"Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." ---John 14:6
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Back in the Great Old Days when Tom and I had cable tv, I used to watch a certain travel show.
I enjoyed the host--he was terribly funny-- and the places he visited were interesting and educational. And yet--and yet--nearly always in every country, the host consistently sought and explained each place's history of black magic, voodoo, or witchcraft.
And although I make it a practice of avoiding such things because of the Bible's admonition to do so, I'd generally watch a couple minutes of those recreated black magic parts, hoping the coverage of it would be short. I hesitated to turn the channel and perhaps miss the just-fine-travel-adventures which came next.
Only a tiny portion of each hour, that black magic stuff! I wouldn't pay real close attention. I'd close my eyes.
Thus, I argued with God.
Well, after awhile I began having nightmares twice a week instead of just twice (or so) a year. This went on for three weeks before I finally realized what was happening. I was reaping from disobeying that still, small voice of warning within me--the voice which had been telling me to let go of that program.
So not being overly-fond of nightmares (or of disobeying God), I stopped watching that show.
Shocker, shocker--the nightmares stopped immediately.
I hoped God would replace that travel program with another one like it, minus the black magic stuff, of course, but for two or more years I found nothing else, which I thought was odd because most often when God asks me to give up something, He replaces it with something better rather soon. But then, He also sometimes decides teaching patience and trust is the better, higher lesson involved.
Then one day, lo and behold, poof! Our local PBS station began airing Rick Steves' travel shows. I was hooked! Rick visited wonderful places, mostly in Europe, without delving into the things I'd been convicted to leave alone. I enjoy his shows so much, that I ordered a 6-disk-set of his DVD's from the early 90's and I watch them over and over. In fact, it's rather like I tell myself, "I'd like to visit Italy today. I think I'll go watch Rick's journey there."
This example reminded me that God does always replace what we've given up for Him with something better. But sometimes not right away. And sometimes I have missed the 'something better' because my own self-pity or sadness of downright negativity blinded me to it.
Attitude, attitude, attitude. That may be just a platitude to some folks, but to me, it's been a key to a whole different kind of life.
Now I often watch Rick's travel shows before I fall asleep at night. And if you could look inside my head upon my pillow you'd not see a single nightmare.
God is good.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Can you tell I've been busy around my house? In the good old days I posted here each day--or awfully close. But believe me, I have good excuses.
Some of you may remember our carpenter, Glen, who, last year, built our beautiful carport, then the day after he finished, proceeded to wreck his knee, dislocate his hip, and break a couple ribs (and without his helmet, he would have broken his head, too, they say) in a late-night ATV accident.
A special thanks for all of you who prayed for him!
The doctors back then warned him that he might never be able to climb a ladder again. (I wish doctors didn't always have to tell you the worst possible scenario, but I understand why they do.)
Anyway, if it's possible for a person to look even better than he did before an accident, Glen is an example of that! And he's still the amazing carpenter, no, artist that he was before. I told him so--I believe it's important to tell others honestly when something about them impresses you. You're never certain if you'll get another chance--Glen's accident last year was a perfect example.
We had Glen install French doors in our bedroom which open into the bedroom next to it, giving us twice as much space. Which, ok, is still likely half the size of the walk-in closet most of you probably have if you live in a big, new house. But hey, still we're thrilled to now have room for two comfortable chairs and an old pie-cabinet found in an abandoned farmhouse in the Nevada desert. We'll place our tv, etc. in that pie cabinet and call this new room our sitting room. Or maybe 'the suite' to make it sound much nicer than it is. シ
Today I'll paint around the French doors inside our bedroom(light, light pink). (Painting, painting, painting. Good thing I enjoy it, right?)
Thursday, the carpet installers will come and put carpet (berber) in that room and some here in our office room in the basement. Friday I will probably be a little insane finishing up two-hundred loose ends because---Saturday my parents will arrive!
Oh my. Their first visit here--and it will last 17 days. That is a long time.
All prayers would be appreciated. ツ
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Back in our California years, we had a little plaque which read:
"Be what you is. Because if you be what you ain't, then you ain't what you is."
It's a little silly. It's a whole lot wise.
That saying came to my mind this morning while I looked through a 1994 issue of the now-defunct magazine, Victoria. Back then, Victoria was a much-loved magazine for we subscribers who adored all things Victorian and nostalgic. For porch-sitters who wanted to dream within it's perfume-sample-flap pages. Victoria was the only magazine I ever truly got lost inside.
Then they changed it.
Ruined it, actually. Former lovers of the magazine unsubscribed in droves because the new editor replaced the Victorian dreaminess with a modern sleekness which was creeping into magazines everywhere. Suddenly Victoria's photography became sparse and stream-lined and everyone knows when you streamline Victoriana you change its essential nature.
When Victoria went under a couple years ago they cited money problems due to being unable to find just the right readership. But we readers knew the truth--Victoria's staff tried to please everyone and hey! That never works.
This, then, reminded me of a Christian radio station we listened to during our Nevada years. They had set hours for older-style music--hymns and choruses-- and other hours for more contemporary music 'for the younger generation.' Maybe that wasn't perfect, but at least you could rely upon certain times for whichever music you preferred.
But then, after a few complaints from people, the station played only one type of music to try to please the most people. All songs became 'middle of the road'.
