Drop It Drills

My dog hasn’t learned to “drop it” yet. Neither have I.

On this morning’s dog walk, as I was pondering the immense blessing I have for this  season of time to exercise my contemplative side, my furry friend violently yanked me back to reality. She sniffed something irresistible, nearly pulled my right arm off, and before I could say “drop it” inhaled what appeared to be a hot dog. Then, as any good dog-Mom would do, I started worrying what it was that she really ate. Why, oh why, hadn’t we practiced the drop it drills to be ready for such an occasion?

Then again, learning to drop it would be useful for me too. If I could say “drop it” to that handful of late-night cashews the scale would move in the right direction. I could even vary it and say “put that down right this minute” to the unnecessary worries I carry around. If I could say “let’s drop it for now and talk about it later,” a misunderstanding wouldn’t escalate to an argument.

On a positive note, “drop it” can be a helpful command to have more fun. Our daughter occasionally will say, “Oh, Mom, can’t you just stop what you’re doing and have some fun with me?” That request gets me every time and I do stop to giggle, play a game, admire her drawings, blow bubbles — all the things that give life such joy.

Let me drop all (or at least more of) the bad stuff and pick up the good. Ephesians 4: 31-32 reminds us, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

I’ll practice that today. Then I may search for how to train my dog to drop it.

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

Soccer Squalls

Today there’s a collision in my mind between the present and the past. Today’s drama is with girls’ travel soccer and it’s fighting with the memories of sailing with my father long ago.

I remember the squalls that might hit us when sailing — sudden, violent winds that could whip up on a lake or the Chesapeake Bay without warning. The other meaning of squall — to cry out raucously or to utter in a strident voice — is the politest way of describing my Dad’s typical captain’s voice when racing. It’s so well-known that sailors yell at their crew that I’ve heard there’s a women-owned business that teaches sailing named  “We Don’t Yell.”

It’s not that we yell at girls’ travel soccer games. In fact, we are so subdued that it’s frustrating.  Our official family job at the games is to hand out lollipops to parents so they don’t coach from the sidelines. Or scream directions. Or show exasperation from a dismal winter season losing every game. More difficult is to stay quiet when the losses erode a child’s self-confidence and joy of the game.

But as frustrated as I was with my father’s tough sailing voice, years later when I was with a friend sailing off Long Island and a really scary squall hit, I could follow his captain’s screams. I knew what he needed, I knew we were truly in peril, and I knew the cost of the boat he co-owned with four others. We made it to port safely, and when he thanked me for not trembling under the stress and harsh words, I knew that my father’s lessons had value.

So as the soccer girls and parents weather through a season of endless, boring foot skills, and disastrously matched games with older and more highly-ranked teams, I feel the squall building inside me. I want to scream. But simultaneously, I want our daughter to weather a tough season, to learn the enduring value of sportsmanship, to know that anything you love can have seasons when you don’t see growth. I want the difficulties to strengthen her and not break her spirit and there’s a fine line between the two.

My prayer is that as a parent I can look to the Lord for help with anything — even soccer. To love Him and continue to learn, so that I can be strong as stated in Matthew 7:25, “The rain came down, the flood came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house, and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock.”

So I’ll drown out the boisterous storm gathering in me, take comfort in His words (and those of more experienced parents) and stand strong. Who knows when the real winds of adversity will hit our daughter, and I pray that her lessons today have value in the future.

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

Pressure Cooking

One of my husband’s perks as a business owner is to occasionally leave the office during the day to shop. This is his pressure release value. It balances out the long hours, bringing accounting work home, and being responsible for the livelihood of several employees.

Yesterday his self-appointed mission was to find a pressure cooker at Macy’s home goods sale. He went after this stainless steel item with the same zeal as he’s searched for the new iPad.  A pressure cooker, you might ask?  Believe me, this is a vital instrument in our kitchen because Indian lentils are part of his heritage and they’re in his DNA.  These delicious legumes — hard as tiny orange or green or tan rocks — only seem to get cooked with a pressure cooker.

As he tells it with his great sense of humor, it must have been a sight. The department was empty except for him and the four Indian ladies in line behind him. And what did they all have? You guessed it — pressure cookers.

Pressure is a word that I am familiar with. It was a daily component of life when I was working full-time and commuting nearly three hours a day. And it’s surprising that (in different ways) it’s still attached to me. Yes, much pressure has washed away simply not commuting, but internal pressure — to be and do (with more emphasis on “do” than “be”) — to change and grow and improve and learn — this is simply part of who I am.

