Sunday, May 31, 2009

B called to play Scrabble today! It has been eons since our last game. In my excitement, my very competitive self actually cannot remember who won and who lost (hopefully I did). What I do remember is that B endured the most tedious of play with me since Verizon has struggled to deliver high-speed Internet to my home for a couple of weeks (my watching has been seriously curtailed). B persevered even though I was kicked off for a broken connection a gajillion times and it took repeated attempts to connect back to the Scrabble server each time I tried to do so. What kindness she showed!

Friday, May 29, 2009

My ex-writing student K sacrificed 10 hours of labor today at work. It is very strange to see her all grown up and yet working with her was such an incredible pleasure.

I had, as usual, an impossibly long set of tasks that needed to be finished. Given that I have not been sleeping of late, I was a bit frenetic in mind as I tried to tackle my list.

K was there ostensibly to help with a gargantuan newsletter mailing, but, as usual, she blew through that task with hours left in the work day. What is extraordinary about K is her heart. She is kindness personified in such a young person. K spend several very long hours running back and forth between my boss, fetching things, showing edits, typing instructions, and basically laying down her life for me so that I might be free to leave knowing I had done what needed taken care of before being off on Monday for an out-patient procedure.

Her mind is fine. I have believed, since I met her at 12, that K can do whatever she wants to do, whatever her passion is, whatever she believes she can do. While I do wonder if she will ever glimpse the potential within her that I see, if she will ever dare to dream big, I do know that she will continue to changes lives by her very presence. She can do anything, yet she chose to fetch and carry on my behalf!

God blessed me mightily this day, by having someone to lean upon during a trying day at work.

But...that was not all...even though we arrived home well after 8:00PM, we had planned to do an evening of writing. After preparing a meal for her, we settled down to work once more.

K polished off two networking emails, while I composed exactly four sentences on my novel. Four. My productivity was rather dismal. However, we did spend over an hour discussing the first part of that treatise on baptism.

Such joy it was for me to be able to talk about faith with her. How interesting to have a Lutheran talk about all this Lutheran stuff! For as much as I tease Pastor about trying to convert me (his ready retort is always that he is merely drawing out my inner Lutheran), his perspective is always the shepherd first and fellow Christian second. I love that he is so very willing to teach me and in teaching me share his own struggles. But I never forget, even for a moment, that he is a pastor. His is a dual journey. Faith for K, albeit a shorter journey, is more like mine. So, I found her perspective, having grown up a Lutheran, rather intriguing and a bit illuminating if only for her certitude in doctrine that troubles me for the contrast with that which I have been taught over the past 27 years, longer, in fact, than K has been alive.

Grace is objective.
Scripture is Living.
Faith is a gift.

Truth that is not new, yet somehow actually is....

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Have you ever been blessed with pastoral care? I am not sure how to even put into words what that actually means other this incredible combination of teaching the Word and caring for you as a person, meeting your needs. That really pales in comparison to what I have come to understand about the approach to pastoral care confessional Lutherans take, but today was another day where I felt as if the God was humbling me in His love for me.

Pastor D took me to my second appointment to see a specialist about a problem I am having. To say that I was nervous, would be a profound understatement. In fact, once the doctor came out to greet me and gestured to me to follow her back, I actually asked him to walk with me to the door and then pray. He did. I entered.

The first thing I saw when I raised my eyes? A simple plaque with "All things are possible if you only believe." I was not sure, at first, if it meant to be a paraphrase of Luke 1:37, "For with God all things are possible." But that didn't really matter. I got the message.

Not only was I bolstered by the Living Word, but I was also able to share my faith and even some of the Lutheran theology I have been studying with the doctor. At one point, two tears slipped down her cheek. Certainly the Spirit moved this morning.

But what truly humbled me was the fact that Pastor D did not take the rare free time while waiting to delve into the book he had brought, but instead spend the entire hour praying for me. I had asked him at the door to pray, but meant at that moment. I did not dream he would lift me up the entire time.

