Momentary Light Affliction

From time to time I’ve heard, “Be careful what you ask for. You might get it.”

I realized that this morning after a round of routine annual medical tests and a few errands. It was only 11:30 am — outrageously early for lunch — but since I’d been up since 5:00 am with a sick dog it felt like 2:00 pm. I stopped at my favorite sandwich shop and pondered what I could come up with to blog about. Well, that’s not accurate. I asked the Lord to guide me to a blog topic.

Moments later, a petite paraplegic woman and her caregiver wheeled gently around my table. The disabled woman, dressed in jet black slacks that matched her neat pixie-haircut and a freshly pressed coral voile shirt, cheerfully thanked her assistant for bringing her out for such good food. I tried not to stare, but stare I did, noticing how pleasant she looked, how much care she had in her appearance. She had on tiny gold hoop earrings that accentuated her pretty face and hair. Pristine white socks on her feet told that she never walked. But her most stunning accessory was her sweet and upbeat personality. Her hands bent backwards in an unnatural way, but there was something very compelling about her soul that you could hear in her words. I smiled and said, “good morning,” but really didn’t know what to say.

Once back into my car I glanced through a few rows of mostly luxury cars and noticed a disheveled man in front of the restaurant. I think he too was looking for a job, but did not have the luxuries that I have of some reserves and a supportive spouse. How did I miss this on my way in? How can this happen in affluent Fairfax County, Virginia?

These two scenes troubled me, and I turned on the radio as I pulled out. I’m greeted with a disarming monologue by Holocaust survivor David Faber who was held in nine different concentration camps and who witnessed the massacre of his entire family by the Nazis. I couldn’t finish hearing his story — I was pulling into my warm, dry garage and honestly, I wasn’t strong enough to hear the end. What I did hear was that he made a pledge to God, that if he survived, he would tell the world about God’s faithfulness.

I thought of the Apostle Paul — how he was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, thirsty, and hungry in his work spreading the gospel. At this point I don’t want to even think about, let alone speak about my teeny, tiny problems in light of what I’ve just seen and heard.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart, Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

If you have a moment, I’d like to hear about the times the Lord answered your requests, perhaps in the most profound and unexpected ways. After today I am challenged to move from being a “baby Christian” into one more mature and cognizant of the many needs of those around me.

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

Big Rocks Go In First

As anyone over the age of six knows, some mornings just don’t go well.

Sleep is so utterly important to me that I can’t seem to function unless I have at least six hours. I’m caring for a sick dog who’s forgotten she’s housebroken (it’s not her fault, it’s the meds), a child who won’t sleep because she’s still on another time zone and a husband who has to work at peak efficiency who also hasn’t slept well for a few days.

After getting the two humans out the door this morning, and following the precise food and medicine schedule for the dog, at last I could consider what needed to get done today. But my brain wasn’t functioning at its peak efficiency. Then I remembered the kids’ project where they try to fit as many rocks as possible into a large jar. They all figure out quickly that the big rocks need to go in first. Then you can fit in more of the little ones. I try to remember that game when my head feels like one big blob. I’m trying to recall, what are the big rocks I need to fit in today?

The flurry of little rocks beg for attention — going to Home Depot to get sand to put down along the paver stone front walkway, many loads of laundry, clearing off my desk, calling the recommended piano teacher for summer lessons, getting to the athletic store for larger soccer cleats and swim team uniforms for our child — these all need to be done today. Then there was the promise I made to myself to speed-walk 3.2 miles on the treadmill to prepare for chaperoning (i.e. walking to collect the stragglers) at the Girls on the Run 5K coming up in a few weeks, and the promise to my husband to make a favorite Indian dish (i.e. very time-consuming.) My brain is getting pelted with these little pebbles.

When I get like this it’s usually because I’ve neglected my morning devotions, the centering time I spend with Bible reading and prayer. It was just one of those mornings….the scheduled reading in Hebrews was about Melchizedek and I was baffled. How could someone be born without a mother or a father? And why haven’t I heard of him before? Googling this fellow had me even more confused and forced me to bounce back into Proverbs to something I could understand. I didn’t have the fortitude (or sleep) to decipher what Melchizedek really means to us.

Then, as it occasionally happens, the Bible really gets my attention. I was miffed this morning by a comment from my husband about my whining about not enough sleep. And when I thought I had moved to a section of the Bible for solace, I had turned to Proverbs 12, “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge. But he who hates correction is stupid.”

Well, those big rocks seem more focused now. The big rock for me is to spend time with Him. He can sort out my rocks– and hit me squarely between the eyes with something I need to improve. Here are today’s big rocks –I’ve read the Bible, I’ve had prayer time, I’ve blogged, the kitchen is clean and the sedated dog is asleep. Now I can handle the urgent little rocks and let the rest go. Oh, and I might make my husband’s favorite Indian dish (and remember to whine less often.)

