Thursday, January 6, 2011

Still Cookin'

Some of the men in my family can be easily categorized.  One of the married-in guys, (name withheld to protect the guilty), observed that many of the males ask each other the same question - What’cha runnin’?  I had to laugh, because it’s so very true.  The preacher types ask it, and so do the huntin’ truckin’ types.  If the preachers ask it, they are wondering how many people attend your church.  If the truck driving ones ask, they want to know how much horsepower your vehicle has.  The poor guy that made this remark, didn’t fit in either class.  I guess he could take up joggin’ for a way to blend, then they could ask the same question to find out how far he could run!

I realize I have also done a bit of categorizing, as I have explained for years why I married a preacher type.  My mother was a teacher, my father became a preacher, and the majority of my family on my Mom’s side do one or the other.  When someone new remarks about me being a Preacher’s wife, I tell them, “in my family you either teach or preach or you marry someone that does.“  There is one other way to fit in…learn to play Pinochle!  I grew up watching my uncles, aunts, cousins and parents play hand after hand of this card game.  Running in and out of the house, enjoying being a kid, I heard a strange dialect involving bidder bunching, double marriages, and the age old question, “what’s trump?“ I didn’t understand any of this ritual and didn’t care to.  It wasn’t until I was married with my own family, that I gave way to their brainwashing.  I now play a pretty mean hand of Pinochle myself, but still can’t figure out how to keep score, or remember what trump is most games.

Most of my “preacher’s wife” stage of life, I have felt categorized, classified, and stigmatized.  Even though I was married for almost 10 years before my husband became a preacher, it seems as though we were never anything else.  Now don’t get me wrong - I have enjoyed being in ministry with Dale and being a part of the “watcha runnin” types.  It is however, not all that I am or all that I will ever be.  I am me, a woman who was once a child, now a wife, mom, grandma, aunt, sister, niece, cousin, daughter, and most importantly, child of God!  I always love, but don’t always show it right.  I don’t always say the right thing or have the right attitude, but I sure do try to.  I am also a woman with chronic health issues, who deals with pain every moment of her life, but really hates when people put me in a box because of it.  I love to speak and write, but I also love to play video games, crochet, take pictures and go kayaking!  What category would that all fit in?  I think the best one to place me in, would be the Mary category…just being who God created me to be.

In the movie, “The Last Holiday,” there is a scene in the kitchen of a grand hotel.  The chef is explaining about the baby turnips he is going to cook.
  • “Poor baby turnips - nobody likes them.  Of course life is easy if you are a truffle or shitake mushroom.  But the turnip is to be loved because she is a self-made woman of the vegetables.  All the others you can only destroy with cooking…but the turnip, she gets better.”  It’s not how you start, but how you finish.”
I love that last line!  “It’s not how you start, but how you finish!”  I thank God that He doesn’t put us in a box or a category and leave us there.  If we leave ourselves open to a bit of ‘cooking, we can only get better!  How exciting!  I appreciate all that I have been, but look forward to what I will become.  Watch out - God isn’t done with me yet!

Philippians 3:14  “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Legend of Lone Pine

Sit back and let me tell you a story…


One lone Pine tree found itself rooted in the middle of a vast desert.  As a sapling, he knew he’d been dropped into this desolate place; imagining a great bird carrying him while going somewhere far more interesting.   Lone Pine had no real family, and only knew nourishment from the torrential rains of the Spring and the scorching sun of the Summer.  He stood back a ways from a little traveled country highway.  The gusts blown through his needles from the rare vehicle passing by, seemed like a friendly breeze.  He prayed a flat tire would bring him a few moments of company now and then.
 
