Lessons from the Squirrels

My current role model.

My current role model.

Tenacity and inventiveness. Two qualities that I’d like to have more of and my current role models are squirrels.

Yes, I have a growing fondness for these furry critters. They gave me a new acrobatic show this morning in the wide arc of fir trees surrounding the front of our home. The trees have steadily grown taller and fuller to create a pleasant green cape. Year round they display my favorite color with fluffy lushness and I enjoy looking up at them after morning devotions in our home office.

It was deep inside the trees that I saw the squirrel.  You’d never have seen him if you weren’t studying the trees.  About 25 feet off the ground, two-thirds of the way up the evergreens, this little fella was springing from bough to bough. His estimates were perfect as he remained parallel to the ground. It’s just that he was 25 feet up. It looked incredibly fun and effortless.

Wouldn’t it have been easier to travel on the ground, I thought? He was certainly taking some risks up there — who would have known if each bough had the same springiness as the one he just left? Couldn’t he get to where he was going faster on earth?

I remembered an anecdote in a book I’m reading, You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader by Mark Sanborn. A homeowner who loved feeding wild birds was exasperated trying to locate a squirrel-proof birdfeeder. After purchasing one so advertised, and finding that it only took part of a day for the squirrel to find a way to the food, he was reminded that a squirrel spends 98 percent of his waking hours finding food. He had only spent about 15-20 minutes trying to defeat the squirrels.

This juxtaposition of morning devotions and squirrel reveries wasn’t lost on me. What could I (or anyone) do if I didn’t have any fear of trying to travel to a goal in a new way? What if I knew that there was air, bounce, physics, faith, confidence, and courage holding me up on a novel path? Just what could I accomplish with spending 98 percent of my waking hours focusing on a goal, or honoring God, or giving thanks for the many blessings He gives me?

The day before Thanksgiving I am thankful for many things. And this morning I’m adding lessons learned from squirrels to the list.


Sock Skirmishes

We’re having sock pandemonium in our home. It’s not the usual dryer-eating-of-socks that has us at wit’s end. It’s that the three of us — husband, wife and growing-taller-by-the hour child — each wear nearly the same size socks.

Now, of course, I won’t put the purple peace-sign knee-hi’s destined for our girl’s sock drawer in my husband’s stash. Nor will his grey argyles find their way into my lingerie drawer.  But athletic socks? Ah, there’s the challenge. They are white, nearly all the same size, and have identical Hanes, Adidas, Nike or generic Target logos.

Those whife puffs of cotton (pilled or frayed or new and fluffy) remind me of sheep. Often many are forlorn, without their mates, lost and not knowing which drawer or bedroom holds their herd. Yes, I tell myself. They are not really sheep, and I don’t have to connect this to something about sheep in the Bible. They are just SOCKS.

But the way my blog-writing mind works, I know these sheep, er socks, represent me. In the thrash of daily life, the ups and downs of school challenges, employment searches, an elderly parent’s health situation, even keeping the yard in a tolerable state so that neighbors won’t petition that we be run out of Dodge — it all makes me feel forlorn or at least pilled and frayed. I don’t like admitting that I am a sheep, a timid defenseless creature….it seems to shrink my intelligence and ability to be different. But I am not different from anyone else. I need a guiding Father, a comforting presence, a light to keep me on the path — even when I have no idea where the path is leading. He knows, however, and when I can turn it all over to Him (and not keep taking it back), those little missing pieces in my life tend to find their ways into the right drawers and the problems I can’t overcome can be tended and shepherded by the One who can handle it all.

Moving Bees at Midnight

My relatives are doing strange things at night. The story starts with niece Elspeth, who inherited our ancestral farming gene. She is studying for a doctorate in plant biology and I am convinced she will mutate a tomato plant to develop disease-fighting properties that will save lives.

