Tuesday, January 30, 2007

within a scoundrel's memory

On our last snowy walk, we talked about all the usual stuff. We discussed the failing health of Zac's jeep, the crazy rantings of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the likelihood of more snow. We talked about our upcoming trip to Israel and how much time we could spend with our friends there, Hananya and Devorah. Just as we were turning the talk to dinner, and whether Dave preferred beef stroganoff or chicken tetrazzini (an outcome I could have placed money on--beef wins with him every time), Dave happened to glance over his shoulder and spot a bit of happy, rascaly blackness tracking our snowy footprints.

That scoundrel had gotten loose.

"Larry!" Dave yelled.

The tracker lifted his nose from our bootprints, shot his triangular ears skyward, and froze. I could see his thoughts just as clearly as if they had drifted from his little pea-brain and formed themselves in a cartoon display above our heads. "I am Larry, tracker of my lost people ... They'll see me coming and rejoice that I've come to rescue them. He'll pat my head and talk about my tracking virtues. She'll shower me with grateful kisses ... Ruh, roh. Dave looks irritated. I will now race back home and pretend this never happened."

He turned to do just that, but Dave called again. His be-at-my-ankles-before-I-count-to-three tone cut through Larry's plan and brought him running. "Please pet me," Larry begged with those brown eyes. And Dave did.

"You're supposed to be home," Dave said. It got me thinking. How had Larry gotten out of the house? Did he cajole one of the kids into opening the door? Or did he have secret opposable thumbs we knew nothing about--and had he performed the job himself?

Though the image of two people and a big black dog walking along a snowy, wood-lined trail has instant Norman Rockwell appeal, we didn't want him along on this stroll. For the last year or so, we've been losing a battle trying to curb his wandering urges. We've tried reasoning with him. We've tried tying him to a dog run. We've put him in the kennel. We've even used the shock collar. But no matter what we try, the moment freedom raises its hand and waves a beckoning gesture, Larry responds.

We turned back for home. Larry thought this was great fun. At first, he marched just in front of us. I could see he was rising to the occasion. He was a Saint Bernard with a little barrel of whiskey tied to his massive throat. We were a pair of lost Swiss orphans, following our hero down the mountain and to a waiting chalet, where we'd all indulge in toast and hot chocolate, and beef-flavored dog treats. But then Larry spotted a bird, forgot the waiting chalet, and veered off the trail to give chase.

"Larry! Come here!"

He obeyed with obvious reluctance. Within a few minutes he began trotting and quickly put thirty feet between us.

"Larry!" Dave called again.

For heaven's sake, Larry thought. But he obeyed.

Dave then remembered a phrase from a long ago time when we innocently believed Larry to be trainable. During that vain period, Dave took Larry on regular walks and tried out all kinds of commands. Sometimes I'd go along, and I could see Dave's thoughts as clearly as if they rose above his head and wrote themselves into a mini-movie. "I will take my big, black dog and show him off to the world. We'll enter competitions, where his instant responses to my commands will cause a unified gasp to ripple across the crowd ... I'll look humble when I accept my giant trophy."

It soon became clear that no giant trophy would ever grace our mantel. Dave shelved the Keep it Simple Stupid dog training book and Larry promptly forgot the handful of commands he'd memorized.

Or so we thought.

"Right here!" Dave said. And a miracle occurred, right there on that snowy trail. Three years after he'd last heard that particular combination of syllables, something in Larry's memory sparked ... and he complied. He fell in line with Dave's right leg.

"Did you see that?" Dave asked.

He got to try out the command again about twenty seconds later, just about the time that staying at Dave's leg lost its luster.

"Right here," Dave said again. Larry looked back, slowed down, and fell in line with Dave's right leg.

All the way home, Larry tried to walk ahead, and Dave called him back with two simple words from a long-ago training session.

I'll admit it: this is not the best illustration you're ever going to get, but it's all I have to give you. "Train up a child in the way he should go," the Scriptures tell us, "and when he is old, he will not depart from it."

Take heart, you who love your wandering scoundrels. The words you've spoken, the wisdom you've shared, the love you've poured out--it all remains. Though you may think those things gone, it's not so. They're rooted in memory. And in the end, what you gave will make a difference.

Hey, it worked with Larry.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


My life is filled with numbers.

I wake in the morning and walk to the kitchen, where I tackle the glasses. Three now, two before lunch, four more between lunch and dinner. That will make ninety ounces. Midway through that first glass, I remember how much I don’t like the taste of water in the morning.

Strap on the pedometer. The goal is 10,000 steps by sundown. Toward that end, I will find a space in this day’s madness to trot down the front porch stairs, down the driveway, turn right, and walk to Getchell Road. That will take 45 minutes and carve 5,600 steps from my goal.

