Monday, May 30, 2005

more charlie

I don't know if any of the rest of you do this, but I seem to compose most of my blog posts in the early, pre-awake hours of the morning. The near fully-composed post materializes sometime in the night. It floats above my head, waits patiently for me to get into that almost-awake state, and then makes its presence known. I don't know if it slaps me across the head or whispers tenderly in my ear, I only know that at some point, my eyes spring open, I reach out and snatch that ready-to-go idea, and fly to my laptop, where I try my best to convey what I heard.

That's what happened this morning. I awoke knowing I wasn't finished yet with Charlie; knowing I had at least one more Charlie story to share. And this one is my favorite.

Charlie didn't meet Jesus until he was an adult, and in those BC years, he did a lot of hard living. He never went into details with us, but it wasn't necessary. (If you ask me, all the "before Christ" years are hard, on some level.) But he started talking one day about a particular friend he'd had during his really wild years. Apparently, they'd had some sort of falling out and parted as enemies. Charlie was quick to say that the final insult belonged to him. He'd done something to this friend that caused him great shame once his conscience woke up. In fact, once God got a hold of Charlie and began to lovingly peel away those calloused layers, Charlie was pretty much horrified at what he'd done to his friend. It became a source of torment to him. Both he and the friend had lived in Seattle during that time, but twenty years had passed, and though he'd tried, Charlie hadn't been able to track the man down. "Jesus," he'd pray, "I don't know where my old friend is and I have no way to find him, but I need his forgiveness."

After a while, Charlie had no other choice but to hand the hurt over to God. He felt completely helpless to fix the offense. But every so often, something would remind him and he'd have to pray again, "Please forgive me."

Some months after this old transgression began to bother Charlie, he flew from Seattle to New York to visit some old friends. During the trip, he noticed a flyer for an outdoor Christian concert and decided to go. The music was loud and Charlie had a great time all by himself dancing up front near the band (once a Woodstock guy, always a Woodstock guy, you know?), and when it was over, he walked around the back of the stage to leave. Just as he was rounding the back corner of the stage, he happened to look up and notice one of the roadies rolling up an electrical cord.

The guy turned his face toward Charlie ... and Charlie found his friend.

Despite the wound, despite twenty years of separation, Charlie and his friend/enemy embraced--long and hard. And when Charlie could speak, the first words he said were, "I hurt you ... and I'm so sorry. Will you forgive me for what I did all those years ago?"

When the man smiled and shook his head, the enemy dissipated. "Charlie, I'm a Christian now. I forgave you a long time ago."

When I think about this story, a dozen lessons come to mind. I think about what a miracle it is when Jesus tenderizes a grizzled heart. I think about what a wild adventure it is to be a Christian. And I think about the power of forgiveness. But the bottom line here is really this: God took two enemies and turned them into brothers. And then, because He loves to surprise His children, He arranged a little family reunion.

How can you not love a God like that?

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Thursday, May 26, 2005


When I looked in the side-view mirror of our Chevy Luv pick-up and saw the man walking toward us, I thought Charles Manson had escaped from prison and come for a visit. The approaching man had a touch of wild dishevelment about him and that same shock of long, brown, unbrushed hair. The closer he drew, the more I wondered--especially when I honed in on a pair of piercing, see-to-your-soul eyes.

"Hey, folks," he said through Dave's lowered window. "Need some help?"

We'd been stuck on the freeway for a good half hour (back in those pre-cell phone days) when the man pulled up behind us in his psychedelic, flower-splattered VW van. Only a person truly comfortable with their persona could comfortably maneuver the road in a van that hippified.

Dave got out first. "Don't know what the problem is," he said. "I've looked at the blah, blah, blah and there's no problem there. Wiggled the blah, blah, blah and that seems to have a good connection."

(That's what I heard, so that's what you get.)

"How 'bout the blah, blah, blah?" the man asked.

They kept up the car talk for a few long moments. I studied the man through the windshield. He did have a bit of a half-crazed look, but he seemed familiar in a not-Charles-Manson way. Every once in awhile, he'd look up from his poking and prodding and I'd catch a glimpse of something I knew in those eyes--something friendly and inviting.

I decided to get out and get closer. Scooting over to Dave's side of the truck, I slipped out and shut the door.

"Howdy," the man said.

"Hi," I said in return.

"This is my wife, Shannon," Dave said. "I'm Dave."

The man stopped poking long enough to extend a hand. "Name's Charlie," he said.


We took turns shaking his hand. I studied him some more. I hadn't been near a real hippie in years. I liked hippies. Spent quite a bit of my childhood with them. I was ten in 1971 and we'd just returned home after living in Oklahoma and Arkansas for several years. My mother was newly divorced and took to wearing mini skirts and go-go boots. To top off her new look, she bought a big motorcycle. Before long, each of us girls had our own helmets and would take turns riding to the grocery store with her.

We moved to an apartment complex where all our neighbors had love beads hanging in their doorways and a perpetual haze of pot smoke hanging in their apartments. A handful of these new neighbors, upon meeting and befriending my mother, thought it would be groovy if she built a coffee table for our living room. At their suggestion and with a little help, she built a table using landscape timbers for the top and a black, fake-fur-covered box for the base. To further distress the look of the top, these new friends helped her haul the piece out our patio doors where they took to beating the top with various sharp objects to make it all the more groovy.

One of the table-beating hippies took a liking to me, made me a macrame purse, and taught me to play "Stairway to Heaven" on my guitar.

I liked hippies back then. Still do.

While Charlie and Dave honed in on our truck's problem, I turned and looked again at the psychedelic van. It was then that I realized why Charlie had seemed so familiar and why I'd recognized something in his eyes. Just above his grill, in wild, swirly, multi-colored letters, someone had painted, "Jesus loves you!"

Charlie was a Jesus Hippie.

I'd heard of such people but before that moment, I'd never had the pleasure of meeting one up close. And what a meeting we had. Charlie spent five hours with us that day. I don't know what other appointments he'd scheduled in his daytimer, but it all went out the window when he happened upon the needy we.

He drove us to a parts store and helped Dave get what we needed. Figuring it was going to take awhile to make the repair, he then drove me to his home, where I met his beautiful, gracious, earth-motherish wife, Ginger. Charlie and Ginger lived in a converted school bus with their three children. They'd converted a second school bus into a traveling school room where they spent their mornings homeschooling the kids. Not only were these the first Jesus-loving hippies I'd ever met, they were the first school-bus dwellers and the first homeschoolers.

Ginger could not have been more hospitable. She treated me as though my coming had been a long-anticipated event. Offered me cookies, gave me a tour of both buses, and told me how much she loved Jesus. She actually didn't need to tell me that--it was written all over her life--but I liked hearing it anyway.

By the time Charlie and Dave drove up in the van and newly-fixed truck, Ginger had dinner waiting on the table. Before we ate, Charlie thanked Jesus for our new friendship.

That was nineteen years ago. We don't see Charlie and Ginger Ransom-Lippke nearly as often as we'd like, but every once in awhile, God sees fit to make our paths cross again. And each time I see again those wild, Jesus-loving eyes, I'm reminded of a few things: Love shows itself in action ... God's children are all one-of-a-kind ... and the next person you meet might just be a brother.

Click here to read Charlie--Part 2"

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. John 1:12-13 (NIV)

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005


I wish this story involved two cats because I'd love an excuse to title this, "A Tail of Two Kitties," but it's not to be. There's only one kitty involved in this little tale. Character two is a goat. Now that I think of it, if both were goats, this could be "A Tail of Two Kiddies." Still, the characters are what they are ... so we'll settle for "Tails."

Still with me?

As I type this post, the kitten in question is in her favorite spot. I can't see her unless I move my laptop to one side and look down. That's because her favorite spot in the world is the top of my feet.

She creeps up on me throughout the day and brushes a light hello across my ankles. I don't have to look to know it's her. The other two say hello with a bite or a love prick with those scary baby claws. Sometimes, if they really want my attention, they'll set to climbing my bare leg. Coffee has nothing over kitten claws for opening your eyes first thing in the morning.

But this little gray tabby always greets me with a swish of her soft tail curled around the back of my legs, or maybe with a little grooming lick on a toe or two. I reach down and scratch her on that between-ear spot and she licks my hand in return. And then I go back to my typing and she goes back to her perching, content as can be to sit on the tops of my feet.

