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.

The Mystery of the Melt

Lying awake in my bed in the middle of the night, a steady stream of water flowed outside my window. More than a drip. It was constant all night long. But it wasn’t raining.

The melt after the long winter.

In the morning, drifts upon layers of snow still covered the yard. Rooftops were still completely covered in white. Icicles clung to the eves, dripping from the long tips that formed overnight. Yet there was a constant flow of water running down the driveway into the street. A steady stream of water flooded the gutters and downspouts on the corners of the house. Little sparrows drank from the puddles on the concrete out back and a neighborhood squirrel busied herself with a miniature brook flowing along the fence line.

I pulled on my boots and stepped outside into the sunshine. I still needed a coat, but the frigid temperatures from weeks past had warmed into the mid-forties. I dared to splash my feet in the water standing on the driveway as I walked to the mailbox. It was constant, the flow of snow melt. When I reached the street, the current picked up and rushed into the storm sewer.

Even though I could see the results of the melt, I could not see the process. With all that water dripping from the rooftops and driveways, I wanted to see where it was coming from. I longed for the visual that explained the sounds. But the snow was still deep, and the roofs were still covered.

My toe kicked a rigid edge as my boot made another splash. I leaned over the flowing water to open the mailbox and glanced down.  My boot formed a fork in the stream, forcing the melting snow to divide. Now there were two smaller tributaries flowing all the way around my foot. They re-joined at my toe and disappeared under the edge of a large ice plate.

It’s so strange how the snow melts from the bottom up. 

One would think, with the sun shining down from the sky, that the snow would melt from the top down. But that was not the case. I left my foot in place and leaned over to examine the plate of ice. Less than one inch off the pavement, there was just enough room for water to run under it all the way to the drain at the corner by the stop sign.

Upon closer examination, I realized the water filling the eves was also running underneath the layers of snow gracing our roof. The constant flow of running water I listened to in the night was a result of an invisible melting process at work in the light of the moon. The same was true for the water on the driveway. That was also a result of the melt rising up from the ground into the drifts on the grass, as opposed to melting from the top side first.

I pondered the melting phenomena all day long. The snow melting from the bottom up.

And then it occurred to me.  Isn’t that the natural process of transformation? We expect change to be noticeable when in reality the most important changes are the ones that take place in the secret places of our heart. We long to be cleansed of old hurts only to learn that we must begin on the inside before it shows on the outside.

And so it is with injuries and disease. They must be healed and treated from the inside out. Cancer cells must be killed on the inside before the patient can experience health on the outside. A bone must be set inside the muscles before it can grow back into place. An infection must be managed with antibiotics penetrating the blood before our bodies are well again.

And so it is with our soul. Cleansing is part of the process. A baptism of our spirit must take place before we are free to live life changed. Betrayal, jealousy, anger, broken relationships—these are all exterior events than must be healed by interior measures. Change is not revealed on the outside until the interior parts are intact. And yes, even grief. The road to wholeness is a lifetime of healing that begins in the heart, invades our soul, and is eventually manifest by our outward appearance.

Just like the mystery of the melting snow.

The process begins long before it is visible. We can hear the water running. We can see the results before we understand exactly where it’s coming from.  But it takes a while before we are able to see the results trickling in. Life has a way of building up! Sometimes it’s all I can do to watch out for what’s coming my way. I don’t understand the whys, the reasons, or the timings, but I understand there in an invisible, interior process at work. But just like the snow, there is healing in the process. The mystery of the melt reminds me that a new season is coming.

To hear with my heart,
To see with my soul,
To be guided by a hand I cannot hold,
To trust in a way that I cannot see,
That’s what faith must be. ~Michael Card, Song lyrics to That’s What Faith Must Be

Transformation. It is a process. It happens from the inside out.

Transformation. Living Life Changed. Life is not the same. Everything is different. Yet I am still me on the inside, searching for a way to emerge into the new reality. The way is not easy. In fact, it is very difficult. The only way to get there is to go through the process.

Tonight, I lay awake in my bed and listen to the rain pattering against the window. We need the rain to wash away the debris of the long winter.  We need the rain to nourish the grass and prompt the early spring bulbs to sprout. I lean into that cleansing power, hoping with my whole heart that even though I cannot see what lies ahead, I can trust in a way that I cannot see. And somehow, someway, like the mystery of the melt, all will be well.

