Sunday, November 18, 2012

Planning - Part II

Planning is neither good nor bad in and of itself. We like to feel that we are in control of our lives and planning is one way to introduce an element of control over at least some portion of our daily activities.

There is, of course, a broad spectrum of opinions as to the value of planning.  On one end we have the "go with the flow" crowd, who would sooner have an unplanned root canal that to plan enough time into their daily schedule to brush and floss.

On the other end is the "if it isn't on the schedule, we don't have time for it" crowd.  People in this category often end up teaching things like corporate time management seminars. (She wrote sheepishly.)

I believe the healthiest folks are those who are able to move back and forth along the spectrum, sometimes planning carefully, and other times just letting events unfold.  How I envy such people. There are even times, these days, when I can break bread with them and appreciate their perspective; but it took many painful life-lessons before I was able to do this.

God sent me to the "Chastened Planners Remedial Camp" - more than once - before I finally relaxed my death grip upon trying to control outcomes.  It is not by happenstance, that Twelve Step programs often remind their participants that "becoming overly attached to a desired outcome" is just one slippery step away from a relapse into addictive behavior.  That is scary stuff.
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So what kinds of plans can get a person into hot water?  Since planning itself is neither positive nor negative, what is it that can occur within that process that pushes the planner into the dark side of the spectrum?

Here are a couple of thoughts that you should feel free toss right on over the fence, if they do not ring true.

Planning for a personal objective, without regard to the thoughts, feelings, or needs of others.  In other words, planning rooted in selfish ambition.

All a man's ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.
Proverbs 21:2 (NIV)

The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty. (Proverbs 21:5 (NIV)

I do not think it is by accident that these two verses are found so close to each other.  Diligence that is also caring and generous leads to profitable productivity.  But a plan that is fed by something selfish in a person's heart, is weighed by God - and generally requires corrective action, for our own good and for the good of those who might otherwise be hurt by our actions.

King David had a plan to obtain Bathsheba.  He executed his plan (along with her husband) and she became his.  But the following outcomes were rife with broken hearts, loss and death.

A plan rooted in a selfish objective may be successful in the short term, but it will ultimately be doomed in God's grand design.

Planning that is based upon faulty information or a skewed premise.  

I recall the "dress for success" and "if it feels good do it" campaigns of the seventies and eighties.  If you looked good and felt good, then whatever you planned to do would turn out okay.  

Ask any of the beautiful actresses or handsome young actors, with wardrobes to die for and money to burn, whose bodies have been found after an overdose, how well that premise worked out for them.  They had a plan for stardom.  A desire to conquer the world. And sometimes they achieved it.

But the entire premise upon which they built their lives was sand, and eventually the house came tumbling down.
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Too little planning can result in chaos, but too much planning can result in heart failure.  A heart that has failed to recognize that God's plan is better than our plan, and that His timing is better than our timing.

If you are discouraged about a plan you have worked upon long and hard, and for which you are seeing little or no results, I encourage you to let go, even just a little.  Step back.  Take a deep breath.

God may be working out a solution that you have yet to recognize.  He is in the planning business and his plans include knowing the beginning from the end, an advantage we would do well to remember.

Some wit observed, "For a child of God it all works out all right in the end.  If it isn't working out, then it isn't the end yet."  I kind of like that.

Long ago someone suggested that instead of asking God to bless our plans, we would do better to figure out what God is already blessing ... and do that!  
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Hope your plans are going well today.  But if they are not, hope you can find a way to trust the all knowing Planner for as long as necessary.  It will be worth the wait. Until next time, Marsha

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

But What About Our Plaa-aa-aa-an ??? - Part I

Plan:  a scheme or program for making, doing, or arranging something; to have in mind as a project or purpose ( Webster's New World Dictionary-Third College Edition)
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Some of us like plans.  Some of us don't.  Some of us like plans, as long as they are our plans.  If it is someone else's plan, then we are not quite so taken with it.

For years the LOC* would say, "If it isn't in Marsha's planner, it isn't going to happen." (I am embarrassed to admit this was often true.)

He referred to my Franklin-Covey Planner.  Much like Mary's little lamb, everywhere that Marsha went, it followed her.  I not only made plans and followed them, I taught various aspects of planning in corporate seminars - project planning and execution, Gannt charts, milestones, benchmarks - you name it.  I was a planning guru.

Generally, I operated on the old axiom of "plan your work and work your plan."  It worked for me.  I could also be, well, how shall I put this, overly attached to the plan, once it was in motion. Once it had been edited, approved, and distributed via the corporate intranet, you were going to have to pry that puppy out of my cold-dead hand before I would let it go.  Flexibility has never been one of my strong suits.  The PowerPoint show would go on.

But despite all the graduate coursework and corporate class sessions in which I was involved, the most dramatic lesson I ever had about becoming too attached to a plan was taught to me by my nine-year old granddaughter, Brynn, earlier this year.

We had attended Brynn's older sister, Simone's, high school choir competition in San Diego that morning, and then we went to Sea World with dozens of other students and parents/grandparents/others for the rest of the day.  The awards ceremony was scheduled to take place around 9:00 p.m. that evening, after which the teen students would board buses to go home; and my daughter, younger granddaughter and I would drive home on our own.

It was a fun day.  But it was a long day.  It rained intermittently, and was by turns chilly, windy, and then inexplicably too warm from hour to hour.  We walked, we talked, we watched animals and fishes do funny things. We ate funny things too (although I think they were called funnel cakes) and we walked some more.

Finally, around 5:00 p.m. my daughter looked at me (I may have been flagging a little by then) and said, "It is still hours until the awards dinner.  If we stay until after that, we are not going to get home until way after midnight.  What do you think about just heading back now?"

Not wanting to be a drag on the party, I said something like, "I think that makes sense."  Inwardly, I wanted to weep with sheer gratitude, as my feet and back were killing me.  I had been trying to keep up with a much young crew for hours and I was pretty much done in.

Thus, it was decided and we steered out of the gargantuan parking lot, and headed up Highway 101 for Los Angeles.  About ten miles up the road, we heard sniffling coming from the regions of the back seat.  My daughter ignored it for several miles and finally said, "Brynn, are you upset that we are going home early?"

