Monday, December 30, 2013

A Puppy, Psalm 42, and Questioning God

What do those three things in the title have to do with each other? Believe me, I did not know either.... until I finished this post.

The year 2013 has been hard. Strange. Full of hard news, pain, suffering. Some of the year has been just plain bad. God and I have struggled a lot through this year.

But, today, this next-to-last day of 2013, for me, was just strange. All the way through.

 Without planning to do so, I spent my first hour out of bed in gown, slippers, and robe sipping hot coffee and searching Scripture. For…what?  Hope? Help? Strength? Understanding? It was under the guise of following links on Facebook to find MY scripture verse for the new year. Of course, like Advil, if one is good, then several verses (in my humble opinion) will work faster, more thoroughly.

When the Notes page on my iPad was full, I stopped. With MUCH to ponder but having no idea what Psalm 42 had to do with anything, I left the table and went into my day.

Fortunately, before #1 son dropped by to take the garbage barrel to the road for us, I had dressed and accomplished odds and ends of chores. The day was strangely disguised with outward markings of a normal, busy, productive day.

I opened the garage and son grabbed the garbage barrel. He said, “Is this a new dog?”

I said, “Never saw it before,” and promptly closed the garage. On our rural road, we get strays and drop-offs now and then.

Weekly garbage disposed of, I firmly set my attention to urgent end of year bookkeeping. My senior care receiver and beloved husband of some dozen years, has recently given up trying to hold a pen to write checks and do all the dozens of other things financial he always handled. Simple tasks, each. But all involving numbers. His number one strength and my number one nemesis. Each bookkeeping task required the use of his arthritic hand, thumb, wrist, and grip.

To ease the traumatic change for him, I involve him in all our money activities. After all, he is not totally convinced I am capable. The fact that I ran a long time successful business and survived for some 65 years before he blessed me with his love means little…. he was the numbers guy, I was the word lady. And it worked for us. But I love and respect him, so, I ask questions, seek guidance, and question all things numbers.

My grown, disabled daughter makes her home with us and lends joy and delight to our days. As is our custom when leaving her at home, we ensured all was well with her, that the doors were secured, and her phone was handy. We headed into a cold, blustery day to take last minute checks to the United States Post Office.

Of course, as I backed out of the garage, the puppy still silently held court on our driveway. It looked at me with begging eyes. I stopped.
Honey said, “No, we can’t.”

I said, “But…”

He said, “Ava. Gracie. Our rescues are done.”

I said, “It’s cold and looks so hungry.”

He looked at his watch. I snapped a few pictures.

 When we returned home from our errands, the puppy was still on the driveway. Sweetheart said, “We can’t.”

I quickly downloaded the pictures I had snapped earlier and posted on two different Face Book pages. Please; lost puppy; help me find its home; I can’t keep it.

One friend posted that a pack of several dogs had been at their home the day before. We had also seen the same dogs but without this little one. Questions poured in. I assured everyone that if no one claimed the puppy by tomorrow I would of course contact our local animal control. One person informed me that I should AT LEAST take it to the animal shelter. I responded that I had done that many times in the past when I was NOT 76 years old. When the comments said I was cruel and mean, I shut that post down. And cried.

Real and very hot tears.

 I assumed I was upset to be judged. I blew my nose. “I thought it no longer mattered what strangers thought of me.” I pondered on that but the tears came again.

 The drier buzzer screamed at me to remove the dry clothes which meant it was time to start another load of wash. Then, Dear Heart asked if I was coming in for the UT football bowl game. I dried my tears again, built a fire in the fireplace, and made snacks.

When dinner and the dishes were done, I surfed the web (UT was not having a not good night so I was not on the edge of my recliner). Why did I follow the link I stumbled onto? Why did I begin reading? Why did I read the whole post and all the comments?

 I did not know.

 But, my heart hurt. My soul ached. Fresh tears fell.

 And yet will I praise Him.

Young people posted. Young families. Young adults. Voicing disgust, disappointment, even anger at “the church.” At Christianity. Some of them at God. Some at Jesus. Some against just the hypocrites in church or the lies they believe to be in the Bible.