Everyone hated it.
Well, everyone I ever talked to after that change was made. In trying to please everyone, they ended up pleasing no one.
The greatest people I've known (or read about) are those who knew exactly what they were called to do and they did it. They didn't take surveys and ask everyone what they should do next. Not asking for votes, they didn't change what they were doing because a couple people complained. When they made changes (as most successful people will do as they grow) they made those changes because out of obedience to God and because they were necessary to reach the next step.
And yes, listening to elders who are wise and 'have been there' is very important. But in the end? When we stand before God, we'll be held accountable for taking the steps God wanted us to take. For seeing our callings through under God's direction.
There's more to this--a lot more. But this is just what I'm thinking about today--that I need to 'be what I is' while I learn and grow and realize that's good enough.
Friday, September 23, 2005
.... He often prepares you for it ahead of time.
Speaking of pauses, many times God calls me away (rather like the old 'away' in, "Calgon, take me away!"), before the hard times even arrive. He asks me to come away with Him while things appear hunky-dory at this moment, yet He sees the moments hurtling my way from days ahead of me:
The appliances or cars which will break down.
The unforeseen money problems.
The people-make-me-crazy times.
The hectic times. The tragic times.
He sees it all before I do and, over and over, He whispers to me to spend extra time with Him while things appear calm.
And the goal of those times? To strengthen my heart and even my skin (as opposed to being thin-skinned). To assure my soul of His presence. To pull down my roots of peace to deeper ground and give me memories of great times with Him which will sustain me in the soon-coming difficult days ahead.
It's life-changing when you 'get' what God is doing. It's frustrating when you don't.
Myriad times, I've sensed God calling me away before hard times arrive and I've also seen Him call away fellow-bloggers, too, before their hardships.
It's amazing these words, these diaries we are all recording. We're leaving a written record of our thoughts and our days and when I read that other bloggers are hearing God telling them to come away, if only for awhile, with Him--and then later I read that hard times came to them--I pray that they heeded that pre-hard-time call.
Because in heeding--in obedience and time spent with God--there is great reward and incredible peace.
Especially in hard times.
"He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will abide under the shadow of the Almighty." ... Psalm 91:1
Thursday, September 22, 2005
I love to pause... to take time out, especially for healing.
When I've been wrongfully accused of things, when I've been sick, when I've been busy or have suffered a loss--I've learned to take time out to heal.
I've also learned if I need a pause, I'd better not wait for other people to give it to me. I must take it for myself.
To take a pause out of my life, I must give myself permission to do so. It must be ok with me, otherwise, during the pause I will feel guilty and nothing postpones healing like guilt. I must believe with all my heart that pauses are vital to my spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health--all which must run in harmony in order for me to fulfill my callings.
I've learned to pamper myself during pauses--to both rest and do what I love and see that as my medicine. To wait for God--to wait for His healing touch, a touch which is real and heals and soothes as nothing else. I must remember I cannot give away what I do not have...
A pause should last until God says it's complete. There is a timing to jumping back into life-- it's rather like when one jumps into a game of double-dutch jump rope. The timing must be perfect. I must be ready, prepared, to jump back in.... otherwise I'll jump amiss and get all tangled-up again in the ropes right away.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
For years our back door had been its original, boring grey metal color. Not only that, but rust was growing along its panel edges, even though we have a clear glass storm door, too. And to top it off, there were a handful of little tar splatters from the time we had our driveway resurfaced.
It's weird how we learn to live with things like that, especially important things like doors where people get the first impressions of our homes. And it's especially bad when you consider that where I live, all our neighbors, delivery people, friends and relatives use the back door. You could nail your front door shut and no one outside your family would even care.
Well, finally last week I painted our back door a terrific medium-dark country-blue. Not only that, but I stenciled a white bow with a little heart in its center, then beneath that, I stenciled the word, 'Imagine.'
What an improvement!
With the whirlwind of activity around here I got to thinking about how worry is a misuse of my imagination. If I am worrying, then I'm imagining that something negative will happen. I am using my imagination to picture a bad outcome and then dwelling on what I see happening in my mind.
I'd much rather use my imagination for purposes God intended, like, picturing ways I can help others or ways I can decorate my home. Or ways I can stretch our money and live on less or how I can lose weight, arrange my garden or get more done in my day.
But I do not want to use my imagination as a canvas for worry. When I look at that word, 'Imagine,' on my back door, I want to use it as a signal to ponder the good which is ahead of me. I want our visitors to ponder that, too.
Speaking of imagination, back when we lived in a double-wide mobile home in the bleak Nevada desert, I wrote the following poem which was later published in the homemaking magazine, Welcome Home. This poem spoke of a place only in my imagination--a place I somehow saw on the road ahead of me... the place where we moved to years later--this place. This place I like to think God imagined for me because He loves me and He knew I would love living here.
Autumn After School
And ones in little blue jeans
Gallup with hands upraised
In our shadowing backyard.
Even the bitten-eared cats
Chase dotted yellow-brown leaves
Not wetted flat by the
Such memory-jarring scents!
My husband escaped, too,
From an office-afternoon
To caress my fingers on our
Cold wrought-iron bench
And to watch children climb
While the sun falls--
Kids silhouetted in trees,
Burying us deep in golden leaves.
