Saturday, June 16, 2012

Parasites

I used to chuckle at people who could remember exactly where they'd had a tick embedded in their skin, and how they were when it happened. Truth is, I stopped counting before I learned to count. Tick bites  were about as common to me as mosquito bites to kids in Alaska. (Remember the postcards showing off their state bird?)

Then I moved to Washington state, and in my 8+ years there I saw about as many ticks as I would have seen in a normal week here in Iowa. I certainly never had a Washintonian tick burrow in. In fact, ticks seemed so rare that sightings almost made me feel nostalgic.

I'll have to admit I enjoyed the reprieve. It spoiled me, though. Compared to my childhood days, I've become downright entonophobic, abhorring the idea of actually being bitten.

The other weekend, while hiking at the local state park, we hiked a trail that appeared to have not been mowed in several weeks. Since I had instigated turning onto the trail, I took the lead—giving me first dibs on the ticks. Thankfully, I had on light-colored pants, making the vermin easier to see; but the quarter-mile jaunt through tall grass took quite a bit longer than it should have, due to numerous stops. Each time I saw something crawling up from my shoes, I halted the procession—and after removing the initial arachnid, I wound up picking off 3-4 more ticks from my pant legs.

Back home, I conducted a thorough search. One attached to the top of my foot through my sock. (That was a first!) Two or three more crawling up my legs and trunk in search of prime sucking spots. And I'd already unattached one from my leg in the park restroom.

There's nothing quite like searching for ticks to get you acquainted with all of your moles. I mean, I'm on familiar terms with the spots on my face and forearms, but I don't know so much about the ones in less-seen locations like my thighs and back. I really don't have a reason to know about those moles...until, of course, I'm on a tick hunt. Then I'm liable to scratch at claw at any innocent mole till I'm fully convinced that it's part of my body. You might say that ticks spur me to greater self-scrutiny.

There's another parasite in our house these days, and it seems our adorable rascal is to blame. We thought the bald spots on his ears came from scratching at his mites—until, behold, a strange little rash appeared on my neck. Circular, flaky, itchy, scaly, red ring around a pale center...yep, matches the description for ringworm. So much for the joy of having the kitten on my shoulder.

A day or so after the initial discovery, I identified a patch on my upper arm. And now, I'm keenly aware of every itch on my body. Have you ever just stopped what you were doing and allowed yourself to feel every little itch? I've discovered that at any given moment, there could be several widely separated patches of skin itching at once—especially during Iowa summer. One might be a chigger, one the chaffing of a waste band or tag, one a bug bite and another a tick bite that's still healing up. And then there are those unidentified itches. Itches that come from nowhere and go away without ever being explained. Except that now, all of those are suspect. I've found myself rushing to the mirror to investigate, only to wonder if the itch is red because I just scratched it, or is it dry and flaky? Is it a red mound, like a bite...or is it  hollow, like ringworm?

If I'm not careful to mingle my paranoia with reason, I could easily develop a somatoform disorder over this. The parasites have me scrutinizing my skin like never before.

Annoyances and trials can have a similar effect. When I realize that life isn't going how I'd like it, or that things are not as they should be, I often find myself becoming extra introspective. What parasites in me are causing this mess? What baggage haven't I dealt with? What flawed perspectives need to be corrected?

Some soul-searching can be very beneficial: the kind that says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts." When we enlist God's help, He shows us our wrong attitudes and behaviors for the purpose of uprooting them and leading us toward everlasting life (Psalm 139:23, 24). He restores health to us and heals our wounds (Jeremiah 30:17).

When I leave God out of it though, my introspection becomes more like selfish, snobby fretting, and I find myself scratching at the wrong itches—things I can't do anything about. When I find myself clawing at the past, for example, it's often simply time to move on.

After all, benign moles are better left alone.

Friday, May 25, 2012

How to Tame a Kitten (Or, How to Cure a Kitten of Ear Mites...We Hope)

Don't get me wrong. I love our new kitten, and I'm not sure how I got along without him. It's just that this week his predator instinct has kicked in, and naturally, my hands and other appendages make excellent prey. So let's just say that (between cuddling and gushing over his cuteness), we're working on boundaries. Sometimes (when I can't get him distracted with inanimate playthings), catnaps are so welcome. That's why ear mites became a blessing to me.

The book on natural healthcare for pets said that the cure was to smother the microscopic creatures with olive oil. And so, our little patient has been getting daily treatments. Here's the routine.

1. Don leather gloves.

2. Captivate the kitten.

3. Pull back kitten's ear, and keep open.

4. Squirt one eye-dropper of olive oil into kitten's ear.

5. Close ear flap before kitten can shake, and hold.

6. Repeat with second ear.

7. Hold both ears shut for several seconds, allowing oil to soak in.

         7a. Giggle at kitten's silly appearance.

8. Massage kitten's ear canals. Wait, how do you do that? Oh, forget it.

9. Release ears and allow kitten to shake.

10. Hold ears open and swab with q-tips to remove mite debris.

11. Release kitten.

12. Enjoy a peaceful afternoon while the now docile animal obsessively licks himself between naps.

Of course, Riley hasn't exactly been a willing patient. But, since he's just a kitten, we can control him for at least a few minutes (with the help of leather gloves).

What he doesn't know is that we actually have his happiness in mind. He may not enjoy his current greasiness, but he will enjoy his freedom from those itchy mites. If he had logic and rational intelligence, we might not need those leather gloves for the treatments.

