Friday, July 29, 2005

the farm in july

"Well, life on the farm is kinda laid baaaaack!"

Really? Let's see now. How has my week gone ...

Two of our goats, Bambi and Jimmy, had a touch of something or other. Dave gave them a wormer and I gave them two doses of penicillin. It occurs to me now that I'm the family injector. Dave doesn't say, "I need to give the goats (insert: cat, dog ... hamster) a shot." He says, "We need to give the goats a shot," and then he waits for me to grab the paraphernalia and meet him in the goat barn, where he wrassles the goat into position and looks at me with patient, innocent expectation. On the second go-round of said medical procedure, the needle bent as I tried to insert it in Jimmy's skin. He's such a tough buzzard he just swung that whiskery head toward me, bared his lips, threw back his head, and laughed.

I saved a duckling, only to lose it later. Quacks-a-lot, the mother, sat on her second batch of eggs all month. When the one lone hatcher emerged from the nest (which Quacks had cleverly hidden against a fallen log and under a bramble of blackberry bushes) and wobbled after the mother to go meet her eight siblings and two fathers, I stood nearby grinning. It was the cutest picture you can imagine. The duckling was so new-on-her-legs that she'd take three flappy steps and topple to the side. Quacks would move a bit further away and urge Little Bit to keep trying. And try she did, though it took her a good seven minutes to waddle/flop her way to the waiting group. And they greeted her, as I'd expected, but not in the way that you welcome new members of the family. Those eight teenager ducklings rushed and pecked the baby, which pulled a fury out of me in about half-a-heartbeat. I swarmed the group, lecturing all the way, and plucked Little Bit off the grass.

Something you may not know about ducklings is that they imprint on you in about ten seconds. We've been through this before--one a trio of ducklings determined I was their mother and used to wait outside whichever window I last poked my head out. I'd see them on the lawn with their heads turned to one side, rolling that one eyeball around to snatch another glimpse of me, Mama Duck. It wasn't until our goose adopted them that they severed their emotional ties to me. So when I stood, earlier this week, holding that little taupe-ish fluff and whispering comfort, I knew I was in danger of stealing Quacks-a-lot's position.

With Tera's help, we cleared the chicken yard of ducks. She brought me three slices of bread and took Little Bit down to the pen. I stood up near the house and called out, in Motherese (you know, the language of mothers everywhere), "Here, Babies!" All eight teenager ducks--who know my voice and understand that those two words mean "bread"--skittered like the almost-able-to-fly critters they are and halted at my feet. If they were startled by my gritted teeth and eruptions of "I do NOT want to bless you," and "You are very mean siblings," they didn't let on. They cleaned me out of three slices of bread and waddled back to the pen, no doubt to further torment the newcomer. But by this time, Tera had shoved an old pillow into one of their fence holes, and an old tin can into the other--and the marauding ducks couldn't find a way into the chicken pen. With baby safe inside with its mother, I breathed easier ... but I shouldn't have. Two hours later, Quacks-a-lot was mysteriously out of the pen with the others, and Little Bit was nowhere to be found. I don't know what happened to her, but I suspect she followed Mama out and the teenagers got her. I'm still sick about it.

I hemmed two shirts for Zac, and played cards with Tera, and taught a friend how to knit.

I picked and ate the first blueberry of the season ... and it was bliss. Picked a bucket more so we can have spicy blueberry butter and blueberry muffins this winter.

I "supervised" as Dave demolished our rock hearth and wood-burning insert. I'll supervise again when he rebuilds the hearth and installs a free-standing woodstove. And come fall, I'll be busy making cocoa to go along with all the "sitting around the stove" we'll need to do.

I harvested my lavender, and brought it in to dry. Soon I'll have tiny bowls of pungent loveliness scattered throughout the house, and little baggies of the stuff tucked in Tera's dresser drawers, and mine.

I pruned the weakest grape vines, and trimmed my comfrey, and replanted the chives and Sweet Annie the chickens uprooted.

I took Dave and Larry for a walk along the trail, and tried my hardest not to scream when Larry found and sniffed a squished snake lying at the edge of the path.

I counted my roses, over and over. Didn't know I could count that high. When I could bear to do so, I cut three and brought them inside to stick in a Mason jar.

I made banana bread, and wheat bread, giant chocolate chip cookies, and eclairs.

I watched the birth of seven kittens, and the hatching of four chicks.

I read.

So the next time you hear, "Well, life on the farm is kinda laid baaaaack!", see it for the fib it is. Nothin' laid back here. But I can't imagine living any other way.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

christian carnival

I'd like to give a big thank you to Tom at Daddy Pundit, 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 his site.



“Let us be always seeking the ways which lead to peace and the ways in which we can support one another.” --Romans 14:19

The coach gave his team one last reminder before sending them out: “Just shoot. For now, don’t worry about how close you come. Just get that ball and shoot.”

Those eight-year old boys took his pep talk seriously. They charged up and down the court with wide eyes and tongues poking out of corners of mouths as they fought to get their hands on that basketball. Once a teammate had a hold of it, the others waved their skinny arms and set up a chorus of “Gimmee!” and “Over here!” and “I’m open!”

