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Sunday, November 15, 2015

In the Blink of an Eye


It was odd that it caught my attention at all, but at the same time how could it not? It was so completely unexpected and foreign to my eyes that, even though it was nestled unobtrusively among the still-green leaves, it literally took my breath away.
About five inches long, it hung as a tightly-packed group of dark-colored, woody pods, each one containing a brilliant, shiny red, plump, bean-shaped seed suspended from the pod by a single, white strand. I'm not kidding about the color - identical to the red of M & Ms, I'd say! If this plant had produced this dramatic show of fall seeds before, I somehow had missed it.
The plant is a saucer magnolia tree, which we planted back in 1988 as a memorial to my mom whom we lost that year.
It is slow-growing - only about eight feet tall after twenty-seven years of growth - but faithfully produces huge pink blooms each spring.
Whether it was the unusually warm, dry summer, the tree reached some certain level of maturity, or other unknown factors, it lavishly produced five or six of these hanging seed clumps this year. Maybe I just happened to be working in its part of the yard at the right time. Whatever it was, because I think of it as "Mom's tree", it stirred up all kinds of memories of her.

It is often so easy to take those closest to us for granted. Precisely because they are so near and dear to us, they become a part of the fabric of our everyday lives, woven in so tightly and secure that we forget how precious they really are.
If we are fortunate, and fully aware, age and experience teaches us that life can change in the blink of an eye and we should NOT take anything for granted - least of all those we treasure. I have been reminded of this time after time, but more so recently...

·         My loving husband - best friend ever, stalwart partner, robust worker, now facing physical challenges.

·         My sister - living close by for the first time since I was two years old, facing failing eyesight, hearing, and the fragility of aging.

·         Our adult son - struggling with mental illness, substance abuse, and unemployment.

·         My youngest niece - dealing with health issues, unemployment, her Alzheimer's-affected dad, and a sister with mental illness.

·         Our dear friend - solid presence and confidante, widower with young-adult children, who recently escaped serious injury from a falling tree.

·         My "Coffee Klatch" ladies - each facing their own unique challenges with family members, health, disability, and aging.

·         My community volunteer friends - dealing with family issues of dementia, addiction, failed relationships, worries for grandchildren, spouses, and their own declining abilities.

·         All of YOU - whom I know, love, appreciate, and consider part of the greater family.

I am not alone in this; I only listed those above as a reminder that all of us carry burdens of concern for those we care for and love. Let us remember to be thankful now for those we hold dear - circumstances can change in an instant and tomorrow may never come.

I view the magnolia's brilliant red seeds and remember my mom's bright red lipstick, geraniums, and apple pie. I'm ever so thankful to have had her in my life...
I always thank my God
as I remember you in my prayers..
Philemon 1:4

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Keep Your Tail Waggin’



Entering the woods this day, I am once again intrigued by his single-mindedness. That being to fully take in and enjoy every single bit of ground that we cover and, looking forward only a limited distance, that which lies ahead. I observe his steady gait – the little trot-trot with a bounce in every step.
The alert expression on his face – head and tail held high, ears forward, nose twitching, eyes continually scanning.
Rather small, he is close to the ground and the grass is high, so his vision is limited. But for him the nose rules all, and his senses are constantly inundated with scents I can only imagine: mice, moles, squirrels, deer, raccoons, and dogs – always there are dog scents… To him, they are all good and exciting!
This little rescue dog is new to our family and in some ways he had changed our lives. Sure, he has some “baggage” – some we know about, some not. There have been challenges – some we have overcome, some training is in progress, some we are still figuring out how to deal with. The upside continues to be his unique little personality. So often, there is a joyfulness about him that defies explanation.
 
