Let hope keep you joyful, in trouble stand firm, persist in prayer.... Rom 12:12

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Recyclables, Flat Tires & Grace

Fall has finally arrived! Today has been chilly with a misty rain falling off and on. By 5:00 I am tired and ready to get home and enjoy the evening with Sarah Day & Noah. Gary is working tonight, the first of three in a row, and the first night he's gone I always enjoy being just the three of us again. Of course tomorrow night I'll be missing him something awful!

I pull into my driveway and realize I've forgotten to stop at the container site and drop off the recyclables. My basket is full to overflowing and I really don't want to wait till Friday, the next day the site is open. So I turn around and head back, drop off all the recyclables in the appropriate containers, take a moment to feel good about being an environmentally responsible world citizen (never mind the gas I wasted doubling back), then head for home.

A really nasty and sadly familiar noise ensues. I carefully pull outside the gate (figure I'll be here a while and it's time for them to close up and go home), get out to look, and sure enough my front passenger tire is flat, rim on the ground. Did I mention Gary is at work tonight? In Wilkesboro - 50 miles away? I call two of my neighbors, hoping I could borrow their significant others, with no luck.

I reassure the nice man who oversees the site that I will be fine (implying that someone is on the way to help me) and encourage him to go ahead and leave. He's just out of the hospital, and is so worried because he can't help me with my tire.

After waving him on, I say bracingly to myself, "I am reasonably intelligent, I have a graduate degree for heaven's sake, I ought to be able to read the owner's manual and figure this out. Lots of folks know how to change a tire - it's high time I learned and what better way could there be than to do it myself?"

Get the spare tire out (and on my minivan that means winching it down from where it's secured under the van). Am amused that the owners manual has extensive directions, including labeled pictures, on how to put together the 3 straight metal pieces that you use to winch that down (here's a big hint, they make a T). Then I'm annoyed and frustrated to realize that the manual has no directions, much less pictures, showing how to use the jack! Yep, there's a picture of the van, showing where to connect the jack. But how to put the @#$^& thing together? Not a clue.

Finally, after fiddling with the thing, I figure it out. The manual suggests loosening the lugnuts on the tire before using the jack to raise the car. Ok. Left is loose.... right is tight......I can do this....just push on this.....harder....not moving a thing. Crap. Try again. I pushed out a 9 lb 2 oz baby, I ought to be able to push this teeny little bolt. Nope. Can't even make it move. Maybe if I raise the car just a little? Nope, doesn't help. It's getting dark now. Misting rain. Maybe 3 miles to home? Can I walk that on the side of the road without getting hit by a car? Of course I'm wearing gray and purple, which SO stand out in dim, rainy conditions...

Ok, now it's actually dark, and I'm feeling little tendrils of fear curling round the back of my mind. What am I going to do? I mention to God that it would be really nice if some help would come. Lo and behold, a car slows and turns into the drive, followed by a second car. Bless these folks! Turns out Pam saw me as she passed and got her husband Jeffrey to come back with her to help me.

I discover Pam used to work with Gary at Watauga Medical Center, and now she works for a doctor who cares for Matt. Small world! Jeffrey, bless his heart, struggles to get the lugnuts off (and I am guiltily glad - I feel less like a helpless female seeing him having trouble too). Then the tire won't come off either. He attaches a chain from the tire to his car and tries to pull the tire off, with no success. He finally resorts to banging on the tire with a metal wrench, even lying out on the ground to reach behind the tire for a few good whacks, and finally the tire comes loose. From there he's got my spare on in a juffy, and after thanking them from the bottom of my heart, I drive carefully home.

Some months ago I read a thought-provoking article that suggested people tend to have either of two kinds of mindsets, just-in-time and just-in-case. The latter tend to hang on to everything, just-in-case they might be needed. Coming from a family with lots of Depression memories and plenty of Scots frugality, I tended towards the just-in-case crowd.