Our next appointment is on Monday. Another difficult session for me. Another labor of pastoral care for him.

While I long to write of what I have been studying [the Book of Concord, A Straw in God's Hands (thesis), The Spirituality of the Cross, and three versions of the bible (NASB, ESV, and KJV)], I am so feeble in words that I dare not in case I would destroy the message. However, I do have just one thought for you: Have you ever really meditated on what it means for Scripture to be the Living Word?

Here is but a small passage from the third text I mentioned:

And that Word, whether oral or written, enfleshed in Jesus or preached from a modern-day pulpit, is powerful, incisive, and convicting: "For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edge sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Hebrews 4:12


Lutherans and other Christians agree, then, that the Bible is authoritative. It is the source and test, the touchstone of all theology.... Lutherans, however, see something else happening when we read or hear the Bible. It is a means of grace. The words of the Bible do not merely convey information, they convey the Holy Spirit. "The Word of God is living and active." As we read those words on the page, God is literally and objectively present and working, inscribing in our hearts the gift of faith.

What an incredible perspective and sobering, joyful Truth!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

How is my holiday weekend going? Well, let's see...

Yesterday, I was sleeping on the couch with all three birds on my head, actually on my temple since I was on my side. The phone rang, startling them. And, well, I have been avoiding spending money between tax bill no. 1 at $1,875 due to an accounting staff member's data entry error at work that came due last month and now a reassessment from the IRS triggering tax bill no. 2 at $2,400 due in three weeks. Consequently, I have not taken the birds to have their nails trimmed even though they very much need it. So, the birds cut the heck out of my face trying to find purchase so that they could take off. I jumped up off the couch with blood streaming down my cheek and into my eye to grab a towel or something. But I was still feeling weak from being outside re-setting half of the bricks along the front sidewalk (a project I've been wanting done for months) and fell.

Bonk! I smacked my head against the Book of Concord Pastor D gave me to study. That rather HARD (pun intended) tome gave me a goose egg on the corner of my eye and left the rest of that side of my face, the one that is cut up, rather puffy.

While I would have rather just laid there, I had to jump back up as soon as the stars cleared from my vision because Kashi thought it was a good time for bird hunting...

Let me tell you, sleeping with an ice-pack on your face is not conducive to rest.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday Dear Kashi!
Happy Birthday to you!

My beloved Buttercup is now 14 years old!

I have enjoyed his company immensely over those years, even when he was single-pawedly redefining the word "stubborn"! Not a day has gone by that he has not greeted me most enthusiastically. While getting out of been in the morning has grown more difficult for him...well, it has for me, too. And after all this time, I still find the sight of him curled up for a nap nothing short of adorable and worthy of grabbing the nearest camera!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dad and I had another movie fest. We covered ground on six movies: Bourne Ultimatum, The Sixth Day, The Thin Red Line, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jerry McGuire, and 12 Angry Men.

In between Damon and Schwarzenegger, Dad and I also explored Domino's new pasta bowls. We would both highly recommend them, but would suggest you share one with a family member or friend. They are a gargantuan meal for just one.

I worked around his agitation at The Ranch House's closure by preparing breakfast for him this morning. His pancakes were brown, not golden, and still I could not cook them long enough. Who likes crispy pancakes? Still, my father found my 100% pure Vermont maple syrup a better option than what he has at home. He made me write down what we ate both last night and this morning as a reminder to him. I savored the compliment.

At one point during his stay, I caught my father reading the notes I have stuck on my door, his finger tracing the brief lines. I wanted to ask him what he thought, but was too afraid of his answer. Would he understand? Would he grow upset Would he ask me why I needed them? Would he remember?

One the way home, I had asked that my step-mother meet me half-way. She agreed, but said she needed 10-15 minutes. 45 minutes later, my father was so agitated that I ended up driving him the whole way home myself. The slightest deviation from what he understands will be happening troubles him, disturbs his equilibrium.