Lone Pine struggled with loneliness and feelings of isolation, wondering if at his very core he was unable to offer much to the world around him.  He did know there was shelter and shade under his branches, but that only mattered if there was someone that wanted or needed what he had to offer.  He imagined he had been created for greater things, but didn’t know what.  The isolated tree stood a bit taller when the occasional bird lit in his branches for a rest.  Once in a while he enjoyed visits from a lizard that lived under a nearby rock; both so thirsty in such a dry land.  The only more frequent companions were the passing tumbleweeds, a very nomadic group.  They mostly drifted, not stopping long enough to put down roots of their own.  Days and years passed, with the only constant companion being the wind.  The storms blowing through the desert pushed against Lone Pine, making him bend.  Wind twisted his branches, even breaking some off through the more violent gusts.  His bark checked and knots formed where new growth tried unsuccessfully to branch.  With time, his trunk became gnarled and misshapen, but the outside did not define what was at his core.  His heart remained strong and resilient, and the dream of belonging refused to fade.

One day a car pulled off the highway not far from Lone Pine.  He listened as the crunch of rocks under feet grew closer and closer.  He watched as someone walked all around his area of the desert, measuring and eventually even sizing the tree up.  It wasn’t long before trucks were interrupting the desert silence, and hammers echoed off the distant rock formations.  Lone Pine felt his roots grow deeper and his needles dance a bit, as he watched a home built right next to him.  Soon a family moved in, and children ran and rode bikes through his desert, and it didn’t seem desolate anymore.  Eventually the children brought boards, nails and rope and Lone Pine held his branches high as the kids built a fort.  He took seriously this new purpose and loved when people played among his branches.  His prayers answered and dreams fulfilled, he lived on for years providing inspiration for those that wanted to climb to their own potential.

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed.  We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God.  We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.”  2 Corinthians 4:8-10

Thank you God for giving me your strength, and for resiliency!  Help me keep bending in the wind, allowing you to transform me into who you want me to be.   Grow me in patience, faith, and love, Lord and keep my roots deeply planted.  Amen

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Grandma on the Couch, the strength of a weakness!

 Published first 2009, Hopekeepers Magazine
A left turn off the highway, then one mile to the red barn!  Just as the barn came into view, my stomach cart-wheeled as Dad launched our car off the top of hill.  That last roller coaster ride meant we were within a few feet of the tree-lined drive that lead us to the best place on earth.  A visit to Uncle Putt and Aunt Lois’s place always meant fun.  I spent hours playing in the creek, fishing for crawdads, catching frogs, and hiking to the meadow at the top of the forty acres.  It was a glorious place where getting dirty was a God-given right, and chocolate was a major food group.  Sadly, I grew up. Catching frogs gave way to teenage self-absorption and I would be married with my own family before I could see what lessons the farm had really held.  By then Uncle Putt had gone ahead to play pinochle with Uncle Wendell in heaven, and Aunt Lois was much shorter and grayer than I remembered.  I realized that the farm I had grown to love, was really no bigger than a person.

The forty acres were still beautiful and peaceful, but what set it apart from other places was the person who waited to greet me.  Now the tree-lined drive wasn’t the end of the journey, it was the beginning of special times with the only person I’ve ever known that I could call a soul mate.  Aunt Lois taught me that everyone is family once inside the door…and the door is always open.  A cup of tea is the beginning of great conversation and a shared walk after a big meal is for more than just digestion.  Now instead of playing in the creek, I sipped tea and watched a Portland Trailblazer game with Lois while she lay on a little sofa in the corner of her kitchen.

Once a back porch, later converted to extend the kitchen, Lois’s nook became the reception center of the forty acres it sat in.  The little sofa became the receptionist’s desk. Parkinson’s Disease eventually made time measured not in hours, but in how long Lois could be away from her “desk.“ The little sofa had been made in the 60’s and was no bigger than a loveseat.   Time and abuse had made it a bit threadbare and blankets softened the rough upholstery.  It folded down on both ends, clicking into whatever position you chose.  Most of the time one end was up, to be leaned upon, and the other end down to rest the legs on, and despite it’s very lived in look, it was inviting.  Beside it sat a small table with all the essentials - phone, phone book, pen, paper, magazines, TV remote, and most important - electronic poker and Wheel of Fortune games.

When Lois left us, she was remembered as “the grandma on the couch” by one of her great-grandsons, and I thought it was so fitting.  To some, that may have seemed a depressing way to be remembered, but to me it meant stability.  I always knew when I came through the door that Aunt Lois would be waiting for me.  That corner of the kitchen was never a place of sorrow, but of warmth and love.  Lois was always glad to see my face - even when it came in tear-stained.  There were many times I showed up tired or broken-hearted, and without notice.  A smile greeted me, followed by “sit down girl.“  She was a soul mate, a friend, a confident…and a great yard sale companion in her more mobile years.