But what does that have to do with today’s blog title? Well, she and her fiance had to move  beehives from her old home to their newly-rented home. How on earth does one move bees anyway? At midnight, it turns out.  At night, on the coolest day possible, when most of the bees are asleep in the hive. So, Elspeth and Ralph covered the multiple hives with sheets, loaded them in the back of their pickup truck, and took off slowly to drive them across town. So slowly that they piqued the interest of a local police officer who thought they looked suspicious. And while Elspeth tried to explain to the officer who was just doing his job (I mean, what would you think of this midnight sight?), the warmth of the truck started to awaken the bees who started buzzing and flying and generally getting annoyed that their home was being moved. Ultimately the bees and people made it to their destination without too much damage. This was the first odd family story in the last few weeks.

Then, as we embarked on a family vacation to Miami and the Florida Keys, I called cousin Peter who lives on Marathon Key. I knew there was only a slight chance that he and his wife Betsy would be home. It would be great to visit, so I called anyway. Most of the time they are travelling around the world on educational or charitable trips, or helping relatives anywhere in the states. If someone in the family has a serious illness, Peter and Betsy often come to help. If a newly-married young couple moves into an old home, they might come and remodel their kitchen. Retired and without children, they live an admirable life of generosity, creativity and curiosity.

Peter’s return call was warm and friendly. They wouldn’t be home, but we could visit with other family members staying at the Marathon house. Peter and Betsy were in the swamps of Mississippi on an Earthwatch vacation, locating and tagging endangered loons. And yes, they were doing it in the middle of the night.

After my laughter calmed down, I realized that my loony (but lovely) relatives were demonstrating something important. They are living lives that are distinctly theirs — filled with their unique gifts and their ways of using them to help others. There, in the middle of the night — moving bees or tagging loons — they are Christ’s servants. Oh, they wouldn’t think they are, and of course the Lord could find many others if they were not willing. But there they are — part of His plan for our human family and life on this planet and I am in awe of them.  This reminded me of a phrase in Luke 8:3, where the Bible tells us about the women and others who traveled with Christ and provided for him. The story tells us about them “….and many others who provided for Him from their substance.”

It’s clear to me what’s the substance these family members provide– and I can see how they serve Him by helping others. I wonder if we are open to His leading, just where will He lead us? And this thought brings me to a favorite verse, Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”  I guess those paths can be moving bees, tagging loons or working at a computer.

With blessings and kind regards to you all.

Tears and Trust

“Have you ever been in a very dark place? A place where there’s no light and no hope?” my doctor asked me.

It was a bit of role reversal and I didn’t mind at all. I’ve known “Dr. Q.,” as my husband and I affectionately refer to her, for many years. She’s our family’s general practitioner, and we have a relationship that’s very old-fashioned and different from today’s impersonal, insurance and time-driven medical care. She’s “Dr. Q” because my husband thinks she’s a character from a James Bond movie — petite, exotically beautiful, whip-smart and mysterious. And like some lead characters in Bond movies, you can trust her with your life.

Dr. Q’s mother had passed away recently. I knew she was in pain from that loss — and she was at work– against all odds, because doctors can rarely afford to take a sick day.  She said staying in bed wouldn’t be worth the horrendous schedule it would create for her later.

“Yes. I have been in such a place. Recently, in fact. There is only one thing that brings me out of it. It’s a daily discipline of reading the Bible and meditating on His word. Last week I was reading Mark 10, where the children came to Jesus and the disciples wanted to shoo them away. Jesus told them to let the little children come to Him. In fact, He swept the youngsters into his arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them. I think of this sometimes, and I imagine I’m a child resting in His arms.”

Then Dr. Q burst into tears. I knew that she and her family were all believers from the Phillipines. “Yes, I’ve done that too. I need to do it more often. In fact, not only should I rest in His arms, I need to put my head down and let Him carry some of this weight.” With a few graceful swipes of a tissue under her glasses, she let through some more tears. “Thank you so much. You were the person I needed to see today.”

Then there were no more tears. There was a feeling of joy and peace from what the Lord can offer us, right when we need it. When we let Him, He will guide us through our days, through tears to places and people that give us comfort and love. Dr. Q. has seen me though many dark places; I was glad to remind her of the hope and trust we find in Him. Even through our tears.

