Wednesday, February 29, 2012

For Such a Time as This

Did you know that the first major article of any wide circulation to report on the astonishing Wright Brothers achievement of flight was an apiary magazine? I read that tidbit to Asherel with delight.
"Funny that the author of this book doesn't mention what a wonderful irony that is," I said chuckling.
Asherel looked a little blank.
"Do you get the irony? Apiary is about bees; the magazine was for people who raise bees for honey. But the funny thing is, bumblebees are said to be aerodynamically incapable of flight...and yet they fly."
I smiled with the deliciousness of it all. A bee magazine was the first serious report to recognize the miracle of what the Wright Brothers had done. In those first early days, not only did people believe humans would never fly, they also thought the few things they heard the Wright Brothers were up to were a hoax. Like the heavy small winged bumblebee flying, human flight was impossible.

The Wright Brothers treated failure and skepticism the same way the Bumblebee did when their achievement of flight was in question. They just kept flying. And getting better and better at it. Their success was not due to luck, or even just genius...but to determination and hard work, and ignoring the naysayers.

It turns out that scientists who questioned the aerodynamic impossibility of a bumblebee flying were only correct when they compared a bumblebee to a fixed wing aircraft. In that case, a bumblebee's body is indeed too big and wings too small to ever attain flight. However, a bumblebee is not like a fixed wing airplane. It is more like a helicopter with rotating airfoils. A movable wing can lift much heavier objects with a smaller blade than a fixed wing.

What was additionally ironic as I read this part of our day's history to Asherel was while I read to her, she was making a last ditch helicopter for our Science Olympiad contest Saturday. This will be Helicopter #75 (or so) in our frustrating year of helicopter construction. But this time, we discussed why our other copters didn't seem to be great and what we needed to do to change the design. It was time to be courageous and more innovative. She spent the whole day building while I read her schoolwork to her. I hope she was as inspired by the Wright Brothers and the Bumblebee as I was.

Then I called the church where we test. They had said they had no more open slots of time for us to test. I explained that we would be in and out in ten minutes, that we had our contest Saturday, and we needed to test just this last one. They approved a time on Thursday. The new last hope helicopter rests in its cozy "hangar" awaiting the test flight.

In the book of Esther, when the king gave an irrevocable command that his soldiers would rise up against the Jews on a certain day, all looked lost. Esther pleaded with him to revoke the edict, but much as he wished he could, he was bound by the traditions and beliefs of that time period. Once a king had issued an edict, not even the king could revoke it. It looked hopeless, time to throw in the towel, and the Jews were in distress. They would be slaughtered. The Jews faced an impossibility and there seemed no way out.
"But," said the king, "I have an idea. I will write another edict, and this one gives the Jews permission to defend themselves against the armies that will attempt to destroy them."
In the end, the Jews rose successfully against the soldiers, and were preserved.

If I have learned anything about God in my thirty years of walking with Him, it is this. He makes the impossible possible...and He often does it in what feels like the nick of time. He makes bumblebees fly and hopeless sinners repent. He turns water to wine, and death into life. What looks like defeat miraculously becomes victory.

I can't wait to test that last helicopter Thursday.....

Esther 4: 7-14
Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king's presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people. Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, "All the king's officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king."
When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?"

-save a dog-

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


We practiced flying our helicopters at a new church yesterday, since the regular huge church atrium wasn't available. Asherel was still home sick with a fever, so her partner Ben and his mom wound and released the copter while I filmed and recorded the data. The children who attend school at the church lined up at the balcony overlooking our practice site.
"OOOOH! Cool! What is that?"
"A helicopter."
"What makes it go?"
"A rubber band."
The kids were all dressed in 18th century clothes. They must have been practicing a stage production, but the scene made me reminiscent for a time I sometimes wish I'd lived in, when toys were made out of one's ingenuity, and common materials...not some computer screen, and children gathered and actually spoke fact to face, not with emoticons and twitter.

One of our better copters flew in swirling ascending near-horizontal circles. It straightened up and looked less like a moth and more like a helicopter when it neared the ceiling. With all the hours we have put into these helicopters, we should be orbiting Mars by now with our designs. For some reason, progress has been slow however. And time has run out. The Science Olympiad is Saturday.

I am working through the Psalms currently in my daily reading of the Bible and I am glad to be there. The Psalms are my favorite book in the Bible and I think I would be a much calmer person if I memorized all of them. They bring me great comfort and peace. Not that they are all honey and milk. Some of the most agonized cries to God occur in the psalms. They are replete with outcries of turmoil and angst. They are not all green pastures and still waters. However, they always cycle back to trusting God, and recognizing that everything is ultimately in His hands.

They are just like our wild moth-like helicopter. The psalmists often swirl wildly sideways, frantically circling, looking for the right path, courting disaster....and then they remember the path they need to follow is up. Back to God.
Their tortuous despair ceases and they rise steadily to the comfort of Heaven.

Unfortunately for our prospects in the Science Olympiad, our copters don't linger long enough in the comfort of Heaven, but at this point, the outcome is in God's hands.
I guess really, it always was.

Philippians 3:14
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

-save a dog-

Monday, February 27, 2012


My poor daughter is on day 4 of a fever and cough. So far, I only have a headache...I think that is from worrying about her fever and cough. It could also be that my brain is growing and my little head can no longer contain it, but for now, I am sticking with a migraine diagnosis until I see a change in IQ.

I really am working hard to elude this scourge. In 5 days, our regional Science Olympiad contest takes place, which we have been working towards since August. I am hopeful she will not still be sick. I pump her full of orange juice and wash my hands a lot. Since we don't want to infect her teammate with this crud, I will be testing her two new helicopters in her stead today. With 6 months of hard work behind us, you would think we would have a really fantastic helicopter all ready to go. At this point, we don't. And we really are not sure why not. The kids have worked hard and built a good twenty helicopters this year but we seem to have stalled in performance. They just aren't great. But as my friend, the other team member's mom said, "It isn't from lack of trying."

There is just one instance of the word "unsuccessful" in the Bible. It occurs in one of the scarier chapters of the Holy Book, Deuteronomy 28. In these verses, God describes the punishment for those who disobey Him. It includes cheery events like madness, blindness, plagues, boils, rape, hunger, thirst, oppression, captivity, and poverty. This takes unsuccessful to a whole new and completely undesirable level.

The specific verse with the word "unsuccessful" in it sounded like my week:
"At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you." (Deuteronomy 28:29 NIV)

Sometimes lack of success is due to disobedience, shirking duty, laziness, or apathy. But not always. I don't think that is the case with our helicopters. But it is probably a good thing to rule out first, when everything seems to be piling up on the wrong side of the happiness ledger. Whether or not it is the cause of any woes I might be experiencing, there is always something I should or could be doing with a little more willing heart, cheerful spirit, or loving attitude. So being unsuccessful isn't necessarily a bad thing if it points me back to a path I may have veered from.

Still, I couldn't end my Bible study with that ominous chapter wrapping its poisonous tentacles around me. I did a word search on "success" in the Bible. There were too many verses to count. And in nearly every one, success was dependent on one thing- trusting and following God. Funny how asking God's guidance is sometimes the last ditch solution to my problems...but it is pretty clear that all success is dependent on that FIRST. That realization rearranges priorities in life. My focus has often been just to add more elbow grease. Maybe I am focusing on the wrong joint. Maybe what I really need is a little more Bended Knee.

1 Samuel 18:14
In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him.

-save a dog-

Sunday, February 26, 2012


I don't know if others wrote of the obvious contrast in captains when the Carnival ship went down in January off the coast of Italy. When I read the reports of the captain abandoning ship to save his own cowardly neck, shirking his responsibility to thousands of passengers, I thought instantly of Captain Sullenberger. "Sully" was the pilot who brought the damaged US Airways plane down safely into the Hudson. Captain Sully didn't leave the plane until every last passenger was safely rescued and aboard the rescue ships. Not only did he know he was capable of these heroics from start to finish, he knew he had to perform that way. It was his duty. It was the right thing to do. He never considered any other course.

When the captain of the Carnival cruise liner was asked why he didn't stay with the ship, he said he tripped, and fell into a lifeboat. Later reports show that the Coast Guard ordered him to return to the ship, and he refused.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Sully was asked, "What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?"
He answered, "It’s not what happens to you, but what you do with it that defines your life."
Then he was asked, "What is your biggest regret?"
"Spending time on things that ultimately didn’t matter," he said.