Those who managed to grab the ball did just what the coach had asked: they shot--regardless of how close they were to the basket. Regardless of their aim. It was a shooting frenzy out there. Most had figured out that the only chance to make it was to try.

Except for one small boy. He loitered near the edge of the court, watching the action and trying hard to keep out of the fray. His little toothpick arms never lifted--not once. I never heard him yell for the ball or beg for a pass or try in any way to remind the others that he was still there, still wearing that too-big jersey, still part of the team. He just stood and watched.

About halfway through the game, the boy backed into one corner of the court, directly in front of me, and I heard him muttering in a string of all-together words: “Don’tgivemetheball … don’tgivemetheball … don’tgivemetheball.”

My heart went out to him. He looked terrified, but of what? I wondered. What’s the worse that could happen--he’d miss? The other boys were missing shots all around him. He’d be in good company.

I wanted to encourage him, but before I could say a word, a teammate sidled up next to him and did it for me. “You can do it. You can do it--don’t be scared.”

Those few words made a difference. A mere minute later, someone tossed the ball toward that small boy. He looked down at the orange orb in his hands, chucked it at the basket … missed by a mile … and grinned at his own courage.

We're all just a bunch of skinny, eight-year old kids on some level. Our tasks sometimes back us into a corner. Our legs sometimes struggle to keep us standing. We're afraid of trying because we're afraid of failing. And like all frightened kids everywhere, we need a nudge to get us past our fear. Life can be lonely, frightening, and downright difficult if we don’t have loving nudgers walking alongside us, whispering words of encouragement. As Paul reminded us in Philippians 1:30a, “We are in this fight together.” (NLT) Maybe today you need to be a cheerleader for someone. Or maybe today, you need a cheer.

Don't be afraid. Keep trying. You can do it!


Monday, July 25, 2005

a kiss of kindness

Peggy’s tumors weren't responding to her treatments. Despite every effort to halt her cancer and urge it toward remission, it grew and spread throughout her body.

She fought hard and tried to keep up a normal schedule. At her request, I met with Peggy and some of her friends for a summer study of the book of Romans. That first morning, she surprised us all with a hefty brunch: shrimp salad, fruit salad, taquitos, and cookies.

"Peggy," I protested, "the whole idea of meeting here is so you can rest."

"But I want to bless you," she argued back.

The following week, the rest of us brought lunch. That didn't stop Peggy from contributing. She'd been up early to bake for us.

Peggy continued to host the study till mid-summer, when it became clear she didn't have the strength to ready herself for company any more. With reluctance, she asked that we discontinue.

Friends from church rallied around her. Some came on a weekly basis to weed her garden or do laundry. Others brought meals. Still others came just to sit with Peggy and pray.

One of our young girls, Elaina, showed up at Peggy’s door on a sunny morning and asked if she could help with some housework. Peggy paused before saying yes. Elaina was only twenty. Peggy thought about all the things she should be doing instead: running around with her friends, hanging out at the beach, shopping at the mall. Why would this young girl choose to spend such a beautiful day indoors, cleaning house?

She lowered herself into an easy chair and visited while Elaina vacuumed the living room, dusted the shelves and knickknacks and watered the plants. She watched while Elaina fluffed the pillows on the couch and straightened the magazines on the end table. When she asked Peggy for window cleaner and a clean rag, Peggy stopped her.

“Oh, Elaina … you don’t have to do that. You’ve done enough already, honey. I don’t want you spending your day washing my windows.”

Elaina’s eyes filled with tears and her chin trembled. “Please let me, Peggy,” she said. “I don’t know any other way to tell you that I love you.”

Peggy stayed earth-bound for another fifteen months before slipping away to her new life. I saw her just hours before she left, and though she wasn't conscious at the time, I believe she heard our prayers, and that her heart responded with anticipation when we reminded her of Who she was about to see.

Often, while missing Peggy and remembering her last months, I've thought about Elaina's gift and the truth she walked out that day. Genuine love will always find a way to shows itself. An act of service is one heart telling another, “You matter to me.” It’s appreciation bubbling up into action. It’s a kiss of kindness.

Life can be very fleeting. Many things draw our attention and demand our time, but we’ll never regret setting those unimportant things aside long enough to tell another person, “I value you. I appreciate you. I love you.” Don’t let this week pass by without giving a kiss of kindness or two.

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” --John 13:14-15 (NKJV)

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Friday, July 22, 2005

wild kingdom

Our home was a battlefield this morning.

I awoke to the sound of frantic fowl. It wasn't possible to distinguish between the cries of the rooster, the hens or our eleven ducks--I only knew that cumulatively, they were screeching for help.

On occasion, we've seen eagles overhead (we saw about a dozen flying together three weeks ago--such an incredible sight), and once, a lone eagle landed in our front yard down near the chicken coop--on the hunt, no doubt. Only the netting over the chicken pen saved them that time. Raccoons have left paw and claw prints in the dirt leading under the coop. But I don't usually think "eagle" or "coon" when the hens set up a ruckus. Our first thought is always, "coyote."