This is Love

It was unusually warm outside for November and the winds had died down considerably. Must husband had been working hard all week getting the leaves raked and the yard prepared for winter. In addition, he’d taken time to help a family member with a small construction project. He’d put in so much time outside and admittedly, I was feeling a little guilty for not helping more. I decided to take it upon myself to hang the outdoor Christmas lights on our backyard fence.

At first glance, this is not a difficult project and most years we do it in sub-zero temps and freezing drizzle. I wasn’t even wearing a coat last weekend!  It seemed like the perfect day and I had an abundance of holiday spirit!

The hardest part is always finding the box of lights that work. Why is it we save strings of lights that no longer work? Year after year it seems we have a collection of lights that half work, or have shorts, or don’t work at all. Last year I took extra care to literally pitch the non-working lights. But for some reason this year I found lights in multiple locations!  Go figure!  To be sure, I took time to plug each set in to be sure they worked BEFORE stringing them along the to of the fence!

One of my biggest challenges is making sure I start with the correct plug closest to the outlet.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started with the wrong end then had no way to plug them in! Very purposefully, I stretched out the first strand first making sure all the lights lit up, then double checking the female end of the cord was closest to the house.

All went well. That is until I wanted to plug the next set of lights into the first strand. I don’t really understand this electrical phenomenon, but one prong is always bigger than the other! Why do they do that? It’s so confusing! And wouldn’t you know it? I got ready to plug in the second set of lights and the first set didn’t allow for one prong to be bigger!  There was NO way those two plugs were going to fit together! (Believe me, I tried!)

That brought on a whole new situation.  Now I not only had to check all the lights to be sure they worked, I also had to check to make sure the female end was made to fit properly—with one prong larger than the other. I stretched all the strands out in the grass and double checked they would fit together.  Satisfied, I removed the first set of lights that was already on the edge of the fence and drug it to the far end. Only ONE end was not useful!  The other would plug in just fine!

Satisfied and quite proud of myself, I started over. The dog scouted squirrels while I worked. It was peaceful and quiet and quite comfortable working outside. Row after row I secured the lights to the fence. All the way from the house to the far west side of the lawn. And then I turned the corner, zip-tying the last set of lights to the fence!

Done! I was ecstatic!

I had another box of lights and decided to use one of the sets to string along the shorter fence on the east side of the porch! It would be so festive to have little white Christmas lights shining in the dark!  Afterall, 2020 has been a year, hasn’t it? And now the days are so darned short!  Even though it was still two weeks before Thanksgiving, it seemed right to illuminate a sign of hope by lighting the top of edge of my fence!

My husband came home as I zip-tied the final light to the east fence.

He seemed impressed but uninterested. You know the look.  He was surprised I’d taken the project on by myself and yet not really interested in participating!  He gave me some encouraging words and cheered me on!

I still had a little daylight left so hurried to find extension cords long enough to plug everything in. My plan was to flip one switch on the porch and everything would light up simultaneously! Wah-lah!  I was feeling very accomplished.

The east lights plugged in great!  I double checked them. One flip of the switch and they lit up! One set done.

Six long sets of icicle lights were ready to illuminate the whole west yard! Trying to block the Christmas lighting scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation from my mind, I plugged the extension cord into the switched outlet on my porch and unwound it all the way to the strand of lights closest to the house.

I was ready to plug my beautifully hung lights into the extension cord. My husband was sitting on the edge of the deck with the dog. Of course, he was be watching. Daylight was waning now so I had to hurry. I heard the drum roll in my head from National Lampoon’s moment! I put the ends of the two cords together.

Next came the point of decision. Do I turn around and look at my husband? Or wait for him to ask.

I decided to wait.

He finally asked. “What’s wrong.”

My feeble reply. “Don’t laugh.”

“Are you going to plug them in?”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“They don’t fit.”

“What do you mean they don’t fit?”

By this time, he was standing next to me. I opened my hands.

Both ends of the cords were female ends.

I’m thinking: I know I checked that more than once!

Hands in his pockets, he’s surveying my dilemma.

There were no words.

I’m looking at this incredibly long row of lights already zip-tied perfectly to the fence. It was too dark to cut them off and start over. Yet, there was no extension cord in my possession with two male ends. Another thought: Do they even make extension cords like that?

My husband disappeared while I was still trying to mentally figure out where I made the mistake! I knew I’d worked that all the way through in my head!  I actually talked it out loud before attaching the very first string of lights—you know, the one that didn’t fit two different sized prongs?