He's only a kitten, so I don't expect any more out of him. But I do expect more from myself. When I find myself in the midst of a trying, frustrating experience, I hope I'll remember Riley's ear treatments and thank God for the cure from sin He's working within. Then, instead of attacking my Best Friend, I'll spend the time afterward being a sweet, quiet child...just like my little snoochum after his oil bath.



Sunday, May 20, 2012

Persistent Love

After debating in my mind all afternoon, I finally decided: This event was momentous enough to take an evening off from school. After weeks of searching, we had finally located a gray tiger kitten—and he needed somebody to babysit him while Mom went to the church board meeting on the way home. I brought three biology books along to appease my conscience, but I knew I'd hardly read them.

Riley came from a house with lots of other cats. In fact, when we pulled up, we immediately spotted 4 or 5 of them in the yard. Soon another one ambled across the street, and the owners said Riley's mom was still inside. A member of the oldest litter, Riley had a whole pile of little baby cousins out next to the shed, and he himself had grown up with 5 sibling kittens. Still, his owner cried when we took him away.

We knew he's be lonely in our cat-less house, and we hadn't seen any dogs on the premises. At our place, the only available animal companion would be a black lab—at least until we could find an orange tiger kitten to be his playmate. Till then, Riley would need lots of attention and love: two things I wouldn't have a hard time administering. Riley's cute little face and his tiny voice had already captured my heart.

We spent most of our first evening playing hide-and-seek—except it wasn't really a game. Riley wanted little to do with me, but it seemed he wanted even less to do with his crate. Outside the cat carrier, he ran and hid; inside, he clawed and yowled. In my hands, he kicked and clawed. It proved to be an extra-long board meeting.

At last I decided on a new tactic: I wouldn't let this kitten down no matter how much he protested. When clasping him in my hands grew dangerous, I cornered him in my lap, a hand above him and one in front of him. As he struggled to get free, I stroked him lightly with my free finger.

The fight ended suddenly when Riley fell asleep. He didn't wake up till it was time to leave—and by that time, he was mostly OK with me.

But the victory wasn't really complete. Back home, though he cried with heart-stirring pathos, he made his independence clear by hiding behind the couch and backing away each time I reached for him. Unwilling to let us cuddle him to sleep, he seemed intent on making the couch his kingdom.

And yet, we knew he wanted companions. And so the next day, I kept up my pursuit, catching him whenever I could for a good pet and cuddle. Although my mom did the same, I fully expected this process to take a challenging week.

But (wonder of wonders), it really hasn't. By his second or third day, Riley was about as content a kitten as any I've met. Now, he loves to jump up on my lap, purring loudly while he drifts off to sleep. He gives kittie kisses and invites himself to cuddle up. In between, he explores the house, chases his tail, ambushes his toys, and tries cramming himself into our shoes. He's even getting used to the dog.

Mom says Riley is a spoiled kitten, with two (doting) mamas all too eager to anticipate his wants and  love on him. Still, we know that's why he's adjusted so well. By being intent on loving Riley, we have won his kitten heart. We've become his best friends.

At first I was tempted to be offended at Riley's rejection and repulsion. Tired and busy, I did have fleeting thoughts of "suit yourself, little cat." But if I had acted on those feelings, I wouldn't have my little study-buddy to distract and delight me. I wouldn't get purrs and cuddles and giggles. I'd be missing out big time.

It's often the same way with people. Although they are lonely, people often seem to spurn our efforts to make friends. On the inside, they may be longing for companionship, while outwardly they may seem aloof or even haughty.

I've had more than one deep, special friendship develop with people who at first seemed unreachable. It's always taken perseverance, sometimes hurt feelings, and often creativity. But most important, it's taken relentless, persistent love. Then all of a sudden, we're fast friends.


Today, I'm thankful for the friendships I worked for. Those people have enriched my life so much. I'm so thankful for the bonds we share, thankful I didn't give up and miss out.

But I've been on Riley's side of it, too. I've retreated to my inner kingdom and made it hard for well-meaning friends to draw to me out. I've acted like I didn't want them around. I've played immature games of hide-and-seek. I'm so thankful for the ones that kept seeking me out. I'm thankful that they didn't give up. I'm glad they didn't let me have things my way. I'm glad they loved me even when I was being a pest.

Most of all, I'm thankful for my Jesus. I've hid from Him so many times. I've retreated from His presence, built up walls around my soul. And still, He keeps loving. Still, He keeps seeking. Still, He keeps showing me His relentless, persistent, undying interest. He keeps calming my fears and cuddling my heart.

This week I want to be like Riley. I want to soak in all the persistent love my Jesus can give.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Open Wide

The first time I heard the song, the words gripped me:


They say I am a dreamer, blind and cannot see. . . . 
They say I am an idealist, blind and cannot see 
that the principles I cling to won't stand reality.
Well, if that's what I am, Lord, won't you care for me? . . . 


I haven't met too many people who can't identify with that. In one way or another, we're all dreaming "impossible" dreams. We're all trying to beat the odds of reality and be or accomplish or feel something exceptional. We're all a little bit blind to the way things are, and trying to live something better—or at least different. And it's a good thing, since those dreams often help us find better realities!


I grappled with dreams and reality this week. Dreams of how fast I'd like to finish college, reality of how fast I can pay for it. Dreams of people and places I want to visit, reality of how that affects school and finances. Dreams of being in a healthy, intimate relationship, reality of being single. Dreams of being like Jesus, reality of being like me. 


I struggled, too, against temptations. Temptations to indulge in passing little pleasures that Jesus didn't endorse. Temptations to covet gifts He hasn't given. Temptations to feel like I'm being cheated if I don't get them.