There may be people out there who find a certain beauty in coyotes. I'm not one of them. I think they're mangy, creepy, slinky, cowardly beasts. Even if I could get past the long, no-meat-on-them-bones legs and the ribby sides and the skinny faces, I'd still have a disdain for their characters. They're unredeemable. They run in packs, like woolly, woodland gangs, always looking for a quick steal. If they had opposable thumbs, you can bet they'd soon learn how to hold a can of spray paint, and would leave blood-red C's and paw symbols at the scene of each crime.

A couple of times a year, on nights when earth holds its breath and even the moon seems to be waiting for something, you can hear the pack running the trail beyond our woods. I've been lying in bed, near sleep, when the first cries ascend the treetops and shiver their way into our bedroom. Goosebumps rise on my arms and I shudder involuntarily to hear their hysterical, maniacal, yipping. There's a wicked glee to their yelping. It's the sound of creatures drunk with their own nastiness. That sound has never failed to scooch me closer to my husband.

This morning, on the heels of the frantic cacophony outside, I heard Larry pounce against the door. I jumped up and peeked out our bedroom window, not yet clear-headed and wondering who he was fighting out on the porch. Dave said, "He's inside," which instantly explained the sound of claws on tiles I heard from the other side of our bedroom door. He was in such a hurry to get outside and launch a counter-attack that he could barely stand to get out of the way long enough to let me unlock and open the door. I've never seen him run that fast. I didn't really know he had it in him.

As near as I can tell from counting, one of the hens is gone. Larry didn't stay away from the house long, and there wasn't a sign of coyote hide on his teeth, so I'm pretty sure no contact was made. But five minutes later, checking the other side of the house, I saw him freeze in step, stare at the woods below our patio, and take off again. He saw what I hadn't, before that moment--another coyote staring at us from behind a bush. I saw those lanky, hideous legs loping off with Larry in pursuit. I lost sight of them as they rounded a giant maple, just feet from where I hid myself yesterday with a book. Dave's prayer bench is out there, and sometimes I borrow it when I want a half hour of uninterrupted reading.

It's a wild place we've got here, in the middle of a wilder world. One day, our home is as serene a spot as you could hope for: gentle breezes whispering through the woods, ducks quacking at me for chunks of bread and bits of cheese, Larry and Lucy (our pregnant-again cat) sleeping in a companionable heap on the patio. It's all ice tea and sunshine and laughter. The next day, death visits.

Keep your eyes open today. And stay clear of the woods, okay?

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9 (NIV)



Wednesday, July 20, 2005

the cost of squabbling

From my journal, two summers ago:

“Did you have fun with Mandy today?” I asked Tera at bedtime.

She shook her head. “Not really.”

“No? Why not?”

She rubbed the edge of her favorite pink blanket as she recounted the day’s events. “First, she didn’t want to have a popsicle. She wanted a cookie. But you said we could have a popsicle and you never said we could have cookies, so I told her ‘Too bad – you have to have a popsicle.’”

I hid my smile.

“Then, I wanted to play Barbies, but she wanted to jump on the trampoline. So we had a big fight about that, and then I remembered that you always say I should let my guest choose, so I went and jumped on the trampoline – which I didn’t want to do but I did ‘cause I was s’posed to,” she emphasized.

“After that we got in the pool and I got mad ‘cause she wouldn’t stop splashing me and she got mad back and said I was a baby. Then we fought about who got the blue towel. I didn’t want the orange one ‘cause it’s not soft.”

She thought for another minute. “Oh, and we fought about who got to hold the kitten first, what movie to watch, and who got to use the Scooby Doo cup.”

She sighed and rubbed her eyes.

“All that fighting was a lot of hard work,” she said. “I think tomorrow we’ll just try to get along.”

Good plan, girl.

“Let us agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other.” --Romans 14:19a (Msg)


Monday, July 18, 2005

on sisters and swimming holes

So we had our day at the river. And wouldn't you know it? We somehow managed to plan our river-side picnic during the one rainy afternoon in an otherwise hot stretch of weather. But we're resourceful, we Calvary women. We only soaked ourselves a half hour before one of us was bright enough to suggest we move our chairs and other paraphernalia under the bridge.

I enjoyed being with my friends and sisters. I often feel like a reporter when I'm sitting in the midst of them. At one point, I even pulled an index card from my purse, borrowed a pen from Fran and started recording the snippets of conversation flying across our circle.

"Anyone want some Pepperjack Doritos? You have got to try these," one urged.

"Nah. I can have 51 pretzel sticks for only 150 calories."

"I finally found a bra that fits," another announced. This was followed by a lively discussion in which the pretzel eater enlightened us to the fact that of the 27 pounds she had just lost, she believed nearly all of it came from her "chestal area." (Edited by the poster.)

She went on to say that she refused to give in and switch from a D to a B because that would be too sad. "I'll get enhancements before I do that," she laughed.

This led, naturally, to a discussion of liposuction, and the horror stories we'd all heard about that. "My sister-in-law said it was the most painful experience of her life," one warned.

