Thursday, April 28, 2005

gone fishin'

Apparently, all Oklahomans fish. It's not optional. Even new, gangly-legged transplants are expected to pole-up and do their part. Shortly after our move from my home state to his, my new step-father decided the seven-year old me needed an introduction. So he took our family to his favorite cabin up in the hills near a river guaranteed to yield fish. I wasn't a big fan of fish, unless it came battered, greasy, and sitting next to equally bad-for-you fries in a little paper bowl, but he didn't need to know that. I already loved my step-father and wanted him to smile. And I fell in love with his favorite cabin with very little effort. Hidden in a grove of tall pine trees and surrounded by a carpet of pungent needles from those trees, that spot of the world seemed made for remembering. And indeed, thirty-six years and two thousand miles later, I can still smell those pine needles.

At a hideous hour the second morning of our vacation, Daddy Roy roused me from my cot and nodded toward the door of our cabin. I pulled on my sweatshirt and jeans and crept across the creaky, uncarpeted floor to join him in the doorway.

"Here's your breakfast," he whispered, handing me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I couldn't recall ever before having peanut butter and jelly for breakfast. I suddenly loved him more.

With the balance of a child, I juggled my sandwich, pole, and kid-sized box of hooks and feathery wonders while poking my feet in my rubber boots. Clomping as quietly as I could across the porch boards and down the front steps, I joined him on the piney road, and we set off.

Our walk was short. After rounding a few bends in the road and traversing a slight hillside, we landed on a flat, grassy beach and unloaded our gear.

Daddy Roy pulled a white, lidded carton out of his fishing box, then peeled the top off. With my peanut butter sandwich gone, I wondered if he might be about to top off my perfect breakfast with a handful of milk duds, or chocolate-covered raisins, or some other carton-worthy delight--but no. Instead, he pulled out a fat worm, the sight of which sent my appetite skedaddling.

"I'll bait the first hook for you, and then you can do your own. So watch carefully."

My prayer life was birthed then and there. Oh, God ... help me to not throw up breakfast.

I wanted to obey--I really did--but at the last second, just as the tip of Daddy Roy's hook was about to pierce the side of that wiggling worm, I closed my eyes. There's not an hour of the day when I've been awake long enough to watch that sort of violence.

"See that?" he asked.

Nodding seemed less like fibbing than an outright answer, so I nodded.

I took my pole back and held it out as though it had hooked a bomb and not a worm. The last thing I wanted in life was for that worm to somehow swing his fat body toward me and graze my arm.

I plopped him in the water. What he did below surface, I don't know. About every thirteen seconds, I checked on him. That may have accounted for the fact that I went the whole morning without so much as a single fish nibble.

"Shanny, you've got to leave it in the water a bit longer," my patient step-father instructed. So I began leaving him in for fifteen seconds--but the added time did little to improve my results.

Midway through the experience, it occurred to me that I didn't really want a fish to bite my hook, because if that happened, I'd have to re-bait the thing. And that meant actually touching the worm. I wasn't a squirmish child, but I wasn't yet a tomboy. It would be another several months before I'd begin catching crawdads in the ditch with the neighbor kids and squishing lightning bugs on the palm of my hand to make myself glow. (To be honest, that happened only once. Or twice.) But on this morning, my bug interactions had been limited to sitting on a bee and accidentally filling my mouth with pincher bugs when I put my mouth over the outside faucet to get a drink of water. Neither had been on purpose.

From that point of realization on, I worried I might catch a fish. And the worrying paid off, because I didn't.

"We'll try again after lunch," my step-father said.

I pulled my hook out of the water, saw the still-snagged worm, and breathed a sigh of relief. I was already set for that after-lunch go-round.

"Don't you think you'll want a fresh worm on that hook later?" Daddy Roy asked.

"Nope," I answered. "I like this one."

We collected our gear, climbed the hill, and set off walking toward the cabin. Halfway back, overcome by fatigue and relief, I closed my eyes and yawned ferociously--the kind of yawn that bends small trees and alters wind patterns. And just as I was getting ready to close my mouth again, at the tail end of that yawn, I opened my eyes--just in time to watch that hooked worm drift back out of my mouth. I'd had my pole slung over my shoulder, and apparently, the hook had swung out in front of me and then straight toward my face--and into my mouth. Had I timed that yawn for just a split second earlier, I would have garnered the catch of the day ... myself.
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If you're waiting for a point to my little story, I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you. This post is just the sharing of a memory ... and an announcement about the next few days. From now till Monday, I'll be gone fishin'. Not literally, although writing about this has given me a hankering for the river. I'll be teaching at a women's retreat today through Saturday. And Sunday, after church, we're having a potluck. So I suppose I'll see you Monday.

Till then, don't let the worms bite you.



Tuesday, April 26, 2005

kids at sea

A friend sent me a compilation of comments from 5 to 8-year olds who were asked to write a short report and draw pictures for a project called "Kids at Sea." Here are some of their thoughts:

When ships had sails, they used to use the trade winds to cross the ocean.
Sometimes, when the wind didn't blow, the sailors would whistle to make the
wind come. My brother said they would be better off eating beans.
- William, age 7

This is a picture of an octopus. It has eight testicles. - Kelly, age 6

I think sharks are ugly and mean, and have big teeth, just like Emily
Richardson. She's not my friend no more.
- Kylie, age 6

I like mermaids. They are beautiful, and I like their shiny tails. How do mermaids get pregnant? - Helen, age 7

I laughed at those. Some of them brought back memories. That last one, for some reason, made me think of my college friend Shari. She has three children now, but when her oldest was about four, Christopher had many questions about "that." Shari and her husband, Bill, decided they wouldn't pretty it up with stories about cabbages or storks. Instead, they'd be very clinical and matter-of-fact. One day, while riding the bus, Christopher started asking a new slew of questions. You know how loud buses are. Christopher was compensating for the noise, when all of a sudden, the bus driver shifted gears--and in that lull, that split second of absolute silence, Shari and all the other passengers heard Christopher yell, "But how does the sperm get to the egg?"

The comment about Emily and her big shark teeth made me think of my daughter and her friend who spent one summer day fighting. The friend (who we'll call Julie) is a manipulative child. This day was no exception.

"If you don't do what I want to do today, then I'm not going to be your friend anymore," Julie announced to Tera.

For a time, Tera went along with that arrangement. They played with Barbies out in the sandbox, because that's what Julie wanted to do. They jumped on the trampoline, because that's what Julie wanted to do. But when Julie suggested they go in the house and watch a movie, Tera dug in her heels. She didn't want to stay inside on a beautiful summer day.

She came in to get my opinion. "Mom, I don't want to come inside. But Julie said she won't be my friend anymore if I don't do what she says. And she says we need to come in and watch a movie."

I know very few things for certain, but I do know this: God gave me this particular child so I could teach her to not let the world run over her. Tera will do anything to please others. She'll ignore her own wants and needs, she'll pretend she's not hurt, she'll overlook jabs and outright offenses. And while I'm not trying to turn her into a prickly girl, and I absolutely love how forgiving and kind she is, I don't want people to take advantage of her. I want her to stand up for herself now and then.

"Tera," I said, "you can't let people manipulate you. Go outside and tell Julie that you'd like to stay outside. Ask her if she'd like to run through the sprinkler or feed the chickens."