Finding my resistance mostly ineffective, I prayed and studied the Word. He gave me a verse:


"I am the Lord your God,
    who brought you up out of Egypt. 
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it" (Psalm 81:10).



A wonderful cure-all, diverting my mind, my longings to the truth. Need something? Want something? Feeling empty without something? Open wide! 


One of those too-good-to-be-true-unless-God-is talking (because then it is true) types of claims. And yet, it takes faith, because there's no guarantee that God's going to "fill it" with my felt need. He's going to fill me with my actual need...which is, ultimately, Him.


Hmm. What about what I want? Another verse. "And He gave them their request, But sent leanness into their soul" (Psalm 106:15).


OK, never mind! (What I want is not worth that!Lord, teach me to trust You, that what You fill me with will be best. (Several times during the week, I actually stretched my mouth open in prayer.)


And He did, every time I claimed the verse and chose to trust Him.


Today, a disappointment. Wasn't a big deal, shouldn't have been a big deal. Except that it brought up painful memories from the past. Except that it gave me more to worry about for the future. Except that I'd been looking forward to this all week. Except that it put a cherished dream back in jeopardy. Except that my hurt reaction made me disappointed in myself.


Again, the verse. . . . I am the Lord your God, who helped you with your struggles all week. Open  your mouth wide and I will fill it.


But I'd wanted to talk to somebody else. I'd saved up stories all week to tell. I'd already talked to God about those things. How could God fill this hole?


And then a text from a friend reminded me that God cherishes me and His plan is perfect.


Even His plan for today was perfect.


Even the things I didn't enjoy, He can use.


Any part of me that is empty, He can fill. If I will open wide. If I'll let Him fill the compartment in my heart I was saving for someone else.


This week will be a new journey, because tonight I'm making a choice. No more "compartments" will be saved for something else. My whole heart will be open for God to fill. And if He's the only one that does any filling, I can be sure that my "cup" will still be running over (Psalm 23:5).


I'm stretching my mouth open wide in commitment.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Epic Songs

When did epic come into vogue? I feel like it has been two, maybe three years—but I really wouldn't know, since my family has had our own usage of the word for 15 or 20 years. In Francis language, epic refers to something diverse, long-lived, and extraordinary. (Not so far from the dictionary definition, remarkably: "extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope.") In our family, epic is most often used to describe particularly notable hikes, but not many hikes achieve "epic" status. In fact, when we were kids, my dad had to approve before we could officially say we'd had an epic day. When we hiked from breakfast till nearly dark, covered miles of changing territory, pulled out our rain jackets (only to shed them, later, and roll up our sleeves), saw rare wildlife, and trekked across rough terrain (think swift stream crossings, high mountain passes, and non-traceable trails)—then we'd experienced an epic day. An epic hike was something to brag about.


This week we had an epic thunderstorm. Not the kind that build up, boom enough times to convince me to shut down my computer, rain half an inch, and then roll away and let the sun shine as if nothing happened. No, this storm flashed, rumbled, and poured for a good 3 hours: from 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. 


My room has two big windows without any curtains. I don't want curtains, because a) I live in the country, on the second floor, with no tom-peepers within proximity; b) the pine trim around the windows makes perfect frames for the most gorgeous pictures on my wall: the views toward our pond, the back woods, and my parents' lovely orchard and gardens. Curtains would get in the way of my picture frames, and remind me that I'm inside.


In an early-morning thunderstorm, of course, it's hard to keep the light out without windows. But who wants to sleep through a show like that? The flashes came so often I couldn't even count seconds between them and the thunder. Which flash went with which boom? More than that, the thunder blended together for minutes at a time, like the continuous roar of a freight train. The clouds shone so brightly I could see the skeletons of the trees out back, their branches careening in the raging wind. 


I lay awake, watching, reveling, smiling, basking, thanking God for the spectacular display and praying that the rain wouldn't flood our gardens and wash away all the topsoil. 


And then I heard them. The frogs in our pond!


When I'd gone to bed, the frogs had been singing for the joy of a warm, summery night. Their choir could have drowned out an interstate highway (although, fortunately, the nearest one is 90-some miles away). 


The choir had quit performing, now. Instead, two or three lone frogs sang cheerful solos.


BOOM! Peep, peep. BBBBRRRRROOOOOOOOOOMMMM. Peeeeeeep, peep, PEEP!


How could a frog sing through this storm? Shouldn't all animals be seeking shelter (even if they do like to be wet)?


But nothing could stop those courageous, happy little amphibians. Lightning, thunder, wind, pouring rain—these little critters would keep right on singing.


My prayers morphed into gratitude for the frogs. I giggled as I did it, but I asked Him to make me more like those slimy little singers. Would He please teach me to keep singing through the most fearsome storms? Could I learn that joy is not only for the warm and balmy, carefree times—but also for trials, uncertainty, and heartaches? When the rest of choir quits singing, would He give me the joy and courage to keep peeping?


I think He will. And it's going to be epic.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Laughter's Return

Last week I was naughty. Did you notice?

I know one person noticed, because he told me. Actually, two. But one was my mom, and moms always notice naughtiness, whether or not they comment on it. This time, though, she gave me license for it.

You see, last week I preached the sermon at church, and when I was done with that, I spent a big chunk of time catching up with a couple of friends with whom I'd fallen out of touch. By the end of the weekend, I felt like I'd "used up" my blogging energy. And I didn't post. (It's a sorry excuse, I know. But it's all I've got.)

And so I went on with my study-filled week, with Midwest spring daily offering me contentment and satisfaction. Gone are the lonely brown days that drive wistfulness and repining into the soul. Here, instead, are blooming flowers, leafy trees, growing garden shoots, flitting songbirds, and peeping frogs. I putter through busy days with a smile, and go to bed feeling that all is well.

