Monday, March 30, 2009

It's Raining Cereal Balls!

I never post twice in a day, but I just had to share this story, which occurred only moments ago.

Just when I realized it had started to rain, I heard the PING of little hailstones against the windows and roof. As luck would have it, Bill is out of town, so I had to handle things myself.

I raced down the stairs and threw open the back door, and I was immediately pelted on the head with several hailstones the size of Kix cereal balls. Despite their cute size, that smarted!

I hollered for Lola (see, I do love her!), and she immediately bounded into the kitchen. I herded her into the garage, leaving a trail of muddy dog prints.

After she was safely ensconced in the garage, I stood in the back doorway for a moment to take in the amazing sight of tiny balls of ice bouncing on the patio and the picnic table. Then, as I turned to head back upstairs, I noticed a hailstone on the living room floor, a good 12 feet from the door! I was filled with awe. No wonder those hailstones had hurt, falling with such force!

I walked over to pick up the stone and then laughed at myself when I realized it was actually a Kix cereal ball. I contemplated eating it, but the five-second rule definitely didn't apply here, so I threw it in the trash.

Just as I was settling onto the couch, proud of myself for handling the situation just fine all on my own, the phone rang. It was my neighbor across the street. "I'm sorry to call so late," she said, "but I'm pretty sure your car windows are down."

"Oh nooo!" I wailed. "Yes, they are down. I told myself not to forget to roll them up, but of course I did anyway." I had rolled all the windows down to let Allyson finish her car nap this afternoon while I read on the porch, and now I was just kicking myself.

I hung up the phone and sprinted out into the hail and torrential downpour to my already soaked car. I turned it on and rolled up all four windows at once. I'm so thankful for my good neighbors because I think this kind of a storm could do some damage to the inside of my car. As it is, I'm sure it's going to stink for days, or maybe even weeks, especially if the temperature rises again tomorrow.

So now I'm drenched, and I'm imagining that my head is smarting, and instead of getting warm I'm sitting here typing it all up while the lightning crashes outside. I guess I really do need Bill home to help me have a little common sense. Let's just keep this between us, okay?

Why You Cryin?... Wanna Play?

This afternoon, Allyson and I went to the post office to mail a package. I needed a padded mailer, and before I could select the cheapest, plainest option, Allyson spotted the big red Mickey and Pluto envelope. "Look! It's Mickey!" she shouted, bouncing on the tips of her toes. "Can we get it?"

Of course, I couldn't say no to her. As I loaded my letter and gifts into the bright, cheery envelope, Allyson kept insisting that she wanted to add her cheap spinning alien toy that she'd just gotten in a McDonald's Happy Meal.

"No, honey, that's your toy. You keep it. We're just sending books this time." I thought it was really sweet that she wanted to give away her new toy, but I was afraid she'd miss it. So I sealed up the envelope and stepped into the line.

Minute by agonizing minute slipped past as we waited in the line that snaked around the counter, along the back wall, and all the way to the door. I tapped my foot anxiously and felt my stomach tighten. I had only 25 minutes left before Ethan would be home from school, and there was only one clerk serving about 10 people. (One was doing passport photos and another was on a break.)

Meanwhile, Allyson clung to my leg and sobbed quietly. That's when I realized she had thought I was buying the Mickey envelope for her. No matter how I tried to explain that it was for someone else, and that she would just love the envelope Allyson had picked out, it made no difference. Her heart had been set on that big red envelope.

Suddenly, I felt someone brush against my leg. I looked down into the warm brown eyes of a little boy about Allyson's age. "Why you cryin'?" he asked. Allyson said nothing, just pressed in closer behind my leg. "Wanna play?" he persisted.

Allyson just stared.

"What's that?" he asked, gesturing at her blue alien toy.

"I got it at Old MacDonald's," she said, her voice just over a whisper.

"Wanna play?" the boy asked. "Can I share?"

Allyson thought for a moment and then handed over the toy. (I was so proud of her!) The two of them took turns spinning the bottom of the toy and letting it careen around the floor. They chased it all around the waiting area, dodging between the legs of the waiting customers.

