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Monday, January 1, 2018

That Pesky Persistence



If I hadn’t heard the noise, I still would have known. Our little dog, a terrier mix, has an innate ability to hear the slightest noise and smell the slightest odor, ultimately and doggedly following it to its source. At least attempting to… He has recently learned that the suet feeder hanging from the eaves just outside our kitchen window attracts more than birds. The louder-than-usual sound of the madrone branch scraping against the window and the heavy swaying of the feeder caught his attention and he responded with his typical whining, barking, and frenzied demands to go outside immediately. To him, it all spelled one thing – SQUIRREL!

And he was right. As I stood, rock-still and quiet near the window, I watched that Eastern gray squirrel attempt what I thought might have been impossible. Literally within inches of the window, he tenaciously climbed up to the smallest and most brittle twig and time after time leaped toward the suet feeder, crashing gracelessly to the ground each time. I found it agonizing – and humorous – to watch. It was also exhausting to see his fruitless efforts and I finally turned my attention to other things. When I noticed that the noises had stopped, I checked again and there he was – precariously hanging from the bottom of that wire feeder, proudly gorging himself on the suet.

Although I love all animals and certainly appreciate that they all have their place in the world, these gray squirrels are not my favorites. A non-native species, they likely arrived in the Pacific Northwest with the help of humans. The most common squirrels found in most urban settings, they have also migrated into rural forested areas. Unlike most native squirrels, such as the smaller Douglas squirrels, they have adapted well to human habitation. Both species will give birth in the spring and fall; however, fall is typically a much busier season than any other time of the year. This possibly explains the frenzied search for food. Whatever the reason, they – and certainly all squirrels in general – are relentless in their pursuit of whatever it is they deem necessary to survive. This includes defending their territory, collecting nesting materials, and finding and obtaining food. As we have learned over years of trying, it is nearly impossible to out-smart of squirrel. Far more cleaver people than us have tried.

As we enter this brand-new year, we would do well to keep in mind the squirrels and their dogged persistence. Frustrating though it may be for us, more often than not this trait gets these furry creatures what they need. Trying new methods, climbing, leaping, and yes – often falling – are all a part of life’s journey for us, also. When we step out in faith, persisting in what we need to do to attain our goals, even with the accompanying setbacks, surely we will accomplish whatever it is we set out to do. Fortunately for us, we do not take this journey alone.
 

“But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.
~ Luke 11:5-9

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Windfall


Sometimes, when we are diligently searching but looking in all the wrong places, the very thing we seek waits for us in plain sight. Things we don’t even know we need…

Glad to go out on a mission, I sought the variety of greens that I usually gather for holiday decorations. For cedar, I knew right where to go; the revered old tree had some lower branches that needed pruning. It was easy, using the long-handled loppers, to cut a couple of long branches off.
Once those were down, I pruned off the smaller branches and made a stack on the lawn to be retrieved later.
The Douglas firs were more difficult, as most of the lower branches were gone. Strolling the edge of the pasture, I searched for any possibility when something caught my eye.
 
Scattered about were many small branches blown down by a recent storm. I gathered them up and stacked them into another pile.
 
There is a spot where western white pine cones accumulate. It’s a bit of a mystery as there are none of these trees nearby that I can see, and now there were more there than usual and some unmistakable long-needled branches.
 
I made another pile. When I was finished, I had more than enough fresh greens to do what I wanted and to share with friends and neighbors.
After fifty years of marriage, my husband and I have reached a new plateau, of sorts, in our relationship. Gone are the rounds of endless discussions trying vainly to change a mind, the hurt feelings, the frustrations of not seeing eye-to-eye on an issue. We have always agreed on most of the important things, but have our differences, as everyone does. Perhaps the struggle to turn a partner into someone other than who they really are is a hallmark of youth, but it is one we’ve surrendered to time. We now truly value each other - “warts and all” – and with that acceptance comes a tremendous peace.
 
A few years ago, through a series of volunteer projects, I gradually became acquainted with a couple of remarkable women. One is a chatterbox - innately honest and a warm, caring person with a heart as big as all outdoors and a fierce enthusiasm to throw herself wholeheartedly into any endeavor she is a part of.  The other appears quiet and reserved and can size up a situation quickly, has an eye for detail, and a determined stubbornness when it comes to preserving the environment and all creatures within it.
One is a non-practicing Catholic; the other has probing questions on all things involving faith. We get together often, discuss anything, and respect each other’s opinions. Beyond a doubt, I have become better informed, stronger in my convictions, and more willing to act for causes I believe in because of their willingness to question and share. Ours has become a treasured friendship.
We had been without a dog for fifteen years when a series of circumstances led to our adopting our little rescue terrier, Scruffy. We wanted to find a dog locally, but we found him on the internet. We wanted to travel a short distance, yet we drove to another state to see him. We wanted an uncomplicated process - we visited him at an incarceration facility for young men, but still could not bring him home because the rescue group needed to visit and approve our home. Lord knows he has his issues, unique behaviors, and odd little personality quirks, but he has added a certain energy, challenge, and spirit to our aging lives. He makes us LAUGH harder than we have in years, gets us out of the house daily, and gives us a reason to look forward to every day. And we wonder – just who saved whom?