As the sniffles turned into piteous sobs, Brynn suddenly wailed, "But what about our plaaaaan?  This wasn't our plaaaaan!  We were going to stay until the dinner and drive home late.  This wasn't the plaaaaaaaaan."
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Isn't it scary when some of our younger family members suddenly remind us of ourselves? Don't get me wrong; Brynn is delightful, funny and whip-smart, and I enjoy her immensely.  But in that moment I didn't know whether to laugh out loud, each time she wailed the drawn out word p-l-a-a-a-n, or cry with her.

She knew the plan for the day.  She agreed with the plan.  She liked the plan.  She bought into the plan.  And now, someone had changed the plaaaan without her consent.  WOW!  She was not a happy camper.

Have you ever been there?  I have.
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As Christians we often make a plan, decide how we are going to implement it, and then pray over our plan and ask God to bless it.  Nothing especially wrong with that, other than that it is backwards.

There is nothing inherently wrong with putting my clothes on backwards.  I bought them and they are mine to wear any way I want. And I can tell myself that all day long; but when I wear them backwards, they do not fit me well.  They are awkward and uncomfortable and downright silly looking.

You might think, why would you do that?  Wear your clothes backwards.  Who does that anyway?

And I might reply that they are my clothes and I just felt like it.  But they still feel uncomfortable because they do not fit right - and they look silly - even when I do not admit it.

In other words, the ability to buy clothing, and the ownership of that same clothing, do not alter the original design and purpose of the clothing, do they?

We can make our plans, devise them well; but if they do not conform with the Divine Planner's purpose for our lives, those plans will be awkward, ill-fitting and ultimately may not turn out well.

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Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."  (James 4:13-14 NIV)

I don't know about you, but there have been times when I have wailed at God, just like my nine year old granddaughter, "But that wasn't the plaaaan.  I had a plaaaan, and this wasn't it!  Now what am I supposed to do?"
                                                   # # # # # Question:  Have you ever made a plan, and you were convinced it was a good plan, and had the whole thing turn out wrong?  How did you react?  I have done that.  And next time I'll share some of that with you.
Next time:  A Change of Plans.  Now what do we do?  Serving on the "Chastened Planning Commmittee". (Part II)
(*Lovable Old Coot)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How Are "They" in Your Neighborhood ?

It is another chilly, cloudy November day here in Northern California. We have had a couple of rains, but not in the past week.  The LG (Landscape Guy) told me to ignore the intermittent rain, as it does not water the new plants deeply enough.  

Thus, I was outside watering, despite the season.  As I worked my way along a "hoped for hedge" a green SUV pulled into the drive and a lady got out and introduced herself as a new neighbor just down the road.  We have been here a year, but she has only been here a month - so she is really new and I welcomed her.

She asked how we like it here, and I said we are enjoying the rural life.  The neighborhood is friendly and quiet and just what we were hoping for.  She looked a little disconcerted and told me the reason she was stopping by:  had we been bothered by the barking dogs two doors down from us?

I honestly had to tell her that I had not heard them, except for one day, when I did recall they seemed to bark. She did not seem to be "looking for trouble" as she told me why it was such a problem for her - she works nights and sleeps days.  I could understand as my mom was a night nurse for fifteen years and getting enough sleep was a constant challenge for her.

Nevertheless, there was something in her approach that bothered me a little.  Instead of just going over and politely knocking and asking them if they could try to quiet their dogs down because of her "day sleeping" needs, she was going door to door trying to drum up a little cabal to approach them en mass.                  # # # # #

While there could be a number of legitimate reasons why this lady was using this particular approach; it did remind me of a story I heard many years ago.

A family driving their car through a rural neighborhood stopped to ask an old man sitting on his front porch what kind of neighborhood 
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it was.                 

"We are thinking about moving here, and we would like to know what the neighbors are like" they told him.

The old gentlemen stroked his chin thoughtfully and slowly asked them, "Well, what were the neighbors like where you came from?"

"Oh, they were awful. Lots of problems. We didn't enjoy living there at all."

"I must tell you that you would find they are pretty much like that around here, too."

Keenly disappointed the family drove on down the road.

The following week another family stopped at the same old man's porch and asked a similar question.  They, too, were considering moving to his neighborhood.

"Well" he said carefully, "what were the neighbors like where you came from?"

"Oh, they were wonderful.  We enjoyed living among them and we were sorry we had to move."

"I think I can confidently tell you that you will find the neighbors here to be very much the same" he said with a smile.
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The moral being that sometimes we find the very thing we expect to find.  Smart-alacks call it a "self-fulfilling prophecy."  I don't know about that; but I do know from experience that more often than not we get what we go looking for.
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The *LOC and I came here a year ago looking only for a friendly, quiet place to hang our hats.  I am happy to report that our hats have hung undisturbed for a year now, and I am very thankful.  We found just what we went looking for.

Hope no one is disturbing your peace and quiet today.  And that wherever you hang your hat, you have found what you are looking for.  Until next time ... Marsha
*Lovable Old Coot

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I Saw An Unnerving Sight

I love landscaping.  I enjoy reading gardening books and magazines and then seeing where, and if, I can incorporate some of what I have read and seen into my own little half-acre of Paradise.

Sometimes I can.  Sometimes I can't.  This past summer my geraniums were infested with cut worms, and my gerber daisies wilted with white mildew.  Growing things is always a challenge.

Living in Sacramento for twenty years, we wrestled with hard pan clay that packed like cement when it was dry. I often felt like Tennyson's poor little "flower in a crannied wall" when trying to grow anything.  The forces of nature were definitely stacked against us in the heat of the Central Valley.  

We once paid good money for a lovely bougainvillea. We nicked named it "Bo" and I went out each day for months to tend it, talk to it, and water it.  But Bo bit the dust.  Baked in the hundred-plus degree heat.  I nearly cried. I had had visions of its blooms covering my back fence.
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With all the struggling I've done over this past year to try to turn an almost barren piece of land (except for a couple of dozen 75 ft. pine trees) into a gardened landscape, it was hard for me to imagine overdoing it.  I mean, come on, it is tough enough just to get something into the ground, get the soil amended correctly, and then get the watering routine right for that particular plant.  And don't get me started on "feeding" all this stuff correctly.  Trust me, we do not have that kind of time today.