Several years before Lois left us, I began struggling with my own physical difficulties.  Many times while visiting the farm, Lois and I would meet in the kitchen in the middle of the night.  My chronic pain and sleeplessness didn’t seem so isolating when I saw a light on under the door at 2 AM.  Those late night moments with her at her “desk” are the most precious memories I have.  While our ailments were not the same, they were still unifying.  The relationship that our physical struggles brought us, is something that I will never know again here on earth.  My heart aches for those who may never experience the comfort brought by the “light under the door.  However, while not everyone has a “Grandma on the couch,” we all have a Father up in heaven!  

I am so grateful for a God who cherishes me every moment of every day, knows every hair on my head, and every new wrinkle on my face.  I am even more thankful for my Comforter who knows every pain and weakness I experience. The special people in our lives can leave or disappoint us, but God is our constant.  He is the smile at the end of the journey, no matter how weary or brokenhearted we may be.  It is so comforting to know that we are all special and loved unconditionally simply because of “whose” we are!

There is something I don’t have to miss about Aunt Lois…her little sofa.  The symbol of comfort and security that cradled the one that went before me, is sitting upstairs in my family room.   A few years ago I was allowed to give the “desk” a new home, and now warm, red fabric disguises it‘s true age and identity.  Someday I plan to be the “grandma on the couch” and no matter what frailties may cause me to spend time there, I pray that Aunt Lois’s qualities rub off on me.  I’m going to do my best to face that stage of life with a smile, show unconditional love to anyone that takes the time to visit me, and be an example of grace and hope.  At the end of my life, when I turn onto God’s tree-lined drive, I imagine Lois waving from a special nook in His Kingdom.  I can already hear her say, “Sit down girl, I’ve been waiting for you.”
From left to right: Aunt Doris, my Mom, and Aunt Lois - at her desk
  • Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20  NLT

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sauce with a side of Me!

There is something odd about finding yourself covered with spaghetti sauce.  One does not wake up in the morning and think to themselves, “I do believe I would like to have Italian sauces with a side of Mary.”  Well,  perhaps that is my husband’s secret dream…but certainly not mine!  My motives were honest and even heroic - I decided to cook dinner!  It started simply, all I needed to do was boil noodles, brown some ground beef, and open a jar of Ragu.  It was the latter that started all the trouble.

I do not possess much strength in my hands, therefore giving me an extra reason to keep the man in my life around.   Dale was home from work and happen to walk through the kitchen as I began to boil water and  knowing my difficulties with opening jars, he asked if I would like him to open the Ragu.  Apparently I replied yes, but in very male form…didn’t even listen to myself talk!  Dale loosened the cap and went back to watching television.   Now I have a sure-fire method of opening jars when I need to be self-reliant; I smack the edge of the lid on the counter top once or twice until I hear the seal pop.   As the meat finished cooking, I picked up the jar of Ragu, forgetting Dale ever came into the kitchen, and brought in down hard.  I didn’t hear a pop, just a sploosh and a splat, and then me yelling at the top of my lungs!  I have been known to be a bit “saucy,” but this was ridiculous!

Dinner was salvaged by scraping spaghetti sauce off the counter and into the skillet with the meat.  It wasn’t like I was serving it to company, and Dale wouldn’t care - he’s the guy that tried to make French toast with moldy bread!  After the shock of being ‘sauced’ had passed, we had a good laugh and a good meal.  I learned a valuable lesson about not only accepting help, but remembering that help had been delivered, and I should take notice!  I wonder how often we all make the same kind of mistake?  We want help, often times need it desperately, and reach out to ask for it.  At times help is even offered without solicitation, and we say, “yes please!”  Help comes, and we answer it with just a nod or a absent minded “thanks,” and then go about our business as if the assistance never came.  Then we try to take over, handle whatever the issue was ourselves and make a huge mess of things.