Both the dog and my husband returned with two other extension cords. One had been spliced a few times by various power tools.  Electrical tape marked the places the cord had been cut and repaired over time! The other cord I’d never seen. Reluctantly, I made my way to the edge of the deck.

There was my hubby, quietly working away to make me a custom extension cord with TWO male ends so I could plug in my Christmas lights!

No words. Simply an act of love. I’m sure he was laughing on the inside (because it kinda showed in his expression!) but on the outside, he was diligently fixing my problem.

Several minutes later, he plugged in both ends of the cord and I flipped the switch. Everything illuminated at once! It was a beautiful sight to behold!

The lights overcame the darkness!

I knew without a doubt: This is Love!

Epilogue:

About 3 AM the next morning I woke with a start! Out of the depth of the night I realized where I’d made my mistake! Remember? I had to start over on the first set of lights!  I’d taken care to figure out which end of the cord to put closest to the house on the FIRST set. But, when I had to switch them out, I didn’t take time to review! Thus, I ended up with the WRONG end closest to the house!  Of course!  I knew I’d worked that through correctly!

In my exuberance at remembering, I reached to wake my hubby who was soundly sleeping next to me.

Then I remembered him sitting on the edge of the deck, simply fixing my problem. No words. Just an expression of love.

I decided to reciprocate. There were no words. I let him sleep.

This is Love!

I Wanted it to be Easy

Let’s face it. Nothing has been easy in 2020. And even though we are eight months or so into the global pandemic of COVID-19, there does not seem to be any relief in sight. But if I were to be perfectly honest, my personal life has not been as negatively affected as some.  I live in a small, rural community with plenty of services and goods at my fingertips. My office is six blocks from my home. If I plan well, I do not have leave town very often.

However, last week it was becoming increasingly clear I needed to run some errands in the city. I had household and clothing donations to drop off, some grocery items on my list that are not as available in town, and I needed to make a couple of client stops. My husband agreed to go with me and we planned our route.

It should have been easy. We knew where we needed to go, what we needed to accomplish at each stop, and how much time it should take us to complete our round of errands. We packed a water bottle to avoid unnecessary stops at convenience stores and made sure we had our face masks handy! But everything took so much longer than we expected!

Wearing a mask is always a challenge for me as I am somewhat claustrophobic. I’ve been practicing with different styles and fabrics, etc. And I do feel like I’m making progress. What I didn’t take into account was the fact I wore my glasses as opposed to wearing my contacts. There’s a good reason for that because I’m at the age where I’m “in between” vision. I don’t know how else to explain it. My bifocal contacts are the best for driving, distance, and peripheral vision, but my glasses work much better for reading, and seeing things at mid-range. Truth be told, I can’t read anything with my contacts anymore, so I always keep “readers” with me! But extra glasses and masks seemed like overkill. Knowing I would need to read labels, price tags and etc, I chose my glasses for errand day.

What I didn’t know until that moment in time? Facemasks and glasses are not compatible! Who knew? I had no idea! It was cold outside, so my glasses fogged over every time I went inside. Then the mask proceeded to cause fogging every single time I exhaled! Frustrated, I switched to a paper mask and found some relief. I could read, but I couldn’t breathe! Yet, had I worn my contacts, I couldn’t have read anything, but I would have been able to breathe. It was a catch 22 before I even began to check off my list.

First stop. We backed our car up to our favorite thrift store to drop off donations to learn due to COVID-19 they only receive donations on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. We were there on Wednesday. Go figure. We skipped the drop off and drove around front so we could go inside to check off our short list of household items.

In a non-pandemic kind of world, we could run in and out, see if they had what we were looking for, then be on our way in no time. Not today. We stood in line, six feet apart from the couple entering in front of us. We waited while the thrift store staff took their temperatures, counted the number of guests already shopping, then allowed them to proceed. By the time they took our temps, there were already fifteen shoppers inside the store, so we were asked to wait on the chairs inside the door until someone checked out. So, now we’re fever free, sitting inside a store with 17 shoppers, but we’re not allowed to browse until two check out. All the while we’re waiting, my glasses are fogging over. We forfeited our browsing experience to move on down the street to our second stop.

