Monday, March 21, 2016

This Is The Day ...

This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  (Psalm 118:24)
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It is pouring rain outside my window.  Not drizzling, not showering, not lightly falling.  No, it is pouring buckets, raining cats and dogs, pick your cliche'.

And I am loving it.  Oh, here comes another cloud burst.  The winds rattle the window panes, the pine needles peck the skylight as they plummet toward the plexiglass.  And on and on it rains. And now, in addition to water and wind, we are also being treated to a thickening fog, delicate and mysterious among the tall pine trees that surround our house.

We are so thankful, here in Northern California, after more than four years of an historic drought to see the lakes and reservoirs filling up.  We watch the local and state rainfall measurements with all the fascination with which a teenager watches You Tube or MTV.  We are, in a word, delighted.

In my own case, I am further delighted when I reflect upon what a day like this would have meant for me just a few years ago.

How I hated waking up to a downpour.  It meant that my commute would be more treacherous than usual.  It meant that I would arrive at my office building to find all the usual parking places filled with vehicles that were not necessarily authorized to park there.  People were willing to dare breaking the parking rules when being drenched.

Consequently, I would need to dash through the deluge, battling umbrella, briefcase, and electronic key card, hoping none of them got away from me before I made landfall at the great glass doors of the employee entrance.

By that time, my shoes were soaked, my hair was a mess, and my bones had already begun to ache.  By evening I would be visibly limping, and by the time I arrived back home, I would be headed for the medicine cabinet in jig time to quickly down something to take the edge off my aching arthritic knees ... and back ... and hands.

A warm rain can be a wonderful thing.  But winters in Nor. Calif. generally involve cold, wet, windy storms that can chill you right down to your very last proverbial bone.  Such weather cries out for the electric heating pad to be set on the highest temperature.  Cups of hot tea must be consumed in quantity.

And during those days of yesteryear, such weather also meant that twice each day - coming and going - I could expect to find myself chilled, damp, and thoroughly miserable.
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Today, I sit here in my little rocker recliner pecking happily away on my laptop like a robin pecking for worms in springtime - while outside it pours.  There is a baseball game on TV, a pot of tea on the counter, and peace in my heart.

I smile when I think of how worriedly my former boss asked about whether I had truly considered the implications of resigning from the well-paying position I held in order to retire.  Was I sure we had enough saved?  Did I really think we could maintain our standard of living?  What about the stock market gyrations?
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Tell you what.  I happily traded that paycheck, that came with a crazy commute and crazier schedule, for a warm and cozy room with a great big window from which to watch it rain like crazy while I smile in quiet gratitude.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I am also keenly aware that not everyone gets to make such a blessed choice.  So today, I simply say a prayer for mercy and strength for those who must still brave the elements to earn their way.  I am so everlastingly grateful to be where I am; as Jan Karon recently put it, to be Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good.
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Hope you are in a good safe place today - warm and content.  If you are not there yet, I hope you are headed in that direction.  Until next time ~ Marsha

Friday, March 18, 2016

On Being Robbed At a Funeral

The other morning I was in a meeting with a group of good women who had gathered to do some of the Lord's work.  But we got distracted.

Before we had been gathered ten minutes someone mentioned the distressing item from the previous evening's local news broadcast. Someone had slipped into our church offices (right next door to the very room in which we were meeting) and, while the office was briefly unattended, had stolen some one's purse.

The thief had been clearly caught on the church security cameras, and this video was broadcast the next evening on the local news. We were all fairly disgusted and decidedly perturbed, when one of our group said quietly, "Yes, it was my purse she stole, and it was during my mother's funeral services."


The questions then flew fast and furiously.  Has she been caught yet?  Did you get your purse back?  Did you have any money in it? What about your debit and credit cards?  Are you pressing charges?

The gentle soul whose purse was taken, just smiled and said that she and her husband did not care too much about the money, although yes, some was taken.  She was paying attention to her mother's home-going celebration at the time of the theft, and now they were letting the police handle the robbery.  She said they did not plan to involve themselves any further than was necessary.

The clear message was that while unfortunate things happen - and sometimes at the most inopportune times - she was paying attention to more important matters.  She made this clear without bitterness or self-righteousness.  Her focus was simply elsewhere.

Her whole attitude blessed me.  She was paying attention to what mattered.
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Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message version of the Bible, wrote an excellent book entitled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.  In it he says, 

"Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God's righteousness and less and less attention to our own; finding meaning of our lives not by probing our moods and motives and morals but by believing in God's will and purposes ...".

Well, hello and hallelujah!

When we focus on God's will and purposes we find ourselves relaxing in ways we never imagined.  We have less need to demonstrate our own righteousness (as if we ever really had any) and more and more willingness to depend upon His.

