Saturday, November 28, 2015

Allyson's Blessed Year

I have a few moments tonight, so I thought I'd share some long overdue Allyson stories. Here we are starting the Christmas season, and I realize I never even posted her first-day-of-school pictures.

This year we tried something new for school clothes shopping: we visited a couple of resale shops. Allyson was a little reluctant at first, but I told her our budget was a little limited this year due to all my medical bills over the spring and summer. This way we could get a lot more for our money. When we got to the first one, she was like a kid in a candy shop. She couldn't stop exclaiming over all the bargains. We each walked out with a giant armload of clothes--all the brands she loves--for under a hundred dollars. Ka-ching! During our bedtime prayers that night, Allyson sweetly thanked God for blessing us with all these clothes.

For the first day of school, she put together several of her "new" pieces, including some super cute boots that we got from the teen resale shop. (Like me, Allyson has been blessed with giant clodhoppers and has already grown into women's shoe sizes.)

I was a little nervous about the long sequined tank with the short jean vest, but Allyson was perfectly confident in her ability to accessorize. Good thing, because she's not going to get much help from me in that department. Same with hair styling, I'm afraid. Not to worry, Allyson finds all the help she needs on YouTube.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Desires of My Heart

The stack of untold stories in my brain is getting so tall it's about to topple, but as always, I only have time for one. So I'm going to share the story that is burning in my heart....

My pastor has a saying that kind of makes me shiver: "All of us are always in one of three phases. We're either in the middle of a trial, coming out of a trial, or about to go back into a trial."

When I was in the middle of my very painful divorce, that saying brought me comfort. I knew the trial had to come to an end eventually. And I knew that I was learning valuable lessons in trusting God that couldn't be learned any other way.

But now that life seems sweeter than ever before, I've started to wonder about the next trial. What will it be? How long can this calm last? What if my life is torn in two again?

At the same time, I've felt wistful about the amazing closeness I developed with God during the worst of my trials. When life is going smoothly, it's a sad fact that I get busy and distracted, and sometimes I forget to commune with my Beloved. Oh, He's always there, and I talk to Him, but somehow it's not quite as sweet as all those times when I cried my heart out with Him in my prayer closet.

That doesn't mean God isn't working on me. Oh no. Over the last few weeks, He's been doing something utterly miraculous in my heart. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Best start at the beginning.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

My Little Plumbing Buddy

Oh, I have so much to tell you. Deep, meaningful things. Shallow, silly things. Scary things. Little joys, small disappointments, major victories. If I had time, I would share them all. But I don't, and I've been missing you. So tonight I will share just one story. (Or maybe two.) 

One of my biggest joys of late has been working with Allyson in the kitchen. She's taken a few cooking lessons over the last couple of years and even attended a week-long cooking camp this past summer. At first, cooking with her was something I permitted for the greater good even though she slowed me down considerably. I'm not sure when the transition occurred, but in recent months I've realized that she is now a huge help to me. It actually goes beyond mere help. She can cook entire recipes on her own, with very little supervision.

Recently she made something I'd never dreamed of attempting: homemade sopapillas (from freshly ground sprouted wheat, of course). One weeknight evening she made up her mind she wanted them, and I didn't have the energy to talk her out of it. To her delight, we had all the ingredients. The dough was surprisingly easy for her to make, all on her own. Frying them in a skillet, however, took a bit of trial and error.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Chapter 3 - Finding Rachel

Here's the link to chapter three of my novel.

Chapter 3

If you'd like to keep reading, please visit the Finding Rachel blog and sign up for email notifications. I will post a chapter each Sunday.

I'm having fun! I hope you are too.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Chapter 2 - Finding Rachel

As promised, here is chapter 2 of my novel, Finding Rachel. Enjoy!

Chapter 2

Allyson had fun helping me act out this scene on our back porch, to figure out the logistics. She also enjoyed trying to help me with editing, but I finally threw her out because she was making me nervous.

I will post one more chapter notification next Sunday on this blog. After that point, if you'd like to receive notifications, you'll need to subscribe for email alerts on the Finding Rachel blog. Or you can just check back every Sunday.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Finding Rachel

Every now and then, somebody asks me about my novel. Did I ever finish it? Am I going to look for a publisher? That always gives me a sinking feeling.

I did finish the first draft about four years ago and started on the hard work of revision. Soon after, I went through a divorce, and publishing my novel wasn't even on my priority list.

It's been nearly three years since Bill and I separated, and I've started thinking about my neglected manuscript again. Thinking is all I have time to do about it; I never knew it was possible to be this busy.

During a recent Bible study on the life of King David (Chasing After the Heart of God), I was inspired to pray about how God wants me to be courageous, to step out of my comfort zone. My novel immediately came to my mind and heart, and I knew it was time to share this story that God gave me.

I still don't have time or energy to revise the manuscript for publication, but I believe I can manage publishing a chapter a week online.

This is an act of courage for me for two reasons:

  1. I'm afraid it's not good enough. That's why I'm going to publish it anyway and let you decide. This is a good step toward letting go of my perfectionism. 
  2. I'm afraid to commit to a chapter a week. I know I won't be able to resist the urge to do at least some minor editing, and that will take time. I fear publishing the first few chapters and then leaving you all hanging. 

I explained all this to God, but He told me not to let fear stop me from using the gifts he gave me. I can't argue with that!

I've set up a separate blog, Finding Rachel. I will post a chapter there each week, probably on Sundays. I plan to publish links to the first few chapters on this blog, but if you want to be notified each time I post another chapter, please visit the other site and enter your email address in the "Subscribe" section.

Also, if you enjoy the story, please share it with others via social media. My prayer is that someone will be touched by this story of redemption and healing.

So here's the first chapter:

Chapter 1

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Flip Or Flop

In my last entry, I shared my struggles with anxiety over recently diagnosed food allergies. I'm happy to report that I am in much better spirits. I haven't only let go of the worry and frustration, but I've actually even started to have fun trying new things. As always, the stories have been stacking up in my head, so I thought I'd take the time to share a few of them.

One of my favorite things to cook is pancakes. I have nearly a dozen favorite recipes, most including yummy fruits and even vegetables. I love apple pancakes, strawberry pancakes, peach pancakes, banana pancakes, pumpkin pancakes, and especially blueberry chocolate chip pancakes

When I started my rotation diet several weeks ago, pancakes were one of the foods I grieved for the most. I'd gone off gluten grains (wheat, barley, etc.) and other similar grains (spelt, Kamut, etc). I was able to eat buckwheat and rice, but on their respective days, there weren't enough other ingredients to make pancakes -- or so I thought, until I found The Ultimate Food Allergy Cookbook and Survival Guide. From this book, I learned that you can make quick breads even without baking powder and eggs! All you need is baking soda and some form of acid for leavening, such as vinegar, lemon, or rhubarb concentrate. (Baking soda, like salt, is non-reactive.)

Since I could only have vinegar every four days and I wasn't allowed to have lemon, I ran to the store for some rhubarb, which happened to be in season. I boiled the heck out of it and then strained the liquid, which I froze by the tablespoonful in an ice cube tray. Lo and behold, the results were glorious! Or maybe just edible.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Hang Onto the Raft!

In my last entry, I told you that I've been longing to be free of my need to control everything. If only I could just make a list of necessary actions and check off each step! But the list is the problem. I keep trying harder and harder to let go, but of course it doesn't work that way. All attempts at perfecting myself only leave me hopelessly frustrated, utterly worn out.