Still, I've been missing something. Yet, until Monday morning, I wasn't even quite sure what it was.

Monday morning, when my nieces woke me up via pre-recorded cell phone alarm, I began my day with a grateful prayer. I thanked the Lover of my soul for contentment, quietness, and inner peace. "But Lord, there's something missing," I said.

Then I knew what it was.

Laughter.

Not just chuckles. I mean laughing hard. Irrepressible laughter. Contagious laughter. Convulsions. (You know: Cheyenne laughter.)

"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven. . . . A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance" (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).

Yes Lord, that's it! I've enjoyed the time of contemplation and quietness; introspection is refreshing. But could You maybe send me back my spirit of laughter, and let me giggle my way through life again? Or is that not who You are calling me to be? 

I wasn't sure how God would answer. Maybe He wanted to teach me to be the sober, quiet type, like the picture-perfect model of a good-old fashioned, feminine woman. Still, I could hope. Maybe He would swirl the two: regal femininity with spunk and humor.

A few hours later, at lunch, my dad teased my mom about her comment that the leftovers had come back to "haunt" us. I giggled.

As the meal continued, we got into a conversation about potatoes. The potato plants in our garden had been frosted on, and they'd been looking a little sick. Still, my parents were confident they would recover.

"Yeah, I guess they are a cold-weather crop," I said. (I'm definitely not a potato expert, but I think Northerners and mountain tribes depend on them.)

"I think it gets pretty hot in the Boise valley," Papa remarked.

"Well, I'm talking about Russia," I blurted.

My dad's eyes twinkled and teased as he replied: "Well, I'm talking about Idaho."

That did it. Mom and I burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of my Russia comment. I laughed so hard I had to put down my fork as my nose dove for my plate.

And then it hit me: God had answered my prayer, and fast. I laughed even harder, reveling in my Master's goodness.

That wasn't even the end of it. The incident tickled me all day. I kept convulsing with giggles I couldn't keep down. I even giggled myself to sleep. And I found plenty more things to laugh at throughout the week.

Can you really beat a God who cares so much He even answers prayers about details such as laughter? Can you really do better seeking fun in the world? Can you doubt that His plans for you will be fun and rewarding—not just in a sober, religious way, but even humanly, in a deeply satisfying, personal way?

I can't. My God is so awesome, He makes me laugh.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Strands of Thought


Blue skies and clouds, sunshine and rain, wintry frost and summery breezes. Baby blessing, church dedication, laughing with friends, shedding worried tears. Cold night shivering under the covers, warm nights listening to peeping frogs. Dreaming of the future, reminiscing of the past. Working, studying, praying, reflecting.

What happens when I don't have an exciting week? When "notable" doesn't write itself on the calendar?

I still live in my deep world of thought. I awake wondering what I should talk to God about first, and decide to thank Him for contentment, connection, quietness, and fulfillment. I go through my days contemplating and exploring my Master's love, and pondering and examining the thoughts and behavior of others. I look for little lessons along the journey.

A tufted titmouse chirped in at us all week. The first day it bombarded our windows, my mom decided that since the nights had been frosty and the mornings chilly, the bird must be asking us to fill up the bird feeder. But the birds hardly noticed the return of their easy meals, and the titmouse kept coming. He found us wherever we were: my dad in his studio, my mom in her office or at the kitchen window, me at my desk, and all of us at our dining room table. He flitted up and down our windows, as if going through a ritual dance, staring in at us and chirping all the while. His nickname changed from "honey" early in the week to "deranged bird" by its close. For all we could tell, that little titmouse surely acted like it wanted to enter our home. But what would it have done if we'd let it in? Freak out, no doubt. Artificial human residences are no home for wild birds.

And what of me? I certainly act like I want to go to Heaven. But would I freak out if God were to translate me there? Would I be like a wild bird in a human house, or would I find Heaven to be my true home? How I spend my time on Earth determines the answer.

The assisted living center where my grandfather lives called this morning to ask my parents to take him to the Emergency Room. He'd been complaining of terrible pains in his face, jaw, and neck—and not a stationary ache, but a fluctuating, changeable throb. After a couple of hours checking in on different body systems and functions, the doctor had the diagnosis: blocked salivary glands. The prescription: lemon drops.

It's the small things, isn't it, that make life painful or joyful? Who ever thinks about their salivary glands' contribution to their well-being? In 26 years, I've rarely given them a thought; but I have now been made aware of their importance to my comfort. And what about the little courtesies: the gentle tone of voice as we speak with family; cheerful, genuine greetings; hugs, smiles; little acts of service; happy little texts; a few moments to share someone else's pain, joy, or confusion. If these little kind acts get blocked up, life becomes painful.

We had almost arrived at church yesterday when something started flapping under the hood. When Mom turned into the church driveway, she found the power steering had failed. In the parking lot, the elders checked out the situation. A couple of belts had come off. After the church service, we called roadside assistance to tow the car, and then hitched a ride home with friends. We got so involved in conversation that the driver missed our exit and drove 20 miles past...and none of us noticed.

Do I ever get so caught up in the social realm or the demands of everyday life that I fail to take into account where my life is headed long-term? To make sure I don't lose miles going the wrong direction, am I carefully guarding my health, my character, my relationships, my time?

I tracked my blog hits throughout the week, watching Kodiak's story rise to most popular post in a matter of days...even though I didn't post it at the optimum time. How do readers so quickly know when I've bared my raw emotions, shared deep, sensitive feelings...written posts truly worth their click? And given that not every day can be so dramatic, how can I make my normal life an intriguing, open book for all to read the story of God's love?