In just a moment, the mood of the entire office changed. People stopped grumbling and started smiling at each other. Several people commented at how cute the two kids were. Shortly after that, the other two windows reopened, and the line started moving again. The little boy, David, left with his father, and Allyson returned to clutch my leg again.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to look past our frustrations and our busyness and spot the person who was hurting? And then to reach out to that person and help her feel better? It's amazing what you can learn from small children.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Losing Myself, Finding The Real Me

I was scouring my old journals (about ten of them) looking for a story that came to mind tonight, but I couldn't find it. Instead, I found something else that really moved me. This is the reason I journal--and why I think EVERYONE should journal. It's an amazing thing to stumble on clues to who you were at some past moment, and to see who you are becoming. It's wonderful to see how God was speaking to you, loving you in your imperfections.

Excerpt From My Journal, 6/22/04
I'm ready to give up on changing myself. I realize that I can't do it. I struggle with the same selfishness, pride, and unkindness that I have lived in for years.

Yes, unkindness. I have always liked to think of myself as a sweet, kind person, but I am seeing a mean streak in myself. I mentally or even verbally ridicule anyone who doesn't measure up to my standards. I have allowed a wall to be built between me and my family.

I can be a huge success in all that I do at work, but WHAT DOES IT MATTER? What impact has my life had on those around me? I fear that the answer is "none." I have not allowed you to shine in me, Father. I have choked out the candle of your Spirit with my pride.

I am a wretch! I need you, Father! Please forgive my selfishness, my monstrous pride, my hatefulness. Please wash me clean, and cast my sin away from me, to be remembered no more.

Make me new, Father. Create in me a clean heart. I know I don't deserve your love or your forgiveness, but I'm opening my hands, lifting them to you, to receive them....

I feel like I have been afraid to let you really change me. I've been afraid of losing myself, who I think I am. I don't even know who I am, but I am comfortable being the old me.

Who do I think "Sarah" is? She is funny. She is smart, very smart. She tries to be likable. She tries to be moral and kind and loving, but she feels dirty and unworthy deep down. She is afraid of change, afraid of new things, big and small. She does not feel worthy to be loved, not by God, not by anyone except maybe Ethan [my son].

What do I have to lose by surrendering to God? Will I lose my sense of humor? I don't think so. I believe God delights in my laughter, that he taught me how to see the humor in life and make others laugh.

Will I lose my intelligence? No, but I might lose my pride about it. And I might gain real wisdom, about what really matters.

Will I be lovable and likable and kind? Yes, if I let God shine through me. People are drawn to Jesus, and they are drawn to real peace when they see it.

Ah, peace. That is what I need most of all. Peace and trust and rest--freedom from my fears.

And can I be loved by God, my Father? Yes, yes, yes. For God so loved the world (me, Sarah) that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever (especially me, Sarah) believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

God already loves me, just as I am. He sent his son to die for me, just as I am. I don't have to change, to clean myself up, to earn his love. He loved me before I was even born. He planned my days. He knit me together in my mother's womb.

I like that image of knitting--patient, detailed work that is done with the hands. Not like a sewing machine with every stitch uniform. No, I am a unique, special creation. There is no one else like me, and God made me to be just who I am--only better! He made me to love him, to love my neighbor, to submit to him in everything I do. He made me to trust in him and not be afraid.

Oh, Father! I surrender to you now. I don't want to wait until I am good enough. I want to give you my heart today. Lord, I surrender my all, my very identity to you. Change my heart! Teach me to know you. Take my offering of me that I lift up to you.

Five Years Later
Looking back, I can see that I've grown in the last few years. I am surrendering my fears to God, one by one, and I am learning to love others as he loves me--because I am learning how very much he does love me. I so thankful that God put these desires in my heart, and I want to pray these prayers always.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lola, La-La La La Lola!

Last night I read a blog post that asked whether I would risk my life to save my dog. My response was that I don't think I would risk my life to save MY dog, though I can see trying to save a dog you were really attached to. After I said that, I felt a little bad. I wondered again why I have not been able to fall in love with our two-year-old Lab mix, Lola. The main reason is that she's so NAUGHTY, though she's definitely mellowing as she matures. But she's also very good-natured and sweet. And she's very funny. I actually lay awake for quite awhile last night thinking about experiences with Lola....

