Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Find yourself. Love yourself. Be yourself. Express yourself.

I've heard the above mantra from so-called Christian counselors. I read it almost daily in "inspirational" Facebook status posts. Heard it preached from the pulpits of churches that encourage you to find your best self now. Read it in books passed to me by genuinely kind and caring friends, books intended to free the reader from fear, doubt, guilt, and the past, so as to empower one to live a happy and fulfilling life in the present.

These are pleasant words, often shared with the best intentions. But these words are lies.

Jesus says something radically different: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. . ." (Luke 9:23-24)

The apostle Paul exclaimed in doxology: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21)

Any counsel or encouragement or philosophy that stands contrary to God's Word will ultimately lead not to self-fulfillment, but to self-destruction.

Indeed, the hard words of a faithful and honest friend are sweeter than the sugar-coated panacea peddled by the fake soul doctors of our day. This is one reason I so love C.S. Lewis: he is honest. He doesn't shy away from the truth. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity

Christ says 'Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. . . Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked - the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.'

Lewis continues: "The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self - all your wishes and precautions - to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call 'ourselves', to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be 'good'. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way - centred on money or pleasure or ambition - and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do."

The cure for my soul sickness, for my great internal disquiet, for my shame and guilt and inadequacy, is not to affirm myself, love myself, affirm my self worth. The cure is to admit the truth - the truth that I am as bad as all that, even worse than I or anyone else knows. The cure is to admit the truth about myself, and then to step into the light of the truth of the Gospel - Jesus saves sinners like me. While I was an enemy of God, Christ died for me. (Romans 5:8) His love and mercy and grace are that big, that good, that sufficient.

I am safe and I have worth not because of who I am in and of my self, but because of who Jesus is, and who I am in Him.

A recent Tweet from pastor Tim Keller reads: "I am so bad that He had to die. I am so loved that He was glad to die."

Confronted with such love, I am undone.

Jesus, here is my self. Please, Lord, take it all.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


I am watering the trees today.

Elmer - a maple we dug up back on the farm and relocated to the front yard.

Baby Tree, and Baby Tree's friend (Martha didn't want Baby Tree to be lonely) - two small cedars just out past the garden.

The little scraggly hazel tree next to the driveway.

I set the hose on barely a drizzle, drag it out to the base of a tree, then let it run for 30-40 minutes. Longer, if I forget to check the clock. So I'm in-and-out, in-and-out. Between jaunts outside to drag the long heavy hose around the yard, I'm switching over laundry, weeding around the flowers, trying to find something that Helen can eat that she actually has an appetite for, short stabs at poking through the mountain of books and papers on my kitchen counter.

Maybe. . . maybe I'll make it back into my bedroom closet sometime today and resume the task of excavating that dismal abyss. Maybe.

Today, I don't have a car - my "big kids" have the vehicles either at work or out running errands. When I'm outside, I don't have a phone. Not too tied up with other things - it's a good day to water the trees.

In and out, in and out. Like a cat, that's always on the wrong side of the door. Like a 6-year-old on holiday.

Like an old lady watering trees.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


"Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most." I don't know who first said this, but I'm definitely beginning to relate.

I had my annual check-up with the eye doctor yesterday morning. I juned about getting the men folk out the door, hurriedly checked off a few morning chores, then raced out the front door. Bingo! I checked in at the doctor's office at precisely 9:30. I was so proud of myself for being on top of the morning schedule - oh, yeah! (I'm just not usually very "together," folks, so it was exhilarating to be on time for once.)

Then began the waiting. I don't mind waiting at the doctor's office - it's quiet, and clean, and I can read a magazine or chat with new people. Yesterday morning, I spent the time writing a nice long letter to Tom.

Finally, I made it back to an exam room. The doctor came in to do his magic stuff with strange machines and flashing lights. Diagnosis: I have healthy, 50-year old eyes. This means, my vision has slightly worsened since last year's check up, and I have the very beginning of a cataract in my left eye. (Oh, that explains why my glasses never seem clean!)

As my doctor said, "Getting older has some positives and some negatives. This is just one of the negatives."

"I'll take it," I replied. "It's good to be fifty."