"She'll go home, Mom. She already said so. And she won't be my friend."

"All right." I dug in my own heels. "Then this is what you say: 'Well, Julie, then I guess that's what we'll have to do. We just won't be able to be friends anymore.' "

Tera's eyes widened.

"It works every time," I promised.

She ran out and went straight to Julie. I watched through the window, and though I couldn't hear the exchange, my limited mouth-reading skills yielded enough that I caught the fact that Julie had, indeed, threatened to leave.

Tera said something more and I watched Julie stomp her foot. But then she crossed her arms, sighed, and gave a reluctant nod. Then Tera came barreling through the back door. "We're going to run through the sprinkler. I need some towels."

"So what happened?" I couldn't resist asking.

"Well," Tera began, "She said we couldn't be friends anymore if we didn't come in and watch a movie. So I said, 'Well, Julie, I s'pose we can't be friends anymore.' And then she didn't answer me 'cause I think she was thinking. Then I said, 'And my mom says that works every time.' And it did."

Kids. You have to laugh.

There was one last comment from the "Kids at Sea" collection that made me stop and think. One little girl said this:

I'm not going to write about the sea. My baby brother is always screaming and being sick, my Dad keeps shouting at my Mom, and my big sister has just got pregnant, so I can't think what to write. - Amy, age 8

Oh, Amy. I can relate. Sometimes life is so crazy that you think, How can I be expected to write? But you need to grab a pen anyway, Hon. Forget the sea. Write about the other things swirling about your brain. You need to find a quiet corner, sit down and let it all out. The act of writing releases thoughts that lurk in secret places, thoughts you just can't get to any other way. It helps you make sense of chaos. Sometimes, you don't really know how you feel about a thing until it spills out of your pen.

That goes for the rest of you, too. Had a crazy day? Feel overwhelmed? Emotions getting the better of you? I'm sure there's a pen lying around somewhere. See what happens when you pick it up.


Monday, April 25, 2005

lost and found

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Through it all, let us praise the Lord. - Job 1:21

First, the found.

An old friend tapped me on the shoulder yesterday after church. When I turned to see the owner of that hand, and took in the beautiful (and still very young-looking) face of my friend, Lynn, I couldn't help but shriek just a bit. I hadn't seen her in years, though we live in the same town. It's a mystery to me how growing up can change you so. When I was twenty, I'd think nothing of driving five hours to visit a friend off at college. Now, I don't have the energy or gumption to open the phone book, copy an address, and track down a friend in my same zip code.

But in this case, I didn't have to do a thing. God brought her right to me, along with an unspoken suggestion: Perhaps you two should catch up a bit. I liked that suggestion. We stood in a row of chairs talking for ten minutes or so, then stood in empty space for another ten or fifteen minutes after the set-up/take-down crew removed those chairs from around us. Then we moved outside and talked some more, above the pounding of a basketball and the giggling of a game of tag.

She introduced me to her new (of seven years) husband, Scott, and I re-introduced her to Zac. She hadn't seen him since he was hip-level to her; now, he's 6'1" and whiskery. She'd never met Tera at all, though she'd heard of her existence. So I pointed Tera out to her. Lynn then updated me about her daughter, Amy, and now-married son, Christopher. We talked about our shared shock over the sudden death of a mutual acquaintance last month. My sadness only intensified when she told me that Mike and his wife had been separated at the time of his heart attack.

After all that first-layer chatter, we got down to the reason for Lynn's appearance. She hadn't been in church the last six months, not since leaving her church of several years. She'd felt disconnected there though she was firmly plugged in. Her feeling seemed to be legitimate, since no one has yet called to see where she'd gone. She knew she needed to find a new church home. And a series of unconnected events led her to us: Scott had a job interview last week. This was a must-get job, so Lynn started praying. And though I don't advocate making deals with God, in this case, I'm not unhappy that Lynn added "And if Scott gets that job, we'll find a home church" to the end of her prayer. While they waited for an answer, Lynn picked up my book--which someone had given her daughter--and started reading. She finished Saturday, and when she was done, she felt that not only did she know me better, she also knew a fair bit about the people in our church. That, combined with a "yes" on the job, cemented Lynn's conviction that God was leading her to Calvary Chapel. I'm so glad--and so looking forward to watching the rest of my church family discover this delightful woman.

We came home, changed clothes, and went to the home of some friends for lunch and a preview of a parenting series we're about to begin next month. With the business end of our meeting behind us, we then moved to "snacking and laughing" with the Kellys and the Hilts. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt.

Later, when we arrived back home, I said to Dave, "This has been a perfect day." I'd felt God's presence during worship. And Dave's message, on Hebrews chapter 6, had been powerful. He made me think, laugh, jot frantic notes, and re-appreciate my Father. The fellowship afterward--both at church and at the Kellys--had been wonderful. I couldn't ask for more from a day.

But then, I checked in on our kittens, and discovered I was about to lose my baby.

I wrote about the kittens in this post a few weeks ago. Since that mishap, while the lighter gray kitten grew stronger, the darker gray kitten grew weaker. She seemed to have something structurally wrong with her, which confirmed to us that Lucy probably dropped her when she moved the litter. She never could walk properly and she couldn't fight off the others when trying to nurse, so I took to feeding her with a dropper to try to supplement. For awhile, I thought I was winning.

But yesterday, I could see it was just a matter of time. I held her in our usual spot, under my chin, and then gave her a little milk, which she drank weakly. And then, because I knew she would never chase butterflies or scamper after her siblings or lie and sun herself on a cushion of green, I took her outside and set her gently on the grass. We didn't stay but two minutes, but it mattered to me that she met the world just once before she left it.

Dave had tried to protect me. Just days ago, he said, "Don't get too attached to that kitten."

But my heart was already long-gone. "Too late," I told him. And when she died in my hand last night, I kept stroking her little head. Long after her last tiny gasp, I kept loving her.

We wrapped her in a soft cloth and laid her aside so we could bury her properly today. But last night, I dreamt that when I went to get her, she had crawled out of her wrapping and was waiting for me and my dropper.

Of course, when I opened my eyes this morning and rushed to her, it wasn't so. Today we'll say good bye.

Life is a sprinkling of salt and sugar, of tears and laughter, good bye and hello ... of lost and found. I'll endure it here, because I know it's what makes a life full and gives a soul depth. I know it's what makes us who we are. It softens our rough spots, teaches us compassion, and "gentles" us so we can reach out to one another. But I'm looking forward to heaven. When these lessons have run their course, I'll be glad to give a final nod to salt, and tears, and good bye, and lost.

And I won't look back--not even once.

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Friday, April 22, 2005


Kip is a wild girl. She's a cat on the run. She's a frustrating mix of need and paranoia, of "touch me" and "don't you dare." As a kitten, she endured my petting, because she hadn't yet discovered she had a choice. But as soon as she hit open air, she grabbed her independence like a life line and tossed a "see ya" right over her shoulder.

She watches our house from the woods, where she blends easily into the shadows cast by ferns and blackberries. Sometimes, when curiosity draws her from her watching place, she'll leap to the top of the barbecue grill outside our back window and stare at us from behind the safety of glass. But no matter how surreptitiously we creep to the door, no matter who quietly we pull the slider open, when we slip out to greet her, she's as gone as though she never sat there.

