Featured

Blinded by the Light

There is a fine line between Light and Darkness.

Yet somehow, they define one another.

The contrast is bold and blunt.

The lines, defined and thin.

As the Light changes, the Darkness diminishes.

Even without the blinds fully opening, the Light still wins.

As the Light filters through the blinds, casting shadows on the ceiling I am aware of the irony.

The blinds are designed to keep Light out, yet it still filters through, challenging the Darkness to give way.

Darkness, blinded by the very light it is designed to keep out.

How ironic that the blinds actually cast the Light.

Even more ironic when the Light is so bright it blinds.

Isn’t that how Grace works too?

Grace infiltrates the darkness that blinds us, shames us, and even threatens to change us.

Grace penetrates in spite of Darkness and forges new openings, new beginnings, and new hope.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Let the Light come in!

Let it penetrate, infiltrate, and define.

May you be blinded by the Light that overcomes the Darkness.

And may you be filled with fresh Hope as the blinds give way to Grace.

Featured

Spring Emerging

Household Faith

Standing on the edge of the newly uncovered deck following 14 straight weeks of snow and ice cover, I heard new sounds.  After the long silence of winter, the neighborhood was slowly coming alive.  Someone rolled a trash can to the curb for morning pick up.  Two voices were conversing down the street.  A dog barked.  A car splashed in a mud puddle as it drove by.  A different dog barked.  Someone walking their dog in the pre-dusk light jingled a set of keys as they passed by.

Fourteen looong weeks of bitter cold, harsh winds, every kind of precipitation possible.  I’d almost forgotten the sounds of spring. 

Another day passed.  Suddenly there was a set of robins hopping across the leftover snow streaks in the front yard.  Orange and purple painted the western sky at dusk.  And the once frozen soil was becoming mushy with the thaw that comes with spring.

Later that night.  The wind howled and the sky flashed!  Out of nowhere an unfamiliar crack of thunder startled us from sleep.  The sounds of spring were emerging. 

Then days passed and the rains kept coming.  Not forty days and forty nights, for that promise had been made long ago, but the rains came anyway.  Unceasing, relentless.  The yard only half thawed became first a stream, then a river, and then a small lake.  The streets were full. The rivers broke their banks.  The miniature icebergs scraped at the bridges and underpasses.  The rains came.  The water stayed. 

And then, without warning, on a mid-afternoon it came.  Faintly at first, but the colors brightened, then doubled, then connected one span of the sky to the other.  A full double rainbow graced the Eastern horizon.  Hope was restored.  Spring was emerging.

Tonight, a quiet surprise.  Somewhere beyond the housetops echoed the coo of the doves.  Our town has an abundance of doves, but they have been absent since winter set in.  But tonight, they were here, calling to one another, calling to us.  Spring emerging brings the coo of the doves, which in turn brings hope and inspiration and courage.

Spring emerging is bittersweet.  No more ice and snow in which to complain, but rather sunshine and rain in which to accept.  Never perfect yet always right.  Spring emerging in sound, in site, and in life.

 We live in four seasons.  The calendar marks the days, but the seasons put a mark on our hearts. Acutely aware of the passing time, seasons forge their own path in their own time, which then becomes our time.  We don’t choose the timing or the path, but we are full participants in both. 

To welcome the spring is also to embrace the fall.  To bask in summer is also to anticipate the winter.  In seasons we are tested, bruised, battered and torn, yet somehow restored, made whole, and at last completed.  Not in our own time, but in Time as it’s given.

Featured

News Comes Callin’

Unspoken-ness

Close to Home,

Far away,

News comes callin’

Passed away.

Feel the pain,

Start to Pray,

Mind is racin’

Snatched away.

Reaching for words to give comfort,

Struggling to understand Grace.

Livin’ with hope for the future,

Yet limited by this time and space.

Hope will know the answer.

Faith will mark the time.

Love will keep us searching

For the purpose in this life.

Close to Home,

Far away,

News comes callin’

Passed away.

Feel the pain,

Start to Pray,

Mind is racin’

Snatched away.

Learnin’ to live for the moment,

Tryin’ to live life today.

Thinkin’ about no tomorrow

Isn’t the way we’re taught to play.

Who’s to know the reason,

The time, or the place?

Who’s to know the season

When we meet Love face to face?

Close to Home,

Far away,

News comes callin’

Passed away.

Feel the pain,

Start to pray,

Mind is racin’

Snatched away.

In loving memory of our dear friend, Roger Gilles LeBel–Gone too soon.

Featured

Keeping the Mind Busy

Diagnosis Dementia ~ Prognosis Hope

In the world of Dementia there is a fine line between keeping the mind busy and keeping the loved one occupied.  It would seem busy work might stimulate the senses over and over without a memory to keep track of passing time.  

Seriously.

I’ve been told so many things about needing to keep activities on hand to keep my mom busy and/or occupied. We have adult coloring books from every genre. We have word find books, crossword puzzle books, and Sudoku.

They work for a while, depending on the day. I was looking for activities that might help on the days Mom was bored by the books. I stumbled upon Dementia-minded dominoes and color/shape matching cubes. They’re interesting, but haven’t held Mom’s attention for long at a time as of yet.