Of course, immediately following that topic, we discussed the merits of fruit snacks shaped like Peanuts characters, and our particular favorite lipstick shades (Diana swears by Clinique's Black Honey, while I talked up Burt's Bees Rhubarb not only because it's cheap and it looks good, but also because of that lucious tingle you experience when it first goes on.)

We watched each other's kids, fed each other's kids, and swapped cute and/or poignant kid stories. One woman, separated from her husband, told me what her just-turned-three year old told her after she cried during a recent phone call with her husband. "Mommy, when you talk on the phone with Daddy, your sad bleeds."

We had nothing to give her but looks of love--and an unspoken promise that we'll be here for her, regardless of what happens; that we'll pray for her husband and ask God for a miracle; that she'll always have this circle of comfort to run to.

Last night, Dave and I spent an hour with another couple in need of counseling. Just before we prayed together, the husband said, "It's easy for people to say, 'I don't need church. I can do this on my own.' But I know differently now. I know why it's significant to have a church family. The truth is, I can't do this on my own."

Amen to that.



Friday, July 15, 2005

strengthen me

In two hours, I'm taking Tera and her friend, Mandy, to the river at Granite Falls. We'll be joined there by a dozen other women from church and their children. En masse, we'll tote folding chairs and towels and zippered, soft boxes bulging with p.b. & j. sandwiches, cheddar-flavored potato chips, granola bars and foil-pouched drinks. It'll be a snackin', splashin', laughin' good time ... and I can't wait.

But right this minute, staring at me from the back porch, is a tall Sweet Annie plant ... and two bright green fennel plants ... and French tarragon, basil, lemon balm, chives and horseradish. I bought them all, deeply discounted, at a nearby nursery yesterday. Do I ignore those waiting plants so I can think of a new post? Or do I give you something I've already written and spend these next two hours in the garden?

You guessed. Here's something I wrote several years ago.

* * *
“My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word. My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to Your Word.”
~ Psalm 119:25, 28 (NKJV)

My daughter flits about my feet, unleashing pent-up energy. She slaps at the floor, whirls around twice and hops onto one toe. She’s never had ballet lessons, but that doesn’t stop her.

I watch with envy. While she shimmies and skitters across the kitchen tiles like some bug on a pond in the heat of July, hovering and defying gravity, my every step threatens to sink me through the floor. When did I last feel weightless? I can’t recall. I only know that I'm tired.

My mind drifts. I hear again the hurtful words a friend spoke the day before. She’d tossed them toward me the way I throw chicken scratch to my hens: not caring where they landed, but simply wanting the task done and the bits scattered. I had somehow offended her, and she returned the favor.

For the thousandth time, I wonder if God made a mistake. Did He really mean for me to be a pastor’s wife? I’m not equipped. I don't fit the mold--not in the least bit. What can I give to these women? I'm not the sweet, piano-playing, too-good-for-this-earth type of pastor's wife. I should have the patience of Job and the gentleness of Mary, but instead, I am Paul; forever urging repentance with my voice raised and my finger waggling. I am Peter on a bad day, with a fire in my belly and a sword in my hand.

Tera follows me to my bedroom, still flitting, but now also reciting her scripture verse for Sunday school.

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

She begins again immediately, faster this time. I’m pleased she learned it so precisely. I smile my approval and she launches into a third recitation.

I pull my hair back and check my face in the mirror. When did those dark smudges appear under my eyes? I check the time. We’re leaving for church in twenty minutes. I wonder if my friend will come. What will I say? I can’t worship like that. I can’t pretend it all didn’t happen. I'll have to deal with this mess somehow, so I'm free to focus my thoughts on God and not my hurt feelings.

“They will soar on wings like eagles …”

I’m so tired. I just want to rest. I just want a day of peace, one day with no conflicts, no heaviness …

“They will run and not grow weary …”

What I want is to go back to bed. I want to sleep and sleep and sleep.

“They will walk and not be faint.”

For the briefest second, I think, “All right, Tera, you know it well enough. You can stop now.” But then I hear the words God is speaking through my daughter.

It’s for me.

Thank You, Lord, for reminding me of the promise. When will I learn? The rest, the strength I need is in Your Word. Keep drawing me, Father. Keep me drinking from that well.

Strengthen me, Lord


paige pictures


Wednesday, July 13, 2005


She clasps my hand gently, at first, the way you'd take the hand of the person next to you while in a circle of prayer. "Squeeze harder, if you want," I tell her. She responds instantly, but I can tell she's only doing so for my benefit. She's only following my instructions. It's not long, though, before pain tosses her politeness aside and causes that slender hand to constrict mine.

Across the bed, her husband is my mirror image. He clutches her right hand and urges her to breath. Heidi tries. She finds a panting rhythm, loses it, catches it again, and then abandons the attempt when a new wave of pain hits her. "It hurts, it hurts, it hurts," she tells us. We're all too aware. And we'd take it from her, if we could.