"Really?" the doctor responded. "A lot of people don't like turning 50...just the idea of getting older makes them feel terrible."

"The way I figure it," I explained, "I'm on my way home now. I've lived at least half of my life. I've paddled my canoe to the middle of the lake, and every stroke from here is toward the shore. I'm like a horse headed to the barn!"

Yep, you won't hear me complaining about being a year older.


When I finally returned home, I commented to my youngest that my appointment at the eye doctor's had taken much longer than usual - over 2 hours. I wasn't complaining, just surprised because they are usually pretty quick.

"Oh!" Helen suddenly remembered, "Right after you left this morning, they called and asked if you were coming in for your appointment. You were scheduled for 9:00, not 9:30."


This wouldn't be so sad if the doctor's office hadn't called on Tuesday and reminded me that I was supposed to come in at 9:00 on Wednesday morning - I talked to them myself. If I didn't have "9:00 - EYE APPOINTMENT" written in big black letters on my calendar. If I hadn't been so very proud of myself for arriving punctually at 9:30.

I have no idea what happened. All I know is that I got up yesterday morning with "9:30" buzzing around in my mind...

...where ever that is!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


I am a fearful person. I fear what people think of me and how they'll respond to me. I fear for the safety and welfare of my children. I fear that I'll say or do (or write) something that will hinder someone else in their faith. The list goes on and on.

But Scripture tells me there is only one thing I should fear, and that is God. A reverent fear. In a strange way, a deeply comforting fear.

Scripture, on the other hand, tells me NOT to fear men, or what they may do to me. Not to fear for tomorrow, what I will eat or wear. Not to fear for my safety - my life is God's anyway, right?

"The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." - Philippians 4:5b-6

Do not be anxious about anything.

But still, I am afraid.

One of the lovely side-effects of being 50-ish is that I rarely sleep through the night. I usually wake up around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, still tired but unable to sleep. I have found this to be an awesome time to pray - the house is quiet, and I'm not distracted by the chores that need attending. Basically, I just lie in the bed and pray, pray, pray, until, eventually, sleep returns.

Last night I woke up with such a heavy weight of anxiety on my heart! My kids are scattered to the four corners of the world. Yes, I fear for their safety. I am concerned for the choices they make. Mostly, I am anxious because I want so desperately to be certain that their hearts belong to God. And so, I prayed about these things.

But still, I was haunted with a nagging uneasiness.

I know that God is sovereign. That He is good. That He loves me, very, very much. I KNOW these things. Where then does this disquiet come from?

I think Satan sometimes haunts us, shadows us with an Eeyore cloud of gloom, so that we are unable to rest in and enjoy the peace and assurance that are ours in Christ. Satan cannot make Christ's work or God's sure promises ineffective; instead, he clouds our vision so that we don't feel like God's promises are true, we don't feel like God's Spirit is close at hand to comfort and guide us. What do we do then, when we are troubled by lying feelings?

I read once a piece of advice a father gave to his son. This man told his son never to start a fight. . . but to always finish every fight he was in. Don't start fights. But, if someone else starts one, and you find yourself in the middle of it, make sure that the fellow who starts it walks away limping, that he has reason to think twice about picking another fight. He told his son, it's okay to lose a fight - just make sure the other guy never wins.

This has become my strategy for dealing with these anxieties that sometimes pile in on me in the middle of the night. Yes, I may be discomfited, but Satan is not going to walk away with a win.

So, I pray...for the health and safety of my children. For my husband's job. For the ministry I am a part of at Grace. For the friend living in bondage to sin. For whatever troubles my mind. And if, after praying, I still don't have peace...

I sing. Not out loud (at least not at 2:00 in the morning!), but silently. Words of classic, soul-edifying hymns. Whate'er my God ordains is right: his holy will abideth; I will be still whate'er he doth, and follow where he guideth. Words of praise choruses. Oh, Lord, you're beautiful! Your face is all I seek! The Doxology. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Praise Him all creatures here below.

Amazing how this exercise quiets and calms my anxious soul.