Ordinary, everyday experiences. Without a pause for contemplation, they and their lessons could easily be lost. And yet, all these weave together as strands of thought, collectively forming the tapestry of my worldview. Each experience, with my responses, changes my character in its own subtle way, making me more or less like the deranged bird: more or less a true subject of God's Kingdom.

Thank God that it isn't only in the big, startling, powerful revelations that He manifests Himself. Thank Him for each strand of thought in the weaving.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Canine Devotion—and Divine Love


I could talk for hours about that dog. How he used to "knock" on the door to let me know it was time for our jog. How he knew the difference between friend and stranger, greeting my friends with affectionate enthusiasm yet barking protectively at anyone potentially threatening. Of his love for hiking with me in the wilderness, and how he frolicked, dashed, and danced through the meadows. About the time he foolishly charged at a moose, and the time we lost him on the trail. How he delighted in a fresh snowfall, springing joyfully through the drifts. How he loved car rides, and would stand in the console on his front paws to nuzzle and cuddle me as we drove. About his floppy ear, and how everyone adored him, not only for his overwhelming handsomeness, but for his pure and golden heart.

I'd never really been a "dog person." Much to the contrary: I favored cats. Anyway, cat or dog, I didn't have time for a pet. I took long trips away from home and often went away for the weekend.

And then a stray dog showed up in our neighborhood. Everyone else had enough pets already. My landlords were trying to decide whether to feed him or take him to the shelter. I'm still not really quite sure how it happened, because I wasn't interested in animal adoption. But somehow, the neighborhood kids prevailed upon me to keep him, promising to look after him when I was away. Looking at the canine tied outside my screen door, I shook my head, not believing that I had just adopted a DOG of all pets. Still, I had to admit he was pretty cute. With his thick, long coat, he looked like a bear. I knew his name instantly: He was Kodiak.

He had come at an emotionally trying time in my life. Six days previously, I had called it off with a guy I had been casually seeing for a few months. Now, I felt lonely and unwanted. Then came the dog, and he did have one good quality: He wanted my attention. We started jogging together every day—sometimes twice. In the evenings, I'd sit in my yard and stroke his fur and just hug him. He seemed to understand and hug back, leaning against my chest and resting his head on my shoulder. After all (Heaven only knows why), he too had been abandoned...alone and unwanted. It didn't take long to fall in love with this angel dog. He had a darling personality, and I knew God had sent him. Through him, God reassured and encouraged my hurting heart—and let love and happiness return to my world.



That first summer I was so paranoid of losing him that I kept him on a leash or chain almost perpetually—even out in the wilderness. Nobody was going to wrench that lifesaver from me! He tolerated my protectiveness, but I knew he'd be happier off his chain. He had such a free spirit, and he wanted nothing more than to be exploring or else right next to me. When I had to chain him several feet away, he howled and wined till I tied him up closer.

The first backpacking trip we took together, my dad slowly taught me to let him be free to run in the wilderness. Dogs like Kodiak, he told me, were meant to run free and wild. I soon discovered that when I let him off the leash, Kodiak still wouldn't stray far—and when he did, he'd be back to check on me. I grew to love watching him bound freely through the woods and meadows, nothing to hold him back—no damper to his joy. Off his leash, Kodiak nearly burst with bubbly, exuberant energy.

We spent three wonderful years together...almost. I took him everywhere I could, and felt terrible when I had to leave him behind. As I cherished him, I learned to like other dogs, too. Still, none of them could compare to my Kodiak. He was the best dog in the world, and I depended on him to always be there and love me.

And then the day came. A girlfriend and I had a planned a snowshoeing "date," and of course Kodiak would be coming along. He could hardly contain himself that day, so excited to be heading into the mountains with me. As Jessica and I got our backpacks ready, he whined in the car, wanting the adventure to begin. Then, he jumped into the front seat and out the open door.

Once outside the car, he explored the little parking area, totally uninterested in the vehicles trickling past. Finally, we set out down the road to pick up the trail. I had his leash, but the highway didn't seem busy, and we didn't have far to go. Besides, Kodiak was being obedient and staying on the side of the road.

Then one of us stooped to retie a shoe, and I took my eyes off him. He bounded across the road, to the snow drifts. As he jumped from drift to drift, I couldn't remember ever seeing him happier. He made me grin. So much energy and joy.

Then in one fated moment, he plunged down the snowbank to cross back over to me. Just then, a truck rounded the corner.

That scene has haunted me now for a year. Even as I write, I have tears streaming down my cheeks. I just couldn't believe it. No, not now, not my precious Kodiak. I had just broken up with my (much more serious) boyfriend a month before. I needed my doggie hugs and jogs. Oh, why hadn't I put him on the leash? I felt like a murderer.

Then something unthinkable happened. At the sound of my voice, Kodiak raised his head and scooted over to me on broken legs. He would cross that road and be next to me if it was the last thing he did.

I knew he couldn't last long. Stooping next to him, I stroked his beautiful fur and told him I loved him and was so sorry, that it wasn't his fault. Then we loaded him into the back seat and headed for the vet. Trembling, I listened for his belabored breaths.

Then my angel raised himself up, struggled forward, and rested his front paws and his head on the console, looking up at me with loving, hurting, yet unaccusing eyes. "Oh buddy," I choked. "No, no." I didn't want him to use up his strength. I wanted the vet to be able to fix him. But he insisted on being there with me. Weeping, I patted his head and told him I loved him.