We got Lola from a coworker around Christmas time in 2006. She was about three months old, I think, and she was an adorable, big puppy. Ethan named her Lola, which seemed an odd name for a dog, but now I love it. At least once a week, one of us breaks into song: "Lola, La-La La La Lola!" Even 2.5-year-old Allyson sings it now, which is so cute because it comes out, "Wo-wa, Wa-Wa Wa Wa Wo-wa!"

That first night, we put her in a soft, tent-style car carrier in our kitchen. We thought that might make her feel more secure. She immediately started walking it into the living room, rolling it like a giant, awkward hamster ball. So we put her in the garage... where she chewed a hole in the drywall.

After that, we put her outside, and that's mainly where she's lived since then. She chewed up the wood siding all along the lower part of the house, and we just left it that way for a long, long time. When it seemed she was past the chewing stage, Bill patched the torn spots and repainted. It only looks tacky if you get too close.

Lola at 3 Months, January 2007

She barks at everything and everyone who passes our house, which means she barks a LOT because we live on a corner. This drives Bill absolutely mad, but I don't even hear it any more. She races along the fence, behind the privacy hedge, which I think is hilarious. She goes in at one end and pops out at some random point. Bill is not amused. He says she's killing the trees by eroding the soil around the roots.

Lola lives for motorcycles. When a motorcycle roars by, she bounds along the side fence, her ears flapping in the wind. She stops short just before she crashes into the back fence. I can only imagine her rapture if she could actually run along beside a motorcycle outside the fence.

Age 2, January 2009

She loves to chase birds. She leaps up two or three feet, swiveling her body in mid-air, while she snaps futilely at thin air. She never tires of this, though the birds seem to be making fun of her. (Unlike most Labs, Lola is a little on the dumb side. In fact, watching her, I think I've found the origin of the phrase "dumb as rocks." I've caught Allyson feeding her soft, white rocks... and she ATE them!)

Actually, Ethan pointed out just now that Lola did manage to kill a bird once. She jumped up and chomped it, and feathers flew. Bill buried it, but she eventually dug it back up. Gross!

Water Baby
Lola's very favorite pastime is cavorting in the water. Whenever Bill hand waters the yard, she spends the entire time jumping in and out of the spray. It's so entertaining to see her leap up and snap at the arc of water with bared fangs. Whenever we set up Allyson's kiddie pool, Lola will not stay out of it, much to Allyson's dismay. One of the first things Allyson learned to say as a toddler was "Out, Lola!"

Despite her gruff bossing, Allyson adores Lola. She climbs all over her, pulls her tail, and pokes her in the nose, but Lola's tail never stops wagging. If she wasn't so busy chasing birds and barking at passersby, I suspect that Lola would keep a watchful eye on Allyson while she played.

Ethan and his friends love Lola, too. They love to get her really agitated so they can pretend she's a mad dog or a wicked monster (not so much of a stretch, actually). They run all over the backyard and tussle wildly with her, their shrill shrieks piercing the evening air.

Bill loves her most of all, I think. When he feeds her at bedtime, he ruffles her hair and mutters, "Good dog" while she gazes up at him in utter adoration. If it rains, or the temperature drops, he brings her into the garage to sleep on an old comforter. Recently, though, she has refused to come inside no matter what the weather, and I think this hurts his feelings a bit. No matter, she has a snug doghouse that he built with his own hands--though she often isn't smart enough to come in out of the rain.

Wicked Monster
So why am I the only one who stands back and watches instead of getting down on the ground and playing with Lola? The truth is, I think I'm keeping a grudge. The biggest thing I have against Lola is that she eats things. She's eaten:
  • Several pairs of Allyson's shoes that were shed and forgotten
  • Numerous cups, plates, and utensils from Allyson's tea sets
  • Large chunks of the house, as mentioned previously
  • A soccer ball or two
  • A big toy jeep
  • And... not one, but TWO tomato plants that Bill had given me for Mother's Day.
Oh, how I mourned the loss of those tomatoes. They were perhaps my favorite Mother's Day gift ever, and I was dreaming of all the amazing things I could cook with tomatoes fresh from my own backyard. When she ripped up the first plant on Mother's Day afternoon, Bill bought me another one, and he poured red pepper all over it to discourage a repeat offense. She left it alone for a couple of days, and just when I was getting my hopes up, she ripped the second plant to shreds as well. So we gave up.