I've been praying about this for months, and God has given me an assurance that He is working on me. In the good moments, I've felt not only peace, but exhilaration at the idea of being free. First, I pictured myself clinging to the edge of a cliff, knuckles white, clawing in desperation as I lost my grip. Deliberately, I imagined peeling my fingers loose and letting myself fall, fall... only to be borne up by a gentle wind current. I imagined myself floating peacefully on the breeze like a flying squirrel, or even soaring like an eagle.

Well, that's not exactly what God had in mind. On a walk in the park a few weeks back, He gave me a different analogy. In my favorite part of the park, I recalled something I'd read in a devotional about being caught in the current of God's Spirit. At the time, I'd found great comfort in the idea of leaving my plans behind and floating down God's river to some beautiful destination.

I paused next to the dry stream bed which only a few weeks earlier had been swollen with rain. "God, I trust you," I prayed. "I want to relax and let your current take me wherever you want me to go." I thought about the agonizing anxiety that I'd been battling for weeks. A couple of tears trickled down my cheeks. "Even here, God. Even here."

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Best Days of My Life

This past Friday evening, aboard a sunset dolphin cruise in Destin, Florida, I was feeling pretty melancholy because it was already the last night of our much-awaited beach vacation, a graduation celebration for Ethan and my niece Hillary. I'd been longing for a quiet week to rest, lie on the sugar sand, and maybe walk along the beach with my Beloved. But somehow, all six days had slipped through my fingers, and I was still waiting for that relaxation I needed so much.

My sister Amy, me, Allyson

Amy, our sister Emily, nephews Charlie and Sam

Charlie, nephew Jacob, brother-in-law Paul, Sam

Nieces Hillary and Savannah, friend Sarah
Charlie and our crazy captain

Just as I was trying to shrug off my dark mood so that I could enjoy the sunset and the sea spray, Summer of 69 started blaring from the very loud, crackly radio. For a moment, I enjoyed the nostalgia as I always do, but then I started thinking about the words: "Those were the best days of my life." And I thought, "What were the best days of my life?"

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

We'll Figure It Out

Tonight I was missing you all and wanting to write, but I thought, "I just don't have anything to say." It's not that there were no stories, just that I have no energy to tell them. But then I realized I just have to share at least one story....

Just yesterday--or maybe it was 13 years ago--I was lamenting the fact that my baby was now a little man. Here he was on his very first day of school.

In front of the school, he looked ready to tackle any challenge that came his way, with the help of that backpack that was almost as big as he was.

And then, at the Kindergarten breakfast with Mommy and Daddy, he could hardly contain his excitement even as I batted away tears. 

But when he was finally on his own, he wasn't at all sure he wanted to do this.

I can relate to that feeling. I get it a lot, mainly when it comes to parenting. I always think, "Wait, I'm not prepared for this at all!" But of course, I don't get a choice. I have to learn on the job, often through painful mistakes that bring the most valuable lessons.

Friday, May 22, 2015

First Harvest!

In my last entry (over a month ago!) I showed you my tiny Earthbox garden and confessed that I had apparently botched a foolproof system when I planted my summer squash right in the middle of some fertilizer powder. Well, maybe the Earthbox system really is foolproof. I sure am glad I refused to uproot the squash. Just look at it now!

Are Those... Squashes? Why Yes, They Are!

And here is a beautiful, shiny zucchini:

And some teeny, tiny strawberries:

There's also a four-inch cabbage growing right in the middle of some very bug-eaten leaves, but I don't have a picture of it yet.

Speaking of bugs, I had my second run-in with chiggers last week. My first encounter was on our camping trip last spring. Oh, boy. do those itch. I had about ten giant welts right along my pantie line. Apparently those tiny invisible bugs spend the whole day crawling up your body and stop when they hit resistance (like an elastic band). Then they burrow in and secrete this poison that melts your tissue and causes insane itches. The welts lasted for weeks and weeks. In fact, I feared I'd be permanently scarred.

So you can imagine how careful I was a couple weeks back on our annual camping trip. I needn't have worried. This time we went to a city park. It was all manicured grass. Our site backed up to a giant parking lot! A whole different kind of camping.

Little did I dream that I would get bit by a chigger in my own backyard a week later. The grass (weeds, mainly) had grown way too tall with all the rain. Now, every time I go out to fill the Earthbox reservoirs, I have to wear my old runners, saturated with concentrated Deet spray, and then I have to shower as soon as I come inside.

But it's all worth it. Look at how the garden has grown over the last five weeks:

See the Bug Holes on the Cabbage (Far Right)?
All that lush foliage isn't just pretty to look at. It's actually fruitful. Tonight I picked my first harvest:

But I don't know what I was thinking. I picked it after dinner. I should've waited until I could cook it immediately. Or I should have picked it before I made tonight's pizza. I love grilled zucchini on my pizza. Oh well, I bet grilled zucchini will be great on leftover pizza tomorrow at lunch.

I'm so happy! I am Sarah, and I garden.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Let the Spring Come

If you've been reading long, you may remember my former passion for gardening and all the mishaps we encountered along the way with The Family Garden at our old house. For the last couple of years, I'd been wanting to start a new garden, but the very thought of it made me tired. Bill had done all the hard work the first time, plus all the watering, and I'd found it difficult to keep up with the weeding. Honestly, I've always had a black thumb. So gardening was one of the things I let slip when I started my life as a too-busy, always tired single mom.

One thing I picked back up this semester, with great joy, was ladies' Bible study at my church, We've been doing a very different sort of study called 7: Staging Your Own Mutiny Against Excess, by Jen Hatmaker. The study challenges us to examine seven areas of excess in this entitled, self-indulgent culture: food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress.

If we had more time, I'd tell you about all the changes that little book has inspired in me. For now, I'll just say that it's very convicting. Even the chapters that I thought surely didn't apply to me--such as Spending--really made me take a hard look at how I live and how I think about myself, my family, and others.

The chapter on waste was another that I didn't think I needed so much. After all, I already recycle, I don't buy bottled water, I do buy organic produce, and I shop in the bulk section at my beloved Sprout's Farmer's Market. But I found that I did have a lot to learn, and plenty of room for improvement. I particularly loved the way Jen separated ecology from politics and reminded us that God has commanded us all to be good stewards. She posed some tough questions, like "Why don't we care for the earth anywhere near to the degree we do our bodies?... Why don't we fuss and examine and steward creation with the same tenacity?... Do we think ourselves so superior to the rest of creation that we are willing to deplete the earth to supply our luxuries?"

I made one commitment that week: I've gone back to reusable grocery bags. I'd started using plastic again because those bags are very convenient for cleaning the cats' litter boxes. As I thought about what I could change, I realized that I could just use one trash bag per week, storing it in the old litter tub where I stash the full grocery bags. It's a little smellier that way, but really not a big sacrifice.

The video that week got me thinking about gardening again, not just because we could potentially eat vegetables straight from the ground, but also because there's just something about gardening that fosters a love for the earth. That's what I want to teach my kids.

Despite my willing spirit, my weak flesh was pretty stressed over all the work this would entail. How would I have time to plan it all, let alone carry it out?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

To a Whisper

I'm sorry for my silence lately. Mostly I've been very busy, but recently I've been struggling with insecurities, a bit of self pity, and some hurts, both old and new. I've wanted to share this story for ages, but I haven't been in the mood for writing. Today has been a particularly rough day, and I still don't feel like writing, but I want to give it a shot anyway. 