That is my idea of both blessed assurance and blessed relief all at the same time.  And it comes to us as we pay attention to the right things and to the Righteous One.

When we do this, we are less distracted and distraught by unforeseen circumstances, unanticipated griefs, and unplanned detours.  It is not that we ignore such things in our lives, but rather it is that we are paying attention to something more important.

When we do that, we are not daunted not even by being robbed at our own mother's funeral.  Yes, it is a hard world in which we live.  But aren't we glad that there is One who is over it all, has it all under His watch care, and will never leave us nor forsake us?
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I want to pay attention to the better things.  Hope your attention is fixed on good things, too.  Until next time ~ Marsha                           

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Necessary Father

This week, the famous and very talented writer, Pat Conroy died.  He is best known for his books The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, among others.  In particular the novel The Great Santini, about an abusive military father and his relationship with his family, was largely autobiographical.  Conroy's father, a decorated marine fighter pilot, was a great soldier and a bona fide war hero.  

But he was also a terrible husband and an abusive father, who scarred Conroy for life.  One of Conroy's later novels was entitled South of Broad. It was set in Charleston, S.C. and one of its main characters was a loving and lovable father.

This was uncharacteristic in his stories.  In one of the articles I read after his passing, Conroy had commented in an interview about developing this story with a good father in it by saying, "I always needed one, so I created one."

How sad.

He always needed one so he created one in his fiction.

Some of us had loving and wonderful fathers.  Some of us did not. But everyone needs such a father, whether they realize it or not.

Here is what Conroy apparently did not know; we each have a loving father and we do not have to "create him" because He first created us.

And as I John tells us, "We love because He first loved us."
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Hope you are safely at home tonight, with the Father who loves you and created you.  There is no need for any of us to create one for ourselves.
Blessings to you ~ Marsha

Monday, March 7, 2016

Of Atoms and Archangels

I was doing my morning devotional reading this morning when I ran across this phrase from The Message version of Psalm 89:11.

                                 You own the cosmos - you made everything in it,
                                  everything from atom to archangel.
Now that woke me up and got my juices flowing.

As busy, hopefully productive, people we like to spout phrases such as -
                       "full capacity"

                       " significant bandwidth"

                       "span of control"

All the "words" we use to try to indicate that we think - or at least hope - that we have some range of knowledge, influence or competency.

We often delude ourselves.

Sometimes about the only thing I can operate at full capacity is the vacuum cleaner.  My bandwidth consists of the daily dietary challenges related to my waistline, and as for span of control; good heavens, I gave that up as a lost cause years ago.

Nevertheless, there are still times when I kid myself that I "have it all together", that I am in control ... of something.  I am just not quite sure what it is.

Then suddenly I am confronted with the eternal reality that is Him who knows no beginning and no end.  Who is self-existent, who needs nothing, lacks nothing, but who is eternally generous with all that He is and all that He chooses to bestow upon us.

It is He who runs the universe from "atom to archangel".  Isn't that just mind-boggling?

As Colossians 1:17 states
               " ... [He] is holding it all together, right up to this
                 very moment." (MSG)

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So, news flash for all you us control freaks, and get-it-together-junkies out there.  We can all relax a little, because the One who owns the cosmos, all of it, from atoms to archangels, is holding it all together.
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So let's unclench our jaws, our minds and our hearts, and try to relax a little.  Maybe just trust Him with today.  Just a thought.
  ~ Marsha

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Dangers of the Woodpile

Some people just will not learn, cannot be bothered - they are not sure about what they know but are surely determined to do something anyway.   ~

The above is called "blithering".  The blitherer would be me.  The untoward provocation that resulted in said blithering would be the *LOC falling over the woodpile.  I suppose it would not be so upsetting if I did not care about the old coot but ....... here is what happened.

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The other afternoon I heard faint cries for assistance from down the hall, so I went to investigate.  Given that there are only two inhabitants in our little domicile, it seemed fairly certain that the whimper was likely emanating from the LOC.

He was sitting atop our California king-sized bed with his left foot stuck out over the edge of the bed, apparently so as to avoid getting blood from his makeshift bandage on the bedspread.  Upon closer examination, it was not actually a bandage at all, but rather a sizable swirl of TP wrapped around his toes with concerning blood stains seeping through.

"For the love of Pete, what have you done?" I asked in what could only be described as a "tone".

"I was out stacking firewood."

"Well, I guess I sort of tore off a toe nail or something.  I 'm not exactly sure as I can't bend over that far to see it very well.  I thought maybe you could take a look at it."

Long story short, he had partially torn his little toe nail off while stacking firewood.

"How could that happen?  I don't understand.  How could it tear through your shoe?"

"Uh, well, uh, I didn't exactly have my shoes on."

"What?  Have you lost your mind?  Never mind - rhetorical question.  You were stacking firewood barefoot?"