Work in thirty push-ups, thirty-five crunches, and three sets of ten reps of flys.

Eat. Try to spread it out. Six small meals per day is preferable. Find something into which I can stir 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, the new wonder spice.

Edit. I’ve scheduled myself to do seven devotionals per day.

Knit. To finish the shawl I don’t want to finish, I’ll click-clack my way through twenty rows today … and tomorrow … and the day after.

Numbers, numbers, numbers. They swirl in a dizzying circle. They shout for attention. I'm living inside a ten-key, jumping to the demands of those numbers. But somewhere in between the counting and calculating, the ticking and tabulating, I hear a familiar whisper:

Shannon, Shannon, He says, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary.

Ah, Lord. Break me free. Insert Yourself in this day and save me from these numbers. Today, Lord Jesus, be my One thing.



newsy stuff

A few of you have asked for details of the interview ... I'm afraid they'll have to be sparse, as our half-hour interview got cut down to about seven minutes. Our slot was sandwiched in between an interview with a UFO guy who believed the Nephalim were soon to return, and the man who baptized Jeffrey Dahmer in prison. The UFO guy was inundated with callers, so his segment stretched into ours. By the time she got to us, she only had time for a few quick questions. Still, it was fun doing a joint interview for a change. Darlene did great!

Speaking of Darlene, that brain of hers never stops creating. She's now set up a prayer room over at Christian Women Online. If you need to get a lot of people praying fast, head over to the Prayer Room, where a team of women are waiting to lift your needs before the Lord.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

interview today

Darlene Schacht, editor of Christian Women Online, and I will be interviewed today at 1:00 pm PST on KCIS radio's Living Christian program (Seattle). If you'd like to catch it here in the Seattle area, you can tune in to AM 630. Otherwise, it can be accessed via KCIS's radio site (press the "Listen Live" circle near the top left corner of the page). And if that doesn't work for you, here's a link to their podcast page: Living Christian with Michelle Mendoza Have I given you enough options? :)

We'll be discussing how and why Darlene formed Christian Women Online, her goals for the ezine, and how my column fits her vision.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

snow tracks

I stood at the back window this morning staring at a vast sea of whiteness beyond the glass. It’s not possible to describe how much I love all this snow.

While staring and sighing and thanking God that He had the foresight to create something so spectacular, I had a memory of another time. I remembered how my sisters and I used to guard our backyard from fun-seeking friends. “Don’t step on the snow!” we’d order. We weren’t very old; I was probably eleven and my younger sisters eight and four. Our friends would look at us oddly. Snow is for trampling, I could all but hear their thoughts. What’s wrong with the three of you? When they’d persist, describing the snow angels we could make out there, or the snowmen we could build, the three of us would growl and snap. “No one takes one step in the backyard!” I don’t remember ever meeting for planning discussions or analyzing why this was so important to us. We just knew. We knew on a unified level. At least in that one area of the world—an area we could control with fenced-in protection—the snow must remain untouched, pristine, pure.

I never understood the origin of all that fervor until it dawned on me recently that this was our way of controlling at least one small something in our world. This was our way of staking a square bit of peace—where no chaos reigned, where no bumps showed, where nothing got trampled or messed or ruined.

Our lives back then were in constant flux. We never knew where we’d live next week, or how much food we’d find in the cupboards, or who might next trade their last name for the rights to our mother’s bedroom, or what craziness might next tip our world. Nothing made sense, nothing was predictable. But when the snows came, and created a landscape of pure, unsullied beauty—ours for the taking—we guarded it with a fierceness you don’t often find in the young.

I’m all grown up now, and I’ve learned that it’s only possible to keep your backyard untouched if you permit no people in your life. As the scriptures say, “Where no oxen are, the trough is clean.”

My trough is a mess. In keeping with my metaphor, you might say that my backyard is a mess. The door to our backyard is open, you see—wide open. I’m a pastor’s wife and a mother. And I belong to Jesus. My life is not my own; I’ve been bought with a price. So there’s no sense trying to keep the gate shut. I can’t guard it twenty-four hours a day; I don’t even have that right. People burst in. They sneak in. They crawl in. They claim favored parcels and far corners and unpack their baggage, and like it or not, the snow gets trampled. Once settled, the gloves go on and the snowballs start flying. Sometimes they’re aimed at fellow yard-dwellers; sometimes they’re aimed at me.

My backyard now is littered with footsteps, the bedraggled trails of those who have come seeking refuge and acceptance. Here and there, spots of purity still wait, untouched and undisturbed. All the rest is crisscrossed with the evidence of life and activity and chaos.

But oh, the angels we have made together.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Katie is six. Her hair is white-blonde, and she's missing four front teeth. I barely know the child; after all, I've only been in the house three minutes, and this is only the second time I've seen my cousin's daughter. But I know already that I'm about to be delighted.

