Monday, June 4, 2012

Sting Operation

    Thieves lurk among us, and they are stealing our time.  As I age, this reality becomes more clear with each speeding day.  When one is young, time means very little because the demands on that time correlate more directly to our desires in how to spend said time.  As youth, we slept in a little later in the mornings, we arranged our own schedules according to activities we willingly chose ourselves (excepting the required hours in school, or course), and we believed the future was ours for the taking.
     Then the future looms nearer as marriage and family rearrange time into categories.  Time then becomes measured in terms of family, work, household, and social categories.  The more activities  family members are involved with, the more organized the time available.   Our accomplishments during this life stage seem amazing, in retrospect, given the time constrictions.  Organization is the key to completing everything on our daily plates of activities and tasks.  We never seem to have enough hours in our days for all that needs to be done.
      One would think that when the children move out and begin lives of their own, Time would suddenly step in and offer itself for one's pleasurable use.  The time once designated for family and household chores could now be rearranged to allow for more social time or, like the time from youth,  more hours to spend on one's own desired activities.  However, this is not the case.  Suddenly we question how we ever got so much done when we had families at home because now there seems to be no time for anything.  We ask ourselves where did the time go?  Any often we have no answer.  The thieves have struck, and time has disappeared.
      Now the future seems oh, so much closer, not some distant element that once was the target of procrastination.  "Oh, I'll do that later"  or "When I retire...".  We begin to recall our past in much more favorable memories and we tend to view our futures as limited, unpromised days.  We make bucket lists of the many things we always wished we had done when we had the time.  Now that time is limited, these lists are comprised of the serious and the silly.  I want to ride a hot air balloon, travel out of the country, and write a novel. But none of this will be accomplished if we can't identitfy the thieves that keep stealing time away from us.
     These thieves suck the very hours right out from under our noses.  Determined to catch these thieves, I have begun to document the findings of my research.  The entire world shares the same number of hours per day, yet some don't seem subjected to this thievery as much as others.  So I decided to document my own use of each twenty-four hour time period to determine just exactly when the thieves are striking at my house.  I want my time returned!  By glancing at the schedule for Day One, I think I can capture two of the thieves that lurk insider my computer hiding between Facebook and e-mail.  Another thief resides inside my television every evening between six and ten.   There may be a third one that sneaks in and keeps hitting my snooze button on the alarm.  I'm almost certain these thieves are part of a gang that, when planning a heist, know the soft targets, beginning with me.  Now that I have identified them, I plan to set up a sting operation and capture these time thieves.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

     An opportunity presented itself this week in the form of an online writers' group for teachers. Excitement and anticipation urged me to join, as I have always considered myself a writer from my first poetic attempts in grade school.  Yet doubt also clouds my mind and stirs my conscience more than a little.  I don't write every single day.  There is no set desk time in the wee hours of the morning or late at night after the house is quiet.  And most published writers will tell aspiring writers like me that if you wish to be successful, you must write. Write something. Anything. But write every single day.  And I don't.  So, maybe I'm not a writer afterall.
    Last November I took on the challenge of writing a  novel in a month.  It lies dormant in its infancy, incomplete yet still ruminating in the recesses of my mind.  Recesses.  Perhaps I have taken too many of those, as I recall other tasks I have started and not finished.  Not just writing, but in all areas of my life.  Projects once deemed worthy of my immediate attention have lost their glimmer.   The organized office room to be used as both business office and writing space?  I can't seem to find the desk or figure out where the cord is to connect my printer to my computer, which is seldom in that room, or I wouldn't be able to find it.  The porch swing that needs refinishing?  That was a summer project three years ago.  It still needs refinishing.  And the organized daily Bible study that I started off so well?  It isn't happening, much to my chagrin at having to admit that.  I don't even want to mention the diet programor exercise classes that have gone by the wayside. Those are but a few.
      I could list innumerable tasks which devour my time.  Some would be legitimate, such as a fulltime teaching position and a Sunday school class to teach.  But if I were brutally honest with myself, I would admit that television, Facebook, and reading suck up more hours in my day than is appropriate.  My energy levels are depleated in direct proportion to my productivity.  If I recognize this truth, then why don't I do something about it?  I am.  I signed up for the online writers group, and I am writing again.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Power of Prayer

     The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray.  Having experienced the mighty power through His miracles, they knew that the source of Jesus’ power and strength came from His relationship with His Holy Father.   The disciples didn’t ask Him to teach them to preach, but to pray.  They wanted this same kind of relationship.  