But the problem with just-in-case thinking is you wind up hanging on to more and more "stuff" (from material goods to mental attitudes), and spend so much time and effort focusing on what might happen you loose track of what is really going on. And you tend to gum up the works, so to speak, hanging on to things other people could really use, or clinging to ideas whose time is past.

Living life from a just-in-time perspective means trusting in grace to provide what we need just when we need it. It allows us to open our hearts and hands and let go of things and attitudes that we don't need. It's scary for those of us inclined to be just-in-case folks to let go of the fantasy of being able to handle everything all ourselves. But tonight, when two people stopped to help me out, I felt a gentle nudge from the Gracious One.

Tomorrow we'll get the car fixed, and somehow get the kids to school and myself to work. We'll figure something out. But tonight I am deeply thankful for the kindness of strangers, and the care-full-ness of God. And perhaps I am a little closer to being able to trust that kindness and care will always come just in time.

Grace and peace and blessed be!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I am sure there are folks who think I am crazy to have so many animals. Sometimes I do too. But most of the time I feel sorry for those folks who don't live with other species. Right now, for instance, I am sitting on my bed writing, with four cats in various stages of alertness around me, and two dogs definitely asleep on the floor next to me. It's difficult to maintain an attitude of anxiety in the face of so much contentment!

I have struggled with a bad streak of melancholy all my life. I take an antidepressant, which helps a lot, but there are still days when I feel bleak. On those days I am excruciatingly aware of all my faults and weaknesses, and prone to whacking myself over the head with all my failures, like some caricature of a penitent monastic from the middle ages. The benefit of being in my late forties, I suppose, is that I usually recognize that I am in the midst of an attack of melancholy and try to ignore and resist the temptation to metaphorically beat myself to a bloody pulp.

My furry brothers and sisters are an enormous help at this point. How can I possibly consider myself a sorry excuse for a human being when there is a lovely fluffy creature staring at me with huge green eyes and purring up a storm, obviously enjoying the scritching of the ears and the massaging of the spine? And would the world really be a better place without me when a fuzzy black dog seems to like nothing better than to follow me all over the house, and even all around the room, day after day? At least I am good for something!

The best treatment for emotional distress, actually, is llama therapy. I don't avail myself of it nearly often enough, especially considering that I have 5 of our "silent brothers" who live in my barn and are always welcoming towards me. One look deep into those old soul eyes tends to bring me back to myself. I can't explain it, but somehow being in their presence always centers me. They just simply are, and I can't help learning from them to just be. When I sit with them, they tell me to get back to the basics of life - breathing, eating, appreciating the feel of sunshine on my back and the comfort of knowing my companions are nearby.

I think our society has gotten too far away from the natural world, so far we've convinced ourselves we are not a part of the natural world unless we want to be. Children no longer know that vegetables grow in dirt. Grown-ups cannot recognize that there are some forces - wind and waves, for instance - that are beyond our control. We forget ourselves, literally, when we think human beings are something more than animals.

I believe it is when we embrace our creature-li-ness that we are most truly ourselves. When we can take the time to appreciate a good meal, a cosy patch of sunshine, and the comfort of knowing our companions are nearby, we are less prone to beat ourselves all to pieces with all our faults and weaknesses, all the regrets of things done and left undone. Mind you, I'm most definitely not saying that the cure for depression is just to keep pets, for depression is a real illness that requires treatment in whatever way works for each person - medical, psychological, spiritual, etc. But for me, part of my treatment has and probably will always be seeking solace in the kindness of my friends from other species. Six cats, four dogs, five llamas, and a goat, along with my husband and children, all keep me grounded in a reality that goes deeper than my melancholy can damage, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Just Thinkin' 'bout Patrick

Ok, so I wore lots of green today, including a green sweater, green shamrock earrings, and my emerald ring my parents gave me when I graduated from Divinity School. I used the expression, "Top o' the Morning to you!" I considered eating corned beef and cabbage, but decided not to over do. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I was intrigued when my son posted a status message on his Facebook page. He was disappointed that no one was remembering St. Patrick on his day, everyone was just looking for someone to pinch for not wearing green. (Ah, middle school - aren't you glad to be out?!) I too was wanting to remember Patrick, and missing that element in the festive attitudes around me.