One of the first lessons we learn at Celebrate Recovery is that we are not God; we are powerless to change our hurts, habits, and hangups without God's help. When I first came to CR, I had no problem with this step. I was going through a painful divorce, and I knew there was nothing I could do to change my situation. It was my powerlessness that brought me to CR and made me so open to surrendering my will to God.

As I've progressed in my recovery, though, I've sometimes forgotten that I am still powerless. I've felt so happy for so many months that recently I'd been feeling like I'd graduated. Maybe I even thought I didn't need God so much.

I started to think that I could change myself by my own efforts. My motives were good. I wanted to be like Jesus, and I saw that I was not. I saw my pride, my insecurities, my selfishness, and all the other imperfections, and I was very, very frustrated with myself. So I tried even harder to transform myself into Jesus's likeness, to make the fruit of the Spirit blossom through the power of my will. But I couldn't change myself. I couldn't grow my own patience, kindness, gentleness, and self control.

Because of my perfectionism, I couldn't enjoy the real growth that God had worked in my life. I couldn't enjoy being the woman He made me to be. Instead I focused on my faults, and I berated myself for not doing more, being more.

Around the start of February, I shared my frustrations with my brother Rick, over a veggie burger. I told him that I want to do something big, like move to Uganda and teach English at the God Cares School that I've never even seen, yet feel so drawn to. Not now, I assured him. I know my place is with my kids. But someday, maybe when I retire....

Rick replied that there are plenty of people here at home who need my love, and ways that I can serve in my own neighborhood right now.

I said yes, but confessed that I felt so self absorbed, so... not like Jesus. I felt I needed to be doing more.

Rick listened thoughtfully and then told me I needed to learn to be still. He told me how meditation has helped him to relax and let go of his troubles. He said that he quiets himself and doesn't actively try to not think. Instead, he starts with just an intention to connect with God. He couldn't explain exactly how, but he said that he often does feel a closeness with God. He feels love and peace in those times.

I thought a lot about his words on the way home. Yes, I did want to be still. But how? Immediately I started thinking about how I could still myself. And I was not still.

I believe it was the next day, or perhaps the day after that, when I found a sacred echo in this devotional from Streams in the Desert:
I do not believe we have even begun to understand the wonderful power there is in being still.... This is our problem regarding the Christian life: we want to do something to be Christians, instead of allowing Him to work in us....
Sit still, my daughter! Just sit calmly still!
What higher service could you for Him fill? 

Ah, yes! How had I forgotten this? I know very well that I can't bear fruit on my own: "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." (John 15: 4)

Over the next few weeks, I heard the same message over and over. Be still. Remember that He is God. I prayed that He would teach me how to be still.

I'd like to say that this revelation transformed me and that I now knew the secret to being still. But I don't think this is a lesson you can learn overnight.

I do believe God is answering my prayer, but not in the way I had hoped. He gives me opportunities to be still by allowing me to experience my helplessness, in things that have happened to me and things that I've brought on myself. Always, I find that I have no control, but that I do have a choice. I can't change my situation, but I can choose how I will respond.

Often, I respond very poorly. I flunk the test. I feel sorry for myself, and I wonder why I just can't get it. At my worst, I wonder if my faith is even real. I wonder if I've fooled myself to think I've ever grown at all.

I had one of those times this past weekend. I'd been struggling with fatigue for several weeks, and I felt worn down both physically and emotionally. I'd been hearing very upsetting stories in world news, and I was overwhelmed with the blackness. In that moment, life felt meaningless. What was the point of trying? What difference could I possibly make?

I also felt very alone. "Where are you, God?" I prayed. "I know you're here, but why can't I feel you? I just want someone to hug."

For the record, I have lots of people I could hug, with just a little effort. God has blessed me with several dear friends right in my own neighborhood. But I was stuck in a trap, feeling sorry for myself.

Although I tried to pray, my mood continued to deteriorate as the day faded into evening. Trying to divert myself, I decided to tackle a task I'd been putting off: cleaning my closet. The floor was littered with bins that CiCi had overturned, their contents strewn across most of the floor space. In retrospect, I realize that when I dropped to my knees to pick up that mess, I should have spent some time talking to God, there in my prayer closet.

Instead, I started picking up the cards, letters, and journals, sorting them into their designated bins.

Can you guess what happened next?

Yes, I opened some journals and stepped back in time. I read happy stories I'd completely forgotten, sweet little stories about Allyson and Ethan and Bill. I relived very painful struggles and wounds. As I writhed at the insecurities I had chronicled so vividly, not so different from the ones I was battling now, I wondered who was the real me.

There I sat, with fifteen years in my lap. How could they have slipped through my fingers so quickly? And how had I ended up here? Through my own choices, of course--the ones I'd just read about.

Even though I'd been perfectly happy just the day before, and for months before that, the future seemed very bleak just then. There was a storm inside me, and I was as helpless as the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. Only I wasn't sure that Jesus was in the boat with me.

I woke up feeling not much better than when I'd gone to sleep, but at least it was a Sunday, and I had the prospect of church to look forward to. I didn't have to wait that long for comfort, though. I started my quiet time with a fervent prayer that God would help me feel His presence.

On my way to the book of Luke, which I've been reading lately, my eyes fell on Psalm 107. I read about people who suffered, some at the hands of others and some by their own doing. In each example, the constant refrain was that they cried out to God, and He saved them with His unfailing love. "He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom." (v. 14). "He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave." (v. 20)

The best part was the story of the ones who went out to sea on ships, and a tempest lifted the waves high. "They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunk men; they were at their wits' end. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed." (vv. 25-29)

I read the verse about God stilling the storm and hushing the waves three times, aloud. And it was so. Just like that, the storm in me was stilled. I was still.

I realized then that sometimes the storm is too great, and I can't be still. The harder I try, the more I try to reason it out, the worse it gets. The only way I can be still is to give myself something else to think about, something pure and lovely and admirable. Only then can I feel the God of peace with me. Over and over, God's Word has done that for me. There is nothing more excellent or praiseworthy, nothing more powerful.

Honestly, I'm still struggling. I'm still exhausted. I'm still hurting. But I have hope. God will keep giving me these opportunities to be still. Sometimes I'll fail. But His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). I'll get another chance.

One of these days, I'll learn the lesson, but it won't be by my efforts. In the meantime, my Beloved loves me just the way I am.

[I have made an appointment with a doctor to look into the cause of my fatigue. I would appreciate your prayers.]

Sunday, February 22, 2015

In Doggy Heaven

Some of you have been asking for an update on Zeus. I'm sorry I've been remiss....

Despite my mild aversion to dogs, I decided to foster Zeus when my friend Elizabeth moved just before Christmas. They are renting a house, and they couldn't take him along. Since I'd been pet-sitting for them for several years, I knew and loved Zeus. He was just too good of a dog to go to the shelter. 

Still, he is a dog, and he does things that dogs do, like shedding all over the floors despite my (almost) daily brushing, and like eating a box of chocolates and puking it up on Ethan's carpet

For a week or so, he stayed with my friend Nicole, whose kids loved him passionately and took him for walks and brushed him several times a day. Yay!!!

We took Zeus back for the second half of Christmas break, while Nicole took her kids to visit family. Ethan and Allyson were thrilled to have him back, but the cats weren't so happy about it. For one thing, he immediately took possession of Arwen's bed.

Isn't that ridiculous? We all got a good laugh out of it, but Arwen was not amused.