When the itch behind her ears finally overcomes her suspicion, Kip permits me to scratch her, but even then--even when I've coaxed her into my arms and I'm speaking to her in my mother-to-baby voice--she keeps one leg poised for launching, and I can feel that every muscle in her lean black body is spring loaded and ready for flight.

I heard her purr only once, on a warm day when my touch eased up on her and the sun wrapped a lulling blanket around her distrust. But she caught herself and stopped. Purring can be intoxicating, and wild cats don't allow themselves addictions.

I saw her this morning when I stepped out the back door. And for about twenty seconds, I thought today was my day. She ran across the grass toward me as though she'd seen a friend. I squatted down and said good morning. "C'mere, little girl ... let me hold you." But just inches from my outstretched hand, she veered off at a 30 degree angle and kept running. I guess she hadn't seen a friend after all.

I wonder how often God scans the woods, hoping for a glimpse of me. And I wonder how often I watch him from the shadows, and shrink back from the tender sound of his Father-to-child voice, and close my eyes to the sight of his outstretched arms. I'm far too independent for my own good, I know that. But I don't want it to be so. There's nothing sadder in the world than a being who won't let love in.

Keep calling my name, Lord. As much as I think I need independence, Father, I need you more.

Tame your wild girl.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005


His name was Lou, but everyone on our listserver called him LocoLou. And he was all right with that ... liked it, in fact.

I never met him, never spoke with him by phone, never saw a picture. But I can see and hear Lou in my mind nonetheless. His voice is low and gravelly. He shaves only when he can't stand his reflection. He owns a single jacket: scuffed black leather with stories attached to each mark. He favors jeans, boots and white T-shirts, barely cooked steak, and women who don't mind an occasional ride on the back of his Harley. And the heart beating under those T-shirts--despite his efforts to prove otherwise--is baby soft, tenderized by the God he met after Vietnam while in a trauma-induced state of craziness.

Lou's not crazy now. In fact, he's quite lucid. We members of the Calvary Chapel Fellowship listserver looked forward to his grizzly posts, because his words never failed to provoke thought and discussion. Sometimes they stirred memory.

For no particular reason at all, Lou wrote a post one day in which he described a trench he'd called home one long morning in Vietnam. The words he spilled onto the screen proved he could recall even now every pebble, groove and divet of that open-air coffin. He put himself there again for our benefit and filled our ears with the sounds of battle, the sounds of a nineteen-year old's heart pounding against his chest. We tasted his fear as he hunkered there trying to force his body into submission so he could obey orders, so he could pull himself out of that hole, stand tall, and advance on the enemy.

"I didn't know I had courage until I found myself flying down the face of that hill," Lou wrote. "And to this day, I can still hear the blood pulsing in my ears as I charged, just as if it were still Christmas day, 1966."

As I read Lou's words, I stood with him in that trench, pulled myself out with my own shaky arms, fortified my fear-wobbled legs and moved to take that first step down the hill. But when he wrote the date, I left him there in Vietnam. Because when I read that date, I knew I had my own hill to return to.

I was five that same Christmas day, and I'd just maneuvered my brand-new bicycle out the back door of our house and around the side gate toward the front yard. New bikes need to be seen, especially by neighbor girls who have been hah-hahing you for months with their own sparkly transportation. The only glitch to my showing-off plan came when I ran out of level front-yard grass. The last ten feet or so of our yard was a hill that led down to the street. There was no moving around that obstacle. I had two choices: I could walk my bike down the slope, or I could ride.

I've revisited that "hill" as an adult. I've driven slow circles past my old house on many occasions, trying to capture a wisp of those long ago days and the family who lived there. And I'm almost embarrassed to call that slight front-yard incline a hill. But measurement taken by adult eyes differs greatly from that of a child's eyes. To my five-year old way of thinking, that slight incline was Mount Challenge.

I almost walked the bike down. Almost. But I sensed that a defining moment had presented itself. I could ride off down the street a little girl, or I could ride off down the street a big girl. And no one but me would know the difference.

I like to think Lou and I conquered our hills at exactly the same moment on that December day. I like to believe that my leg swung up and over my bike seat at the same moment Lou swung his leg up and over the edge of his trench. I like to believe our hearts pounded in tandem and we rode the wind together as we flew past fear.

Here's to courage--and the wars it wins. Here's to our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. And here's to all of you standing on the precipice of your own personal hilltop, gathering strength to charge. Whatever mountain you face today, don't give up. Fight the urge to retreat, for victory is closer than you think.

You'll find it just on the other side of the hill.

Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow." ~ Mary Anne Rademacher-Hershey

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Those of you visiting from blog-of-the-day, welcome!


Tuesday, April 19, 2005


My proper but mischievous grandmother had one firm rule about cussing: If you must do it, do it in the barn. I believe now that her unspoken message was "animal behavior belongs with the animals," but we didn't hear that subtext back then. We just thought it a tantilizing and dangerous invitation. Of us seven girls, I only remember one who regularly took Grandma up on that offer. "Dang it," the girl-whose-name-I'm-not- telling-you would whisper, when she just couldn't take the pressure of being seven anymore. Sometimes I overheard her. Sometimes I didn't have to. She'd come moseying out of the barn with that satisfied look on her face, and I'd know the old building had stripped her of all her troubles.

I spent the majority of my growing-up summers living on my grandparents' farm. And I wasn't alone. Whether my grandparents extended the invitation to bless us or to bless our parents didn't much matter. We seven cousins packed our bags the first day of summer vacation, hit the farm running, and didn't look back until September started making noise.

When the sun broke through our dreams and drove us from our beds, we girls would gulp down breakfast, yank on our cowboy boots, and head for the barn. We ventured out now and then, of course--to chase cows, climb trees, ride ponies, and beg Grandma for a cup of sugar for dipping rhubarb stalks--but our home base was Grandpa's barn. To this day, whenever I walk into a barn (and I do, every chance that presents itself), all I have to do is close my eyes and draw in a big breath, and I'm instantly short again. The perpetual dust inside is drifting through a sunbeam like miniature snowflakes, I'm surrounded by the heavenly tang of manure, and I can feel and hear the stomp of cow feet or horse feet or girl feet slapping the concrete floor.

Our favorite thing to do in the barn was to climb up to the hay loft and make mazes with the bales. It took all fourteen of our skinny little no-muscle arms to lift and stack those bales, but unity of purpose kept us grunting and puffing. We'd take a whole morning to create the perfect hay maze, then spend the rest of the day hiding around corners and trying to scare one another.

Grandpa let us sweep the broken bales and loose hay out the window. When enough had accumulated in a heap below that second floor window, we'd jump. The worse part of growing up was saying good bye to that rush. There's little in the adult world that offers the same freedom as leaping from a second floor window. For just a moment there, you and your sixty-five pounds don't belong to earth.

