Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cobwebs at the White House

Several years ago it was my privilege to be allowed to tour the White House in Washington, D.C.  This is not something that can be easily done in these post-911 days. You have to really want it.

First you must submit an application to your local congressman or woman, and agree to a complete background check.  This must be done at least six months in advance.  You need not be famous, or even a local VIP, but you must be able to demonstrate that you are not a serial killer or a deranged activist of some sort.  Those folks generally show up uninvited and simply hop the fence.  

After an interminable wait of several months, you may then receive a set of emailed instructions, which are not to be taken lightly, as I will explain in the next post.  Suffice it to say now, one really must pay attention to the details.

Thus, after much anticipation, and no small amount of preparation, my traveling companion and I entered those hallowed halls.  Well, actually it was one hall, from around the side and near the back.

Tourists, do not enter through the front door, of course; but rather they file in through an obscure side door; and they do so quietly, almost reverently. Why, I am not sure, but it may have something to do with the rigorous process they have gone through just to get in.  But the designated entrance is, well ... how shall I put this? Tacky.  

Sorry, but it was.  There was a lon-n-n-g entryway ramp, covered by sprung frame tent-tunnel, which zig-zagged back and forth like a waiting line at Disneyland or like the customer counter at your local bank. Finally you arrive at a set of tables attended upon by secret service agents, who are uniformly fit, polite, and implacable.  You will do as they say or you will not proceed any further.  (Again, more on that in the next post.)
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At long last we entered the actual building itself, The White House.  I have read that over a million visitors a year pass through its portals, and that a staff of around eighty people, working in shifts around-the-clock, are needed to keep it maintained. 

In light of that, I expected spit-polish shine in every direction. Glints coming off shining window panes and mirror reflections on every surface.  And for the most part, as we passed through the Red Room and the Blue Room and the Green Room, that is precisely what we saw.

At one point we spent several delightful minutes gazing through glass at the presidential china from nearly every administration.  The place settings were lined up on tiered shelving, on both walls of a wide hallway. Some sets were fancifully designed, while others were minimally stately; but all were fascinating.

This was the famous setting from the movie The American President starring Michael Douglas and Annette Benning, wherein while trying to impress her on their first date, he takes her on a tour of what he called "the dish room."

There was so much to take in - so much to ponder - so much to ...wait, what ?  What is that?  Is it ... no, it can't be.  It is !

There in an unobtrusive corner, tucked up high in the crown molding were cobwebs.  Yes, right here in the most famous home in America, there they were, evidence that no matter how hard you try, no home can be kept perfectly.  Isn't possible.  Cannot be done.

I stood quietly peering upward for a few seconds, wonder struck.  Yes, I know, most people would not have given them a second glance, if they noticed them at all.  Not when there were historical artifacts of stunning significance within arm's reach in every direction.

But I am an odd sort, and this is not new information if you have read this blog for more than two posts.  So what can I tell you?  I stood there having an epiphany.

How many times had I nearly killed myself, trying to attain housekeeping perfection when guest were coming? (Or even when they were not, but I simply wanted everything to be perfect.)  

How often had I travailed over streaky windows, lamented over carpet nap that would not vacuum to like-new appearance (probably because it was ten years old)?  How many times had I dusted, and then re-polished, and then swiped again, whatever was within reach, moments before people walked through the front door, hoping against hope that all was perfect?

The simple answer:  too darned many.

I sincerely wish I could tell you that I am a "recovering perfectionist"; but I would be lying.  I don't even have a one-year token.  I struggle with wanting, nay, needing everything to be just so.  But it never is.

Real life is messy.  It is dusty, and sticky, and sometimes downright cruddy.  Any woman who has ever done housework knows that it is work.  Not fun, not joy, not creativity; but work.  Down and dirty work.  Backbreaking work.  Mind-numbing work.  Many of you can relate to what I am saying.
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So I left The White House that day smiling - for many reasons.  My companion had accomplished a special check-off on his bucket list. I was glad for him.    I had seen things that I had only read or heard about.  I was glad about that.