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

Dogs and Horses Redux

Every Christmas morning as a child, I would look into the backyard expecting to find a pony. To say I was horse-crazy was putting it mildly. No dolls for me. Give me the plastic and china horses collected from a gift shop and saddlery named The Surrey.

Even though I was always disappointed to see grass and trees or snow in the backyard on December 25, my parents still nourished my enchantment with horses. My fondest memory of a Christmas gift was the large-scale wooden stable my father crafted for me out of pine. He knew what I would love and many hours of imaginative miniature horseplay passed between my sisters and friends and me — with the same intensity as other girls played with their dollhouses.

Growing up in an era before leash laws–in a tranquil suburban/rural area with placid speed limits — everyone let their dogs roam outside. Dining and roaming is what they did. It was a progressive doggie supper with pooches making the circuit to neighbors’ doors for homemade morsels or mini-milk bones.

In gradeschool I was blessed to have a dog — one very smart poodle — who knew how to jump like a horse. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Many years before dog agility training was in vogue, we were in the backyard training our quick-study canine to complete a course of high jumps, in-and-outs and water obstacles over the fish pond in the woods. He was a happy, well-exercised pet and we had our less expensive horse substitute.

Last week, on spring break in Arizona, I had my own emotional obstacle course with horses and dogs on the same day.

The horse part was the emotional high. I shared a trail ride through the Kaibab National Forest near the Grand Canyon with our daughter. It was a perfect, sunny day with just the right amount of coolness that horses love. We passed acres of fragrant Ponderosa and Pinyon pines (the latter, the producer of those tasty pine nuts I love), and sage brush that is cumulatively poisonous to horses. It acts like loco-weed.

The ranch hands sized up the ten of us and matched us to our horses. Our daughter had a lively Quarter Horse known to be a character who liked to lead other horses into the field for fun frolics. (Yes, they matched her correctly.) I had to laugh when they gave me a sturdy Apaloosa and Percheron blend with the serious admonition that I not allow her to graze on the sage brush. (So, they could see right through me and know I can graze on things that are slightly poisonous for me too, eh?) Yes, they matched all of us well for a pleasurable, educational ride through the high plateau forest.

But when we returned to our canyon hotel room, the cellphone rang. It’s ominous to think that this technology works even on the edge of the earth’s abyss. The pet hotel told me that my dear friend and walking buddy had suffered a series of canine seizures. They wouldn’t keep her and it was close to eight in the evening. To the rescue came our phenomenal veterinarian who had his brother claim our pet and then worked to find out what was causing her seizures, sedate her to sleep and safely medically board her until our return.

My husband is my best friend, of course. But we talk about complicated things like family and business and politics. It shook me terribly to hear that my other best friend was so sick and I couldn’t be there. There’s no talk of complicated things with my other best friend. It’s a simple relationship of feeding and walking and running and enjoying nature. Any talking is relegated to, “oh, so you want to go there?” or simply, “Here’s your food. Come and eat, now.”

Prayer was the only way to calm me that night. I couldn’t do my usual emotional talk-out with my best human friend, my husband, for fear of further distressing our daughter. The dog is her pet too.

At the end of a restless night, I had the answer to my prayer. It was a deep reassurance that He had given me the gift of a precious husband and daughter. They were the priority no matter how worried I was about my furry friend. And, as I was fortunate to find out, He cares for animals too. The vet stabilized our dog and when we return home we can care for her to the best of our ability — with His help.

As I searched for a Bible verse that could make sense of my attachment to a pet, it came as an understanding that animals are His creation too, just like the Grand Canyon. Genesis 1:25, “God made the animals of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind. God saw that it was good.”

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

The Grand Canyon’s Creator

It’s been said that there are no words to describe the Grand Canyon. That’s true. The only way I can describe its awesomeness is to note that the lowest section of rocks –the rock that’s down by the Colorado River called the Vishnu Basement Rocks– are 1,700 million years old.

That’s a huge number and it’s not even close to when the earth was formed. As I looked into this famous striated gash in the earth over a four-day period, I felt as if I could peer into the earth’s core. How long has our Creator been around forming planets and galaxies and mammals and mile-deep canyons that change colors by the moment?

Hebrews 1:10 tells us, “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain. And they will grow old like a garment. Like a cloak You will fold them up. And they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail.”

Over all those millions of years at the Grand Canyon, He has not changed. He folded up each stage of the Canyon’s life like a cloak. The seas that once covered the desert, all the plant life and sea creatures and dinosaurs — folded into these rocky cliffs and the unreachable spires and pinnacles. In the span of those millions of years, the early human inhabitants — those who seem so primitive to us, whose stone structures and crude implements we now unearth — inhaled the same dry dust and hunted the same squirrels, mule deer and bobcats we see today.

They perished as we will perish. But He remains the same. And that is even harder to fathom than the time it took to carve the Grand Canyon.