He stayed there a few moments. Then he crawled into the back seat, nestled onto the floor, and breathed his last. Only then did I realize what he had just done. In one of the most loving gestures I have ever witnessed, Kodiak had told me of his devotion to his undeserving master. One last time, he had told me he loved me.

That night I couldn't sleep for anything. The darkness was too still and quiet without his barking lullabies. I didn't know how I would ever face the neighbors. If only I would be the only one to suffer from the loss of my treasure...but Kodiak had been everyone's dog. All my friends loved him. They would all be devastated. Ashamed, I kept thinking of that poor wounded dog I thought had already died lifting his head and crawling over to me. Looking up at me with those big trusting eyes, not accusing me of my horrific negligence. Struggling to get close to me to say his last good-bye, his eyes saying nothing but "I love you, sweet master." I couldn't understand it. Why did he love me so much?

Suddenly, as I gazed in imagination into those riveting eyes, the picture changed. Now it was Jesus dying on the cross, with the same big brown loving eyes. Only, He knew I was the one killing Him. He threw Himself in the road for me. And even though He understood it all, He just wanted me to know that He loved me anyway.

A transcendent moment.

Awestruck, I let the mini vision soak in. The death that I've caused 10,000 times over is so much more heinous than the foolish yet unwitting failure to keep my dog from harm's way. But Jesus loves me anyway, and He's willing to bear the brunt of all my sorrows, even the ones that I cause. I couldn't understand it, but I found myself in awe of that love.

I still miss my buddy terribly, but I've clung to that vision of divine love. And, though I tremble to admit it, I dare say it has been a fair trade.


video

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Broken Screws

"You've had an Iowa license before, right?" The lady in the DMV office compared my birth certificate, Social Security card, Washington driver's license, and Iowa bank statement.

I nodded. My first driver's license had come from Iowa. When I traded it in for my Washington license at age 18, the friendly DOL man had punched a W-shaped hole in my Iowa license and given it back to me. I glued it fondly into my scrapbook, expecting it to be my last Iowa-issued form of ID.

Now I found myself in the county courthouse, trading in my Washington license. Not only that, but this time, I had license plates to swap, as well. So, $91 later, I walked out of the office with my temporary driver's license, Iowa vehicle title, registration paper, and license plates.

Washington license plates stay with the vehicle, even when sold—for as long as it remains registered in The Evergreen State. Apparently, every 7 years, the state issues new license plates to make sure they're still reflective. However, because of my history with vehicles (think: snowy, muddy, deer-infested mountains), that never happened to me. Hence, I've never had to change the plates on any of my vehicles.

Until Thursday.

I had a busy week, between work deadlines, college deadlines, and midwifery appointments. Although I actually brought the plates home on Wednesday, I put the job off until Thursday evening—and I only did it then because I needed to drive the vehicle on Friday. I expected this to be a quick job, that even a mechanically disinclined, domestic and desk trained little woman could accomplish. After all, I know how to use a screwdriver.

But Queen Vashti proved quite unwilling to change her identity.

The front plate unscrewed without too much hassle. When it came time to replace the grand sketch of Mount Rainier with a peaceful, pastoral farm scene, though, I had to take a cue from the previous owner and get a bit creative with duct tape. (Nothing fraudulent here, mind you. The tape held the washers and nuts in place long enough for the screws to bite in.)

The plastic screws in the back, however, spun and spun and spun—in both directions—to no avail.

So now Queen Vashti had divided allegiance. I could just picture myself explaining these incorrigible screws to an officer.

I must have twisted those screws 10 minutes before my parents came back from their evening walk. Just the opportunity I'd awaited. Giving my distress call, I perched on my heels and waited for Papa to come and show me the easy, obvious solution.

Instead, he walked me through a difficult process: sticking our hands into a cramped space up behind the bumper, grasping the nut, and unscrewing. Well, that worked for the bottom two—but there was no getting even my little hand up to grasp the nuts behind the top two screws.

So he broke the heads off.

Next came the most difficult portion: again wiggling my hand up behind the bumper—but this time hanging onto the nut all the way. Finagling it into position, and keeping it steady while he screwed the Iowa plate on. By the end of the evening, I had tiny fiberglass splinters in my hand.

For the top right corner, Pa found a screw in his workbench that bit in just right without any nut behind it. The top left...well, it's true. My car now has a missing screw. But let's be optimistic. After 50+ miles, the license plate is still on and doesn't appear to be loose. Vashti has been forced into Iowa citizenship.

She's just a car, and doesn't have a choice. And yet at the time, it surely seemed she was putting up a fight. "No! Take me back!" she screamed through her unwilling screws. "I am a Washington car, and I want to stay that way!"

I've heard a few other screams like that, this week—coming from within. Sorry Northwesterners, but I'm not actually talking about wistfulness to move back to the mountains. I'm thinking more of my eternal citizenship.

By birth and by choice, I became a citizen of Earth. But I have an invitation to immigrate, and I'm working on my "papers." I've told the Master that I want to be a citizen of Heaven.

Sometimes, though, when He turns the screws, so to speak, without even realizing it I start resisting. I freeze up and say, "Nope, this screw doesn't come out, Sir. I have this way of thinking, this desire. I really want it, and it's not changing. Sure, go ahead and put in Your new screws. I want to integrate them, but I'm sure that You'll see they don't fit in the hole where You're trying to place them."

The Master pauses. "I thought you wanted to be a citizen of Heaven."

"Well, hmm. I thought so too. But are you sure about this screw? It wouldn't budge even if I wanted it to."