One summer day, while preparing for a jump, my middle sister Megan took off her spanking-new, bright green tennis shoes and set them off to one side of the window. If her goal was to spare her new shoes an afternoon of dirt, she failed. After repeatedly jumping in the hay, running over the grass and across the dirt path and up the grimy stairs to repeat her performance, the feet she planned to plunge back into those new shoes were beyond filthy. But she never got the chance to dirty her footwear. One shoe went missing. Though we looked high and low and everywhere in between, though we moved hay bales and checked corners and took a pitch fork to the pile outside, we never found that second green tennis shoe. No one ever found that shoe. I like to think a family of klepto-crazed field mice lined up while we were giggling in the pile of hay below and dragged that green shoe down a secret hole. In my best imaginings, it became a mice family heirloom ... and the story, a legend.

A piece of my sister lingered in that barn, long after she outgrew hay jumping and pony rides. And that's just how it goes when you've sojourned in a place. Whether we plan to or not, we leave pieces of ourselves wherever we travel. Those little markers, little breadcrumbs, show we've been this way.

I hope you're conscious of the pieces you're leaving behind today. Someday, someone will hold up that breadcrumb and tell the story of you. Make sure it's a good one.

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Monday, April 18, 2005


A shadow fell across my laptop screen and I looked up to see my friend standing over my shoulder, holding his usual 4-shot mocha.

"Finishing your book?" he asked.

I nodded and smiled.

"Time for a break?"

I nodded again, so he eased himself into a chair across the table from me. We talked briefly about his job, my deadline, and why Starbucks insists on playing their music so loudly. And then my friend began talking about church ... and why he doesn't go.

I didn't know that. He'd mentioned something about his church once, so far as I knew, he went regularly.

"I went every Sunday for awhile," he said. "but I quit going after about three months. I just didn't enjoy it anymore."

On occasion, I hear things that leave me speechless. My mute state doesn't last long, but in that span of confusion, while I'm trying to force illogical words into recognizable patterns, I can't think of a single response.

During this pause, my friend continued. "I don't need it. I can just worship God by myself."

I regained my ability to speak. "Well, sure you can. I mean, God isn't locked in a building. You can worship him anytime, anywhere. But why do you suppose he told us to not forsake gathering together? And what about the fact that Jesus--through whom all things were made, including the synagogue, the priests and the scrolls they held and read from--went to that synagogue regularly and sat through the teaching?"

My friend smiled and nodded, as thought he had no issue with what I said. Then he shrugged. "I just don't enjoy it. And I don't force myself to do things I don't find enjoyable."


I like this person. Since meeting him about a year ago (through a mutual friend), I've loved talking with him about the Bible. Though not typically a reader, he'll stay up late reading his Bible. It's been a blessing to hear his passionate outbursts about something he'd just read. But this new announcement startled me.

I felt as if we spoke different languages. To my way of thinking, if God says to do something, you do it. And if we're followers of Christ, we imitate Christ. So that settles the matter, in my opinion. But my friend went by a different standard. To him, if it feels good--do it. Otherwise, stay home. How could we reach an understanding with such conflicting foundations?

I appealed to his desire for maturity. "We grow as we yield. The more we obey, the more God uses us. But if we only obey in the things we want to obey in, we remain spiritual infants. Our obedience can't be based on our emotion--it has to be based on our willingness to love and serve God."

I think I offended my friend with that. "I do lots of things I don't want to do," he insisted. He then went on to list all the things he does around his home to help his wife. They were good things, all of them. But it still didn't answer the question of why he wouldn't plug into a church.

"But if you obey in forty thngs and keep one thing back for yourself, one thing that you refuse to give over to God, that's the very thing he wants from you," I said. "And this isn't even a hard thing. This is simply fellowshiping with his people and being strengthened for the coming week."

He didn't budge. So I appealed to his sense of responsibility. "You've been given a spiritual gift. God gave you something unique, something the body of Christ needs from you. It's not yours to hoard. For the body to function properly, we need to use our gifts to bless one another."

He still didn't budge. I couldn't get him to acknowledge a single thing I'd said. And after a half an hour of unproductive conversation, my friend wished me luck on the last chapter of my book and left.

When I turned back to my work, after watching him drive out of the Starbucks parking lot, I couldn't write. My heart felt incredibly heavy, and as I sat there sorting out my thoughts, I realized the one question I could have asked that may have pierced my friend's stubbornness; the one question that should be asked of each of us who claim to belong to Christ:

What won't you do for your Savior?

What line will you refuse to cross? What command will you deem unreasonable? What suggestion will you ignore? What blessing will you withhold ... from the One who withheld nothing for you? Is it possible to picture the broken body of Jesus hanging on that rough, bloody cross and see those eyes looking straight into your soul and determinedly hold your ground? "This, Lord. This is the thing you may not have from me."

Oh, God. I'll turn this around and point it straight to myself. Teach me, God. Teach me to hold every dream, every passion, every preference, every desire with an open hand. Give me the strength to obey whatever you ask, to yield when you say yield, to stop and go at the slightest whisper from you. Let there be nothing in all the world I would not do or give up for you.

Jesus, you proved your love with an extravagent sacrifice. Help me to do the same.

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Saturday, April 16, 2005

my point ... and i do have one

I thought it might be funny, when I was about five, to lock myself in the bathroom while having my bath and not answer my mother's insistent knocking and yelling. Who knows why we do these things?

That was, I believe, my first practical joke. Rough, yes--and not terribly well thought out. But we have to start somewhere. I remember lying in that tepid water holding my hand over my mouth so my mother couldn't hear my giggling over her panicked pounding. She stopped after a moment or two, and I heard the back door open and slam. What I couldn't see from the bathroom--and only learned later when my mother recounted the drama for my father--was that she then vaulted herself over the side of the porch railing, grabbed the axe from the woodpile, gave a hearty whack or six at the bush growing against the window, and jammed a ladder under the windowsill.

The window was unlocked, fortunately. After she climbed in and we exchanged polite hellos, she sat her shaky self down on the toilet lid and told me about the little boy who cried wolf. I thought it was a terrific story and asked her to tell me another.

“You’re missing the point, Shannon. That story is about you. If you keep doing this--if you keep telling fibs--people won’t believe you later when you really need help.”

That was my introduction to “the point.” I thought my mother was extremely clever to just plop herself down on the toilet lid (after pounding, vaulting, whacking and climbing, no less) and create that winsome combination of story and point. I admired her ability to tie a seemingly unrelated tale to my mischief. I wanted to do that, too. I wanted to conjure points from thin air.

That desire still lives in me. As a writer, I’m always on a quest to marry the perfect story to the perfect point. Nothing satisfies me more than walking a reader right up to the door of Aha! and watching them walk through. Life is packed with metaphors--random, disconnected ideas that remain detached and unrelated until someone snatches the two and ties them neatly into "the point."

If you write--and many of you do--I hope you make good use of metaphor and simile. But even if you don't write, you live. And a life attuned to metaphor is a life full of wonder. Take a second listen next time something sparks your interest. Why does it? What does it make you think of? How does that relate to your life? Where have you seen that before?

Just for today, be on the lookout. Points, morals, and lessons are everywhere. Find one in your normal happenings and you'll be hooked. You'll be so delighted you'll look for another. Tomorrow you'll look for three.

It's the richest, most interesting way to live. And that's my point.