My sister-in-law was looking for something Mom might enjoy at Christmastime when she stumbled upon this “new” version of the old number-slide game. Remember these?  This is one of the first handheld devices used to entertain little hands and it didn’t even need recharged!  It was about 4” square in size and was “church-approved”. My grandmother carried one in her purse. My aunt remembers playing with one in church when she was a child! And I am sure all of my cousins remember it too! It was always a challenge to get the numbers in order from 1 – 15 and probably took a good deal of the sermon time to make it happen!

My brother and sister-in-law brought this little gadget to our house around Christmastime and Mom spent hours getting it in order. She’d mess with it until she got it all in numerical order, then proudly leave it on the table.  Sometimes it would take her all afternoon, but she’d stick with it until it was in perfect order.  A day or two later I would mix up the numbers. Before bedtime, Mom would have it back in order. We did this off and on for a couple of weeks! It seemed to be very satisfying for Mom while she worked to get it exact! 

This morning the number slide was in order. I had a little time so thought I’d mix it up so Mom would have something to do with her hands if she got bored this afternoon. But today was different.

The numbers would not move.

In fact, they wouldn’t even budge! 

I took it to my husband for closer examination. I thought maybe Mom had bent the edges down with a pair of pliers to keep it in order. But when I handed off, I realized something else! Discolored, sticky streaks on the bottom of the otherwise shiny surface.

Yep!

Glue residue. With perfect fingerprints!

Mom had GLUED the numbers down. In numerical order.

Now NO ONE could mess up her work this time!

Or EVER again!

The first handheld, church-approved, family heirloom is forever glued into perfection. Not ONE number square even wiggles. It is one solid, handheld device in perfect order from one to fifteen!

Which brings me to a whole new set of questions!

  • Where is heaven’s name did she find glue?
  • Where is the glue now?
  • And when did she do that without someone catching her in the act?!!  (Have I told you we have a nurse on duty 48 hours a week and my mother is NEVER left alone?)

Quite obviously, in the world of Dementia, keeping someone occupied does not correlate with redundant repetition!

Featured

Unspoken-ness

Unspoken-ness On Death and Dying, On Life and Living

Noun: A series of thoughts or words that are never spoken out loud, yet have meaning and purpose and value.

Unspoken-ness. It is a condition I have pondered for many months now. Maybe longer. Sometimes unspoken words hurt too much to say out loud. There’s an underlying fear that if I speak them, they become real and sometimes reality is too much to bear.

Other times unspoken words are hidden with the intent of protecting the listener. Sometimes they are memories, glimpses of a time past.

Unspoken-ness is a practice. It is polished and effortless because it has been with me for so long. I wonder about these words and thoughts and ponderings even before I understand them. I work through them over time, realigning the content with the reality—fact checking my heart with my head.

We simply hold these words for whatever reason, yet they never really pass away. They stay with us. They speak even if unspoken. They have meaning without definition. They plant seeds without harvest.

Featured

Yard Rules

Diagnosis Dementia ~ Prognosis Hope

This too shall pass…

…like in about 12 seconds.

Today was a Monday.  On a normal Monday, if there really is such a “normalcy” to any of my days anymore, I would use my morning to return emails, answer texts, and complete any leftover paperwork for my clients from the previous week.  Easy enough.  The afternoon would be spent on the phone, setting appointments, following up with clients, team members, and doing various other work-related tasks.

Today wasn’t one of those Mondays.  I am 3 weeks behind on my own laundry.  To survive the laundry drought, I threw some of my underwear in with a load of my husband’s farm clothes on Friday.  That bought me time…but today was critical.  I have a tall hamper, but the dirty clothes were piled about 3 feet higher than the top of the hamper!  Fortunately, my hamper sits in a corner so the overflow leans against three walls while it waits.  I had no choice but to get my entire wardrobe washed, dried, folded, and re-put-away where it goes before the weeks kicks off Tuesday morning.

Granted, I should be able to do laundry while multi-tasking at my desk and between phone calls.  Add to that daunting list:  Mow the lawn.  Rain is coming.  The forecast calls for rain Tuesday – Sunday.

Thank God I don’t have the 2 acres I left behind when my husband and I lived in our own home!  Mom’s yard is much smaller.  The kicker is that Mom’s yard comes with a whole new set of expectations.  In the two-acre yard all I needed was time and a good pair of ear plugs.  In Mom’s yard, things “precede” mowing.  Things like, cleaning up after the dogs (I figure rain is coming!  Won’t that clean up after the dogs?)  Sticks need picked up and placed in yard waste containers. (I drive a 42” ZTR mower.  The owner’s manual clearly states: “…the blades can handle small sticks, bark, and twigs…”.  I trust the owner’s manual).  It used to take me 2 and a half hours to mow 2 full acres of long grass.  In town at Mom’s house I should be able to knock the top off the grass (honestly, we just mowed it last Friday!!!) in about 45 minutes. 

Plenty of time left to finish laundry, go to the store, let my brother’s dog out and still fix supper before I need to make the rest of my evening phone calls for work.