Zeus readily relinquished the cat bed after I bought a 7 foot by 10 foot, fluffy dog bed at Ikea (what an amazing store!!). Okay, it was actually a gray shag area rug, but to Zeus it looked like a nice, comfy place to nap.

I tried and tried to teach him to stay off of it, like he (mostly) stayed out of the kitchen. But he honestly couldn't understand. When I pointed at his own bed and said "Go!", he obediently trotted over. "Lay," I ordered, tapping the little brown bed with my index finger. He curled up and lay down.

But the minute I walked away, he returned to the rug. We repeated this over and over, at least 20 times a day. He was happy to follow my orders, but he always returned to the much bigger, much fluffier dog bed in the middle of the living room.

"Why can't he just lay on the rug?" Ethan asked.

"Because I can't sweep the hair up off of shag carpet like I can the hard floor."

"So? You can't see the hair on it anyway," Allyson said.

I shuddered. "Eww. I still know it's there."

The invisible dog hairs on my shag rug were a minor concern compared to Zeus's next habit.

When we'd first taken him in, Elizabeth had warned me to keep him away from the litter box because he had a fascination with cat poop.

"Why??" I asked in horror.

She laughed. "Because he's a dog."

Up until this point, the litter had not been an issue. Arwen's box was in the garage, and Zeus couldn't squeeze himself through the cat door even if he could squeeze into the cat bed. CiCi's box was in the tub in my master bathroom, mostly out of sight and out of mind. I'm sure Zeus could've climbed into the tub if he'd wanted to, but at his age (13) clambering over the high side of the garden tub was probably too much effort.

But then I got CiCi spayed. What does that have to do with Zeus? I'm getting there.

The post-operative instructions included keeping CiCi from jumping for the next ten days. Ha, ha. They obviously didn't know this feisty little kitten very well.

They also advised me to keep her in this Elizabethan collar for ten days to keep her from licking or biting her sutures:

See Her Glazed Eyes? Poor Baby.

Our poor little kitty was still pretty high on pain killers when I picked her up. She seemed skittish, yet too tired to do anything about it. She hissed at Zeus and even at Arwen, who's usually her best buddy. The oddest thing she did was walking backward and bumping into things. Probably she was trying to walk out of her collar, but of course it went with her.

To protect her from harm, I locked her in her carrier, but within three minutes in that confined space, she had found the leverage to slip out of her collar.

I gently restrained her and tied it back on, but when I set her down, it made a scary crackling sound and she shot across the room, running and leaping--straight out of her e-collar. Allyson and I tried one more time, this time tying the collar tighter, but then the cheaply made thing ripped. Since the collar was obviously no match for our determined kitty, Allyson and I simply prayed that God would tell her not to bother her sutures. That was a much more effective strategy, apparently. And cheaper, too. Over the next week or so, the scar healed beautifully.

But I also had to keep CiCi from jumping, so I moved her litter box out of the tub and onto the bathroom floor. I had to keep the door open so that she could have access to the box, which of course also gave Zeus access.

It started with little piles of kitty litter on my bedroom carpet. That was pretty odd because there was no trail leading from the box, just the litter on my floor, 20 feet away. I growled as I vacuumed it up once, twice, three times. I couldn't prove that Zeus was the culprit, but this had never happened when just the cats lived here, so I was pretty suspicious.

I finally caught Zeus red-handed (or nosed, ugh). "Go!" I shouted, pointing at the door. "Get out of here."

From that point, I tried to keep a watch on the bathroom door, but of course I had to leave my bedroom sometimes, and Zeus took advantage of every opportunity.

Vacuuming up kitty litter was one thing, but the day I had to clean puked-up kitty litter off my living room floor was just about the last straw.

"God," I growled, "I don't know if I can do this any longer. You've got to help me out, here. I just can't handle puke."

I called my friend Nicole, but her son was still recovering from an injury he'd sustained over Christmas break, and she couldn't manage a dog just then.

Clippers and a Cat Swatter
Meanwhile, CiCi, too, was wearing on my nerves. She'd recently gotten big enough to jump onto the kitchen table and the counters, and spraying her with vinegar water hardly fazed her even though that punishment had been fairly effective with her big sister.

If CiCi saw a tasty morsel on the table, such as Allyson's rejected bread crust, nothing would induce her to leave it. When she saw me coming with the spray bottle, she hunkered down and flinched against the smelly spray that she knew was coming, yet she held onto her treat doggedly, growling deep in her throat.

On the same Sunday when Zeus puked up kitty litter, CiCi scratched Allyson's friend Ellie and drew blood. It was an accident, a natural consequence of her wild nature, but it was too much. I couldn't keep a cat who would injure the neighborhood kids.

I actually cried over my pet woes. Getting rid of CiCi was not an option, nor was taking Zeus to a shelter. "Please, God," I prayed. I wasn't sure what to ask for, so I just kept saying, "Please. Please."

The next day, January 5th, two things happened. One was that my very new friend Pam, whom I'd shared cat stories with at a New Year's Eve party across the street, sent me a text.

"Hi Sarah! I am reading your blog about CiCi (every day is a kitten day). Have you trimmed her claws yet? :-) "

I admitted that I had been putting that task off because I was scared.

"I will be happy to come over and show you how to do it," she said.

"That would be awesome!" I replied. I told her as soon as I could get to Petsmart to buy clippers, I'd invite her over.

Pam said not to buy clippers; I could have the ones she'd used for her cat Oreo, who passed away two years ago.

Within just a few minutes, we sat side by side on my couch as I watched her in awe. At first, CiCi struggled mightily, but Pam was stronger. "You just have to show them who's boss," she said.

When CiCi got too wild, she set her down on the couch cushion and held her firmly by the scruff for a couple of minutes while we talked. Then she put her back on her lap and said, "We're going to do this, cat."

And they did. A couple of minutes later, all CiCi's claws had been blunted, even the ones on her forelegs.

After all that struggling, I figured CiCi would hate Pam; she'd probably run off and hide under my bed. But that's not what happened. Instead, CiCi curled up contentedly on Pam's lap for a catnap!

"They want you to be the master," Pam said. Before she left, she also told me how to stop CiCi from jumping on the table and the countertops. Water bottles might work for compliant cats, but a fly swatter is what you need for a willful kitty like CiCi, she explained.

"When you catch her on the counter, yell like a wild animal and slap her with the swatter," Pam advised. "Scare the crap out of her. Show her you mean business."

Over the next few days, I saw a major change in CiCi's attitude. First, she started keeping her claws in when we held her. I guess she realized that they were blunt, so there wasn't much point using them on us. Even as they began to grow back out, she stopped clawing us.

The fly swatter did the trick, mostly. CiCi does fear it. It doesn't keep her off the counters entirely, but at least she runs now when she sees me coming. I have to keep the swatter out, though; she seems to know when it's put away (or lost). It's rather embarrassing to explain to company that the unsightly orange fly swatter on the counter is actually a cat swatter. Oh well. That's not the weirdest thing about our house, by a long shot.

I've managed to trim CiCi's claws myself twice now, and it's surprisingly not that big of a deal. She does seem to respect me more now that I've made it clear who's boss, and she seems even more cuddly than before. It reminds me of how my kids often respond to discipline with extra affection.

The next amazing thing that happened after my fervent prayer for help was that God provided a home for Zeus. Ethan's best friend Bryce, who'd been wanting to take him home for weeks, told me his parents had said they could take the dog on a trial basis. No way!! Yes way!