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Thursday, April 14, 2005


I want to post something today ... I really do. But the deadline for my book is tomorrow and I've got a dozen loose ends to tie up before then. But I'll be back! Look for something Saturday, for sure, or Friday night if I haven't collapsed in a heap. :)


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

aisle two

When I walked through the automatic doors of the grocery store that night, I had one goal: find a can of cream of mushroom soup, buy it, and get back to my car as quickly as possible. I'd already been to the store twice that day. Those trips had been squeezed in between a whole lot of cleaning, errand running, and baking. Enough was enough, so this was going to be a very quick, very uninteresting run through the store.

But my plans changed when I heard my instructions. You're going to walk down every aisle and look at every item on the shelves. It wasn't an audible voice, but it may as well have been. The impression was so strong and so urgent that despite my weariness, I veered right as I crossed the automatic doors and grabbed a cart ... for one can of soup.

I don't argue with the Lord. I've learned there's always a reason for those insistent whispers.

I started in produce and examined the neat piles of avocados and mangos and limes. I meandered past meat and noticed that pot roast was on sale. I checked out tortillas and cereal and coffee--all the while wondering what I was waiting for.

An aisle or two after I grabbed my cream of mushroom soup, I overheard a young couple wondering where the soup was. So I escorted them back to the right aisle and pointed out that the store brand was 29 cents cheaper than the name brand.

I kept walking, kept looking. Forty-five minutes passed, and I still had only one can of cream of mushroom soup in my cart. But then I turned down aisle two and found out why God had stalled me.


I turned and saw my friend. I'll call her Maggie. Maggie--my beautiful, wild, restless friend. I hadn't seen her in almost two years, not since this mother of four left her husband to go feel young again. She didn't return phone calls and she didn't loiter in areas where she might run into any of the old church crowd. But she hadn't anticipated aisle two.

I hugged her and told her she looked good, but I lied. She looked exhausted. She had the look of a woman who'd galloped hard only to find the horizon held nothing better than what she'd run from. I knew she'd met a lot of new men and returned to a lot of old, destructive habits, and it showed. She looked hardened and jaded and much, much older than the girl I'd last seen.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

She nodded and gave me the brightest fake smile she could muster. "I'm living in an apartment near here."

"I'd love to sit down and talk sometime," I said. To remove the guarded look from her face, I added, "I won't lecture--I'll just listen."

"We'll do that," she said, but I knew better. This would be my one chance. I had to make it count.

"We all miss you."

"You mean you're all angry with me," she countered.

"No. We're sad, Maggie, but no one is mad at you. We love you."

She scoffed. "Some have an odd way of showing it."

I knew who she referred to. Another couple had been very firm with Maggie when she left her husband. Their last, tough-love conversation had not gone well. The woman--I'll call her Samantha--had taken Maggie's leaving particularly hard.

"I saw Samantha not long ago," I said. "When I asked her if she'd heard from you or knew how you were doing, she burst into tears. She cried for fifteen minutes straight ... you can't believe how much she misses you."

"Well, I don't need friends like that. You have no idea the things they said to me."

"You're right," I agreed. "I don't know. I only know that sometimes, when you love someone and you're frightened for them, you say whatever you must to keep them from making a mistake."

She tried to change the subject. "It's so weird running into you here. I didn't know you shopped out this way."

"I don't think it's weird. I think it's God, Maggie. I think He wants you back."

She shook her head slowly. "I'm not sure I believe in God anymore."

"It doesn't matter. Even if you don't believe in Him, He won't stop reaching out to you. He'll never give up, because He loves you. We all do. And we'll be here when you're ready to let us back in."

I'm sure she didn't want me to see the tears forming in her eyes, but I did. "I'll call you sometime," she said. "I promise." She reached for me and hugged me, long and tightly.

"Please do," I said. And she was gone.

I cried all the way home. That was more than a year ago, and I haven't seen or heard from Maggie again. I knew I wouldn't. But I know something else--I know that the God who sent me to aisle two won't give up on my friend. He watches her when she sleeps and He watches her when she runs, and the second she stops running and turns for a tentative peek over her shoulder, He's going to scoop her up and carry her home.

Oh, I pray she peeks soon.



Monday, April 11, 2005

last time

When I walked into the kitchen this morning and saw that straw sticking out of a too-short cup, my first thought was, That is absolutely the last time I buy straws.

They irritate me. I don't know why. I suppose I could trace it back to those curly, loop-de-loop straws I bought way back when the kids were younger. I wanted them to like the straws, but not so much that they'd actually use them. Because if they used them, say, for milk, then I'd have to be diligent about cleaning them. You can't procrastinate your dish washing when you've got milk-coated curly straws waiting in the sink.

Of course, the kids did use them--all the time, and for every conceivable liquid. And occasionally I didn't clean them in a timely fashion. Then I'd have to pour boiling water down that minuscule hole, squish the sides of the hot straws as the water raced through the curves, and hope no deadly and/or disgusting bacteria lingered somewhere inside.

The curly straws disappeared one day. No one knows what happened.

I switched to cheap, straight straws--and a different irritation. Now I didn't have to worry about bacteria, because these were cheap enough to throw away. I just didn't like the fact that Zac, in particular, likes to use a new straw for every sip of water he takes throughout the day. And he seems to take a special delight in using them in the shortest cups he can find, which means they're always leaning out over the edge of the cup, making it easy for someone--Mom, maybe--to accidentally bump the tip and send it catapulting out of the cup.

So, yes, this morning I felt irritated. I stood looking at the evidence of Zac's last sip and I thought, This is the last straw.

And right then, because He loves my children and me, God brought to mind the words of Tammy Courson, a pastor's wife I heard speak at a conference two years ago.

Jon and Tammy had five children: three from Jon's first marriage, and two together. Jon's first wife died in a car accident when their three children were very young. Of those three, Jessie was the oldest girl. Not only was she beautiful and smart, but she had a spiritual depth most adults don't possess. She'd be at a retreat with the high school kids, and during a discussion she'd say, "You know, the other day while reading about the seven bowl judgments in Revelation, it occurred to me how well they coordinate with the last words of Christ on the cross," or something equally deep. One night her father teased her. "Jessie, the hardest thing ahead of us is going to be finding a husband for you who is more spiritually mature than you are."

The day after that conversation, the kids had a scheduled day off of school. Jessie decided to drive over to the church and take communion before she started her day. Her dad was happy to see her there, and touched when, after communion, she stood and shared a verse. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jer 29:11). When she finished, she looked at her dad and winked. What she didn't know was that God had spoken that very verse to Jon during the ambulance ride to the hospital with his dying wife, Jessie's mother, some fifteen years earlier. That verse had been God's way of letting Jon know that God would bring good out of that tragedy and would walk with Jon during the hard times.

Jessie left then and went home to ask her brother, Peter-John, if he wanted to go out for breakfast with her. Peter-John said later that he doesn't know why he declined, but for some reason he said no. Jessie then went into the kitchen to say good bye to Tammy.

"You look so beautiful today," Tammy told her daughter. Then she gave her a kiss and a hug, and they exchanged "I love you's."

Jessie left the house. Just two minutes later, rounding a curve on the road, Jessie was involved in a car accident ... and died.

At the memorial, Jon told of the conversation he and his daughter had shared the night before her death. He talked about the man he'd hoped Jessie would find, the man who would be more spiritually mature than she, the man who could lead her. And then he held up a ring belonging to Jessie, which they hadn't been able to find in the car initially, but which someone brought him just before the service started.