However, the other day I drove onto a property that dumbfounded me and provided a cautionary tale.  It was clearly someone's vision at some point in time.  There was a sadly neglected gazebo with ratty looking patio furniture sitting in it, completely mismatched to the setting.        
pampas grass images
There was pampas grass that had gotten out of control, and was now eight feet high, and hid most of the entry to the property.  There was a circular drive, much like the one we had constructed in front of our house this past summer; but this one was so narrow, and overgrown from both sides that I feared for the paint on the sides of my car as I drove through it.

Most of the growth looked to be about eight or ten years old.  Here and there evidence of a garden plan still existed, albeit overgrown  and intermingled to the point that getting it sorted out would probably require a John Deere trencher, not just mowing and trimming.

Holy cow, Marsha!  Just look at this mess.  That was my first thought.  My second one was, "Let this be a lesson to you, in restraint and patience."

Ah, me.  I am so inclined to just keep filling up empty places in the yard that I could easily find myself living in a jungle five years from now.  Fortunately, it is cold and rainy this week.  All I can do is watch a little patch of grass I planted recently come up one blade at a time.  (Yes, I am easily entertained.  I've been know to watch paint dry with the fascination of one observing brain surgery.)

Still, that daunting mess I visited the other day, well, that throttled my jets a bit.  I think I will dial my gardening goals back, for now.  Good thing this has occurred just when I have little choice, since the winter dormancy is upon us for most growing things.

Guess it just goes to demonstrate once again that, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a "time for everything" and purpose under heaven for all things.  A time to plant and a time to refrain from planting.  Growing a good life is much harder work than growing a good garden.

There have been times, when I have been tempted to just rush into filling "empty places in my life" with whatever I could plant there, regardless of whether it fit with any plan God might have for me.

Mostly I have resisted that inclination, but I am aware that it could reassert itself at any moment.  Thus, I must go now, and practice my refraining skills.  They are sorely under-developed.
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Hope you have a good view through whatever window you are gazing today.  Until next time ... Marsha
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Question:  Have you ever planted something you later regretted?  Have you ever had a garden get out of control?  Just asking?  :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Small Service

How about a little Wordsworth, this evening?  I'm in the mood for it, and hope you might be, too.

The following quotes are from two different pieces by William W., but for me they have a related frame of reference.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils.  (1807)

Small service is true service (1835).

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The discussion leader at the Bible study this past Wednesday morning mentioned that she had no real friends from her youth because her father's work (he was an airline pilot) necessitated that they moved frequently.  I could relate.

A Chief Operating Officer (COO) that I once worked with told me that his wife had moved around a lot because her dad was in the military, and she therefore had no friends from her youth.  He, in contrast, had grown up in the same small town his entire life, and in fact, still lived near the street where he grew up.  He could not relate.

I asked him if it bothered his wife, her background and lack of roots.  His reply resonated with me.  He told me, "It didn't bother her at the time she was growing up.  But it bothers her a lot, now that she is older."

At the time I was working 50 to 55 hours a week, and had no time to  ponder his comments, but they stuck with me.  In the past year they struck a nerve.
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I have "wandered lonely as a cloud" for much of this past year; new town, new church, but little chance to make new friends due to family illness.  And there are no friends from "youth" as I moved many times from state to state and my short-lived school acquaintances did not survive.

To make matters worse, I am an introvert by nature, so it is easy for me to simply retreat to my own little house and read, work crossword puzzles, clean house, work in the yard, and just piddle around. It is difficult for me to reach out to new people.
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But our Bible study group has been hard hit with illnesses and surgeries this past month.  And thus an opportunity to offer a small service was available.

So today I chopped and simmered, sliced and diced, and enjoyed every minute of it. (Although I am not a great cook, I can follow a recipe.  And bake a pan of cornbread.  And toss a salad.  How hard is that?)

The smile on A.'s face, as well as her husband's, when I delivered their dinner this evening was not just a reward, it was a blessing.

I drove back to my house smiling too, thankful for the joy of giving a service.  Even a small one.  As Wordsworth wrote, "Small service is true service."

Proverbs says that anyone who would have a friend, must first be a friend.  A. invited me to come back and visit soon.  It could be that we will become friends.  But even if that does not occur, I have been blessed with the privilege of offering a small service.

Who knows, there may be a "crowd of daffodils" just around the corner.
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Hope you have a chance to offer some small service to someone soon.  If you do, don't pass it up.  There could be a bouquet of daffodils in it for you.  Until next time ... Marsha

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Some Dumb, But Not Plum Dumb

Detect Counterfeit US Money
Maybe they thought because I am past a certain age, I would fall for it.

Maybe they thought I would be so greedy, or so desperate, that I would go for it.

Maybe they just thought their paperwork was so genuine looking, that I would fall for it.
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They were wrong.  

This week I received some paperwork in the mail, with air mail postage affixed, looking pretty "official".

Inside was a check that also looked real.  I looked at both sides, I peered at it closely over a light bulb, and sure enough there was the watermark, that generally means the check is legitimate.  This was not a little two-nickles-and-a-penny piece of paper, either.  It was written in the amount of a few thousand dollars, to me, at my correct home address.  Huh?

The *LOC and I are veteran Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy watchers, so we know about prizes and prize money.  We watch folks win stuff most every evening.

Still, as I read, and re-read, the letter enclosed with the check it just didn't sit right.  It purported to be a sweepstakes drawing for the customers of a group of stores at which I frequently shop, including the largest retailer in the world.  It said it was limited to those who had shopped at these stores within the past six months (which I had done on any number of occasions.)

Further, it did not request any advance money to cash this check (although it mentioned taxes that would be due) and then an even larger check would be issued, as the "balance of my prize money" it said was due to be awarded to me.  It did not request any personal information.

But it still did feel right.  Something was just ever so slightly off about the whole deal.