Now, nearly a year later, I guess I'm still holding that crime against Lola. Is it a sin to withhold forgiveness from a dog? When Jesus said we should forgive our brother seventy times seven, did that include dogs?

I want to love her, really. I hope I'll wake up one day and have tender feelings for this oaf who has captivated my family. In the meantime, I'll enjoy watching my kids have fun with her.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Facing My Fears

One of the best learning experiences I ever had was battling my fear of death. Last spring (2008), I asked God to deliver me from my fear, and he gave me an amazing dream that I believe may have been a glimpse of my own death. It wasn't too long after that, though, when my newfound peace was severely tested.

In April of 2008, I was sick with a stomach bug and fever that left me so weak that my lips were blue. The fatigue lingered for nearly a week, and I started to worry a little. I suddenly realized that the shortness of breath that had plagued me during my last pregnancy had never completely resolved. I hadn't noticed it because it was subtle: I'd get out of breath from climbing the stairs or running for the phone--this despite the fact that I was in good shape and very active. Now, though, I was getting breathless from carrying Allyson, from bending over, and even from singing.

I called my ex-husband to ask him about his asthma symptoms; while I was pregnant, my doctor had suggested the possibility of exercise-induced asthma. But my symptoms were completely different than Byron's. He reminded me about my mitral valve prolapse, a typically harmless condition where the mitral valve billows and causes a heart murmur. He urged me to see my doctor.

I was reluctant to tell the doctor about my fears since I was only 38 and was obviously in good health. I figured it would be a battle to get any testing done. But then I did some research on the Internet and scared the crap out of myself. Everywhere I looked, I read that you should call your doctor right away if you developed shortness of breath with your MVP. Based on all my symptoms, I was convinced that the condition had progressed to mitral regurgitation, where the mitral valve allows blood to flow backward from the left ventricle into the atrium.

I saw the doctor on a Tuesday morning. I had been so anxious that I hadn't been able to sleep well for several nights in a row despite being utterly exhausted. On Monday night, I'd taken a Benadryl in the middle of the night, so I could barely get out of bed for my 8:00 appointment, and I was nervous and shaky.

At first, the doctor seemed nonchalant about my concerns, but the moment he put his stethoscope on my chest, he said, "Oh yes. I hear a murmur." This was alarming, because in the past my doctors could either hear nothing at all, or just a very subtle click. And usually they had to listen very carefully to hear anything. He also remarked that my pulse was very rapid, but I knew that was just the anxiety.

He ordered an echocardiogram, which he scheduled for the next day.

His Works Are Wonderful
(Excerpts From My Journal -Wednesday 4/23/08
The echo was actually really interesting. I could clearly see my mitral valve, my ventricle, and my atrium. I also got to hear my heartbeat, and it sounded like Allyson's had during prenatal visits, only much slower. I could hear the telltale third heart sound that indicates a murmur.

I felt awed to see and hear the very essence of my life. I thought of my beloved Psalm 139: "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful; I know that full well."

Tears of wonder trickled from the corner of my eye and ran down into my hair. How amazing that this intricately made pump had been beating continuously, faithfully, for all of my life--indeed, even before I was born! I felt a surge of love for God....

I didn't feel anxious. Overall, I just felt reassured to see and hear the steady beat of my heart.... I'm trying not to be anxious because I can feel how the anxiety worsens my symptoms. I'm trying to let God teach me patience and trust yet again. I just wonder what my future holds?

-Thursday 4/24/08
Today has been extremely emotional. The problem is that I don't know whether I am battling anxiety, or whether my symptoms are just part of my heart problem. What I mean is that my thoughts don't feel anxious; only my body feels it. I've been meditating on all my memory passages and praying, and my mind feels at peace. Yet my heart continues to race intermittently.

Today I emailed out a prayer request to all my friends, asking them to pray for God to guard my mind and heart with his peace, and also that he would teach me the lesson he has for me--and of course that he would heal my heart.