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

Giving Thanks in the Rain

It was a soggy start this morning, but we walked anyway. I was prepared with a golf umbrella and a polka dot raincoat. My four-legged walking buddy was prepared with her bright yellow raincoat with bumblebee fabric inserts. Her garment is really bright — the color of a school bus — and the driver of one rolled down his window, gave a thumbs-up and complimented her on the color of her rain repeller.

The walk in light rain turned out to be an adventure in a heavy downpour. But we didn’t mind. We were prepared. I enjoyed the crescendo of plinks on my plastic roof. She didn’t seem to mind getting her toenails wet. And the smells — always so important on a dog-walk– were heightened. The irresistible smell of rain — a type of no-smell that’s so fresh. Other smells are intensified; newly sown grass seed reminiscent of a childhood running my hands through that resource in wood bins at Community Paint and Hardware. Soaked pastel hyacinths and grape hyacinths, budding rhododendrons and newly placed mulch were pleasantly bombarding us with their fragrance. And as my friend happily strolled through little rivers of clear, cool liquid I felt like a gradeschooler jumping enthusiastically into the stuff — oblivious to soaked shoes and socks and the drying off that would come later.

His creation was evident all around us. I thought of everything He gives us. Most importantly, He has prepared a way for us through his son, Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 2:10 we’re told, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

There are many days when I don’t think I’ve done any good works. Those are usually the days when I’ve let anger, bitterness or resentment get in the way of noticing the many blessings around me. When I can stop and give thanks — even in the rain — I am reminded that I am a tiny part of his workmanship. And I can carry my head a little higher, let my heart be a little lighter — and walk on. Even in the rain.

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

Glory, Body and Soul

Years ago in a new mother’s small group, a slender brunette with two toddlers shared that she lived to glorify God.

My brain stuttered as if she were speaking in ancient Sanskrit. What on earth was she talking about? Glorify God? What does that mean? I looked at her and thought she probably glorified God with her physical appearance. Tall, size-two, graceful and fashionable. (How she looked like that with two under four is another question.) If that’s a form of honor to God one could easily look at me and unequivocally state that I wasn’t a very good Christian role model. I yo-yo in the battle with middle-age spread and my facial expressions permanently claim that I’ve always been wired a little too tight.

Now in other areas I might have a leg up (okay, it’s not a good thing to compare–certainly in praise to Almighty God–but hey, I live in an ultra-competitive part of the country.) I feel confident that I am moving in a more God-glorying direction during prayer time, when I read the Bible, or when I recall many blessings on my morning walks. Perhaps even when I take good care of my family, or find a gentler way to correct my child when she needs it.

But glorifying God with my body? This troubles and puzzles me until I am faced with the truth. When I take good care of my body with proper food, exercise, rest — and yes, stepping on that scale to move the numbers in a more healthful direction — I am honoring God in the most basic way. How can I live a life that is useful for His purposes if I don’t have this human machine in good operating condition? Forget the unattainable size-two. I can certainly step up the work to regain the stronger, leaner, more athletic shape of a few decades ago. (With middle-age sensibilities, of course.) And, if I could do this without mentally beating myself up, perhaps that might be God-honoring too?

Let me renew these efforts and daily read 1 Corinthians 6:20 “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

Daily Totals

(Apologies to the friends and family who read this post. I’ve been away from blogging to meet a deadline to complete a book proposal for a class. I’m back now and I appreciate your visits here.)

At breakfast our daughter announced “I’m more than 2,920 days old!” While always one to encourage the use of math in everyday settings, I was a little disturbed when she announced how many days old I was. Let’s just say it’s well into five digits.

Soon after her announcement, before she could total up my husband’s days (he’s older than I am, so to deflect the incoming angst) I laughed, “Let me count the number of days I’ve been married to my wonderful husband!”

Yes, it’s great to reflect on numbers. It’s a miracle that I met my husband — who grew up on the other side of the world — and how lovely to recall the days that have flowed into 18 years of marriage.

It’s another blessing that the number of days I had with my father was 88 times 365. And I still get to talk with my mother on the phone every evening (but I won’t total her number times 365 — she’d stop reading my posts!)

Today I will think about the important daily totals. How many times have I said or acted in a way that says “I love you.” How many things have I done for others? How many moments have I spent in prayer? How many blessings have I noted? A friend just recommended Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts and it is a stunning gift in itself. If I could come even close to a fraction of awareness of the gifts that Voskamp mentions, I would be happy every day.

Let me jump back into the numbers game today.  Later I get to visit with a woman I’ve been friends with since kindergarten. (Another big number, but I’ll keep you guessing.) She’s riding the train to D.C. from Connecticut where she’s giving a lecture at the Greek Embassy tonight. I’m blessed to be her guest and enjoy listening to her knowledge gleaned over years of study, teaching, travel, learning languages and analyzing art.

But the numbers on the clock — those daily totals I try to manipulate, but never can — call me to finish all the items on my list before I can enjoy the evening.

Blessings and kind regards to you all.