If he wasn't already a hero in my eyes, those answers alone would elevate him to one. It is perhaps the best explanation of why bad things happen to good people. If only good things happen, we are never given an opportunity to understand that circumstances do not define us. Our response to circumstances does. And if we waste our time on meaningless activities, that could instead be spent learning how to respond in righteous, prepared, and heroic manners, in the end, we will have abandoned the most important ship of all- the vessel that carries our eternal soul. We are unlikely to be able to swim if we have never been in the water. Be prepared, and be righteous.

The Bible answers similar questions in a similar way. In Proverbs, Solomon tells us
"When calamity comes, the wicked are brought down,
but even in death the righteous seek refuge in God." (Proverbs 14:32 NIV)
Zephaniah warns God's people that when trials arise:
Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
you who do what he commands.
Seek righteousness, seek humility;
perhaps you will be sheltered
on the day of the Lord's anger. (Zephaniah 2:3 NIV)
Matthew reminds us of Jesus' words, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in:
"... do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:25, 31-33 NIV)

I was struck by the Carnival Cruise ship captain's excuse....he tripped and fell into a lifeboat. I think that is a very common excuse for the cowards in the world, the selfish, and the lazy. It was beyond their they simply fell into the easy and safest choice. Believe me, I am ashamed to admit I have fallen in this category at times myself. I am not proud of that.
"I would have helped but I just didn't have the time."
"I would have gotten an A but I have never been good at studying."
"I would read my Bible more, but you can't believe the stress I am under!"
"I would eat an apple, but the oreos were open anyway."
"I could have had that job, but I didn't really want it anyway."
"I would have treated her better, but she is such a witch!"
"I would call Mom more often but she is so annoying."
"I would have saved those passengers...but I tripped, and fell into the lifeboat."

Like the Captain, they perhaps believed it to be their lifeboat, when I suspect in the end, they would find it a place of death and decay.

Romans 2:8
But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

-save a dog-

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Sleeping God?

Life can be a tornado sometimes. I was on a walk yesterday, listening to the radio and heard that there was a tornado watch in our area. I scanned the skies. It didn't seem like a tornado was on the way. Homes still sat securely on their foundations, birds still sang, the sun still poked in and out of the clouds. But the nature of tornadoes is that sometimes they blast out of nowhere, unexpectedly ripping everything up in their path.

We have had a series of knock you off your feet disappointments lately, some more jarring than others. My mother in law who is 87 and still lives alone in Florida, fell, knocked her head, and was unable to get up to call for help. She was found by a neighbor, who broke down the door to get to her and called an ambulance. She was admitted to the hospital for two days, but thankfully nothing was broken. She was shaken, dizzy, and weak, and now her sons are trying to help her make the only real choice- move in with us or to a nearby assisted living center. I will be cleaning the closet in the boys' old room, just in case. I am not quite sure where I will put all the stuff from the closet...maybe on the roof in hopes a tornado will selectively just carry that bit away. Fortunately, the doctor told me that my wrist pain is not carpal tunnel syndrome, but ulnar tendonitis. I should be able to clear the closet debris without pain if I wear my sturdiest splints. It is not at the level of surgery...yet. And If I continue with my splinting and a therapy regimen I will learn Tuesday, I should be able to avoid any further intervention.

The other struggles are probably more daunting right now. But everyone struggles. Mine just seem worse to me.

I am very grateful for daring to go all the way up to the top of the mountain on my last ski trip. I know that when I have to, I can be brave. I can do what I need to do when push comes to shove. That doesn't mean I have to like it. Doing hard and frightening things doesn't always result in success. But I am grateful that God gave me a glimpse of indescribable beauty from the mountain top. It gives me a vision of what can be, before being blown into the valley by swirling and impossibly strong storms.

When the storm raged while the disciples were in the boat with Jesus, Jesus slept. I have never quite figured out how He managed to do that. During gut heaving waves and roaring wind and pummeling could He slumber peacefully? And what is the message for us? Does He really sleep while we suffer and tremble? Does He not notice the impending doom? When the disciples have lost all hope, they wake Him and ask Him to save them. I love Jesus' response- "Why are you so afraid?"

Why are we so afraid? Seriously?

My response to that had I been there might have resulted in the boat capsizing once and for all. Here is what I probably would have said, knowing me:
"Why am I afraid? Because I can't walk on water. I can't tell the wind to be still and have it listen. I can't even turn water into wine so I could drink the lake and at least feel better about this wretched circumstance. All I can do is suffer while you sleep."
And then Jesus does what He knew all along He would do. He reminds them of their lack of faith, and He calms the storm and saves them.

"Ok Lord, I get the lack of faith part. Who of us has rock solid faith...? What I don't get is that sometimes you don't calm the storm. There are storms you let go on and on and on and on....forever!"
"No, not forever. Forever is the reward. The storm is sometimes just the vehicle to remind you which forever you will choose to travel to, and who you will be clinging to if it overcomes you."
"OK, I get that. I don't necessarily like it, but I get it. But why were you sleeping? Do you not care?"
"If I didn't care, my eyes would never open on your presence again, or I would never have entered your world in the first place."
"Yes, but sleeping? It seems so cold, so callous, so detached, so disinterested."
"What was the disciples' response?"
"To call on you!"
In my mind, God raises an eyebrow here. There is silence.
"I gave you the mountain," God reminds me, "You can't have mountains without valleys."

Matthew 8:23-27
Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!"

-save a dog-

Friday, February 24, 2012

Do One Thing that Scares You

"Do one thing every day that scares you," Eleanor Roosevelt is famously reported to have said. I sat in the chair lift as it passed the no return load off point, and tried not to look behind me. I thought of Eleanor's advice,and wondered about the wisdom of it.

This ski trip, the kids chose to go to the top of the mountain. Having done it once by accident, now they knew they could do it. I watched them ski down a lower slope and since the snow was so mooshy and slow in the 60 degree day, gave them permission to ski the summit.

As I watched them go on the chair lift that climbed to the moon, I sidled over to one of the chair lift operators.
"Can I get off half way?"
"Sure," he said, "That is the easy slope. Then you can go 2/3rds up and that is a blue slope (more difficult). Or go all the way to the top. You can do blue or black diamond, the slope that mostly young males with haywire hormones try."
(He didn't say that last part, but that is the truth, nonetheless.)
So, I got on the lift, and watched carefully for the first load off point. I got off and skied easily down the easy slope. I got back on the chair lift. As the first load off point neared, I squeezed my sweaty palms around the chair lift handle.
"Do one thing every day that scares you," I recited.
At the second load off point, 2/3rds up the mountain, I got off. It was very high. I felt a little dizzy but went to talk to the chair lift attendant.
"Which is the easiest way down?"
He pointed to the right.
I headed to the right. It was definitely more of a challenge than the first stop, but I made it down going slowly, zig zagging down the mountain.
With a deep breath, I got back on the chair lift. It might be our last day of skiing this year and we would never get softer, slower snow. If I was ever going to summon the nerve to go to the top of the mountain, it was on a day like today.

The chair lift rose to the first load off. I watched it slide away, wistfully.
It approached the second load off.
"Get off, get off!" my mind shouted.
"Do one thing that scares you every day!"
"I already did one thing", I countered," I skied from the highest point I have yet been."
The battle raged in my head, my eyeballs clanging back and forth. The last-chance bail out point approached. I started to raise the lift bar to unload.
"No, if I don't do it now, I may never dare."
My last chance to bail slid away beneath my feet as the chair lift rose at a sharply steeper angle now up the mountain. I glanced up at the summit, but it made me queasy so i tried to look to the sides. A creek gurgled over rocks, splashing in rivulets down the mountain, fueled by the melting snow. I felt the slight dizziness of vertigo, which had been my concern going to the top. I am afraid of heights. It is irrational, and at times overwhelming. I hate to be a victim of fear. I prayed quickly as the top of the mountain unload point approached. With a deep breath, I lifted the bar and slid off the chair lift to the mountain top.

Standing on the summit, I could see endless rows of blue mountains stretching to the horizon. The sun beams dipped and cavorted into valleys, creating patchwork shadows and light. It was beautiful, though at first, I could just glimpse at it for brief moments before the dizziness struck. If I just looked a few feet ahead of me, I didn't feel dizzy.
"Excuse me," I asked a young lady, getting ready to ski down, "Would you take a picture of me with that view in the background? This is my first time up here, and my family is never going to believe it."
She happily obliged and told me, "The snow up here is much better than down below. It is not a hard trail. You will love it."
Was my fear that obvious?
I knew that if I stood on the pinnacle very long, I might faint, or lose nerve. So I pulled down my goggles, and pushed over the edge.