A few days later, Bryce came to collect Zeus, his neglected dog bed, his giant bin of food, and the fancy de-shedding brush I'd bought at Wal-Mart. For a moment, Zeus looked uncertainly from me to Bryce, but then the lure of his red leash won out.

"Come on, boy!" Bryce called, and Zeus followed him out the front door, with one backward glance at me.

Despite my intense relief, my heart felt oddly pinched as I watched him go.

"Goodbye, Zeus," I said, swallowing hard.

Doggy Heaven
It's a good thing that Zeus is so winsome because the first few days at his new home were touch and go. Luckily, Bryce's parents had already fallen in love by the time he hiked his leg and peed on their couch! And then on their carpet.

I thought surely they must have been mistaken; on all two of our walks, I'd never seen Zeus so much as pee on a fire hydrant. And I'd noticed that in our backyard, he squatted to pee.

But no, they'd caught him red... whatevered. He was guilty. We theorized that he was reacting to having another dog in the house, which I think was a first for him.

In any case, they loved him so much that they decided to give him a few more days. Thankfully, there were no further incidents, and he is now well established as a member of Bryce's family.

At first, he slept with Bryce, but then he got promoted to the master bedroom.

"He thinks he owns my parents' bed," Bryce said in the text that he sent with this picture:

Looks like he does!

So that is how Zeus ended up in Doggy Heaven, right here on earth.

God is good to all of us, whether we have four legs or two. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let's Talk About Love

I'm not sure why, but I've been thinking a lot about love in the last few weeks. For much of the last two and half years, I've tried very hard not to think about love, but lately.... Maybe it started when I first heard the song "Broken Together" by Casting Crowns.

I was just minding my own business, cleaning the kitchen late one night, when the most beautiful song came on the radio. I laid down my dish scrubber and listened, hanging on every word. It seemed to be a song about marriage--real marriage--the tough, excruciating parts. It was also about love, the realest, toughest love. I sank into a chair and put my face in my hands when I heard these lines:
Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete. 
But could we just be broken together? 
In an instant, I was back in the unbearable pain of a dying marriage, powerless to save it. And now, after months of happiness, tears streamed down my cheeks.

When the song ended, I just had to hear it again because despite the pain it stirred in me, it was exquisitely beautiful, and these days I don't often take the time to appreciate beauty. So I googled the video, which paints a vivid story of lost dreams and bitter disappointment that end in healing and reconciliation.

Are you married, or do you hope to be married one day? Or do you know someone who's married? Then you need to watch this video. Go ahead, watch it. I'll wait for you.....

Anyway, after watching the video twice (or maybe three times), I went to my prayer closet for some much needed time with my Beloved. I told him all about my bitter disappointment and asked Him why it still hurts me so, after over two years. I asked Him to hold me, to quiet me with His love. And He did. After that, I slept like a baby even though the sink was still full of dirty dishes.

Since then, I've heard that song over and over on the radio. (Evidently I'm not the only one who loves it.) I've gotten to the point that I can listen and sing along without shedding a tear, but it still gets to me. I just can't stop thinking about the beauty of marriage, and how so many of us miss it because it isn't what we dreamed it would be. I keep thinking about how different real love is from the romantic crap they feed us in the movies, starting with Disney when we're little girls.

It's bitterly ironic because now I really get it. Marriage is incredibly tough, no way around that. No matter how amazing your Prince Charming seems when you're falling in love, he's going to hurt you because he can't be perfect. And you're going to hurt him too because you too are far from perfect. But if you can be real with each other, if you can accept each other for who you are, if you can love each other the way Jesus loves us--well, I don't know. I've never been there. But I believe it must be so beautiful on the other side of the struggles that lead too many of us to divorce.

Now I have all this untried wisdom and a different sort of idealism than before, but I don't see myself marrying again. See, I'm not just divorced, but twice divorced. I doubt that the third time's the charm, so you can understand that I'm in no hurry to get involved with anyone, let alone get married again.

Honestly, songs like "Broken Together" leave me a little confused. On the one hand, I can appreciate the beauty, and I can thank God for the way He designed marriage, and I can rejoice for the others who get to experience that. But on the other hand, I feel left out, as if this treasure is only for other people, not for me. Because I had my chance (two chances) and I blew it.

Last night, I heard the most amazing story of an every-day marriage with all the struggles and joys of 39 years of commitment--for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. The tenderness and toughness of this love story made me choke on a sob. Yes, this was exactly the kind of love I'd been thinking about.

For just a moment, I felt the usual stab of alone-ness as my own crushing loss took my breath away for the thousandth time. But then, I smiled for my friend, and I thanked God for giving us marriage.

Soon after, I had an epiphany. I don't have to be married to experience the kind of love in the Casting Crowns video. I am broken, and I am surrounded by broken people, and we can be broken together. I can love my friends and my neighbors and my sisters and my brother and my parents and my kids and the young girl at my favorite grocery store the way Jesus loves me. I can love them with all of my heart, soul, and strength. I can serve. I can give myself. I can be real with them so they can be real with me, and I can love them all exactly where they are despite all their imperfections. And many of them will love me back despite all my imperfections.

What a gift our Father has given us all, in this capacity to love! Life is way too short for me to waste time wishing I could go back, or wishing for a different future. God has put me right here for a very important purpose, and He has given me only one command: to love others as Jesus loves me.

I think I'll start with these two.

Ethan, age 17, and Allyson, age 8

And you, too. Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Yes, My God is Good

Have you ever had a day that was supposed to be no fun, but it ended up being the most amazing day? A day that was totally not what you planned for yourself, but it turned out all for your good? Today was one of those days for me.

I don't know what it is lately with my appliances, my house, my pets, etc., but it seems like one little trial after another. This time, it was my car. I'd been noticing some stains on my driveway the last few days, some sort of fluid but not oil. It seemed like it was coming from my car, but I couldn't be sure because a lot of Ethan's friends come and go, and most of them drive beaters--though my 2002 Nissan Sentra is probably older than any of theirs.

I kept moving my car to different quadrants of the driveway and watching for new stains, but I couldn't catch it leaking. I made a mental note to take the car in soon and then forgot about it.

When I dropped Ethan at school yesterday, I noticed that the car wasn't warming up. In fact, even after 15 minutes of driving, it still felt like the heater was blowing cold air. I switched it to the vents on the dash. Sure enough, cold air was coming out. No, wait. The passenger side was blowing warm air, but the driver side was cold. I jiggled the temperature knob back and forth several times, hoping it would fix itself, but no luck.

I found this highly ironic because my friend Lizzette had just commented on Saturday when we went to dinner that it was so nice having a car with heat. Her heater isn't working. And now mine wasn't. Had she jinxed me?

Last night after Celebrate Recovery, I notice that both vents were now blowing cold. Darn it! How much would this cost? Maybe I could just live with it. Ugh. Two more months of winter.

The next thing I noticed was more alarming. The temperature gauge on the instrument panel was pushing to the top of the normal range. In fact, I could see the needle slowly rising. Crap. It must be the radiator. How much would this cost?

My stomach tightened. I wasn't worried about paying for the repairs; thanks to Dave Ramsey, I have a fund for that. No, what concerned me was whether it might be time to sell my faithful old car. I've held onto it for 13 years now, and it has been so reliable. It looks pretty pathetic because the paint is wearing off in spots, but it runs beautifully and gets great gas mileage. My plan has been to keep it until Ethan finally gets his license--if he ever does--and then pass it on to him. I don't see any point in having two cars if I don't need them.