      Don’t all believers desire a closer relationship with God?  The Bible tells us that God is rich in mercy to those who call on Him.  But how many of us recognize prayer as two-way communication?  Too many of us do all the talking and asking, and then we wonder why our lives are not going the way we think they should.  We strive to handle all of life’s challenges on our own, and only when we mess things up do we turn to Him for help.   Doesn’t God already know all our needs?  So why do we need to ask?   God wants us to humble ourselves and put our trust in Him, admitting that we need Him in our lives.  Sometimes He allows us to stumble and fall so that we must look up to Him in humility from our knees. 

                It is a mistaken belief that God answers all prayers of those who believe in Him.  If we, as sinners, petition for His mercy while we have yet to seek his forgiveness for our sins, then He will turn a deaf ear to our pleas.  And we are all sinners, every day.  So we must pray that He will reveal our sins to us so that we can ask forgiveness for them.  It is no wonder so many people don’t believe God answers prayers.  He has to hear them first, and the first one He needs to hear is the one seeking atonement.

     The power of prayer comes through the Holy Spirit.  Are we tuned in to God’s voice so that we recognize the Holy Spirit?  Whether His voice comes to us loud and clear, a distinctive voice we cannot deny, or whether it is a tiny, niggling on our conscience, we must learn to tune in and to obey.  New mothers often get little sleep the first few weeks of their newborn’s life, not because the baby isn’t sleeping, but because the moms are so attuned to the slightest noise.  This is how we should be focused on God’s voice.  Perhaps if we actively sought His voice at all times, we would more easily recognize it and learn to follow His direction.  Imagine what powerful lives we could lead if all believers learned to heed his voice!

          I can’t even begin to fathom the change in America if all God’s people started actively seeking a closer relationship with Him through the Holy Spirit.  If all believers would begin each day asking Him to show us our sinful ways so that we might turn away from them and then ask forgiveness for those sins, imagine the smile on His face!  I believe He wants to shower us with blessings, more than we could imagine, if we just learn to trust in Him in all things.  If we want to see a stronger country, to see change for the better, then that change must start at home -- with you, with me. 

God of grace and God of glory, we humble ourselves before you this day.  We know we have sinned.  Reveal all our sins to us, Lord, so that we might seek Your forgiveness and turn from our wayward paths.  Help us to tune in to Your voice, to seek Your guidance and to be willing to follow the direction You choose for us.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen       (repeat as often as needed)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Words Unspoken

                                                                  Words Unspoken

       Two stray dogs, a black lab and a blonde cocker spaniel, ran toward our car as we rounded the corner, and they followed us the half mile to our country house.  We had seen our share of animals “dumped” in the country on several occasions.  People who do this are under the mistaken belief that these animals will be all right; someone will take them in.  The owners don’t think of the dangers of starvation, coyotes, and road traffic.  And while it angered me, I played into that scenario by being the sucker that would take them in.  So when these two dogs reached the house, I hesitantly met them at the back door to ascertain their temperament and signs of ownership. 

            We had recently lost our family pet, but I still had some dog food, so I poured out a generous serving of food and water for the tired, matted newcomers.  They ate ravenously, and when I opened the back door, the cocker dashed in, straight to the couch where she lay down and slept as if exhausted.  It took some coaxing to get the lab in the door, but she finally stepped cautiously in.

            Both dogs seemed to have been traveling together, for how many days I hadn’t a clue.  Over the next few days, I made contacts to area vet clinics, put up notices in the grocery stores, and an ad in the local paper.  I received one phone call from a young boy who thought the lab was his, but when I tried making arrangements for him to see the dog, his father got on the line and reassured me it wasn’t his dog.   I wondered how he could be so sure without having seen the dog. 

            By the end of the week, the cocker had wormed her way into our hearts and onto our laps, and we had decided if no one claimed her, we would call her Maggie.  Those first few days we agreed we’d try to find a home for the lab.  The longer she was in our possession, however, my husband said, “I hear labs make pretty good pets.”  We named her Mo.