This kitten is a survivor. I wrote about her close brush with death several weeks back. In a nutshell, the mother cat moved all five kittens to a spot under the house. After Dave demolished the dog house (which stood in the way of his rescue) and dug a hole big enough to wriggle under, he pulled the kittens out and put them in a box to bring into the house. Two were nearly dead. It took me two hours of nurturing to return heat to those kittens' limp, icy bodies. Though one died two weeks later, the little gray tabby rebounded. And today she's a feisty, mischievous, fur-covered ball of "let's have fun."

I watch her chase, wrestle, pounce, swipe, leap and tumble all day long, but here and there she creeps back for a contented rest on my feet.

It occurred to me the other night what I was seeing. "Do you see this?" I asked Dave. "Do you realize what she's doing?" I caught him studying Hebrews and preparing his message for church.

"No. What's she doing?"

"I saved her ... and now she sits at my feet."

To some, she's just a cat lounging in an odd place--but to me, now, she's a picture of my relationship with God. He saved me. He rescued me from certain death. And in response, I should want, long, love to sit at His feet.

Now let me tell you about Buffy. When I wrote about her birth, I thought we'd end up calling her Nibbles but the kids thought she had the face of a buffalo, so they started calling her Buffy.

This little white goat is spring-loaded. Ever watch those cartoons where they show a lamb bounding through a pasture like a bouncing ball of fluff? Buffy has those beat all to pieces. She can jump like nobody's business and actually prefers leaping to walking. We'll sit and watch her jump right from a dead stand-still, for no other reason than that it pleases her to meet the clouds.

About five weeks ago, while leaving for a meeting at church, Dave heard crying coming from the pasture. He pulled the car over to investigate and found that Buffy had somehow wedged herself within the limbs of a multi-branched tree near the back of the pasture. We can only imagine that she leapt up there. When Dave found her, her head was twisted to one side and her left front leg was contorted up and behind her at a sickening angle. We don't know how long she hung there but it was clear when he freed her that she'd gone into shock. He called me on his cell phone and had me meet him in the pasture.

Now, before I continue, I have to tell you about the electric fence. Because he has legs up to his ears and can step over the fence the way you'd cross a speed bump, my husband saw no reason to put a gate anywhere along the fence line. Because I'm 5'5" and have normally proportioned legs and the electric fence comes to about 1/8 of an inch below my crotch, I see a big need for a gate. I despise electric fences. I have this fear that at some point, I'll be trying to get over the fence and I'll catch the top wire between my heel and my gardening clog and fall and get myself twisted up in those three hot wires and I'll just lie there pulsating every three or four seconds until someone wonders, "Hey--where's Mom?"

All that being said, I quit going in the pasture. Then Dave told me about a little spot near the goat house where the fence goes over a pile of haphazardly stacked planks. "You can get over easier right here," he advised.

I did that a handful of times until Dave thought to add, "By the way--a big snake lives under those planks, so keep an eye out."

Keep an eye out? How about we just quit going over the fence instead. Now I had a new element to add to my vision: I could envision myself lying on the ground in that same pulsating, clog-wire tangled heap, only now a giant woman-devouring snake was slithering in and out of my limbs, wondering which part of me to consume first.

I abandoned the goats ... until Dave's phone call. And in that moment I learned something: when you mix love and adrenaline, you get yourself a motivator so powerful it will catapult you right over snake-dwelling planks and electric fences. My legs grew right up to my ears and with no effort at all, I found myself on the other side of fear.

I took the goat from Dave and settled us both on a pile of fresh hay in the goat barn. I held her against my chest and tried to calm her shaking. Her eyes were unseeing; her heart beat a staccato against my arm. She didn't know I was there, I'm quite sure of that. She didn't know anything at all except that she'd been stuck and now she was unstuck, but hurting all over her little body.

Dave had to leave. I called Tera up at the house and asked her to bring me a big towel. When she did, I wrapped Buffy and held her as tightly as I dared. We sat like that for an hour and a half, until I was shivering as hard as she was. When I couldn't stand the cold any longer, I stood with her, retraced my steps to the fence, and hopped right back over. She didn't move, didn't blink, didn't cry--not the entire walk up to the house. That worried me immensely. Once inside, I set her down on Larry's green dog mat and tucked her in. She laid like that for another two hours--not noticing when I sat near her and stroked her head, not noticing when Dave came home and did the same, not noticing when we dragged her mat into our bedroom so she could be by us through the night.

She survived the shock, but she couldn't stand. Not the next day and not the day after that. She couldn't move much at all. Dave and I had to go out several times a day and lift her up so she could nurse from Whiney, her mother.

I took her to the vet. The first thing I was told was that it was amazing she lived through the shock. If Dave hadn't found her when he did, and if I hadn't warmed her, she wouldn't have survived. Another four minutes and $75 later, I was told it would be $300 for an x-ray--and if that proved what the vet thought, which was that she had broken her leg up near the shoulder, it would be another $800 for surgery.

I left with instructions to give her six shots over three days. We didn't have $1100 for x-rays and surgery for a goat. I told the vet that. She said she understood, but didn't give me much hope for recovery otherwise. Instead she gave me an unconvincing, "Good luck."

I prayed on the way home. Prayed again later when I returned her to the barn. "God, she can't spend the rest of her days dragging a useless leg wherever she goes. Please fix this."

It was all we had, but it was enough. I don't attribute her healing to the six shots I gave her. It was God.

Right now, I can watch her balancing herself on the steep slope of a rusty, dusty, decaying stump while she strains to reach a must-have leaf of a huckleberry branch. A moment ago I watched her take a joy-filled leap straight in the air--and land herself on four good, solid legs, tail waggling with pure delight. She's completely healed, and God is completely responsible.

But can I tell you the sad part of all this? I held her, warmed her, stroked her, worried over her, treated her, prayed for her ... and now she runs when I come near the fence. She's back to her independent goat ways, which include no tender thank you's or signs of trust. She doesn't need me anymore and I'll bet if I went in the pasture and tried all day to coax her near me, I wouldn't get within ten feet. And I have such a longing to touch her little face and scratch her between her horns and give her a loving pat.

One was saved and sits at my feet. One was saved and runs when she sees me. I love them both and I'd rescue them all over again ... but only one remembers.

When we were utterly helpless, with no way of escape, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners who had no use for him. Rom 5:6 (TLB)

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Monday, May 23, 2005


It was just a whiff at first, but my friend caught it.

"Denny!" Lynette called to her husband. "Come here and tell me if you smell something awful."

How can anyone resist an offer that appealing? The only thing that could have made it even more tantilizing is if she'd teamed it with, "Touch this hot stove and tell me it's not excruciatingly hot," or "Taste this milk and tell me it's not two weeks past its expiration date."

But Denny obliged. He walked into the kitchen, snorted a big noseful of middle-of-the-room air, and shrugged. "I don't smell anything."

But she did. And she couldn't find the source, not that morning, not that afternoon, not even the next day, when the stench finally made itself known to the rest of the family. Even Denny could smell it by then.

"It's worse in the kitchen," they all agreed. But nothing in the fridge accounted for the smell. Taking out the garbage didn't relieve it. It just grew and grew, swirling around the house in a hot, putrid wave.

By Saturday of that week, Lynette had reached the breaking point. In just a few hours, a dozen little girls would be coming over to celebrate her daughter's birthday, and the stench in the house was now a thick, palpable presence. You could practically taste the rot--and that wasn't going to go well with chocolate cake and Neopolitan ice cream.

She called Denny at the church office and begged. "You have to come home. Something must have died under the house--and I think you should go under there and pull it out." Again with the hard-to-resist offers.

But Denny did come home. And before crawling under the house, he decided to take one more sniff-walk through the house. The smell was everywhere, but he noticed that it really was thicker in the kitchen ... and stronger still near the door to the back hallway ... and really, really hideous when he took two steps into that hallway. He stood at the freezer, and then for some reason, he did something none of them had done in previous searches: He looked up. And there was the source of the death-smell. A gallon-sized baggie full of some sort of meat sat on top of the freezer, and the sack was so bloated, so ready-to-burst, that there wasn't a single crease or wrinkle. It looked like a balloon--a dangerous, fragile, death-filled balloon.

When Lynette saw that bag, she suddenly remembered. She'd been getting something out of the freezer several days earlier and she'd had to move a bag of chicken to reach what she wanted. Apparently, she'd set it up on top of the freezer and then just forgotten to put it back in.