Monday, September 19, 2005
These past days I found my plate beginning to fill to spilling... Usually nothing much happens around my place, my life, but now there is a chance Tom will get a job in Virginia, though at this moment, that is up in the air. But yes or no, we will be moving to a less snowy place someday so we are readying our house. I am painting wall after wall and tossing books I only mildly love, numbering almost 300 flung away so far. And I am tossing trinkets and papers and other stuff memory-producing.
And in less than two weeks, for the first time, my parents will come visit us for 17 days and I am trying to make this house so wonderful they will not believe it. The insecure part of me wants it all to be perfect and lacking in nothing, when of course, I should be wanting that simply for their vacation with each other and with us.
And our carpenter friend, the one who put in our amazing carport and then immediately afterward, had an accident which threatened his ever using his carpentry gifts again, well, he will be coming again next weekend, this time to put in French doors in our bedroom. Those doors will open into the bedroom next to it, a room we've always used for storage and for cats. Often for storage of cats, you could say, and the poor room is now a disaster and will need to be painted, redecorated and the floors sanded and that is what will be done by me. And the carpenter is set to finish this project, and some kitchen lighting ones, also, just a day or two before my parents arrive. (I won't even mention that I'll also have to shove stuff around our horrible Ma-and-Pa-Kettle-closet-like basement in order for the carpenter to do rewiring...)
Then today there is my dentist appointment and grocery shopping and helping my friend with her architect's plans for her house. And tomorrow there is my perm--I will walk the mile there and back because I'd rather not take Tom to work at 6 a.m. again as I had to this morning so to use the car. On Wednesday the French doors will come and I will be painting and painting on into Thursday...
And on and on it goes... From slow days of reading and gardening and dreaming upon our porch to that plate of Overflow.
And yet... and yet over and over I hear a voice inside which stops me in its simplicity and calm: "Just one thing at a time. Just think about and do one thing at a time."
And the peace returns because I can handle that. I can do that. I can do one thing at a time and enjoy that one thing until I have a whole string of hours of 'one things' which I enjoyed, stretching far into a still unseen horizon from which I'll look back and see that Life was good, one thing at a time. For you see, it's not enough for me that I just survive hectic weeks or check-off items from my eternal To Do List. No, I want to enjoy what I do. I want to enjoy this journey. I want to enjoy God.
And whatever needs to be tweaked within me to enjoy all that, I will tweak it.
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men..." ... Colossians 3:23
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Life is what you make it.
And so is your house.
I told you when I first walked into my house, I was a little disappointed that it wasn't the Queen Anne Victorian or even the Blondie and Dagwood house I'd always dreamed of having.
But that became a good thing. It challenged me to create my own dream house out of something less.
And that has made all the difference.
When I was a high school junior, we lived in a church parsonage which had belonged to the former pastor and his family who we'd known and loved for years. While their oldest daughter was a junior, she'd taken a high school home decorating class and her 'final' had been to completely redecorate the upstairs' bathroom in that parsonage. She'd painted it lavender with lime green and white accents. Her decorating teacher drove to the parsonage to grade her on her work on the bathroom. The daughter received an A.
Well, this whole house of mine has been like one long home-decorating class project. I've painted and repainted every room and studied decor books and the pictures from many, many magazines. I've discovered what I like, what I don't like, what goes together and what does not. A style of my own was forged and I've come to love these rooms.
Now? I'm thankful my dream house wasn't just handed to me. I'm glad I had to study and sweat for it and pull it from my own dreams inside my head and heart. I have a decorating courage I could have gained no other way.
Work, study, sweating by one's own brow--good, lasting things, all.
"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands..." ... I Thessalonians 4:11
Friday, September 16, 2005
Tom came to this state 10 weeks before Naomi and I did, so he walked through this house before I did and then bought it. He was able to send me a video beforehand, and although this house wasn't quite what I'd been dreaming about, I told him to go ahead and buy it if he thought it was the right thing to do.
Well, when I first stepped inside this house, I was a little disappointed... It had looked bigger on the video and it didn't have the Victorian feeling I'd been wanting, being a Victoria Magazine junkie, myself. During our first years here, I tried decorating it in Victorian style, but always, the heavy Craftsman window and door trim overwhelmed the lace and trinkets of my Victoriana collection. It felt as though a Craftsman vs. Victorian war was going on.
It's very uncomfortable living in the middle of a war.
So one day I decided to submit to the Craftsman tones of this house and I let go of my old Victorian junk, er, lace and doo-dads, and began studying the whole Craftsman movement which happened in the early 1900's and was meant to be a reprieve from all the cluttered years of the Victorian era of decorating. We haunted the scratch-and-dent room of our local furniture store and were able, over a couple years, to buy some Craftsman furniture for a fraction of its original price (otherwise, forget it... At full price, it's ridiculous). We felt blessed to find so many great deals.
And over time a miracle happened. A new peace arose between our furnishings and all that window and door Craftsman trim. Harmony reigned from corner to corner. And the more I give into, yes, even submit to the fact that this is a Craftsman Bungalow and not a Queen Anne Victorian, the more peaceful each room appears and feels. Amazingly, now I even prefer the straight lines and uncluttered look of the Craftsman style over the curves and clutter of Victoriana. Our home is now a place of repose and rest, due in large part to our giving it the furnishings it was created to have.
