Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Be Thou My Vision

Celtic hymns play softly, diffused through the baby monitor that keeps our ears tuned to his needs in the other room.  Now and then the voice of his son drifts through the monitor as well. 
“How’s that, Dad?” he asks.  “Are you comfortable?” 
The weak voice of his father replies, the celtic flute swells again and conversation lulls.
From where I sit on this porch, I see the overlay of our lives.  The dedicated nurse and daughter, devotion and expertise in one petite package, stands at the counter surfing the net, gathering information.  His wife of almost sixty years, his soulmate, concentrates at the sunroom table, sorting his medication for the new week.  Another daughter and two more sons will come by sometime today and pick up the slack in the reigns, caring for the house and yard which once were the domain of their father. Everyone lends a hand.
From the corner of the porch, I ponder the marble and brass statue of a boat on the glass table near the window. Its full sails push the vessel forward while an inscription on the main sail reads, “I can do all things through CHRIST who strengthens me.”  All things is a difficult description right now, and my own weary heart questions sometimes if His strength really transfuses as easily as it sounds in this promise.
These waters are rough, the horizon unchanging, our course uncharted.  But a promise is a promise.  If this one isn’t true, He isn’t God.
The hymn draws my attention again, its lyrics carried by the lilting tones of celtic instruments.   “. . . Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight, be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight. . . Thou my best Thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.”
When perspective blurs, He is my vision.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Amazing Grace


“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”   
                                          ~ Jesus,     Matthew 11:25

Every time there’s a need, God is there to fill it. But I’m not used to depending on Him that way.  “God gave you a brain and He expects you to use it,” my father told me once.  I’ve used my brain so hard for most of my life, now it’s bruised. 

“God helps those who help themselves,” a co-worker told me once.  “Isn’t that in the Bible?” she followed up.  No, as a matter of fact, it isn’t.  But Benjamin Franklin and some ancient Greeks thank you for the comparison.
“Do your best and God will do the rest,” another amateur philosopher told me.
Sometimes I simply don’t know what to do.  Turns out, that’s perfectly okay.
We live in the realm of Demand and Supply, rather than supply and demand.  And, as usual, this spiritual principle is in opposition to the way I normally think.  I try to be first because I don’t want to be last, but Jesus said the last will be first.  I strive to be perfect—exhausting and futile advice I heard from a pulpit once—while Hebrews 4:11 says I’m supposed to strive diligently to enter the place of God’s rest.  It even says that not resting is disobedient.  How’s that for a paradigm popper?
If my heart is weary from carrying a huge load, Jesus said to trade it in for His yoke.  Which is a beam of lumber, not an egg.  Picking up His yoke will give me rest because—get ready for another paradox—His burden is light.  Sigh.  Burdens are never light, are they? Don’t we call them burdens because they’re . . . burdens?
I’m supposed to give in order to receive, die so I can live, and walk by faith instead of by sight. And even if I can outrun a thousand others in a 5K race, I will only be strong when I am weak.  
·         The first will be last.
·         Strive to rest.
·         Put on Jesus’ light burden.
·         Give to receive.
·         Die to live.
·         Don’t see to walk.
·         Weakness is strength.
Because God will supply all my needs.  According to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
I think I have a brain cramp.
The natural law of supply and demand means life is controlled by potential shortages, high prices and financial hardship.  But God’s law of Demand and Supply means every need leads to inexhaustible riches freely given, freely received. 
And that’s where the rub lies. The only thing left for me to do is strive to freely receive.
Sometimes when you’re between a rock and a hard place, the only way out is up.
All I know is I leaned against the wall a few nights ago, asked Jesus if He was here, and told Him I didn’t know what to do.  And a few minutes later, as I sat down in defeat and played a few notes on an old piano, a whole family was enveloped in peace.  Life demanded.  He supplied.  With riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Amazing grace.