The morning went well.  I worked in my bedroom.  Limited space, but no interruptions!  The afternoon was off to a good start.  Laundry was going.  I was making great progress on the phones and the computer.  By about 3:30 I was ready to jump on the mower and check that big item off my list before the rain starts tomorrow.

My mistake was sitting down on a kitchen chair to change into my mowing shoes.  The innocent question from mom,  “Are you going outside?”

My mindless answer, “I thought I’d jump on the mower.”

An alarming reply, “Did we pick up the sticks?”

Trying to avoid the delay in my day, “Of course we did, Mom.  We picked them up Friday before we mowed then.  Three days ago.”  (She has Dementia for Pete’s sake! Will she remember if we actually picked them up or not?)

It was too late.  Mom was already putting her coat on.  “I’ll need to pick up after the dogs before you mow out back.”

I tied my left shoe thinking, no problem, I’ll start out front.

Now you have to get a visual on this yard.  We live in town – which poses a whole other set of rules about curb mowing.  If you mow along the curb, the grass must be blown back onto the yard, NOT into the street!  If there is accidently a blade or two of grass in the street after mowing, Mom is out there with her broom sweeping it up and adding it to the yard waste!  The back yard is actually the “side” of the house.  That part is partially surrounded by a chain link fence for the dogs.  The best way to start the mowing process is to “open the yard up”—you know, mow around the whole outside edges so you can easily spin the ZTR mower around at the end of each pass.

In preparation, I walked to the side yard and opened the gate so I could easily drive into the fenced in area when I got around to it.  Mom was right on my heels.  No sooner had I opened it, Mom was closing it.

“The dogs will get out.”

“But Mom, the dogs won’t be out while I am mowing.”

“Are you going to mow out here first?”

I’m thinking, it all depends on where you decide to pick up sticks first, Mom!

I answer honestly. “I can mow on either side first, it won’t matter.”

“Then why do you need the gate open now?”

“I don’t really need it open, I was just getting ready.”

“Then we don’t need it open yet.”  Mom closed the gate.

I stopped and attempted to move the downspouts out of the mower’s way on the other side of the house.  I didn’t realize they have rules too.  These rules say there’s a screw fastening them to the down spout!  Who knew?  Mom gave me a lesson on those as I tried not to faint because the birds were darting back and forth between the nearby fir trees.  (To this day I am not a fan of feathers, birds, or anything that flies – especially if they are close in proximity to my personal space!)

Finally!  I made it to the mower, inserted my whimpy ear plugs (haven’t found my good ones yet since our move), and off I went.  I opened up the whole yard and only got a few loose blades of grass in the street!  Not bad.  I was making good progress.  I decided to do the parking first, so all the lines went the same way.  (That’s a whole other set of rules for another day!) 

I finished on one side of the driveway and started down the west side only to realize the nice neighbor lady was out digging around the light pole at the corner of our yards.  I figured she was preparing for flowers or something and didn’t want to get her in harm’s way of my mower.  I mowed the rest of the parking, then went back thinking the lady would be gone.  Nope.  She was still digging away. I circled back and mowed the whole other side of the house.  Yep.  She was still there.  Digging and digging, pulling grass, working away.

Holy moly.  I’m trying to be polite.  I’m trying to follow the rules.  I’m attempting to be mindful of my time because my list is still really long for this Monday.

I turned off the blades, opened the gate to the fenced in area (again) and opened up that part of the yard.  Lo and behold, as I’m coming up to the front corner where the lady is working away, I look closer and realize, that’s NOT the neighbor lady!  That’s my mom!  Sitting on the curb.  Digging away at…I have no idea what!  She’s just digging right where I need to mow!!!

Really?

I started mowing back and forth in the big area, but out of the corner of my eye I see Mom and she’s watching me very closely.  Pretty soon she’s leaning over the fence.  As I passed by, she motioned me over.

“Did you mow the front yard going east and west?”

I’m thinking, I went all four directions when I outlined it and opened it up!  I didn’t answer.

“I think you mowed going north and south out front but back here you’re going east and west.”

My reply, “No one can even see both yards at the same time anyway.  Besides this one is behind a chain linked fence!”

No guilt implied but, my dear mother says, “I prefer my yard to all be mowed in the same direction. Everyone else in the neighborhood does it that way and I am not going to be the only yard out of order!”

I switched directions and mowed over the already mowed part to make the appearance of it all going the same way, even though you cannot see both yard simultaneously unless you are hovering in drone right above our house!!!

Mom went back to digging.  All I had left to mow was that little section where the light pole is, right where Mom is working.  She hufted herself up off the ground, hung her cane on a tree limb, and began picking up sticks and twigs, all small enough for my fancy ZTR blades to handle without problem.  I waited.  She picked up baby sized sticks, medium sticks, and a few stray acorns.  When Mom shuffled across the yard to the waste containers, I took advantage and mowed a section, being sure to go north and south.  Had I not had to go all one direction I’d have had it all done before she got back.

An hour and a half later I parked the mower in the garage.  Now I am behind!  I have laundry to switch. My nephew isn’t feeling well and he could use a little Aunt Judy loving.  I still have a grocery store run before dinner, and a dog to let out across town.  Oh yes.  And a cane to retrieve because Mom has long forgotten that she hung her cane on the tree near the light pole where she was digging.