The first section was relatively easy. It was a switchback so the only steep sections were at the banked curves. Since it switched back amidst the trees, I could not see the whole scary downhill panorama. I gained confidence. The next section was steep, but the snow was so soft that it was easy to do slow zigzags down. Then I hit the section that opened up to the full view of the valley. I forced myself to look up occasionally to see the beauty of God's world laid out before me.
"This is why people overcome fear to ski from the top," I thought.
I hit a rut then, lost my balance, and fell, for the first time ever skiing. It was a slow, easy fall, and didn't hurt at all. I stood right back up, brushed off the slushy snow, and continued down. And at the bottom, I skied right back to the chair lift and got on again.

There are many sections in the Bible that deal with fear. It is a universal human condition, and ultimately, can be traced to one source, the fear of loss and death. But throughout scripture, we are reminded that only one thing is worthy of fear, and it is not death. It is the One who overcame death, who holds all existence in His hand. Strangely enough, many of us do not fear Him, with a holy fear based on acknowledging who He is and what He has the power to accomplish.

As the kids and I gathered together again for dinner, I told them, "I went to the top of the mountain."
They all looked up.
"I have proof," I said, showing them the photo on my phone.
"Oh that's photoshopped," said one.
"That's a stunt double," said another.
"Is it ok if I do the black diamond run next?" asked a third.

Hebrews 2:14-15
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

-save a dog-

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Perfection Belongs to God

Once again this wacky winter is making my role as organizer of the homeschool ski trips exceedingly traumatic. It is going to be 60 degrees on the mountain today! 70 here in Charlotte! I love skiing in warm weather, but snow requires a different set of weather parameters. I am in charge of making the call by 8:00 this morning whether our group should go or should stay. It is daunting and scary. If I make a bad decision here, I will anger a plethora (love that word!) of homeschoolers, and they know where I live. I have a healthy respect for what a gaggle of homeschoolers can do. I do not want to anger them.

However, the mountain has a good base of snow (all manmade of course as there has been next to no real snow this winter). Once I check the webcam at the ski resort this morning, I am inclined to think we ought to go. Our group has been rained out of all but two of our planned trips, and this is likely the last opportunity. I am not sure it will be perfect, but it might be good enough.

I remember saying those exact words to my youngest art student yesterday. She is very talented, more than she yet understands. She likes the very tall stool because she can sit comfortably with the bigger kids. She also has a good eye, and knows when things are not quite right with her drawing. But she is young, and not always able to correct what she knows the drawing should be.
"This isn't right," she told me.
We looked over her drawing. She was correct. It wasn't right. But I looked at her, considered her age, thought of how much (all) of her drawing would need to be altered, how much time was left in the class, and made a decision.
"You're right. It is not quite exact, but you know what? It is pretty good. I think you can leave it. It is not perfect, but it is good enough."

In general, I struggle with this concept. I don't settle easily for "good enough." I run after perfection. Thus... I am often frustrated and dissatisfied. I know that the goal should not be "good enough". The goal should be my best, my very best. But sometimes my very best is only "good enough", and sometimes not even that. I do fear that relaxing standards leads to complacency, back-sliding, and eventually, mediocrity. I don't think we are called to be mediocre if we can avoid it. However, sometimes the pursuit of perfection leads me down the unhappy path of pounding my head against a concrete floor. I need to be better at figuring out when "good enough" will do.

I cannot think of a single incident in the Bible to help me here. Jesus says, "Be ye perfect as I am perfect" and "Work as for the Lord and not for man." I can't remember anyone ever being exhorted to go out and just try to be good enough. A word search on "perfect" shows hundreds of verses. Perfect love, perfect peace, perfect faith....A word search of "good enough" shows one entry. But it is a telling one. It is from Ezekiel 34, and the prophet is chastising the people for not being satisfied with what they have, with the good things God has provided. They are selfish in their drinking in of God's goodness. Perhaps that is the key in knowing when one's striving after perfection is no longer a blessing. If it tramples on others, or if it leads to discontent with the bounty God has provided, it is probably time to back off and recognize that sometimes good enough is good and Perfection belongs to God.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 NIV)

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:14 NIV)

Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? (Ezekiel 34:18 NIV)

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:14 NIV)

-save a dog-

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We are Given Today

I love my daughter's gavel club, an affiliate of Toastmasters. It teaches public speaking in a wonderfully supportive environment. Inadvertently, it has become her writing class as well. She can tell by audience feedback whether she has written a coherent, exciting, organized, and enjoyable speech by the effect on her audience. It is one of the best things we do in homeschool.

This week Asherel gave a speech, and did a fine job but it was not her speech that made me wipe away tears. The first speech was by a very polished and poised young lady, and she gave an information packed and beautifully delivered talk on Thomas Jefferson, who almost married her great great great great grandmother. Then one of the less accomplished speakers in the class stood up and went quietly to the lectern. She looked out on the audience with quiet, subdued pain. Pain?

"Yesterday, we returned home from being out with my family. We saw an ambulance at my neighbor's house. Naturally we were concerned. Some neighbors came and got my mom and told her to go over to the house with the ambulance. My parents returned and called us together for a family meeting. My neighbor's friend Alex who was 13 years old had passed away. I would like to do my speech in memory of Alex."

She showed pictures of Alex and described the games he used to love to play with them. She talked about the trampoline they all used to bounce on together, favorite card games, and how Alex was at every party they ever gave at their house.
"He really loved parties," she said. She looked down.
"Now, my little sister, Summer, wants to tell you a little about Alex."
A little girl, probably around 5 years old, came somberly to the front of the silent room. She said, "We used to play drawing games with Alex. This is what he drew for me." She held up a picture of a cartoonish figure, perhaps a Pokemon character. I couldn't quite tell through my tears. She slowly panned the picture so we could all see, and then she and her sister looked at each other. The speaker nodded and the little girl quietly returned to her mother.

We never know how long we will have on this earth. We never know how many games we will have left to play with our loved ones, or pictures we might draw to gladden someone's heart. We know we have today. My prayer is that today I am a blessing and can love and honor God and others as I should. I have been given today and it should not be squandered.

Psalm 118:24
The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.

Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43 NIV)

-save a dog-

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

With a Light from Above

We returned from the snow-burdened drive home from NY to see the Redbud trees in bloom here in Charlotte. Daffodils were already gathering and lifting their yellow crowns out of the dismal brown of mud. It seems this year we skipped right over winter. The Redbud made me think of my old senior friend Comer, as the first drive I ever took him on from his Assisted Living home was to see the Redbud in bloom. I remember how his wife Evelyn, newly diagnosed with Alzheimer at the time, was in constant tears and turmoil as she wrestled with the terrifying knowledge that she couldn't remember things she still knew she ought to. On that first drive to see the Redbud trees in bloom, she had been happy. She had named all the flowering trees we passed. For a moment, her Alzheimers was held at bay.

I knew as I drove to pick up the sweet old couple for a lunch drive yesterday that such a miracle was not likely again. Comer's health had been slowly worsening for a month, and he had told me Evelyn barely spoke at all anymore.
"She mumbles but nothing anyone can understand," he told me.
My teenage daughter does that too, I thought, in fact, all teenagers do. This has nothing to do with my hearing, I am quite certain. I parked in front of the building, leaving Asherel in the car and scooted into the entry hall.

Comer was sporting a new mustache, and Evelyn had just had her hair done. I could tell she had put on a good bit of weight, even in the month I hadn't seen them due to Comer's illness and my travels. Comer looked gaunt.
"You are looking quite dapper with that new mustache," I told Comer.
"Oh, I am just playing around," he laughed.
"How are you Evelyn? Your hair looks lovely!"
She mumbled some garbled syllables, with a beautiful smile.
"Ready for lunch?"
"Yes ma'am!" said Comer, taking his wife's arm. She garbled some multisyllabic mess again, and nodded.
At that moment, the singing activity group in the next room burst into a rousing rendition of God Bless America.
"Land that I love," sang Evelyn, clear as a bell,
"Stand beside us and guide us, through the night with a light from above," we sang together.

Asherel watched us approaching the car, both singing America at the top of our lungs. She shook her head slightly, a grin on her face. Comer joined in and our patriotic group got in the car as the last chords crescendoed.

