, they can do amazing things without a teacher telling them what to do. It teaches the teacher to trust her student and back off. This is tremendously difficult for me, and always makes me wonder how God manages to keep His hands off and let us stumble through, when He knows He has ways to make it all so much easier!

There are always things to do on weekends, fun places to go, hours to put your feet up and relax. I would not have described the Saturday overflowing with teens with gallons of indelible paint "relaxing", but the picture it painted in my memory was worth the forfeited afternoon. I am an artist and I had to keep myself from rushing out and grabbing the brush and painting that glorious huge backdrop myself. I didn't, however. Instead, I thought of their hearts as my canvas and hoped I was helping paint something very valuable and lasting upon them.

Romans 12:1,3-5 (NIV)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God---this is your true and proper worship. [3] For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. [4] For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, [5] so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

-save a dog-

Saturday, December 1, 2012

When You Can't Get Back Up

On my day of skiing, I was very careful to go slowly the whole way down, zigging and zagging across the mountain. I didn't want to fall given my new diagnosis of osteoporosis. However, there were two times I fell. Once I fell while skiing, and just hit an icy patch and lost control. I quickly got back up, since I was on the steep downhill, all I had to do was shift my body towards gravity and it was pretty easy to right myself.

The other fall was when I came off the chairlift. It was very steep and icy there and so I fell at the bottom of the little off-ramp. It is level at the bottom, so I had no gravity to help me get up. In fact, gravity was not my friend at all. I could not push myself up. I guess my legs were tired, and I had severely strained my stomach muscles a few days before using an "abdominal wheel" my son had recommended. Stomach muscles are surprisingly necessary in many tasks. I discovered they are critical in getting up when you are wearing skis. I spent a good 5 minutes trying, and finally managed to wrench my body up. Not without some giggles and rolled eyes from my helpful teenager watching me, I might add.

"Wow," I said panting, worn out from the effort, "What if I fell down and no one was around? I really almost could NOT get up."
"You could take off your skis," suggested Asherel.

I blinked at her, mouth open. Then I snapped it shut.
"Oh...yes...I didn't think of that."

This is a good suggestion, literally, and metaphorically. There are many times in life, barreled over by impossible circumstances that we just cannot get up. We struggle and strain to manage to rise while encumbered by the things that dragged us down in the first place. There is a time when one needs to just "take off your skis". Lay your troubles aside momentarily, the burdens that are too heavy or unwieldy to bear, and it is much easier to get back up. You can always put the skis back on, once you regain your footing.

There are several episodes in the Bible when heroes cry out, "the burden is too heavy, I cannot handle it anymore, I cannot get up again!" In nearly every case, God doesn't remove the circumstances. But He does help. He urges rest, and often sends a friend. Metaphorically, He helps us take off our skis, so we can get back up. And then the hero is reinvigorated, and puts the skis back on for the rest of the trail alongside the friends God has sent. Respite is sometimes necessary, and if we can't get off our skis ourselves, God or an emissary will unlatch the bindings.

"It would have been much easier if I had taken off my skis," I admitted to Asherel, "You might have made that suggestion a little sooner...."
She shook her head, and I followed her down the mountain.

Numbers 11:14-17 (NIV)
I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. [15] If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me---if I have found favor in your eyes---and do not let me face my own ruin.” [16] The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. [17] I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.

-save a dog-

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Angels Sing

The ski mountain was deserted. Asherel and I had the whole mountain all to ourselves, with just a handful of people. It was peaceful, and quiet. It took us a few runs to remember how to ski, but like so many skills in life, the memory never quite fades away. And when I stood on top of the mountain, looking down, I could hear the angels sing.

While on the mountain, I got a text from my 93 year old friend's daughter, Angie. She told me her mom, Evelyn, had passed away that morning. Meanwhile Comer had been in such intractable pain that she had moved him to a hospice center, with the hopes of better controlling the pain. When she gently broke the news to him, he thought she was making a bad joke, went back to sleep, and slept the whole day. My heart is heavy, and I cannot bear to witness the grief I know he will have to endure when he awakens.

On the car rides I used to take Comer and Evelyn on, even in the throes of Alzheimers, she used to sing. She could not speak or string two coherent words together in conversation, but she would remember every word of every song from the 30's to 60's or so. She and I would belt out song after song, while Comer grinned, holding her hand.
"Well now," he would say, "That's a might fine concert."

Maybe when I stood atop the mountain feeling I heard angels singing, it was Evelyn, freed from the struggles that had so overwhelmed her, touching my heart with her music one last time for my mortal ears to hear.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. Psalm 104:33

-save a dog-

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Lovely Place to Reboot

I got up early, as I usually do. The parakeet, Tallin, is usually asleep. He is never a very social parakeet, and never seems to want our company. When I used to try to pet him, he would peck me. Even when I refill his food, he lunges at me with pecking motions. When I say good morning, he trembles and pops open his eyes. But this morning, while I was padding about making coffee, he was raising a ruckus, chirping up a storm. I had the feeling he was trying to tell me something. Then I noticed his water bottle, which I had refilled recently, was bone dry. It must have a leak. I refilled his water, and he stopped screeching. Funny how I knew the bird was talking to me.

The mountains are talking to me too. Our favorite ski mountain, Sugar, is open with a nice base of snow (mostly man-made, but some natural) and one good run open from the summit to the base. We have our own equipment, and mid-week half day lift tickets are affordable. Asherel worked hard to double up on her school so she could get the day off. Her Destination Imagination team that I manage even accomplished all that they had hoped to accomplish in their extended meeting yesterday. The snow was calling. My spirit has felt a little bone dry lately. I think it has a leak. I think perhaps skiing would help refill it.