Time passes.  I manage to get everything accomplished, for the most part.  I’m on the last load of wash, I’m waiting on my farm hand hubby to show his face so I can throw the brats on the grill. All seems in order and mostly calm.  Mom ate leftovers early because she wants her food to settle before bedtime.  No worries.  That works for me.

The grill is on, the groceries are put away, the table is set, Mom has finished her meal, and my hubby walks in from his last task of the day.  Perfect!  I fly into action to complete a sit-down meal for the two of us.

And suddenly there is a rush of urgent activity.  Mom is putting on her coat.  She’s in a total panic.  Holy moly!

“Yard waste day pick up is tomorrow!” Mom announces with urgency.

I processed out loud, “I thought trash day was Friday.”

“This is yard waste day!”

Really?  Will this be every Tuesday forever?  Is this something I need to know?

“We have to get the yard picked up!  They come get all the yard waste in the morning, first thing!”

I have a starving husband, a hot meal, and to honest, I’m ready to sit down for awhile too.  I tried to be logical. “You just cleaned up the yard this afternoon.  Just go put out the yard waste containers that are ready.  We can start on a new one tomorrow for next week.”

“I didn’t pick up after the dogs today,” Mom noted.

I’ve already mowed over the dog piles in the back yard.  “Rain is coming.  That will take care of the dogs!”

Mom’s not buying it.  “Rain is coming? Tomorrow? I have to get out there and get the rest of the yard picked up!”  She waited, but no one volunteered to go out and help.  With a heavy sigh, Mom headed out to accomplish her yard waste goal.

Time passed.  The dogs came in and went out a few times.  We ate dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, and finished the 6th load of wash.  Time still passed.  Mom slammed a garage door a couple times going in and out.  The last time I checked, she was combing the yard wearing her head lamp (I will never forgive my Aunt Nancy for giving Mom a head lamp!).  Mom is going back and forth across the fenced in area.  East to west, by the way.  She’s going against my mowing stripes! 

Back and forth she goes, peering into the beam of light on her head searching for remnants of dog poo to add to the yard waste containers in preparation for pick up in the morning.

This too shall pass…

…wishfully in about twelve seconds!

 “Father God, at the end of this day I thank you that my mom has a strong sense for a job well done.  I am grateful for down time and hot meals.  I am not looking forward to more rain, dear Father, but I am thankful I don’t have to mow again until it stops raining!  I would pray for patience, but I know better!  So instead I will pray for presence of mind, for magical moments, for laughter, for tidbits of deep joy.”

Featured

Chasing Sunsets

Household Faith

Its summertime and we are desperate for rain in central Iowa.  Our fields are dry, are yards already burned up, and our roads are dusty.  Yet each new day arrives like the day before.  The sun rises in the east (a phenomenon I rarely witness due to my night owl tendencies) then it sets in the west.

The danger is not so much in the dry conditions, but more so in the temptation to give in to mediocrity and status quo during these summer days.  All winter we count down until spring breaks forth.  Then we long for summer freedom only to waste the days away with the day in day out routine of work schedules, household responsibilities, and whatever else tricks us into believing we’re being productive.

Mid-May I began searching for “more”.  I wasn’t exactly bored or missing anything in my life, but I did feel like I’d settled into a routine.  And it wasn’t a bad routine either.  Yet something longed deep inside to know more, believe more, experience life more!  So, I changed up my daily prayers to include an invitation for God to surprise me…every single day.  I gave God permission to open my eyes and open my heart to see, hear, and experience beyond the status quo–beyond the surface of mundane-ness.

And off I went into a new day.  I started reading a new series of book designed to improve self-discipline, something I feel like I lack in many areas of my life.  The author has an on-going series on various life topics for developing self-discipline in exercise, in entrepreneurism, in weight loss, etc, etc.  I chose four “topics” and downloaded them onto my Kindle for easy access whether I was driving (in audio format) or sitting still.

Filled with a sense of new energy I dove into the one I thought would benefit me the quickest.  Self-Discipline for the Entrepreneur.  Perfect!  Each chapter ends with 3-5 action items to put into practice.  Chapter one was easy.  I flew through it.  And I remember doing the action items.  I just can’t recall what they were at this moment in time.

Then came chapter two.  It talked about interior stress points that distract and prevent us from being productive and focused.  The author’s instruction encouraged me to write down any internal stressers that threw me off course over a two-day time period.  The assignment was to be aware of things or people that caused me to respond with a high level or stress or unidentified frustration, then journal the item.  I thought that would be super easy because I believed ALL of my stressers were EXTERIOR–caused by outside forces and other people.

Surprise!  First thing the next morning,  I totally freaked out over my hair!  Seriously. 7:00 a.m. and my hair was already reacting to the high humidity.  Granted, our air conditioner was out of commission that day (and had been for 6 full weeks by that time), but still!  A flat iron couldn’t do a thing to control the mop of hair on my head.

I wrote that down in my stresser-journal.

Then my day went along pretty well.  Nothing else triggered uncontrollable stress as long as I didn’t look in the mirror.  Until bedtime.  I had my Kindle in hand.  Supper dishes were done.  Laundry was done.  Nothing pressing was on my agenda.  I had time to actually read!  (Oh, come to think of it, that was one of the chapter one action items – learning to unwind at night!)  I was excited to sink into a chair with my reading.