I had been worried about my friends. Comer had had a devastating flu for nearly three weeks and then chest pain for several days. Evelyn no longer spoke spontaneously. Both moved more painfully, more slowly. As we drove to lunch, Comer told me, "I need to buy new clothes for Evelyn. She has grown out of all her old ones. She doesn't eat unless I feed her. My daughter says maybe I need to stop feeding her so much."
Evelyn laughed. Comer grinned at her.
After a pause, he said, "You know, I really enjoyed your book."
I had given him a copy of my latest book about miracles, "God Drives a Tow Truck."
"Oh, I am glad you liked it!"
"Did they ever find the tow truck?" he asked.
"The tow truck disappeared," I told him, "Just like I wrote. It was a miracle."
He sat quietly, holding Evelyn's hand.
"Well I enjoyed your book more than just about anything I have ever read."
"Wow, that is high praise! Thank you! Did you ever witness a miracle?"
"Oh many," he said.
"Tell me one," I begged.
"Well, when I was in Papua New Guinea during the war, I had a friend who was an aviator. They used to do bombing practices over the water. Lots of my battalion would go with my friend on those practice runs. They always came back and told me I ought to go too. They told me it was a real thrill. So one day, I went to my friend and asked if he would take me on a practice run. He was all set to do so, but then realized he didn't have a parachute for me. He told me, ' I'll get you one tomorrow. Come back tomorrow and I will take you on a flight.' So, the next day, I came back and I looked all over the hangar for him, and couldn't find him. So I asked his buddies if they had seen him. They looked kind of crestfallen, and sad, and asked me,'Haven't you heard then? He went on a practice run yesterday over the ocean, and he never came back.'"
"Oh no," I said.
"If I had gotten in that plane with him," said Comer, "I wouldn't have come back either."
"Did they ever find him?" I asked.
"No, they looked, but over the ocean....40 mile practice, they never found him."
"God must have been preserving you for a purpose," I said.
We were silent a moment.
"Do you have another miracle you can remember?"
He thought for a moment and then looked at Evelyn, "That I found her."

There is such optimism in a man who is going on 94 years old who decides he might like to try sporting a new mustache. There is hope in a woman who has lost the ability to remember how to speak, but can still clearly sing every word of a song about love of country. Comer had been saved long ago for a purpose, and I suspected it was still being played out.

When we returned to the Home, Comer hurried to his room to get me a book he wanted me to read. I helped Evelyn sit on the entry hall couch. A little dog wearing a tiny tuxedo came trotting over to us. His owner poked her head out of her office.
Evelyn looked at the little dog sniffing her shoes and smiled at me.
"Oh," she said brightly and clearly, "How cute."

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

Psalm 56:12-13 (NIV)
I am under vows to you, my God; I will present my thank offerings to you. [13] For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

-save a dog-

Monday, February 20, 2012

When the Unexpected Rains Down On Us

It was a rainy cold day, the kind I fled from the North to avoid. And while that was an inconvenience, it was not the most disappointing part of the day. THAT was when one of our best helicopters in the midst of a spectacular flight, lodged in the highest, unreachable rafters of the church where we practice for Science Olympiad. It wedged itself in a completely unaccessible place. We looked up, faces drooping in despair, from four stories below it. The guard who had helped us retrieve it from lower rafters in the past shook his head.
"We can't reach that one," he said.
The kids instantly began plotting how they could indeed reach that one, but I put the kabosh on that quickly. I heard snippets of plans like "climb to the 4th floor and reach out while you hold on to my feet..."
"We will just keep testing the other ones," I said, "Maybe it will get blown down."

But it didn't. Not while we were there. And the Church has been very gracious in allowing us to practice in its atrium. I am very concerned about the exact moment that the helicopter decides to unwedge itself. I have visions of parishioners marching into this mega church, thousands of unsuspecting people in high heels and coiffed hair. And all of a sudden, a whirling dervish drops out of heaven and begins chopping at their unsuspecting heads. I cannot bear to think of what could happen should the crowd panic. I have to write the church today and fess up. The guard made a note of it, though he found it humorous, not a source of angst.

On the other hand, it might be a good thing. Something unusual like an unknown, unexpected object spinning out of heaven might snap more than a few of us out of our comfortable complacency. When we are too long in the commonplace, we begin to forget that there is something hovering just above us that is most uncommon. We forget that angels watch us, usually unheard and unseen, or that God Himself is wrapped around us. Maybe instead of praying that the helicopter will not dislodge during the church service, I should be praying that it would, that heads would snap upwards, awakened and alerted to the Presence that goes so largely undetected for such long stretches of time.

But whenever it comes down, I hope it will be returned to us. It was one of our best hopes for a medal in Science Olympiad in less than two weeks.

Exekiel 1: 25-28
Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

-save a dog-

Sunday, February 19, 2012

When the Detour is the Event

Gooey taco sauce, bright red taco sauce, was spilling onto my favorite yellow shirt. Meanwhile, the GPS was supposedly directing me back to the interstate after our fast food lunch stop. It seemed to have gone haywire, directing me straight up a steep, winding mountain, away from the interstate. We always grab lunch to go, and keep driving on long drives. If I am going to be sitting, I'd rather be sitting and moving forward than just gathering dust in a restaurant. I glared and screamed at the GPS.

"Look at that wiggly line ahead! Why is it doing this? We are going to climb a mountain beside the interstate, and then go back down before we get back on!"
I continued to sputter and mutter. It was the second day of long drives on our way back from NY and I was in no mood for a detour.
"We are never getting off at that exit again," I warned Asherel, as though she had known the exit did not have an easy on/easy off.
"Well there's nothing you can do about it now," she said, her voice placating and calm as she tends to be when I spiral into rant mode.

The ascent was steep and very curvy. I could not believe there was not an easier way back onto I81, which was now far below us. If the GPS could've smirked, it would have. I even thought I might have heard it say, "Just trust me." As I fumed, another big blob of red taco sauce fell out of my taco. At that moment, we reached the top of the mountain. There was an overlook sign, so I careened into the small parking lot, smoke tumbling out of my ears. I swept at the red stain on my favorite yellow shirt.
"What are we doing?" asked Asherel.
"We are stopping so I can eat," I said.
Then we looked around.

The overlook was on the top of a thin mountain peak. On either side of us were beautiful green valleys ringed by distant mountains. Forests lined the descent on both sides into the valleys, and boulders ringed the parking areas on either side of the winding road. I opened the car door.
"Oh my, " I said.

I went to the edge of the overlook while munching my taco, and wiping up the blob on my shirt. A hawk circled on thermals rising from the green, sun stained valley. There was a historic marker. This was Draper Valley, the scene of the capture of Mary Draper by Shawnee natives. She had then lived for years among the Shawnee during the settling and expansion of our country westward.
"We read about her!" I cried out to Asherel. We had read a whole novel about that story in our American History studies.
"This is beautiful," I said happily, "I am so glad we came here!"
Asherel laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"Well that was an awfully quick change of mood."
"I respond well to beauty," I said, "I had a lousy attitude when we were climbing the mountain."
"Yes you did," she said.
"But now I see why we were detoured. And I am so grateful."

God's message was unmistakable on this one. Sometimes what looks like setbacks, detours, wrong turns, unexpected and undesirable obstacles turns out to be the main event, the destination, the goal we didn't even know we were seeking. Sometimes we are speeding after the wrong purpose and so hell-bent on getting there that we miss heaven along the way. The Bible is replete with such stories, not the least of which is a gruesome death by crucifixion that resulted in abundant eternal life to all those who understood and grasped His sacrifice of Himself for our sin. It seemed like a massive detour to the followers of the Messiah, and for three days they grieved. And then He appeared, and they finally took in the magnificent view of their Salvation.

"That was worth every moment of this tortuous climb," I said, getting back in the car.

Psalm 119: 128-133
and because I consider all your precepts right,
I hate every wrong path. Your statutes are wonderful;
therefore I obey them. The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant,
longing for your commands. Turn to me and have mercy on me,
as you always do to those who love your name. Direct my footsteps according to your word;
let no sin rule over me.

-save a dog-

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Future and a Past

I might have run by without even noticing, but just about jumped out of my running shoes when the percussive deep bong of the church bell began tolling the hour of nine o'clock.
Bong! I am here! Don't go by without noticing! Bong!
I stopped and stuffed my heart back in my chest, and then took a picture of Lee's Chapel. I'll draw this when I get home, I thought.