I shuddered when she told me that story, but I had to laugh as I pictured Denny trying to remove that chicken without popping the bag. I'm sure no bomb squad ever moved with the precision Denny exhibited that day.

A big bag of flesh. Dead flesh. Rotting, putrid flesh.

Since hearing that story, it's occurred to me that Lynette's chicken offers a perfect picture of my flesh. (Warning: what is to follow is of a heavy, theological nature. If you're not given to theology and you want to stop with the chicken story, stop here.)

"Flesh," in Christianese, is just another word for "old nature." My pre-Christ nature, the nature I was born with, is nothing more than a baggie full or rot. People will tell you otherwise. They'll say we're all basically good at heart and to prove their point, they'll mention someone they know who once spent an afternoon working in a soup kitchen. But Scripture tells us otherwise. Scripture tells us we're born with a broken nature, a nature given to sin, a nature at war with godliness (and with God). That's the whole point of a Savior--he came to free us from our old nature, give us his nature, and open the doors of heaven so we can abide forever with a holy God.

I know from God's Word that at my conversion, at my born-again moment, Jesus freed me from the death-stench of my flesh. That baggie was taken straight out to the trash. But for some inexplicable reason, I'm not content to leave it there. I have a tendency to creep back outside, lift the lid, retrieve that nastiness, and tuck it in my pocket.

The proof that I've done that is when I find myself getting irritated with my loved ones or thinking the worst about others or putting myself first and foremost in a situation. That's not my new nature. That's not Christ in me--that's me in me. More to the point, that's my flesh.

Paul talked at great length about our struggle with the flesh. In Romans 7:17-19 (LB) he said this:
I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can't make myself do right. I want to but I can't. When I want to do good, I don't; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway.

I remember the first time I read that and really understood it. I'd been going through a "Shouldn't I be further along than this?" mood after saying or doing something that disappointed me. But when I read this passage, God opened my eyes to a freeing revelation: my flesh is rotten, and it's not going to get unrotten. Just as the ticking of the clock did nothing to improve Lynette's baggie of chicken, the mere act of walking on the earth year after year will do nothing to improve my flesh--nothing. In fact, the longer it's with me, the more it will stink.

That comforted me. I realized that the problem wasn't that I couldn't get my flesh to obey, the problem was that I was still dealing with my flesh at all. Dead things don't have power. I've been freed from the control of my flesh--unless I choose to obey that old nature. Sometimes we do that, simply out of habit.

Further down in that passage in Romans, Paul sets up the angst and offers the answer:
In my mind I want to be God's willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin. So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I'm in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free. Rom 7:23

It's true. When I fill up with Jesus--when I start my day meditating on His Word and communing with Him--my flesh gets kicked to the curb. But when I walk around Him instead and avoid the intimate contact that would strengthen me, I find myself sleepwalking to that curb, grabbing that bag of death, and dragging it back to the house.

The only sane solution for a Christian is to render their flesh as dead, focus on Jesus, and walk in the Spirit. Or not. There's always the other option: stick that baggie in your pocket and walk around stinking.

This is a favorite topic of mine. I could go on and on and on ... but I need to start a load of laundry and get something in the crockpot for dinner tonight. I haven't decided for sure what I'll make yet, but I can promise you this: we're not having chicken.



Saturday, May 21, 2005

on fingernails and other problems

I should not be permitted to use sharp tools.

I did it again this week. While slapping a peeler through three pounds of potatoes (in preparation for real mashed potatoes ... the kind laced through with equal parts cream cheese and butter), I went all out of control for a split second and missed the potato. Instead, I sliced right through my fingernail. I didn't knick anything vital, but I could foretell that my little slip was going to make for an unpleasant week, and I was right.

The slice started halfway down my left index finger and shot upward toward the tip. I'd cut it deeply enough that it wanted to peel, deeply enough that a little snag hung there like the end of a plastic ring on a gallon of milk, just waiting for someone to come along, take hold, and peel the whole thing off. I'd have peeled it off then and there, just to be done with it, except for the promise of pain. It wasn't really in a peelable location. That didn't stop it from snagging on my hair every time I absentmindedly brushed it back, or my sweater or dishcloth or anything else I happened to touch.

I stuck a bandaid on it, but I knew even as I wound it around and pressed the edge together that the thing wouldn't make it through the day. And it didn't. I'm in contact with too much water throughout a typical day. Dishes and showers aside, I'm watering plants and filling dog and kitten dishes and rescuing baby ducklings from the swimming pool, where they've managed to jump in but can't manage to jump out (nine in the last two days). It didn't take long for that first bandaid to drop off, and then I quit. I'm not a fan of throwing good money after bad.

I've been really and truly obsessed this week, clipping as closely as I dared, filing the top, and in general, waiting for the thing to grow so I could safely cut that menacing snag away. I couldn't tear my thoughts or my eyes away from that ridiculous fingernail--not until I read the obituaries the other morning and saw the sweet face of an almost two-year old.

We'd received a call on our prayer chain last Saturday to pray for the boy and his father. It was one of those horrible, haunting accidents. The father had jumped in the car to head to the store, and the baby had toddled outside and behind the backing-up car. I can only imagine the devastation of the father as he realized what he'd done, and as he'd cradled that child while waiting for the ambulance, and as he watched his boy being airlifted to the hospital. And now there'd be a funeral, followed by weeks and months and years of regret and sorrow.

Not long after reading the obituary, my friend Lisa called. "We've received horrible news," she said. Her son's best friend had just been killed in a car accident down in Phoenix. The worst of it was learning that after hitting a wall, he was able to climb halfway out of the car, but only halfway. He was alive when the car's engine exploded--alive, but stuck.

I'd met Josh a time or two during trips to see Dan and Lisa when they were living in Phoenix, but I couldn't conjure his face. It didn't matter. I knew his parents and could easily conjure their faces. I could imagine them twisted in grief, knowing the pain and fear their only son experienced as he was dying.

Lisa called back the next day to give me more bad news: she and Dan had just had a house fire. It's a new house, one they'd planned to move into in another week. Dan had been working like a dog ripping out carpets, replacing sheet rock, and putting in new canned lights in the kitchen. Somehow--though no one knows how and it doesn't matter--a can of paint thinner ignited. I walked through the house with Dan and Lisa and our friend, Diane, just yesterday. Diane and I offered a lot of "Something good will come out of this," comments, but the smoke damage is extensive, and I'm not sure twenty minutes of optimism did much to counter the depression they're feeling.

Yesterday evening, I followed Dave out to Lake Stevens to pick up his truck from the last honest mechanic in Snohomish County. Very nice man. Our arrival interrupted his dinner, but he never let on for a moment that he'd prefer being back in the kitchen enjoying his pork chops to standing in his shop talking holly trees and morning glory with me. I'd been wanting to ask him about his last name, so I took the opportunity (Even knowing he had dinner waiting inside. What kind of person does that make me?). "Are you related to the Wolfs of Snohomish--Ralph, Doris, Otis and Darlene?" I asked. He actually was, but only through marriage. That started us on a conversation about how small the world is, and somehow that led him to tell Dave and me about how he was widowed in 1980.

"When my wife died, I was left with seven children to raise," he said.

My mouth dropped open. "Seven?"

He nodded. "I remarried in 1989."

I did the math. I'm quick like that. "Nine years. Those must have been some tough years, raising your kids alone."

He smiled. "I had help from three who love me--the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." He went on to tell us that his second wife had been widowed as well and left with six children of her own. "Together, we had a baker's dozen."

And then this morning, I heard about the house fire in Cleveland and the loss of those two adults and seven children. A short time ago, I saw an interview with the grandfather of six of those children, Richard Carter. With tears in his eyes, he said, "I just want someone to pray for me."

It's been said that if we all threw our troubles in a big pile in the middle of the floor, and then circled that pile for five minutes, looking the selections over, in the end we'd each be content to go back to the pile and grab our own troubles again.

I've been around the pile this week. Today I stopped complaining about my snaggy fingernail.



Thursday, May 19, 2005


I think at one time or another, most of us have wished for a different name.

Zac first started toying with that idea when he was seven. We'd moved near Portland, Oregon, so Dave could finish his last year of seminary. We had new neighbors, a new city, a new church. It only seemed right to Zac that he got a new name.