If sin and the devil want to "pick a fight," if they want to play on my fears, then I will hang in and finish the fight. I may not win - my fears may be back to haunt me another day - but I will go down swinging. I intend to leave my adversary with a bloody nose and a blacked eye.

Am I a fearful woman? Yes. What will I do when Satan punches my fear buttons? I'm not even going to give him the time of day. No, I'm going to praise the God who made and keeps me.

Praise God.
Praise God.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Okay, I'm already missing last week's routine of working in the coffee shop in the mornings, writing at the University Center in the afternoons. There is just SO MUCH TO DO here at the house that I feel like I can't justify taking the time to sit down at the keyboard and write.

Besides the yard work and household chores, I seem to also be subject this morning to a thousand and one interruptions via technology. (Time to turn the phone OFF.) With jumping up and down between chores, and having a plethora of phone calls and emails to respond to, I am finding it impossible to do any productive writing this morning. Which wouldn't be so bad, I suppose, if it weren't for the fact that I earnestly want to write. Blegh!

So, a lightning quick post and then it's time to go tackle my bedroom closet -

Here is a list of some of the simple pleasures I enjoy in life:

- A freshly mowed yard
- Sharing a glass of wine with Steve on the front porch swing
- Reuben's cooking
- Ben's wit
- Real mail in the mailbox (like letters from Tom!)
- My very silly chickens
- Helen's brownies and chocolate chip cookies (Amen?)
- The hollyhocks and black-eyed susans growing by the front steps
- Baby spam!
- Emily's poetry - Gah! A-maz-ing!
- The smell of rain in the evening
- Sheets dried on the clothesline (Thanks, Nate!)
- Updates from Japan
- Coffee in the morning
- Awesome next door neighbors
- Fresh squash from the garden
- Carol's four o'clocks
- Deer in the front yard
- Sourdough bread (especially toasted)
- Kitty sleeping on the end of my bed
- The smell of honeysuckle
- Meadowlarks singing in the hay field

This could go on and on and on . . .

I guess that mean's life is good.

Okay, now to tackle that closet.

(What would be on your list of simple pleasures, Dear Reader?)

Friday, June 14, 2013


Camping in Martin this week while #7 is at piano camp, I have completely abandoned my home routine. Helen and I leave the house around 7:30 in the morning, and we don't make it back home until nearly 6:00 in the evening.

I have absolutely LOVED all the time to write - at the coffee shop in the morning, at the student center on campus in the afternoon. But, reveling in the freedom to write, I have not been home to do basic things like cook supper, run laundry, and tend the garden. Food and clothing - those sound kinda essential, don't you think?

My absence from home could trigger a crisis, except that . . .

Reuben has cooked us some absolutely fabulous meals this week. And mowed the yard. And weeded the garden.

Steve worked from home yesterday, finishing up some architectural drawings. AND, he kept the laundry going all day! I came home to find empty baskets in the laundry room, and stacks of clean, folded clothes on my bed.

Helen and I are pretty pooped by the time we get home in the evening, and it is truly wonderful to NOT be greeted by a mountain of chores when we walk in the front door. Instead, we enjoy a tasty dinner and then take care of the kitchen clean-up. In the remaining few hours before bed time, Helen practices the piano and completes her homework for the next day. Me? I pretty much chill.

Thank you, guys, for making this very full week a very great delight.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform...
- William Cowper

Delivered #7 to Piano Camp yesterday morning, eager to head over to the hip coffee shop and continue working on my secondary career as an up-and-coming writer. My camper bounced into Clement Hall, and I put the van in reverse and began backing up.


Yep, you're feeling it, too - that knot in your stomach, that sudden shakiness all over your body. Backing a van out of a parking spot should NOT sound like Crunch!

Long story short, I had cut the wheel too tightly. I drug my front left fender into the right rear fender of the sporty car parked next to me. Ugh. Yes, I felt like a doofus. Yes, I was shaking.

Crud! What kind of damage have I done? How much is this going to cost? How is this going to effect my insurance? What is Steve going to think and say? All these thoughts raced through my mind as I hopped out of the van to assess the damage.