What is the BBB (Better Business Bureau) for, if not for these very kinds of situations?  But giving the BBB a call is not as easy as it once was.  First, I had to check several phone books looking for a BBB listing.  No luck.

Next, I chose the business organization that seemed to most closely align with good business practices and called their number.  The lady there informed me that due to budget cuts, there was no longer any local BBB.  The closest one was in Sacramento.  She gave me the phone number.

A lady with a world-weary voice, name of Wynetta, answered my call.  I described the material I had received, described the check and asked if they had received any reports of scams in our region resembling this?

"Oh, only about a ton.", she intoned in a bored tone.

"So it is a scam?", I asked, just to be sure I understood her laconic response.

"Yes, it is a scam."

"So the check is not real?  Because it looks very real."

"Oh, it is real all right.  You can deposit it in your bank and they will accept it."

I was sitting there holding the receiver with a puzzled look on my face, as she continued.

"And about thirty days from now you will get a call from your bank and you will owe them money."

"Ahhh, the check ultimately bounces, but meanwhile they have obtained my bank routing information from the back of the bad check stamped with my bank's information.  Is that it?"

"Riiight" she drawled, even wearier than before.
I thanked her and hung up.  As they say where I once lived for a short time, "I may be some dumb, but I'm not plum dumb."
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I just hate this sort of thing; not because I have ever fallen for one of these stupid scams, but because I am always reminded that some little old lady or man, somewhere, has opened one of the tens of thousands that they sent out, and the first thing they know, they have been cleaned out.

It always comes down to the oldest cautionary adage known, "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."
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Hope no one gave you any wooden nickles today.  But if they tried it, I hope you gave them no satisfaction, and warned your next door neighbor.  Until next time ... Marsha

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Doing Laundry - A Church Analogy

Pink old fashioned washing machine :-)This morning, as the tea kettle was preparing to boil, I decided to start the first load of laundry. It was only a few cleaning towels and rags, but I don't like to mix them with the "regular" wash.

So I threw them in the front-loader, punched a few buttons on the control panel, poured in a little liquid bleach and detergent and pressed "Start."  I could hear the quiet hum of the machine as I went back to pour my tea.

As I listened to the machine begin its work, I was struck by how completely effortless laundry is today compared to my youth.  While I am not old enough to remember the days of the "wash board" (that was my grandmother's generation) I do recall wringer washing machines of long ago.

Every family had some horror story about someone they knew, or had at least heard about, who had caught a finger or two, or even an entire arm in the wringer.  Every young girl, when being apprenticed to do family laundry, learned how to carefully set the rollers, and then even more carefully "feed the clothes" into and through the wringer.

The wash was usually only done one day a week, and for our household it was Saturdays.  And it was an all-day affair.  Each load could take from twenty minutes to an hour, depending upon whether it had to have a second rinse and/or go through a starch solution.

Each item was run through the wringer, out of the main machine tub, into a rinse water tub, then each item was again run through the wringer into a basket.

The basket was then carried to the back yard clothesline, where you hung up each item with clothes pins. These pins might be of the "stick on" variety, which had two "legs" and a "head" which we sometimes made little dolls out of; or they might be the spring-hinged type, which could pinch your fingers if you were not careful.
clothes line
If your family consisted of several people as ours did, you likely would have eight or ten loads each week, and if each load took an hour to wash, wring, rinse, wring, starch, wring, then hang - well, you were looking at a long day.  
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Today, I never spend an entire day doing laundry.  Generally, I throw in a load here or there, whenever the fancy strikes me.

The machines do all the work, except for folding and putting away, and even that small effort sometimes irritates me as being a complete waste of time.  Perhaps I have become lazy.
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In my youth, we often walked to church. Once there, we  actively participated in the services (as compared to passively sitting in a pew and watching the service unfold).  For instance, when the song leader called out the page number in the hymnal, pages could be heard rustling all over the auditorium; and when the organist and pianist hit the first notes, nearly every voice in the place was raised in glad song.   After the sermon and closing prayer, we stood around talking with our friends for quite awhile. Eventually we walked home.
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These days, we can hardly be bothered to actually participate.  The congregational singing is often so weak that I am careful to sing very quietly, because if I let go "full-throated" I could drown out the whole kit and kaboodle, and wouldn't that be embarrassing?

We no longer use much "bleach" in our services.  Old hymns with language like "What can wash away my sins?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus." are rarely heard.

We don't "hang much out to dry" either.  We used to have what was called "testimony time" in the old church services.  During this time, any attendee could stand give a "praise report" or a prayer request.  It was through such testimonies that my faith was often challenged, as I heard first hand of the struggles others were encountering.  

And it was through these reports of answered prayer that my faith was strengthened and inspired to strive for a higher calling.  Sure, sometimes someone would stand and deliver an ill-advised soliloquy; and listeners would cringe a little.  So what?  We got over it and moved on.

Now, only those who have been thoroughly vetted for oddities, personality quirks, or some off-beat doctrinal stance, are ever allowed to speak in even the smallest way.  Much like those old wringer-machines, which could be labor intensive but were also pretty satisfying when the clean garments came squeezing through the rollers, so hearing a quavery-voiced old man speak of God's unfailing faithfulness (even though when he stood no one knew what he might say) gave soul satisfaction in a way that many of the currently sanitized announcements and activities do not.

And forget about "standing around" and visiting after services.  Our pastor actually had to ask people to either stay after service and visit for a few minutes, or if they must leave immediately, to please remember to behave like Christians getting out of the jammed parking lot!  (No, I am not making this up.)
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Those old church auditoriums were often drafty in winter and in summer they were hotter than where-we-so-fervently-did-not-wish-to-end-up.  But the people were real, down-to-earth, genuine fellow laborers together.  We painted church kitchens, scrubbed church bathrooms, and sorted junk stuff for rummage sales together.

Today we have professionally back-lit stages, professional musicians who would not dare hit a wrong note, and computer controlled "everything" from the temperature to the drop-down menus for the announcements.  It is clean and pleasant.