"Mom, from now on, I want you to call me Sam, okay?"

I liked that name. In fact, it had actually made it into our top three contenders during the last weeks when we were awaiting Zac's adoption. But Samuel David Woodward sounded too old. It sounded like we'd be bringing a grizzled, 108-year old man home from the hospital. So we scratched it from the list.

I tried to reason with him. "Zac is such a great name. It means 'The Lord has remembered.' " After years of infertility treatments and angst and prayer, God had brought me my longed-for boy. I thought the name suited the situation perfectly.

"Sam's better," Zac argued.

I dropped the subject, hoping he'd forget. But about a month later, after we'd taken our new church's offer of a Parent's Night Out and dropped Zac off to spend two hours with a roomful of other parent-abandoned kids, we returned from our restful dinner out and grinned at him over the half-door of the youth room.

"Time to go, Zac. Grab your coat."

While he ran to get his coat on the other side of the room, I saw a boy near the door scrunch up his face. "Hey--she called him Zac. But he said his name was Sam."

Those two glorious hours of Samdom made a big impression on Zac. He was hooked.

"Please, Mom!" he'd exclaim in exasperation, every time I slipped and used his real name. "I'm Sam now!"

I think he'd still be Sam, except he heard the name Hank one afternoon. "I like that better--let's call me Hank."

After that it was Chris, then Sam again, and then Matt.

He renamed himself a dozen times over the next two years. And then Tera came to live with us. It took a year for our adoption to be complete, but that just gave her plenty of time to soak in all Zac's wisdom and idiosyncracies.

"I don't want to be Tera," she told us one day. "I'm Pookie. I mean Olivia. Wait--Nicole. Nikki. Yeah, Nikki."

She expected full participation from the rest of us. Wanting the vacuum one day, she popped her head in Zac's room to ask for it. "Zac, I need the bac-oo-eem."

"I'm not Zac," he said. "I'm Matt." Ten minutes earlier, he'd been Sam. From the kitchen, where I could hear the goings-on clearly, my head began to hurt.

"Mom! Tera's calling me Zac again."

Before I could intervene, she challenged him back. "I'm not Tera. I'm Nikki."

Zac ignored her. "Mom, Tera won't quit calling me Zac."

I walked down the hall. "Zac, don't you mean 'Nikki's calling me Zac?' "

"You called me Zac!"

I couldn't keep up. I decided to try to cajole him out of this nonsense. "But honey, that's your name. And it's a nice name."

He shook his head. "I'm going to change it."

"You can't just change your name. It costs money."

"How much?"

I wasn't sure about the current court costs. The last time I'd heard a quoted figure, I was nineteen and mulling over the possibility of changing my name to Natasha or Natalie. Figuring in for inflation over the past nineteen years, I doubled the figure. “It costs $500.”

Zac thought about that a minute. “I’m going to get that money. I’m going to have a fundraiser at church.”

I could only imagine the posters he'd make for that fundraiser. Give today! Help Sam correct an injustice ...

Although the thought of calling my children something other than their given names was distasteful to me, almost alarming, I had to stop and give it serious consideration. In the end, I concluded that the real appeal of a new name is the new start that goes with it. It's a reinvention of yourself. "This is who I was meant to be." It's rising to the challenge of a blank slate--and who doesn't want a blank slate now and then?

During this little period of our lives, we were homeschoolers. One day I visited a new homeschooling co-op to get a feel for things and decide whether or not we were going to join. Apparently I wasn't the only newcomer.

"Let's go around the circle and tell how many children we each have," the moderator said.

When my turn came, I smiled. "I have two."

"And what are their names?” the moderately asked politely.

I took a deep breath. “Zac, Sam, Chris, Hank, Matt, Tera, Olivia, Pookie, Nicole and Nikki.”

Flexible ... we must be flexible.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Sometimes, you have to look.

Just two blocks from our church office, there's a little harmless-looking intersection in a quiet residential area that hosts two or three accidents a month. It's shocking to me how often I turn left on 48th and see those flashing lights up ahead, right in the always-same spot on that corner. To my knowledge, the accidents aren't usually serious. Once, a teenager plowed into a telephone pole, but he was leaning against a fence when I drove by, talking on his cell phone and gesturing wildly.

Occasionally, I'll see someone sitting on the edge of their car seat with a newly applied neck brace, talking to paramedics.

I had another opportunity to act maturely last week, and I blew it again. I really wanted to drive by with my head straight and my eyes trained on the horizon. And victory was right there, right within my reach. But just at the last moment, I swiveled and locked eyes with a sheepish-faced driver as he sat cross-legged on the grass, waiting for a ride or a ticket or a lecture. He was still sitting there twenty minutes later when I made my return drive-by, and again, while trying not to look, I swapped gazes with him.

Inside this body, I'm really twelve.

I'm working on it. But it's tough to switch yourself out of "have to know" mode once you've engaged. I find it difficult to not listen in on arguments at the grocery store or gut-spilling sessions that occur one table over from me at Starbucks. As a writer, I feel it's practically my duty to observe and report what's happening in the world. At least that's what I remind myself when I'm scribbling on the back of my Starbucks napkin.

I remember one evening at Rotten Ralph's, the now defunct and forever missed family cafe in nearby Arlington, when Dave and I settled in a booth to wait for our fries and chocolate shakes and I started scanning the room, the way you must when you've just arrived somewhere. I'd only taken note of a few interesting characters when my eyes landed on two to beat all the rest.

They happened to be sitting directly across the aisle from us, which posed an immediate problem for me. Staring from a distance of less than ten feet is palpable. It must be all that curious energy rippling through the air, but I've almost never been successful at staring from such a close distance. On this night, however, I had no choice but to throw caution to the wind.

The men were probably in their late fifties or early sixties. They looked to be farmers, or maybe it was just the overalls of the one and the suspenders of the other that led me to the conclusion. Then again, it may have been the matching John Deere hats they wore--or the fact that Arlington is farm country. It's not important. To me, they were farmers.

The farmer in overalls--gray and white striped bibs, no less--opened a fresh copy of the Little Nickel and started perusing ads. I didn't even have to look over his shoulder to know he was looking in the feed section. Probably took a quick gander at tractors before he turned the page. As he read, he chomped on a toothpick. I could tell whenever a particular ad caught his eye because he'd pause in his gnawing for a count of five, four, three, two, one, and then both the chewing and the scanning would pick up again.

The farmer wearing suspenders--and they were red--didn't bother with the Little Nickel. No doubt he had a barn full of hay already and wasn't the type to tease himself needlessly with tractor ads. For the most part, he sat and balanced his crossed arms on his very broad belly.

But here's where things really took an interesting turn. As I was sitting there soaking in all those lovely details (and scribbling notes, I must admit), the suspender wearer got a notion to groom himself. For some odd reason, it occurred to him that this might be the perfect opportunity to clean out his ears. I didn't know that's what he was thinking, of course, until he took out his car keys, surveyed the bunch, selected one--I think it was gold--and stuck it in his ear.

My mouth may have dropped open. I can't remember. But I do remember clearly that I had this little conversation with myself: Shannon, if you keep looking, you'll never be able to eat your fries ... Yes, I know, but I can't not look.

He swirled it back and forth for about five twists, and then he pulled the key out, held it up close and squinted at it, and then swiped his thumbnail across the groove to clean it out for the next go-round.

I wanted to stop looking. Oh, how I wanted to stop. But I didn't, and he didn't catch me, and he kept cleaning and cleaning and cleaning, and by the time our food arrived, I had, indeed, completely lost my appetite.

When I began this little post, I did so with a naive confidence that I'd be able to find a really powerful, really poignant ending to tie together all the loose threads I left along the trail. Interestingly, that didn't happen. So let me just leave you with a few tips, a few bits of random advice:

Drive safely--especially on 48th.

Try hard not to look, but if you must, be discreet.

And please, for all our sakes, use a Q-tip ... and don't make us watch.


Sunday, May 15, 2005


I am back among the land of the breathing.

This morning, I opened my eyes and realized two things: one, I had slept through the night without a single coughing fit, and two, I could smell the rain-washed air drifting through our bedroom window. No more congestion, no more sore throat, no more rattling cough.

It's funny how just three or four days of discomfort can make you appreciate normalcy. I ran through the house sniffing that lovely smell and even went outside for a long moment, just because the scent of morning no longer eluded me. Every intake is pure delight. Last week I wouldn't have even noticed.