Due in large part, to my submitting to the truth that there are some things you cannot change, so you must change yourself, instead.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
I liked Saija's comment to my last post:
"Alone time is something I truly relish as my years start to gather up an impressive total! I think we get more comfortable in our own skin, with who we are, IF we've allowed the Holy Spirit to do His job ..."
Last week, while watching coverage of Hurricane Katrina, I heard a reporter tell someone the old phrase, "Hard times make people stronger."
Huh! Not always.
Years ago I went through some hard times emotionally--times in which I thought the way some church people were treating me was the problem, when in reality, the problems came because I refused to die to self. Well, refused is a strong word, I guess--at that time, I didn't know how to die to self or even why I should.
Instead, I kept trying to make my Self stronger on the inside. When those 'mean ol' church people' would pick on me, I would harden my heart so that next time, their words wouldn't pierce me as deeply. I built walls around my heart to shield myself from hurt so that I'd be able to treat those people the right, godly way and not be cited for treating them harshly as they'd treated me. (There's logic in there somewhere.) I thought that was the answer.
But it wasn't. Basically, instead of becoming better, I became bitter.
And always, that is the choice for each of us in hard times. We either let them mold us into more humble, vulnerable and compassionate people who have learned to lean more heavily upon God's strength (and not our own), or we choose a lesser, curvy road. Trust me, I spent years on that curvy road and it only kept me dizzy and stumbling further away from the dependency God wanted me to have upon Him. At the end of that curvy road where Self's ways lead, there is no comfort from God, no strength, no power, no joy, no peace.
There is only Self. Foolish, thinks-it-knows-everything-but-actually-knows-nothing Self. And in lands where Self led me, there was only loneliness and much pain.
Just by looking around we can see that hard times do not necessarily make people stronger or better. I have watched many people during the last four decades of my life become sick from bitterness, unforgiveness and a need to control everyone. They scare me now, and yet, they teach me now, too. They teach me what not to do and how not to be.
Bitter or better? Always, the choice is mine.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
It's enchanting to sit on our front porch in the evenings while the sun goes down. I wish you could sit out there with me so you can see what I mean. Well, in a way, you are out there, too. I was there just now listening to the echo of my neighbors' voices while thinking about the things I could tell you here.
Like I said, it's a little like you're out on the porch with me-- I just wish my neighbors could see you because they probably feel sorry for me sitting alone on our wicker loveseat. I'm out there on our porch a lot by myself-- mornings, afternoons, evenings--because Tom works crazy hours. Twelve-hour day shifts one week, twelve-hour night shifts the next. He does sit on the porch with me occasionally in the mornings, very occasionally, like, twice a month.
Anyway, I hope my neighbors don't feel sorry for me because I feel like the most blessed woman on earth, especially while out on that very porch. I was thinking tonight that never before had I lived in the same house in my life for more than two-and-a-half years and yet now, in this wonderful house, I've lived 12 years. I went from being 34 to 46 and maybe you already know this, but those are usually some amazing, life-changing years for most people. Moving into your 40's is a pretty big deal--you'll have to just trust me if you're not already there.
My attitude has gone through a complete overhaul while I have lived in this house. I used to sit on our porch and feel sorry for myself because Tom works so much and I am so often alone. But now... this will sound odd, but I cannot get enough of being alone. I love it. I love how I feel so creative while I'm by myself and it's all I can do not to pick up a paint brush and start painting something, anything. Or I'll wash or organize something while I have the radio blaring classical or big band era music, depending upon the mood of the day.
Moods--I used to be led by moods and my emotions and that was one big rocky ride--believe me. Like, Yo-Yo Land. But over these years of living in this house... over these years of going from 34 to 46, God has taught me to be led by Him--how He feels about something and how He wants me to react to whatever may be happening. He's still teaching me, of course, and I'm learning to enjoy the lessons. That, in itself, is a miracle.
And it's amazing... He's so with me out on that front porch that I can almost see Him sitting across from me in the big white wicker chair.
I wish my neighbors could see Him there with me, too.
I've been doing it again. Playing the Blues Record in my head.
Man, I hate that record. So why do I play it? Why do I allow its lyrics to spin around and around my head? Lyrics like these...
"Sit there and watch the bad news on tv until you're head feels so heavy that you can't get up. Sit there just a little longer so you'll feel you can do nothing of any real value to help the people you are watching."
"Sit there and dwell on all the strife between people in our Country. Stay there until you are good and mad at everyone."
Meditate upon what is going wrong around your house, your family and your world. Dwell on those things until you become a full-time worrier."
"Think about what can go wrong in the next few months. Get those pictures painted brightly in your mind so you can see them clearly."
The hilarious thing is that I listen to that record over and over and then I find myself walking around wondering, "Why aren't I feeling as happy as I used to?" I look up and ask myself, "Why is that black cloud following me around?"
Well, today I am changing that record in my head, trust me. I know better than to simply just wait for positive thoughts to magically seep into my head. It's up to me to think them--no one else will change that record for me--it's up to me.