Watching him, I am filled with sorrow that such a keen mind is such. We have never had a great relationship. Alcohol and abuse made for a difficult childhood and the silence of his generation made reconciliation equally so. Yet I would not wish his mental decline on anyone.

I wonder what he thinks, how he feels.

I have tried to offer a place of safety for him, a time when who he is and how he is will be accepted completely and without censure, admonishment, or criticism. He cannot help what is happening. He cannot help that he asks a question four, five times, one after another. He cannot help that he does not remember what I do or where I work. He cannot help that his emotions are ever close to the surface, spilling out over the seemingly innocuous.

I ache for him.

His mother. My father. Could I be doubly cursed when it comes to cognitive dysfunction? Should I be more fearful of MS or dementia/Alzheimer's?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

So, to I took a wild chance and boiled some eggs this evening. I know, it was risky. After all, I have been ruining them for years and had only one successful attempt of late. Still, I through caution to the wind and plopped eight of them into some hot water.

Voila! I was successful! And, since the eggs were fresh and had not been resting in the refrigerator for longer than I normally care to admit, they were round on the bottom, not flat.

Giddy with my success, I promptly whipped up the innards of four of them, licking my chomps all the while in anticipation of tasty deviled eggs.

Acting a bit of the glutton, I shoved an entire egg in my mouth...and promptly spat it back out on the plate. Somehow, I managed to sprinkle them rather liberally with cayenne pepper instead of paprika. While they may both come from a plant that is labeled a pepper, there is a world between them when it comes to heat.

Bettina's husband G would probably scarf up my deviled eggs. Me? Well, I want not to waste them, so I am committed to their consumption. An entire glass of Gatorade was required to down two of them. I fear they shall be a long time in the refrigerator after all...

Friday, May 15, 2009

An eleven hour day today. ARGH!

However, barring some great problem, I shall be taking all five comp days next week. That means I have 10 days to sleep in, read books, write, study the bible, plant impatiens in the pots on my deck (hopefully), watch movies, and play with Kashi, Fancy, Smokey, and Madeleine!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I bowed under pressure today to not go to bible study at lunch for someone who wanted to work together during that time. The person did not show up. The rest of the day, I struggled with anger--probably NOT the response a bible study should elicit, eh? I knew that were I gone for an hour, it would not affect the outcome of my work for the day. Still, I caved and was consequently completely disappointed in myself.

We were to begin Psalm 18 since it will take a few meetings to work through this one...

For the choir director. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said,

"I love You, O LORD, my strength."
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
And I am saved from my enemies.
The cords of death encompassed me,
And the torrents of ungodliness terrified me.
The cords of Sheol surrounded me;
The snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the LORD,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.
Then the earth shook and quaked;
And the foundations of the mountains were trembling
And were shaken, because He was angry.
Smoke went up out of His nostrils,
And fire from His mouth devoured;
Coals were kindled by it.
He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With thick darkness under His feet.
He rode upon a cherub and flew;
And He sped upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him,
Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.
From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds,
Hailstones and coals of fire.
The LORD also thundered in the heavens,
And the Most High uttered His voice,
Hailstones and coals of fire.
He sent out His arrows, and scattered them,
And lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them.
Then the channels of water appeared,
And the foundations of the world were laid bare
At Your rebuke, O LORD,
At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.
He sent from on high, He took me;
He drew me out of many waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
But the LORD was my stay.
He brought me forth also into a broad place;
He rescued me, because He delighted in me.
The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the LORD,
And have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all His ordinances were before me,
And I did not put away His statutes from me.
I was also blameless with Him,
And I kept myself from my iniquity.
Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes.
With the kind You show Yourself kind;
With the blameless You show Yourself blameless;
With the pure You show Yourself pure,
And with the crooked You show Yourself astute.
For You save an afflicted people,
But haughty eyes You abase.
For You light my lamp;
The LORD my God illumines my darkness.
For by You I can run upon a troop;
And by my God I can leap over a wall.
As for God, His way is blameless;
The word of the LORD is tried;
He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
For who is God, but the LORD?
And who is a rock, except our God,
The God who girds me with strength
And makes my way blameless?
He makes my feet like hinds' feet,
And sets me upon my high places.
He trains my hands for battle,
So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have also given me the shield of Your salvation,
And Your right hand upholds me;
And Your gentleness makes me great.
You enlarge my steps under me,
And my feet have not slipped.
I pursued my enemies and overtook them,
And I did not turn back until they were consumed.
I shattered them, so that they were not able to rise;
They fell under my feet.
For You have girded me with strength for battle;
You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.
You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me,
And I destroyed those who hated me.
They cried for help, but there was none to save,
Even to the LORD, but He did not answer them.
Then I beat them fine as the dust before the wind;
I emptied them out as the mire of the streets.
You have delivered me from the contentions of the people;
You have placed me as head of the nations;
A people whom I have not known serve me.
As soon as they hear, they obey me;
Foreigners submit to me.
Foreigners fade away,
And come trembling out of their fortresses.
The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock;
And exalted be the God of my salvation,
The God who executes vengeance for me,
And subdues peoples under me.
He delivers me from my enemies;
Surely You lift me above those who rise up against me;
You rescue me from the violent man.
Therefore I will give thanks to You among the nations, O LORD,
And I will sing praises to Your name.
He gives great deliverance to His king,
And shows lovingkindness to His anointed,
To David and his descendants forever.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cousin D is back from Vietnam. Despite the fact that he is the consummate IT geek, he is also the most talented amateur photographer I have ever met. Below is my favorite shot from this trip. I cannot begin to imagine how he captured this reptilian moment ever so perfectly.