I didn't know Mom's new email address, so I called her. She was amazing. I'd caught her dozing, so she had no time to think up a flowery prayer. She proceeded to pray for me using the words from the memory passages I'd been studying. She prayed for peace that transcends understanding (Philippians 4). She said that God has me in his hand, that he knows me inside and out, knows all about me. She asked him to help me trust his plan, to know that he planned all my days before I was even born (Psalm 139).

With tears rolling down my cheeks, I told her that her words were the same ones that God had been using to comfort me. She said it had to be God speaking through her because she hadn't known these were my memory passages.

She prayed for my physical symptoms to line up with what I'm believing in my mind. That's exactly what I need. I've been having such peaceful, contented thoughts--in total contrast with the anxious feelings. My body needs to come in line. And I believe it is doing that. I can feel the prayers of the people who love me....

My overwhelming emotion is thankfulness. I told Bill last night in bed that I could die right now and still say I've had a very fulfilling and meaningful life. I have a loving husband and two precious children. I have the love of friends and family. I have learned to experience God's love in a new way, and to share it with others. I have been so richly blessed, and at this moment I have no regrets. I never expected to feel this content at age 38. God has done so much in my heart these last few months. The things I had so much insecurity about--financial security, physical beauty, Bill's attention--seem so insignificant now.

I realize that--whatever the outcome (and I know I'm being overly dramatic)--this is a battle I need to fight. I thought insecurity/jealousy was the biggest battle, but I realize now it's anxiety and worry. I know God is going to work all of this for my good (Romans 8:28).

After I'd poured out all this emotion to Bill, I asked him to pray for me, and he said, "I've been praying for you." It still surprises me to know that Bill prays. It's just that he's so private about his faith. It seems his faith has been quietly growing.

I asked what he'd prayed for me, and he said that I'd feel contented. I found that an odd choice of words at the time. I'd expected him to pray for healing or peace. But now, as I write this all out, I realize that God has been answering his prayer. Contentment is the best way to describe the way I'm feeling about my life, and it's just what I need to combat my fears.

Thank you, Father, for the love and support of my husband, friends, and family. Thank you for allowing my faith to grow through this struggle. Thank you for the perfect love that casts out fear.

I never did find out what was causing the shortness of breath. The mitral valve prolapse was evident on the echocardiogram, but there was no significant regurgitation. I had a full workup with a cardiologist, had my thyroid medication adjusted, and even saw a hematologist (because I have a condition called hemochromatosis, which can cause heart trouble), but no one could say definitively what was causing my symptoms. I think they suspect anxiety, but I disagree. The symptoms are definitely worse with anxiety, but I often experience shortness of breath at odd times when I am not at all stressed. Maybe I'm just a hypochondriac.

In any case, I've learned to ignore it. I'm glad to have gone through this experience because I can honestly say now that I feel comfortable with the idea of death, and--even more importantly--I appreciate my life more. I'm learning not to stress over the little things, and to literally stop and smell the flowers. God works in mysterious ways!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You Can Take the Girl Out of the City...

...but you can't take the city out of the girl. Here is the story of my brief time as a country girl, as promised in a previous post. Back in 1998, my ex-husband and I moved out to the country so that we could be close to our Chevron convenience store.

We lived in a single-wide, 30-year-old trailer on about five acres of land that we shared with our landlady. For the most part, I enjoyed living there because it felt like camping--except with real beds. To reach this rural hideaway, you followed a winding two-lane road about 25 miles off the interstate, and then you bumped along a pothole-ridden, one-lane dirt road for another mile. At that point, you opened a wide metal gate, crossed a cattle guard, and drove down a long, unpaved drive.

The trailer was situated next to a small stock tank in a large clearing filled with long, green grass that swayed like ocean waves. What I loved most about this place was the utter silence. We were so far out that there was no traffic noise, not even airplanes flying overhead; the only sound was the wind in the trees and the whisper of the undulating grass. The silence permeated my being and quieted my anxious mind.

We shared these cramped quarters with my mom and dad, who worked with us in the store all week and then went home to LaGrange on the weekends. The master bedroom and bath were spacious, if dilapidated, but Ethan's bedroom was the size of a large closet. Weeknights, Byron and I slept on a futon crammed in that tiny room. When the futon was unfolded, it was impossible to walk in there.