I'm bringing out a whole different record album, one simply called, "Hope." It's an album which reminds me that God is still good. It recalls all the wonderful blessings I still have. It brings back all the great memories of my past and gives me hope, which gives me joy, even now while things are imperfect. And it reminds me that as long as I am giving to others as God tells me, then I am doing all He expects me to do--and that is enough.
That Hope record turns any day into a great day, at least inside my head (the place where I choose to be happy).
Excuse me while I go change that record right this minute.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Finally! What I've always believed about housework is now being broadcast in the news.
It's about time. Took them long enough.
Read about it here.
Oh, and happy housekeeping!
I'd love to chat some more, but I need to go mop my floor for my health.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
In my last post, I shared a couple articles about what may take place down the road in the U.S.. Things which would change Life As We Know It. And it could happen--you never know. (Just consider all the things which have happened since 9/11/01 which we, years ago, believed could never happen.)
But in the meantime, I am going to do my best to finish well. My life, that is. I'm going to keep painting the walls of my house and caring for Tom and feeding our cats and visiting with Naomi in her new apartment. I want to keep writing in this blog and encouraging people by email and snail mail and taking walks and rearranging the flowers in my garden each year.
And I want to keep building the peaceful place of refuge inside me. That place where I not only run to God when things fall apart, but where I sit with Him when things are going very right. In the days ahead, that may become a more real home to me than the one whose walls I am painting now. There is a peaceful place inside me, a home of sorts which I carry with me wherever I go, rather like a turtle with his home on his back, yet mine is built on the inside.
I watch all these people who have been displaced by winds of a hurricane and I wonder how many carry a peaceful home within them, too. It's available to everyone, but it's extremely hard to add onto the house and make it stronger in the middle of a huge storm. Oh, I suppose you could nail some boards up in the middle of swirling rain, but how much better it would have been to have built the house of your heart during days of smaller winds. During the days when the biggest problems you had were the broken washing machine, the lost friendship or the empty bank account.
When I am sitting on white shiny porches with friends in Heaven, I want to look back to my life here and be glad for the days I enjoyed God, even when nothing much was going right. As we talk and rock in our chairs, I want to be able to laugh from my soul about the times I took out to have fun--instead of regretting that I spent that time feeling offended or morose or afraid. I want to feel grateful in Heaven that I was grateful here on Earth for what God gave me. I want to know that I noticed everything God wanted me to notice and that I did not miss anything. While on that porch, I want to be sitting next to people I helped and shared with while we still lived down here.
Basically, I don't want to get entangled with the bitterness and blame-throwing which is swirling all around me everywhere I look, tempting me to waste these Last Days because I allowed myself to get pulled down in the suction of negativity. I'll be sitting on that sunny front porch in Heaven someday and I want some good, godly memories to think about while I am rocking there.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Being a big fan of the health of staying balanced in all areas, I'm going to share something funny with you from the book I recommended earlier, Domestic Affairs, by Joyce Maynard. But it's not a total switch in subject matter--you'll notice the familiar thread of having to have things and stuff and believing we cannot live without them.
Enjoy. And laugh, too. Well, at least I hope you'll giggle a little. Your heart will thank you for it.
"One of the biggest discount stores in our area was going out of business--every item marked down 50 percent.... The place had been pretty well stripped by the time we got there, with half of what was left broken or dirty, and heaped on the floor. The snack bar, where I had hoped to purchase Charlie's (her son) tranquility with a bag of popcorn, was closed down, looking like Pompeii at the moment the volcano erupted, with grape soda still percolating in a cooler and coffee cups on the counter. No time for coffee anyway. Shoppers were racing ahead of us, cleaning out all the most popular bra sizes, stripping the shelves of shampoo and vacuum-cleaner bags and batteries. The speakers that used to pipe gentle organ music in my ears were transmitting urgent messages, meanwhile--like an emergency broadcast system during a wartime air raid, notifying shoppers of additional markdowns ("hurry, hurry!") and reminding us that soon the doors would close forever. I picked up my pace and flung a pair of crew socks into my cart for my husband, hitting Charlie on the head by mistake. We were off and running.
"There is a danger at an event like this one , of confusing the end of this particular store with the end of civilization in general. You begin to feel as if this were your last chance ever to buy anything. So you get four lipsticks, and enough photograph albums to see your infant son through high school graduation. I bought sneakers for my three children's next three sizes, and for Steve, five packages of underwear and (an impulse from somewhere out in left field) a set of car seat covers.
"Charlie was pretty quick to pick up the tone of the event. Having rejected the seat in my shopping cart designed for children in favor of the deep basket section of the cart, he stood, as if at the prow of the ship, facing out to survey the ocean of merchandise before him. Sometimes he'd reel in a string of Christmas lights or grab a stuffed animal by the tail. In the shoe department he hauled in a whole clump of tangled together fuzzy bedroom slippers. His diaper had come undone and was hanging down one pant leg; he had appropriated a hat, and he was waving to people as if he were running for office. I had never seen the particular crazed look that appeared on his face when, after I let him down from the cart for a moment, he clutched a bag of sponges and began to spin in circles, singing "Beat It." Even after I picked him up and was walking briskly down the aisle with my son under my arm like a rolled-up newspaper, to regain my cart, he still kept reaching out hopefully for kitchen spatulas and panty hose. And of course I know where he acquired the tendency. As I loaded my bags into the trunk of our car, I couldn't even remember , anymore, what it was I'd bought."