The midwife, Charlotte, and her two assistants encourage Heidi from the end of the bed. "You're at three," Charlotte says. As if desperate to prove her wrong, Heidi begins labor in earnest. Her contractions come harder and faster; one follows another by mere seconds. My left hand is caught in a vise, but I lay my right hand on her arm and pray for mercy.

"I'm going to check again," Charlotte says. A minute later she says, "You're at four."

Corey pulls his eyes from Heidi to the midwife. "Last time, she went straight from four to end," he warns.

And with one more contraction, Heidi proves his words right. "I need to push!" she tells us.

Charlotte checks again. "You're there! Go ahead and push!"

Heidi changes before my eyes then. She pulls strength from a deep chamber and wraps herself in resolve. Every breath is calculated, every thrust efficient and purposeful. I'm awed by the change and I scan her face for signs of my Heidi--the girl who first came to our church as a teenager, the girl I watched walk down the aisle, the girl who has sat and weeded my herb garden with me, the girl who could almost be my daughter. But there's no girl there. The woman before me is doing something both our bodies were designed for, but which mine has never done. And there's nothing I can give her. She's playing a sacred role--and she's playing alone.

In just a few pushes, Heidi's third child enters the room. One moment, six of us filled this space; now there are seven. Seven happens to be the number of times I've witnessed this miracle of miracles, but I still cry. Just like every other time, I cry to see what God has done. Every part of little Paige Reanne Williams is a moving testimony to her Father--her reaching arms and flailing toes, her scrunched-up eyes and trembling chin. She's six pounds of wonder, and I'm blessed to run a finger along the curve of a brand new foot, blessed to feel the softeness of a brand new cheek.

She'll grow fast. She'll be in a hurry to catch her siblings, Corbin and Hannah. Not many months from now, this little one will take her first steps and say her first words. I'll have to share her after tonight. There's a whole church family waiting to surround this baby and love her on her journey. But tonight, I'm blessed to have her first.

Not forty-five minutes after Paige's birth, I am home and in my bed. "I'm proud of you," I told Heidi as I left. But it wasn't Heidi I thought of as I drove home. My thoughts were all of God, and how gracious He is to breathe life into a tiny form and call it "daughter."

Paige was born last night at 11:42. As soon as Corey sends me pictures, I'll post one here.

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Monday, July 11, 2005


Larry's been out making friends again.

"Hi ... this is Eric. I'm a jogger on the Centennial Trail, and I saw this big black dog lying in the crosswalk when I made my first pass going north. Half hour or so later I turned around and headed back and, well, he's still here. Friendly guy. Very gentle. Looks like maybe he's waiting for someone. He talks to everyone who runs past. He's just ... lying there, all stretched out across the trail. Makes you run around him. Thought maybe he was lost, so I checked his collar and got your number. So now you know."

Yes, now we know. Actually, Eric is the second caller this week. It seems Larry has elected himself "crosswalk guard" over our section of the trail. I suppose from a distance he looks pretty menacing. I mean, he's 120 lbs of lab/chow and has a head that looks like you could crack walnuts on top of it. But when you get close enough to peer into those eyes, you can tell right off a buddy lives inside. Larry's not going to hurt anyone. He might lick you to death, but that's the only real danger.

We're stymied as to how to keep him on our property. It's hard to fence 13 acres, particularly when most of that is through dense woods. We don't want to keep him kenneled, because what's the point of having 13 acres and a dog if the two can't enjoy one another? I couldn't imagine keeping him confined all the time. So we try to watch as best as we can.

When he's not sitting on the front porch or sniffing the ducks or trying to lure the goats over the pasture fence, we know he's on the Trail. I've gone after him a time or two. I'll walk down to the edge of our driveway, scan left, scan right, see a black blip, and set to hollering. "Larry! You go on home!" He's wiley, that dog. He won't come right to me. Instead, he slinks off into the woods and tries to beat me back to the house. Sometimes he wins. And then I'm greeted with that innocent "What?" expression, as if he'd been sitting on the porch all along and I must be losing my mind.

Mid-afternoon forays are one thing, but nighttime disappearances really cause my heart to thump. And those only happen around New Year's and the 4th of July. Larry has no tolerance whatsoever for fireworks. At the first hint of a Whistling Pete, Larry's head shoots up, his ears stand to attention, and he looks for a place to hide. That's fine if he's in the house with us. But if he's outside, he takes off.

We first realized he had this tendancy a year and a half ago, on New Year's Eve. Larry had wanted to go out, and I thought nothing of letting him. About an hour later, he wanted back in. He was breathing hard and slobbered all over himself and our saltillo tiles as he trotted to his green mat. Once there, he collapsed in a tuckered-out heap. Not long after, I noticed the message light blinking on our phone. “Yeah, this is Mike over on 85th," I heard. In the background, loud music blared and the din of many voices filled my ear. "We’ve got Larry over here enjoying the festivities with us. We’ll let him hang for awhile and then see what happens.” While we'd been sitting quietly at the kitchen table eating shrimp and playing cards with our friends, Chris and Cora, our dog had partied with strangers.