"No, of course not.  I had my slides on." (His open-toed, rubber slip ons.) 

"But I caught my foot with a piece that was stuck between some other pieces and when it came loose it swiped my foot and ...well..."

Hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin, bandages, moving on.
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A few days later the LOC rose gingerly from his recliner and limped toward the kitchen.  I happened to glance up from my reading and saw him moving haltingly across the carpet, placing each foot carefully as he went.  I didn't even want to ask but decided to just get it over with.

"What's the matter?  You look like you can barely walk?  Did you hurt yourself?"  (Please note:  I charitably did not add "again.")

"Oh, nothing for you to worry about.  Just a little sore, that's all."

"But you weren't limping yesterday.  What happened?"

"I had a little fall.  No big deal.  I'm fine."

Sure.  Fine and dandy.  Just a few bruised ribs, a barked shin, a nearly dislocated shoulder, and a wrenched back.  Those are the injuries we could identify.  Who knows what else was tweaked, bruised or micro-fractured?

The culprit?  Once again it seems the woodpile had jumped up and attacked him, out of the blue, with no provocation whatsoever.  He was just stacking wood, a few pieces shifted near where he was standing, he attempted to jump out of the way, and in so doing he fell over the woodpile.

I bit my lip.  I counted to ten.  I took several deep calming breaths and then quietly asked what had to be asked.

"Were you wearing your shoes, at least?"

The LOC was clearly irritated that I should ask such a silly question.

"Of course I was."
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So we had a talk.  I thought I was finished having "talks" about inappropriate behavior when my youngest child became an adult.  I had not counted on the LOC's penchant for risk-taking at this time of life. 

We talked about the fact that we do have central heating, and thus, it is not necessary that we have a fire in the wood burning stove every single day.  We discussed economy - the cost of a few dollars saved on the gas bill, versus potentially tens of thousands for a broken leg, or even worse, back surgery.  We reviewed the fact that neither of us is exactly a spring chicken and the fact that some adjustments in our expectations of ourselves and our own bodies must be accepted.

We talked.  Or as the Lord himself once said to someone in need of a talking-to, "Come now, let us reason together."

Finally, I thought we had reached, if not an agreement, something of an understanding. I must have been living on another planet where older fellows stack firewood made of marshmallows.

For as I left the living room to go to the kitchen, the LOC looked up at me smiling and cheerfully stated, "But honey, I really enjoy stacking firewood."
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Here is the lesson I have decided to learn from all of this.  (I do not know what the LOC has learned and I am not inclined to inquire at the moment.)

Perhaps it is better to keep doing a little more than is strictly indicated than it is to just sit down and bemoan the fact that we can no longer do "this, that, and the other thing."  Maybe one's "ailings" do not have to become one's permanent "failings" - failing to try, failing to enjoy, failing to make an effort.

The fact that he admittedly could not bend over far enough to see his torn toenail, did not prevent him from working his self-appointed chore the next time.  And the further fact that he limped a little as he started out the back door today, did not keep him from smiling as he approached the woodpile.

Maybe there are greater dangers lurking than the woodpile.  Maybe a "sit and sulk" is a great deal more dangerous than a possible stumble now and then, while doing something you really enjoy.
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Dear, Lord, help me to get moving and keep moving.  Just saying .....  :)
Hope your toes are intact, your ailments are few, and your smiles are many. Until next time ~ Marsha
(*Lovable Old Coot)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Funerals, Weddings, and Moving Forward

My grandmother, one day long ago, expressed to my mother that she was feeling a bit lonely and downhearted.  My mother asked Grandma Hazel (her mother), "Why don't you go visit a friend, Mom?  That would make you feel better."

To which my ever acerbic grandmother tartly replied, "All my friends are dead!"
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There really is no snappy come-back for that one, is there?

We are at the stage in our lives where we attend more funerals and memorial services than we do weddings. It is the reality as you move through the third act of your life. 

Of course, we could simply not go; but somehow that seems disrespectful of those who enriched our lives while they were here, and whose remaining family members seem to appreciate those who come to honor the life of their loved ones.

However, in contrast, one of the nicest upsides to having dawdled about on the planet this long, is that we do get invited to quite a number "Golden Anniversary" parties.  We attended another just last Friday evening.  What a wonderful inspiration the happy couple have been to all who know them.

It was fun to watch the slide show of them in their younger years, when he still had hair and she still had a slim waistline.  Fifty years, five children, and many trials and triumphs later, there they were - gladly smiling down on the rest of us from their own personal Olympus of fidelity and loyalty.  I say good for them!
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Matthew admonishes us to "let your light shine before men so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
(Matt. 5:16)

Excellent advice. 