But most of all, I was smiling because of a secret glimpse into the nature of imperfection.  It is everywhere.  It cannot be denied, it can only be accepted or ignored.  

I mean really, people, if they can have cobwebs in the corner at a place where dozens of folks labor carefully twenty-four hours a day to maintain the highest quality of housekeeping known to mankind, why should I fret?  

Note to self:  Marsha, for heaven's sake. relax.

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While I will never achieve perfection, whether of the mundane housekeeping variety, nor of the much more vital spiritual kind; the fact is that I do not have to.  My Father already did that for me.

Whew!  What a relief. .... Until next time, your formerly crazed cleaning ninja, but now gratefully grubby gardener ~ Marsha

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Skies Remind Us ...

Copywrite: Manus Khomkham \

Lord, Your faithful love reaches to heaven,

Your faithfulness to the skies.

Your righteousness is like the highest mountain; 

Your judgments,

like the deepest sea.

Psalm 36:5-6

& & &

Hope you are having a wonderful day of rest.
Until next time, 
Your grateful gardener

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Serving Up Humble Pie

Yesterday I attended a delicious buffet luncheon. However, tasty as it was, the food choices were not the best offerings of the event.

There were also heaping portions of appreciation offered along with generous side dishes of gratitude.  For dessert we were treated to an example of humility, served up in rare manner. It was better than any carrot cake I have ever tasted.  (And I love a good carrot cake.)
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The event was the closing luncheon for our spring Bible study series and three long-time participants were being honored as they retired from their roles as leaders and teachers after many years of service.

As the last honoree was called to the platform, she carefully disconnected her oxygen tubes from the small portable tank she began carrying recently. Her steps were a little slower than they used to be, but her smile was bright.

She was, however, clearly embarrassed not by her tank and tubes, but by the fuss being made over her.  E. is feisty, we all know that.  She does not suffer fools gladly and can zap the unsuspecting with a quick zinger if they are being fatuous. 

Thus M., who leads women's ministries at our church, said with a smile, "I know she can take me out, but I hope she will allow me to do this small thing in appreciation for all she has given to us over these past many years."  And with that, M. gently washed E.'s feet in front of a large group of women from all walks of life, many of whom had never before witnessed such a thing. Not many churches practice this demonstration of servanthood any longer, although Jesus gave us a clear example of it.
I had a lump in my throat the size of a grapefruit as I fought back tears.  I was not alone.
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There are so many ways to be grateful, so many opportunities to express our gratitude.  And we need not wait for the grand finale, the spectacular opportunity.  Some small gesture may afford the chance to bless someone else, and at the same time demonstrate our own thankfulness.

I enjoy food. I am my mother's daughter and mom had a favorite coffee mug with a slogan on it which stated, "I never met a carbohydrate I didn't like."  

And there you have it. 

At this luncheon, I asked a table mate with limited mobility if I could bring her a plate?  She smiled and said "Sure. Thanks."  She said anything would do, she had no special preferences.

Later as we visited, she explained that the stroke which now limited her physical mobility, and had wiped out her short term memory, had also taken her sense of taste.  This former school-teacher told me this with no hint of self-pity.  She ate only because she needed to; but there was no longer any flavor in it.
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I was reminded of the verse in Psalms 34:8, "Taste and see that the Lord is good."

Life is full of bittersweet ironies.

This morning I received an email from her thanking me for bringing her food to her.  Food she could not taste.  Nevertheless, she chose to find something for which to be thankful.

I looked up the definition of gratitude this morning.  It was one word - thankfulness.  Just that.  Nothing else. Simple, but not easy.

I was once again reminded of the author Jennifer Rothschild, who is blind, who uses three simple principles to define her approach to life:

  • God is good.
  • Life is hard.
  • It can be well with your soul, even when it is not with your circumstances.

Simple, but never easy.  Some of us have eyes, but cannot see. Some of us have ears; but we never hear a cry for help, or a sincerely meant compliment, either. 