But I don't want to sink too much money into a car that probably is worth less than $2000. So I figure if I have a major breakdown, I'll have to part with it and buy Ethan something else. The tricky part is, where do I draw the line? A thousand dollars? Fifteen hundred? Given this car's amazing track record, doesn't it make sense to put a little money into it? It's had only two other breakdowns in 188,788 miles (the alternator, both times). What if I buy something else that is less reliable?

These were the thoughts tumbling around in my head as I pulled into my driveway, with the needle now pointing to the H.

I also wondered how I would get Ethan to school this morning, and how I would get the car to the mechanic. I figured I needed to put water in the radiator, but I'd never done that before. A glance out the window told me that Neil, my 30-second hero, was in town. I knew he'd be happy to help with the car and with transportation, but I didn't want to bother him. For one thing, I didn't want to take advantage, and for another thing, I remembered my friend Gentle's encouragement to take this single life as an opportunity to learn some new things.

I was very, very tempted to text Neil, but I didn't. Instead, I prayed. I asked God to work everything out, to guide me through this and to take care of me, just as he had done with the plumbing problem the week before last. (Remember? A $110 plumbing bill? Whoever heard of that?) I told God that even if the answer was getting a new car instead of fixing this one, I would trust His timing.

I decided that I would put water in the radiator myself, and I would ask my friend Kim to take me to the mechanic today. I also called my ex-husband Bill for advice--a total of three times. With his help, I figured out how to open the hood--I knew how to pop it from the inside, but not how to unlatch it--and also the timing of pouring in the water, turning on the engine, and pouring more water. I did all that this morning in time to get Ethan to school right on schedule. I was feeling almost as proud as I'd felt when I fixed the garbage disposal by myself, two days before the plumbing incident.

That lasted about four blocks, until I noticed that the needle was rising toward the H right before my eyes. "I don't know if we can make it to school, Ethan," I said, just as we pulled up to a four-way stop.

"Hey, look. It's Tin!" Ethan replied, pointing to the car on our right. Sure enough, it was his old middle school friend, whom I hadn't seen in years. If you've been reading a very, very long time and have a prodigious memory, you may remember Tin as the one who enjoyed (!) helping Ethan dispose of a dead cat we found in our yard. He's also the one who helped Bill and Ethan fell many of my beloved trees when we got the pool.


Ethan and Tin, 2009

"I bet he could take you to school," I said, pulling over to the curb.

"No, Mom. Don't-"

"I'll try to flag him down," I said, rolling down my agonizingly slow driver's window. (That window motor is on its last leg. I need to get that fixed.)

Whew! The window rolled open just as Tin drove by. I waved wildly, avoiding eye contact with Ethan, who had probably sunk down to the floorboard by that point.

Tin slowed his car to a crawl and rolled his passenger window down, "Good to see you," he called politely as he passed.

"CAN YOU TAKE ETHAN TO SCHOOL?" I screamed--because he was a few feet past us by now.

He stopped, and I pulled up alongside. "My car is overheating. Can you take Ethan to school?"

"Sure," he said with a smile.

"Oh, thank you so much."

As I turned back for home, I marveled at God's goodness. In all these years, even though Tin lives just around the corner, we've never run into him on the way to school. Well, not since the days when he walked to school. Surely God had sent a ride for Ethan, right to the very corner where my car was overheating, right at the very moment we arrived. What are the odds?

Kim graciously agreed to follow me to the mechanic, even though she is frantically studying for a physical therapy licensing exam that's coming up next week. We had the most lovely talk on the way back, which continued as we lingered at my driveway.

Now this next part is pretty ironic. Who do you think texted me about my car repair just a few minutes later? I'll tell you. It was Neil. He was helping his friend Wade at the shop, and when he saw my car of course he had to tease me. He told me it was a cracked head, and it would probably cost $2000 to rebuild the engine. I figured he was kidding, but I replied that it must be time to get a new car. He said yes he was kidding, and it should be less than $500. I said, "Good."

Several minutes later, he said, "You don't owe anything."

Again, I thought he might be kidding. But he wasn't.

On the way back to the shop, I told Kim the whole story. I told her I believe all of the things that happened to me today were evidence of God taking care of me, a direct result of my prayers last night, when I turned everything over to God.

"Whether it was God or it wasn't," I said, "I believe that the biggest blessing God has given me is my friends. You are such a blessing, Kim. Not for the things you do for me, but because you are such a good friend. I'm so thankful."

"Aww," she said. "I'm not such a good friend."

"Oh, but you are!" I said, my eyes a bit moist.

Back at the shop, Wade informed me that the problem had been a leaky hose. He had checked all the other hoses, and there were no other problems. He handed me the keys.

I cleared my throat. "Um, Neil said there's no charge. Is that true?"

"Yes. You don't owe anything."

I thanked him profusely, and Neil also. And then I drove my 13-year-old car home with joy.

I'm still pinching myself. Whoever heard of a free car repair? That's even crazier than a $110 plumbing bill! I realize it was a very minor repair, but surely his labor was worth $50. And I'm sure he must have added antifreeze as well.

I pray God blesses Wade richly for his kindness. And Neil. And Kim. And Tin.

To borrow a phrase from my friend Gentle, I have to say that God really knocked my socks off today. When I texted the whole story to my dear cousin Jenny this afternoon, she replied, "You are blessed, woman. Your God is good."

Yes, I am. And He is.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Why I Don't Want a Dog

A few have you have been asking me what happened next in the story with Zeus, and boy do I have a story for you--only I don't have time to tell it tonight.... But I'm going to tell you anyway. I'll try to be brief, but you know me, so no promises. 

On Tuesday 12/30, I swung by my friend Nicole's house after Celebrate Recovery to pick up Zeus; I'd agreed to pet-sit for a week while they visited her family. From her quick update, I learned that her kids absolutely adore Zeus, just like my kids. But the difference is that they brush him for hours and take him for walks every day, no matter how cold it is. I felt rather guilty to take him back to his sedentary life at our house, but he seemed happy to be here.

Zeus and Allyson, during his first stay

Ethan gladly welcomed Zeus back into his room that evening, and everyone was happy. Until the next afternoon.

At his original home, Zeus was used to being confined to the master bathroom when Elizabeth's family was gone. His bed and food were in there, and he never seemed to mind--even when he spent a whole week in there when they were on vacation. I'd put him outside twice a day, let him run around a bit, and give him a dutiful pat after I'd filled his bowl, and then he'd wag his tail and settle contentedly on his bed.

Remembering the horrible mess he'd made on Elizabeth's carpet the time I simultaneously poisoned him with cat food and also left the bathroom door slightly ajar, I figured it would be wise not to give Zeus the run of our house when we're gone. And since his bed and food are in Ethan's room, that seemed the logical place to lock him up, despite the carpet.

So before I went out clothes shopping on New Year's Eve, I told Ethan to pick up anything in his room that Zeus shouldn't get into and to confine him there if he went anywhere. "I will," he muttered, turning back to his video game. I glanced dubiously at the dirty dishes and fast food bags littering his floor and went on my way.

An hour or two later, my cell phone rang while I was agonizing between two cute shirts at Target.

"Mom? When are you coming home?" Ethan asked, his voice rather urgent.

"I'm at Target, so it might be a while. Why?"

"Zeus found my box of chocolates and ate a bunch of them and now-"

"He ate chocolates?! That could kill him! Why did you-"

"He's going to be fine. He puked it all up on my carpet. It's the biggest pile of puke I've ever seen from a human or an animal."