Tonight I read through several articles about Patrick, and refreshed my memory of him. We don't know a great deal about him, but what we do know is striking. Patrick came from a wealthy family, was kidnapped at a young age and spirited away to Ireland where he was made a slave. He managed a daring escape several years later and returned to England and his family. But instead of putting his suffering behind him, he spent years preparing for the priesthood, then returned to Ireland to serve the Irish for the rest of his life.

I read another article today, courtesy of my friend Dan Sloan, "Why Conservative Christians So Often Fail the Common Good", by Richard Hughes. Written by a professor at an evangelical college, the article was an exerpt from his book which asks why so many evangelicals and fundamentalists fail to hear and respond to God's call to work for justice and to minister to the poor. To put a fairly long and intricate article in a nutshell, the reason is because so many American Christians read the Bible through an American perspective, and have taken radical individualism and a vision of God's kingdom as political power for the Bible's central themes.

I wish I could speak as clearly and convincingly as the author did (it's on www.huffingtonpost.com). But the thought that kept running through my head was, here we are, two thousand years later, and Christ's disciples STILL don't get it! We still think the way to enter the kingdom of God is through power and might. And we still prefer to ignore or blame those less fortunate than ourselves, and to discount and denigrate those whose perspectives, beliefs, or opinions differ from our own. We want the kingdom of God to be our own little club, and you can't join unless you do what we say!

How vastly different is that sort of belief from the vision of Patrick, who dedicated himself and poured out his life serving those who had kidnapped and enslaved him. What would it mean to really love my enemy, to pray for the ones who pick on me, to do my best to make the world a better place by trying to feed those who are hungry, clothe those who are naked or cold, heal those who are sick, visit those in prison....?

Today I heard about something someone said about me a while ago, and I was angry. I felt I was being unfairly judged, and my efforts to be helpful placed in a negative light. I confess I brooded a little, muttered something along the lines of "this always happens to me", and felt rather sorry for myself. Other than that, I had a delightful day - a lovely breakfast, good conversations, a busy day of work that I enjoy, a chance to see my husband before he left for his night's work, and the pleasure of picking up my car freshly repaired with new brakes and a fan that now works. In other words, no one kidnapped or enslaved me. And while I did nobly resist the urge to curl up on my bed with a good book when I finally got home this evening, and marched to the kitchen to prepare the yummy macaroni and cheese dish my children requested (check out 21st Century Mac and Cheese on www.splendidtable.org ). I can't exactly say I poured out my life for the wellbeing of others.

Actually, looking back on the day, I feel rather abashed. Despite my determination to be more cheerful and less grumpy, I don't think I managed to maintain a spirit of true Christian charity towards all. Sigh. On the other hand, I could have done a lot worse. And would have, in my younger days. Perhaps I should take some comfort that progress is being made. God isn't finished with me yet, thankfully. So once again I am praying for God to help me grow into my highest ideals so that I become who God intends me to be. I hope God can soften my heart and make me more attentive to the needs of those around me. As well, perhaps, make my skin a little tougher?! And tomorrow being another day, I will try again. St. Patrick and all the saints preserve us!

A prayer from St. Patrick:
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all who love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger......

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mud Season

Ok, I hate Spring. Always have. It's definately my least favorite season. Why? I love snow, and hate letting winter go. I love summer, but dread having to face a mirror while wearing a swimsuit. But most of all I hate spring for the following reason: mud. It's sooooo muddy here. All the snow is melting away, and the ground is soaked. Everywhere you step is not just wet, it's saturated. I feel like I'm living in a bog. Mud everywhere, and there is no escaping it. It's becoming habit to get to work, get out of the car, and lean over to brush/clean the mud off the bottom of my slacks or skirt, from where I brushed against the side of the car getting in and out. The floor of my house is gritty with dried mud tracked in by 4 humans and 4 dogs. Driving up my driveway is every bit as nervewracking as it was with all the snow - I'm slipping and fishtailing almost all the way up. I'd park at the bottom and walk, but I don't think I can make it up through the mud without slipping myself. And I don't want to think about what my shoes would look like after walking through that thick layer of loose mud!