"One of the things I have most looked forward to, as a pastor and father, is being able to officiate at the wedding of my daughter. And today, I am doing so. Today, my Jessie has found that Man to lead her. Today, my daughter is the bride of Christ."

I have known of Jessie's life and death for many years, but it wasn't until Tammy Courson stood before me at that conference and shared her message that I really understood the story from a mother's perspective.

"There's a last time for everything with our children," she said. "There was a last hair cut for my son, Ben. After that, he never asked again. There was a last time I watched my youngest daughter swirl in her tutu, because after that, she put away her ballet clothes and stopped dancing. And there was a last time ..." Tammy fought tears as she tried to finish, "... there was a last time when I told my daughter Jessie how beautiful she was, and a last time I hugged her and told her I loved her."

Her grief broke my heart. It was impossible not to cry with her, impossible not to let my thoughts jump to my own children, and what I'd feel if I were recounting my "lasts."

"You never know when that last time comes," Tammy said, "so make sure you appreciate the moments you have now."

Remembering her words, I stood in the kitchen staring at that red-and-white straw sticking out of Zac's too-short cup, and I thanked God for breaking my heart again.

My son can use all the straws he wants.

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Saturday, April 09, 2005


Oh, the night we had.

Lucy moved her five kittens sometime yesterday afternoon. Scorning the comfy box and heat lamp we'd set in her favorite nook just outside the back door, she opted for a cold and dirty spot under the house. I'm convinced it's my fault, because I performed a little eye operation on one of her kittens early yesterday (read: "removing the goopy crust from one closed eyelid with warm water and a washcloth"). I should have known by the dirty look Lucy gave me afterward that something was up.

When we found them, after much searching, we discovered she'd taken and crammed them all right up against the cement foundation. The only way to reach them was to first dismantle the dog house Dave built long ago for our ungrateful dog, Bear. Okay ... so the demolition work belonged entirely to Dave. I just stood by and made appreciative comments about the way his muscley arms bulged and flexed as he tore down the structure. But that's helping, isn't it?

While I stood and watched, I thought about the blog I'd write about the situation. I figured I'd write something about the great lengths God goes to in order to find us in our hiding places and bring us to a place of safety, or something along those lines. But then Dave started pulling kittens out and placing them back in their fleece-lined box. "Two of them are dying," he said.

I touched the two. They were ice cold, limp, and unresponsive. One had a noseful of dirt; Dave said it had been face-down when he found it. I felt sick--and completely responsible. I didn't know whether Lucy had dropped them on the cement when she jumped down from her box or whether they just got too cold under the house, but I felt convinced that the whole thing wouldn't have happened if I hadn't taken it upon myself to open that one kitten's eye.

We brought the box and Lucy and all five kittens into the house and tried to determine what was wrong. The two weren't moving at all and only breathed sporadically. I held them both and wrapped my shirt around them, but even after twenty minutes of that, they hadn't warmed up a bit. So I asked Dave to heat up one of the rice bags I made for Christmas a few years back. He brought me one and I laid that against my chest, then placed the two kittens on top, and covered them in a down comforter. They're still less than two weeks old--and we think they may have been premature, to boot--so I had to use the tip of one finger to stroke their little heads. I couldn't stop crying, because I knew I was responsible. While I sat waiting for them to respond to the heat, I thought that if I did end up writing about this, I'd write about how sometimes, when we insert ourselves in a situation in the name of “helping,” we really only make things worse.

It took two hours of warming, stroking, and feeding dropperfuls of barely-heated milk before the kittens were ready to go back to Lucy. Even then, I only had hopes for one--a little light gray tabby. The coal gray kitten improved, but still seemed very sick. I prayed the whole time I held them and prayed as I kissed them good night, but I fully expected to wake up to only four live kittens.

But God took pity on me. They're both alive. And here they are, clutching each other and resting. I think it'll be a few days before they're fully over the trauma of the whole thing, but I believe they're safe. And I'm so grateful. So I'm not going to write about the lengths God goes to find us or give a warning about unnecessary rescues. Instead, I just want to say, "Thank you, God--for hearing my prayers and caring about two tiny kittens."

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. ~ Luke 12:6 (NIV)


Thursday, April 07, 2005

my town

I love living in the Pacific Northwest. I adore the fact that yesterday I brought my summer clothes out of storage, dashed out under a cobalt blue sky and planted sunflowers, cosmos, and lupine, and started browsing through my file of grill recipes ... and today the rain is running in torrents off my skylights, the woodstove is blazing, and tonight's dinner consisted of grilled cheese and tomato-red pepper soup. Now, the rest of you may find that kind of flip-flopping weather schizophrenic and annoying, but not me. I'm enthralled with the not-boringness of it all.

You know, of course, that this is Latte-Land--the birthplace of Starbucks. We're also home to Boeing and Bill Gates and Microsoft. So if you've never been here, you probably think that everyone who lives here is either a fish handler down at Pike Street Market or a techie with a briefcase in one hand and a latte in the other. And that's mostly true, if you throw in a few farmers up my way, some apple growers on the East side, and a whole lot of environmentalists scattered in between. The fact is, we do have some very distinct people groups here.

This morning, while driving to Starbucks to work on a chapter, I heard the following listener-contributed joke on the radio:
You know you live in Fremont when:

--you see someone drive by with a $3000 bike on top of their $500 car
--you have no hair on top of your head but you still wear a ponytail
--your wife asks you to pick up Granola on the way home ... so you stop by the day care center.

That last one had me laughing for five minutes. I haven't yet met anyone with a child named Granola, but I'm sure they're out there. Not far from my home there used to be a commune whose members named their children "attributes": Charity, Honesty, Pure. So Granola wouldn't surprise me.

I live in an odd place. I'm often irritated by the politics and I don't much care for the garden slugs, but I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. Frequently, while walking through my thirteen acres of woods, stepping over moss-colored logs and brushing past ferns and wild huckleberry bushes, I thank God for planting me here. It was his doing, you know. Acts 17:26-27 says this:

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. (NIV)

I hope you love your town as much as I love mine, and I hope something about your habitat has caused you to contemplate and reach for God. If you ever get to my neighborhood, let's talk about it. I'll buy you a latte first.


Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Let your gentleness be known to all ...
~ Phil. 4:5

I wasn't trying to hurt my daughter. But I wasn't trying to not hurt her, either. And sometimes, that's the same thing.

Tera was six--old enough, I felt, to learn how to brush her own hair. Now, I'm not a monster (although you may disagree by the end of this post). I didn't simply toss the brush at her and say, "You're on your own." No, we went through Brushing 101 together first. I showed slides of various brushes, discussed the pros and cons of both natural and synthetic bristles, demonstrated the proper gripping stance, showed her how to start at the bottom and get the tangles out before moving to the top, and took her to a brush factory so she could get a real feel for the product.

She passed the course with top scores. She handled her final project (bed-hair) beautifully. So I assumed we'd have no problems. What I didn't count on was the soon-apparent fact that she didn't like brushing her hair.

"Tera!" I'd call up the stairs. "We're leaving in twenty minutes. Make sure your hair is brushed."

"K, Mom."

I'd check about ten minutes later. "Are you ready?"