But there wasn’t a chair made for me!  Sounds crazy, right?  But my hubby had claimed the family room with the 72″ flat screen tv where my favorite chair is.  I had no desire to listen to old Western movies in the background of my reading.  My mom had claimed the main floor where my favorite sofa resides.  She was happily watching her little tv while she sorted and resorted magazines, newspapers and the like.

I retreated to my bedroom and climbed up on the bed.  We haven’t exactly set up our room like we’d like even though we’ve lived with mom now for 9 months.  Everything has a step by step system in order complete the bedroom to make it ours.  Like first we have to paint, then we install the closet doors, then we get a headboard for the bed…things like that.  Well, we haven’t painted yet so everything else hinges on simply “starting”!  Sitting on the bed is uncomfortable after just a few minutes.  I had no desire to hang out up there with my Kindle, wishing for lumbar support while I tried to read chapter three!

I was stressing out!  There was nowhere to sit and read at 9 p.m. in this entire house!  I found myself almost angry because I couldn’t find a comfortable spot to call my own.

Then it hit me!  Oh!  This is part of my assignment for the day.  This in an internal stresser! I wrote it down.

The beginning and end of my day contained my most stressful issues!  What a surprise!  I had no idea!  The biggest surprise was that both issues were fixable!  I had total control over both of them if I chose to engage in a solution.

The next morning, I called for a hair appointment and “fixed” the hair stress.  The next evening, I rearranged my bedroom and drug my great-grandma’s rocker up next to the reading light in my bedroom.  Hair and a chair.  It’s all I needed.  I’d mastered the assignment.  And consequently, I must have mastered the entire series on self-discipline because I have yet finish the rest of the first book, let alone the others I downloaded!

But that whole experience brought me to a couple of important conclusions.  If I could solve the biggest stress points of my day with my hair and a chair, surely there were more simple solutions to change up my daily routines!

I began to look for “more” everyday.

Twice now I have been totally awe-stuck by the summer sunsets in the western skies.  A blazing red ball hanging low on the horizon has captured me to the point I had to pull off the highway so I could fully experience the ever-changing color palette as the sky ebbed and flowed in and out of deep purples, pinks, reds, and oranges.  How many sunsets have I missed driving home because I was lost in a thought or totally focused on the pavement passing under my vehicle at 75 miles per hour?

I spent yesterday painting old wire lawn chairs.  I rescued them from a garage sale years ago and the first time I painted them my daughter helped.  We chose bright colors and painted them into cheery patio pieces.  But the paint was worn again, and the colors had faded.  We’re building a new deck for my mom and I wanted the chairs to be a bright spot when the project is finished.  So, I spent yesterday painting them a bright, sunshiney yellow!  (I also painted my feet–I think my daughter’s feet were red from our last chair painting effort!)

The days are getting shorter already.  Dusk is coming around 8:50 now instead of 9:15ish or after.  But I finished painting with plenty of time to drive out to my brother’s farm to “snack” our horses.  Beauty and Shadow like a little extra attention in the evenings and crisp carrots and apples seem to perk them up at the end of the day.  I grabbed a bag of carrots, loaded Crickett, our Lewellyn Setter, into the car and took off for the farm.

Beauty and Shadow did a little happy dance in their stall when I pulled in.  Crickett ran her little heart out sniffing out rabbits, and cows, and whatever other critters might have passed by during the day.  The horses snacked away.  We had a good “visit” but the sun was starting to drop.  I called Crickett back to the truck to head home.

But at the end of the lane where I’m supposed to turn east to go home, I was captured once again by the sky.  I turned west instead and followed the road to a spot where I could see the entire expanse of the horizon.  Jet trails formed a perfect cross against the ever-changing colors of the sunset.  Hues faded in and out of each other freely.  I took a few photos.  But instead of heading back toward home, I found myself compelled to follow the sky.

I drove to the top of a hill where the corn blocked the view, yet the reflection of the sun as it paused a moment on the horizon, painted an absolutely stunning canvas in the eastern sky.  I could see the sky behind me in my rearview mirror and stopped alongside of the road to take in the wonder of it all.

Then I drove on.  I recognized some of the farmsteads from my childhood.  It’s possible some of the original owners still live in some.  But more likely the places are inhabited by new owners by now.  A mile further west.  A mile south.  Then west again.  All the while watching the sky.  I crossed the pavement onto another dusty gravel road.

Meadowlarks sprinted back and forth along the dusty road.  A little red fox poked her head out of a ditch to watch us pass.  Cows looked up from their grazing to observe us as we slowly drove on.  Butterflies zigged and zagged among the ditch flowers.  I waited, thinking the sky would eventually darken, but light lingered, urging us on.

Eventually I reached an unfamiliar spot deep into the rolling hills of Madison County.  I had no idea where I was, but the view was breathtaking.  The cows were grazing in a pasture overlooking a massive farm pond.  The air was perfectly still.  I stopped the car and got out for another photo.  Through the lens of the camera I couldn’t tell exactly where the sky was.  When I looked over the camera, I realized the pond was reflecting the exact image of the mystical sunset.