Some of us have feet that still work, but we do not walk to our neighbor's door.

And some ... choose to be thankful.  Despite tests and trials, undeterred by failure or misfortune, they still choose to be thankful. And gratitude is a choice.

We can look gratefully to the One to whom we owe it all; that is, to choose a steadfast thankfulness that does not waver with our circumstances.  It is not easy.  But it is right and it is good.
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Hope your day is a treat and someone remembers to thank you for something. Until next time, your grateful gardener, Marsha

Friday, April 17, 2015

Escaping Wenatchee

It was a beautiful morning with a gorgeous blue sky and clean air. We were attempting to leave an area where we had been on vacation for the past few days.  I say "attempting" because as it turned out we really could have used a better escape route.

We had just spent a wonderful week at Lake Chelan; but it was time to go home. We did not get an early start because at our time of life it takes more than fifteen minutes to rev up the old engines - both the vehicle's and our own.

Nonetheless, the condo was empty and so was the wastebasket; the dishwasher was running with our final few utensils.  Coffee pot filter and grounds gone?  Check. Closets empty? Check.  Thermostat turned off?  Check.

Marsha's knees bending, feet moving?  Check.  David's hat on his head, keys in his pocket - and not the other way around?  Check.
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The nearest town of any size was Wenatchee, with a smaller community beside it, called East Wenatchee.  This was where things got tricky. The two were interlinked by a byzantine maze of turns and bridges over the Wenatchee River.  They call it the Wenatchee confluence.  That should have warned us.
Major traffic arteries to all points of the compass converged on Wenatchee, from which one could make a departure to any of those points.  Theoretically.

Not only had we been here recently, but we also were in possession of that miracle of modern travel, our very own little GPS device.  I will not name the brand, lest I be sued, or worse yet, lest I lapse into the kind of language that is not helpful.

We pulled through the Golden Arches, and now fortified with egg McMuffins, hash browns, and coffee - it was all systems go.  Except that we couldn't. 

It was not for lacking of trying: trust me.  We drove carefully through a roundabout, cautiously up the on ramp, eased gently into the mid-morning traffic and confidently (at first) surveyed our choices.  Okay, there it is.  Take that next split up ahead.

The GPS steadfastly assured us that we were headed where we needed to go - Portland and then due South.  We took each articulately announced merge, exit and turn.  Then we heard "Arriving at your destination."  Huh?

David and I looked at each other, mildly miffed, as we surveyed the dead-end parking lot in which we were sitting.  It was an industrial area with no open businesses in sight.  Just us, our half-chewed hash browns and empty asphalt.

"How did this happen?" he said to me.  His tone was not exactly accusatory, but given that my job was that of co-pilot, surely I had programmed something amiss into the GPS or misread some freeway sign.  Stoutly I averred that I had done it correctly.

"Well, let me look at it and we will double back. "  He did and we did.  But it wasn't easy.  Overpasses, underpasses, bridges, sharp left turns.

About a half an hour later, having more keenly followed the directions, assessing each merge, turn and exit as we executed it, we began to recognize a few landmarks.  No.  How could this be?

Another few turns - all heralded with great assurance by the nitwit who lives in that wretched little box - we had arrived.  Again.  At the same stupid empty parking lot. Literally a dead end.

David had nearly bitten a finger munching a stray piece of hash brown as we drove briskly into that barren destination, and I had choked on my coffee as we stopped abruptly.  The driver's irritation was more than a little evident by now.

While he nurse his nipped digit, and I coughed and sputtered on my now lukewarm coffee, we discussed our options.  How hard could this be?  Wenatchee boasted a population of less than forty thousand, and East Wenatchee was even smaller.  One should be able to simply eyeball one's way out, if need be.  One could not.  Or at least we two "ones" could not.  Yeesh.

We decided to give it one more try, and then ... what ... get a motel room ... rent a house ... take out a mortgage?  Who knew?

Then we looked at each other and began to laugh.  This was ridiculous.  We picked up steam and laughed and laughed until our sides hurt.  Anyone passing by, not that anyone was likely to given our remote location, would have suspected we were drinking more than plain old caffeine.