I pictured the giant Whitman's Sampler box that Ethan had brought home from his dad's house. It was literally over two feet wide, and had about 50 chocolates with a variety of fillings.

"How many did he eat? Were they milk chocolate or dark chocolate?"

"I don't know. I think it was still half full. He ate at least half of what was left. Some of them were dark chocolate, I guess."

"So ten? Twenty? We probably should take him to the vet."

"I don't know, Mom. But I'm telling you, he's fine. He got it all out and he's running around like nothing happened. But my room reeks. Please clean it up as soon as you can. I'm leaving to see The Hobbit with Bryce."

What's probably crossing your mind right now also crossed mine. Ethan was the one who left out a giant box of chocolates, so why should I be the one to clean up after Zeus while he went off to the movies? Well, you'd have to know Ethan. There was no way he was cleaning up that mess. To even suggest it would be laughable.

I sighed heavily. "I'll get checked out and come deal with it. I have no idea how to clean up a mess like that, but..."

"Great, Mom. See you later."

I phoned my own mom straightaway, but she didn't have any ideas for me. Tears gathered in my eyes as I pictured what waited for me, and imagined the smell. In the past, Bill had always dealt with stuff like this. Now, I was on my own.

On the way home, I prayed for God's mercy. "Please help me find a way to do this," I pleaded. "Please help me be strong." I thought back to the time God helped me down a whole gallon of Go-Lytely solution for my last colonoscopy prep. "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength," I said.

Back at home, I filled my diffuser with water and added ten drops of Purify essential oil blend, which is purported to be the best oil for neutralizing odor. I cracked Ethan's door and set the diffuser on his messy floor, plugging it into the socket next to the door. Whew!

While the diffuser did its work, I consulted Google. The second link down in the search results had the most sensible solution, way easier than I could have hoped for:

  1. Pour a ton of baking soda on the wet stain, covering it with at least an inch of powder. 
  2. Pour on a few drops of fragrant essential oils. 
  3. Cover with a towel and wait 24-48 hours. The baking soda will soak up the odor and absorb all the moisture. 
  4. Scoop  the hunks of baking soda into the trash and vacuum up the remaining clumps of dry, crackly baking soda vomit. 

Genius! Thank you, Jesus!

After a quick trip to Wal-Mart Market to buy a pet stain solution and two large boxes of baking soda--they were out of the giant bags they usually keep in the pool section--I opened Ethan's door and surveyed the mess. Hoo-boy. The spot was roughly the size of the chocolate box, about two feet across. Indeed, I'd never seen such a pile of puke.

But I have to say, as far as vomit goes, this wasn't that smelly. It was very chocolaty, which was somehow revolting, but I've smelled far worse.

Still, I wrinkled my nose and my forehead too. "This is why I didn't want a dog," I whined to God.

Holding my breath, I edged over to ground zero and quickly dumped nearly two pounds of baking soda over the goopy brown mess.

That's a rolling desk chair in the pile, and a practice drum pad on the edge.
Next, I poured about 15 drops of eucalyptus oil over the powder and then draped an old yellow bath towel over the mess. Done!

Over the course of the evening, Zeus made four smaller piles around the house, thankfully all on the hard flooring surfaces. They were mostly water, but still very disgusting. I remembered again why I am so not a dog person.

By the next day, Zeus was fully recovered, and Ethan's room smelled faintly of citronella and eucalyptus oil.

The following evening, I couldn't put off the worst part of the job any longer. While Ethan and his friend Bryce looked on, I pried up hunks of solidified, brownish powder with the edge of an old dust pan. It wasn't nearly so easy as it had sounded on the Internet, probably because a lot of those chocolates had caramel fillings. Ugh.

"How did Zeus get into the chocolates, anyway?" I asked. "I thought you said you were going to put away everything he shouldn't get into."

"I did. I hid them, but he found them."

"Where did you hide them?" I asked, as I pried up a stubborn hunk of caramel-y baking soda.

"I put the box way back under my bed."

"Under your bed?" I repeated. "You really thought he wouldn't find them there? He's a dog. They can sniff out anything"

He shrugged.

"Well, now you know," I said with a sigh.

I vacuumed up the last crackly bits, revealing a huge brown stain. "I think you're going to need new carpet," I said. "But I don't know how quickly that will happen."

"Maybe you can buy me a rug to put over it," Ethan suggested.

After searching Google again, I poured all of my rubbing alcohol on the stain and then blotted up lots and lots of chocolate using all my old towels. Ick.

The carpet was still brown, and so were my towels.

I spent the next hour scrubbing that stain with Bissel Pet Spot Lifter foam, blotting it up, and scrubbing it again. Guess what? In the end, there was only the faintest hint of a circle. If you didn't know it was there, you wouldn't even notice it. But we're still going to get new carpet as soon as I get around to it.

Another Calamity
Over the course of that next week, I had more reasons to miss having a helpful husband with an iron stomach.

On Sunday the 4th, around bedtime, my garbage disposal quit... right after I had thrown down some week-old veggie lasagna. I flipped the switch several times and also pushed the red reset button on the bottom of the motor, all to no avail. All it did was hum.

There was about an inch of water in the sink with bits of broccoli and corn floating around aimlessly, so I knew I couldn't leave it for the next day.

I called Bill for advice. "I'll handle it," I quickly assured him, so that he wouldn't think I was hinting for him to come over. "Could you just give me some pointers?"

He told me to push the reset button.

"Did that."

"You'll need to put your hand down there and try to spin the blades. Probably something is blocking it. If you can get the blades to turn, it will probably come back on."


I hung up the phone and pulled out several handfuls of soggy lasagna noodles,  broccoli florets, and squishy mashed sweet potato.

With the drain mostly empty, I gingerly touched each of six blades, trying to block out a horrible scene in one of the Final Destination movies. All the blades seemed to turn freely.

Crossing my fingers, I turned on the water and flipped the switch again. Hmmmmm.

Now the sink had two inches of water. I got the toilet plunger (ewww!) out of the garage and plunged the drain. The water went down. I rinsed out the sink and went to bed.

First thing next morning, I turned on the disposal, and it was working fine! I had fixed it all by myself!

A few days later, I found the source of the problem when I reached into the disposal to retrieve a measuring spoon I'd dropped. It was one of those two-inch plastic scrapers from Pampered Chef, now well chewed on all four sides. "So that's where that was," I thought. It had been missing for weeks. It must have been lying flat under the blades, and then somehow it got lodged between the blades. Mystery solved.

...And Another Calamity
My last yucky task was the worst by far.

On Tuesday the 6th, we woke up to a mysterious puddle of water in Ethan's bathroom. When he alerted me to the problem, he insisted that he had not made the toilet overflow.

I sopped up the mess with some beach towels and went back to making Allyson breakfast. A few minutes later, I saw that more water had gathered between the toilet and the sink cabinet. On my hands and knees, I examined the toilet thoroughly but could find no sign of a leak.

I soaked up the water again and finally realized that the water was seeping up through the grout that bordered the sink cabinet. What on earth?

Just then, an ugly realization dawned on me. We'd had a cold snap the last few days, and the temperature had dipped below freezing. Probably there was a broken pipe under the floor. My stomach tightened as I wondered how a plumber would fix that. Would he have to bust up the tile and cut into the floor? Surely that would cost me thousands!

I laid more towels down and dropped both kids at school. I then spent an hour or more calling plumbers. I think there must have been some broken pipes in our area because the soonest anyone could come out was Thursday--two days later!