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Today on tv I watched a woman down south on a news report. She was kneeling in what was once her front yard, pulling some ceramics and things out of the mud. She leaned over them and cried over them and I knew two weeks ago that would have been me, too, had the same thing happened to my stuff.
But I watched this woman sobbing over her stuff and I thought, "I do not want to cry over things which can be replaced. Family and pets, most certainly--they are irreplaceable. Pictures, ok... but shedding tears over my collected stuff, no."
So this is what I did. I got up and walked around my house and released everything as best as I could. I looked at each thing and told it good-bye. And I asked myself questions, too. "Could I live without that?" And in nearly every case I said--and hopefully meant it from my heart-- "Yes, I could lose that and still be fine. I would not miss it." Even when I looked at gifts from loved ones I knew that I would always remember the thought behind that gift--and that would be enough.
(Though to be honest.... I did think, "Now, if I lost everything and had no money or no ebay or no amazon.com to replace my things, well, that might be a whole different story...")
Only one thing did I pause over, and that is a pencil drawing my daughter's high school art teacher sketched of my daughter. But then, that's in the photo genre, I think.
Talk about freeing!
Later, Tom told me he received another good recommendation from someone concerning a job he has applied for in a southern state, so we both got a little more serious about packing and tossing. And because I'd said good-bye to my stuff earlier, I found it so much easier to just trash what was trash and donate what was donation-worthy.
Before, I'd thought maybe we have too much stuff, but watching thousands of people on tv who have lost absolutely everything, now I am certain we have too much. It's time to let it go because I no longer feel right, or peaceful, about owning it--or its owning me. When the time comes to leave this place, we will leave with a lighter load--in the moving van and in our hearts.
Since Katrina, I've looked at my own home differently, as something mine, yet not mine. As something temporary and vulnerable... as something I will not always have.
Yet, in one way, I will always have it, namely, in my memories. Oh my... once I tried to write down my favorite memories of our life inside this house and I finally gave up because the list had no end.
My favorite memories? The quiet times when gratitude was heavy on the air. Usually those times have happened in the evenings during the thousands of sunsets. The closing of a day has a light and a pace which belongs only to sunset. It's as though the day is closing its eyelids. It's a time of rest and reflection. Well, at our house, anyway.
One of my favorite Bible verses is the one which says, "And Mary pondered these things in her heart." I thought of that verse yesterday while I sat on our front steps in the quiet sunny afternoon and let my gaze fall on my flowers, then upon my neighbors' houses. I see pondering as being a restful thing--pondering is not reasoning and making myself crazy with figuring things out on my own.
Pondering is more like reflecting on the good in my life and knowing there will be more good. Pondering is trusting God to lead me, instead of figuring out the way according to the current circumstances or the way everyone else would do something. Pondering is is like lifting your face and basking in the remembered goodness of God and hearing answers to your questions from His heart, not your head.
Pondering is allowing myself to walk through my memories and taste them once more. And I think when the time comes to leave this house of mine either by choice or by force, I will be grateful for the gift of pondering. I'll be thankful that I can remember all the sunsets and sunny mornings, too, out upon our porch. And so much more--all the endless memories we have accumulated here in twelve years. All the memories which will go with me wherever I go and cannot be washed away by any storm. All the memories which this past week, I have taken out and polished for the day when they may be needed up the road ahead.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Yesterday my sister emailed me that her oldest son, Michael, is being shipped out tomorrow. He is 24 and is in the Army National Guard and he called her and gave her The Talk.
He told her how to have his body shipped home. He told her that he wants a small, inexpensive funeral. He asked her to promise that she would care for his wife and baby boy. He told her he loved her. You know, The Talk.
You probably think he's going to Iraq, right? No, he is going by bus to Louisiana. He'll be helping protect workers from sniper fire.
This is our United States now. My nephew is traveling down to one of our southern states and he is mentally preparing to be shot at by its citizens.
Here. Here in these free United States.
Part of me cannot believe it. The other part of it believes it easily because of the anger and bitterness and overwhelming stress of the people all around me. I have watched people I've known for years become people I no longer recognize. Hatred has changed their faces and their voices.
I will have a choice in the days to come to become part of all that bitterness, but I will keep refusing. Instead, I'll pray for more of the peace that passes understanding. And I'll be doing whatever it takes to hold onto that peace because now it truly will be a matter of life and death.
Truly, I'd appreciate your prayers for my nephew. Thanks so much.
Well, I did it. I finally checked-out Joyce Maynard's book, Domestic Affairs from our town library.
"So?" I can hear you ask.
So I've walked past that book for at least ten years now, averting my gaze and avoiding it's lovely-yet-honest-too pages because I know that Joyce and her husband divorced not too long after she wrote this book all about the adventures and trials of her family's life in a 200 year-old farmhouse on a dirt road in New Hampshire. I started rereading it once after I heard of their divorce, but laid it down because the bittersweetness was too heavy.
When the book appeared in 1987 I requested it immediately through our library because for ages I'd lived for Joyce's monthly columns in Country Living Magazine describing her life on the homefront with three children and a husband and a writing shed in her wooded backyard. I loved Joyce's way with words--I still do.