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

The Passing of a Very Good Dog

It’s been three weeks since Crystal’s death. Only now have I been able to write about how much I miss her.

I say death, but I really mean since her execution. And I was the executioner — something I doubt I will ever get over. Her smudgy noseprints are still on the inside of my car’s back window hatch. She loved going for a ride, and may have even enjoyed her last one, as I lied and tried to keep her calm with, “we’re going to the vet. Remember you always feel better after going to this vet.”

That part was true. In her four short years she had visited him often. Sometimes for the care I wasn’t experienced enough for — like removing a giant tick that I had missed in her daily rubs. As well as the initial time he brought her back from the brink of death from nonstop convulsive seizures while she was boarded and we were on the other side of the country on vacation. He helped me reshape her life — her very existence — through the precisely calibrated medicines (even the one that had to be compounded by an old-fashioned pharmacist), that she happily inhaled via those inventive beef-flavored pill pockets.

But I had known for the last month that the end was near. Over the last year, I had brought her back to some sort of normalcy after awful episodes of those canine seizures. The seizures would last all night and no matter how much of the “emergency” meds she would dutifully down — inbetween losing consciousness to the next round of convulsions. Then it would take two weeks to get her back to some kind of normal dog life. But her world had dwindled down to just me. I was her entire universe. Me and the food that she could never get enough of due to those medicines that kept her alive. She was our daughter’s pet — she was the one who picked her out of all the puppies needing to be rescued that day four years ago. Crystal was an older puppy — a beautiful blond, sleek, fluffy, furry creature. Part golden retreiver, golden lab and border collie. Most people who met her commented on how beautiful she was.

I knew she had border collie in her due to the white triangle marking on her forehead and the way she could jump higher and farther than a small pony. When she was healthy and young she showed great promise as a frisbee dog. But near the end, she dutifully pushed herself to go up the many stairs in our home, to sleep in the cushiony dog pillow on the floor by my side of the bed. She could no longer jump into the back of my car, and on that last night, we lifted her in with our sheet sling method. Two adults to lift one large, sick dog.

It’s not fair to continue telling you all the gory details. But if you’ve ever had a dog, you can relate to the fact that I always felt safe when I was in the house alone with her. She was truly my companion, and as I told her that last night, she was the best, sweetest pet anyone could have ever asked for. She was quiet and calm by nature and only barked to protect us. Children as well as adults who were terrified of dogs learned to like dogs thanks to Crystal. She was my walking buddy and I met more people and more dogs and covered more ground in this new neighborhood, with her, than I would have in any other way.  She was our daughter’s pet and the images of a five-year-old girl joyfully running around in the backyard with a one-year-old dog are forever burned in my memory.

Crystal must have expanded new love capacities in my heart. And this old heart still hurts. Every part of my home, my daily patterns, my neighborhood, even my outdoor coats and shoes remind me of her. Following Crystal’s death there have been many talks with our daughter — some, such as answering the question of cremation — have been tough, but necessary. The greatest sadness is our daughter’s anger at God. “Mom, I don’t care what you say, I hate God, and nothing you can say will ever make me feel differently.”

And I agree with part of what she says. It doesn’t make sense when a person or a pet dies early in life. And disease and illness don’t make sense. And that is the way it is. We will never know why God created things the way He did. Until, perhaps, at sometime in the future, if we should be so blessed to make it to heaven, then we might understand.

There is one small glimmer of hope in this ebb and flow of grieving for a sweet pet. Yesterday my husband was talking with our daughter about her loss and in their conversation about canine seizures he planted a seed. She could do something about her loss and find out about research on canine seizures. Perhaps she could raise money to help. “Can a kid to that, Dad?” she asked. “Of course they can” was his optimistic reply.

The same God that takes away also gives. He has given us an outpouring of sympathy and kindness from friends and family who know what it’s  like to lose a true companion pet. And He is the same God that might lead our daughter to walk a path for some positive outcome to her grief.

With blessings and kind regards to you all.

The Joy of the First Snow

Today, or rather last night, brought the first snow of the new year. It’s always a celebratory day with a nine-year-old who still loves to frolic in the white stuff. Oh yes, she also has a middle name of “Snow” (my maiden name) so there’s probably some connection there.