We've tried to keep a good eye on him since then, but he managed to disappear at dusk a few nights before the 4th this year. Dave walked the woods behind our house and I drove the car around the neighborhood, calling his name. We went to bed not knowing where he was. I got up every twenty minutes or so, hoping he'd returned. I'd glance left, first, to the patio door, then right to the front door. I so hoped one of those glances would yield a view of a big, black lump of fur, but by midnight, he still hadn't come home. He took his time that night. Didn't make it back until 3:15. We heard him leap onto the front porch, and that was enough to wake us from a dead sleep. It's hard for 120 lbs to leap and land quietly, and for that, I'm glad.

Two nights ago, just as I drifted off to sleep, I heard some thoughtless yahoo on the other side of the woods starting up again. It wasn't just one firework, but several, and though I didn't know it right that minute, the guy would shoot them off for the next hour. Isn't the 4th over?

In two seconds I was out of bed and standing on the front porch, looking for Larry. In the time it took for my voice to drift through the night and my eyes to adjust to the darkness, I saw his form, halted in mid-flight on his way to the woods. He turned at the sound of his name, spun, and bolted back to the house. He didn't even wait for an invitation inside--he just flew past me, a black blur of anxiety.

"Where do you think you were running off to?" I asked him, scratching between his ears. He twisted his head and that snakey tongue of his whipped out and slathered my hand. I kept talking. "Don't you get it, you silly pup? We're your safe place. When you're scared, don't run off. Run home."

The words were still hanging in the air when I heard a whisper. Remember that, He said.

"Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge."
--Ps 62:5-8 NIV

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Friday, July 08, 2005


We're home.

Because we never had a honeymoon, Dave and I semi-planned to take a trip to Alaska to celebrate our 20th anniversary. But the closer we got to June, the more obstacles jumped between us and that plan. So we did the next best thing. We headed to Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Three days and two nights isn't really a vacation, but if you plan it right and you get in just the right amount of boardwalk time, look in enough windows, taste enough taffy, order enough fish & chips, and spend a full afternoon staring at the ocean, you feel like you've been gone a week. And that's what we did.

I learned several things on this trip. I learned that jalapeno saltwater taffy has its good points, but sour lemon leaves it in the dust. I learned that halibut isn't worth the extra money; cod is tastier. I learned that the Pacific Ocean in July, off the coast of Oregon, is almost bathwater perfect, and that harmless looking algae often conceals tingly, toe-biting beasts--but that the pain goes away fairly quickly. I learned that you can say a lot to someone without saying anything at all, and that sitting on the edge of the ocean with duel headphones connected to one Ipod with two hours of worship music lined up is about the closest thing to heaven you're going to find on earth.

I stared at Haystack Rock, and sun sparkles on waves, and elderly couples who still wanted to hold hands as they left close-together footprints on the shoreline. I watched a little girl take a kite in her hands for the first time, and heard her giggles drift above the gulls' cries. I saw the power of God in the thundering tide, and I wanted to stand and spread my arms wide. I wanted to grab my oils and capture the scene on canvas. I wanted to sing. I wanted to cry.

God filled my bone-dry places with living water and touched my cheek with His breath and whispered my name on the clouds. He brought me there to draw me back ... back, because I'd wandered a bit in the last months. I'd busied myself with His business instead of with Him, and He drew a line there in the warm sand and beckoned me across. The stepping brought joy.

Of the many gifts I received on this trip, one of the most profound came when I waded alone in shin-deep water, listening to a much-loved song by Avalon. If you don't know this one, read the words carefully. Then lift your eyes to the God who did all this and more.


One single drop of rain
Your salty tear became blue ocean
One tiny grain of sand turning in Your hand
A world in motion
You're out beyond the furthest Morning Star
Close enough to hold me in Your arms
Adonai, I lift up my heart and I cry
My Adonai
You are Maker of each moment
Father of my hope and freedom
Oh, my Adonai

One timid faithful knock
Resounds upon the Rock of Ages
One trembling heart and soul
Becomes a servant bold and courageous
You call across the mountains and the seas
I answer from the deepest part of me

From age to age you reign in majesty
And today you're making miracles in me

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005


I had awaken that morning with a feeling that was one percent excitement and ninety-nine percent fear, trepidation and nausea. My first day as a substitute teacher. What in the world had I been thinking to do this to myself? I'd heard horror stories about the things pigtailed and cowlicked children did to unarmed substitutes. Did I have some latent death wish?

I set my bag of tricks on the regular teacher's desk and rummaged through. I hadn't taught first grade--or any other grade, for that matter--in ten years. Pulling out the books I'd packed so carefully the night before, I wondered, Would they even like these stories? I had a brief, horrific vision of the whole lot of them shrieking in disbelief, pointing at my favorite books and holding their stomachs as they rolled around the floor howling, "She's out of touch--and way old!"

I glanced at the clock. If I hurried, I could still slip out before the little terrors stormed in. Grabbing my books and bag, I scrambled for the door.

Too late. Standing in the doorway was the first of my tormenters.

"Who are you?" the boy asked. Did I detect a threatening tone behind that innocent question?