I was on a run before heading home for the final leg of our trip from NY to see my folks. I had run to the Washington and Lee campus. My goal was the stable and old home of Robert E Lee. The most famous horse of the Civil war, Traveler, had been stabled after the war at the top of the hill right in the middle of the beautiful, historic campus. Whenever I visit my son Matt, I try to run through the campus. The historic and magnificent buildings are nestled among old, gnarled trees along brick pathways. It always takes me back two hundred years to a time that seems simpler. I know that is probably not the case. The Civil War was no simple time.

I found the stable and peered in. It is in the garage of the Campus president's house. A car was in the open garage, but in the back were the iron bars of the stable. I paused, and pictured the brave horse Traveler who had carried General Lee safely through so many battles. I could almost here a welcoming neigh. I was told that Traveler is in a museum somewhere in Lexington, stuffed and preserved. I think I would rather envision him alive, stamping his hoof on the cement floor, demanding some well deserved grain.

So I was preoccupied by the time I was running by the church. I was thinking of brothers fighting brothers, horses being shot and wounded and killed. Peaceful creatures who were only in the thick of battle because they were willing to obey a master. What a depravity war, and hatred, and strife is.

And then the church bell shattered my mournful musings. I looked up at the spire poking heaven. It is so easy to wallow in despair. Lord knows there are more than enough despairing issues clamoring all around us. But I felt better looking at the beautiful church, and later drawing it. I could almost picture God stretching out His hand and offering Traveler a fistful of grain.

Luke 6:23
"Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

-save a dog-

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Shaft of Hope

The weatherman was wrong. I don't mind when he's wrong and instead of rain on a skiing day we get snow. But I think he should have his license revoked when on a day I am driving through the mountains, he predicts rain, and instead I get sleet, icy rain mixed with snow, and a white knuckle blizzard. For four hours, I didn't speak. I just gripped the steering wheel and stayed behind the slowest car on the road....which would be I guess I stayed behind the *second* slowest car on the road. It was a long four hours. By the time we hit the equator, the snow let up and became the expected and prophesied rain. Kudos to Mr. Meteorology.

It could have been worse. I could have found the black ice that I know was lurking. And it took my mind off of feeling sad that I was leaving my folks, who I don't get to see as often as I would like. And the hotel we were staying in was 30% off due to construction. I don't mind construction at all as long as they are not constructing while I am sleeping. We met my son Matt and wife Karissa for dinner, and all was well. It is predicted to be almost 50 degrees today, and the sun is out as I am typing this, so I think yesterday's sleet can go in the waste basket of unpleasant memories.

As we drove through the storm, we did see one very unusual and hopeful sign. The thick blanket of fog and clouds had a hole in them for a brief time. All was grey and sleety rain around us, dark and foreboding, but up ahead, there was an oval of blue sunny sky. We could look through the hole to see fluffy white fair weather clouds.
"Isn't that strange, and wonderful?" I said to Asherel.
She glanced up from her personal iPod concert of Beatle tunes, entering it's 6th straight hour now.
"Hmmm," she said.

I suppose she hasn't yet had enough storms in life to really know that ovals of blue sky are desperately to be desired. She has probably not yet been surrounded by despair, darkness closing in on all sides so that you see no way out. I pray she never will be, but having lived a half century or so on this planet, I think it unlikely she will not one day experience something like that. I think we all do.

But I loved the image of the blue sky poking a finger through the swirling storm. If at the center, we can keep our focus on the source of light, of life.... the storms lose a touch of their fearsome power. We know there is hope, something better, clear roads somewhere, if we will just grip the wheel and trudge slowly on.

I remembered Mom telling me that I had to go look at myself in the mirror of the bathroom where they recently installed a skylight. Something about the muted, natural light beaming down into the dark bathroom smoothed the age ravaged hills and valleys and desecrated patches of the face.
"I don't like to look in the mirror if I can help it," said my mom, (who is by the way, a beautiful woman), "But I don't mind so much if I stand in the light of the sky light."

Look for the patch of glory.
Focus on the shaft of hope in the midst of the storm.
Find the light that reflects promise, and beauty, and joy.
"Keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith."

Psalm 16:8
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

-save a dog-

Thursday, February 16, 2012

We are always being watched

I friended someone on facebook because she requested it. I didn't know her, but I assumed she had read my book, and I can always use friends. She wrote to me and told me that I had once made a huge impact on her life, and she wanted to share it with me. In fact, she wrote a blog post about it. Again, I supposed something in one of my books had touched her. I read her blog post. She had known me but a brief time when she was a teen and I was a young mother. Something I had done had stayed with her all these years, and she had finally tracked me down via facebook. She wanted to find me and tell me how I had impacted her life.

Most of us will never know the ripples we leave in our wake. But we all leave ripples. We are always watched, and someone always is noticing something. Julie caught me at a moment in my life when I did it right. I assure you, that was not common.

This is really worth reading, not only because it paints me in a favorable light (yes!) but because she is a gifted writer who not only overcame dyslexia, but soared. With her permission, I have posted it in its entirety below. It is long, but you will be blessed if you read it. It is the beautiful portrait of gratitude from a young lady who clearly sees that we never know how we might be changing someone's life. Live always with that in mind.

An Ocean of Friends
February 15, 2012 ·

I am not a surfer girl, but the analogy of the ocean and of waves to friendship was too good to pass up, and I think I can pull this one off even though I’ve never put my Gidget on and surfed with Moon Doggy.

Friends are like ocean waves, each one makes an impact on the beach, each wave that rolls in changes the beach, some deposit treasures like sea glass or beautiful shells, others shift the sand but leaves it unharmed. Since I joined Facebook a few years ago, I have been blessed enough to have some of those waves come back to visit, and even now they’re leaving their marks on my heart, once again some have deposited treasure and I wonder what I did without them all these years. I have been doubly blessed to meet “waves” that are family members I’ve never had the chance to meet before, and some family members I knew but never had the opportunity to really love and know, these are precious waves that linger like a tidal pool and hold amazing treasures from the ocean of friendship.

On the ocean, once in a very great while, off the coast of South Africa, Hawaii, or Australia there comes a wave that calls the surfers with its irresistible possibilities. These waves often impact the shore in a greater way, but even before they wash ashore they offer so much of themselves. They tend to be a wonder to behold, they are a glassy, beautiful blue-green wave the height of which is unlike any other wave. Sure there are big waves before, during and after a storm but they don’t bring beauty they scar the shore, they sweep away tons of sand and leave debris and death in their wake, those are not the waves I’m referring to. These are the waves you see in movies where the surfers ride in their curl, hand outstretched to touch the glass-like surface. These are the waves you see in photos, in calendars, and books, they’re beautiful, graceful and welcome. These waves are the ones that leave the kind of impact on your life you wish you could encounter again and again, but it’s the scarcity of them that makes them special.

The moment I joined Facebook I started looking for those waves that created just such a splash in my life (was the splash thing too much? I kinda like it). Unfortunately, there is really no way to tell them what kind of impact they had on me, they changed my life the minute they started cresting towards me, they left a myriad of treasures on the shores of my heart, they changed the surface of my heart, my thoughts, my future in ways I cannot articulate. I love words, they’re so amazing, but I cannot find words to sum up their impact. To be very honest they are moms, I babysat for their children, they welcomed me into their homes and talked to me like I was a friend. They shared different parenting styles with me, tricks and tips for motherhood, homemaking, and marriage. I loved them far more dearly than I could tell them.

Then, life happened, I went to college, met my husband, moved away, had my children, all the while their impact was a daily reminder of those wonders of nature. Years went by, their children grew, went to college, married, and had children, those little ones whose diapers I changed, the ones I took walks with while holding their tiny hands, we played, we giggled, then they grew up and I never knew them again…whats more I missed their mothers. Not in a way I miss my mother, but I missed them deep in a place in my heart that held the treasures they freely gave to me.

One by one I found them, a couple I found through other friends, a couple I had to diligently search for, those waves I watched and wondered at and learned from came back into my life. I cannot say how excited I was, how much I long to pour my heart out to them, to tell them how often I thought of them. One mom left one of many marks on my heart because we shared the experience of the loss of a pregnancy, I remembered the grace she showed even in her sorrow, I remembered how she went directly to our Savior, her example became the Lighthouse that helped me through that time in my life. I think of another one of my waves each week when I clean out my fridge the night before garbage pick-up. You may think that’s silly but she imparted a sense of organization and though I am not a super organized person, her habit stayed with me. This same wave had impeccable taste in home decoration, I remember a picture she had on her sun porch of a beach chair on the sand overlooking a peaceful, placid ocean, I’ve thought of that image often when I’ve had sleepless nights, it calms me.