But when I feel the pressure heating up, and my anxieties start frothing like the lentils, I remember Philippians 4:6 “In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

My prayer today is that when our pressures mount, we can turn to Him with prayer and thanksgiving, and ask Him to turn on the release valve.

Blessings and kind regards to all.

Spring Forward and I Fall Back

This Spring time change always throws me for a loop. It takes a few days to be mentally and physically back on track. It’s just one little hour, but I seem to be looking for it all week.

It was not on my schedule to go to the car repair shop yesterday. When backing out of the garage my tires seem to go over little ripples.  So I get down to eye level on the driveway to see if voles created pathways under the asphalt. It looks smooth to me. At the car shop, of course, I can’t recreate the problem with the technician. I have them inspect all the tires anyway. I feel like a radio caller on Car Talk pleading with Click and Clack that there really was a problem and I’m not losing my mind.

Well, OK, the time change thing makes me feel like those bubbles. They’re not really there, they just feel like it. Like the hiccups in my day when things don’t go on schedule. More importantly, this lack of a little sleep makes me question things I do on a regular basis. Like buy groceries. One would think milk is usually on the list, but it didn’t make it home. My dear husband only had four tablespoons of it with a cup of cereal this morning.

Also, in springtime, I want to glory in the warmer days and the promise in the green crocus sprouts. Then allergies attack and I fall back. Usually flat on my back.

What I can do to pick myself up from stumbles is remember Proverbs 3:6, often quoted by a favorite speaker, Charles Stanley, “In all your ways acknowledge Him. And He will direct your paths.”

My prayer today is that we will all be open to His direction, and that the paths will be through Spring (without any falls).

With blessings and kind regards to you all.

Courage and Chaos

Dear family and the friends who read this post:

I’ve been away from blogging for too many days. Let’s just say that life got in the way. Nothing major — just other commitments, family activities, overhauling my family’s nutrition basics.

The real reason is that in the chaos of daily suburban life — between the soccer and  basketball practices and games, Girl Scouts, cooking lean and healthful meals, walking the dog, preparing taxes and a million other distractions — I made some errant detours from God. Nothing horrific, but I neglected my daily prayer and Bible study, couldn’t get to church, and may have done a few things that He didn’t want me to do. So the words dried up and I claimed I did not have time for writing. What I didn’t have was the courage to do what I know I should do.

The chaos is the competition for my time and focus. How much time for blogging, working on the book proposal, searching for a part-time job? How much time tackling home organization projects, catching up with friends and personal upkeep to look presentable at a wedding? This is truly minor stuff — it’s not like I am one of the Fairfax County Search and Rescue members dropping everything to help our brothers and sisters in the terrible devastation in Japan. Nevertheless, lack of focus brings me to immobilization. Not a good thing and certainly a waste of time.

Our pastor, Tom Berlin of Floris United Methodist Church, gave another of his knock-out sermons this past Sunday. It was on courage and he reminded us that courage is the foundation of transformation. Another zinger, “if you don’t have courage you have high needs for the status quo.” And finally, a reminder that to move into the zone of giving Him lordship over our life requires courage.

And just to be certain I got the message (and I believe that the Lord knows I need to be hit between the eyes on a regular basis) here was the scheduled reading I had in the Bible this morning. It’s from 2 Corinthians 8: 10-11, “And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it..”

Thank you, Lord, for such a personal reminder straight from your word. My prayer today is that we can all have the courage to do what He is leading us to do and the courage to tame the chaos in our daily lives.

With blessings and kind regards to you all.

Be Still and Know

Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, “Be Still And Know” is stuck in my head. This is a lot better than many songs that get stuck there.

Chapman’s lyrics are online and they call to me this morning:

Be still and know that He is God. Be still and know that He is holy. Be still oh restless soul of mine. Bow before the Prince of Peace. Let the noise and clamor cease. Be still and know that He is God.

Be still? How hard is that? Pretty difficult, because I think we’re even moving, twitching, when we sleep. Yet the conscious effort to stop what we’re doing, to pray, read the Bible or simply “be” in his presence can be rewarded with the most joyous, uplifting, fog-dispersing clarity when we resume our daily activities.  To be still and know that He is holy is exactly what I need to do when the to-do list is long. He always sorts out my day. It’s hard to describe how this happens, but it does with regularity.