So is the laundry I just put away ... clean and pleasant, that is.  But it gave me no heart satisfaction.  Of course, this could just be me.  
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Hope someone or something gave you a little heart satisfaction today.  Until next time ... Marsha

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Japanese Maples and Me

                                      Japanese Lacy-Leaf Maple

I just read an encouraging article.  No, not in my favorite devotional book; but rather in my weekly gardening section of the newspaper.  It was all about those wonderfully colorful, dainty little trees known as Japanese maples.

They do not, as rule, grow very tall.  Neither am I.

They do not do well in full sun all day.  Neither do I.

(As it happens, we both sunburn rather easily.)

They have been cultivated for over five centuries, and thus they have an ancient heritage.

The Ancient of Days knew me "before I was formed" in my mother's womb.

Japanese maples tolerate drought well.  I have been in a spiritual drought for awhile now, and although I cannot say I am "tolerating it well" I am aware of it, and want to stay the course as best I am able.

If they are watered properly, they will put down deep roots in just a couple of seasons.  Otherwise, they can become off kilter in strong winds.

Just so.  I put down some pretty deep spiritual roots a few decades ago, and even so, God's grace is all that has kept me from being seriously "off-kilter" over the past year or two.

And Japanese maples are well-known as "corner bright spots" in gardens.  The sunlight brings out all kinds of hues and variations in their leaf color.  Cold produces red and orange, mild weather produces more yellow and pale green.

I truly hope to be a "bright spot" in my little corner of God's garden.

Japanese maples are frequently transplanted, and placed to greater advantage in a new spot.

I, too, have been a frequent transplant to a new place. While I had not moved in over twenty years, prior to our move here last year, in the twenty five years before that, we moved over twenty times.  It took a toll.

I am hoping that last year's "transplant" was, in fact, the last one prior to "moving on up."  But God knows best.

I planted a lovely little Japanese maple in a shady corner of my front yard a couple of weeks ago.  So far, it has been a delight to look at out my dining room window.

Hope someone can say I have become a good addition in the community garden in which I now reside.  In any case, it struck me that Japanese maples and I have a lot in common.
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Hope you are brightening the spot wherever you are this evening.  Until next time ...Marsha

Thursday, October 25, 2012

An Unforgettable Errand

I recently read a quote from President Woodrow Wilson, who once said:

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement.  You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget that errand.  
# # # # #   

What a marvelous sentiment - how lofty an ideal - and how utterly impractical.  

The world at large is just too big an assignment for any one of us.  
But I agree with the idea that we are here to enrich each other whenever the opportunity presents itself.

There are so many ways to make the life of someone else richer, and many of them do not require abundant resources, great talent, or even lots of time.  They only require that we be mindful of where we are and who we are with, and that we make the effort to offer even a small service or affirmation of one another.

A little over a week ago I attended a potluck luncheon in the lovely home of one of the women in the Bible study group I attend.  She did not prepare any great feast, but instead invited us each to bring an ingredient for a taco salad buffet.  So no one had to cook very much of anything.  It was a terrific luncheon and we all enjoyed her hospitality immensely.

I meant to send a "thank you" note the very next day.  But I did not. Phone calls came in, appointments had to be kept ... life moved on.  Thus, I thought, "I will be sure to thank her again when I see her next Wednesday morning at the study group."

But this past Wednesday morning she was not there.  Instead she is in a hospital far from her home, where they removed part of her lung.  She will be hospitalized, another week to ten days, and will be in unable to leave her house for another three months or more.  She will not be returning to the study group.
                                          # # # # #
She enriched about twenty lives last week.  And this week, I impoverished my own a little, when I failed to follow through on my good intentions to send that card right away.  Yes, I will send a card tomorrow, perhaps with some flowers.  But those small gestures will be tinged with the sorrow of what she is enduring.
                                       # # # # #
I forgot my "errand" of not just living, but remembering to enrich someone else as soon as I have the opportunity.

Hope someone took the time to make your day a little richer, and that you found a way pass it along to someone else.  Until next time ...Marsha

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What Do They See?

Three cupcakes with candlesShe was one of the prettiest little girls we had ever seen.  She had sky-blue eyes, corn silk blond hair, and a delightful little face.  I remember carrying her around as a baby, when I was a little old lady of eight years old, and thinking she was cuter than any of my dolls.

There were three of us girls and we each had our roll to play in the family dynamic.  I was the oldest, and was usually described as the "smart one".  My middle sister was generally referred to as the "nice one", and my youngest sister was always referred to as the "pretty one".

I often thought about that after we were grown.  What were these adults thinking when they gave us these labels that sunk so deeply into our identities whether for good or for ill?

Was the "smart one" neither nice nor pretty?  Was the "nice one" neither smart nor pretty?  Was the "pretty one" neither smart nor nice?  Honest to goodness, what were they thinking?

I cannot know what they were thinking, but here is what I do know. The pretty one grew up basing her entire value on her looks.  As a teen, boys chased her; as a young woman, men followed her around like lost puppies. By then, she not only liked the label, she owned it, flaunted it and traded upon it.

She wasted her youth on parties and alcohol.  She wasted her middle years on parties and drugs ... and alcohol.  I stood by her bedside praying for her and waiting for her to come out of a coma the first time she attempted suicide - at twenty-one.  The doctor said she had taken "enough pills to kill an elephant."  She survived and went to rehab, the first of many such trips.

Over the next three decades I literally lost count of the number of trips in and out of rehab.  How many Sunday afternoons did I spend sitting in some drab room, surrounded by lost disheveled women, quietly talking to her about choices, and the fact that God loved her?
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Last year, after a devastating death in her family, she was not functioning at all.  Her daughter suggested that her mother might feel better if she got her hair done.  She had always had amazing natural blond tresses, of which she was inordinately proud.  So off the three of us went to the hair salon, where she had it cut to shoulder length, highlighted and styled.

The transformation was remarkable.  As we walked through an adjacent grocery store to pick up a few things, I noticed her gait was different, her head was up and she was looking around her with interest.

Suddenly, she turned to me and said, "Oh, I feel so much better.  People are looking at me again.  They notice me.  They see me again."