I read an illustration years ago about a man plodding down the road.  He was struggling under the weight of a load of wood he carried on his back.  A wagon drew alongside the man, and the driver, seeing the pain and exhaustion on the traveler’s face, offered him a ride.  The man accepted, climbed onto the back of the wagon and they continued on.  Miles later the driver looked back, fully expecting to see his passenger resting, and his load laying off to one side.  Instead he was shocked to find the pack of wood still on the traveler’s back.  The man was either unwilling to accept the complete relief his rescuer offered, or he was so accustomed to the burden he bore, that he forgot he could remove it.  Oh, how often do we do this with God’s help - accept the ride, but don’t lay down the burdens that brought us to the place where a ride was needed?

I wonder how many ’jars’ God has come along and opened for me (or doors for that matter)?  I probably have nodded a bit, in acknowledgment of His help, and then said, “I got this Lord.”  In the end I end up with a mess, whether it’s a damaged relationship, a weary heart or a face full of sauce!  I hope you not only accept His help today, but are grateful for it, and take notice in what He is doing in your life.  Let’s lay down our loads and enjoy the ride!

“We put our hope in the Lord, He is our help and our shield.”  Psalm 33:20 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Weak Trees!

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “weak in the knees,”  but what we have here is - weak in the trees!  This is the third tree we’ve lost in three years, but the first that has done any real damage.  Our neighbor lost two last night and have damage to their house and trailer.  These are a type of Juniper, which bank the entire row of houses on this street, and they are falling down!  They have had too much water and wind, and apparently don’t have enough roots to hold themselves up.  The more that fall, the weaker the entire grouping become.  Trees have root systems and some are shallow and don’t do well spaced too far apart.  They can rot and be weakened by insects as well.  Even a mighty tree can be easily fallen by wind, accumulating snow and ice storms.

There is one type of tree that this doesn’t happen to very often: the Redwood.  I took a trip to the Trees of Mystery when my kids were young, and these magnificent giants impressed me.  Even though some reach over 300 feet in height, Redwoods have fairly shallow root systems.  One of the reasons they stand for so many years is because each tree’s roots intertwine with the next and this helps hold each other up during storms.  While a Redwood can grow just about anywhere, it can never reach its true potential with out the temperatures and conditions found in certain places like the Northern California coastline.  They do best where there are heavy fogs because they can absorb moisture through their needles at their tops, where the circulation system can’t pump.  In other words, Redwood trees have great survival tactics!

The bark of these giants can be as thick as a foot and when exposed to fire, they simply char, rather than burn.  The charring turns the bark into a heat shield of sorts.  The chemical composition of the tree is distasteful and sometimes even poisonous to normal tree pests like termites and ants.  Redwoods can even withstand battery acid!  It is also very resistant to water rot…unlike my weak trees in the back yard!  I have read that the rising soil levels brought about by flood deposits, typically smother other tree root systems - killing them.  Not the Redwood.  They can even survive long periods of time under water.  All this is impressive, but my favorite thing about this unique tree is what happens when they do fall down.  When a Redwood gets knocked over, it will attempt to keep growing via its limbs.  If left undisturbed, the limbs pointing skyward will turn into trees in their own right!  Over eighty percent of the trees now growing were produced in one of these ‘cloning’ processes and the other twenty percent sprang from seeds.   Some of the trees out there are the same tree reproducing itself over and over again.  Truly ever-living.

I wonder, if we people folk, should take a lesson or two from the Redwoods?  Can we reach our full potential without the right conditions?   We will experience some rot to our lives if we don’t continue to grow…and in order to grow we need each other.  The conditions that best produce growth are: love, encouragement, accountability, and trust.  Don’t forget to fertilize with prayer and Bible study for truly mature results!  In Hebrews 10:25 it says to “not forsake the assembling together,” because we need to be able to draw nourishment by surrounding each other with Christ’s love.  This also helps keep sin or “pests” away from having negative influence on us.

