Friday, May 30, 2014

Etched in Sand - Another "Why?"

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Last night on the evening news, the closing story on ABC News was about a young man who is his high school's valedictorian this week, despite the fact that he has been homeless off-and-on for the past twelve years!

This story really resonated with me due to the fact that I had just finished reading Etched in Sand, an autobiography by a woman who was homeless for most of her childhood.

Regina Calcaterra was in and out of foster care most of her childhood, and anytime her alcoholic mother could regain custody of her, she and her siblings lived in anything from the trunk of the car to a horse trailer. It was a tough read.

At one point, Regina yells at yet another foster parent, "Why does God make little kids suffer?"  The horrified woman - one of the few decent foster parents in the book - responds, "God does not make little children suffer, bad people do that."

Nevertheless, two of Regina's few possessions that managed to survive the constant moves, dragged hither and yon in the garbage bag of whatever meager things she could carry, were a couple of plastic Jesus figurines.  She does not know where they came from, or how she came to have them, but they are precious to her.

As I read this harrowing account I could not help asking "why."  Not why did this happen; since we know that such things happen every day all over the world.  And not "why does God allow it" - as that is a bigger eschatological question that I can ever answer.

The simple answer is that evil is present in the world, through Satan's devices and man's own sin.  But the reality of little children who suffer innocently, that is just too grievous to contemplate at any great length.  It is too painful.  It makes us squirm in our own skin.

From time to time in Regina's life, people did know what was being done to her and her siblings.  But they did nothing, because they simply did not care enough to be bothered.  It just wasn't their problem.

Yes, there was a happy ending:  Regina survived, went to college, became a lawyer and today advocates for foster kids who are "aging out of the system" and have nowhere to go.
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I wonder sometimes whether we, too, carry around a "little plastic Jesus" instead of diligently serving a real One who suffered and died for us.  Those little artificial ones are easier to ignore when we do not wish to be disturbed.  When it is easier to look the other way.

The real, living, Christ says to us "In as much as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me."

I don't know about you, but sometimes that reality scares me.  Have I done enough?  What is "enough"? I do not know.  Only He knows.
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If you read any sad books this week, I hope they were worthwhile and caused you to ask yourself some valid questions.  The one I read sure did.  Until next time ~ Marsha

Monday, May 26, 2014

On Becoming a Weedener

Ask anyone who has ever planted a garden, and they will tell you that it isn't all roses and lollipops. 

For every fragile petal blossom, there is a potential for powdery mildew; and anyone who has ever battled that particular blight knows how devious that little fungus can be.  If it weren't just too cute, I would be tempted to say that fungi is no fun-guy; but I won't.

There is a delightful little plant called variously a Golden Jenny or a golden creeper, but either way she is a dandy.  Tiny little perfectly round leaves on long, trailing vine-type stems.  Wonderful little plant for the "spiller" portion of potted arrangements.  

Oh, you don't know from spiller?  Well, the garden geniuses tell us that most larger potted arrangements need three kinds of plants for balance and appeal:  a thriller, a filler, and a spiller.  As might be gathered from the name, the spiller is any plant that tends to trail over the sides of the container.

Yeah, well, the creeping jenny is great for that, but she is also very apt to get stepped on as she creeps her way along unnoticed crevices in the garden.  Then you have a bruised and wounded jenny - no cheer there.

However, blights, bugs, and crushed stems are child's play in the war on garden chaos, when compared to the ever-present weed.

Weeds are omnipresent, omnivorous and back-breaking in their sheer numbers and tenacity.  If I had had half the staying power of a weed back in my twenties, today I would have easily read fifty thousand books, speak twelve languages, and made a kajillion dollars.

I mean the things are just unstoppable.  Period.  You can spray them, crush them, starve them, shrivel them up, attack them with a root puller and drown them with weed killer. (Save your money - they drink that stuff like Kool-Aid.)

Go ahead.  I dare you.  Just try and get ride of them permanently. No, wait.  Before you maim yourself in the attempt, and along the way break your own heart, let me save you the trouble.


So once, not so very long ago, I had visions of grandeur.  I was going to become a gardener.  Now I know how foolishly presumptuous that was of me.  

I don't know how much of a gardener I have become.  It is still early days.  But I am fairly certain that I am well on my way to becoming an expert "weedener".

It is not as much fun - but it must be done.  Some things in life are just like that.  Guess I'll just have to deal with it.
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Hope your garden is merry and bright today - and that your weeds took a holiday.  Until next time ~ Marsha

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lobotomies and Broasted Chicken

We were down at the Kalico Kitchen for chicken dinner this evening.  There was a movie decades ago entitled something like "If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium" about a tourist group hitting a certain place on the agenda on a certain day.

Around here if it is Tuesday that means that half the town will be down at the Kalico because on Tuesday they have the 2-for-1 broasted chicken special.  Not baked and not exactly roasted, but some kind of cooking process that produces a fantastic tasting, crispy-golden chicken that has all the flavor, but almost none of the calories, of fried chicken.  Ooooh-yeah!

So we are munching along, and Julie, our waitress, stops by to pass the time of day for a few quick moments.  She and David exchange pleasantries, and I nod from time to time.