I was dismayed, stunned, appalled - and deeply sad in the face of such shallowness. She still identified herself only by her appearance and how others reacted to it.
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Last month, I briefly visited her at the long term nursing facility where she has been for many months since she nearly died after having two major brain surgeries, and multiple strokes. When I came to the door of her room, she did not see me; but I saw her.  She was  sitting on the side of her bed, staring blankly at a wall.  It was a heartbreaking scene.

She wore a helmet, to protect her head in case of fall, as part of her skull had to be removed to allow for the swelling of the brain after the surgeries.  Most of her hair had been cut off to allow for the surgeries, but one lock straggled pitifully from beneath the helmet.

Her eyes do not focus well.  Her speech and cognitive abilities are impaired.  Her right arm and leg are partially paralyzed. She is the very picture of a wrecked and wretched life.

Tomorrow is her birthday.  She will be 58 years old.  And I will be fighting off tears most of the day.
                                        # # # # # 
Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Proverbs 31:30 (NIV)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Wearing A Fake Halo

The large sanctuary was filled to capacity this morning.  Not because we have had a sudden influx of new believers in our congregation, although that would be wonderful; but rather because we had only one service instead of the usual three.  

This change in the service schedule was not because the pastor has gotten too tired to deliver the sermon more than once, nor because we have so few attending each service that we needed to combine them.  Our pastor is well able, and each service is well attended.  So why the "everybody squeeze to the middle of the pew" routine?

The purpose was to encourage us to relate to each other as one large extended family, and to get to know one another better.  In order to illustrate the need for being "real" in our walk as believers, here came a .... wait for it .... a puppet.  Whaaaattt???

Now I will admit that I have never had any great affinity for puppets, even in "children's church."  They always seemed a little too cute for my tastes.  And to bring one on to speak to the grown-ups, well, let's just say I was in a less than receptive frame of mind.

When I am wrong, I am wrong.  His name (the puppet's) was Harold, and he was interrupted while watching his Sunday football game, to answer a couple of questions from the pastor.  Essentially, after a brief back-an-forth, he agreed to join us for the service but said he would need to excuse himself for a moment first, to put on his "church face."

Harold disappeared from the window, and quickly re-appeared with a smarmy smile plastered on his fakey little mug, and a glittering fake halo hovering over his goofy head.  Even I had to laugh.
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Where did we ever get this silly idea that we have to be something other than what we really are, in order go to church?

I don't know about those from other church traditions; but I have a pretty good idea about where it came from in my own church background.  It was the ubiquitous greeting that I heard every Sunday for many years, "Have you got the victory?"

The fully expected response was a vigorous affirmative.

There was even a joke in those days, wherein if a Christian was audacious enough to admit that they were "doing the best they could under the circumstances" the tongue-in-cheek response was, "Well, what are you doing under there?"

I still cringe when I recall those long ago days.  Yes, there was much of value in the former church traditions.  Much that I occasionally miss to this day.  But the ever-present need to be on top of things, always positive, wearing a victorious smile and a fake halo, well, those are not things that I miss.

While I cannot speak for anyone else, I can honestly attest to the fact that my own "fake halo" always felt like just that - fake.  Yes, I honestly loved the Lord, usually loved his people and even enjoyed teaching Sunday school classes much of the time. (Other times it was a real chore. Okay?)

But that cultural pressure to be "perfect" - to constantly appear to be above the earthly fray, that was wearisome.  For nearly twenty years as a pastor's wife, I generally taught a Sunday school class, helped with refreshments, often led the congregational singing, and then had people over for Sunday dinner after church.  

You were expected to be "present and accounted for" when you were sick, when you were exhausted, and when you were discouraged: you still showed up.  Two of my three children were born on Mondays, and one on a Tuesday - and in each instance I was back in church the following Sunday morning, sitting on the front pew, dressed to the nines and holding a five or six day old newborn.  I kid you not.
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So I know a little about fake halos.  And for myself, I am glad that we have come to the point that we can make fun of ourselves, and say, "Come on.  Could we just be real people, with real problems, and a real faith to apply to those life challenges?"

We Christians are not perfect. (This is not new information, I realize.) It is the God we serve who is perfect, not his followers.  What we are is forgiven.  And thankfully, quite a number of us have long since discarded our fake halos. What a blessed relief!
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Hope your Sunday is refreshing in a real way.  We are home from church, and currently watching the Packers trounce the Colts.  Hope  the team you are rooting for wins!  :)  Until next time ... Marsha

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Faith in a Del Monte Jar

This morning as we prepared to leave for church, my husband handed me a small jar and asked me if I would mind carrying it in my purse for him.  This was a little unusual.

Granted, we each have slightly different routines for preparing to attend separate churches on Sunday mornings; and this is understandable in light of the fact that he is a life-long Catholic and I am a died-in-the-wool Protestant.  

For example, I almost always have a cup of tea and a bowl of cereal before leaving for church, as I don't want to listen to my stomach growl during the sermon, much less inflict that on anyone sitting near enough to overhear the gastro-gurglings when I have not eaten in over twelve hours.

The *LOC on the other hand, does not eat before attending Mass on Sunday mornings due to his convictions about not eating prior to receiving the Eucharist.  It is an old-fashioned stance that the Catholic church no longer insists upon, from what I understand, but he has followed this practice his whole life and does not intend to change at this late date.  

Tomato, tomahto - potato, potahto.....

Despite our different church backgrounds, I occasionally attend services with him as I enjoy going to church together.  Thus, after nearly a quarter of a century of being married to a practicing Catholic, I was fairly certain that taking an empty Del Monte jar to church was not standard practice.

And then I remembered ...

Several months ago, the *LOC was diagnosed with skin cancer.  He has had several relatively harmless growths removed from his face, but there is one on his arm that is deeper and more serious.  His dermatologist has been treating it with what he casually called "chemo-cream" after the biopsy confirmed it was basil cell carcinoma.  

Thankfully, it is not melanoma, the much more serious form of skin cancer; but it is not anything to play around with either. If the chemo-cream does not do the job, he will have to have some minor surgery near the end of the year.

He has followed the doctor's instructions to the letter. But he has also prayed for healing and he puts "holy-water" on it when he prays.  He does this privately and with no fuss; but he is consistent about it.  Thus, he had used up his small supply of holy-water and needed to refill his supply from the fountain at his church.  He decided to use a clean Del Monte jar to carry it home.