I've often thought about the people in first century Israel and what it was like for them when ailment struck. Blindness, flesh-eating disease, incessant bleeding, insanity--if those conditions stump our modern-day experts, imagine the helplessness you'd feel two thousand years ago when a diagnosis of that sort landed in your lap. Your only hope would be prayer.

But for a few, a different sort of Hope walked their way. A man blind from birth encountered that hope one ordinary day. He heard the voice first, then felt hands rubbing mud on his useless eyes. The voice told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam--and he did. He felt his way down the hillside, searched with his foot until his toe touched wetness, bent down and scooped a handful of water toward his eyes. And for the first time in his life, the man saw a flicker of light ... and then a ripple of watery motion ... and then his own reflection. He looked down in that water and saw the face of a once helpless, hopeless man who had been both helped and filled with hope by the God who loved him.

Ten lepers found healing one day when Hope walked past them on the road to Jerusalem. They knew, somehow, who He was. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" They needed that mercy. Since the first tell-tale spot had appeared on each of their bodies, they'd made their home together wandering the hills, banished from all other human contact. Though occasionally a loved one ventured to within a hundred feet or so and lifted a hand or a voice in greeting, those glimpses only served to remind these lepers how long it had been since they'd kissed their spouse or held their children. And emotional turmoil aside, their physical condition was gruesome. Fingers rotted off. Noses disintegrated. Feet melted away to bone. Sores grew and covered their bodies. The only hope for these ten was the hope of death--until the day He walked among them.

He could have transferred healing through touch. He'd done it that way before. But maybe to remind those ten, and all the rest of us, that in the beginning He created the world with nothing but a word, this time He healed with His voice. "Go, show yourselves to the priest," was all He said. But when they did as He said, when they turned and began walking in obedience, it happened. I wonder what they noticed first. Was it the fingers that grew from their stubs? Was it the fact that they no longer walked on bone, but on fully formed feet? Or was it the ears, the noses, the beautiful restored faces of each other that first tipped them to the truth--that they'd been healed with a word from God?

A woman who had bled for twelve years found the courage to go against convention, show herself in a crowd, and touch, briefly, the hem of Jesus' garment. Power flowed from Him to her and stopped her bleeding on the spot. With no more interaction than that, the woman was restored. Hope healed her--then turned, smiled, and called her "Daughter."

And my favorite of all: the crazed, demon-possessed cave-dweller. I stood on a hill across from that cave this last October above the shores of Galilee and heard the story again. I heard about the man of the tombs, the untamable madman who had broken every shackle men could put upon him, but who couldn't break the chains of his hopelessness. Isolated in the cave, with nothing for company but a legion of demons, this man too woke every day waiting for death. But on a very ordinary day, God brought the key that would release him forever from his chains. With a word, Jesus emptied the man of his demons, filled him with hope, and restored both his sanity and his dignity. And the man was so spilling-over-grateful, he begged Jesus to go with Him. But Jesus sent the man home to his friends.

I have often wondered what that homecoming--what all those homecomings were like. "I'm home," I hear in my imaginings. "I've been healed!" And I see the faces of loved ones as they behold and then embrace the truth: their lost one is restored.

There's nothing new under the sun. The hopeless still walk among us. And God hasn't changed. He's as willing today to restore as He was two thousand years ago. But something else that hasn't changed is that people want a selective part of God, but not all of Him. They want the miracles, but not the relationship. They want the blessings, but not the obedience. They want the hope of heaven, but they don't want God to intrude on their lives here on earth.

If you're in dire straights, God will hear your prayers. If you feel despairing or broken, the healing you need is as near as a whispered prayer. And His name is Jesus. But know this: whatever situation you want out of, whatever healing you need, the fix you find will be only temporary. The blind man? He died eventually. So did the lepers. So did the bleeding woman. So did the man of the tombs. They enjoyed their healing for a time and had stories to share with all who would listen, but in the end, their life here was a brief, flitting appearance. So is mine. So is yours.

Don't ask God to solve your temporary problems and ignore the eternal healing He's holding out to you. He wants to give you a hope that lasts forever.

And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:11-12 NKJV



Thursday, May 12, 2005

christian carnival

I'd like to give a big thank you to Sherry at Semicolon, who made mention of wind scraps in this week's Christian Carnival round-up. Please take a minute to check out the collection listed on her site.



I've got a bug. Hope to be back soon ... but in the meantime, here's something I wrote a few years back.

This morning, a group from our church is leaving for Mexico. Once there, they’ll cuddle babies in an orphanage and paint the walls of a run-down school. They’ll practice their shaky Spanish with strangers on dusty streets and share the gospel through bits of sentences and songs and drama. I won’t be with them.

I’ve wanted to go on a mission trip for as long as I can remember. Something in me won’t rest until I’ve left my kitchen and moved beyond my garden and past the tall evergreens at the edge of our farm. I want--I need--to reach past my neighbors and their neighbors and keep reaching until I’ve stood on foreign land and spoken the name Jesus to one person who has never heard that word before.

But God has something else in mind for me today. On this morning, while my friends head south, I have an important task: today, we’re making muffins.

My sleepy-eyed girl wanders downstairs and brightens at the sight of two china cups sitting on the counter. We settle ourselves at the table and sip Chai tea while we rifle through a stack of stained and dog-eared recipe cards. Tera tosses aside the cards for Carrot Bran Muffins and Blueberry and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip. She’s searching for her favorite, and when she finds it--when she spots the card with one red blotch on the top corner--she holds it up and grins. Raspberry Buttermilk.

We grab plastic bowls and pull on our boots. She walks ahead of me across the lawn and toward the corner of our garden where the vines await. I notice how cautiously she walks, how carefully she skirts the stinging nettles growing in stubborn patches near the raspberries. At five, she’s already nettle-savvy.

The hard-to-coral raspberry vines strain against the thin wire enclosure. They spill over the tops of the groaning pen, bending with the weight of their crimson bounty. The fattest berries surrender at a touch. Tera clutches her pink, plastic bowl with one hand and uses her other to pluck the plump red berries. About every third one goes in her mouth. I don’t mind. It’s an unspoken law of berry-picking: the picker eats.

When we have enough, we head back inside. I turn the oven on and pull a chair to the sink. Tera climbs up and watches as I ease the berries out of our bowls and into a colander. I show her how to rinse them gently so they don’t disintegrate. She accepts her task with a serious nod.

She watches as I peel the lid from the flour canister. I can see the question in her eyes; I hand her the sifter and she smiles. She scoops it into the silky pile and gives a tug on the black handle. Particles rise in a dusty flour cloud.

I supervise as she dumps a white mound into the cup and levels it with the flat edge of a butter knife. A memory tugs at me; I see myself standing on an oak chair, holding my grandmother’s sterling silver knife and leveling a long-ago cup of flour.

We measure out sugar and baking powder and salt. She mixes tentatively at first, but confidence soon rises and she stirs faster. On one turn, her spoon skids against the side of the bowl and a big whoosh of floury powder flies over the rim, sprinkling the counter with a layer of white. She looks at me with wide eyes.

“It happens,” I say. “My grandma used to say that good cooks always spill a little.”

She likes that. She watches as I scoop the powder into my hand and dust it off into the sink.

“Grandma taught me something else,” I tell her.


“Clean up as you go.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means before we get the eggs out, we need to put all these containers away. If we take care of these little things right away, we won’t have a big mess at the end.” She thinks we’re talking about baking, but there’s a life lesson in there I hope she catches. I’d like to teach her to keep short accounts, to clean up messes quickly, to take care of little problems so they don’t turn into big problems.

There’s no buttermilk in this house, but I know a trick. Tera makes a face at the pungent smell that rises when I uncap the big jug of vinegar.

“That’s yucky.”

I nod. She watches as I pour a tablespoon into milk.

“I would never drink that,” she says.

I tell her what is about to happen. I tell her the milk will curdle and turn sour. She watches--fascinated--as my words come true.

“Why do we have to put that in?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I don’t have any idea why we need the sour milk or the salt or that gooey egg. I just know every bit is important in the end.”

I hope she remembers. I hope she understands, one day, that life is not straight sugar. God uses tears and sadness and disappointment and loss – and laughter – to make a life that means something.