(Photo courtesy of Alec Courosa's Photostream, Flickr.com)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ducking Logic

Do you think, maybe, ducks can swim under water for hours?  And can hold their breaths for, practically, ever?  Like a whale or a squid or a fish? 
Maybe it sounds ridiculous, but  today I sat by the bay, watching a duck wash his hair, when he disappeared underwater and never surfaced. And I thought to myself, “Wasn’t there a duck there a minute ago?”
So I applied the education I received from prehistoric social media, i.e., newspapers, and used the scientific method to ascertain truth.  First, formulate a question, then hypothesize, predict, test and, finally, analyze. 
First, I formulated.  “Hey!  What happened to that duck?” 
Then, I hypothesized.  “Maybe some sneaky saltwater sea snake snatched him.” 
A logical prediction appeared.  “There ought to be some feathers floating up soon.”
I tested my brilliant hypothesis using the time honored method of—time. 
Finally, I analyzed the data.  “Nope.  I was wrong.”
Ergo, the scientific method works.  Sort of. 
'Cuz I still don’t know what happened to that duck.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Bent Perspective

It was a bent rainbow. 
Correction:  a bent half
of a rainbow—the right half. 

Hmm.  A defective rainbow.  Does that mean the ozone police are right and the ‘no more floods’ promise is defective, too?  Can God be God if even one of His promises is flawed? I know the answer, but still—what do you do with a bent rainbow?
I pondered the crooked, partial arc.  For a long time—with my legs dangling over the concrete wall on which I was perched, watching the birds eat fast food on Sarasota Bay.  They didn’t seem concerned about the off kilter rainbow.  They just kept on believing God would supply all their nutritional needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus, diving into the buffet at their feet to prove it. Now and then they glanced my way and criticized my inferior faith.  I would have been offended, but I don’t speak bird.
Besides.  They were right.  I wasn’t worried too much about sunlight through raindrops. Mostly what I’ve been pondering lately is my faith.
How do you “just deal with it” when the “it” involves life and death?  It’s a pretty universal question I’ve been posing to the Craftsman of the universe.  But I’m having a little trouble speaking His language, too.
So there I sat on a concrete wall.  Kicking my legs in time to my iPod so the biting gnats would leave me alone.  Distracted, I stared out across the wet expanse, past sailboats and mangroves and pelicans and flying fish, and watched the skyscape change its fickle mind, reshaping its panorama at the whim of the leftover clouds from yesterday’s storms. And wondering what would cause a rainbow to bend.
Before long, the clouds grew weary of my questions and moved away. And in the void, perspective cleared, revealing the fully intact rainbow they’d playfully distorted.  Like a successful magician, the colorful paintstrokes stood center stage and took a bow. The waters of the bay rose up in welcome, and together—the half arc above, with its reflection below—they formed a flawless rainbow, presented at long last for my approval. 
Sort of. 

It wasn’t exactly upright.  Instead, it was a full rainbow on its side, shaped like a right parenthesis in the blue sky, ninety degrees off kilter, grinning coquettishly like a multi-striped Cheshire Cat.  I think it was making fun of my worries, just like the overfed birds who now rested atop the mangroves.
Just because a rainbow looks bent, doesn’t mean it is bent.  The only thing bent this morning was my perspective.
Well, okay.  

What a relief to know that the One with the Answer to all of my worries values the questions. And rewards the asking with Cheshire Cat rainbows.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tully

We watch her grow from a distance. 
Stealing photos from facebook, saving them to the computer and pretending they’re mine—long distance grandparenting leaves a lot to be desired. 
She reminds me so much of her daddy when he was small—her red hair long enough now to be caught up in a waterspout ponytail on top.  Ever smiling and charming me with her mother’s beautiful eyes.  We’re crazy about her.
We saw her crawl at Christmas. She learned to walk after we went home.  By the time we see her this Thanksgiving, she'll have a little sister.  I've never seen time fly faster. Time makes Facebook my best friend.
Sometimes we skype, so I can frighten and fascinate her with my monitor-sized face and unfamiliar voice.  Still, I’m so grateful to live in an age where watching her imitate my waves and hand claps is possible through the miracle of computer phone calls.
Why is Kentucky so far away?
These aren’t the days of the Waltons.  I used to love that show when I was a teenager.  They made the Great Depression look like fun.  Grandma and Grandpa Walton lived in the attic where they belonged—close enough to babysit, old enough to ignore.  Still, they had the chance to know their grandkids, befriend them, and share secrets kept from their common enemy, the parents. 
Oh.  Maybe that’s why Kentucky is so far away.
We’re not those kind of grandparents, though.  We have nearly three grandkids who live seven miles from us, and we get to be part of their lives a lot.  That’s one reason I know what I’m missing by living eighteen hundred miles from our little redhead.
So I buy clothes and toys and spend more money on postage than it cost for the gifts.  I could just mail a check, but what’s the fun in that? This way, when the tacky little dress I picked out arrives in the mail, at least they know it’s from me.
Someday we’ll have more freedom to travel, when retirement cuts our tether and we buy that fifth wheel we’re always talking about.  We’ll park it on their lawn, steal their electricity, and sleep outside in our mobile bedroom. That way they'll still have their space while we make extended visits to play with the grandbabies.
Hey.  Fish and company begin to smell after three days, you know.  And I don’t want them to suddenly take a job in Taiwan or something.
You can’t drive a fifth wheel to get there.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Thelma and Louise