And then, five minutes from go-time, she'd come galloping down the stairs and I'd discover the truth. She hadn't detangled so much as a single strand of hair.

"Didn't you hear me?" I'd ask.


"Then why isn't your hair brushed?"

"I didn't want to."

The first time or two, I felt perplexed. Then I moved straight to "vexed." The child was defying me, pure and simple. Worse than that, she was making me late. I have enough tardiness issues of my own without additional help from my children.

Soon, I dispensed with the niceties altogether. "Brush!" I'd yell upstairs. "Or I'll do it for you."

It didn't take long for her to figure out the threat in that sentence. What I was really saying was, You do it or I'll do it. One of us will be gentle. Guess who?

Oh, it grieves me to have to bare my soul this way. But there's a good lesson in all this.

When the five-minute point arrived, and I called her to my side, nine times out of ten, she hadn't heeded my warning. Her hair would be a mess. And I'd shrug my shoulders, sigh, and say, "Then you've left me no choice. I'll have to do it for you." Like I said at the beginning: I wasn't trying to hurt her. But I took no great pains to ensure that I didn't, either. If I encountered a tangle, I removed it. Without tenderness.

"Ow!" she'd exclaim.

My answer was always the same: "If you don't like the way I do your hair, you should probably do it yourself." I wanted her to wise up.

One day, my sister arrived to pick us up after just such an ordeal. "Why is Tera crying?" Tarri asked.

"She didn't like the way I brushed her hair."

Tarri groaned. "Oh, I so remember how I felt every time Mom came at me with that brush. My heart pounded while I waited for that first thump on my head. I just knew it was going to be awful."

And I turned to my sister and actually said, "Oh, Tarri ... if I'd known, I would have brushed your hair so you didn't have to go through all that."

The second the words left my mouth, I heard Hmmm. Just like that. I heard a heavenly "Hmmm." I'm familiar with that sound. It always means a "talk" is in my future. And sure enough, later that day, I got alone with God and heard the rest of the conversation.

I went out on our front porch when we got home and sat on the swing. And the moment I quieted down, God asked me a question. Could you not be gentle with her for my sake?

He couldn't have spoken more clearly if he were sitting next to me on that swing. I heard--and felt so convicted, I burst into tears. I'd been approaching Tera on the basis of principle. She needed a lesson. She had to learn. She couldn't get away with defying me. I even comforted myself with assurances that such skills ensured her independence down the road.

But when you take principle out of the equation, sometimes your footing crumbles. I thought about it for about two seconds, and then I made a promise. "Yes, Lord. I can treat her gently for your sake."

The next morning, I got my chance. "Ready?" I yelled up the stairs.

"Yep," she answered back. But when she came down, I saw it wasn't so.

"Bring me your brush," I said.

She gave me a fearful look, slumped her shoulders, and trudged reluctantly back upstairs.

I waited for her on the couch. "Sit right here." I pointed to the carpet between my feet.

She sat, and tensed.

I held her hair in my hands and imagined that it belonged to Jesus. I imagined that somehow, I'd been given the privilege to bless him with my brush. And I imagined that through my slow and careful motions, I might convey just a tiny bit of my love for him.

With every stroke, Tera relaxed more. And when I finished, and her hair was shiny and smooth and beautiful, she turned and smiled at me. "That didn't hurt at all, Mom."

No, it didn't. It actually felt quite wonderful.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005


I already love today.

I woke to the sound of wind chimes, which meant we'd have a blustery morning. There's none better. As I do automatically, every morning, I went in the kitchen to start a pot of coffee, and just as I did so, the wind hit the front porch and squeezed through the cracks in my front door. I have no idea why I love that spooky, haunted-house sound, but I do. It makes me shiver, in the best sort of way. My brother-in-law, who built our house for us three years ago, heard that noise one day while visiting and jumped to his feet. "I can fix that for you," he offered.

"Don't you dare," was my response.

As if starting my day with bluster and howl wasn't delightful enough, I then went and poured just the exact right amount of hazelnut creamer in my coffee cup. I never measure, and I always pour the creamer in first, before the coffee, because that way I don't have to dirty a spoon. It's a hit-or-miss operation, generally, but today I hit it dead-on. You should try a sip.

This day will only get better. Sometime this afternoon, I'm going to pack up my laptop and head to the livestock auction. I'm writing the second to the last chapter of my book today, and it happens to center on a conversation I overheard at the auction a few years ago. So I need to put myself back in that place and soak in all the noises and odors. I can almost conjure that earthy smell right now, but I don't want to deprive myself of the actual pleasure, so I'm going.

Going to the auction, to me, is like taking a trip to my childhood. I went frequently with my grandfather back then, and I believe some of these cattle men--the big wigs, the ones who sit in the first interior ring with their feet up on the arena railings and their names burned into wood plaques behind their chairs--are the same cronies my grandfather swapped howdies with back then.

I don't have a first-ring seat, of course. I'll perch up near the top, where I can watch the kids begging for a cone from the auction cafe, watch the livestock-handlers try to keep their feet out of the path of stomping, irritated cows, watch the anxiety grow as people outbid each other for the healthiest goats.

I could almost make myself believe I was ten again, and sitting with my grandpa, except these overall-clad farmers have a cell phone in their front pocket and a double-tall latte in their hands. Other than that, it's 1971.

I always think of those lattes when I'm heading out to the auction, and it triggers a hankering in me. No need to fight a thing like that, so I'll stop at the Starbucks on my way and pick up a cup.

Who could ask for more? Bluster, howl, memory lane, and two cups of perfect coffee. I am one contented woman.

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Monday, April 04, 2005


Zac was only two when we started our goat adventure. No doubt, that played a big part in our decision to name the two brother goats "Grover" and "Elmo." I have no idea why we named the third "Mama Goat," unless it was the fact that she was old enough to have given birth to the other two. Or maybe our brains were tuckered.

Mama Goat had horns--sharp, scary horns. I liked her fine when I went out alone to feed her, and didn't give her pointy weapons a second thought, but whenever Zac toddled after me, I went into full-alert.

"No, no, Zac. Stay away from that one. That goat has horns that will hurt you."

The alarm in my voice chased his natural curiosity. He'd give her a solemn glance and slide a step or two closer to me.

I must have warned him plenty, because one afternoon, when my dad came to visit, we took him out to the goat pen to introduce him to the rest of the family.

"Zac, tell Grandpa Mike what the goats' names are," I prompted.

He pointed to the two brothers first. "That's Grover, and that's Elmo." Then he aimed his pudgy little finger toward Mama Goat. "And that's 'Horns-That-Will-Hurt-You.'"

It's funny what they pick up--and what they repeat.

I got another reminder a few months later when we left Zac with my uncle one evening and went out for a high-chairless dinner in a no-baby restaurant. We weren't gone long. When we returned, Uncle Doug was laughing his head off.

"You'll never guess what I just overheard," he said. He then set up the scene: he was reading the paper upstairs in the kitchen, Zac was playing with his toy cars in the den just below the kitchen. The railings between the kitchen and the lower den allowed Uncle Doug to hear every screech and motor rev.

After driving one car around the floor for a few minutes, Zac said,in a high, momish voice, "Dave ... slow down."

Upstairs, Uncle Doug grinned.