He enjoys playing with his toys, but the small rubber ball trumps all. He would go to the moon and back to retrieve this ball, chews on it, rolls it around with his nose, squeaks it, and holds it between his paws to keep it from being taken away.
Each morning, or on our return from being away, he greets us with such enthusiasm – tail wagging his entire body.
He enjoys his cuddle time, curling up tightly against each of us in turn, sometimes under a quilt or blanket.
He loves to be brushed, stroked, scratched, or to have his belly rubbed - yawning, stretching, rolling onto his back, and surrendering to the enjoyment. I swear this dog actually smiles with pleasure at it all!
Anyone with a dog understands and I think we all could learn something from these loyal companions. That would be to simply welcome each day as it comes and to make the very most of it; to have a true interest in our immediate surroundings and the people we encounter.
To take life in with all of our senses: to clearly see the eyes of those we meet, hear the nuances of the music we listen to, smell the mudflats at low tide or the fresh air after the rain, taste the dinner someone else has prepared, touch the shoulder or hand of someone who needs to know we care.
To be aware of our demeanor and what it says to others, whether we look fretful and busy, or enthused and energetic.
We should not ignore the future, but also not look too far ahead, as we can only adequately deal with today. If we enjoy our leisure time to the fullest, throwing ourselves into whatever our interests are, could we not do the very same with our work?
What if we gave those we associate with our full attention and those we’re closest to our total commitment? When was the last time we really ENJOYED this life – every single day of it?

Of course, not every day is pleasant for us because life is full of hardships, uphill battles, pain, and grief. No one ever promised us that it would be easy. All these trials can wear us down and before we know it we can become locked into the negatives more than the positives. I think it is important not to forget that there are always some positives and that it would be good to celebrate those while we have them.


As you head out on your path of life today, remember that you will never pass this way again. Although the trail may be rutted, rocky and muddy, there are many interesting surprises along the way.
As best you can, try to keep your head up, your step lively, and your senses fully engaged. Don’t forget to walk with those who love you and keep your tail waggin’… there is rest later and tomorrow is indeed another day.


 This is the day the LORD has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:24

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Living with the Weeds


What a summer we had this year – warm, sunny, dry, and long. For those of us who are sun-lovers and gardeners, it was joyful bliss. But, as always, August crept in with the vague, intangible feeling that fall was on the way. I’ve wondered why I always feel this, but suppose it is the cooling temperatures, the gradual shortening of the days, along with the difference in the slant of those sunny rays. Endless summer would surely get old (or so I tell myself), so I welcome the change of season with the crisp evenings, moody days, and blessed rain. Lord knows, we could use the rain.
With the extended summer was an extended growing period for both the native plants that surround us and for those we cultivate in our yards. Planting, weeding, pruning, watching for pests, and harvesting flowers, fruits, and vegetables became a drawn-out affair this year. As the weeks - and then the months - passed with no rain in sight, watering became a regular, necessary task. During our usual summer “droughts” native plants survive just fine, having slowly adapted to our unique Pacific Northwest climate through millennia. This summer was unusual, however, and even the natives suffered. Some slowed their growth, some closed up shop early by going into fall mode with leaves turning color, and some simply gave up and died. The weeds, on the other hand, seemed to flourish…
 
As any gardener knows, weeds are a constant battle. Many hours are spent weeding – eliminating those plants that spring up in our gardens, insidious and unwanted. What is it, exactly, that makes a plant a “weed”? They definitely are plants that we don’t want or like, but there must be more to it than that.
It may be that some of them are natives that are unusually well-suited to taking over any space they find and reproducing exponentially to the point where they crowd out any other plants in the area. It may be that some of them are wanted and liked in other parts of the world, perhaps where they originally came from.
Somehow, they got from there to here and seem to thrive – often because our conditions suit them and they lack the animals here that would consume them back home. I think that weeds go back as far as the first people who, for whatever reason, decided to leave home and wander into new territory. Whether they carried them intentionally, such as for food, healing, or needed materials, or inadvertently as hitchhikers, wherever they roamed some plants went along. All plants do have a use, whether or not we know what that is. For most of us today, weeds are quite simply plants that we do NOT want.
If we think of it this way, some people may be considered weeds. Not liked, unwanted, problems to be dealt with - we find them everywhere if we are looking for them. Misfits, aliens, minorities – call them what you will – they intrude on “our” territory and cause us discomfort. Native or imported, they are unlike us and are often sturdy survivors, for they have had to be. Because they are different and not what we think we want, need, or can use, we’d just as soon weed them out, cleaning up our spaces to our own specifications and satisfaction; discarding them because we don’t deem them worthy to grace our presence.
Are they not also God’s creation and, as such, certainly as worthy as we are? Suppose - just for a moment - that “we” and “they” all grew in the same garden. Consider this thoughtfully, because we are all in this life on earth together, whether we like it or not...
 