Surprise again.  I had two sunsets in the same night.

Unbelievable.

There are no words to describe the absolute beauty of the moment.  Life was alive all around me.  Colors without names painted the landscape and skyscape in a giant, unmeasurable canvas.  No directions.  No agenda.  No worries.  No concerns.  Just beauty opening up before me like a gift.  I stayed in the moment until the sky was dark.  Only one flicker of light remained on the pond as I drove away.

Next surprise.  No cell service.  So, no GPS to get me home!

But it didn’t matter.  If I’d traveled mostly west and a little south to get there, then surely mostly east and a little north would lead me home.  Or at least back to familiar territory!

Self-discipline?  Not at all.

Yet I returned by my chair next to the reading light in my bedroom and pondered that scene over and over.  I pressed it into my memory–willing it to stay and not fade like the old paint on the lawn chairs.

If I were a painter, I could show you the image with a brush and some paint because the image is crystal clear in my mind.  But all I have to offer is the depth of the moment.  I could have left the horses and turned east like I did every night.  But this time I turned west.

One change in my regular routine led me to a life-changing moment in time.

There is more.

The summer is winding down.  The new deck will be finished, and the updated lawn chairs will surely be a bright spot to enjoy.  The horses will still enjoy apples and carrots at dusk, and Crickett will continue to sniff out the farm yard.

Yet there is more.

Take a different route.  Read a new book.  Repurpose an old piece of furniture.  Find yourself a chair to call your own.  Whatever feeds your soul.

Then give God permission to “surprise” you.

Summer 2017

Featured

Nine Months

Household Faith

Last July I spotted an irony I am still pondering.  While leaving a fast food restaurant in the up and coming, booming West Side of Des Moines, I rounded a corner leading to a main thoroughfare.  Standing there on that corner was a woman and a child.  The pregnant woman, probably mid thirties.  The child 5th or 6th grade maybe.  They stood holding a cardboard sign that read, “Please help my family.  We are hungry.”  This woman had positioned herself in the trafficway between several fast food and sit-down restuarants.

Now the irony.   Three feet from where the woman stood was a “Now Hiring” sign for one of the fast food chains.

How does that work?  I’ve wondered and wondered about that woman.  Questions abound.  Is she unable to secure child care so she can leave her children?  Is she able to work?  Is she literate in English enough to hold down a position in the middle of Iowa?  Does her family only pan handle for food and other needs?  Where does she live?  Is she married?  Are there other children?

And then the biggest question of all:  “What is my role?”

It’s a Fine Line kind of question.  Jesus teaches that “..even the least of these are my children…”  He also teaches, “…when I was hungry you fed me…”

Incidentally, I had just fed myself, and met several colleagues at the fast food place.  The woman and her child were standing there when I went in.  And they were standing there when I went out.  While I was in the restaurant, a teenage boy, maybe a junior or senior in high school, walked into the restaurant and asked for an application for work because he’d seen the sign.  The same sign the woman was standing by outside.

I honestly don’t remember if I noticed the woman when I came around the corner going in to the parking lot.  I do remember thinking there were people standing in a precarious place out on the lawn, but I do not remembering thinking much about her until I left.  She smiled. Both she and her child waved as we passed by.  I nodded and smiled back as I passed by.

Should I have offered her a meal.  Or two?  Could I have returned to take her into the restaurant to ask for an application like the teenager had?  Should I have stopped and listened to her story?

More irony.

Today I was over in the same area of town.  It was about the same time of day.  I always get turned around over there.  I am bit directionally challenged anyway, but as I was following my GPS in search of a print shop, I found myself in that same parking lot.  My mind rewound to our gathering there last July.  Good memories.  I wondered how those colleagues were doing and if they were still pursuing their dreams.  And then I rounded the same corner.

There she was.  The same woman.  The same child.  The same sign.  “Please help my family.  We are hungry.”  But this time she had a small baby wrapped in a scarf crisscrossed around her body.  And there were three other children of various ages, all younger than the first one I’d noticed last year.  And there was a man.  Her husband, I presumed.  He was holding the sign.  They smiled and waived.

The same corner.  The same trafficway.  The same “Now Hiring” sign three feet from where they were standing.

It is a weekday.  It’s lunchtime.  Have they eaten today?  Yesterday?  Is there a plan beyond this cardboard sign and their smiles for tomorrow?

Do they have jobs?  Are they capable of applying for work?  Are they willing to learn, to participate in daily work-a-day life?  Do they know where and how to reach out for assistance?  Do the children go to school? And the question I’m still pondering tonight.  “Do they have a home to go home to when the day is done?”

Nine months have passed since I first noticed this lady.  Nine months between my ponderings.

The questions remain.  The answers are not forthcoming.

Jesus’ teachings still ring in my heart and echo between my ears.

Nine months.

It takes nine months to grow an embryo into a baby in the human womb.

How can so much develop and change in nine months?  And yet so much stay the same?