Physically it’s probably lowered my blood pressure. Emotionally it’s released me from some anxiety because I know I’ve done the most important thing I can do on any day. Mentally it has sharpened my focus — trivial things easily fall off my to-do list. (Also, He helps me prioritize what on that list is important to do for others, not moi.)

Chapman credits two verses for his inspiration, Psalms 46:10 and Zechariah 2:13. The verse from Psalms is more familiar, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Tomorrow I’ll ponder the word exalt. Right now, I am ever so grateful for the time I have had to be still.  And for His help that will get me through the day’s many activities.

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

Grace Notes

She sat as quietly as a soft note on a Steinway. Poised, demure, wearing a pretty sweater, scarf and jeans. It was well-fitting without a hint of teenage tightness.

Perhaps she was a senior from the Catholic school across the street, or maybe a college student from the nearby university. It’s hard to tell the age of anyone outside of my daughter’s or my own age brackets. In any event, if she’s a collegian on her own, her parents would have been proud of her appearance and comportment.

She waited for her companion in the booth with a half sandwich and cup of soup in front of her. When he arrived (just as stunningly good-looking and clean-cut), she asked, “do you mind if I say grace?”  Of course he didn’t mind and she bowed her head and moved her hand like a metronome up and down, then side to side in the sign of the cross. I was awestruck.  Here I was wolfing down my salad before dashing to the next appointment. Had I stopped to say grace, had I even thought about it?

Fortunately I grew up in a home where grace was said before dinner every night.  A special more extended grace was said before holiday meals. So I’m comfortable saying grace with my family or when asked at friends’ homes. But I don’t say it at lunch. Or breakfast. Or at every dinner. Only when I remember at Sunday dinner when we eat with the good china.

How many Americans still say grace? As recently reported by Religion News Services, about 44% of Americans say grace or a similar blessing almost every day before eating. This statistic is from a recently published book by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, “American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us.” The authors also report that about 46% of Americans almost never say grace.

The Psalms are full of verses to give thanks to God.  A favorite (with a musical note) is Psalm 92:1, “It is a good thing to give thanks to Yahweh. To sing praises to your name, Most High.”

Today, I will venture back into the honoring practice of saying grace. Dinner will be the start, and I can see the blessing of giving thanks at each meal. Next week I’ll add it to lunch, particularly if I eat at my favorite restaurant where the young woman reminded me of an important custom I’d overlooked.

With blessings and kind regards to you all.

Spring Pruning

We are still a few days away from the official start of spring. One neighbor, however, (the one with the exceptionally tidy yard) has a jump on us all. His tidy bundles down by the street are awaiting today’s scheduled yard debris pickup.

There’s such a variety there in the neat piles. Prickly holly branches, feathery boughs of a fir I can’t identify, totally dead English boxwood, varying widths of healthy green beech limbs (ranging from two to six inches in diameter), and a very scary root of something that has clung to all of its soil. That one is turned upside down so all you can see are the hacked off roots and its longtime friend–the dark brown soil.

As my mind works, I’m immediately thinking about John 15:5, “I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” I always thought that verse had something about how He trims the vine, prunes unnecessary growth to strengthen the vine. I know I’ve heard that in sermons and read it in multiple places. It’s what’s done to vines to keep them strong and shaped to produce good grapes.

What is He trying to prune out of me now?

The prickly holly branches. That’s apparent to me. It’s all my personality traits my husband affectionately calls my “snapping turtle tendencies.” Impatience. Selfishness. The knitting of my brow when I don’t like something.

The dead boxwood? No problem. Those are the really useless habits that I’ve already given up (with His help) but haven’t cleaned out of my mind’s garage. Quitting smoking over 30 years ago is one; I still smoke in my dreams.

What about the feathery fir? That’s a bit harder. It could be all the soft tentacles that permeate my life. Those that don’t seem so bad at the time but they keep me from hitting the mark. Procrastination. Overeating. Spending too much time on trivial things.

Working up the scale of difficulty I reach the varying widths of beech limbs. Those are the areas that seem to be working to make my life comfortable but He knows they need to be lopped off. Pride. Laziness. Inconsiderate behavior. The bad things that come out of my mouth when I’m driving. Unloving words toward my loved ones. Snobbery. Oh, dear. He knows this is a long list.