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?  Galatians 5:13-15 (The Message)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Overgrowth


 
Wearily, I put my foot on the spading fork and dug deep, lifting up the rich, dark soil along with a good-sized clump of small, white bulbs with narrow leaves and bright blue flowers still attached.  Ahead of me in this bed was a sea of blue. I had my work cut out for me.
 
 
The Spanish bluebell or Wood hyacinth is a spring-flowering bulbous perennial native to the Iberian Peninsula. Like many other plants, it was carried away from its native land by well-meaning people and is now found world-wide, including here in western Washington. Although it appears to behave itself in many places, it tends to run rampant in our area; with moderately good soil and fair amounts of water, it takes over.


When we moved here thirty five years ago, we discovered these lovely beauties among the plants that the previous owners had planted. I remember them always blooming around the time of our son's early May birthday. I enjoyed them so much that I eagerly transplanted them to many places in our yard.

 
But this innocent-appearing plant naturalizes to the point of killing everything else and takes shelter under and around roots of shrubs and trees. The bulbs connect to others underground by tendrils, and also by adding tiny seed-sized bulbs around themselves at the same time. When the flowers dry, round hard seeds form and you can have hundreds of new hardy seeds flying around your beds, yard, and neighborhood where they readily self-sow. They survive beyond belief, and although they can grow densely, their thin leaves allow all kinds of weeds in your beds anyway. They just became too much of a good thing and I finally made the decision to get rid of them. All of them - and those bulbs must be removed by hand.

 
 
They remind me of the many possessions we all seem to accumulate as we go through life. It begins with things we need, which becomes things we want, and then morphs into things we think we have to have and can't live without. Toy boxes overflow, closets become crammed, garages have no room for cars, and before we know it we need to rent extra storage units to hold all our stuff. Like the ubiquitous Spanish bluebells, our possessions gradually take on a life of their own and quietly take over our lives. Before we know it, our possessions own us.
 
 

Like digging up the bluebells, it takes hard work to disentangle ourselves from our belongings. It seems we spend much of our lives working to accumulate things and as we reach that "certain age" - if we are wise - some of us work at ridding ourselves of them. "You can't take it with you." they say, but some of us try very hard to do just that.



 
Today, our flower bed is nearly clear of those lovely Spanish bluebells. It's taken me several months of digging to get the majority of those bulbs and I expect more time is needed to complete the job. Still, I will not be surprised if some of them pop up next spring.


We are down-sizing and unloading possessions also and the effort is similar. In both instances, the results are the same - peaceful, uncluttered space - in the garden, in the house, in our bodies, minds, and souls.


Will I miss those bluebells and possessions I've parted with? In some fleeting moments I'm sure I will, but the memories are locked away in my heart and mind. At the end of our lives - and I'm not there yet - it's said that all we really have left is our memories. Uncluttering our lives simply leaves more room for all those wonderful memories...
 
Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, who is good and pleasing and perfect.  1 Romans 12:2

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9    

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Susie's Rhubarb Pie


 

In the neighborhood of my early childhood, most of the kids that I knew and played with lived nearby. There were nine to sixteen of us in this half-block area and we spent much of our time, as kids of that era did, playing outside. The dads were away at work during the day and the moms stayed home, so we did have adult supervision of a sort. Not that the moms knew everything that we did, but they had their ways of keeping track of us. I can't say that any of us remained close friends, but we got along for the most part and when we didn't we'd somehow work things out. We were truly a middle-class, blue-collar neighborhood and we all knew the unwritten rules. In our own way, we were a tight-knit group. Occasionally, we'd get a "new kid on the block" and two of those stand out in my memory.
 