"Let me show you my Christmas gifts," Katie says. "First, I got this great Snoopy shirt," she says, holding out the hem of her dog-adorned shirt to help me get a better look. "And this Dora-the-Explorer doll ... and this puzzle book. It looks hard, but I think I can do it." She then gestures Vanna-style toward an impressive Barbie pool, where the stiff girl and her friends are lounging awkwardly.

Katie then comes closer. "You have to see this," she says, holding out her tiny arm so I can see the silver charm bracelet around her wrist. "It's from my Auntie," she explains. And then she cautions me. "Be very careful--it already lost a horse. Don't make it lose another."

She gives the room another glance, and when her eyes spy the tip of a plastic pink cell phone peeking out from beneath a magazine, those eyes widen and she draws in her breath. "And this!" She yanks the cell phone out with a flourish, holds it before my face, and announces, "This is my most favorite thing. You can actually call people, but they won't answer."

I must have given the appropriate gasps at the appropriate moments. I must have expressed just the right amount of enthusiasm at the properly spaced intervals, because Katie decides to bless me with a hug. Arms extended wide, she walks her wispy-haired, tooth-gapped self toward me, but just before she enfolds me in a waifish, six-year old hug, she stops short.

"Wait ... are you part of the family?"

I remember her mother, Larri, when she was Katie's age, and I was a four-year old pest. I remember following Larri through our grandmother's house, wanting to talk like Larri, walk like Larri, flounce my hair back with that exact Larri-panache. I remember climbing trees with Katie's mother, and talking about boys, and creating a haunted house together on Grandma's front porch. I remember visiting her in California, and spending the entire day in her bedroom listening to David Cassidy's "I Think I Love You" over and over again, falling in puppy love while Larri sat in her schoolroom watching the clock and wishing her day was over. And I wonder anew how so much time could have passed so quickly, and so much space could have grown where there had once been a closeness.

"Yes, Katie ... I'm part of the family."

At that, she gives a happy little cheer and puts those slender arms around me. I'm accepted.

A few minutes later, when Larri comes downstairs and joins us in the living room, Katie brings her up-to-speed.

"Mom, I love your new cousin."

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Friday, January 05, 2007

secret pal

I got a card from my not-so-secret pal a few weeks ago. She's eleven, blonde-ish, and creeping up on me height-wise. She lives in the bedroom above mine. As far as secret-pal duties go, she favors sneaking up on me when I'm working and giving me an impressively firm shoulder rub. She likes to bring me coffee when I haven't asked for it, and drop handfuls of Skittles or sour Starburst on my desk whenever she's in possession of a bag.

Tera's card says "Guess who?" on the front. Two plump, rounded-faced critters--a bunny and a cat?--sit together on a snowy park bench singing from a shared music book. The scene is centered within a snowglobe. When opened, the card reads,

It's time we had
a little meeting
'Cause I sent you
a little greeting
And now I think
you ought to know
Who was behind
that Christmas "hello!"

Your secret pal is Tera Woodward

A sweet sentiment. But it doesn't hold a candle to what she wrote beside it:

Dear mom,

Your the one I the most.
I love u so much.
And thank you for picking me!


"Thank you for picking me" . . . Ah, little girl, it wasn't like that. I saw those curly blond curls on that tiny little head, and a pair of mischievous green eyes smiling up at me, and I wanted you, yes ... but you were picked for me from the beginning of time. Choice had nothing to do with it--you were my gift.

I've thought about her card, and her words, a dozen times since she grinned and handed me her offering. How lovely to be loved, to be thanked. How lovely to have a child overlook the time-outs, the corrections, the denials we have to mete out now and then.

It inspired me to send a thought card to my Father this morning:

Dear God,

You're the one I the most.
I love You so much.
And thank You for picking me!


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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

happy fresh start

As part of my own fresh start, I've been busy trying to not be busy. Know what I mean? Instead of sitting in this chair glued to the internet for hours every day, I've been knitting while Dave and I talk, or taking long walks on the trail with him to work off a breakfast of biscuits and gravy, or cooking up a batch of powdered-sugar dusted rosettes for Zac. Lest you think I forgot Tera, she's been in Winthrop since Friday tubing and cross-country skiing with Aunt Tarri and Uncle Todd.

In the spirit of slowing down, instead of posting something new today, here's a link to my column in this month's Christian Women Online. In case you didn't catch it the first time around, it's the testimony I posted this time last year.

One other thing: if you haven't checked out MyChurch.com yet, you might want to take a peek. My address is: www.mychurch.org/shannon. Joining is simple--and it's already turning out to be a fun way to connect with people in your own church as well as new people who happen upon your site.

I pray your new year is full of new opportunities, new insight, new beginnings. And I pray you remember Jesus every step along the way.

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