Click here if you would like to peruse the rest of his favorites....

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

~John 15:1-8

The sermon today was quite fruitful, if you will pardon the pun.

[I would like to remind you of the caveat of my current life: When I say I cannot remember, I cannot remember if I can remember. Still, I am mostly sure about the following.]

I am familiar with verses 5-8 of the passage above. I have known for a long time that I am a branch. However, today, Pastor D explored the notion of God being my vinedresser.

He actually gave me a preview of the sermon on Friday whilst here to mow my lawn, but the actual sermon was much, much more than the words he shared then.

After the service, he said that he saw me smiling while he was teaching and figured I knew what he was going to say. True, I part. In part I did because I am intimately acquainted with being a vinedresser.

You see, I whack quite freely on my rose bushes two to three times a year. Some time mid-to-late summer, they start to fade. The blooms slow or stop and the leaves become sparse. It is then that I chop them down to about 12-15 inches from the ground and pour on some fertilizer. Doing so usually garners me another round of blooms that last until the first true cold snap. Once winter sets in, I lop them off to about 9-12 inches and pile on the mulch. However, if the winter is particularly sunny, I end up pruning the roses back once more at winter's end so that they have a strong start for Spring.

No, I am not an expert vinedresser. But I have come to understand what my roses need the most to thrive in the spot in which I have placed them. To an outsider, I may very well look as if I am trying to destroy them, but that is not the case.

[However, I should note that one of the five bushes has never done as well as the rest. That alone give evidence that I am not an expert.]

Yes, I have heard about being a branch, but I do believe that I have never heard a sermon on God being the vinedresser.

From the outside, His careful pruning could be seen as destructive. And whether the cuts are made to destroy or to rebuild, they are still cuts. Cuts are painful. So, it is all about understanding the One who is making them, trusting in His purpose.

"For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

~Jeremiah 29:11-13

I know that passage by heart, being one of the few that have not already slipped through the cheese holes in my brain. However, it has greater meaning to me now when coupled by the understand that God is my vinedresser.

Boy, do I feel as if I have been hacked down in the past year, but what I also know is that I am not being destroyed, even if it feels that way. Alas, could it be just a wise pruning? [Yes, I am smiling now.]