Finally, we looked at each other, and I said, "Look, there is the sun.  It comes up in the East, right?  We want to go West, right?  Let's disregard the freeway signs, turn this blasted GPS off, and just follow the road, using the sun as a guide."

"But the GPS says...".

"I know what it said.  Repeatedly.  And I don't know who programmed the maps, but in this case they are wrong."

Now he is what euphemistically might be called a concrete thinker.  As in set in cement, once his mind is made up.  And he generally takes much comfort in solid information.  An international conglomerate cannot be wrong, right?

But they were wrong.  In this case dead wrong.  Period.  The former French hero, Charles De Gaulle, once famously stated, "Forty million Frenchmen can't be wrong."  In other words, the overwhelming numbers must make the direction right.  Wrong.
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Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." (NIV)

The Message version says there is a "way that seems harmless enough" ... uh huh, until you have tried, and failed, several times to make it work in your life and you keep ending up in the same old place.  Barren - empty - a dead end.

We finally made it out of Wenatchee (and by the skin of our teeth East Wenatchee too) by ignoring every sign and the dratted GPS, and simply keeping our eyes on the sun.  
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I can tell you, with absolute assurance, that the only way I have ever made it out of the barren, empty, dead-end places in my life was by keeping my eyes glued to the Son.

He knows where we are going, even when I cannot see anything ahead but fog and more fog.  He knows the way, when I have lost my way.  He knows the destination, because He has been there, is there, and is preparing a place there for me ... and you.

The world will present us with many "signs" for direction: success, money, good reputation, popularity, etc.  And we may carefully follow a well-known formula for arriving at wherever it is we think we wish to end up.

But if you find yourself sitting in an empty space, wondering how you got there, I would recommend you look to the Son.  He knows where you are - now, today, even in your present circumstances.
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Hope you know where you are going today.  I am grateful to be moving in a good direction.  Until next time - Marsha

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Whatever? What a Waste!

Picture of male Black-chinned hummingbird hovering in desert honeysuckle
Yesterday was a really good day of gardening.  

It is not just that ten of my twelve hostas are up and looking grand, although they are.  And it is not only because I weeded and mulched around the old wheelbarrow - painted a bright turquoise - which provided a spiffy clean base for the blossoming salvia, dianthus and geraniums - though I did.

No, the best thing about yesterday's efforts was the sense of real satisfaction I had walking around the various garden plots on our little half-acre and seeing the burgeoning results of the past three years coming to fruition.  At last.

Remember the old gardening axiom I shared with you some time ago?  It says, after planting, nature tends to do the following: Year one - sleep.  Year two - creep.  Year three-leap!

Well, it is year "three" around the old Young scatter, and things are leaping up and out all over the place!  All the digging, and fertilizing and raking, and mulching, and planting, and planting and planting... well, you get the idea.  It has been, as one of my granddaughters might say, "Totally worth it."

But really now, why care so much? A very good question.
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Caring, we know, is an exacting and demanding business.  it requires not only interest and compassion and concern; it demands self-sacrifice and wisdom and tough-mindedness and discipline. ~ Servant Leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf  
( Notice the wonderful serendipity of his last name?)

Greenleaf was not writing about gardening, but about leadership, specifically leadership that is marked by integrity and caring.

One hears the retort too often these days, "Whatever."

Generally, what is being implied is, "I could not care less."

What a shame, and what a waste.  Caring is a basic human need that has been often erased by the self-centered, blase attitude of our society.  I am reminded of the old joke:

1st person - Do you know that the two worst problems we are facing today are ignorance and apathy?

2nd person - I don't know and I don't care.
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When we care, really care, whether for plants, or pets, or persons, wonderful things can happen.

Yesterday, while planting marigolds, I saw, for the first time in my life, a baby hummingbird.  This little thing was no more than an inch and a half long; but there he or she was flitting busily around my verbena and lantana, snacking here, sipping there ... and I tell you, my heart expanded. Soon the mother bird, soared in and guided the little thing home.