They’re calling us Thelma and Louise.
Two thousand, one hundred and eighty-eight miles.  Two and a half days.  Two women.  One Chevy Tahoe. 

The world may never be the same.
My husband, Rob, and I decided it was time to go back to Florida to seize some fleeting moments with his dad.  I dropped him at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport, went home to load up our truck, and—in true anti-TSA fashion—drove to Tucson to pick up Thelma.  Road trip, baby!
No.  I’ve never done this before. 

Okay, once I did all the driving from St. Louis, Missouri, to our home in Arizona because Rob had leg pain that turned out to be a blood clot the size of New Jersey.  He rode gunshot behind me and navigated my every move—literally a backseat driver.  But this time my friend and I took on I-10 alone, armed with only an obsolete Garmin and my smart phone. 

Who needs men.
We covered 900 miles the first day and set our sights on Marianna, Florida, for the second—about 800 miles more. On day two we learned that if you’re traveling I-10 east towards Florida, you gotta go through Katy, Texas. 

Make a note of that.  The Harris County Toll Road Authority did.
It was nine-thirty in the morning, and every motorist in Texas was on the highway I was driving. Suddenly, a magical toll road appeared out of nowhere, complete with pink hearts, orange stars and green clovers.  What’s a girl to do? Next time she’ll avoid it like the plague.  It turns out the word “toll” means different things in different states.  In Texas, it means they don’t want your lousy cash—they want your license plate number.  We learned that important piece of information a few miles down the expressway when the magic wore off and a glaring sign screamed, “EZ TAG permits ONLY—violators will be prosecuted.” 
“What’s an EZ tag?” I asked Thelma. 
“Probably just another TSA scheme,” she answered.  She knows me so well.
 
Texas and I are still negotiating that one.  My next blog may be coming to you straight from the Alamo.  I heard they lock up toll offenders there.
 
Our third day was the final push.  I-10 became yesterday’s news as we set the cruise control to smokin’ and turned right, merging into the frenetic mob driving I-75 south to Sarasota.
 
It should have been smooth sailing.  Thelma was driving and, yesterday’s mishap behind us, we were closing in on our target. Soon I’d hug my darlin’, kiss my father-in-law’s forehead, and park our weary truck.
 
I-75 is a three lane highway.  Thelma was doing the speed limit in the middle lane with no neighbors on either side of us.  Suddenly the distinctive voice of a bully interrupted our conversation.  Hastily glancing behind us, all we saw was metal grillwork—its mouth open, bellowing airbrake threats—ready to swallow us for lunch.
 
Nuh huh-uh. 

I don’t know if this guy hated Arizona license plates or just redheads and blondes. Or maybe his shorts were just . . . too short.  But he seemed convinced that a little cat and mouse at 70 mph would be more fun than a bowl of grits.  Which, actually, makes sense.  He just didn’t expect the Thelma and Louise version of “not on my watch, you moron.”
 
See, we’re from Arizona—home of rattlesnakes and road rage.  We’ve seen it all. And lived to tell about it.
 
“I’m not intimidated by him,” Thelma said, “he can go around me.” And she stayed put.
The mighty midget behind us eased off and roared up again, airbrakes louder than before.  I began to cave a little.
 
“There are lanes open on both sides of us,” I said, rubbing my hands nervously.  The trucker slowed briefly, and came in a third time, airbrakes rumbling more rudely this time.
 