I'm trying to keep a positive attitude. I'm good at metaphorical thinking, so I'm trying to see the mud as a symbol for something good. Let's see, what's good about mud? If you're a potter, mud can be used to make lovely things, useful things, or just plain fun things. If you're a gardener, mud is the basic foundation of your garden. If you're a kid, mud is just full of potential for creativity, silliness, and play.

I remember as a child I loved to run around barefoot, still do actually, and I'd get really dirty sometimes. My mom would just smile and recite, "Nobody else but the rosebush knows how good mud feels between the toes!" Going barefoot was a big treat during the years I wore orthopedic braces on my legs. I wasn't allowed to take them off much, and when I did it felt so wonderfully free!

Perhaps I have been a wee bit too grown-up towards the mud. Maybe I should let myself be more child-like, and remember that mud can be delightfully gooshey, and squelchy, and sloppy, and that's good. Perhaps I need to let go of my grown-up need for cleanliness and order (and control) and just appreciate the freedom of being wet and muddy.... it's a good thing to remember our creatureliness, so we don't get too full of ourselves and start thinking human beings are so much better than all the other animals. I guess I really need to relax and have some fun with all this mud!

So tomorrow, when I brush the mud off my slacks, I think I'll whisper to myself, "Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return". And when the dogs leave muddy pawprints all over the floors and jump up and leave them on me, I'll laugh and enjoy being just another of God's creatures. And maybe, when I slip and slide and fishtail my way up the driveway, I'll have enough grace to holler "Wheeeeeeeee!" all the way home.

Happy Mud Season Ya'll!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Winter warmth

It's been a long, cold winter. I've been trying to keep quiet, but I've really loved this winter. It's the sort of winter I've always wanted with lots of lovely snow. I feel a little guilty enjoying it. I don't like that the cold makes for so much discomfort, even suffering. I worry about the deer, the bunnies and other animals trying to make it through till spring. But I have loved the snug feeling of being tucked away in our little hollar with my family. I've delighted in watching the snowflakes dance and tumble and race down the mountains. I've even thrilled when we had actual blizzard conditions, once Gary was home safe and sound. I love seeing each branch and fenceline furred with snow. The woods are so lovely and lacey. It's pure pleasure to me to look out and see the contours of the land -all the hills and valleys show forth so clearly when there is snow on the ground. And my favorite time of day - sunset glowing into twilight - is exquisite when the colors of the setting sun are pierced with silhouettes of bare trees!

But it's time for the season to change again, and this year, much to my astonishment, I find myself looking forward to Spring, or as I call it, Mud Season. I'm actually ready for some warmer temperatures, and feeling a little eager to see grass and leaves again! I'm not even dreading, much, the hassle of dealing with the mud. As I've gotten older, I've tried to appreciate each season for what it is, instead of anticipating the next so much I forget to enjoy the present. I'm tempted now to daydream of flowers and leaves and warm, sunny afternoons. It's not quite time for that!

But the thought I am clinging to these days is the mystery of being deeply grounded. I look at all the snow heaped up into large drifts, and think how long it's going to take to melt. All that lovely water will slowly soak into the earth. I imagine all the seeds and bulbs and hibernating things underground, being watered and warmed as the sun begins to shine more intensely. Those seeds will swell and finally burst as new life reaches up towards the light. It's going to be a gorgeous Spring this year.

Being a lifelong late bloomer, I like the thought that I too am waiting in the darkness, for the good soaking warmth to reach me, when I will reach towards the light and break out in a blaze of color! I just wonder, what will I be?

Tis a good time of year to ponder that....