The writers were actually respectful, courteous, knowing they might be judged. But they were sad. Empty. Even lonely.

 I had no words, no answers, I knew not how to help.

 I am horrified that I may have been a hypocrite to some of them. Especially since I had once walked in their shoes. I had felt the stabs and had lived through the horrifying doubts and fears and failures. My own sins and those of church members who were in my own path had damaged me…. almost fatally.

I remember, in wide-screen color, living through those black times of my own.

 I remember, as well, the brilliance of the blue sky the day I KNEW, again and for always, that Jesus was real and alive and part of my very being.

 And today, I am one of the lonely Christians. Oh, don’t misunderstand. I am surrounded by sweet and faithful friends who nurture me, pray for and with me, encourage me, and force me out of my care-giver days to go to lunch.

…..I.Am.Lonely.For.Worship. For communion. For mixing and mingling and sharing and BEING with the Body of Believers. I am lonely to hear blessings from other sinful, stubborn, flawed humans who love Jesus. Who know that He lives. Who keep on going even through the muck and mire and mud and floods and droughts.

I am hungry to taste the bread and the wine and to hear the ancient words of that sweet liturgy declaring my sins are forgiven and that the Son of God loves ME.

 Young people, please: forgive me when I offended you, when I turned you off, when I did not hear, when I let you down.

Church, pay attention to these valuable, wonderful, amazing, wounded who desperately need you.

 I earnestly pray that all of us will read and pray and ponder and yes PANT Psalm 42. (printed here from the NIV)

 As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One[d]
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
For I will yet praise him.
I pray that all of you will taste the sweet, abundant blessings from our God and King in 2014.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Old Advent Wreath

It is time for Advent.

And, this year it is time for a new Advent Wreath for our family.

          Gathering around the Advent wreath each evening in those four weeks before Christmas is a long-standing tradition in our home. One of my favorite Advent devotion memories—and there are many—is the year my foster toddler, Michael, blew out the candles every time our twelve-year-old Melinda lit them.

But, time marches on, life brings change, and we need something new.

Advent is an exciting time of year. Especially for those of us who are followers of Jesus the Christ. Advent is a most precious, powerful, poignant, understated, and underrated time of year; a season overflowing with expectation, exhilaration, and anticipation.

Advent is a time to ponder.
A time to begin anew.
A time to worship.
A time to return to the animal stable, that dirty, smelly, cave where the King of kings became man and lived among us.

          We’ve used the same Advent wreath for about eighteen years. 

It was love-first-sight for me at some now forgotten garage sale when my life was in one of its disarrays. The dirty-white, rusty metal frame held a ray of hope for me. And maybe some magic.

          Sure enough, I transformed it into a thing of rustic, home-made beauty and with miscellaneous minor changes through the years, it has enjoyed the honor of being the first “decoration” set out each Christmas.    Sometimes I could find new pink and purple candles and sometimes we used “stumps” of last-year’s left-overs. Even during the years the wreath did not get new candles, or new evergreens, or even dusted, it glowed each night and encouraged us to make time each evening to remember the Reason and to hope and to rediscover our joy.

The basic metal wreath we've used for so many years is still okay, but this year it will stay on the closet shelf and be replaced with a completely different Advent Wreath.

The new wreath will be created new from old things.

My fancy-smancy on-line dictionary defines new as: previously unfamiliar.

Ah Ha !!!

Have you had one of those “ah ha” moments recently? This year’s Advent wreath was my AH HA !!!

Yes, many things will be different and new for us this Christmas. Yet, we are the same old souls.
As we light the candles in our repurposed Advent wreath we will give thanks that Jesus Christ IS the same yesterday, today, tomorrow.
He was the same for Moses, Abraham, and David as He is for me. He is the same for Sally, Carolyn, Pam, and for my daughter as He was for Job, John the Baptist, Paul, and the Wesley boys.
Advent is about expecting Jesus and welcoming Him and living in relationship with Him.
Advent is that happy, expectant, glorious time….. that leads to the Cross.
But, the good news is that Jesus the Christ goes before us, has our backs, and holds our hands all the way.