The driver of the adjacent car was still sitting in her vehicle when I swiped it. She hopped out. She was shaking, too. "I'm sorry if I get upset and all out-of-control on you," she began. "It's just that, well, I just buried my grandchild this week, and I'm already very upset." She looked at the smudge on her fender (thankfully, no substantial damage - I had been ooching back very slowly). "And now, this -" she gestured at her car. "Why everything at once?" She was blinking back tears.

My heart was broken. This dear lady was already suffering, and now I had added to her already heavy burden.

I've lost a grandbaby, too. Now, even after a year and a half, the thought of that child reaches into my chest at odd moments and squeezes my heart so hard that I can barely breathe.

A campus policeman came and wrote up the accident report. The gracious lady I'd hit - let's call her Grace - never got "all out-of-control", never lost her temper, never acted the least bit unkind. When the policeman left, Grace and I prayed together. We cried and hugged and cried some more. This life is sometimes so bitterly painful. It is, Grace. I know.

God does weird things. Things I don't understand. I really did not want to be in a driving accident yesterday morning. But I am so glad that I met Grace, and that I could share her grief in some small way. Thank you, Jesus, for Grace. Thank you for the babies we grieve. Thank you for the promise of Glory...

Deep in unfathomable mines of never-ending skill, (God) treasures up his bright designs, and works His sovereign will. - from William Cowper's hymn, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way"

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Way back in October 2012, I wrote about how much I love swimming. And, yes, I did get up to a mile by the end of the month. Thirty-six laps. Even worked up to swimming 20 laps, forward crawl, without stopping - that was quite an accomplishment for this almost-50-year-old. Even made it under water a complete width of the pool - oh, yeah!

Then, classes ended in late April. There were no students to pick up at the campus, and I couldn't justify making the drive to Martin three times a week just to swim. I've been out of the water for almost two months. Dehydrating. Like a beached manatee.

But this week, with #7 attending piano camp, swimming is back on the schedule. Monday was my first day back in the pool, and it felt divine.

Did I swim a mile? No. Did I make it 20 consecutive laps forward crawl? No. Actually, I swam mostly breast stroke, because it's easy and doesn't get me winded. It'll take time to work up to my previous routine.

My red suit, unfortunately, is showing signs of "swimsuit failure" - which means that soon I will need to brace myself for the trauma of shopping for a new bathing suit. I mean, I know I'm a fairly large woman - I just don't want to see all that womanliness in a dressing room mirror. Ugh.

Mermaids and manatees have it so good:  they just grow their suits. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


I feel so very with it - you know, hip, up with the times, in.

My youngest is attending a music camp this week. Originally, this was supposed to be a "resident" camp, but, due to last minute changes, it is a commuter camp instead. That means, I drive her to camp every morning and pick her up every evening. Now, I don't really want to make the 40 minute drive twice each day, so I've adopted a different course of action...

After dropping Child #7 off at camp, I head to a local coffee shop. Here I sit, sipping a frothy, caffeinated beverage and typing away at the keyboard. Catching up on emails, researching potential writing assignments, plugging through my manuscript, etc. I'm one of three people in the shop currently hammering away on their laptops...such a prestigious group.

It's amazing how much writing I can get done when there is absolutely no possibility of my cleaning out my bedroom closet (ahem), or weeding the garden, or dusting the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling in the living room.

Kitschy coffee shop. Laptop. Wi-Fi. I feel like a bona fide writer.

Now, if only we could work a paycheck into that equation!

Saturday, June 8, 2013


We interrupt our regular broadcast to bring you this breaking news report...


You've heard about my reprobate chickens, right? Those beautiful biddies that were tiny balls of adorable yellow fluff only a year ago, but that grew into bimbos who frequently exposed themselves to needless danger and who wallowed my strawberry beds to bits? Yep, those chickens. Yes, they are stupid. Yes, they frustrate me. But in spite of all that, they are my chickens and I love them...sort a chickeny kind of way.

This morning, when I opened the small door on the side of the hen house in order to let the chickens out into their yard, no hens came charging down the gang plank like usual. Odd, I thought. It was almost 8:00, and the sun was high and bright. Normally, the hens would've been pushing past each other to get into the yard. Instead of their familiar morning cackling, I heard only a quiet Prrrt, prrrt, prrrt from inside the hen house. I couldn't imagine why they'd still be sleeping.