Before I could force an answer past the rock in my throat, he continued his interrogation, machine-gun style. "Where's Mrs. McGee? How come she's gone? Where are you going?" (This, with a glance at my "caught in mid-flight" stance.)

"She's absent today. She's having a root canal. And my silent answer to his third question: I think I'll join her.

A second boy joined the door guard, effectively blocking my escape route. Another head popped up to see what all the fuss was about. Soon twenty-nine students pushed through and filled the room, nearly all asking me an identical set of questions. I noted, with dismay and growing fear, several pigtails and cowlicks.

I had to give myself a quick pep talk. Yes, they all outnumber me. But I'm taller. My handwriting is better and I can legally drive a car. I have all my big teeth.

It helped a little. Gave me enough courage to read through Mrs. McGee's written instructions. I took attendance, counted hot-lunch takers, and introduced the first activity. My voice only squeaked twice, and I'm sure the shaking of my hands went relatively unnoticed.

Things began to roll along nicely. A few girls smiled at me. My spirits really began to lift when I realized I'd been in the classroom thirty minutes and not a single book had been thrown my way.

But then I noticed one small boy sitting with his hands folded on his desk. The paper I'd passed out earlier lay untouched before him. He lowered his glance when he saw I was looking at him.

I checked the seating chart for his name. Khotemir, it said. To the side of that name, Koty was written in parenthesis. I decided to go with the nickname. "Having some trouble, Koty?"

He smiled, but didn't answer.

"Do you need some help?"

Nothing. So this was it. This was my big challenge for the day. The boy was going to wait me out, see if he could frustrate me, try to make me cry. Well, there was no way I'd let him push me that far.

"I need you to get started on your paper now, Koty," I said firmly.

Not a flinch. Not a flicker of anything--not defiance, compliance, resistance or annoyance. Just that smile.

One of the girls nearest me leaned over and said, "He can't understand you, Mrs. Woodward."

"Why not?"

"He doesn't know English. He's from Russia and he just got here two weeks ago and he has a big family and he never says nothing. And Koty is just short for his other name which none of us can say."

"Are you sure?"

The bearer of bad news nodded. Koty hadn't even blinked. His smile never faltered, not even when he heard his name.

"What does he do all day?"

"Kinda what he's doing right now."

I tried. I gestured, pointed, pantomimed, motioned and charaded myself through several activities, with little success. Khotemir managed to copy half of a six-line poem, but that was it.

And then it was art time. Mrs. McGee, apparently for my benefit, had planned a simple crayon and newsprint art lesson.

"Draw whatever you like," I instructed the class--as if any child faced with crayons and blank paper would do otherwise.

Khotemir's face lit up when I gave him his materials. This he knew.

I wateched his efforts with relief. For the first time all day, he was engaged. His was a full-body involvement. He wagged his feet, shimmied in his seat, and positioned his tongue firmly outside the corner of his mouth as he hammered at his paper. Color flew, and I saw the beginnings of a ship's bow begin to take form.

I meandered around for about ten minutes, checking progress and encouraging the other budding artists, before I finally made my way back to Khotemir's row. When I approached his desk and looked down at the ivory newsprint, I stopped still. He'd finished the boat. It floated above a choppy sea full of sharks and dolphins. On the deck, a smiling family of eleven stood together, their stick hands frozen in a Crayola wave. But something else waved in Khotemir's picture. High above the deck, the Russian child had drawn a large, proud flag ... a red, white and blue flag ... an American flag.

The boy did it, then. He made me cry.



Monday, July 04, 2005


We were birthed in the light of His favor, nourished on the truth of His Word, sheltered under the might of His arm and raised up for His sovereign purpose. May we not discard our heritage. May America turn back ... and bless God.


Friday, July 01, 2005


"Let's go to the Fair today," Grandma said.

I hadn't thought I'd ever hear those words again. Though only 61, Grandma had been stopped cold by arthritis. 'Old Arthur,' as she called it, had cruelly plucked from her all her delights--trips to the mall, trips to Seattle, trips to the Fair. Arthritis had stolen her legs and hands, wrung the energy from her bones, and confined her to a chair near a window, from where she could watch life but no longer participate in it.

"If you want to go to the Fair today, then that's exactly what we'll do," Grandpa said. I watched him watching her, and saw determination in his eyes. "How many scones do you think you can eat, Mickey?"

"At least two. And an ear of corn from the VFW booth," she said. He grinned in response.

We didn't waste a minute. I helped Grandma brush her hair, Grandpa got her shoes and purse, and off we went.

Monroe--home to the Evergreen State Fair--was just a bit over spitting distance from my grandparents' Snohomish farm. We were there in under twenty minutes, even counting Fair traffic. Grandma endured the slide from the car to her chair without a word. Nor did she utter a syllable's worth of complaint as we traveled the gravel-covered parking lot.

As we walked toward the admissions gate, I saw her staring toward the right end of the fairgrounds, where the whizzing carnival rides were in full neon frenzy. "Shanny, what's that long, skinny ride over there?"