Just because I cared enough to plant and water those growing gifts of beauty, I was given the gift of seeing something truly special.
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How much more should we care about one another?  Jesus said, in reference to two little sparrows, "Fear not.  You are of much more value than these ... and yet not one of them falls to the ground, but what my Father notices."  He encourages us to cast our cares upon Him, because he cares for each of us.  

How then can we shrug off another person's grief or misery with a callous "whatever."?  I don't know; but too often we do.

As Greenleaf rightly points out, this caring is a demanding business, and too frequently we flee before its demands.  It is so much easier to avoid involvement with an airy "whatever."
But guess what?  Every time we do this, and I am as guilty as anyone else, we miss the opportunity to witness something wonderful.  Something special may happen when we care.

It could be sighting a baby hummingbird.  Or even more wonderful, it could be the chance to witness someone smile after a long season of sorrow.  Or share a story with you, after long remaining silent.  The possibilities are endless.  Let's not waste them.
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Hope your day is filled with caring and sharing.  Until next time, Marsha - your grateful gardener

Thursday, April 2, 2015

An Achy-Breaky ...Whatever

Think About It Thinker Person Standing By Words - A man in a...I once read a saying, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, either way, you are right."

(Sorry, but I do not have the author/source, or I would provide it.)

This is one of those modern proverbs that just smacks you right between the eyebrows, doesn't it?

Now I am no devotee of the "mind over matter" philosophy, insofar as it is taken literally, as I have previously said.  I do believe, however, that our mental outlook has a good deal of influence on the quality of our daily life.

Where I was raised, there was a term no longer in vogue:  mulligrubbing.  It meant to go around moping, hoping others would feel sorry for you. My mother simply would not tolerate it.

Perhaps it was that influence that caused me to adopt a "better get on with it" attitude, even though I am not particularly sanguine by temperament.  

In any case, I just finished reading a book entitled:  An Honest Look (At a Mysterious Journey) by John Stumbo.  

Whew!  You talk about the pits.  Or in his case "the spits"; because due to a nearly-fatal illness he could neither eat nor even swallow for over a year and a half.  But his body continued to produce spittle at the normal rate, and he had to use a "spit cup".  Eewww!

Eventually, God healed this condition from which doctors from Oregon University Hospital to the Mayo Clinic had unanimously pronounced he would have for the rest of his life.  He was only forty-eight at the time, so he was looking at a lonnnnng running battle with the spit cup. And no eating ... ever.

However, here is the thing.  Although he was healed from the paralysis of his throat muscles and swallow reflexes; he did not fully recover his health.  He had been a marathon runner (and a well-known pastor); but as of the end of the book, written in 2011, he could still just walk a few hundred yards in a hesitant manner.

This represented real progress, though, because he had been completely bed fast, and then in a wheel chair, too weak to even feed himself for many months.  

So while he is definitely largely recovered from the worst of his illness, he will never be the same, barring another miracle.  Here was what struck me most, near the end of the book.  He wrote:
Don't let the fact that you can't do what you once did keep you from doing what you can do now.

Oh, ouch!  How often do I limp around my house bemoaning the days when I could "work circles around" coworkers half my age? When I saw several of my former team members at a memorial service a week or two ago, several mentioned "how good I looked" and opined that "you haven't changed a bit."

Of course, I knew they were only being kind.  But still, to whatever extent their observation was even semi-accurate, the fact is that I have changed - a lot - in the past five years.

Haven't we all?  Still, I want to ignore, as often as possible, or deal with what hurts, aches, creaks and snaps, and do what I can do now.  It is, after all, the only now I will ever have.
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Question:  Are you making the most of your "now"?  I encourage you to not waste today, pining over yesterday, or mooning over tomorrow.  One is a memory, the other is a concept of time which may never occur.  Carpe' Diem - cease the day! 
Until next time - Marsha (your achy but grateful gardener)
Philippians 4:13 - I can do everything through him who gives me strength.