We pour melted butter into the bowl and scatter the raspberries over top. I tell her to stir only ten strokes. She counts out loud as she lifts the batter with slow and gentle circles. At the end of ten, she looks at me with raised eyebrows.

“That’s it,” I say.

“But it’s not all smooth.”

“It’s okay. The muffins will be all the better if the batter’s a bit lumpy.” It’s just one more thing she has to accept. But life is full of such mysteries, full of truths we can’t always analyze or trace back to something concrete and understandable.

I set my stoneware muffin pan on the counter. She sticks her fingers in the shortening and pulls out a gooey scoop, then slathers the muffin cups with all the artistry she uses to finger paint.

I let her dip a cup into the waiting batter. Cream and crimson dribbles flow in rivulets down the side of the cup as it hovers over the pan. She tips it slightly and pours. Batter fills, then overflows the circle below. She sighs with exasperation.

“We can fix that,” I say. We use a spoon to transfer the excess into a neighboring muffin cup. She tries again, slowly. Minutes pass. She fills the cups, one by one. When she’s finished, no two have the same amount of batter.

I put the pan in the oven. We turn on the light so we can watch the show. Over the course of twenty minutes, a sweet smell fills the kitchen – and on the other side of the oven glass, red and cream-colored puff balls rise above the rims of the cups.

We have to wait while they cool. Tera eyes the largest muffin, a monstrous wonder in the very center of the pan. I’d like to give it to her--and I’ll make sure she gets the biggest from the next batch--but first, there’s another lesson to be learned.

“Do you know what I always do?”


“I give the biggest muffin to Dad. Would you like to do that?”

She grins and nods. I scoop the mammoth muffin onto a plate, pour a glass of milk, and set it all on a tray for her to carry to her father. Her head is high as she maneuvers herself down the hall with her offering.

My daughter is learning. She’s watching, and listening, and emulating, and soaking in every good thing I have to offer. As much as I would have loved tossing a backpack in the church van and heading south today, I’m glad I’m here instead.

God has entrusted this girl to me. And in this season of my life, there’s not a single job more important than raising her. Maybe someday I’ll take that trip across the border. Maybe someday, I’ll be His voice to a hard-of-hearing world. For now, He’s asked me to be His voice to my daughter.

I’m to nurture her with my love so her heart is open to receive His. I’m to woo her with the grace and patience and forgiveness He wooed me with. I’m to root her through the passing of heritage, so she’ll value family, and one day realize the gift it is to be part of His family. I’m to teach her to serve, so she’s ready to say “Yes, Lord,” when He calls her name.

I’m to prepare her for life.

I long ago surrendered to the One who loves me beyond reason. I don’t worry about next week and I don’t question the work He puts before me today. He might open my front door one morning, beckon me outside, and send me beyond my borders--but until that door swings wide, I’ll serve Him within these four walls. I don’t know what my tomorrows might bring, but on this day, on this morning, my purpose is very clear:

Today, we’re making muffins.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

for zac

Today, the child who made me a mother turns sixteen. He's 6'1", wears size 12 shoes, and is capable of dunking a basketball and growing whiskers ... and I have no idea how all that happened or where the time went. Here's a memory from the moment I first saw him. Happy birthday, Zachary David.

The most amazing moment for me, as a parent, was that first moment. Unlike most other mothers, I didn’t get my first glimpse of my son when he was all slippery and irritated. Because we were adoptive parents, we had to wait for a phone call inviting us to the hospital. Zac was an hour old by the time Dave and I got there, and by then he was all cleaned up and calmed down. When the nurse placed him in my arms and I said “hello” to that little face, he opened his eyes and looked directly into mine. It was as if I could read his thoughts, as if I could actually hear him thinking, “Oh … there you are.” I just stood there and cried.

I didn’t know it was possible to love another person as much as I loved him in that first moment. When I felt those eight pounds, one ounce lying helpless in my arms, my heart was full to bursting with feelings of protection and delight and pure satisfaction. There wasn’t a single second when I thought, “Well, little guy, I guess I’ll accept you the way you are right now, because I have no other choice … but I’m really going to start loving you when you can walk.” Or, “I’ll love you best when you’ve figured me out--when you know that my favorite colors are blue and green and the ice cream I like best is peanut butter chocolate. When you know that I light candles at the first sign of rain. When you’ve memorized all those little details, then I’ll really start loving you.”

I didn’t think any of that nonsense. I don’t believe Zac had any such strange thoughts, either. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t even a second there, at the hospital, when he worried that he might not be a good son or that he might not work hard enough or manage to create anything worthy in his lifetime. I don’t think it ever crossed his little mind that he might not measure up to my expectations. Nor did he worry about where we had the car parked, or whether or not we had enough gas, or if Dave really knew how to maneuver us from the hospital back to the freeway and all the way home. He just looked up at the two of us and waited to see what was next. And you know what was next? A lot of staring and grinning. A lot of dreaming about the life we would have with him. And a whole lot of loving.

God is no different. He feels exactly the same way--He loves us just the way we love our children, only He does it much better. I hope you really grab hold of the truth behind these words: Your Father is not waiting to love you more, because He already loves you as much as He possibly can. He loves you perfectly, flawlessly. It’s not because of anything you can do for Him. It’s not because you try really hard to walk a straight line. It’s not because you’re diligent to read your Bible exactly thirty minutes each morning, followed by a precise fifteen minutes of prayer. He just … loves you. And the child who understands this is the child who is free--free to explore life and enjoy her Father and face tomorrow without fear of any kind.

Open your eyes and look up, and you’ll see an amazing sight: God is looking right back at you. He can’t help it. Your Father loves you so much, He can’t take His eyes off of you.

Excerpted from A Whisper in Winter: Stories of Hearing God's Voice in Every Season of Life © 2004 Shannon Woodward. All rights reserved.

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Monday, May 09, 2005


In terms of pure romance, no open-shirted, smooth-chested, flowing-haired, pony-riding hero ever held a candle to my grandfather. Though I read and enjoyed all the best fairy tales as a child and spent my fair share of Saturday afternoons sitting through Disney movies, my romantic notions were birthed, formed and cemented at home, watching the way my grandparents interacted.

Clifford loved Mickey--madly, deeply, jealously. Maybe that's because he found her later in his life (she was forty, he in his mid-thirties). Or maybe it's because when he met his red-haired beauty, she was just ending her marriage to an emotionally distant, carousing man, and Clifford liked the way she squared her shoulders and lifted her chin in defiance to the choice she'd just made. Whatever the reason, he fell hard and never walked the same again. The power of Mickey kept him staggering the rest of his days.

He was a drinker when they first met; owned a bar, in fact, down on the beach in Mukilteo, not far from where I live now. She didn't like his drinking but she tolerated it in the beginning, when they first started dating. She let him take her dancing, let him show her off to his drinking buddies and the patrons in his bar. But three or four drinks into the night, he'd grow belligerent, and after awhile she began to wonder if she could live with that kind of energy.

They'd be sitting at a table in some dance joint and the door would open. As people do, those already sitting would glance up to see the newcomers, and those walking in the door would glance about to see who was already there. My grandmother had striking features, the poise of royalty, and that vivid red hair, so it was no wonder that men would often do a double take. Clifford couldn't stand it. It wasn't unusual for him to bristle at that second look and bellow across the room, "Put your eyes back in your head! You've stared at her long enough!"

Once, he was so enraged at the number of men looking at Grandma that he took a knife out of his pocket and drove it in the table in front of her when he stood to leave for the bathroom, as a silent sign to anyone looking that if they thought about talking to her while he was gone, they'd better think again.

After years of being made to feel invisible by my biological grandfather, years in which she dried up like sponge, I'm sure Clifford's furious love was a needed downpour. Even years later, when she'd recount those stories to me, her face would soften and she'd grin shyly. But the drinking was too much. One night, after arguing over his behavior in a bar, she took off her high heel, hit Clifford over the head as hard as she could, and threw his car keys over a rocky embankment down by the beach. Her parting words, as she hobbled back to the bar to call a friend for a ride, were, "I'm not going to spend my life with a drinker."

Clifford quit drinking on the spot. She waited six months, just to make sure he meant it, and then allowed him to marry her. And they stayed in that sober-but-wild, blissful, romantic state for the remainder of his days--right up until he died, twenty-one years later.