I followed her gesture and saw the ride in question. "That's the Zipper, Gram."

She watched for a split second and said, "I think I'd like to ride the Zipper today."

I made a sound not unlike a snort. "No, Grandma, you don't want to go on the Zipper."

I looked at Grandpa and he looked back. My expression said, "What is she thinking?" but his sent an entirely different message. What I saw in his eyes was, "Isn't she something?"

The Queen sat a bit straighter in her chair and lifted her chin. "We'll see," she said.

True to her word, she ate a butter-slathered ear of corn and two scones. She also nibbled an elephant ear and shared a purple cow milkshake with Grandpa. We watched a man demonstrate the new-and-improved way to slice vegetables, watched a woman clean a spill with a must-have chamois, and watched loggers climb poles, chop wood and roll logs in a make-shift pond. We got our rings cleaned. We listened to the stock car races and even found a low-enough hole in the fence so Grandma could have a peek at the cars flying around the track.

Maybe it was that race that got her going again. "You know, I think I'm ready for that ride now," she said.

I decided not to fight her. But the Zipper was out. "Grandma, if you feel well enough for a ride, let's find one that won't rattle you. The Zipper is just too much." I scanned the jumble of machinery and saw one that looked innocuous enough. "Look over there," I said.

Grandma looked. "You mean that big circle of swings?"

"Doesn't that look fun?"

She kept looking. "Not really."

"Sure it is. See--they'll strap you in and then it lifts and spins around. I'll bet we'll be able to see everything from up there."

She looked unconvinced. "Well, I'll go on that, but then I want to go on the Zipper."

I felt a little embarrassed as we wheeled Grandma up to one of the swings. I could see people nudging each other and whispering, as if we were torturing the woman--forcing her to ride carnival rides against her will. I pretended not to notice.

I fastened Grandma's safety belt and locked the metal bar. "I'll be in the swing ahead of you."

The ride started. We lifted and began to spin. Against the force, I twisted in my chair and looked back at Grandma. She sat straight against her seat with her hands folded neatly in her lap and a polite smile arranged on her face. It threw me a bit to see her legs dangling back and forth.

The peaceful, gentle ride didn't last long. We got her back in her chair and wheeled past the onlookers. "That wasn't so bad, was it, Grandma?" I asked.

"No," she said, "but now I'd really like to go on that Zipper."

If she went on the Zipper--which wasn't going to happen--it would mean I'd have to go with her. I took in another earful of Zipper-screaming and another eyeful of tumbling cages and decided I'd have to find a less frightening alternative.

My eyes landed on the Matterhorn. "How about that ride?"

Grandma sighed. "All right, Shannon. But then we're going on the Zipper."

We wheeled her up, helped her into the alpine-decorated cars, and started off. This time, she perked up. As we rolled up and over the curved track, she started yelling. "Faster! Faster!"

We did go faster. We whipped along that track like a couple of medal-bound bobsledders, with Grandma yee-hawing right in my ear. After several minutes, we finally began to slow down. Grandma squealed her disappointment. "Don't stop!" But the ride operator on the side of the track just laughed. As we rode past, he yelled back, "I'm putting it in reverse--just for you!" And off we went again, with Grandma yelling out her delight.

I felt dizzy as we climbed out of our car. That ought to do it, I thought. But Grandma had a different thought. "Clifford, tell Shannon I want to go on the Zipper."

I begged Grandpa with my eyes to just say no. The Zipper was evil. It would swallow us whole. At the very least, it would make me lose my scones. But I should have known he could never say no to her.

"Shanny, take your Grandma on the Zipper."

I walked to that ride with all the joy one would feel walking to a guillotine. I felt ill as we climbed aboard one of the barely-secured cages and I heard the click of the lock. Grandma, however, looked like a sixteen-year old who had just gotten her driver's license. "Let's see how fast we can make this thing spin."

I didn't have time to argue. The ride--and my screaming--began. Up we went, and then around, and around, and around. "Lean into it," Grandma ordered. "Help me spin us faster."

Could she not hear my screaming?

I screamed myself hoarse. Grandma giggled through the entire ride. And when we finally, mercifully, slowed and stopped at the very tiptop of the ride--upside down--Grandma kept laughing. I kept screaming. Until eventually, she gave me a nudge in the side. "Shannon, you're embarrassing me."

I stopped screaming and turned to look at her. Grandma's hair, like my own, hung straight down from her head. Her eyes were teary from laughter; with a gnarled finger, she wiped one escaped tear from her cheek. I could just see the ground below through squares of the cage near her head. Near our feet, I saw the sky. And the whole thing was suddenly so absurd, I had to laugh. We hung there together like two teenage friends, stuck in a moment I've returned to a hundred times in my mind.

Grandma's arthritis came back in the months that followed. It came with a vengeance, angry to have lost her for that short period. That trip to the Fair was our last, but it was the trip that meant the most to me. Among the many things I learned from my grandmother, the lesson she gave me in that between-earth-and-sky moment was one I value most. Age, it turns out, is a relative thing, and unless you convince yourself otherwise, you're never too old to fly.