Anyway, I probably read Domestic Affairs 4 or 5 times before I heard that Joyce and Steve had divorced and she'd left her children with him for awhile. And then they shared custody, I believe, then she took the kids with her to California, etc.. And I know these things happen--you don't get to be 46 without knowing about real-life--and yet. Sigh.
Each time I ran across Joyce in a magazine article she'd written updating her life or while standing at the library and glimpsing through a couple of her newer books, I longed to, instead, picture Joyce and her husband and her children back in that old farmhouse living new Domestic Affairs chapters. My mind craved a certain happy ending which could never come now.
Hence, the reason I scuffled past Domestic Affairs on those metal library shelves downtown.
But this morning, I broke through the walls I'd built up with sentiment and bittersweetness and grabbed the book and took it to the librarians' desk before I could change my mind. As long as the whole world is changing, I may as well change too. Well, in good ways.
And you know? Just after two pages, I was pulled into this book again--yanked in as I always am with Joyce's words, her writing style. I was there with her children at 6:30 on a dark morning with the spilt plastic Cheerio bowls, the cartoons and the crying.
About the only thing Joyce and I have in common is that we are both mothers of one daughter. Hers was born a year before mine and then later, she had two sons. Her early stories always made me want to have more children and to live in a big old farmhouse. Her home seemed so full and disorganized and mine was just the opposite.
Like most people, I wanted what I did not have.
At least for awhile. Come to think of it, when I stopped rereading Domestic Affairs, I believe that's when I stopped wanting more children (but I still wanted the big old house). Hmmm. That was 14 years ago. Who says books are not powerful things?
All of this is to say I highly recommend reading Domestic Affairs.
Especially if this phase of your life is filled with home, kids, pets and cleaning up after all of them and trying to find some time and meaning for yourself in the midst of it all. This is not a "Christian" book but Joyce wrote a delightful chapter called 'Christian Marriage' about a family with whom they shared dinner. She compared the two families and her observations are insightful. But then, her writing is constantly insightful--you always feel as though Joyce is taking dictation from her heart.
And in the midst of the excellent writing and the stories of day-to-day family-life perhaps you can pinpoint where things began to go wrong inside that old farmhouse--and then avoid that wrong turn, yourself.
Monday, September 05, 2005
I took a long test this weekend, namely, the Open Hand Test.
During that test you recall that you let your friends come and go--you must give them that freedom. You must respect their needs and then hope they will respect yours.
You forgive a lot during the Open Hand Test because as you are exercising your freedom to leave what you've known, not everyone will applaud your decision. Heck, most of them won't even understand it at all and you just may get an email accusing you of being incredibly rude when in reality, you were only obeying God and your heart in the kindest way you knew.
When you stand with God you must always be willing to stand alone, just you and Him.
You must be willing to be criticized, misunderstood, accused, laughed at and shunned. You must be willing to lose friends and maybe even your job.
But you must also realize this: Somehow, somewhere, and in some way, God will make it up to you.
Sometimes immediately--as He did this weekend after I took The Open Hand Test. Sometimes later. Sometimes not till Heaven.
But always, He'll make it up to us somehow whenever He brings us to a difficult decision and we do just as He asks.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Since our weather cooled to bake instead of broil, I've been taking daily walks around my neighborhood. Nothing like trying to lose 20 pounds in one month before my parents arrive.
I look at all these old houses and wonder what would happen if we had a hurricane/flood/tornado/earthquake. And I know, these lovely, strong-looking houses would crumble.
But would I? Would I crumble if my whole world suddenly changed and everything was different, even leveled?
I think of the Bible and the way God has been preparing us for these very days for, like, thousands of years. He's warned us over and over, spent hundreds of thousands of days trying to prepare us for such a time as this.
For some of us, it takes longer than others.
I read Hal Lindsey's latest essay last night at his website here. It confirmed everything I've been feeling since last Monday and the news of the Hurricane began airing.
I think it's going to show someday the times I did not come away with Him now for extra preparation, guidance and strength. I think it's going to show when I made compromises and 'deals with God' and ignored Him about some things like trust and hope and not complaining or freaking-out as though He had no comfort or grace or calm to give me.
And I think it's going to show that I did listen and obey a few times. I did get prepared in some ways and learned to look to Him for provision rather than people, places and things. At least I hope it will show.
I don't want to crumble during the days ahead when more and more news broadcasters' sentences will begin with, "Never before in history," or "For the first time ever,". I don't want to embarrass God by acting crazy-wild like everyone who has never met Him when the days turn dire.
God has spent so much time and effort on me--I want it to be worth His time and trouble. And most of al, His patience. And when He finishes shaking everything which can be shaken, I want to be left standing.
"The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain." Hebrews 12:27
"Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one." Isaiah 44:8
Saturday, September 03, 2005
In times of trouble, the easy thing is to blame people for our discomfort.
The simplest thing is to complain--anybody can do that. It takes no strength, stamina, no internal discipline to complain. It's the natural thing to do.
But I don't want to just do what comes naturally.
Who wants to just blend-in with crowds? Not me, especially with those on the Low Road.
I want to take the High Road even though, yes, it's rougher. Only those who have strengthened and disciplined themselves are able to climb up to the High Road and stay there longer than an hour or two.