            Having never spent much money on vet expenses, we made these dogs the exception.  Maggie had to be groomed from the cockleburs that dug into her skin the first week. The vet surmised both dogs to be just under a year old.  They were vaccinated and eventually spayed, and the grooming became a quarterly routine.  Mo and Maggie became farm dogs, tag-teaming to catch rabbits and moles and providing us with laughter and the animal companionship we had missed over the past weeks after losing Leon.  They were, officially, our dogs.  Maggie would sit on my lap and nibble at the buttons on my shirt.  And Mo had that doctor trait that some dogs possess, licking profusely, and always having to carry something in her mouth.  She never chewed up anything but had the soft mouth of a hunting dog.  We learned not to take her toys out of her mouth because the licking would commence. Large dogs had always been our choice on the farm, so I was surprised when Maggie became my husband’s lap dog.  She was special.

            About a year after coming into our lives, suddenly one day they were gone.  We drove the county roads searching for several days.  Then one of my husband’s co-workers said he thought he knew where we could find them.  One of his relatives, who lived six miles up the road, suddenly had a new cocker spaniel.  When we drove up to her house, we were reunited with our dogs.  From the tale she gave us, we determined that the dogs had wandered up to the corner where we had first spotted them.  This lady must have seen them as she drove past and decided they were strays, so she pulled in and picked the cocker up.  The lab followed the six miles on foot until she was reunited with her buddy.  They eagerly jumped into our truck and we returned home.

            That Christmas, my daughter brought home a boxer from vet tech school.  The animals used in the vet tech program were doomed to euthanasia unless the students found homes for them.   If the dogs all got along, we would keep her boxer after she finished school until she moved into her own place.   After the initial get-acquainted phase, the dogs were an inseparable threesome.  Jackson, the boxer, who had never barked, learned to bark on the farm.  Free of the technical school’s dog pens and able to run untethered, his once coprophagic habit disappeared.  After Christmas break, he returned to one more semester with my daughter at the vet tech school where his old habits returned.  The end of May couldn’t come soon enough for either of them.  And Maggie and Mo returned to being the rabbit-hunting duo.  One morning, they even caught a large raccoon.

        One spring day I went outside and saw only Mo.  Calling repeatedly to no avail, I worried that perhaps a coyote had gotten Maggie or that she had been run over by one of the many employees who worked there at the company headquarters where we lived. I drove down the road searching for her body, thankful when I didn’t see it, but worried, also.  Periodically, I would return to the back yard and call again.  I saw one of the farm hands pull in at the shop and throw something into the bed of his truck and drive out.  He looked at me from across the lot as I called for Maggie before driving away.  Mo stood at my feet and whined, as if trying to tell me something.

            At lunchtime, my husband told me he was afraid something had happened to her.  It was not like her to disappear without Mo.  Later in the afternoon I again went out to holler for Maggie.  Mo appeared and dropped something at my feet.  When I looked down and saw one of Maggie’s paws, I knew she was dead.  I later found out she had been following the tractor as it pulled the oversized mower behind it and had been caught in the mower.  I realized then that what the farmhand had thrown into the back of his truck was a shovel, and he was trying to save me the pain of seeing my dog in that state.  And here was Mo communicating what had happened to Maggie the only way she knew how.

            Mo nudged my hand and whined, her way of seeking comfort from her loss, while I retreated with her into the confines of the house and together, we mourned.  She laid her head on my knee, looking at me with sad eyes as I cried and petted her, reassuring her that soon Jackson would be back and she would have a playmate again. 

            Weeks later, when my daughter’s car pulled in and Jackson bounded out the door, we laughed at their heartfelt reunion as they tore around the yard, leaping and chasing one another gleefully.  Jackson was now free for good, and Mo’s eyes sparkled with joy once again.

You Can't Take the Country Out of the Dog

          You Can’t Take the Country Out of the Dog

             Change is sometimes hard.  Making a move to town after almost 30 years of country life would be an adjustment.  I was more worried about my husband adjusting to town life than myself; after all, I grew up in this community, and it wasn’t until we married that I lived in the country.   He, on the other hand, had never lived in town.  Little did I know, the biggest adjustment would be for my two dogs, Jackson and Mo.

            Mo was a black lab that we had taken in as a stray three years prior to the move.  Jackson, a boxer mix, was actually my daughter’s dog which we were keeping until she could find a place which would allow her to take him.  Both dogs had been freely roaming the countryside but now would have to be contained in a fenced-in yard.