All of this is windfall - unexpected, unearned, a sudden gain or advantage. In one form or another it comes to all of us, but we need to open our eyes to see and recognize it. And when you do, acknowledge, accept, and value it – trust where it comes from and that there will be more to come.
 
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.         Ephesians 3:20-21

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Acorns in Parking Lots

I’ll be right back…” I called out as I began crossing the large parking lot to the motel office where they kept hot coffee all day long. In the early twilight, I could see splotches of some tannish-gray material spattered across the dark pavement. My first thought was that someone’s tires had collected and dropped globs of mud, but they seemed to be the wrong color. Then I noticed odd little chunks and on closer inspection could see what they really were – acorns. The oak trees that had been planted in the median strips had produced dozens, which now were ripe and dropping to the pavement. Many had been smashed by tires, but some were still whole, scattered about with their broken-off caps. Quickly grabbing that hot cup of coffee, I set it down on a curb and began gathering up the acorns and caps into the front of my shirt. Gingerly balancing the hot cup in one hand and my newly-acquired treasure in the other, I returned to our room, joyful. “Look what I found – free decorations!”
I have always loved to gather nature’s bounty, which is everywhere you look and often free for the taking. Brightly-colored autumn leaves of different shapes and sizes, various seed pods and grasses, lichen-covered twigs, evergreen cones, berries, and nuts are abundant this time of year.  As the weather cools and dampens, I bring them indoors to add some color and cheer to the darkening days. Once collected, however, we need to see how they fit together and how best to use or display them.
And, if we pay attention, those are not the only free treasures to be found, combined, and valued. I remember the year, shortly after both my parents passed away, that I had the opportunity to attend art school (at the age of 50, no less…) and use my part of a small inheritance to complete the studies debt-free. Another time, while attending a community class and subsequently volunteering to use that knowledge, I met some women who ultimately became some of my closest friends. Asking for help on a local internet community page has resulted in meeting some incredible people, whom I would now not hesitate to contact for access to their unique skills. Serving on a local community committee has helped me become acquainted with members of different service organizations, educational institutions, and a local juvenile justice department. The exchange of information and knowledge with each of these people has enriched my life immensely and helped me connect them with others who have needed their expertise.
Those acorns – and their matching caps – returned home with me. The caps have been glued on and they are prominently displayed, along with other nuts and seedpods, as a reminder of the yearly harvest.  I’d much rather enjoy these real things than plastic imported replicas. Some years, I gather a small amount of evergreen huckleberries from our yard. They are small and there is never enough to do much with, but when combined with apples from my neighbor’s yard, they make a wonderfully tasty pie.
Many of us are not as close to the land and its abundant resources as our ancestors were, but it’s good to remember that all these things are timeless gifts from God. The harvest is ready – reap what you can, share the bounty, and be forever grateful.
 
Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. ~ John 4:36
 
 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Ants Go Marching...




March verb: walk in a military manner with a regular measured tread.
 
  • walk or proceed quickly and with determination
  • force (someone) to walk somewhere quickly
  • walk along public roads in an organized procession to protest about something (advance/progress)
 
In these times of dissent and confusion, marches for various causes have become more prevalent. Those who march for their “cause”, and those who hold strong opinions about these marches, are as passionate and diverse as our nation itself. I find myself, at different times and in various situations, wondering just whose side I’m on and what I should choose to do. Then, I am reminded of ants…

 As a child, like many of my age, I spent a good deal of my time outdoors. In mild weather, with the screen door banging behind me, I roamed the immediate neighborhood seeking adventure (such as it was, in those days.) until lunch or dinner lured me home again for a short while. Growing up in a city, and being intrigued by all life, there was not much more than garden plants, weeds, birds, and bugs to investigate. The bugs were common ones – caterpillars, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, beetles… and ANTS!
While I captured, studied, and played with all of these, I have especially strong memories of the ants. During several summers, I carefully dug up ant nests and set the tiny residents up in my own home-made ant farm – a large glass jar filled with soil with black paper taped around the sides. It never took the ants long to reestablish themselves in their somewhat abbreviated world of the jar. As they worked to create their myriad tunnels and living quarters, some which were down along the glass sides, I would remove the paper at times to observe them.
Some of the best education is personal experience; here is a small bit of what I learned about ants:
·     When a threat is perceived, ants respond quickly and with vigor.