Check in to see how my new / old Advent wreath develops.

John 1:1-2, 14 MSG: The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. 


Monday, November 11, 2013

A Mother's Salute to Veterans

David was only a boy when he went forth to defend his people from Goliath with a few rocks and a slingshot. From that time on, mothers have sobbed into their pillows at night, “He is just a boy, a child; he is too young to go to war.”
Even though mothers are made of something unique that restricts them from screaming out loud, their cry has echoed down through time into our own Civil War, when neighbor stood against neighbor, brother killed brother; and on to later years when our boy children fell at such unknown, far away places as Anzio, Berlin, Versailles, Guadalcanal and Bataan. The “big one” wasn’t enough, so America’s sons left home for Korea and then they bravely marched right into Vietnam.

From the time my own little boy was twelve-years-old, his dream was to become a United States Marine. That was not my dream. I knew life. I had helped friends bury their Korea and Viet Nam war hero husbands, fathers and sons. I had watched mothers raise children alone because daddies had gone to war to stand guard at our nation’s front door. I could even remember young boys on bicycles in the 1940s, wearing Western Union uniforms delivering death messages. No! War was the last thing I wanted for my son. But…I could not live his life for him.

He graduated high school and “joined up” in the summer of 1989. When the bus took the young recruits to boot camp, I ran two red lights and barely dodged a motorcycle before I realized I was in shock and pulled over to sob.
Gradually, I breathed a little easier because our country was in a state of relative peace. 

That fickle peace dissolved quickly and in August of 1990 America began sending troops to the Persian Gulf. Ordinary citizens became part of a new kind of war. From our living room recliners, we watched people going to war and this time it wasn’t just our sons. Mothers went to war, leaving their babies and children behind. Grandfathers and even Grandmothers went to war, leaving jobs, homes, and grandbabies behind.
My very own boy-child went with them and nobody had asked my permission.
The War marched across the television sets in our living rooms and offices, day after day after day. In living color and graphic detail. It would not stop.
We parents who stayed behind went about our lives in numb fear. We went to sleep watching the war and we woke up to the sounds of war in our bedrooms. We purchased VCRs to get news of the war around the clock. We wrapped cedar trees with yellow ribbons and posted pictures of our children’s units at our businesses. We watched in terrified silence as thousands and thousands of body bags were shipped to the desert—to be ready. We saw horrible documentaries of chemical warfare.
From cozy living rooms, families watched helplessly as our child soldiers climbed into their own chemical suits.
When I could stand no more of the up-to-the-minute live reports, I ran into my yard to vent my anger and fear by jerking weeds and jabbing at the dirt. Vietnam nightmares returned to older veterans—apparently in living color and graphic detail.
Americans mailed tons and tons of letters, pictures of home, electronic toys, bath soap, cookies, real Texas-style Picante Sauce and tortilla chips. We flew flags, wore buttons, caps, and tee shirts proclaiming our support. Our homeland battle cries were: Desert Shield! Desert Sword! Desert Storm! Some of us wrote as many letters to our congressional representatives as we did to our soldiers.
In January of that winter of 1991, my boy-child celebrated his 21st birthday, dressed in full chemical suit, sitting on his tank in the middle of a desert in Saudi Arabia. He was able to make a rare telephone call to me that day and said, “Mom, I love you; now don’t you worry.”  We left unsaid our fear that we would never hug each other again. Five days later the bombing started. Direct bomb hits were transmitted into our living rooms. Reporters filmed blow-by-blow explosions from their vantage points inside a modern hotel in downtown Baghdad. The calendar slipped into February and our hearts froze as the ground war crawled across our television screens.
On the Saturday of The Invasion to end all invasions, I slipped into a pew at a downtown Episcopal church in Austin, Texas. A million miles from war but as close as the hard, wooden kneeling rail. I prayed. I cried. For my son. For mothers in Iraq and Kuwait.
Suddenly—it was over.
All but a handful of the body bags came home empty and we gave thanks. We watched in pride—still from our comfortable recliners—as the troops began to march home. Unlike the Viet Nam years, this time we cheered.
Our nation had survived a new kind of war in less than a year and my boy-child returned home safely. Only now he was a man. He was quieter, stronger, and more committed than ever to the preservation of democracy. He understood freedom—first hand. His compassion ran deep
 His next job in the Marine Corps was to teach younger boy Marines how to become men of honor.
Then, there was the first World Trade Center.
And Oklahoma City.
Atlanta Olympics.
Then, America got numb.
Until September 11, 2001.
My son, like thousands of others, deployed to Iraq. Twice. Only those times, he left behind a wife and a baby daughter. His sojourn in Iraq in ’06, was bloody and he sent word of  tragedies among his men. My husband and I visited, in his place, men from his unit at the burn unit at BAMC. As a mother of a service man, that was the second hardest thing I had to do.
I was one of the blessed mothers who could welcome home a warrior son.
The hardest thing I've ever done was to kneel in front of a young Marine widow at a cemetery in Austin and say, “George’s Sgt. sent me to tell you that your husband was a brave man and a great guy and to promise you they will never forget.”
I am grateful there are men and women brave enough to serve. I am grateful there are mothers, dads, wives, husbands, and children who serve also.
To all our veterans, I pray we will never forget you.