            Jackson had other ideas.  We soon realized our six-foot privacy fence was no challenge to him.  He could scale it in a heartbeat, and Mo could dig a hole and crawl under almost as fast.  By the time Jackson rounded the corner to the front of the house and we marched him back into the yard, Mo would be out front wondering where he went.

            Our new neighbor, a sweet elderly lady, was very understanding and kind as she described Mo digging a hole, wriggling her way into her back yard.  As she told us how funny it was to watch Mo squirm this way and that, working her way to the other side of the fence, she was politely informing us that her rose bush had been damaged in the process.

            Worried that they might escape while I was at work some day, I had them micro-chipped.  On more than one occasion, the dog catcher would receive a call regarding a black lab and a brindle dog running the streets, and he would know exactly where to take them.  And they very willingly followed him back into the yard.  He was on a first name basis with them.  My dogs made the police notes in the local newspaper more than the town drunk.

            One day the dog catcher pulled into the drive to put Jackson back in, but when he did, Mo managed to get out past him.  He went back into the front yard to catch Mo, securing the gate behind him, and turned to find Jackson sitting in the front seat of his pickup.  Jackson had jumped the gate on the other side of the house and was ready for a ride.  I may own the only two dogs that look forward to a ride with the dog catcher!

            My husband replaced multiple fence boards, as Mo learned a faster way than digging a hole big enough to pass through was pulling at the base of the board until it snapped off.  She lost two teeth doing that.  One day, several family members came to our house where we all hung out in the garage, reminiscing and catching up with one another.  The dogs had gotten out by way of a busted fence board, so my son and nephew nailed a brand new one up in its place.  (We had begun keeping extra on hand.) About thirty minutes later, here came Mo, walking into the garage carrying a piece of the very board they had just nailed in place.

            My husband’s solution was nailing some of the broken off pieces of fence boards  crosswise at the base of the fence, not only providing additional reinforcement, but also fodder for redneck jokes.  It did partially curb the delinquent dog capers, but the only way to keep Jackson from jumping was to tether him to a long tie-out chain, something I had been determined not to do prior to the move to town. 

              Sometimes, if I was to be gone only a short time, I left them loose, taking a risk that they might escape.  Most of the time, they stayed put.  One afternoon Jackson jumped over to go visit my neighbor as she worked in her flower bed.  She stopped and petted him and went back to her task, figuring he’d go home after awhile.  But he followed her around to the backyard flower beds.  When she needed a restroom break, she went into her house and came back out, but Jackson wasn’t there.  She assumed he had gone back home.  Thirty minutes later, when she went inside, there lay Jackson, stretched out comfortably on her couch, wagging his little stump of a tail, but otherwise unmoving.  He had followed her into the house unnoticed earlier, and now seemed quite content in his new surroundings.  Eventually she coaxed him out the door.  When I pulled into my drive and saw him sitting in her front yard, I had no idea that he had paid her a house call.

            One night I heard Mo’s tell-tale sign that Jackson was out: a high-pitched, frantic whine, her way of tattling on him for leaving her behind, since she was now too fat and arthritic to dig a hole large enough to wriggle through.  Well past my bedtime, I grudgingly crawled out of bed, threw my robe on, and opened the sliding glass door.  I let Mo in the house while I went after Jackson, who had misjudged his leap over the gate and landed in the neighbor lady’s back yard and had now set up a mournful howl right under her bedroom window.

            Her fence had no gate on this side of her house, and I didn’t want to set off her security light by sneaking around in my bathrobe to the other side.  Surely if he jumped over there, he could jump back.  I shushed him and tried luring him back over the fence.  I dragged one of the lawn chairs to the fence, lifted it over as quietly as I could, and tried cajoling him into the chair with the idea that I could grasp his collar and help lift him over.  Silly me.  After nearly an hour, trying first one tactic and then another, I finally left him to sleep in the chair, on her side of the fence.  At least he quit barking and howling.  But now I lay wide awake, unable to sleep after my outdoor bathrobe excursion.

            Very early the next morning, before anyone else awoke, I dressed and quietly went to the far side of her house where I immediately found the latch, opened the gate, and snapped my fingers.  Jackson walked around the corner of her house, straight past me and into my yard.  Now why hadn’t I just done that last night?  I reached across the fence and pulled the lawn chair back over, and no one was the wiser.  At least, my neighbor never mentioned it if she knew.