The hacked off roots, clinging to life with its dirt? Yikes. He knows the really bad stuff….the hypocrisy, anger, gossip, arrogance…the list is long.

My prayer today is that I can yield to His pruning. To take one step in the direction I know He wants me to go. And then to rejoice at the end of the day and give thanks for the immeasurable joy and blessings He brings into my life.

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

Two (Too) Embarrassing Incidents

I’ve promised myself to be honest and truthful in these blogs. So, it’s a bit unnerving to confess that the only topics I seem compelled to write about today are very embarrassing.

The first —  I cried at a networking luncheon meeting yesterday. The worst part is that I was the only woman present. Yup. Cried. Although I’ll explain the situation in a moment.

Second — there’s a bat in my bedroom. This one is too odd and embarrassing. I simply don’t want to write about it. Because our master bedroom sits high up in our home this situation feels too much like “bats in the belfry.” And it really is a lovely home and well-maintained I might add. Fortunately the bat is trapped behind glass in the gas fireplace. It’s been there for weeks, despite all the tapping and praying I’ve done.

My sister, the forester and wildlife expert, tells me he’s hibernating there and we shouldn’t disturb him. When he flies out (however on earth he got in) he’ll die because he doesn’t have any mosquitos to eat. Apparently he’ll eat at least 2,000 of those suckers every night. Now he’s endearing himself to me because I am the official family mosquito magnet.

But this isn’t really what I want to write about.

Why did I cry at an all-male luncheon yesterday? Well, it was an informal meeting of Workforce Ministries. I’d been on their email list and decided to meet some new people and perhaps get some job-hunting tips.

Usually several women show up, but yesterday I was it. The fellows I met, all professionals — engineers, IT directors, sales and marketing executives — were just great. Their stories of how they honor their faith in the workplace were inspiring. One senior executive realized that his CEO was under extraordinary stress and found a way to encourage him. Another man works on a contract in northern Virginia and commutes home to Florida each week to be with his family. He’s active in two churches and has been instrumental in a Florida program that helps former felons train for and stay in new jobs.

Their open sharing and humility got the tear factory primed. Here I was, a total stranger, but a member of the body of Christ, and they met me warmly. Then in closing prayer, the multiple prayers for me and my family, the prayers for me to find employment came, and the floodgates opened. I tried to dab my eyes with the napkin, but I’m sure the tell-tale make-up streaks remained. It was a touching experience and I thought of 1John 1:7 “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…”

Thank you, gentlemen, for making me cry yesterday.

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

Hoofprints in Suburbia

A horse walked past my house this morning. I have proof. Deep hoofprints in the squishy, thawing ground.

This morning I decided to give my dog — a golden retriever mix with some border collie in her — the exercise she always needs. So we headed for the thick woods across the street. We followed those hoofprints down the grassy knoll onto the wide path through the woods. I knew that there were a few homes about a mile from here that still had enough acreage to support a horse or two, but I had never seen them. The prints went in both directions and as my dog charged down the path and through the woods (off-leash in one of the few safe places to do this), I found myself thinking about these prints and dog-walks in general.

Neighbors tell me I’m a most dedicated dog-walker. What they don’t know is how much I get out of it.  Exercise, of course. More importantly, a half-hour of solitude, enjoyment of nature, seeing the first hints of spring. Occasionally my dog will freeze with her nose in the air, or paw raised and pointed. I know from these halts to try to see what she sees or hear what she hears with her God-given super senses. My rewards have been to see foxes, rabbits, hawks, deer, kingfishers, Canadian geese (in the strangest places) and even skunks.

Back to the path of following those prints. They went up to the stream I had never crossed. It would have been possible for a horse to cross, yet cumbersome. Yes, it had crossed. On the other side, on the steep, muddy bank, I saw one long slide down the bank ending in a perfect horseshoe shape. A good strong horse could easily walk through the fast-moving current.

But not me. I don’t want to slip. I don’t want my clean dog to get muddy. Yet I haven’t explored the other side. The scripture from Isaish 43:2 came to mind, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you…”

I’ll try to remember that when I’m certain that the unknown will feel like one long slide down a muddy bank. And when I’m not certain it will end with one solid footprint at the bottom. But He will be there. And He sees and senses so much more than I can. So I’ll halt and spend some time in solitude with Him.

Then I’ll tackle my to-do list.

Blessings and kind regards to you all.