I smiled to myself as I realized the significance of the jar in my purse.  Not because I dismiss his prayer practice, but because it is another example of how similar, and yet how different, our faith practices can be.

In my church background we also practice prayer for healing, but we do so accompanied with anointing oil.  Some Christians I have known keep a small bottle of "anointing oil" in their home, to accompany such prayers.  

The skeptic would scoff at both:  holy water, anointing oil ... tomato-tomahto ...
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As I sat in the pew this morning and listened to their Polish priest give his quiet homily, in his heavily accented English, on living the Christian faith in a simple but practical manner, I heard another small sound nearby.

The whisper quiet whoosh-whisp, whoosh-whisp had first captured my attention during silent prayer.  I looked around to identify the sound and realized that not only one, but two, elderly worshippers nearby had brought their oxygen apparatus with them, and the whisps of sound I heard coming from their direction was their oxygen pumps delivering breathing assistance to them.  They obviously saw no contradiction in using whatever medical help is available to them, accompanied by the help their faith offers them.  Neither do I.

Atheists would declare our holy-water and/or our anointing oil equally useless as a recovery tool; of course, they would also denounce prayer as a delusion.  

Fair enough. They have a right to their opinion.  We each have choices to make about how to conduct our lives and whether to accept the gift of faith, and if so, how to practice that faith.

For myself, I want to become better acquainted with the One who originated the "breath of life."  He sustains my faith through whatever life throws at me.  And He continually teaches me to respect both my own traditions and those of other Christian believers.

I believe in being practical in facing life's challenges, while practicing a faith that sometimes defies all earthly logic  Sometimes faith comes in a Del Monte jar.  Sometimes it comes accompanied by an oxygen tank. Sometimes it is accompanied by an awareness of how fragile we all are.  And that is okay too.
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Until next time ... Marsha
(*Lovable Old Coot)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

To Write - Perchance to Spell

I was disturbed today.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to admit that I was simply more disturbed than on other days. (I suspect I barely beat you to the punch on that one.)  

Various things disturb me:  the landscaper who makes unscheduled stops while missing most of the scheduled ones; the deer who have now eaten pretty much everything in the backyard except the stone bird bath, and it shows teeth marks along the rim; the young woman at the fast food drive-through who could neither take my order nor deliver it correctly; a peach with a bad spot, which is always a pity; a dust mote ... okay, now I am just being petty.

However, the specific thing that truly disturbed me occurred this morning, before I had even finished my first cup of tea.  This is never a good way to begin the day.

The particular fly in my early morning ointment was this - an article in the Sacramento Bee.  John Hechinger reported that in recent national academic testing, "nearly three quarters of eighth and twelfth graders" could not pass a standardized writing test, despite being allowed to use a computer to take the test and being allowed to use spellchecker.

As one might expect, he then decried the over all effects of tweeting, texting, and other shortcuts that our students currently use instead of learning to actually write.

They cannot spell (even with a spellchecker), they cannot punctuate, and heaven defend us if they ever were called upon to diagram a sentence (which goes a long way toward explaining why they cannot decently construct one either.)

I must be getting old if this comes as some sort of surprise to me.  After all, I knew we were on the slippery slope to the intellectual waste lands the first time I heard "valley girl" speak.  I mean, like, you know, it was like, really, like scary.

I couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry, or do both.  I distinctly recall deciding not to do either one; because if I do both, I always get the hiccups, which can last for hours.  It just wasn't worth the risk.

There was, however, one tiny little bright spot in Mr. Hechinger's article.  Unsurprisingly, studies show that "...students who wrote more often at home did better on the test."

And there you have it.  Those of us who grew up keeping diaries, and journals, and making lists, and even just writing penmanship exercises somehow ended up actually learning how to write.

Can it come as any surprise that young people who grow up asking -
              war r u?  
              mt me at 8?   
              Il b ther 
misconstrue the above to be poetry, perhaps haiku?

Here is something even more frightening; often function follows form. Thus, the time may not be far off, if this revolting decline in the level of writing skills continues, when we will all be reduced to just pointing and grunting, as that is all we any longer know how to do.

And anyone who thinks that the engineers who keep the power grid up and running communicate by pointing and grunting had better think again, my friend.  We could be looking at another dark age, and all because Susie couldn't be bothered to learn to spell, much less write .

Dear me, who would have guessed that those brilliant innovators who gave us laptops and tablets and e-readers would eventually lead to a society who will not even be able to turn the things on.  How do I know this?

Because in order to operate such devices, one must be able to read and write! (Pointing and clicking notwithstanding.)
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Quite honestly, I had almost gotten past this morning's disturbance.  However, in recounting it for you I have now ended my day nearly as disturbed as I began it.
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Hope you are influencing any young folks you know toward learning to take pleasure in the simple art of writing a note, without using the word "like".  

Until next time .... you know, like, have a good evening.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Job That Requires the Patience of Job

There is an old anecdote that goes something like this:

A guy, Joe, who was more than a little lackadaisical (more like lead in his britches and no "unction in his gumption") finally came to the realization that his life was at a boring stand still.

He decided to go for some counseling, of the no cost variety because he was unemployed, which he had been most of his life, and by his own choice.

His pastor listened to his tale of woe, concluded it was mostly of his own making, and gave him the following sage advice:  "Go home and read your Bible.  It will tell you what you need to do."

A few weeks later, the pastor saw Joe walking up the street, clothes pressed, a spring in his step and a new light in his eyes.  Curious as to what had occasioned such a noticeable change, the pastor met up with Joe and asked him, "What happened?"

Joe replied, "Well, I just did what you told me.  I went home and got out my Bible.  I didn't know where to start so I sort of let it fall open near the middle, and don't you know that at the top of page after page after page was the word,"job, job, job, job" - I mean it just hit me like a ton of bricks.  It said to go get a job.

I did, and boy has it set me going in a better direction."

Job: (rhymes with Bob)) a service, role, or activity performed for a set wage.