However, I don't know about you, but my light has been doing a little flickering lately - putting out a fairly steady beam at times, and then dimming abruptly when confronted with the daunting darkness of our times.

Horrible public discourse, of a type and stripe designed to make all but the most insensitive cringe with shame at the depths to which we, as a country, have fallen in our coarsened diatribes.

The papers (yes, we still subscribe to those antiquated missives) filled with tales of crimes so cruel and degrading that we sincerely wish they would spare us the details.  The Bible tells us that some things ought not to be spoken of in public.  Too true.

And then will come some call to action, some invitation to carry on that is so strong and good that we can only ask God to give us strength and then begin to put one foot in front of the other.

In that vein I think of the young mother of three, the youngest just barely a month old, who I recently heard speak.  She was on her way back to Africa, with her husband and two slightly older children.  To live among those whose customs and values are so very different.  And yet she spoke with love and joy, looking forward to returning to that blighted and dangerous place.  The love of God compels her.
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May His love compel us to carry on, to move forward, despite frailty and fear, despite heartache and disappointment.  For we do, indeed, have a "city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God."  All we have to do is to allow His love to compel us to keep going.   # # #
May you find the strength and joy to keep going today.  Blessings to you ~ your fellow traveler, Marsha

Friday, January 1, 2016

Changes and Challenges for a New Year

Happy New Year !  Welcome to 2016 !

We just finished watching the Rose Parade, a New Year's Day tradition in our house.  The Rose Bowl is coming right up.

Some things do not change.  However, some things do change, especially if we will allow them to, and even more so if we will help bring about the change.

Yesterday I visited my favorite used book store, rented two new best sellers (which I think is a wonderful innovation that allows me to read all the new books for a fraction of the cost of buying them) and wished the owner a happy new year.

The LOC* is presently preoccupied with watching as many of the forty football "bowl games" as he can possibly manage.  I can remember when there were really only about three or four bowl games.

The Cotton Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and of course, the Rose Bowl.  Now we have every thing from the Dingy Bowl to the Pot-Sticker Bowl.  In my opinion, the whole thing has been bowled blown out of all proportion.

Hence, my need for at least two books to read over the weekend, as there will be nothing on our TV that does not involve tackling, passing, running, kicking and scoring.  I like football, but let us remember "all things in moderation" - hmmm?

David (aka the LOC) believes in moderation in all things other than football.

So I am reading pleasantly along, cup of tea at the ready, looking up to watch a few dozen robins hop in and out of the bird bath in the frosty backyard, when I turn the page to discover a piece of paper tucked into my current book that I did not put there. It is a piece of mail, apparently accidentally left there by the prior reader.

Well, my goodness, look at that.  She only lives about six blocks from us. I do not know her and I quickly tore up the paper to respect her privacy.

However, what really caught my attention was the name of the street in the address. Rosebud. It is a pretty street with lovely houses lining it.  I have often driven down it.  Rosebud.

Then I immediately thought of the association with the word "rosebud" that anyone familiar with the movie classic Citizen Kane would recall.  It is the last word whispered by the rich, powerful, and utterly alone antagonist played by Orson Wells.  It is the name of a beloved family member from whom he has long been
estranged; and as he dies, lonely and very alone in his vast mansion, it is the name on his lips as he draws his last breath.  Rosebud.

The scene is iconic in American movie-lore, and despite the fact that the move is over sixty or seventy years old, it still represents much of what is wrong with American society.  Kane chose wealth, fame, and power, over love and loyalty. 

To say his priorities were backwards is an understatement indeed.  They were so wrong as to be cruel and even evil.  A cautionary tale for sure.

Throughout his life he had many opportunities to make different choices than the ones which led to his wretched circumstances at his death.  Each time he chose selfishly, in favor of greed, power, self-aggrandizement. The results of those life-long choices, however, were not what he wanted them to be.  His end was simply the logical consequence of his day-to-day choices.  He could have chosen to change at any point in his journey, but he did not.
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Today we begin a new year.  And as is the case each day, today is also the first day of the rest of my life, and of yours, however long or short that may be.

This year will present each of us with changes and challenges.  Some of which we will eagerly embrace, and others which we would not have willingly taken on.  As writer Margaret Feinberg says, "Sometimes you choose the fight, sometimes the fight chooses you." 

Whatever the struggles, challenges, changes, and yes, even fights, may come my way this year, I hope I can make choices that will lead to good things.  Good outcomes. Good relationships.  Good living.

Certainly some changes are welcome and some are not.  But for each one, we have a choice as to how we respond.  Our challenges may help shape us, but it is our choices that define us.

Hope your 2016 is a good year.  May you have happy days, healthy and strong relationships, and may you make good choices throughout the coming year. And as Tiny Tim famously said, "God bless us one and all."
Happy New Year ~ Marsha
(*Lovable Old Coot)