 
Jackie Stackhouse only spent a couple of summers in the corner house across the alley. The house belonged to his grandparents and there were rumors that his parents were divorced - one of the cardinal sins of the day. He was a cute kid; I remember him as olive-skinned, with dark brown hair and chocolate eyes. He and the boys of the neighborhood quickly joined forces, but it wasn't long before they ousted him - "He's a sissy", "He cheats", "He's a half-breed", "He's only here for the summer." I honestly did not know what to think, but neighborhood loyalty ran deep in those days. My parents, ever wise and compassionate, had a heart-to-heart talk with me. They explained that Jackie's parents were having problems, but that was not his fault and so he was spending the summer with his grandparents. "Be nice to him." they said, "He's lonely and could use a friend." I was not to be that friend and I'm not sure that he ever had one in the neighborhood, but I did stop and talk with him several times over the back fence where he played alone. I found him to be a sweet and gentle boy and I often wonder what became of him...


Susie Gates was a redheaded, freckle-faced spitfire. She and her mother moved into the basement apartment right next to us and I have no recollection of how long they lived there, but it wasn't very long. We quickly became acquainted; she loved to play dolls and dress-up, but usually wore dresses and didn't like to get dirty, so our friendship ran hot and cold. One summer day when I was down visiting in her place, I told of how the neighbor on the other side of our house had a large patch of rhubarb. Susie's mom told us that if we would go and pick some, she would make us a rhubarb pie. Of course I knew better, but that pie sounded wonderful and so I led Susie to the spot and we sneakily stole some rhubarb. Returning to the apartment, my mouth began to water for that pie, but Susie's mom told me it was time for me to go home and I never got a bite. That made me angry and I confessed to my mom what we had done. I said it was OK because Susie's mom had told us to, but Mom set me straight in no time. "They may be having tough times," she said, "but you still need to do what you know is right."
 
 
 I sometimes think of stealing that rhubarb and of the pie I never got to taste, but mostly I think of Susie and her mother and of how difficult things must have been for them. Back then, I really didn't have a clue...


 ..."Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."     Luke23:43
 
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God.     Philippians 1:9-11

 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

MY Imperfections?



“Cast not away your confidence because God defers his performances. That which does not come in your time, will be hastened in his time, which is always the more convenient season. God will work when he pleases, how he pleases, and by what means he pleases. He is not bound to keep our time, but he will perform his word, honour our faith, and reward them that diligently seek him.” Matthew Henry

 
Our small committee was meeting at a local coffee shop after a morning of work in one of our local parks. Deep in discussion on our on-going plan for the native plants we were to put in around the park's entrance, we got on the subject of how small the new plants would be, where we thought they should go, and how long it would take for them to reach maturity.
 

One man, a dynamo of energy and action remarked: "Can't we put in larger plants? I'm not getting any younger and I'd like to see the results of all this work sooner rather than later!" I tried to explain that this was a long-term project and that probably most of us doing this work would not live long enough to see the final results, but that the next generation definitely would. It was not the response he wanted to hear...


Patience may be a virtue, but it is something that many of us struggle with. Whether stuck in traffic, standing behind a fellow shopper who can't seem to find the right change, trying to get a word in with an acquaintance who talks on and on, or attempting to hurry a child who insists on dallying, we can feel the impatient sensations building - anger, irritation, blaming, shaming.
 
 
There is a discomfort and tensing in our stomach as we feel that things are just not going our way.
 

 More often than not, our answer to this discomfort is to try to change the other person, situation or thing that we think is causing it. But the problem is, it really is not the outside thing that's causing our discomfort, but how our mind perceives it. It is a problem within ourselves and therefore, the solution is an inside job.

 
“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them– every day begin the task anew.” Saint Francis de Sales


We each have different amounts of patience at different times and under differing circumstances. Some of us, perhaps, are just born with less or more of it than others.


Patience takes practice, and we can develop more of it if we really want to. First of all, we need to become more aware and learn to pay attention to when we are not patient.  


Then, odd as it may seem, we need to practice being kind to ourselves for not being "perfect" already.


Finally - and this is the tough one - we need to recognize and work on changing our automatic judgmental, critical thoughts and feelings. This is crucial, because simply changing the way we view any situation makes all the difference.


My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.        James 1:2-4