At night, the only light came from the brilliant stars and the moon. I don't think I've ever slept so soundly as I did there, lumpy futon notwithstanding. Of course, this might also have been due to sheer exhaustion.

The small kitchen had an eat-in dining area and no dishwasher. Surprisingly, this was one of my favorite things about living there. At times, our landlady allowed a neighbor's cows to graze on her property, and I loved watching them drink from the pond while I washed the dishes. Somehow, watching cows while my hands splashed in warm, soapy water made me feel connected with generations of women.

I have to admit, though, that my love for cows was more in the abstract. The reality of cows was not so pleasant. When I loaded Ethan into the car at 5:30 in the morning for the daily trek to my job in the city, the cows occasionally blocked the drive. Placidly grazing, they were oblivious to the car horn, and there was nothing else to do but to get out of the car and holler at them.

One morning, I stepped out onto the gravelly drive in my high heels and shouted, "Hey! Move, cows!" The two cows standing in the drive didn't even deign to look in my direction. I gingerly took a few steps toward them, ever watchful for cow patties in the early morning darkness. I found a stick and waved it halfheartedly at them.

"Go on! Get out of the way!" I ordered. They cast a disinterested glance my way before they returned to their grazing. I figured if I could just muster up enough authority, they'd move out of the way; I'd heard that cows were timid creatures. Maybe I needed to whack them on the rump with my stick.

I crept a bit closer and held my stick in front of me, my arm trembling violently. "I mean it!" I squeaked. "You've gotta move. I can't be late for work."

We all knew I wasn't going to use that stick. They'd already dismissed me as a potential threat, and they were completely ignoring me.

I was seriously starting to worry about being late, and it finally occurred to me to pray for a little help here. After a moment, I knew what to do. I climbed back into the car and drove straight at the cows, inching forward slowly but steadily. When I was within a foot of the closest cow, they both lumbered off the drive, and I gratefully drove past.

Like me, 18-month-old Ethan thought he loved cows...

Cows and Chickens - Excerpt From Ethan's Journal
Behind the trailer, just over the property line, there were usually cows grazing. You weren't so sure about the cows. You knew the word "cow," and you got excited when you first realized that those big creatures on the other side of the fence were COWS! You bounced up and down on my hip and pointed, and you said "Cow!" plain as day.

So I walked over to the fence, with you laughing and pointing all the way. When we got right up to the fence, you reached out, trying to touch the cow. Suddenly, she said, "MOOO-OO-OO!" I jumped, and you screamed in terror. You screamed all the way back to the house. Your dad and I laughed and laughed when I told him the story.

We also had chickens. Your dad and grandpa bought a dozen baby chicks from the school fair. They were such cute little things!

Your father and I were so busy with the store that Grandpa mainly took care of the chickens. He fed and watered them twice a day. They got so excited when he came out. They would line up behind him and follow him around the coop. I think they thought he was their mother.

One weekend your father went on a hunting trip, and Grandpa was home in LaGrange. So I had to find the feed and fill the water dispenser myself. It was a hot, sunny day, and you followed along behind me and played. You laughed and pointed at the chickens.

It took me forever to figure out how to fill the water dispenser. I had to fill up a tin reservoir and somehow flip it over so it would empty slowly into the pan. A couple of times, I managed to spill the water all over myself. At last it was full, and I began to carry it to the coop, very carefully so as not to get my socks any wetter. Halfway there, I was attacked by bumblebees--well, not really attacked, but definitely terrorized. I dropped the water can and spilled most of the water, so I had to fill it again!

Finally, I opened the coop and stooped as I went through the door. The chickens didn't walk neatly in single file behind me. Instead, they all flew at me and flapped their wings excitedly. "Stupid chickens!" I grumbled nervously (as I was secretly afraid of chickens). You shrieked with laughter from outside the coop.

Next, I flung some feed on the ground. This got the chickens really riled up. I hurried to the door of the coop, relieved to be done with the ordeal--or so I thought!

For some reason, one of the chickens followed me out. She started to run in circles around the coop, which was quite large. Luckily, she stayed right up against the wire mesh wall of the coop. But it took me awhile to catch her. She would run, I'd run, and you'd run. I'd get close enough to grab her, but I'd hesitate too long. I'd never held a chicken before, and I was scared. Just as I'd reach for her, she'd take off and we would follow, as you roared with laughter.