Passionate love is real. I suppose it's because of my upbringing that I've never doubted its existence. Maybe because of that, I don't have a problem believing that God loves me with that same depth of passion. Reading Song of Solomon was, to me, confirmation of what I think I always knew on some subconcsious level--if we mere humans can love someone with that kind of abandon, surely God can do it on a grander scale. When I read in Scripture that He is a jealous God, I thought, Well, sure. When someone belongs to you, you don't want others staring at them or trying to steal them away when you're out of the room. Sometimes you have to do something drastic to drive the point home.

In my mind, it wasn't a far leap from a knife driven into a table to spikes driven into a cross. Sometimes it takes a wild, extreme act to let someone know how much you love them--and to let them know your love will last forever.

For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can't, and life can't. The angels won't, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God's love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are--high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean--nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us. - Rom 8:38-39 (TLB)

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Friday, May 06, 2005

to poets everywhere

I've often been startled by the poetry inserted in an ordinary conversation--and the poets who utter them.

Once, while watching a documentary about farmers in a dying farm community who couldn't seem to attract or hold enough women to keep the town going, I heard the interviewer question one tired looking man.

"Why don't you just move somewhere else and find a wife?"

The farmer looked at the man and said, simply, "You can't pack a thousand acres in a suitcase."

Exquisite poetry.

My own grandmother was such a poet. I discovered this one afternoon as we sat together staring out a window and missing Grandpa.

He seemed too strong to ever die, so naturally, we expected him to live forever. Grandpa was the kind of man who filled a room; a man whose strength was overshadowed only by his gentleness. He could hoist me to his shoulder in one fluid motion, carry bags of grain and toss bales of hay and wrangle stubborn milk cows, but he was equally adept at delivering newborn calves and picking flowers for Grandma.

The man was a life-long boot-wearer; you’d never see wingtips or tennis shoes on those cowboy feet. He drank his coffee thick and black, laughed fully and often, knew and sang all the best old ballads, and rose at dawn Monday through Friday to deliver gravel in his burly, white dump truck with the words “C.A. Hill Trucking” painted on the doors. So when, at the age of 61, he went into the bedroom one morning and died—his heart exploding in an instant and dropping him to the corn-silk colored carpet below—we weren’t ready.

For weeks, our family moved around each other in a foggy blur. Dave understood when I told him I needed to stay with Grandma awhile. He’d come out to the farm in the evenings after work and sit in silence with us for an hour or two before she and I headed for bed. Sometimes, when she thought I was asleep, I’d hear her cry.

“Clifford,” she whispered once, in the darkness. “Oh, my Clifford.”

During the day we’d sit together in the kitchen; a room now emptied of his presence and filled instead with grief. Through the sliding glass window we could watch the highway at the far end of the farm. I’d see her eyes travel from one vehicle to the next and I’d wonder if she was waiting for Grandpa’s truck to file past, waiting to see him turning for home.

We could sit like that for hours—her watching, me waiting for her to speak. And one afternoon, in this quiet space, she summed up the enormity of her anguish with a single, heart-rending sentence.

“The world is full of white trucks.”

Listen today, and hear the poems that will otherwise drift unnoticed. Let me know what you hear.

Adapted and excerpted from Inconceivable: Finding Peace in the Midst of Infertility, ©Shannon Woodward 2006, Cook Communications. All rights reserved.



Wednesday, May 04, 2005

of mice and young men

I've been toying with the idea of focusing--at least for awhile--on my little town. I know my profile says I live in Seattle, but that's because I figured I'd lose you if I said Marysville. But now you know the truth.

I could probably blog for an entire year about the characters in this town. And up till now, the only reason I haven't done so is because I couldn't choose which story, which character to share first. But yesterday I found my beginning place. I'm going to start on one specific street in downtown Marysville, the one that runs by Starbucks.

I saw the boy as Dave and I were driving out the back entrance of the Starbucks parking lot. I'm amazed I noticed him at all because I was totally consumed with my iced grande soy latte. I'd been trying to get up the courage to try a soy latte for two weeks. But every time I stood at the counter and opened my mouth, some other order came out. Yesterday, however, after managing to gush my worries to the barista and hearing her assurance that I could dump it if I wasn't delighted and she'd replace it for free, I went ahead and jumped off that cliff. And you know what? It wasn't bad at all. They use vanilla soy, which apparently masks the fact that you're drinking bean milk.

I was sipping and savoring and mmm-ing as we turned left out of the parking lot, but in the midst of all that I caught a glimpse of the traveler sitting on the right side of the road. I knew he was a traveler because he was thoughtful enough to announce it, to me and every other driver within passing distance. Traveling--Low on funds, his cardboard sign read. I'm not sure if it was the honesty of that sign or the fact that he had dredlocks which drew me to him, but something did. (On the dredlock topic--I've always been fascinated. I'm quite sure that if I were a twenty-something young man, I'd have them too).

I looked in my wallet and found a five-dollar bill with no immediate plans attached to it. "Mind if I give this to that boy?" I asked Dave. He didn't. I pulled down my window and waited to catch the traveler's eye. He grinned when he saw my outstretched hand and jogged over.

"Where are you headed?" I asked.

"Seattle," he answered. And then, because he's a traveler, don't you know, and travelers have to make friends quickly, he kept talking. "I have a job interview there. I might stay. Or I might go north ... or south. I don't know." He grinned, and that cinched it. I liked him. I actually wanted to take him home with us and make him a pot roast, but as we were talking in the middle of the street and the light had just changed and a line of cars behind me didn't share my fascination with the boy, we had to part ways.

"God bless you," I said.

He God blessed me right back.

My heart stayed on that street corner with the boy I would never see again. And all the way home, I hurt that I couldn't bring him to our home and to our church. My reaction startled me. I'm not the first person to hand out money to sign-holders. In fact, I often suspect that when their day's work ends, they hop in their somewhere-hidden Mercedes and jet off to their beach-front homes. I have no proof, mind you, but that's my suspicion. From time to time, God nudges me to help someone, but until I feel that holy prod, I look the other way.

I grieved over my lost friend all evening, and thought about him again this morning. But it wasn't until I sat down to write this post that I made the connection.

Just a week ago, as I'd been pulling out of Starbucks again on that same back road onto that same street, a small blur on the pavement between me and the front car caught my eye. It was a mouse, and he was running for his life. For right on his heels came a (proportionally) giant black crow. Just as the crow was reaching his feet out to snatch the mouse, the big-eared, long-tailed little guy ran beneath the front car. Seconds later, that car moved. Not wanting to run him over, I scanned the pavement before moving forward, but he was nowhere in sight. It occurred to me that he may have hitched a ride on the undercarriage of the car--and I was right. After that car had turned left and gone twenty feet, the mouse reappeared, and skittered across the left side of the road. I looked up the road, saw an oncoming car, and held my breath. But the mouse made it to the curb unsquished. However, his troubles weren't over, for the crow had been watching as well, and he flew from behind me and swooped right toward the mouse. I so wanted him to get away. I watched as he bounced against the curb--no doubt fighting panic--and lay dazed for a split second. He ran back, just barely missing the crow's talons, and then ran forward again. But the writing was on the wall for this battle. Before the light changed and I left the scene, the crow had snagged his prey and flown off to enjoy his lunch.

The entire drama had played itself off directly across the street from where the traveler sat waiting. The mouse was long-gone, long-digested by the time that boy sat himself on the grass and penned his cardboard sign. But I must have made a sub-conscious connection.

It's a great big world, and he was just one young man--a young man who reminded me of my own boy. A young man whose mother might be looking up from her stove somewhere and wondering if her boy is hungry. A young man about to venture into a world chock full of taloned predators. I know there's an adventure involved, and I hope on his search he finds whatever he's looking for. But I'm praying he simply lands somewhere warm and safe, and that at the end of his traveling, he knows he's loved.

We're all on a journey of some sort. May your travels today lead to joy.


christian carnival

I'd like to give a big thank you to Kentucky Packrat, who made mention of wind scraps in this week's Christian Carnival round-up. Run over to his site and take a peek at the offerings. Warning: you're going to want to refill your coffee before you begin. :)


Tuesday, May 03, 2005


It's here. Grass-mowing season has officially arrived. I know because a few afternoons ago, on a single street, we drove past two men mowing with push mowers and one man on a riding mower--and it was raining. Granted, it wasn't raining hard, but I believe it's only here in the Pacific Northwest where lawn lovers are hardy enough to brave the rain in order to groom their grass.