Another one of these wonders was a dear friend, she walked with me, invited me down to try cranberry sauce for the first time, she answered my questions no matter how silly or how big, she gave me wise, Biblically based advice. She was disappointed with me when I didn’t live up to my potential (which wasn’t a bad thing, she wanted to see me do and be my best, she loved me enough to know what I could do), and was excited with me when I achieved a goal. I remember her every time I think of my wedding, I remembered her when I potty-trained my boys (her child was one of the first ones I babysat for who was in the midst of potty-training). More than all that I think of how she continued her education as an adult so she could do what she longed to do, I’ve decided to pursue further education when my boys grow up, and I feel fortified knowing she succeed so admirably.

The final wonder was a wave that rolled in far too briefly, she rolled in not long after I received my diagnosis of dyslexia, she encouraged me. She, her husband and I would sit in their livingroom (I can picture it so clearly even now) surrounded with her original art work gracing the walls of her home, we’d talk about the Lord, life and so much more. She and her husband were quite possibly the most intelligent people I’d ever met and yet they never made this learning disabled, teen-aged girl feel stupid, I never felt lesser around them. We had many discussions and they always seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say…this really amazed me! I remember one time she had to ask me about something her son told her about that confused and concerned her, and though it was just a silly incident involving a difference of terminology I remember how much I admired the fact that though she was nervous to discuss this she did it anyway, she did it lovingly and without offending me, I thought I could never be that strong and gracious at the same time, but I wanted to be like her.

I know I would not be the same person without them, I wish I could have been able to glean more from their treasure trove of knowledge and love. Each one of these women are Godly wives and biblical mothers, women I want nothing more than to emulate. On my Facebook page I say my daily goal is to honor God and be a blessing to others, though they never said this exact phrase to me, I saw/see this in them. They were a blessing to me, but how can I tell them how much of a blessing when they haven’t actually finished being a blessing to me? I’m not sure I’ve been this frustrated with my abilities, or lack thereof in a very long time!

I guess the best I can do is to finish this way Gini, Cindy, Janet and Vicky “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” Philippians 1:3-5

(You can follow Julie's wonderful blog at

-save a dog-

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Not looking for Windmills

Did you know the California Condor can fly hundreds of miles without flapping its wings? Neither did I but this is the sort of stuff my Dad knows. Lunch is never boring with my Dad. The condor is in a battle for its life with windmills, he went on to inform us. With very few condors in existence, there is a stiff penalty, even prison time, for anyone who kills a condor. The California windmills, harnessing safe wind power, are completely outside a Condor's natural warning radar. They are in danger of flying into them, not only leading to Condor Catastrophe, but on top of that, the windmill farmers will be thrown in jail. You would think a creature that could fly hundreds of miles without flapping a wing would know how to avoid such a scenario.

It's the same way I feel about movie stars dying young of drug overdose or alcohol poisoning. It just seems that with all those gifts of beauty, brains, and money out to wazoo, they could avoid such an obvious obstacle to health, happiness, and the pursuit of life. But that is not how the world works. It is not to the beautiful, the rich, the powerful, or even those who fly effortlessly without flapping a wing to which eternity or true contentment belongs. It is to those who recognize the One who holds the key to the door of eternity. Once you know Him, it's OBVIOUS, and we wonder how on earth we ever missed Him. (PS- I use capital letters here because this particular program won't allow italics. My daughter tells me that capital letters mean I am screaming, but that is not what I am doing. Please understand that if I had italics, I would use them. Thank you for allowing this non-profit interruption.)

"Don't they see the windmill?" I asked Dad,"It is so OBVIOUS!"
"They're just not looking for a windmill," he answered, "They are swooping down after prey and when they fly back into the sky, they don't look up."
Yes, I see. Even the obvious can be missed if we don't look up.

Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

-save a dog-

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

No Halfway Points

It is Valentine's Day, which many people believe was named after St. Valentine, who was beheaded for defying evil Claudius the Cruel. However, this is a common mistake. It was actually celebrated to honor my mom, who was born Feb. 14, eighty years ago today, and exemplifies patient, gentle, love. In her honor, millions flock to florists and candy stores to remind their beloveds to be more like my Mom.

In honor of this momentous occasion, my brother and his wife Jenny are hosting a lavish home cooked meal for my parents. Unfortunately, my nephew, their son Anthony, has been puking for three days. He seems to be turning the corner after an ER visit to rehydrate him, but we are thinking 80 year olds, even saints, might not best celebrate by taking home three day puking germs.

So, John was home with his ailing son and couldn't ski with Asherel and me. We had planned it earlier, but the weather tossed up lake effect snow and hazardous driving. So we postponed it until last night. Greek Peak, the ski mountain just 40 minutes from my folks' home, is where my brother and my sister learned to ski. I would like to know why no one invited me. As an adult, learning to ski just 2 years ago, I absolutely love it and think I might have loved it more had I learned as a youth when bone breaking wasn't so ever present a hovering consideration. But for whatever reason, my siblings learned to ski...while I didn't. However, as Asherel and I rode the chairlift to the very top of the mountain, above us the red planet nestled among a cacophony of sparkling stars, the pine trees standing sentinel on either side of us, and the silence settling like a prayer all around us, I forgave them. Who could harbor any thought but gratitude in the presence of such beauty? Gratitude, and of course, pounding, absolute fear. My heart was galloping as we neared the mountain top. I had never skied down a whole mountain.

"Can we get off at the halfway point?" I had asked the chair lift manager.
"There is no halfway point."
"You have to go all the way to the top?"
"But there is an easy trail all the way down?"
"Oh yes."
"Is it clearly marked?"
"We won't miss it and end up on a black diamond run?"
"No, it is the main trail. Just stay on the main drag and you will be fine."
I wanted to gather more information, but Asherel was growing impatient.
"You worry a lot," she told me.

So it was all or nothing. I got on the chairlift and rode up up up to my fate.
My fear was not so much the skiing, as the view. I am afraid of heights and develop vertigo when I look over the edge of high places. What if I got vertigo at the top of the mountain? As it turned out, however, Greek Peak was perfect for beginners. The trail curved amid pine forests, and at least from the trail we skied, there was no plummeting, heart stopping vista of a wide open valley. It was the perfect challenge for my skiing skills, without being too scary, and we skied it several times before our legs told us it was time to go home.

All or nothing paid off. It often does. It is rarely worthwhile to go into any endeavor half-way. That seems a particularly appropriate message for Valentine's Day. Relationships rarely thrive when we don't give our all. It is true of human relationships and it is true of our relationship with God. He warns us that lukewarm devotion doesn't cut it. We must be willing to give up everything for Him, but paradoxically, we will gain eternity. It is harder than you think. It is like riding to the top of a mountain that you are certain will cause you to pass out in terror and discovering instead, that the subsequent ride down is ecstasy.

Happy Birthday, beloved Mom! May the joy of the day be like skiing without fear straight down a mountain while the stars and planets applaud.

Psalm 73:25
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

1 John 2: 15-17
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

-save a dog-

Monday, February 13, 2012

a Rose is a Rose is a Rose....

"That is a beautiful necklace!" cried the waitress, pointing at my neck while my parents, Asherel, and I settled into our seats in the diner.
"Thank you," I said, "My daughter made it."
She looked genuinely and appropriately impressed, "What is the material?"
"It's glass fusion."
"Really nice job," she said to Asherel, "Do you do other jewelry too?"
"Not much anymore, I used to make beads."
"I make beads!" said the waitress, "I make them out of rose petals."
You just never know what fascinating things you can learn if you are just nice to people, I thought.
"You make beads out of rose petals?" I asked.
"Yes, it is what they used to make rosaries out of," she said, "That's how rosary beads got their name."
I had never stopped to wonder how rosary beads got their name! I love this world full of interesting news!
"How do you make them hard?" I asked.
"You mush them all together, roll them, and in the old days they would dry them in the sun, but I bake them in the oven."

When I got home, I researched the origin of rosary beads. The use of rose petal beads arose in the 1920s, and there is no indication that it was the origin of the beads or the name. However she was correct in the process, and I didn't doubt that she did indeed make rose beads. The name rosary actually comes from a legend from the middle ages. A monk was reciting "hail Mary's" as a robber approached. The monk was tossing rose petals to the ground. The robber of course, repents of his evil intentions, and the Virgin Mary, who is also watching, gathers the rose petals and makes a rosary, or garland of roses for her head. Hence the beads which Catholics use to pray with became known as rosaries.