Zac drove the car another lap around the carpet, and then said again--in my voice, only a tad more insistent this time--"Dave, I said, 'slow down.'"

Apparently, the imaginary Dave didn't obey the imaginary me. Because after one more trip around the imaginary track, Zac crashed his car into another. As the dust settled, he said, "See, Dave? I told you to slow down."

It's true, you know, that little pitchers have big ears.

Recently, while out shopping, I got another reminder. If I haven't mentioned before, my new love is knitting. I was out on a yarn quest, down on my hands and knees in front of a bin at the craft store, when I heard a dad and daughter arguing. I looked up and saw them walking past my aisle. The little imp was adorable, and no more than three. He held her on his hip. Just as they passed my view, I heard him say, "Why don't you just shut up? I'm sick of your crap!" and without missing a beat, she said right back, "Yeah? Well, I'm sick of your crap!"

Oh, there are so many better things we can pass on to our children. Since we know they're listening, and we know they're little mina birds and love nothing more than appropriating our words and mimicking our tone and throwing it all right back at us, maybe we could give a little more thought to the words we pass along.

"I was wrong" is nice. Especially if it's followed up with, "I'm sorry ... will you forgive me?" And you can never make a mistake with "I'm proud of you" or "I'm glad you're mine" or, best of all, "I love you."

When we're purposeful about our legacy, when we take just a half second to think about the words we're releasing into the air, we sometimes get rewarded with unexpected and wonderful surprises. Sometimes, those echoes come back to us.

When Zac was little, the last thing I used to tell him every night, before turning out his little Ninja Turtle lamp, was, "I always wanted a boy just like you."

One night, after I'd had a long, hard day and really needed a back rub or a milk chocolate Dove bar or something equally comforting, Zac appeared in the doorway to my office and popped his head in. "Know what, Mama?" he said. "I always wanted a mom just like you."

I'm so glad he listened.

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Friday, April 01, 2005


We called him Gus, in part because he looked like a Gus, and partly because that seemed like a good name to go with "The Grouse."

Dave met him first. "This huge bird attacked the car this morning," he said.

I asked for clarification. "You mean it swooped closely?"

"No. I mean it attacked the car." He described how he was just crossing the creek at the bottom of our driveway when this winged mass struck the side of the car.

"Freaky," I said.

When he came home the next day with the same story, I asked if he had witnesses. Unfortunately, he did not. No one could validate his report. But he lucked out the next morning when both kids were in the car with him during the early morning creek crossing.

“It’s true,” Zac said. “This big bird was waiting for us in the bushes. He saw us coming, starting running alongside the car--you know, to get some speed--then he took flight, and ‘bam!’--smacked against the side of the window.

I like the way Zac tells stories. He always makes you feel like you were right there. But in this case, that wasn't good enough for me.

Call me Doubting Thomas if you like. I really needed to see this car-eating bird for myself. So early the next morning, saying I “needed a latte,” I headed to Starbuck’s. And sure enough—just as I approached the creek, I noticed a sprinting, brown blur out of the corner of my eye and then heard a tremendous smack of head and feathers against my side window.

I screamed.

While swapping scary bird stories later that night, Dave showed me a picture he'd found on the internet that looked just like our bird. Of course, I had to squint and imagine that picture taking flight and opening its hideous beak and coming at me like a hungry, ferocious, tree-dwelling shark ... but the resemblance was there.

"It's a grouse," Dave said.

The grouse needed a name. One of us (I can't remember which one of us it was, and besides, bragging is so unbecoming. Let's just say it was the adult in our house who knows how to sew curtains and knit and make a mean chicken pot pie, okay?) cleverly suggested "Gus." And so he was christened.

Gus battled our car for about two weeks, and then one day, instead of waiting for us down by the creek, he settled in a tree next to the house. We came home from somewhere and there he was, up in the branches, looking down on us. When we piled out of the car, he swooped close--just to show us he wasn't afraid.

We got used to seeing him up there. We expected him. And so it wasn't a big surprise when he left the tree one afternoon and landed on the back patio while I was out there having lunch. I was a little startled when he walked right up to me, and a little unnerved when he reached over and took a bite of the sandwich I stretched out toward him. After that, though, very little about Gus surprised me.

He'd follow me--on foot--when I walked out to the garden. "C'mon, Gus," I'd say. "We're checking the grapes."

Once, when I was washing the jeep, he waltzed around the back end like a bird-on-a-mission.

"Hey, there, Gus," I said, but he brushed aside my pleasantries with an impatient nod of his head, reached out his beak, and pulled on my pant leg. He repeated this urgent tugging again and again, but I couldn't get any more information out of him. Only later did I realize he was probably trying to tell me that Timmy was tied to the tracks and the train was just coming around the bend--with faulty brakes. Sorry Timmy.

The last time I saw Gus, I was outside lifting weights with Dave. He (Dave, that is--not Gus) had set up his bench and bar bell and all the hand weights, and had invited me to give it a try. After repeated assurances that three sets of ten reps wouldn't burst the seams in my sleeves (I mean, firmness is one thing ... but I don't want guns or pipes or whatever you call them), I took a five-pound weight and started doing curls. I hadn't done three whole curls, when I felt Gus's little claws on my shoulder.

I laughed and shivered. His claws tickled. I laughed some more when he reached over and tugged on my hair. But then an image of Gus poop dotting the back of my shirt made me shiver for a different reason.

"Can you get him off?" I asked Dave.

"C'mon, Gus," Dave said. He slipped his hand under Gus's claws and transferred him to the bar bell, where he sat and watched us work out for several minutes.

When the time came for me to try my hand at bench-pressing, Dave moved Gus again. But he didn't want to perch on the cradle. He wanted to perch on me. So he hopped down and landed on my stomach.

I laughed again. "Gus! Get off me!" I swept my hand under his feet and watched him take flight. Up he went, over his favorite tree. For all I know, he's still flying.

We watched, and waited, and hoped--but we never spotted Gus again. I can't even tell you how often, while crossing that creek, I've waited to hear that familiar "thwump" of feathers against my window. I miss that little guy something terrible. I wish I'd been just a bit more gracious that last time. I wish I'd stopped what I was doing, looked over at that beautiful bird and said, "You just sit there as long as you like, Gus."

As a writer, I'm aware that Guses are gifts. They're those little flits of inspiration that wing their way across your mind while you're staring at the trees. They're the ideas you couldn't have conjured on your own. If you're wise, and you're alert, you learn to hear the far-off flutter of those wings. You tune in. You wait. You welcome--and appreciate--those heaven-sent gifts.

Henry Ward Beecher had this to say about the Guses in our lives:

"There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousand truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away."

The next time someone's name pops into your mind, don't shake it off. They might need your prayers. The next time a door flies open and you see a perfect opportunity to share Christ with someone, don't shut the door. Walk through it.

And when those ideas arrive from out of a clear blue sky, make sure you grab a pen and capture them. If you don't, they may never come your way again.

Oh, and if some morning you're driving through the woods and you hear a big thump and notice a smattering of brown feathers splayed out all scary and intimidatingly against your window ... would you point Gus toward home?

* * *

We got Gus on video, but we never got a still photo of him. My thanks to Ann Cook of Birds of Manitoba for allowing me to use her photo of this ruffed grouse.

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