·     There appears to be chaos and confusion at first, with scurrying about in all directions.

·     They quickly take up their assigned roles of defending, carrying loads of young and food, saving their queen, and seeking safety.

·     Often, when the threat has passed, they return to their nest site to painstakingly rebuild.

·     If deemed necessary (Who knows how?) they will rebuild their colony at a new site – marching steadfastly back and forth until all has been accomplished – and resume their lives.

·     In the greater scheme of things, they are teeny, tiny specks of life in a vast universe.

·     Within that universe, they are important and part of the wider-ranging web of life.

·     We are not that much different.
 
In times such as these, we each have our personal decisions to make as to our beliefs and associated actions. Study, soul-searching, diligence, and respect are needed for all of us. There has always been, and will continue to be, times of disagreement, distrust, and division among humans, and Christians are no exception. Among these Ds don’t forget dialog, discussion, and discernment. PRAY, especially for all those “others”- and don’t forget the ants…

God, when you took the lead with your people, when you marched out into the wild,
Earth shook, sky broke out in a sweat; God was on the march.
Psalm 68:7-8  (from The Message)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Struggling Upstream


Photo by John Williams
Surrounded by the hush of the forest - firs, cedars, and maples closing in with all their muted glory - I was once again struck by the fragility, yet the stubbornness, of life. Below us in the stream the salmon struggled, their once-glorious bodies battered, tattered, and covered with white splotches of fungus. Theirs was a trip of a lifetime, a one-time journey upstream to preserve their species; a trek marked by danger and tragedy as they wended their way past fishermen, boulders, logs, predators, through culverts, over or around dams and fish ladders.



Many would not survive the ordeal. Those who did would, if successful, produce progeny that might face even greater challenges on their return journey to the sea. It was a risk they all had to take – to choose otherwise would mark the end of their kind.


Salmon are driven by instinct, a highly-sensitive sense of smell, and an uncanny ability to detect the pattern of the Earth's magnetic field at the mouth of their native river. They are one of the few fish that can adjust to differences in salinity, spending part of their lives in both salt and fresh water. Adults live in the ocean where they feed and grow for six months to seven years, depending on the species. At maturity, they return to the stream where they were hatched and literally fight their way upstream to the ideal gravel beds for laying their eggs.



During this time, the adults stop eating and their bodies undergo many changes to help them attract a mate and ward off competitors. After the precious eggs have been laid, fertilized, and gently covered, the adults finally give in to the starvation and damage of their bodies and die. But that is not the end of their story – far from it. Some of the dying or dead fish provide food for other animals; their decomposed bodies return valuable nutrients to the water and soil of the surrounding forest.


Photo by Laura Finch
The newly-hatched fish continue to feed on the yolk sac attached to their bellies. Some kinds stay in the gravel for several weeks before swimming up into the open water of the stream, where they feed on plankton and other tiny aquatic organisms. Some spend one to two years in fresh water before beginning the long journey downstream and heading out to sea. As the current carries the young salmon tail-first to the ocean, their bodies undergo physical and chemical changes to enable them to survive in salt water. It truly is an incredible, never-ending circle of life.


Photo by Laura Finch
God provides us with many teachers and there is much we can learn from the salmon. We need to become keenly aware of our instincts and learn to trust in them; as we develop our finely-tuned sense of self and a sense of place, know that those are inexorably linked. We should set our goals and persevere until they are reached, no matter how tough the going may be. If we value the wisdom and knowledge of older people who have amassed a wealth of information, experience, and acumen, we will find it is worth making the time to listen to and learn from them. To live sustainably, so that there is enough for everyone, we need to become fully conscious of our use of the many natural resources this planet provides – carefully buying, using, and recycling; there should be little that we waste or throw away. We must trust that others will carry on after us.




There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:ferences for Ecclesiastes 3:1

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing…   
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-5


It is the season of renewal, joy, and hope -

CELEBRATE!

Monday, November 7, 2016

SCARY - or just Scared


I’m SCARY!” the small voice suddenly boomed out menacingly, while the arms straightened and stuck out and there began a stiff-legged strut around the room. Frankenstein had come alive! It was only a costume, of course, and not a very good one at that. It was just a cheap print of the infamous monster’s face on a sort of rectangular pinafore of vinyl with a matching plastic mask. But he had chosen it himself and now wore it proudly over a bright yellow raincoat and dark red jeans. I’ve often wondered if he thought he really was that scary or was just trying to convince himself of the fact…
We had only lived here six months when we got the OK to pick up this four-year-old child in Everett and bring him home as our foster child. It was not really what we wanted; we wanted to adopt, not foster, a child. But as they say, beggars can’t be choosy and we’d waited long enough - we’d been married fourteen years and time was flying by. We’d been assured that they were “almost positive” this little boy would become free for adoption within a year and we decided to take the chance. It proved to be so.