Gertrud Stein made roses famous again in her poetic line, "rose is a rose is a rose."
It was the equivalent of what so many teens say today, "Whatever." Or what I find myself saying often, "It is what it is." Take it or leave it, a rose will always be a rose. Some people will make them into beads to stay focused on their devotions to God, some will just smell their glorious scent passing by a garden, and some will never stop to smell them. No matter what the bystander does, the rose remains a rose. I thought how that applies to God as well. We can choose to worship Him, notice Him in passing, or walk by without any sense of His presence at all...but He is still there. He is still waiting in all His fullness, all His beauty, all His glory seeking to envelop us
with His magnificent bouquet of blessing if we will pause long enough to sniff.

Jeremiah 29:13
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

-save a dog-

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Finding and Losing

I awoke to snow this morning. Steady thick snow is falling right now. It is the first snow I have seen in a year so it is magical, beautiful, peaceful. It may ruin our plans today to go skiing. I am from NC. I am used to clear, safe streets to drive on to the ski mountain where not a drop of real snow lies. On the mountain, manmade icy granules pass as snow. But the roads are safe driving to and from, usually in balmy 50 degree weather.

This real snow poses a definite problem. I will have to drive on snowy roads to reach the ski mountain. Funny how the goal and the dilemma are presented by the same factor. Snow is both the desired haven and the treacherous liability. For all of you who have read my new book, you know that I am not a great snow driver, which led to the title story, and the day I met God driving a tow truck. So I don't want to drive in the snow, but I do want to ski in it. And it is the only time my brother will be able to ski with us.

We had had an extended discussion yesterday about how to construct our half day on the mountain. It is the cheaper night skiing rate/time, which goes from 4-9.
"But I am not a night person,John," I had warned, "And honestly, 4 hours of skiing is usually about all I can take."
"Let me explain how Jenny and I go skiing," said John, "We ski maybe 3 runs, then we go have 3 beers, then we ski another run or two and call it a night. We will be out of there by 8."
"Got it, I'll be the designated driver."
Normally when I ski, on the other hand, I don't take a break unless absolute necessity compels me to to. Once I start skiing, only exhaustion or a bursting bladder will induce me to come off the mountain. And I certainly would not mix one drop of alcohol with my already precarious skill level. I suspect John's ski style and mine are doomed to clash.

But now, we may not get to go unless the snow stops falling, because I won't drive on snowy roads. It reminds me of Paul's dilemma in following Jesus. He longs desperately to be with Jesus, in heaven, to adopt his new sonship and relationship and eternal joy with the heavenly Father. However, that same Father has for now called Paul to remain on earth, facing struggle, shipwreck, disease, persecution, torture, and prison. Fun fun fun! The goal is so tantalizing, but the way to reach it proscribed by the goal itself is filled with trauma and trial. The snow calls me, but has laced the path with its essence...snow....snow that often lies atop black ice where I can so easily lose my way.

Matthew 16:25
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

-save a dog-

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Do Not Fret

Upon hearing of my despair about the computer glitch that showed me selling thousands of books at full price when they had actually "sold" on the free day, many friends, and even a stranger wrote to comfort and encourage me. Still, it was not easy to shake the feeling of betrayal at the hands of, if not the publisher, at least the computer that I have come to treat as a friend.

We were to drive yesterday morning from my son Matt's house in Virginia on to my folks in NY, but first, I went on an early morning run. I headed downhill, towards the river.

Matt lives in a tiny village along the Maury River. I headed towards the river as the fog still whispered on the surrounding mountain tops.

To my delight, there was a river walk that snaked alongside the Maury. Not another soul was out. The river gurgled and boiled in sections of white water. It's sputtering and splashing was the only sound besides my footfalls along the gravel path. At the turnaround point, I stood at the shore for a moment. 

Sheer granite cliffsides rose from the opposite shore. The Blue Ridge mountains circled me

I had a little powwow session with God. I realized that when I started writing both my books, it was not to make money. It was to share my amazing experiences of God with others, most especially with people that might not otherwise read about Him. I felt it was something I was called to do, and my prayer was that He would be glorified. Somewhere along the line, I began to be hopeful that I could make money off this venture as well, but it was not my original primary intent. As I stood in the beautiful valley with the river gurgling and the mountains towering and the sun just beginning to stretch across the path, I remembered that purpose.

How easy it is to fret, to lose perspective. I don't know about you, but nothing returns me to a spirit of quiet worship and understanding better than being alone in a beautiful place. If only I were better at carrying those beautiful places within me!

"Thankyou Lord," I whispered, and noticed something silvery rise in the water and then slip away again with the current.

(NIV)Psalm 37:4-8

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. [5] Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: [6] He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. [7] Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. [8] Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret---it leads only to evil.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Easy Come, Easy Go

It was fun being rich for a day. I drove to Virginia to spend the night with my son and new wife, and then today head on to my parents in NY. The whole drive, I was quietly enjoying the feeling of being a successful writer, having sold 13,300 copies of my new book. Granted 5,000 of those sales had been for free, but the rest had registered as full price sales a week after the free day. I was dreaming of life without so much struggle as my reputation as a writer bounded like deer overpopulating the forests. (Though I think now it is actually coyote that are overpopulating, but they don't bound so it is not quite as picturesque a simile.)

Matt, Karissa, and I attended the opening night of the Washington and Lee Mock Convention. Washington and Lee have been remarkably accurate, more than any one else, in predicting the Republican nominee each election cycle. We watched a debate between Ann Coulter and James Carville, followed by a speech by Huckabee. Coulter was great, even skinnier in person than on TV, which seems impossible. I am not sure how her legs support all that beautiful blond hair up on top of that skeletal frame. Carville was entertaining, but talks like he has a mouth full of marbles and rambles so far outside the point that most of the time, I had no idea what he was saying or why. Huckabee made me proud to be an American- an unbelievably inspiring speech. When he spoke about how a culture that refuses to embrace and protect the weakest of us is doomed, the crowd of college kids erupted in applause. That gave me hope for our country's future. Carville's rant that he wanted to see the government giving out more free on demand "after morning pills" to anyone who wanted them was met by me with horror, by silence from the crowd.

But I digress. Back to being rich. During the break, I checked my email. KDP, who publishes my ebook had written. I had wanted them to verify the amount of oodles of money I had made on my soaring sales Feb. 8. They wrote it had been a computer glitch. I did indeed "sell" 13,000 books, but all on the free days. It had taken a week for the computer glitch to work out....and the soaring sales I saw on
Feb. 8 had been made on the free day, Feb.2.

Karissa put her arm around me when my voice broke telling her and my son. I blinked and reread the email stunned. I had never lost so much money so quickly, not even on my most hedonistic spending spree. Both of them are in law school, and I asked if there was anything legally I could do. I could, but "discovery" lawyers would probably end up costing me $250,000 to find out if this was all true or not, far more than the amount I had thought I had made.

Why did God yank this rug out from under me, I wondered? I must have shown something to HIm that indicated I was not ready for fame and fortune. Wallowing in obscurity and struggle must be better for my soul for now. But boy, it sure is not as much fun.

Proverbs 28:6
Better the poor whose walk is blameless
than the rich whose ways are perverse.

-save a dog-

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Going Viral

Alone! The house was quiet as I settled after dinner into the recliner, iPad on lap. Arvo was at his worship music practice, Asherel at the church youth group, and I was blessedly done with everything I had to do. I never expected what happened over the next 90 minutes.

I clicked on the sales reports of my new book. After my free promo, 5,000 books had flown off the shelves. Since then, at full price, it had been selling steadily but slowly. The old report from a few minutes ago was still on the screen. I refreshed the screen. What...? 500 new sales in 10 minutes? No, that couldn't be. I hit the refresh button again. 555 sales. I hit it again. 600. I took a deep breath and waited a few minutes, then hit it again. 1,000 books had sold in a span of a few minutes. First I started crying, and then I called my brother. He had told me when I first published that he was praying for 10,000 books to sell. I laughed, but was gratified by his faith in me...and in God.