I cried, prayed, and cried some more. And then I sent a text to my sister and my brother. Rick's wife Diane quickly replied with the contact information of a really awesome plumber. Yay!

But even after I gave him Rick and Diane's name, he said he couldn't possibly come out that day. He was booked solid.

Tears filled my eyes again.

"I can give you the name of a colleague closer out your way, though," he said. "Mike's a great guy and very reasonable."

Thankfully, I was able to schedule an appointment for noon. Disaster averted.

But then I did something stupid. I was totally out of towels, and water was still seeping. I really needed some dry towels, but I didn't want to put dirty towels in my dryer. So I decided to run them through a short wash. The moment the idea occurred to me, the voice of reason cautioned me against it. I had a plumbing problem. I probably shouldn't be running any water.

But the problem's in the bathroom, I argued. The laundry room's on the other end of the house. And I really, really need more towels. 

So I threw in that load of towels, ignoring the rock in the pit of my stomach.

At last, I sat down at my desk to work while I waited for the plumber. About 15 minutes later, I heard the familiar sound of the washer emptying. Right on the tail of that sound came an unfamiliar, peculiar sound, issuing from my bathroom, right next to me.

I cautiously stepped in to investigate. The bubbling was coming from my toilet, whose water looked like it was at a slow boil. What on earth?

All three drains in my bathroom were making bubbling sounds. I walked to the tub, afraid to look. Ugh, there was a small puddle of brown water around the drain.

But that was nothing next to what I found in my shower: about an inch of raw sewage! Yes, there was POOP in my shower. I covered my mouth and ran out of there, my blood running cold.

At that point, I hurried to Bill's house to borrow a shop vac, but I couldn't bring myself to use it. Sucking up that... crap... wouldn't be so bad, but then what would I do with it? I was pretty sure you're not supposed to pour sewage on the lawn.

For the second time in a week, I plugged in my diffuser with some Purify blend.

The good news of the day is that Mike was able to find the problem almost immediately, and he did not have to dig as he had initially feared. There's an outlet pipe right under my shower, and he was able to snake the pipes through there. Thirty minutes later, the clog was clear, and all the drains were emptying freely. And the bill? Only $110!! Who ever heard of a $110 plumbing bill?

Thank you, Jesus! And thank you, Mike. Those of you who are local, contact me if you want the name of an honest, reasonable plumber.

After Mike left, my joy and relief deflated. Now it was time to tackle something even worse that chocolate caramel dog puke. I headed to Wal-Mart Market for some Clorox bleach spray, some Comet scouring powder, and a really good pair of latex gloves.

And then I put on my big-girl panties, thanked God that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength, and cleaned up that mess. I cleaned the tub and the shower three times, mopped both bathroom floors twice, and called it a day. That evening, I had Ethan clean his own bathtub, which had been stopped up but did not have sewage in it.

I hope I never have another week like that one, but it's good to know I really can do all things through Christ.

About Zeus
Okay, so you're wondering whether we're keeping Zeus, aren't you? Short answer: I'm not sure. Nicole says she thinks she wants him, but her son was injured last week and now needs surgery. She said once he's recovered from his surgery, I can bring him over. [Pray for him, please. His name is Micah.]

Zeus has been with us for two weeks now. Aside from the chocolate incident, which wasn't his fault, he's been such a good boy. I have lots of stories about him and the cats, but I'll have to save them for another day. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Allyson's First Spelling Bee

Today was Allyson's first spelling bee. Shortly before Christmas break, she had qualified by taking a written test. Over the last few weeks, in the middle of Christmas celebrations and a trip to Canada with Daddy, she spent her spare moments studying a list of very challenging words.

Last night, while I quizzed her over dishes, she began to lose her nerve as she missed word after word: journey, university, apologize, vineyard. Each time, she was so close, but missed it by a letter or two.

"Would you pray for me before bed?" she asked.

Of course I would!

As we snuggled in her twin bed, I prayed that God would give her courage and confidence, and help her remember what she had studied. Most of all, I prayed that she would have fun.

This morning in the car, Allyson asked me about my own elementary spelling bee, back in fourth grade. "What word did you miss?"

I smiled ruefully. Funny how I can still remember that awful moment over 30 years later. "Kiwi."

"How did you spell it?"


She chuckled.

"I had never heard of a kiwi back then," I said.

As we pulled into the turn-around, Allyson admitted that she didn't expect to do very well. She'd be up against fourth graders, and she hadn't had enough time to study. Still, she was excited to have this experience and was determined to do her best.

Long before her big moment, she had already made her mama proud!

Waiting, Cool as a Cucumber (#19)
Twenty-six kids took their places on the stage. Allyson was number 19, and I wondered if that had been her rank on the written test. "Oh, Lord," I prayed. "Please don't let her get knocked out on her first word.... Even so, not my will, but yours. Please let her have fun, and let her get what you want her to learn from this experience."

They started with a practice round, in which no one missed a word. The word for contestant #1 was "gum." All the kids seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. This wasn't so hard!

Four kids were eliminated in the first round, including some in the front row, so I figured my hypothesis about ranking must have been wrong. My heart went out to them.

When Allyson stepped up to the mic, my heart was pounding and my palms were sweaty. I quietly removed my coat.

"This word has a close homophone," the moderator said. "The word is daze. Verb. To stun or or stupefy. Daze."

"Oh, Allyson," I telegraphed. "We practiced this one. Remember, it's not days."

"Daze," Allyson repeated in a strong voice. "D-A-Z-E, daze." She pivoted on her heel and returned to her seat on the back row. Yes!

By the end of round two, about half of the contestants had been eliminated. But not Allyson. "Coach," she said clearly. "C-O-A-C-H, coach." Whew!

Her word in round four gave me a shudder; she had missed "journey" just last night. "Don't forget the E!" I thought to her.

She caught my eye and smiled. "Journey. J-O-U-R-N-E-Y, journey." That's my girl!

Number 23 missed her word, so it was on to round five, with only six contestants left. Allyson was the only one left in the last two rows.

By the time Allyson's turn came around, it was down to her and numbers 1 and 3, both fourth graders. I was beginning to wonder. Could there be a chance? Might she go all the way?

"Ingot," the moderator said.

Uh oh. I didn't remember practicing that one. It must have been on the second page that I told Allyson they probably wouldn't get to in the first spelling bee. Tough word! I wasn't sure how to spell it myself. Did it start with an I? Or was it an E?

"Could I have a definition?" Allyson asked.

"Ingot. Noun. A mass of metal cast in a convenient form for shaping, remelting, or refining."

Well, that didn't help.

Allyson took a deep breath and pursed her lips. "Ingot. E-N-G... I-T. Ingot?"

Ding! went the bell.

"Thank you," the moderator said softly.

Allyson smiled politely and walked off stage.

The last two boys battled it out for six more rounds, spelling words like "abominably" and "devotee." Even though I was anxious to get to work, it was pretty riveting. In the end, number 1 won, just as I had predicted from the beginning. Turns out, all the kids in that family have won all the spelling bees they've entered, at all grade levels.

Allyson on Far Left, Wearing Her Participant Ribbon

After they posed for pictures, I gave Allyson a quick hug and told her how proud I was. She was pleased, having done far better than she expected, and she was happy for her friend Elijah, who will be advancing to the district final.

Tonight at bedtime, Allyson prayed, "God, thank you for helping me feel confident and do well today. I was so nervous last night, but I gave my whole day to you, and you helped me do my best and have fun."

That's my girl!

Maybe next year I'll get to tell you about Allyson winning her first spelling bee.


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