At last I caught her. I held her wings tightly so she couldn't flap, and I extended my arms as far away from my body as I could. She struggled fiercely and kicked her legs, but I was stronger. I stuffed her unceremoniously through the small door and latched it triumphantly.

As you got older, you loved to gather the eggs. Often you would step on them, squeeze them, or drop them, but you loved this task so much that we didn't have the heart to take it away from you. You'd go into the coop with your dad or grandpa, and they'd let you find the eggs and pick them up. They were large, brown eggs with a delightful rich flavor. Grandpa was proud to give the extra eggs to family when they visited.

Unwelcome House Guests
True to the camping experience, we shared our space with a few critters. First, there was the army of ants that continually marched across our kitchen table. We tried various poisons, but they always returned immediately. Fortunately, they weren't the biting kind, and we learned to ignore them.

Even worse was the family of skunks who took up residence under the trailer. It took us awhile to realize they were living there because, unless they'd sprayed recently, the smell was not that strong. Still, we were determined to get rid of them because we lived in fear of startling them and getting sprayed.

The skunk predicament provided hours of entertainment at the store, where old men sat around drinking coffee and shooting the breeze every morning. Everyone had a suggestion, and we were willing to try anything.

The first thing we did was throw a bunch of mothballs under the crawl space. We'd been assured that skunks can't stand the smell of mothballs, but these skunks apparently had less discriminating noses. Now we had to smell a mixture of the skunks' musky scent blended with the smell of musty old closets. This was not an improvement.

After Ethan and I had a stand-off with the skunk mama at dusk one evening--we sloww-ly backed away, and no one got hurt--we got serious about evicting the skunk family. Dad and Byron obtained a cage-style trap from one of the men at the store. Before bed that night, they put a tasty treat inside the cage (peanut butter, maybe?) and propped the door loosely.

In the morning, they rushed out to see if they'd had any luck. Sure enough, they had caught... the landlady's cat! They baited the trap again the next night, and caught the same (stupid) cat. Since then, I've wondered what they would have done had they actually caught the skunk. They certainly couldn't have carried it away in the cage. I guess they would have shot it from a safe distance.

In any case, we never did get rid of the skunks. We cohabited peacefully with them until we moved back to the city.

Though we only lived there about nine months, occasionally I still pine for that home in the sticks. Maybe someday I'll get to live out in the country again. Maybe I'll make friends with the cows and the chickens. (But not the skunks!)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Eeny, Meeny, Lil' Moe

A couple of months ago, I was in a hurry to get somewhere--probably the Wednesday library story hour--and I could not get Allyson to pick a pair of panties for the day. She rejected all of my suggestions. I finally used the Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe method, and she was fascinated. She still didn't accept the verdict, but it did spur her to make a choice of her own.

Since that morning, we have had to say the rhyme almost every single day. It doesn't matter how big a hurry we're in, or how many choices there are. If I try to just hand her a pair of panties, she says, "Mommy, we have to do Eeny, Meeny, Lil' Moe."

All available panties must be arranged in a circle with the picture face up. If an errant pair of socks sneaks into the lineup, Allyson indignantly removes them. "We only need panties," she reminds me.

I point randomly to each pair as we say the rhyme together, and when I holler, "Moe!", she invariably grabs a different pair. There have been a couple occasions when she tipped me off in advance as to which pair was her favorite, and then I rigged the selection so that I ended up on the favored panties. Each time, she exulted, "You moe'ed my favorite!"

Once Allyson is satisfied with the day's panties, they become the first item in the stack of clothes. The panties, jeans, and shirt must be piled on the floor before I can begin the actual dressing process.

Some days, I find this whole ritual a little frustrating, but I've found that it's better not to fight the system. Most days, it makes me smile.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Crossing the Veil

Last night, according to our usual routine, Ethan and I checked the progress of Luke, a ten-year-old boy who has a brain tumor. We were delighted to learn that the surgery on his "inoperable brain tumor" was a success.