I think of the lame man in the Bible.  Three of his friends cared so much for him they carried him on his mat all the way up to the roof of the house where Jesus was speaking and lowered him down so he had a chance to be changed—a chance to be healed—a chance to walk.  Those three friends didn’t have to do that.  They didn’t have to engage in their friend’s condition.  They chose to!  They wanted to!

They cared.

So does my lack of engagement show a lack of, ultimately, caring enough to engage in potential change?  Those three men in the Bible didn’t know for sure if getting the lame friend in front of Jesus was actually going to work, yet they hoped. They were willing to take a chance on the potential outcome.

They made a choice.

Nine months passes in the blink of an eye, unless of course, you are in your eighth and ninth month of pregnancy waiting on baby to deliver.  Then the ninth months drags on!  But looking back, nine months fly by!

How does time pass for this family on the corner?  Does time stand still as they wait on the corner and then go home ….or go not home.

This family has made their choice.  They are putting their hope in potential kindness from strangers.

But if someone, someone like me even, engaged in their situation, listened to their story, learned their names and their hopes and their dreams, would positive change even need a whole nine months to give birth to new hope?  New possibility?  New circumstances?

The fine line is not between giving them money or not giving them money.  The fine line is between engaging in their story, or not engaging in their story.

To listen is to care.  To act is to be obedient.  To engage is to offer hope.

The outcome is beyond my reach—completely out of my control. But the here and now of The Kingdom is bulging with opportunity.  I have complete control over how I participate in the here and now.

I made the same choice nine months ago as I did today.  But the past does not have to define the future.  And so my choice does not have to remain my decision.  There is still potential to create change—at least within myself!

Then the fine line becomes the difference between wanting to control the outcome, or simply being okay no matter how it all plays out.

The ultimate irony:  I am the one who changes either way.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Echo

It’s a strange name for the small, round Bluetooth speaker that sits on a shelf. But for awhile I had two speakers in the same room, and it was super confusing when they were both named, “Alexa.” After reading the troubleshooting guide on Amazon.com, I learned it was not possible to name the second speaker something like Bob, Sue, Andrea, or Sam. I had to choose between Alexa and Echo. Alexa was already taken.

            There are many opinions surrounding these smart speakers. I don’t really have an opinion about whether or not they “listen” while they are “sleeping”.  Nor do I have any experience that leads me to believe they are tattling on me to secret service agents wearing trench coats and hiding out inside the little black box. But I do have an opinion when I want to get a quick weather forecast or turn off the light with my hands full! I am two thumbs up on smart speakers for the tasks I have assigned to them!

            I like listening to the music of my choice without turning a dial. Both “Alexa” and “Echo” respond when I ask for information and songs, stations, or genres. It’s easy. They match my mood without judging. They give info without a political bent. They recite the headlines for what they are. No commentaries, emotions or sentimental attachments. And most days I am relieved to be able to simply request info with a voice command. I turn it up, turn it down, or turn it off. All with a few short words.

            But a few days ago, I had an encounter with Echo. It’s obviously a female smart speaker if we base that decision on her voice. I had my hands full and needed her to turn off the light above my bed. I gave the command I always do. “Echo, turn off Craig’s light.”

            She responded immediately, “I do not know that command.”

            I’m thinking, yes, she does! I give that command all the time! So, I repeated myself.

This time she came back with, “I am not authorized to complete that command.
            I was dumbfounded. How could she NOT be authorized to turn off the light above my bed? I asked the obvious question , “What’s the matter with you tonight?”

            “Check the Alexa app to troubleshoot the issue.”

            I stared at the little, black, box on the shelf. “Your name is Echo. Why would I check the Alexa app?”

            “The Alexa app contains instructions and information to guide you through setup.”

            I set the full laundry basket on the end of my bed. “Echo. You are making me mad.”

            “I’m sorry you are upset,” she said. “Shall I sing you a song?”

            It’s late.  There is still work to be done.  There are more important things I could be doing than arguing with a smart speaker who is not acting very smart!

            “Echo.”

Her little light turned blue. “Turn off Craig’s light.”

“Do you mean Craig’s light?”

“Yes.”

A few seconds later the light went out.

“Thank you,” I said as I left the room.

“Anytime.” She replied. “Have a nice night.”

I stopped in the kitchen and told “Alexa” to stop the music.

It stopped.

Then I gave a command as I passed through the next room. “Alexa, turn on “Christmas Tree”.

The light in the corner came on.

Interesting, I thought. I haven’t had a Christmas tree plugged into that socket in three years, yet the smart speaker still responds, even when it’s turning a lamp on and off.  If anything, she should not be “authorized” to turn anything on or off if it is no longer the “Christmas tree”, for example.

I sorted the basket full of clothes into darks and lights, still pondering the Echo/Alexa conversations.

And then it hit me.

Pandemic isolation has trapped me inside this house with nothing more than smart speakers that really are not very smart at all!

On the way back upstairs, I told Alexa to turn off the Christmas tree.

She did. The light in the corner turned off.

As the last lamp in the house turned off I spoke to the box on the shelf. “Goodnight, Echo.”

“Goodnight. Nice chatting with you.”

I drifted off with the echo of her voice sounding in my ear.

Surely this is not how this whole thing ends.

Counting Squares

            This is what my life has come to.