            After six years, my town dogs now are adapting to change again.  Jackson has moved into my daughter’s new house in a larger city and is rapidly adjusting to the role of protector for their one-year-old.  Mo is adjusting to senior life as an only pet.  Change is hard, but if we stop adapting to it, we stop learning. 


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Letter from Jesus

Before you open your presents,
here is a letter from me
to remind you of the reason
these gifts are under your tree.
I came to you as a baby so small,
sent from my Father above
to be a Savior for one and all
 and to share with you gifts of love.
At Christmastime as you remember my birth
and share gifts of love with each other,
remember the reason I came to earth:
to teach you to love one another.
So, who is this man you call St. Nick,
Father Christmas, or Santa Claus?
He's another reminder to always be quick
to share your love, no matter the cause;
to always remember the best gifts of all
do not come in paper so fine.
Sharing your love each and every day
makes me proud to call you mine.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

An Important Tradition Begins this Christmas

      My family who gathers around the Christmas tree each year has grown exponentially as each child has left home and married.  And, much like my childhood Christmases, the chaos of the gift opening has increased exponentially, as well.  Our traditions begin with attending the church's beautiful Christmas Eve candlelight service.  The golden flicker of the candles in the darkened sanctuary as the congregants sing "Silent Night" always leaves me with a warm glow of Christmas spirit.  Exiting the church, that warmth overcomes the coldest of nights, as we drive home for a family meal and gift exchange with my husband's family. 
      The joy of family warms my heart as I listen to the laughter and reminiscing of the cousins, close in age, and close in family ties.  Their noisy chatter escalates with the same level of their laughter as we play "dirty Santa".  As one gift is opened, someone else decides that's the very gift he wanted, and takes it from the original owner, forcing that person to open another one, and the game continues.  Never do we spend much money on these gifts, and very little thought is put into puchasing them, since we don't know who will end up with each present.
       The grandchildren  are sent to bed, and after everyone leaves for the night, we follow suit.  Of course, sleep eludes me as I mentally check off the following day's tasks of meal preparation, stocking stuffing, and doublechecking my own list.  Did I wrap all the presents?  Are any of them still in their hiding places?  I don't want anyone to feel forgotten as he watches everyone else but him opening a gift because I didn't complete my list!
     Christmas morning comes early as the youngest grandson wakens by 5:00, his normal morning routine.  Of course, no one can convince this rambunctious two-year-old to return to bed when he is alert and ready for his day.  That means the rest of us wake, as well, some pretending sleep longer than others.  After breakfast, usually a simple one, the Christmas meal preparation begins while the mamas entertain their young ones.  Of course, the most frequent question is 'When are we going to open the presents?' and the anticipation causes the overly-excited youngsters more than a little consternation to wait until after dinner. 
     With experience, I have managed to slow this gift exchange from the chaotic tearing of wrapping paper by everyone at the same time to a more calm youngest-to-oldest strategy.  This allows all of us to see each gift, and it allows the recipient the opportunity to acknowledge the giver.  But by this time, I am left wondering, do these children even know why they are receiving gifts?  Will they, as they get a little older, come to expect more and bigger gifts, just because it is Christmas?
      The warm glow of the Christ child from the previous night's service seems to have disappeared, only to be replaced by a different glow, that of family.  And I truly appreciate that joy and happiness; yet, I feel something missing.  That is why this year I plan to start a new tradition which I am borrowing from an object lesson my minister told us about during the Advent season.
       Beneath the tree will be a large, beautifully wrapped gift, more exquisite than any of the others.  Before any gifts are handed out, we will take turns guessing who the gift is for, and what do you think could be in such an exquisite package?  Then I will have the oldest grandchildren carefully unwrap the box, only to find that it is empty.  Why an empty box, you ask?  Isn't this a mean trick to play on everyone?  Not at all!  Because the object lesson will include a discussion about the most meaningful gifts of all, things that cannot be boxed and wrapped.  The truest gifts include acts of love, kindness, forgiveness, sharing of ourselves, hope, faith, peace...and light - the light of the Christchild who was born to save us all.  The Christchild, the smallest of babies yet most powerful of kings, provides all of these gifts to us through His grace.  All we have to do is accept them and use them for His purpose.
        Will my young grandchildren understand this lesson?  Maybe not yet.  But I think as the years pass, the tradition of presenting an object lesson before the actual gift exchange will eliminate the chaos and put us all in the proper frame of mind, that of celebrating the birth of our Savior.