We can also take survival strategies from the Redwoods!  By reading our Bibles and having active prayer lives we develop intimate relationships with Christ, and each other.  This creates the protective heat shields for when the fires of life attack.  When the storms come, our roots are so intertwined that nothing can push us down!  When the flood levels rise and we feel we will certainly be smothered, it is then our roots are encouraged to grow and find new direction.  “We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.” (2 Cor. 4:9b)  If we are true, living people and in a true living church, we will continue to reproduce ourselves, even if we get knocked over by circumstances and sin.  Our branches should keep pointing up and reach for the Light.

How strong is your bark; are your roots intertwined with others?   Are you ready for the next storm?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Correct Thing

1902 a publishing company put into print, The Correct Thing In Good Society, by Florence Howe Hall.  A copy of this book has had a place in my home for at least 10 years now, and I have referred to it many times.  Now before you go off getting a very inaccurate picture of who I am, let me explain.  I keep this book and refer to it, not because I wish to fit in with high society type folk.  I’m not sure I even care about what Florence’s idea of the correct thing is.  No, I just find the book terribly interesting, very humorous and at times, even sad.  I refer to it in order to find material for devotions when I’ve been asked to speak and to give a point of reference - an ‘aren’t  you glad you didn’t live then’ type of talk for bridal showers.  I’ve never met Florence Howe Hall, but by reading her ‘rules’ for good society, I have perhaps formed a not so inaccurate picture of who she was.

There are 26 chapters in this tiny, green book, all tucked away in 361 pages, in a 5x7 sized binding.  The cover print - in gold, of course.  Here is a paragraph that seems to act almost as an apology to the book… “Brevity is the soul of wit; but a soul cannot do without a body in our mortal world.  If therefore, in this brief treatise matters are so condensed that he who runs (or rides) may read, it must evidently be with the understanding that the reader shall give the body of his own intelligence to the soul of these short sentences.  Condensation is often important for convenience in carrying with us material for future expansion.  In the little work here offered, it has been attempted on this ground.  The result sought will not be attained unless those who may take the book in hand shall themselves supply the expanding force of sympathy and intelligent apprehension, reading between the lines, and even across the page, since neither the positive nor the negative statements are complete in themselves, each needing the complement of its opposite.”  Oh my!  My intelligence doesn’t work well enough to understand everything it’s trying to tell me!  I’m lost already.

There are chapters in “The Correct Thing” about business, church, mourning, at college, at the table, when making calls - and the list goes on and on.
“It is the correct thing - for a lady…
To take a gentleman’s arm in the evening unless her hands should be fully occupied with her muff, or in holding up her dress. “
To bow first to a gentleman.
Where two ladies are under the escort of one gentleman, for one of them only to take his arm, the other lady walk by her side.
“It is NOT the correct thing - for a lady…
To wear a breastpin on a coat or other outside garment.
To take a gentleman’s arm in the daytime, unless it be in a crowded thoroughfare, on a slippery pavement, or under any other circumstances where it may be necessary for protection or support.
For one lady to take the arms of two gentlemen, unless she be learning to skate.”
While reading, my overall sense is that I am so thankful I did not live in 1902!  I do believe I would have been horsewhipped, stoned, thrown in shackles and possibly beheaded.  I seem to rarely do “the correct thing” even for today‘s standards.  I don’t say the right thing, eat the right way, act lady-like, or wear the right clothes.  Heavens…I’m a preacher’s wife with a tattoo!  I should turn myself in right now for a good lashing!

I know many people that try to live their lives being perfect…doing the correct thing.  They have formed lists in their heads of the rules or standards by which all should adhere to.   Rules can be good, we all need them and we should certainly follow the laws of the land, so as not to be thrown into those shackles I mentioned earlier.  The type of lists I get concerned about are the unreasonable expectations that we place on ourselves and others - the kind that make us become judgmental, critical, and snooty.  We church folk far too easily and often, are the worst offenders of this.  We somehow, take the Bible - a love letter from God, and twist the meaning of His intentions for it, and decide to practically do a re-write for Him!  There were laws for the people of the Old Testament…lots and lots of laws and rules.  Again, I am so thankful I did not live back then.  While I am grateful for the lessons of the Old Testament, the rich history and foretelling of Christ, I am more appreciative of living under the New Testament covenant - I live under the covering of Grace!