Maybe I should be specific, since this week I encountered a very specific "unwilling screw." I've been hung up on the concept in this brief thought: "There is no love greater than Mine in earth or heaven. [Your] greatest happiness will be found in loving Me."*

Really? But I really want an exclusive love. God has six billion other people plus millions of angels. Doesn't that make me less special? After all, I'm one of many, many daughters.

I wrestled with it, grappled with it, turned it around and looked at all the sides I could find.

In the end, I realized I had a simple choice: Believe Him that His love was the greatest I could ever find, and that I would never be happier than when worshiping and loving Him. Or keep insisting on a specific kind of love I want—and if God isn't lying, never be satisfied.

Trust Him that He's God and can love me like there is no one else, even though there are plenty of others—that He can love me and His others better simultaneously than anybody could love me with their complete, undistracted focus. Or keep searching.

Rest in Him. Or keep striving and wearing myself out.

Keep myself in the immigration process—or drop out and remain subject of Earth.

"OK, Father. Go ahead and break the screw."


* The Desire of Ages, page 57.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rearview Reflections

The sun shone hot last Sunday afternoon as I turned the key in Queen Vashti's ignition. It had been a fun and refreshing weekend at Lydia's, but I had studying to do at home. For now, though, my biggest decision was whether to run the AC or open the sunroof.

Easing out of the tight parking slot, I craned my neck to be sure not to hit the electrical pole smack behind me—or the neighbor's car in the driveway next to it. They really didn't leave much room in this alley...or this parking spot...you had to turn the wheel just right....

Scrape.

Oops.

In concentrating behind me, I'd failed to check the front corner of the car. Judging from the dents in the downspout on the corner of the garage, I was not the first to make this mistake. Thankfully, the damage to the pipe was negligible, and Queen Vashti's could have been much worse. Still, she did have a white bruise on her bumper. Not a dent (phew). Her own paint seemed mostly intact, but a bit of white paint from the pipe had rubbed off onto her. Nothing big.

Still.

Well, no sense crying over scraped bumpers. I enjoyed the sunny ride, alternating between AC and open sunroof.

Back home in my driveway, I peeled off as much of the white paint as I could. Then I scraped at it with my fingernails. Then I rubbed at it with a rag and some mild solvent.

My efforts greatly diminished the damage. But I'm afraid I can't undo all of it.

As I scrubbed, scratched, and peeled, I thought about how much of my life I'm spent looking behind me. Looking back on the trail to see how far up the mountain I've come. Looking back to relive happy memories—sometimes to long for the "good old days." Looking back to examine my childhood through adult eyes. Looking back to remember how God has led me. Looking back to find the roots of my present thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Looking back to recount to others the lessons I've learned along the way. Looking back with remorse, confusion, or sorrow. Looking back with nostalgia, delight, and contentment. Sometimes, looking back with bitterness. Other times, looking behind me with deep gratitude.

Looking behind us has useful functions. If I had a bogey man behind me, I'd want to know. If a child is following me, I need to keep track of her. When I'm in reverse, I want to know what's behind me. (Honestly, I'd rather have scraped the corner than hit the pole!) Sometimes, we need to look backward, even move backward, before we can move forward again.

Someone wise has said, "We have nothing to fear for the future except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us."

"And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way . . . to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not" (Deuteronomy 8:2).

Sometimes we need to look back and remember. We need to see our mistakes, feel our pain, understand what went wrong—and see God's faithfulness, how He's cherished and led us. We need to learn from what is behind us so that we can use the lessons as we move forward.

But it is possible to look back too much. If I'm living in the past instead of the present—it's too much. If I'm looking back so much that I'm not looking forward, it's too much. "I press on . . . forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal" (Philippians 3:12-14).

As the wise man wrote, "To everything there is a season" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). We should make time for reflection—but not to the exclusion of projection! Tears have their place; so does laughter. Today must be a mixture of yesterday's experiences and tomorrow's dreams.

A little white bruise on my car will remind me.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Beautiful Choices

Breezes drifting in my window.
Turtles sunning themselves on the edge of the pond.
Crocuses, hyacinths, and daffodils blooming.
A Labrador dashing up and down the flowing creek.
Trees budding and leafing. Seedlings growing in the greenhouse.
Puffy clouds in a clear blue sky.
Green grass. Lettuce in the cold frames.
Birds chirping and frogs peeping.
Pussy willows budding and fuzzing out.



Welcome e-mails from cherished friends.

Skyping in to Melissa's birthday party.
Meeting new friends and strengthening bonds at the midwifery association meeting.
Evening worship. Discussing life in the kitchen with Mom.
Talking with church family at Friday night vespers.
Prayer and meditation. An excellent new book.
Lying awake talking to God.



Short sleeves and bare feet.
Jumping in a friend's pond and swimming across.
Good scores on Western Civilization I practice tests.
Catching mousy invaders in my car.
Writing letters long overdue. Perfecting a song on my guitar. Progress on memorization goals.





Beauty. Relationship. Adventurous achievement.


Purpose. Worth.


Priceless to my feminine soul.





Not everything I experienced this week was lovely.


Twinges of loneliness at such short contact.
Frustration with not accomplishing everything I'd hoped.
Cliquey politics and illogical discussions.
Tiredness. Battles with the enforced circadian shift.
Temptations and emotions.
Cuts, bruises, splinters, and thorns.
Painful reflection on lies I've accepted from hurtful experiences of the past.
Pimples. News from family and friends who are struggling.
And, most infamously, a frightening run-in with a big, ugly hognose.
(Is it OK to turn and run away from scary snakes?)


Reminds me of a profound statement I read last night:


You really won't understand your life until you understand this:

You are passionately loved by the God of the universe.