I filled the feed and water buckets in the yard, then went around to the big door to fill the feeders inside the hen house. I opened the chicken house door.

Carnage! Blood! Feathers!

And six terrified hens clinging to the top roost in stunned silence.

What on earth had happened?!

I went back out and inspected the hen house. Nope, no openings through which something could've squeezed in. No sign of digging around the foundation. Maybe the murderer was still inside.

Back in the hen house, I investigated every nook and cranny. Nope, no trespassers. Leaving the few surviving hens in stunned silence, I ran to the house. "Ben, I need your help! Something's been in the hen house and has killed my chickens. We have a mystery to solve!"

By the time Ben joined me at the chicken house a few minutes later, I was pretty sure I had determined the point of entry for the mysterious murderer. There is a small, heavy door on the back side of the house, from which we can clean the poop out from underneath the roost. The latch on that door was stilled securely fastened, but there was a tiny crack along the bottom edge...and lots of scattered feathers.
Obviously, some critter had gotten in, done his dirty work, and then been unable to squeeze the fat biddies out of his tiny exit.

We knew point of entry. Couldn't find any tracks, so we went back inside to try to determine method of execution. Four fat hens lay splayed on the floor, stiff but unmauled...except that all four were missing their heads. We found two of the heads, also pretty much unmauled. The other two heads...well, I suspect they're giving our thief indigestion about right now.

So, some varmint had squeezed himself into the hen house, beheaded four fat hens, and then snuck away under the cover of darkness. Something that could climb over a fence, instead of digging under it. Except that we eventually found a place low in the chicken wire that we think he might have squeezed through.

I began the nasty job of cleaning out the hen house while my young men headed inside to do a little research. Buff Orpingtons are big birds - I think I hauled away fifty pounds of dead chicken. Emptied the pine shavings. Scrubbed the worst of the blood splatters. When I finally headed back to the shed with my tools, two hens were still sitting petrified on the roost, but the other four had timidly ventured out into the chicken yard.

Back in the house, Reuben showed me this really cool website: All About Chicken Predators. We think we have identified our murderer: a raccoon.

Raccoons are not cute, furry, sweet little critters wearing adorable black masks. Folks, raccoons are cold-blooded murderers. I don't think I'd have minded so much if our villain had killed a chicken, eaten his fill, and then fled the scene. But, no, he killed four adult chickens. Murdered them in their sleep, no less. And then he ate only two heads. Talk about senseless, wanton carnage!

I admit, in the past I have looked at baby raccoons - or even an adult raccoon - and thought, "Oh, how adorable!" Not anymore. Next time I see a raccoon, I'm going to be saying something like, "Hand me a shovel so I can knock that rascal in the head!"

A few thoughts in conclusion:

Henny Penny/Minerva Louise/Punchinella - the old red hen that was the last of Ben's original flock, she went by many names - the old red hen, I am happy to report, died peacefully in her sleep earlier this week. I am so thankful she missed the traumatic horrors that occurred in the hen house last night. She was such a sweet hen (and smart, as far as chickens go) - may she rest in peace.

Nate The Trapper, I have a job for you to do next time you're home.

If I'd known I was going to be cleaning out a nasty, blood-spattered chicken house this morning, I think I'd have waited to take my shower until later in the day. Now that I'm all nasty and sweaty, maybe I should go work in the garden instead of doing the paperwork I had planned on tackling.

Finally, Mr. Next Door Neighbor, we got rid of our dogs for you. For YOU. Now, we have deer in the garden, feral cats in the shed, snakes in the yard, and we regularly sight stray dogs and coyotes back on the farm. AND, we have raccoons in the chicken house. My flock of reprobate chickens is down to six terrified, emotionally-scarred hens.  I'm thinking it's about time to get a dog again. A big dog. With big teeth. And, no, I don't think I'd be inclined to kennel him or keep him on a leash, just for you.

Or maybe I'd just better take a deep breath and try to calm down.

This life in the country really gets me worked up sometimes.