Another short list. This time for a few building supplies we usually purchase at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.  We wore our masks, this time mentally prepared to fog over. We waited for the cart to be sanitized, then meandered through the store. By this time, I needed to make a stop at the ladies’ room, but guess what? The restrooms are closed – due to COVID-19!  What the heck? Now I am shopping and “holding” and wishing things were easier all the way around!

Going from one location to the other included a long detour due to road construction and a turn lane traffic signal that wasn’t working. We could see our next stop, but couldn’t get there because the light refused to change from red to green. Three, four, five cycles of lights and we were still sitting there. And I still have to go to the bathroom. Hubby finally punted and turned left on a red. No one was coming and so far we haven’t received a ticket in the mail!

Next stop was to find an open bathroom! We didn’t want to stop at a convenience store! Remember? We planned against random stops for random reasons! We chose the consignment store—hoping their bathroom was open! Plan B was next door, but we were still trying to save a stop if possible. We scored! Their bathroom was open, but my glasses were still fogging over! That was the easiest stop of the day.

The grocery store was stressful for more than one reason. First, some carts were sanitized. Some weren’t, but the signs were confusing. I chose a cart and wore my gloves. Next, we had to follow one way arrows in the aisles, unless we were in the produce area. There didn’t seem to be any specific rules about shopping over there. The hardest thing about the produce section? The little plastic bags you tear off the roll. I wanted 4 avacados for five dollars. The plastic bag would NOT open! No matter how I rubbed the edges together it was not going to open, and Lord knows, this is NOT the time to lick your finger to make that happen. My avocados had to lay in the cart without a bag!

Of course, many of the things we needed were the random items you only need once every six months and they were not where they used to be. We followed arrows and signs until we could check off the list and then worked out way toward check out. Every other check out lane was closed due to COVID-19, and the squares on the floor told us where to stand to stay socially distanced. For whatever reason, every other shopper was ready to check out right when we were! The lines were backed up into the aisles, which further confused the one-way arrows! We opted for self-checkout, which should  have been simple, but the automatic cashier inside the machine wouldn’t allow us to scan the next item because it didn’t “see” us put the first one in the bag! We had to get a live cashier to push a button and turn a key to scan the rest of our items! Seriously!

By this time we had been through the same road construction twice and stumbled into another area of construction on our way to touch base with a client. The traffic seemed exceedingly heavy while most of the stores felt empty. It didn’t make sense. It took forever to drive across the street and took even longer to get checked out everywhere we went. Enough time had passed that I was ready to find another bathroom.

We still needed dog food and cat litter. That was a stop at the Farm and Tractor Store. Usually a quick and easy stop, but the clock was ticking by this time and my phone was starting to blow up from work. Our list of errands was only 2/3 done. Five stops total which normally would have been a quick two hours – into the city, grab what we need, get back home! We were  into the second half of the third hour and still had two stops to go. It was becoming obvious GUSTO Pizza was not going to get our business for a late lunch.

Every time we climbed back in the car, we removed our masks and breathed freely. Every time we got out of the car, we put them back on so my glasses could fog over. I was exhausted. Hubby was frustrated. Nothing was easy. Nothing was quick. We sat in a parking lot and discussed our options. Amazon is open 24/7. I ordered the dog food and the cat litter while sitting in the car. We decided our last stop would just have to wait for another day. By this time, it was easier and simpler to just drive home and use the bathroom there!

It used to be easier. It used to be more fun. Running errands was once a day to get out of town and browse through our favorite stores looking for treasures and trinkets amongst the necessary items on the list. But on this day, browsing was limited by temperature checks and head counts; trinkets and treasures were truncated due to closed bathrooms and erratic automated cashier registers.

Quite honestly? I wanted it to be easy. I wanted a day to enjoy being out on the town. I wanted to have time and space to dream a little with my hubby. But due to COVID-19 changes, we were both ready to be back in our own community where everything we needed could be picked up a few short blocks from our house. Everything else could land on our doorstep in what used to be free two-day shipping on Prime. Due to COVID-19 Prime is more like “we will get it to you at some point in your future as soon as we can”. But it eventually arrives and at this point, it seemed simpler to stay tucked in tight close to home.

I long for the “old” days before due to COVID-19. Sometimes I wonder if those days will ever return. At the same time, I put on my mask and move through the days trying to be as compassionate and understanding as possible. Other days I forego the added stress and stay in my own little comfort zone, mask-free inside the walls of my home, wishing GUSTO Pizza delivered all the way out here!

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.

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