"John...I think I'm going viral..."
"What? Why?"
"Listen, I just sold a thousand books...let me refresh the screen...1300....refresh again....1350.....refresh again.....1370....John, I am selling 20-50 books every couple of seconds!"
For the next half hour, I told John the raging total every few seconds. He was driving and had reached his destination but sat listening.
"Well," he said, "I prayed for a total of 10,000. You are going to reach that easy if this pace keeps up. Call me when you hit 10,000. I gotta go."
At 10,000 , a half hour later, I was on the phone with my sister Amy.
"10,000!" I screamed, "Gotta go, gotta call John! After all, he prayed for this!"
"John is my go-to prayer man now," said Amy, "Call him! Love you!"

After 90 furious, glorious minutes of sales, the sales suddenly slowed, and then trickled to just a few an hour. The viral surge appeared to have burnt out for now. I ended with over 13,250 books sold. Amazon listed me as one of the "hot new sellers" in the spirituality category, above some very well known authors. I was number nine on the hot new seller list this morning. It is a dangerous thing when a writer is so dumfounded as to be at a total loss for words.

Until I hear from the publisher, and see in writing what I earned, I won't spend any of my unexpected income. If it is real, at last I can give something meaningful to Hollow Creek Farm, whose help with our once vicious dog was the subject of my first book. There are other ministries I would love to give a little to, and now maybe, I can. But I am heading to my Mom's 80th birthday up north today. I do intend to take her and my dad out to a nice dinner. They taught me my first words and should help celebrate 13,000 people finding my words worth reading.

When I lay down last night, I couldn't sleep. I clasped my hands, with the bilateral rigid splints on my throbbing wrists, in prayer, and could not think of a thing to say to God except, "Thank you. For blessings above and beyond what I could ever imagine. Thank you."

Job 37:5
God's voice thunders in marvelous ways;
he does great things beyond our understanding.

-save a dog-

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Harsh Symbols

I sat in traffic behind a minivan, or maybe it was an SUV, or maybe even a Hummer. I am pretty blind to car type. I would never make a good eye witness because those kinds of details escape me. I couldn't tell you its color either. But as I daydreamed at the traffic light, gazing at the car in front of me and not seeing, slowly it dawned on me that there was something strange about that car.

The back windshield wiper was completely snapped off, but the tiny stub that remained was flicking back and forth like a bobbed wagging dog tail. I watched the mesmerizing beat of the little wiper stub, and then it dawned on me to wonder:

why don't they turn it off?

It is not like it was doing anything useful. It couldn't. It couldn't even wipe a speck of dust off the window. So that set up a whole train of musings. Did the owners of the car know it was on? Were they also daydreaming? Did they even know it was broken? Did they think it was doing its job cleaning the window? Did they notice the window was still dirty? Since the stub was completely out of their vision, would they EVER notice it was on? Would it tick tock ineffectually for all eternity, while the owners went on their merry way till some day they drove through a deep and perilous mud puddle, splashing and completely obscuring their view out the back window, only to discover that they had no wiper and no way to clean the window?
So many horrible repercussions dashed through my mind that I almost got out of the car to warn them.

And then the light changed and they squealed away to their fate.

I sighed and travelled on, thinking of how often similar things like that occur spiritually. I pray, but become so quickly distracted, that within a moment of promising God my undying devotion, I am planning what carbohydrate to have with dinner. Or I think of someone in need and piously plot what I will do to help right after I finish my work, only to rationalize when my work is done, that I am too tired and too swamped with other needs to follow through on that grand idea. I read my Bible and my spirit is convicted of the need for change in my life, and then the same old ugly sin rears its head again, often before my Bible is closed. I am a broken windshield wiper, working furiously to no avail, going through all the right motions, but cleansing no part of my world.

"This is a rather harsh symbol," I mutter to God, as I drive home.
"That's because you are forgetting who powers your spiritual windshield," He whispers kindly.

Psalm 51: 1-2, 17
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

-save a dog-

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I found a way to beat the bitter cold while Asherel is in her agility class. I went into the warm building where the obedience classes take place. I was only planning to go in for a moment to use the rest room...but as I started to open the door to go back out into the windy, cold night, I paused.

"I don't need to be out there, anymore," I thought, "She is 14 now, and there are two leaders out there who know her well from our years with the club. I have faithfully stood in the bitter cold for three years watching Asherel and Honeybun train. I have done so willingly, wanting what is best for my dog and my child. But she is a capable young lady now and our dog is unlikely to revert to the vicious mess she was."

I crept to the bench alongside the back wall of the toasty training building. I settled down on the warm, inviting wood and shucked off my coat, my gloves, my scarf, my hat. I sighed deeply and watched the happy dogs in all the warm training rings.

There is a bad part of children growing up. As I so recently noted in a blog post when my new adorable grand nephew Gregory entered the world, babies are precious beyond belief. The mother has almost absolute control, and can protect the little ones and keep them nestled safely against her. Then they grow up. They develop minds that do not always march in lock step with their mother. They want to do new and sometimes dangerous things. They no longer think mothers' wisdom is really all it used to be. They skip blithely and blindly off into the cold, dark world....

The door opened with a blast of cold night air. I glanced out the door at the agility ring, under the field lights. I could see puffs of breath vaporizing in the cold air as the dogs and their owners ran in the winter chill. I saw Asherel listening to the teacher, and smiling. Then I saw her dash around the course with Honeybun streaming joyfully over the jumps, faster than I had ever seen her. There is a good part of children growing up, I thought, as I settled into my warm seat.

When I read the story of Hannah in the Bible, I am always saddened. She had prayed for years for a child, but remained childless. Then one day, God answered her prayer, and gave her Samuel. She kept Samuel and loved him till the day he was weaned, at which point she took him to the temple, and handed him over to the priest Eli. I don't think I could have done that. She was giving him up in service to the Lord as she had promised God. I want to rip out that page in the Bible. I don't get it. To have yearned so longingly, so desperately, and for such a long time for this gift from God, only to have to return it to Him! It seems so unfair. It breaks my maternal heart. Hannah was blessed with other children after Samuel, and I know that was a comfort, but as every mother knows, no child can replace another. They all capture a piece of the heart that cannot be filled by any other.

Yet God gave us the story of Hannah and her sacrifice for a purpose. All scripture has a purpose. Perhaps it was God's reminder that all of our children are just "on loan". All gifts of God are only for a season. Well, all except one notable exception. Salvation is eternal. It cannot be snatched away. It never has to be returned. It will never leave the desperate, longing soul standing all alone in the bitter cold.

And, even better, one day the legacy that Hannah gave her son, the legacy of faith, would bring that precious gift back to her. They would be standing together again in eternity. And in Heaven, there will be no dangers lurking on the paths that precious progeny might stroll, and no talking back. It will be all good, finally.

Psalm 116: 4-7, 16
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
"Lord, save me!" The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary;
when I was brought low, he saved me. Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you. Truly I am your servant, Lord;

I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.

-save a dog-

Monday, February 6, 2012

As a Mother Comforts her Child

I have a hard time dragging myself away from Facebook. The new grand nephew Gregory takes my breath away. Fortunately, my sister the new Grandma is even more captivated than I am so she posts pictures about every 2-3 seconds. I have had a lot of fun drawing little Gregory on my iPad. I am too old to create a baby, but at least I can create a drawing of one.

Inevitably, given my melancholy nature, it makes me think of the days I can't return to when my own children were so tiny, so filled with all the promise of the universe, so utterly dependent on me. It was simultaneously the most terrifying and most exhilarating time of my life. I would have fought Darth Vader to protect those babies.

I still would.

I gaze at the pictures of Renee's new baby, and I drift into a coma of remembrance, and tenderness, and joy. I wish I could wrap my arms around the little seed of a mighty human, stretch them a thousand miles to touch his perfect fingers. And I wish I had many more arms that could leap time and space to stretch across other miles, caress the cheeks of my own dear children scattered in distant lands, and be able to whisper away their troubles and fears again.

And as in all things, I am reminded of God. God the Father. How He longs to comfort, to whisper away our fears. Still, so often I have run from Him, rather than to Him. And still, He reaches out infinite arms with mercy and forgiveness. He too would fight Darth Vader for His children. He too would die for them. In fact, He did.

Isaiah 66: 9-13
Do I bring to the moment of birth
and not give delivery?" says the Lord.
"Do I close up the womb
when I bring to delivery?" says your God. "Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her,
all you who mourn over her. For you will nurse and be satisfied
at her comforting breasts;
you will drink deeply
and delight in her overflowing abundance." For this is what the Lord says:
"I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem."

-save a dog-