The New Testament helps us learn about Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection…which is the story of true love, forgiveness and grace!  I only need one ’standard’ or ruler to live my life by.  I don’t have to worry about what Florence Howe Hall thought, or whether I have my hands free to hold an arm, muff or my dress up!   I am about to leave for church this morning - which is a very correct thing to do, but I’m not wearing a dress!  Fortunately, my jeans, tattoo and dangly earrings will not get me shunned or flogged at our church. 

Hebrews 4:16
“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

Friday, December 10, 2010

Be Strange and Wonderful!

Have you ever heard something described as “strange and wonderful?“  For years this has turned into a joke of sorts, describing marriage, “our marriage is strange and wonderful, he’s strange and I’m wonderful.“  I’ve seen it engraved on wooden signs, written in greeting cards, and I’ve heard it stated in our own home.  Dale and I try to share equally in who gets to be the strange and who the wonderful, but most days he is both.  I can say with all honestly, my husband is not like any other I know!  The wonderful: he cleans the house, does all our yard work and even cooks dinner many nights.  He is the kindest person I know and loves me, even when I act unlovely.  Ironically, those same wonderful things about Dale, are also what make him very strange!  This type of behavior is not typical, so I’ve been told, of men in other marriages.  I get asked often by other women, if they can borrow him, to which I always reply, “absolutely not!

While Dale has the wonderful category pretty well wrapped up, and that makes him somewhat strange…there are times to me, he is just plain strange!  He has taken up a hobby in recent years, that I find odd.  Not only do I find him odd for wanting to do it, but I find the hobby itself odd.  I am mature enough to realize that odd to me, just means I don’t ’get it,’ it’s not anything I care to learn or engage in.  It’s not wrong to do it, not unhealthy and it’s not hurting anyone, apparently…but I still think it’s strange.  You see, he buys woodsy type plants and shrubs, cuts their roots off short, plants them in a very shallow container and trims their limbs back.  All this is done specifically to keep the plant from growing very much.  This is called, “Bonsai.”

What is Bonsai?  Quote: “A bonsai is a tree or other plants, or a group of trees or plants, cultivated in a container. The meaning of the word is ‘plant in a pot’.”  Someone in China, long ago, started this strange practice, and for thousands of years it has been perfected in Japan and become an art form.  You have to choose the right plant, which has potential to become a great bonsai.  It takes practice to turn this into a skill, and when done right, you end up with a plant becoming an exact replica of nature in miniature!  Strange (and a bit ironic don’t you think?)!  So thousands of years ago, someone decided it wasn’t enough to have nature to look at, and had to figure out how to make tiny examples of nature to look at.  Any who…we now have a bank of huge Juniper trees in our backyard, and Oaks out by the street, and then one miniature “Acer” somethingerother  (I can’t spell the rest), that sits in a shallow pot on the edge of our patio.  It really is a pretty little tree, and Dale has done a good job perfecting a bit of nature in its shallow pot.  This art form takes a great deal of patience, a steady hand and a keen eye…which is why I don’t understand it, and could never do it myself!
As I sit looking at the Acer somethingerother this morning, I realize even humans can be Bonsai!  This practice can be seen as strange and/or wonderful as well.  Thousands of years ago God created man…a little replica of himself here on earth - Wonderful!  He planted Adam in the Garden of Eden, but that is as far as the similarities with Bonsai should go.  Adam was expected to grow and  put down roots!  For thousands of years we humans have practiced some Bonsai techniques on ourselves. Strangely enough, we have become, “small in size, but have the appearance of being seasoned, matured and in certain cases aged.”  We look adult-like and mature in age, yet underneath, our root systems have been kept shallow and stunted.  I wonder just how often we purposely plant ourselves where we won‘t have to grow?  Strange, since the Bible speaks so often about growth and maturity in Christ.  Let me just end with that challenge…Ephesians 3:17...”Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.”

Be strange and wonderful to the world around you today…be loving and kind and make people wonder what makes you strange!

All quotes are from An Introduction to Bonsai, by the Bonsai Kai of the Japan Society