“Maybe you should move over and let him go by,” I said, crossing myself religiously, having converted to Catholicism thirty seconds prior.
 
“He doesn’t scare me,” Thelma said.  “I’m doing the speed limit.”
 
“What if he’s some kind of highway pirate?” I worried.  “I think I saw a show on TLC like that. They run cars off the road just because they’re in a big hurry to get their lettuce to the grocery.”
 
“That’s Ice Road Truckers,” Thelma said, “and it’s on the History Channel.  But it’s not about pirates.  I think it’s about Eskimos.”
 
We moved over anyway, speed limit and all, and Captain Jack Sparrow slowed back two car lengths, like a gator eyeing his prey.  Thelma reclaimed her position in the middle lane. I resumed my prayer life.  And the pirate roared up again, passing us on the right this time.  That’s when he was done with Thelma and took on Louise, eyeball to eyeball.
 
Hell hath no fury.
 
It wouldn’t be appropriate as a newly converted Catholic for me to repeat in print everything that came out of my mouth that morning. But let me confess that I did speak in tongues. Sort of. And sign language.
 
Cigarette hanging out of his mouth, no hands on his steering wheel (at least that’s how I remember it), the trucker made it clear with body language that he wrote the rules of this road and was surprised that we missed the memo.  I, in turn, made it clear that I didn’t think much of his mother.
 
Still, it didn’t seem like a good day to die—we had a schedule, you know—so instantly I began to fast and pray.  But Thelma is a Lutheran, so she just got her back up.  I think God likes Lutherans, but He pities ex-Baptists, ‘cuz suddenly a weigh station appeared like a mirage in the desert, and the pirate trucker was forced into submission by the State of Florida.
“Take that!” Thelma yelled as we drove past, still doing the speed limit.
“Yeah!” I echoed, and then asked her to find a bathroom ‘cuz I was about to . . . need one.  
We’re already talking about our next road trip.  Maybe we’ll go terrorize her home state of Iowa.  I’m in - as long as they don’t have toll roads there.  Or ice road truckers.

Monday, July 2, 2012

What Do You Do?

Occupation:  Hmm . . . Housewife?  Definitely not.  Homemaker. That’s better—makes it sound like I build houses. Domestic Engineer?  Well . . . Domestic Goddess?  I really like that one. 
Usually when people ask what I do, I tell them I’m a kept woman. But I never put that on a legal form. Although, it might be fun some time . . .
What do you tell people when they ask what you do?   
Just before I “retired” from raising kids and homeschooling, many of my friends asked me what I was ‘going to do now?’  I think they were afraid I might succumb to soap operas and bonbons.  It’s been years since I gave up soap operas for real life, but I’ll never give up bonbons.  I needed a new answer.  So I started telling people that I was looking into petty larceny—the hours were good and it paid pretty well.
For some reason, the conversation always changes directions after an answer like that.
I know—it’s just dialogue.  There’s no need to be sensitive—after all, it’s only an ice breaker. Or a line on an application.  Or a loaded question.
What am I going to do???  Sounds to me a lot like, how am I going to validate my existence now?  Followed by the insinuation that I am obligated either to earn some cash or break down and ask a doctor for happy pills.
Finally, the day came and I retired.  It wasn’t your normal retirement party.  We waved fondly at the newlyweds as they boarded a small boat, floated away from their wedding reception, and poof!  Just like that, I was retired.
re·tire·ment/: noun  Removal or withdrawal from service, office, or business;  withdrawal into privacy or seclusion. Synonyms: Sequestration, retreat, leaving.
Hmmm…. doesn’t paint a very happy picture there, does it?
I think I need a new definition for retirement.  Something involving a change of direction.  Maybe I could borrow the one my Garmin uses all the time: 
“Re-cal­-culating.”  Of course, you’ve gotta say it with attitude the way she does. 
Maybe that’s the answer to the question, “What do you do, Eula?”  Finally! No more panic attacks as I wrack my brain for the reason I don’t bring home a paycheck.  No more shame when I can’t compile a list of charities I volunteer for.  No more white flags to wave when the dust bunnies are winning.
I’ll just smile demurely and answer, “I’m re-cal-culating.”  And walk away.  With attitude. 
Like the domestic goddess I am.


Photo courtesy of avrenim_acceber's photostream @ flickr.com