You are passionately hated by His Enemy.*



The God who loves me puts beauty, relationships, and adventures in my path to show me His love and teach me who He made me to be.


He wants to experience His beauty with me—to let it inspire my soul and nourish my heart. He wants to be my chief love, to let all my relationships model His unselfishness, to add richness and depth and companionship to life.


He wants to lead me through all my adventures, to teach me to trust Him in ways I have yet to fathom. He wants to create beauty, tenderness, and courage in me.


He wants to give me every good and perfect gift.



The Enemy wants to distort God's beauty and make me altogether unlovely.
He wants to mar my relationships and use them as a razor and a trap.
He wants me to fail and give up, or to strive after unworthy goals.



I get to choose where I'll place my focus. I decide who gets my faith and my trust. I pick who I will believe.


My permission determines who controls my thoughts and my life.

Who and what I turn to in those yucky moments slowly molds how I think and who I become.



And that moment-by-moment choice changes my world.








*Eldredge, John & Stasi, Captivating:

Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, page 91.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Thanks for the Pain

Being an effective writer means being vulnerable. It means delving deep into the inner realm of human emotions and putting to words what everyone feels but few express. It means opening our secret chambers to view to let others see that their eccentricities, awkward thoughts, and inner agonies do not isolate them from the rest of humanity. Writers unlock the vault of emotion and allow humanity to feel united through our common, unspoken struggles.

Still, it is more comfortable to share through the voice of a third party—a story of someone else's experience. Sharing other people's struggles still makes us dig within ourselves to find and express the unspoken thoughts and feelings of humanity—but without the incrimination of its being our story. If we must share our own, the most comfortable choices are historical events far enough behind us that we can laugh, shrug, or at least assure ourselves that we have since grown.

But nobody's experiences are finished up and neatly sealed off. (We call those memories, and even most memories have unresolved threads.) It's what we are experiencing that creates our need for help.

When I was a toddler, my dad dubbed me "the one who admits it." As it turns out, he made both a descriptive and prophetic statement. I hereby publicly accept the calling.

I had a crazy week—and by that I mean that I felt loco. I only left the 40 acres once, but my emotions sang the scale below Middle C almost all day, every day. I went to bed burnt out and woke up wishing for bedtime—or at least my afternoon walk. I fought tears and lost three or more times most every day.

There's a big problem with this. It isn't me. I'm the girl who laughed, smiled, and acted normal enough the day after a major break-up that my closest girlfriend wondered if the ordeal was still bothering me. (It was, of course—but the tears of my soul often flow inside sealed chambers.)

This Monday morning, I found myself kneeling in prayer and sobbing. Now, usually, I would pray it through, tell my face muscles to smile, start singing Steve Green's "Always", and go have a great day. Or at least pretend to have a great day.

This time, as I prayed, the still small voice seemed to tell me to go ask my mom for a hug.

I didn't exactly want to. I knew Mom would be tender and understanding, but it isn't my style to ask for emotional help. Still, the thought persisted, so I dragged myself to her room.

When Mom saw my tears, her mouth dropped open. "What happened?"

That was the problem. "Nothing," I had to whimper. "I just need a hug." I clung to her and sobbed on her shoulder for quite awhile before I could admit that my tears had been caused by something that had happened 51 weeks before. Humiliating—but I learned something. Compassion doesn't put people through an application process. When people are hurting, I shouldn't judge if they have a legitimate reason, and give them a glorified "move on and get over it." I should take the raw pains of years gone by just as seriously as yesterday's wound.

The week continued, and I just kept struggling. I'd think of my dog's death, and the tears would well up. I would try to study for my Western Civilization I CLEP exam, and feel like the biggest history dunce ever. I'd remember a friend in Washington, and cry just for missing them.

Then I'd send up a prayer and claim a promise. I'd choose to be happy. Get a drink of water. Have a happy mealtime conversation. Go for a walk. It wasn't that the usual fixes didn't work—they just didn't work for long. Sooner than I wished, I'd be standing in the need of prayer once again.

On Tuesday I roamed the woods like usual, talking to God about how humiliated I felt to be struggling with...should I call it depression? Had this ever happened to me since I'd learned about choosing to be happy? And since even this week I'd repeatedly claimed and reveled in His precious promises, why would this ache not go away? What was going on with Cheyenne? I want to be who He is making me into, I let Him know; but I really did like the way He'd had me before.

Or did I? Hadn't I been praying for compassion?

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4).

A strange awareness welled up inside. Could it really be?

"God," my voice quivered, "thank You for the pain. Thank You for allowing me this unexplained struggle so that I can sympathize with others who are struggling."

Thursday evening. Crying into my pillow. Mom came in for worship, and began telling me other friends' sorrows. Big things. Bad things. Recent things. Not the historic drama causing my tears.

"Oh, honey, are you crying?" Mom's face melted in sympathy, and she laid her head down next to mine. I could see the pain in her eyes just from seeing mine. I hadn't even started talking yet.

When I did, she listened and helped me sort out what's really going on.

Today on my walk, I thanked God for the pain again. I really do want that compassion He's teaching me.

Even more, I want helpless reliance on Him. I want to know to the core where to hang my soul—and how.

So, in the sea of seemingly silly sorrows, I have kept afloat through the power in prayer, sympathy, and the Word. "I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.... I sought the Lord, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, ... This poor [woman] cried out, and the Lord heard [her], And saved [her].... There is no want to those who fear Him.... Those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing" (Psalm 34:1, 4-6, 9, 10).

Jesus chose to be brutalized by human pain so that He could understand me and test the strength of His promises. Now He offers me the same blessed experience.

Yes.

Thank You.

Amen.