And, it’s Saturday and the snow and ice cancelled all school functions today — sports as well as the sports picture day. So, with lots of newfound free time and one of her best friends, we relished the rituals of putting on and taking off of winter outdoor gear, making hot chocolate, and exploring the outdoors when it looks so new and white.

Who knew until today that we had a restaurant in the woods in the backyard named “Snowball Cafe?” After its proprietors readied the place for well over an hour, it served me tacos (magnolia leaves folded over and stuffed with evergreen lettuce and other white ingredients), sushi (green leaves that look like seaweed, stuffed with white rice (i.e. snow), and icy smoothies made with — yes, snow — and red Gatorade. All these gourmet treats were served to me at “The Grand Table” — the smooth, large stump leftover from when my favorite, oldest tree in the yard died and had to be cut down. It’s savoring its new life at the center of “Snowball Cafe” even though the dog jumped up and unceremoniously sat down in the middle of my meal. It reminded me of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and I could have stayed seated there (on the stacks of leftover patio pavers they used to make three seats) for a very long time.

I thanked the Lord for the simple pleasure of sitting in the woods in the snow. I thanked Him for a precious, long-awaited daughter and her sweet, imaginative friend. And I thanked Him for the time and space to take it all in — the cold mist on my face, the amazing quality of children’s imaginations, the warm home to come back into, and the presence of a peace that passes all understanding.

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

Frozen Ground

Winter has finally arrived in Northern Virginia. Today’s low of 19 and high of 32 promises snow if there’s any precipitation.

Even if there’s no snow, there is frozen ground, ice in little puddles, and that strange crystallization of earth that was swampy yesterday and today crunches like tiny ice cliffs in a Lilliputian landscape. My morning walk with our dog — on a different woodsy path– was possible today because of frozen ground. Some of this path is too swampy and muddy until it’s this frigid. Then we can boldly go where clean boots dare to tread because nothing sticks to us.

Hmm, I like it when certain things don’t stick to me. So my mind swirls with the wind into the possibilities of the good and bad of frozen ground. It’s easier to walk on that solid hard surface, just like it’s easier to move into new personal paths when I can freeze out the mud. You know that stuff; it’s what clings to boots, makes messy tracks, and generally slows down thoughts, words, actions and emotions from staying on the straight direct route.

The frozen air makes it easier to hear and focus on a few clear simple sounds — a pileated woodpecker, one airplane far above, the sound of my dog’s jewelry (dog tags, I mean) jiggling as she heads up and down the hills. That clear, one-thing-at-a-time focus always makes things easier.

But the frozen ground can, of course, remind me what happens when there’s no warmth. When I keep people — even those I deeply love — at arm’s length. Frozen ground might be helpful for traversing miles but it doesn’t help the flowering of emotion and intimacy and the kind of depth in relationships that comes with the sensuousness and messiness of mud.

It’s been a good walk over ground I haven’t seen for about a year. It’s time to get home for Bible reading, prayer time, and charging into my to-do list. I find a reference to the frozen ground in Job 38:29-31 (NKJV). I’ll reflect on this today and tomorrow as I think of His wondrousness. From whose womb comes the ice? And the frost of heaven, who gives it birth? The waters harden like stone, And the surface of the deep is frozen.”Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, Or loose the belt of Orion?”

Blessings and kind regards to you all.



Husbands Are Often Right (gasp!)

Yesterday I said that mornings are often best. I’m amending that today — mornings are often the worst.

It started out promising enough. The sunrise was spectacular. It looked like Concord grape juice spilled across a bubbly pink sheet of watercolor paper. I knew the day’s time pressures were ahead, so I remembered Galatians 5:22 and prayed to put on the fruits of the Spirit, “….love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

Good thing I did, or who knows how badly it would have turned out. Our normally morning lark child picked this day to be cranky about everything. In stream of consciousness the negativity spewed forth….the field trip meant that she’d miss music class, the difficult classmate undoubtedly would attack again today, she didn’t want to re-take the math test on Friday (with 90 percent of fellow students), her sports injury was acting up, she couldn’t find her favorite knee brace, the dog wasn’t friendly to her. Egads. All I want to do is have her get herself dressed and get downstairs for breakfast. Trying to get her back on track (and not getting my own morning tasks accomplished) really threw me off.