God Bless America.

With love and prayers for those who still serve,


Friday, November 8, 2013

I haven't posted in a long while and feel the need to reach out.

November hit with a bang. Just blew in before I was done with July.
     Have no idea how time moves so quickly - - - except that I am living life more fully these days.
I struggled through a long illness from last November until long about August I realized, "WOW, I finally got over all that pneumonia and staph infection."
     I seriously try to pack as much living as possible into a few days. Yes, you are right: it is exhausting. But oh so worth it.When it work.

Yesterday, we got an adorable picture of one of the great grands. She was desperately ill earlier this summer but has bounced back with vim, vigor, and vitality. That was a huge thanksgiving for us so life becomes even more precious.

Pumpkins in the field scream that my basil plant is going to be GONE / done / finished very soon. In Texas, the first freeze can hit with no warning in November and life changes whether we are ready or not. I am never ready to give up my fresh basil.

So, I am trying to beat nature at its own game. Not an easy task.

This is what my basil looked like in August. In spite of the heat and fresh basil went into most everything I cooked.


The August afternoon that I snapped this photo, I made Basil Oil. First time for me. Turned out pretty tasty.

      I heated some first class olive oil, threw in my chopped basil, and let it heat up awhile. Then strained it  into a clean jar. Yeah, just one. I thought my harvest would yield three jars but I've enjoyed the one. It stays in the fridge until I heat frozen chicken strips or make my fabulous fratatta.

      Sure enough, as soon as I turned the calendar to November, the weather forecast sounded ominous so Tuesday just before supper, I grabbed my garden scissors and went to work.

 There was enough healthy basil left for a good harvest to freeze.
 Gave it a good washing in the sink then let it drain awhile. I wish my pictures came with smell effects. Heavenly !!!

Grabbed a clean autumn kitchen town proclaiming the giving of thanks and gently dried the stalks. Striped the stems and finely chopped the leaves, sending even more aroma into the kitchen air.
 Stuffed the chopped basil into plastic ice cube trays, covered in filtered water, and let the freezer do its work.
  Couple of days later, dumped the frozen cubes into a colander....

....then quickly into zip lock bags....properly labeled and dated, of course !!!!

What a thrill. For all those winter soups and stews, my freshly frozen basil is handy to sweeten the pots !!!

         Now, IF I utilize my time properly--and HURRY---I have to cut some stems of my thyme and oregano. I'll tie each into a bundle and hang a different herb in seldom used closets. After a few weeks, I'll strip the leaves and store them in a jar I found at Wally World today!!! Imagine. How easy can that be? And fragrant !!! For the moment, I have to start a quick-soup for supper. Great recipe I'll share next time.

I'll leave you---any of my family and friends (cyber or in the flesh)  with one of my favorite thanksgiving scriptures. Today I'm taking it from "The Message." Philippians 1:1. 
" Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. "

Blessings with huge Thanksgivings,