The High Road is God's Road.
You won't find Blamers, Complainers and Pessimists up there. They're down below on the Low Road with millions of others moaning, whining alongside them.
But those on the High Road are getting things done. Theyre searching for ways to get those down on the Low Road pulled up from the mediocrity, sadness and dark clouds there.
I appreciate being challenged to travel the High Road. I want to listen to people who urge me to take the more disciplined road of sacrifice. I want to read books and blogs which convict me about my own complacency even though they're harder to find.
I've had enough of the voices which are enticing me to complain about our leaders, our government, our churches and others who are actually out doing. Changing lives.
Doers, real doers, are not complainers. Those who are accomplishing great things are not the ones sitting in front of their televisions or their computers complaining to others and feeding fires of discontent.
Doers are Pray-ers.
Doers are Givers.
Doers are Supporters.
Doers are Comforters.
Doers trust that God will care for them.
Doers are out feeding the hungry.
Doers are out clothing the naked.
Doers are out healing the sick.
Doers are out fixing what is broken.
Doers are out giving whatever they have.
Take me to the place where the Doers are so that I will be inspired to be one, myself.
I am surrounded by this Low Road and I'm ready to climb higher.
Friday, September 02, 2005
"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured out unto you. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." ... Luke 6:38
Hurricane Katrina is bringing this all back to me--
I've had to learn a lot about giving. Some of you may recall that I used to be a bonafide cheapskate. Ah, those were the days when my life was all about making something from nothing. You should have seen some of the stuff I invented!
And of course, living frugally is one thing, but being a penny-squeezer out of fear of lack is quite another.
Then God came along and began changing me, especially in areas of obedience. Man,suddenly He wouldn't let me get away with anything! Why? Because I asked Him to change me Big Time because I was sick of who I had become. I'd created something which, it seemed, kept shattering under any little bit of stress.
Eventually, He got around to the area of giving. Especially in giving money away--money over and above our tithe. He began picking through my pocket book and my checkbook and all my fearful heart strings connected to my money. He showed me in the above verse that, in order to receive, I first had to give.
Give first, receive second. For years, I'd had that backward (and I know I'm not the only one. Anyone else out there?).
I'm glad God is patient. I've probably made Him insane on this one. But finally, in the last few years, I've begun to listen--and really give. At least, stepping it up over where I'd been.
I'm still learning when He says, "Give money," I need to give money. Not food, not blankets, not old, or even new clothes--but money. I really have my nerve when I substitute what He's asking me to give! When He tells me, "Give $30," I am being disobedient when I give only $20. Or even $25. Alternately, when He says to give food or blankets or clothes, I need to give food or blankets or clothes.
To obey is better than sacrifice. Seriously.
I love having a history with God. I love that I've watched Him come through for us hundreds of times as we've been faithful to give. Heck, half the time on paper our finances don't even 'work out'--they don't make sense. But then, long ago we stopped waiting for God to make sense.
We stopped waiting for His ways to be like ours.
And now, having enough to give feels terrific. I'm glad God is much bigger than a spreadsheet and a bank account, but then, He'll always be only as big in my life as I let Him.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Part of me says I cannot believe the looting and shooting which is happening in the New Orleans area.
Part of me can easily believe it.
Today was the first day this week I got out and about my town. You know, this town which I've written about as having the friendliest, most old-fashioned people on Earth.
Oh my. While in two stores I heard people complaining bitterly about how Hurricane Katrina will affect our town. How the gas prices are unfair. How our already high property taxes will shoot up astronomically and how that is unfair. One man sputtered, "Why should we have to help anyone? The hurricane wasn't our fault. And who helps us when we have blizzards every winter?. It's not fair. It's not right."
Bitterness. As I'd never seen it around my town in the 12 years I've lived here. And it's just the beginning.
People say it's the thugs, the drug-addicts, the lunatic fringe of New Orleans which is doing the looting and shooting.
I mean, hey. Are any of us 100% certain that if we'd lost everything--if we had starving children or an ill spouse, if we had no home, no shelter, no job-- are any of us certain that we'd not justify looting a WalMart to provide for our family?
That's what I mean about preparing now. Right now I need to make decisions as to how far I will go to sustain my life in a crisis. This moment I need to decide just who does my life belong to--myself or God? Do I trust God to care for me, or don't I? Just how unshakable is my faith under fire? Will I be able to put others before myself in a crisis? Will I be able to hold onto the peace that passes understanding and trust God no matter what happens?
Or in a crisis, will I doubt God and panic in fear with an 'every man for himself' attitude?
These are questions I ask myself while watching the news coverage from down South. And I believe if anyone blurts out, "Oh, I would never, ever do anything illegal in a crisis!", well, I only hope it comes after they've done much soul-searching themselves.
But the problems aren't just Down South--they're creeping up here and everywhere. I heard it in the bitter voices of my neighbors today.
Suddenly I glimpsed what may happen if gas prices continue to climb. I could see people, even my old-fashioned neighbors doing things they never, ever would have thought they would do--car-jackings and robberies of all kinds. I could imagine them doing all sorts of dark things out of fear to provide for basic needs.
Just like many of the victims of Hurricane Katrina.