I find myself looking for squares on the floor. They tell me where to stand in line. As I wait my turn, I watch other people find their square. And together we wait, six feet apart, trying to smile with our eyes because our faces are concealed behind a mask.

            Driving across the countryside today I watched a single file line of cows space themselves at the feed bunk. Several were already munching away, but a few remained distant, seemingly waiting their turn. And the thought crossed my mind, do cows know to social distance too? Then I catch my thoughts.  Seriously? This is what my life has come to?

            I used to visit while I waited in line. In fact, I’ve had some amazing conversations with total strangers while we waited together.  I used to make eye contact and smile at those who didn’t want to visit. And I used to greet those I knew with a handshake or a high five. But now we stand apart and awkwardly try to connect from invisible squares on the sidewalk that keep us socially distanced.

            It’s hard to communicate through a mask. The covering muffles the words and mask our normal facial expressions that come naturally with conversation. I miss seeing the faces of those I know and love. I miss seeing the faces of those I don’t know well! There is more than six feet between us when we want to connect but feel the limitations. We are not designed to stay apart. By nature, we are designed to interact.

            I stood on a square today in an unfamiliar place to pay a cashier wearing a mask behind a counter. She was chipper and friendly and I admired her sunny disposition on such a dreary day. Half of the people standing in squares were wearing masks. The other half were not. But we were all waiting together in our own lines, all spaced six feet apart. I shared my square with my husband, but people looked at us funny. To me it’s obvious we’re together, but I supposed to others they might wonder why we are standing so close when the squares give instructions to stay apart.

            Back in the car we share the hand sanitizer and relax in our own space. Our world has changed. It is still changing. There are still so many unknowns. Yet one thing remains. The new normal is not going anywhere very quickly. This is what my life has come to.

            At home I read the news and say a prayer for the firefighters and families under threat of losing their lives out west. I visit with a friend who has visited family in Louisiana. The remnants of Hurricane Laura are fresh in their minds and the damage is devastating. I hear from a colleague who is still recovering from the effects of the Derecho Storm from a month ago. Nothing is easy. Everyone is struggling to survive in their own squares.

            The news reminds us of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A day to never be forgotten, even though there has been a recent surge of suggestions that history be removed from our school curriculums. What happens if we forget? That question haunts me as I prepare dinner. Historically speaking, there is much to be ashamed of in our world, in our country, in our lives—but to forget is to deny. I would rather remember the pain than have it erased from our timeline. Not to recall, to not be reminded is much like giving permission that life is random and unpredictable. I guess I’m not ready to live that life. I prefer to remember, to hurt, and to be reminded of lessons learned from history lest we repeat the same mistakes again.

            Closer to home the date is a blatant reminder of the one who is no longer with us. Life changed forever when one heart stopped beating. Every 11th another month passes. Six months today feels like yesterday. I remember and the pain is real. Yet the world continues to carry us forward whether we are ready or not. The absent one is present in spirit every single day, but our hearts are still broken. Grief is the price we pay for love, and I wouldn’t change the depth of the love. But as my day draws to a close, I realize I would do anything to go back and change the outcome.

            Amazingly, we humans are quite adaptable. We survive. We continue to wake up tomorrow and do it again. We laugh and we cry. We stay connected in whatever ways we are allowed and by whatever means is attainable. Our crops are parched by drout, yet the farmers will still pursue a harvest. And even though the rains have come, only the grass will show any signs of relief. Up north, the corn crop is gone, and the beans are stunted by the lack of rain. But the fields will still be cleared, and the land will be prepared for another season. By divine design we are resilient.

            Late in the day I found myself counting squares again. Without thinking I am conserving toilet paper—a fear instilled by the initial response to COVID-19 lockdown. Seriously! I am counting the squares on a roll of toilet paper. Interestingly enough, during lockdown we learned how to make a roll of toilet paper last longer than we knew was possible! But in recent weeks as supply has increased, I’ve not been as attentive to usage. However, tonight I realized if I fail to conserve today, tomorrow I will be standing on another square waiting to purchase a new package of toilet paper! The saving grace is the fact there is actually toilet paper on the shelves in the stores now!

            Tomorrow is a new day. I will wake up on the 12th and move forward into another month. Life changed. I will breathe in and out and count my blessings.  I will carry a mask in my purse and in my car for when it is needed and required. I will stand in the square and wait my turn. I will smile with my eyes and attempt limited conversation with strangers who are also waiting. And together we will all move forward.

            This too shall pass.

            A passage of scripture has been lurking around in my head all day. I looked it up when I got home today. Luke 19:38-40. Jesus is on his way into Jerusalem to face his death. People are praising him and welcoming him as he rides past on the colt of a donkey. But those who oppose him demand he get his “people” under control. They tell him to make the people stop! And Jesus replies, “If they stop, the rocks will still cry out.”

            Even in the midst of all of this—in the midst of death, in the midst of masks, in the midst of fires and hurricanes, derechos, and riots—even as the earth cries out in agony: for those who hope in the Lord, who hope in the “more” of this life and the life eternal—there is hope. If in the midst of all of this the rocks will still cry out in praise, then I choose hope over despair. I choose remembrance over denial. I choose love over grief.

This is what my life is coming to.

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