Now David prides himself on knowing all the staff by name, and most of their children, too.  Lately, however, he apparently decided that is not enough of a memory-challenge; so he has moved on to their hobbies and other life activities.

Julie and my spouse exchanged comments regarding their mutual interest in blood-drives and donating blood. David proudly let her know that he had recently received his T-shirt and award certificate for donating fifteen gallons.  Yes, gallons!

As she walked away, David leans toward me and says, "You know she has another job, right?"

I nodded.

"Yep", he says sagely.  "In her other work, she does lobotomies."

Startled, I glanced up and quickly said, "Fluh, honey.  Fluh."

"Huh?"  he responded with a puzzled expression.

Exasperated, I emphasized quietly, "Fluh!  She is a phlebotomist.  She does not give lobotomies - thank goodness.  She draws blood - she does phlebotomy."

"That's what I meant."

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Hope you enjoyed a good piece of chicken this week.  And that you did not run into anyone giving lobotomies.  You can't be too careful about that! Until next time ~ Marsha

Friday, May 16, 2014

An Unexpected Delight

Flower Garden Design Ideas from the 2012 RHS Chelsea Flower ShowI have had some agapanthus that looked a lot like these.  They are such cheery plants, and truly no trouble at all.

However, just now I have a lonely looking little thing growing waaaaay out by the road and how it got there I have no idea.

It is surrounded by plain, bare, scorched earth.  No grass nearby.  No flora community in the vicinity.  No water in sight.

What in the world caused this spindly little flower to come popping up in that spot?

I definitely did not plant it there.  And it wasn't there last summer.  I am sure because I recall thinking that the only good thing about that barren stretch of dirt just beyond the front driveway was that I did not have to weed it - not even weeds grew on that bare dirt.

But there it is.  Granted, its little stem is not a deep green - looks a bit pallid actually.  And it has very few spiny leaves - only two or three.  But that little agapanthus has a blossom - in a lovely shade of lavender.  I'm amazed.
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I've known some people like that - young children even - who had no happy community, no visible means of being tended or even watered very often.  And yet there they were, flourishing in most unexpected ways.  Even in the barren places.

A little boy with grimy hands and a raggedy hair cut who, nevertheless, had a million dollar smile.  A young girl with clothes that had never seen an iron, and a ponytail that was more out than in the rubberband, and yet, there she was; singing a solo with a clear high voice, true and sweet.

Whence come these unexpected inhabitants of our world? 

I cannot say; but I can be grateful to share the earth with them.
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Hope you had a chance to spot some beauty in an unexpected place today.  Until next time ~ Marsha

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Breaking or Bouncing - We All Need Mending

Recently I was reading an excerpt from a book wherein the author* recounts an experience of throwing a porcelain pitcher down and breaking it. 

She then spent the next several hours gluing it back together, as best she could.  It was, for her, a hands-on illustration of how God, as the potter in Jeremiah 18:2-6, mends our broken lives.

While I do believe that God mends broken lives, the illustration just didn't speak to me.  Here is why.

To the best of my recollection, I have only deliberately thrown an object to break it, once in my life.  And it happened to be a glass water pitcher.

It was during a heated argument with someone who had promised to love and protect me, but who had just made it plain that I would, in fact, be disrespected and ignored most of the time. 

I was eighteen years old and we had only been married a few weeks.  As I looked ahead at the road I had promised to travel (and would travel for the next twenty-two years); I felt my heart begin to break.

Still, I was no angel, and in those days I had a pretty short fuse.  I suddenly threw the water pitching I was washing while we argued, tossing it across the kitchen at his feet.  I anticipated the satisfying crash it would make as it shattered into pieces.

But it didn't.  It bounced.

It didn't even crack.

Didn't I feel foolish as I picked it up, rewashed it, and put it away?  I used it for many years to come, and it served as a reminder to me to not allow my emotions to rule my life, however, painful that might be.

Much like that tossed pitcher, I bounced when thrown once again to the cold, hard ground of reality.  I did not break.  I did not shatter.  I did not give an onlooker the satisfaction of whining.  I was too proud to crack open.

But each time I was thrown, and each time I bounced on the hard surface of indifference and disloyalty, I bruised.  I bruised in places that no one but God could see.

Eventually, of course, I broke - we all do.  And later, when God mended me, I was so grateful.  Yes, I still carry around the cracks and scars from my brokenness.  But I no longer carry the deep inner bruising of my own unworthiness.  That is gone.  It was mended by the Worthy One.

Certainly I wish that I had understood back then, what I know now; that there are other ways to be than just broken or bounced around.  We can choose to quickly bend (the knee) and bow (the head) and ask for strength, grace and mercy.

Some of us break sooner and more readily than others.  Some of us appear to always bounce back, no matter what.

But we each need to be mended one way or another - one time or another.