That won't be a permanent solution. Snow cannot refill a spirit. But it can sometimes give a break from the worries and woes that wear one down. When my phone or iPad start acting funny, not working the way they should, I power them down, and then turn them back on. That usually solves the problem. The technicians tell me that it is like "rebooting" a computer. Even machines need a break now and then.

So I am going to the mountain with my daughter. We need a "reboot", a new perspective, even a bit of danger. I hope I haven't lost the skill I had last year that allowed me to go to the top of the mountain. Looking out over the whole world from that vantage point, with the gorgeous valley open before me and the endless rows of mountains on the horizon, I never fail to sense the overwhelming presence of God, who created it all. Unlike snow, God CAN refill a leaky spirit permanently. I don't HAVE to go to the mountain to find Him, but it is a lovely place for us to have a chat.

2 Samuel 17:29 (NIV)
.... “The people have become exhausted and hungry and thirsty in the wilderness. ”

Psalm 107:8-9,43 (NIV)
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, [9] for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. [43] Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.

-save a dog-

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Curse and A Blessing

I frequently check my book reviews that I receive on-line. My first book, I'm Listening With a Broken Ear, has over 100 reviews and all but a very few are 5 star, so I was shocked to see a 1 star review. 1 star! I was shattered. Steeling myself, I read the review. It was glowing. It praised the book, the message, and our work with Honeybun. I realized the 1 star rating was a mistake. She clearly didn't mean to give me 1 star...but there it was, an indelible blot on my record, lowering my rating. A destructive mistake.

I had finished collating, typing, and editing my 93 year old friend, Comer's, poems. Then I had taken this new collection of 120 or so poems, that he wrote in about a month, and I compiled and sent them to the Publisher. The proof arrived in the mail a couple of days ago. Just in time. Comer is doing very poorly- now on double pain killers for inexplicable, unbearable pain in his hip. His wife Evelyn, one floor below in the Alzheimer Unit, can no longer swallow and is bed ridden. The drumbeat grows faster and louder for both of them.

When I tiptoed into his room at the nursing home, he was asleep. I know visits mean the world to him, so I called his name. He opened his eyes.
"Sorry to wake you," I said, "But I didn't want to leave without you knowing I'd been here." (The cry of every human heart...)
"Oh I never sleep," he said.
I handed him the Poetry book.
He smiled broadly, and ran his finger down the shiny, sleek cover.
"Isn't this beautiful? Well now this makes me very happy."
He quickly opened it up.
"I'm going to read this right now."
"Well then I will leave you to it. If you find mistakes, call me. This is just the proof. I can still edit changes."
As I left, he was engrossed in his book, a smile on his wrinkled face.

A curse and a blessing, all in one day, both involving books.

A friend wrote to me and told me that her husband broke his shoulder. In the process of xrays and diagnosing him, the doctor found a stage 2 cancer in his lungs. Had the man not broken his shoulder, the cancer would have gone undetected. Now, hopefully, it was caught in time to be treated and cured. Who would have imagined praising God for a broken shoulder? Sometimes what looks like a curse is really a blessing.

I don't know how the 1 star rating will end up being anything other than a curse, but I have learned that God is always present, always working, and always surprising. Nothing happens that He doesn't permit, and "all things work together for the good of those who love God, who have been called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) I think the most important lesson to remember from my day of curse and blessing was to thank God for all of it. You never know when being broken may lead you to the root of a problem that must, and can be healed.

Romans 8:31 (NIV)
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

-save a dog-

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Broken Heart

You just never know about a person until you spend time talking with them. There was someone I didn't know well, but I had heard she was not attentive to her aging parents, spoiled, and cold. I didn't know her well enough to form an opinion, but I supposed she seemed like I had heard her described. I found myself disliking her for little reason other than the rumors. But then yesterday, our paths unexpectedly crossed, and we started chatting. I had just finished visiting my mother-in-law at the nursing home, and ran into the woman shortly afterwards. She shared personal parts of her life, her upbringing, which I had never known, and would never have suspected. Not only did I find myself completely understanding the way she had acted in response to a difficult and, in some ways, tragic childhood, but I found myself amazed that she had managed to survive intact, and become a good parent, and a forgiving daughter. By the time I walked away, my dislike and misunderstanding had completely transformed to admiration. I realized that once again, God had maneuvered a divine appointment into my mundane life to teach me a much needed lesson.

She was struggling with aging parents who were in pain, and dying. She said she never wanted to do that to her own children.
"I may rot in hell, but I may decide to just end it all with a handful of pills rather than put my children through this," she said.
"Yes, I understand why you feel that way," I said, "But you know, caring for my failing mother-in-law is the only thing I do that is completely unselfish. I get no benefit, and yet, when I leave, it is when I feel best about myself."
My new friend nodded, "I never really thought of it that way...but that is true. Through all of this awful stuff, I have seen my father come to God. And watching him in all this struggle has made me able to forgive him. In fact, it has increased my faith. I have changed through this experience. You are right."

We parted ways, and I hoped that she felt as blessed by our "chance" encounter as I did. You never know what road a fellow traveler has walked. It is so much better to offer a steadying hand, than to push her into the gutter, or even worse, pass her by as though she were of no consequence.

Psalm 51:10-12,16-17 (NIV)
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. [11] Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. [12] Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. [16] You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. [17] My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

-save a dog-