I stood on a chair next to his bunk bed after that, and before we prayed for Luke, Ethan asked some tough questions. He wanted to know why people get sick, especially children. I could sense his unspoken question: why do people have to die?

As I scratched his back, I told him about Adam and Eve in the garden, and how sin and death entered the world. Then I told him that God has ordained all of our days, and he has chosen the day of our death. No matter when it happens, it's going to be the right time. I told him we don't have to fear death because we know what's waiting for us in heaven, but that it's still very hard for us to lose a loved one.

I was thankful that these were not just platitudes. Had he asked the same questions a year ago, I could not have answered with the same peaceful assurance. Last year, I asked God to set me free from my fear of death, and the way he answered was marvelous.

I'd always been a little ashamed about my fear because of course I knew that to be absent from this world is to be present with Jesus in heaven. Still, I couldn't shake the fear of the unknown: When would I die? How would I die? Would it be a violent or painful death? What would happen after I was gone? I couldn't bear the thought of not being here. I wanted to go to heaven, but not YET!

The Dream - Excerpt From My Journal, 2/25/08
I had a dream this morning. The only part I remember is this....

I was hesitating at the threshold of a door. I wanted to go through, but I was afraid. I thought, "But I don't know what's on the other side."

I heard God answer, "Yes, you do."

I realized then, not in the dream, but as if a narrator had explained it, that this was the moment of my death. I was trembling with nervousness, but I opened the door and stepped in. What I saw was painted walls, like a bedroom, I think. It was a warm, yellow color. And I opened my arms wide and accepted God's love into my whole being. I was covered in peace.

"You have crossed the veil," God explained, a smile in his voice.

Then I woke up. "I want to cross the veil now," I answered, vaguely remembering the way I had explained to a friend recently that I felt so close to God, yet perceived a veil between us. [I wrote about this in a recent blog entry.]

This dream comforted me on two levels. For one thing, I'm tired of fearing death. I suppose I will always fear the physical pain that might accompany death, but God has assured me--especially through my latest memory passage--that he will be with me through every trial: passing through water or walking through fire. I think of how he comforted me through my labor and delivery when I had Allyson, and how it made the pain more bearable. The pain didn't go away, but God gave me the strength to endure it.

The second way the dream comforted me was the foretaste of surrendering completely to God's love. It gave me hope that I can step through that veil before I die....

Lord, my heart longs to cross the veil that hinders me from experiencing the fullness of your love. I don't know how to cross it. Please show me. Please change my heart and cast out my fear with your perfect love.

After I wrote this, I felt led to kneel on the living room floor. I knelt on a throw pillow and rested my forehead on my crossed arms. I prayed for several minutes, asking God to help me cross the veil. I poured out my longing to him and asked him to let me experience his love so I could share it with others.

I immediately thought of [several friends] and began to pray for them and their families. I cried so much that my nose was dripping....

I wanted so much to to have some definitive experience that would let me know I had "prayed through," but I felt an assurance that God would keep working on me, that it didn't have to happen all at once.

So I got up and walked to the kitchen to blow my nose. I glanced in front of me and saw yellow walls. Could it have been our kitchen that I saw in the dream?

I stood in front of the window seat and closed my eyes as the sun shone down on my face. Through my eyelids, I could see a yellow glow. As in my dream, I opened my arms and accepted God's love.

I don't know that I experienced anything new, but I know I can't base my faith on my emotions. So I'm believing that this intensified desire is God calling me, and that my obedience to his call is going to change me in his time. I choose to be obedient to whatever work God calls me to.

Preparing For Battle
On April 9, 2008, we met for our last Bible study of the semester. We did an in-depth study of heaven. It was amazing. I guess I'd never really thought about how wonderful it would be because I was too busy worrying about dying. But it really is something to look forward to, to long for.

The most important thing is to be with God and see his face clearly. I will be worshiping him face to face among other believers from every nation. God himself will wipe away every tear from my eye.

Here are just a few of the verses we studied:

The Trial
God's timing was perfect. Just a couple of weeks later, I went through a big scare with my heart. I was having unexplained shortness of breath that I thought was related to my mitral valve prolapse. I went through some severe anxiety and had to confront my fear of death head on--and God was with me every step of the way. In the end, I felt truly at peace with the idea of dying. But that's another story....


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