Let us then handle each other with care.  May we gently touch the scars on each others' lives; and be aware that even those who seem never to shatter may be deeply bruised in hidden places.
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Until next time, I wish you mending in your painful places and forgiveness toward those who have bruised you most deeply.  The Worthy One will bless you as you heal. ~ Marsha

*(Mended: Pieces of a Life Made Whole ~ Angie Smith)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bottlebrushes : Man-made and God-made

 Product DetailsI do not recall just when I first discovered the handy-dandy little kitchen utensil called a bottle-brush, but it was probably about the time I was first scrubbing baby bottles as a teen-age baby sitter.

This was, of course, long before those plastic holder types with a disposable baggy inside. No, in the "olden days" you had to wash, scrub, and sterilize glass baby bottles. And about the only way to get all the milk scum out of the bottom of the bottle was with a bottle-brush.

I was always particularly glad to have a utensil with which to scrub the inside of anything made of breakable glass, ever since I had shattered a glass, with my hand inside it, while washing dishes when I was twelve.  Not that a person could possibly get their hand inside a baby-bottle; but it was just comforting to discover such a clever little tool.

I wonder who first thought of attaching little bristles to a wire stem, and then putting a handle on it to make it easy to use?

Could it be the idea came from someone who was spending a few minutes admiring a callistemon (the botanical name for a  bottlebrush)? 

Bottlebrush PlantIt is an odd shrub, to be sure.  No soft, smooth petals to caress.  No fluffy powder-puff balls of florets.  The stems are woody and stiff, the leaves are a little prickly, and the blossoms are unlike other flowers.  They are little bristles sticking straight out from the tip of those woody stems.  Their whole attitude is a little in-your-face.

Here I am, take a good look, because you won't see anything else like me around the garden.

And, of course, just to top off their pert appeal, they are red!

Oh, and did I mention that deer won't eat them.  They are deer-resistant.  That alone makes them a winner in my garden book.

Thus, while I think the kitchen utensil called a bottle-brush is useful and quite clever, I think the happy, bright red bottlebrushes that God makes are more than useful and clever.  They are an encouraging symbol of both beauty and endurance.

They brighten up a dull corner of the yard, they require little water (which in this drought is pretty critical) and the herbivores roaming the back yard won't eat them.

Just now I am watching what is perhaps the very best thing about having perky red bottlebrushes in the yard, hummingbirds love them! And the ones in my yard are much brighter red than the one in this picture.  Not to brag or anything.
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Somewhere, in a factory somewhere, an assembly line is turning out man-made bottle-brushes: quickly and efficiently they come rolling off the line.

But somewhere in the universe, there is a God who is thinking up things like callistemons, bright red, prickly, perky, deer-resistant, drought-tolerant, and beloved by hummingbirds everywhere.

Sure, I appreciate a clever kitchen tool, who doesn't?  But even though they are called by the same name,  the man-made one does not begin to compare with the kind God manufactures all over the world. 

Come to think of it, I am pretty sure this principle applies to more things than we know.  Just saying ...
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Have a happy spring day.  And if you can, take time to glance at a bottlebrush bush somewhere.  I guarantee it will make you smile - especially if a hummingbird happens to be snacking on it.

Until next time - your grateful gardener, Marsha

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Porch Pause

"In the eyes of the world, there is no payoff for sitting on the porch." 
~ Barbara Taylor Brown (from An Altar in the World:  A Geography of Faith)

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A day or two ago my husband said to me, "Six o'clock?  In the evening? How can it be six already?"

It isn't as though it had been a hectic day, or anything like one.  We had breakfast, read the paper, drank a cup of tea (me) and coffee (him) and then got started on stuff.

He mowed.  I planted and then pulled weeds.  We took a couple of iced tea breaks - just for chuckles.

I mean this is about what our pace looks like most days.  Occasionally for a little high adventure, we huff down the hill to Costco.  The panorama that is human behavior in those aisles is usually enough to send us scurrying right back up to the ridge as fast as we dare go. 

The point being that we can hardly claim that life is moving along at a blistering pace; not at this season in our lives.  Just keeping up with the weeds is enough to give me blisters. And yet ...

It seems silly to admit it, and I have no explanation for it that will bear close scrutiny, still  - it is a challenge to find the time to just sit on the porch - and do absolutely nothing.

It seems audacious somehow.  Where is the upside?  What is the payoff?  How to justify the utter waste of time when all around people decry that time is our most precious commodity?

 According to the author noted above, this is part of our problem.  We feel we must "justify it" somehow, for some unknown reason.

Our culture does not approve of sitting on the porch doing nothing.  Oh sure, we are fine with sitting at the hair dresser, the library, the theater or the spa ... perhaps even the pew.  

After all, in these locations there is something being accomplished, if not by us then at least for us in ways that provide employment for others.  Okay then, there is some demonstrable value. 

But to just sit there, on one's own front porch, or back patio, doing nothing, saying nothing, actually not even thinking much.  Just being there.  
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I have a small thought on why it may satisfy some quiet need deep within our souls.  It is simply this:  we are, after all, created human beings.  Not human doings - but beings.  

I feel foolish, but it has taken me until recently to learn to enjoy just being.  But that front porch -or back patio - let me tell you, they are looking better every single day.  Talk about your basic simple pleasure!
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Hope you find a few moments to enjoy your porch this week.  No achievements or to-do list required.  Until next time ~ Marsha