Seeing the faithful out there in their hats and slickers made Dave come home and uncover our riding lawnmower. Not long after, I heard the rumbly engine spurt to life. And a blissfully short time later, the first whiff of spring drifted through my kitchen window, filling the space with cut-grass freshness. But after only ten minutes or so, the mower stopped. Dave came into the kitchen clutching a tiny metal part in his blackened fingers. “I’ve got a plugged hole here. Do we have any wire in the junk drawer?”

I went to the drawer and pulled out a coiled length of wire. “You're in luck.”

He shook his head. “No, that's too big.”

A bit more digging produced a small twist tie. “Is this better?”

He nodded. I stripped the wire of its plastic covering and handed it to him. Then I watched while he poked it into a miniscule hole in one side of the metal part.

“What’s that metal thingy supposed to do?” I asked. (Let me be straight with you. I could not have cared less what the metal thingy did. But page 93, paragraph 4 of the Wife Manual clearly states that from time to time it is beneficial—-necessary, even-—to feign interest in greasy parts and motors and other such uninteresting man things.)

By the look on Dave's face, you'd have thought I'd given him a present. “It’s the fuel jet. When it’s working right, gas goes through the hole, up into the lawnmower’s carburetor and through the emulsifier. From there the fuel gets mixed with air and is then sent to the piston, where it gets burned.”

Despite my best effort to look fascinated, he must have noted the glazed look in my eyes. “The bottom line is that this little hole was plugged. Gas couldn’t get through, so the lawnmower wouldn’t run.”

That caught my interest. I looked at the nearly-invisible dot on the side of the part. It was practically non-existent—-barely more than a speck of pepper. Yet that little pinprick had stopped a big old riding lawnmower in its tracks.

On occasion, though I don't like to admit it, I've plugged a few such pinpricks and pepper specks in my life. A little grudge here, a tiny compromise there, and before I knew it, I was all gunked up. The easy flow between God and me became hindered by my little "insignificant" sin.

One such time, I harbored a smidgeon of bitterness against an older woman who had snubbed me during my student-teaching experience. I'd irritated her somehow (can you even imagine? :) and she'd retaliated by tossing all my teaching supplies--books, pillows I'd made for the reading corner, displays, files--outside her classroom for the janitor to cart away. When I arrived back at the school after spending the day visiting another campus in our district, I saw that mountain outside her locked classroom and burst into tears. It took 45 minutes to maneuver the mess into my little Volkswagon Bug, but I managed. What I didn't manage very well were the feelings that sprang up in me. Instead of forgiving her, I let the offense simmer and even shared the details now and then during conversation with others.

Some ten years after the fact, I was sitting on the couch one morning having my quiet time, and I said, "Lord, if there's anything between you and me, will you let me know so I can take care of it?" And in that instant, as the prayer left my lips, he whispered the woman's name to me.

My heart drummed and my mouth went dry. It didn't take but a few seconds and I knew what he meant. He let me see the whole thing through his eyes, and it wasn't pretty. It had seemed like such a little thing--and such a justifiable reaction--but apparently my bitterness had become a problem. It hadn't kept me from hearing God's voice or loving him, but somehow enough of that bitterness had collected that it was hindering my flow. I wasn't receiving as much sap as I could from the Vine. I was a clogged branch, and there was only one remedy.

Before I could stop myself, I pulled the phone book out of the junk drawer and found the woman's number. I dialed with shaky fingers, and when she answered, I had to fight the tremble in my voice.

I surprised her, of course, but she seemed pleased to talk. And after we'd caught up on our families and the doings of the past ten years, I heard myself say something I hadn't planned.

"I want to thank you. You taught me a lot when I observed in your classroom, and sometimes, when I'm teaching, I hear your voice coming out of me. I bear your imprint ... and I'm grateful."

I'm not sure which of us was more surprised, but I'm betting it was me. For as I spoke the words to my long-perceived enemy, I began to love her again. The flow from God to me to her wasn't just a trickle--which is all I could have mustered on my own (if I could have mustered any at all). It was a torrent. I genuinely loved her. And if she'd been there in my kitchen, I'd have surprised her further with a long, clutchy hug.

There's just nothing like getting unplugged. I highly recommend it.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. - Ps 139:23-24 (NLT)



Monday, May 02, 2005


Right now, I have $15.87 in my wallet. I thought you'd want to know the exact amount, being that I named this post the way I did. So I counted. And that's pretty much what I can call my own.

But I'm rich. Let me tell you how rich I am. This very moment, sitting on my kitchen table in a wide-mouth, quart-sized Mason jar, are four lilac sprays. That’s a whole bouquet, mind you. And even from my blogging spot, some five feet away, I can smell the heady scent of lilacs.

Now do you see? I’m four-lilac-spray wealthy. It’s been a long road—-a long, frustrating, "bite my lip and keep walking" road--but the waiting and the lip biting finally paid off. When I arrived home from our women's retreat Saturday afternoon, I walked over to my lilac bush (which I’ve been watching for a good eight years now) and clipped those sprays right off. Left three hanging there, waiting for me to come back for them in a day or so. So I guess that makes me seven-lilac-spray wealthy.

Last year I got only one. I loved every tiny purple starburst on that lone spray, but it didn’t exactly qualify as a bouquet. The year before, and all the years before that, I got nothing but greenery. About six years ago, just as I sensed I was about to get a bit of long-awaited purple, a renegade goat jumped the fence and made a beeline for the lilac bush. In the time it took for me to glance casually out the living room window, take in the sight of that goat dining blithely on my hopes, drop my tea and run screaming out the front door, he'd made quick work of every leaf and tender branch. If I remember clearly, I cried. That rascal left a pathetic victim in his wake. The lilac bush was so choppy, so stunted looking, so bare-bones ugly, I almost put it fully out of its misery. But I couldn't do it. Instead, I shook my head, gave it a quick, "You're on your own," and left the stripped twig to its own devices.

Its rebirth was slow, but yet again I've seen that patience yields good fruit, or in this case, good scent--a scent so potent, so tantilizing, so intoxicating that you have to sniff with your eyes closed.

I couldn't keep all that purple glory to myself. So yesterday morning, I coaxed Zac into holding the Mason jar-bouquet while I drove us to church. When we got there I set it down on a table in the foyer, and before my hand left the jar, three people had scampered over for a whiff.

After the satisfying time we had at the retreat, I simply do not deserve to be blessed any further. We laughed together, cried together, and got a little clearer glimpse of God together. We sat in awe and listened to Laurie Watson, one of my favorite people in the world, as she recited the entire book of 1 John from memory--all five chapters--during one workshop. I couldn't stop crying as she spoke those words straight from her heart, and I wasn't alone. There was such a holy presence in that room as Laurie spoke that my entire body felt electrified. It felt almost as if we were right there the moment God first inspired John's letter.

That would have been enough. That would have been plenty to make me feel like a wealthy girl. But it went on and on. My friend Nancy made a beautiful bracelet and journal for me. I ended up with a room to myself--a gift from planning team (thank you, Diane :) because they knew I'd need to rest and study and pray before my three teaching sessions. And in the quiet of my room, I had time to think and pray and listen and write. I even slept eight hours the first night, something I almost never do.

The theme of our retreat was "The Invitation," which we studied out of Isaiah 55. In our passage, God invites us to come and eat and drink what we could never afford to buy for ourselves, and to stop striving after those things which will never satisfy, and to let him fill our lives with abundance and joy. I loved every minute of my preparation, and I genuinely felt that I had a handle on what God offered through that invitation, but it wasn't until I got home and stared at those lilacs that the truth really sunk in.

He's given me a husband and two children who amaze me--a family I never could have collected for myself, and quite frankly, don't deserve. He's given me close friends--near and far, old and new. He's given me a home with two swings on the front porch and two skylights in the ceiling, through which I like to watch the clouds he formed float past.

He took my husband's whispered prayers and answered them by gathering a church body where none had existed before, and populating that body with gracious, loving people who know when I need a hug and know when I need to laugh, who readily share the most intimate moments of their lives with me, and who regularly tell me that I matter to them.

He's given me life and purpose, forgiveness and hope, joy in abundance ... and seven lilac sprays.

*       *       *

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light. - Ps 36:7-9 NKJV

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