When I finally got downstairs to say goodbye to my husband I exasperated, “she just wouldn’t let me get down here!” And his annoyingly accurate comment was, “so, did she lock you in the bathroom or chain you to a chair? You let this happen, so you need to do something different.”

Egads, again. No help whatsoever. Until I cleared my head with a woods walk with the dog. He was right, of course (oh, and it is so humbling to recall how often he is right.) I have to do something different and not get sucked into a temporary whirlpool from a pre-teen.

So with the help of the Spirit (and a lovingly honest husband) I’m back on track. And I will do things differently tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll notice the sunrise and remember that the rest of the morning will brighten with the sun (and some family love.)

Blessings and kind regards to you all.

Close Chance Encounters

Mornings are best. Particularly this morning when a cold front came through and the fresh delightful breeze and hard frost on the ground crunched away the stress of Christmas preparations that I said I wouldn’t create again.

I walked with the dog mid-morning and we met a new neighbor. This homeowner was muttering about trying to find a better way to get rid of lawn debris and his terrier begged to play with my retriever. We let the pooches play in his front yard and began a pleasant verbal search to see if we had anything in common — besides the fact we can see through another neighbor’s property to each other’s when the leaves are off the trees. Aha….we have daughters who play travel soccer and we hope that high-level sports (and their attendant, unrelenting schedules) will help our girls do well in school by forcing an early understanding of time-management. It was a relaxed way to meet someone– when neither of us was in a rush (such a novelty with our area’s supercharged speed for everything)–to meet someone who lives close by. His daughters might become welcomed sitters . All this through a chance encounter.

As a member of our church’s prayer team I see a daily and weekly list of those in severe need of prayer. Souls fighting cancer always start the list — and their numbers are high and growing — and age has nothing to do with who is afflicted. I’ve been thinking about the swiftness of how life passes and re-read Ecclesiastes 9:11, “The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all.”

Without God one could question, ” Is this all there is?” A friend recently confided, “I’m working hard to have a solid professional life, my family is doing well, I’m enjoying good health, but I’m wondering what’s next? Is this all there is?”  I should have been strong enough in my faith to use that opportunity to witness to her — but I sensed that I should be still. This was a close encounter, but with His presence in my life, I am convinced that it wasn’t chance. My prayer today (besides helping me place Christmas preparations in their proper perspective) is that He can lead me to witness — either through words or actions to those around me who are hunting for the answer to “Is this all there is?”

With blessings and kind regards to you all.

Dog Walks and Writing

Dear Blog readers….I’ve been away from writing for too long. This is going to sound like a “dog ate my homework excuse,” but the real reason I haven’t been writing is that our dog can’t walk the long walks that I need to clear my head, commune with God and plot out the words to later type into my computer.

She suffers from canine seizures and the medicines that keep her alive have zapped the life out of her gait. She’s only three, but she walks like an elderly pooch. So I’ve had to adapt to a much slower pace for shorter durations. She is our beloved pet and I’ll stay by her for as long as is reasonably sane to do so, but I have to admit this has impacted our lives.

On these much shorter walks I ponder what it would be like to have a beloved human somewhat incapacitated. I get philosophical and think that we have to be thankful for what remains and not think about what has been taken away.

But we still — on good days — can walk our woods walk. She’s off-leash and has some remembrance of earlier times where she barrelled down the path and then charged back towards me to joyfully repeat this around each new hill and bend along the way.

Which reminds me of the best way for me not to get sucked into a depression dealing with this sweet pet’s illness. I’ll let my mind move into the gratitude fold — and mentally I’m charging toward the Lord — racing up those beautiful hills and not turning away. I’m still occasionally able to walk with Him in those woods and remember Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Blessings and kind regards to you all.