Job: (rhymes with robe) a person in the Bible who was known for his patience in the light of many losses and much suffering.

Joe:  a goomba who didn't a have a clue in life, confused the two above and turned out okay in spite of it.
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I don't know about you, but I have had a job or two that required the patience of Job.  Working with people who over-promised and under-delivered.  Dealing with customers who thought I should be able to sort out all their problems, even those which had nothing to do with the goods and services my employer offered.

All of the country seemed to cheer as one, when one country singer wrote a song entitled "Take This Job and Shove It" - crudely put, to be sure; but apparently it struck a psychic common nerve.

I was reminded of all of this today when my son, K., called to tell me of the day's happenings at the rural high school where he teaches.  After being off ill for a year, (not to mention being paraplegic and a double amputee using a wheelchair) he returned this week with high hopes, and great anticipation.

He works with the toughest students, in a difficult setting, in a poor rural school; but he is so thankful to have a job!  Even when it requires the patience of Job.
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Life itself is a job that often requires great fortitude and patience.  I just hope that I will remember more often to be thankful for the jobs life gives me, and keep in mind that in the end God blessed Job more than double all he had lost.

Hope your job, if you have one, isn't too trying today.  If you don't have one, and need one, praying a good door will open for you.  Meanwhile, you might take a look at the book of Job.  It is a marvel all by itself.

Until next time...Marsha

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ethel's Elbows

First, let me say that this is not Ethel.  I have no idea who she might be, but she has a pretty good looking set of elbows.
Elderly happy senior woman doing fitness exercises and showing her muscles photo
And I apologize to anyone who may be reading this and happens to be named Ethel. 

Next, let me tell you that I do not know who Ethel is, that is the Ethel in the title of this post. Never knew her.

Here is the thing.  My youngest sister always had a bit of a critical streak toward anyone she did not think looked quite up to par.  In her younger years, my guess is that it came from the fact that she was quite good looking.  Natural blonde hair, big blue eyes in a pretty face, and all in a petite five foot one inch package.  She was, in fact, now that I reflect upon it, quite vain.

And she had a "thing" about elbows.  

She knew someone named Ethel, who apparently had the misfortune to have sub par elbows, as in baggy and saggy.  My sister did not hesitate to comment upon them in less than kindly terms.  It left me with a horror of ever developing what she so disparagingly called "Ethel's elbows."

Once after a visit to our mother, who was by then in her sixties, M. (my sister) said to me on our way home, "Good grief.  Did you notice? Mom has now got 'Ethel's elbows'?"

Sometimes she would nudge me in a cafe or a department store, and  whisper, "See that?  She's got Ethel's elbows."  It was the ultimate put down.

Fast forward twenty five years, and here I am the approximate age my mother was when M. declared her to have developed the dread condition known as "Ethel's elbows."

Imagine, if you can, my chagrin therefore, when the other day my son, K., remarked as I bustled about his room tidying up, "Mom, those are some pudgy elbows you've got there."

He said it with a smile, and with no disrespect intended.  It was just gentle teasing.  We have had to have a lot of physical proximity this past year, while I took care of him during his illness.  He probably notices things that ordinarily he never would.  At least I am hoping that is why he noticed.

I left the room, plopped myself down on a chair and thought to myself, "Well, here I am.  I now have Ethel's elbows."

Okay, so it is what it is.  Welcome to getting older.  

But I can still work a full day, walk a full mile or two, laugh at a good joke and enjoy a garden.  All things considered, I guess there are worse things than having Ethel's elbows.  God bless her, wherever she is, I hope she is doing as well herself.

So whatever your particular nuisance associated with getting older may be, hope you are ignoring it and enjoying your day.
Until next time ... Marsha

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Unintentional Ear Plugs

Today I took Holly (our Lhaso) to the vet because lately she hasn't been hearing very well.  Either that or she was been ignoring us.  It has been known to happen.  

Like most canines, her physical senses are heightened beyond our own, and even though she is older than either me or the LOC* (at least in dog years) until just recently she was always alert to the soft snick of the door opening, or the subtle "tick" of a bit of food hitting the floor. (Lovable Old Coot*)

However, for the past few weeks we have noticed that instead of waiting eagerly at our bedroom door each morning, she would still be fast asleep in her bed when we came into the living room.  "Ah, she's getting old", we said to ourselves.

Then two days ago, the LOC called her in a normal tone (which I'll grant you, for him is just one decibel below a bellow) and she lay still asleep.  He called her again, even louder.  She snoozed on.  Finally he flat out shouted "HOLLY" - and she jumped up and looked wildly around as if to say "What?  Whaaat?"

So I took her to get her ears checked, and to see if there was anything that could be done.  Turns out there was and it was a fairly simple fix - she had wax plugs in both ears, creating artificial deafness.  I understood completely.

Been there, done that.  I was in my early thirties and for months I had noticed I was having a more and more difficult time following conversations taking place around me.

When I finally saw a doctor about what I assumed was my premature hearing loss, he simply irrigated both ear canals, and showed me wax plugs the size of pencil erasers.  Yuck!  Who knew?

As I walked out of the doctor's office that day, I recall being amazed at the crunch of the gravel under my shoes.  I had not heard that sound in a long time.  I was suddenly aware of birds singing.  I did not realize how much I had been missing all around me.
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As I drove Holly home, with the window on her side of the Buick down a little so that she could stick her nose up there and smell all the wonderful smells (I could swear she was smiling), I remembered that day I had my ears opened, all those years ago.

How often in my life have I missed the soft undertone of discouragement in someone's voice, because my spiritual ears were plugged?  How many times have I overlooked the echos of confusion, or the subtle ripples of loneliness because my hearing was dulled by my own pride or arrogance.

Holly did not mean to ignore us.  She simply had stuff building up in her ears.

I do not mean to ignore or misunderstand others either; but I do sometimes discover that I have had "stuff" building up in my ears. Fear, ego, discouragement dull my hearing to the needs of others. Thankfully, the Great Physician still makes house calls.
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He who has ears, let him hear.  (Matthew 11:15 NIV)
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Let's determine to practice our listening skills more often.  And get our "hearing" checked from time to time.  Until next time - Marsha