I look back at that time and cringe, for none of us really knew what lay ahead. We drove to Everett once to spend a couple of hours with this boy before picking him up the next week. There was no time to get acquainted; very little time to prepare. We’d had a bedroom ready with the basics - bunk beds, chest of drawers, rocking chair – because we’d hoped to adopt while living in Idaho. When that did not happen before we found out we’d be moving to Washington, we stopped planning. Disappointment can do that to a person. We went through the motions of applying to adopt here, but had no idea things would happen as fast as they did. By the middle of October, we had a child and wondered if we knew what in the heck we were doing. All new parents must feel this way to some degree, but this was a preschooler with “issues” and we had no instruction manual. We were new in the community, so knew few people and had no family nearby. My husband was commuting to Seattle every day and still traveling some with his work, so I was alone much of the time. To say I was apprehensive is an understatement…

Our son arrived with one small box of clothes and a small paper bag of toys from the child center – he had none of his own and didn’t seem particularly attached to these. We drove to Penney’s in downtown Bremerton (There was no mall in Silverdale yet.) to buy him a few clothes that fit better and just sort of winged it the rest of the way. As Halloween approached, he made it known that he wanted a costume and to go Trick-or-Treating. I took him around to a few houses where we knew the people for his treats. He acted so brave, but I could tell that underneath the bravado was a scared little boy – new home, new parents, new experiences. But he did enjoy himself and managed to eat his entire small bag of candy the next day. We all had much to learn yet!

How often we put on a brave face and go forward as if nothing is bothering us, afraid to show our perceived weaknesses to others. How often we won’t face our fears and misgivings. How often we refuse help and seal our hearts against risking more. How much hurt and grief we would avoid if we would just let it all go…

My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes.  Psalm 38: 10

 For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me. 
Psalm 109:22

Friday, July 15, 2016

Those Daily Miracles


“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”

~  Albert Einstein



Amazed. It is a word which today is over-used and has lost much of its meaning. But on this day I truly was - amazed. Before me stood a minor miracle, a small plant which only the day before anyone would have taken for dead.



I had recently purchased my yearly supply of garden plants; most I had planted, but this one had somehow escaped me. I thought I’d gotten six lovely coleus plants, but when I planted them I only had five. Thinking I had simply miscounted, I thought no more about it. But now I remembered that before planting we had found one of them lying on the porch deck. It had been dry and therefore very light-weight and we assumed either the wind or a pesky squirrel had knocked it off the ledge where it had sat. I watered it well and planted it that very day.



Unbeknownst to me, another coleus lay nearby, but out of sight. A week later I had found it, pot and all, lying on its side on the ground, bone dry with withered leaves. In fact, about half of its leaves were brown and crunchy-dry. I nearly threw it out, but I had spent good money on those plants and decided to do what I could. Setting the plant in a small bowl, I thoroughly watered it and set it on our kitchen window sill. The following day all three of the plant’s stems stood straight up, its remaining leaves full and healthy looking, with bright green and rich rust coloring. I will plant it in a larger pot and nurse it along until it has fully recovered before planting it outdoors. I call it Lazarus.

“The only way to live is to accept each minute as an unrepeatable miracle, which is exactly what it is: a miracle and unrepeatable.” ~ Storm Jameson


Recently, a family friend had a horrendous bicycling accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He lay in the intensive care unit for days with bleeding and swelling on his brain, no memory of the accident, and questionable prognosis for recovery. Doctors were guardedly encouraging, friends and family were in shock, and the patient himself had no idea of what was going on. But those close to him were always there with him – sitting next to his bed, holding his hand, praying, crying, staring off into space, occasionally nodding off – keeping watch by simply being present. But in a situation such as this, it is never simple.


After a couple of weeks, he was released from the hospital and admitted to an in-patient rehab center. After another few weeks, he was allowed to go home with continuing out-patient rehab. Fortunately, he is able to walk, talk, and communicate, although not as well as he did previously. Some of his memory has returned and his functioning has improved, but he still has a long way to go. No one can say, with certainty, if he will recover fully and how functional he will end up being. However, he has made great strides in a relatively short amount of time, which is a positive sign. He might have died, but here he is one short month later. Again I am – amazed.


Whether you believe in them or not, miracles do happen every day. Many are seemingly insignificant, some mind-blowing - ALL are evidence of something far greater than ourselves.


Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.
Psalm  105:5