I have had many an argument with my mother, my father, and my brother about the need to prune my trees and bushes. For one, none of them care for the Rose of Sharon bushes-that-are-essentially-trees-in-my-back-yard. I like them. I like the fact that they hold their blooms late until the fall. I like the fact that they are blooming in the first place. Over the past seven years, I have even transplanted eight offshoots to the fence between my yard and the neighbors to create a more attractive visual in that direction. However, being bushes, especially ones that grew up in the shade of a giant tree that used to be in my neighbors yard, their root system is not strong enough to support branches that are leaning wildly to one side, branches that surely must have had a difficult time finding sun.

Were I to allow my family to prune willy nilly, I would have mere bushes left. Of that, I am sure. Yet, I do recognize that I need to straighten them out if I want them to continue to thrive. I have just chosen a slower course of action than would they. That meant that I pruned them consistently twice a year for five years. Then, a little more than a year ago, I hacked away one-third of the major branches on one "tree" and one-fourth on the other. It was time for the deeper cut for the best outcome.

Knowing that, I did smile, if not outright chuckle when Pastor D was preaching, teaching, sharing.... In part, it was because I am thankful that it is not I who is responsible for the care of my branches. Would I were, they would surely be a disaster. I smiled because I am rather glad that the God of all Creation loves me enough to whack away with His wisely wielded shears.

Today, I awoke regretting the productivity around the house of yesterday. My hands hurt so much that I struggled to get dressed for church and actually left the buttons on my cuffs for whoever was nearest the door when I arrived. I drove more with my wrists than with my hands. Everyone who wanted to greet me, dropped their hands when I shook my head and held my own close to my body. And I have only had milk and a protein bar all day since preparing food was out of the question.

Increasingly, I have had less mobility in my hands. I know they are not as clumsy as they feel, but I have struggled with stiffness and a loss of mobility. Today, aching, bitter pain was added on top of that. Several doses of different pain killers later, typing is still difficult, but they are somewhat better.

Still, I did not spend the day huddled in the green chair as I normally would on a pain-filled day. I actually walked with Kashi (he still has his harness on because I cannot get it back off), watched some Hulu.Com, and started memorizing the passage from John. I know I shall need to be remembering this one again.

Perspective is everything when it is grounded in such a profound Truth as the Word of God gives.

I am thankful for His grace which He shed upon me this day.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

I slept until 3:45 without waking once since I closed my eyes just after midnight. While I could have slept longer, I rolled out of bed to tackle a few tasks that have been needing my attention.

This day, I have washed, dried, folded and put away six loads of laundry; mended seven pieces of clothing; loaded, ran, and emptied the dishwasher twice; vacuumed the house, dusted all three floors, reorganized one of the kitchen cabinets; polished the wood furniture; packed up a load of items to give away; cleaned the bird cage; reconciled my bank statement; filled all four bird feeders; and won three games of Spider Solitaire!

Now, it is time to sleep again. Since I am no longer living in a cesspool, I will feel free to sleep and read and sleep some more over the next two days.

I am not...I am not...I am not working on Monday!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Just now, just now I have finished my work for this day.

No, I did not get to take a comp day. But I did get to work in my pajamas, tucked into the corner of my couch. I also happened to earn another 5 comp hours because of the long week.

Just now, I sent off my latest project, filled out my time sheet, and set the out-of-office assistant on my Outlook account.

While I did resent having to work once more, the day was sweetened by the kindness of Pastor D.

After nine days of rain, there was a bit of sunshine. He took the opportunity to mow my grass. A have-mower-will-travel kind of Pastor. Talk about laying down your life! He has so very much to do between graduate school, his family, Sunday services, four bible studies, and a monthly service at at nursing home. And yet he offers help whenever he can.

Hearing the hum of the motor quickened my heart and helped me finish my work faster than I would have merely stewing on how I had longed to sleep in this day. Again, he brought much needed perspective to my life.

Thank you, Lord, for a Pastor who truly loves the body of his church as Christ loves us.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

I have worked 11 hours today and am wondering how much longer I can hang on at this pace. Tomorrow will be my third attempt at having a comp day, but I am not holding my breath on the matter.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I believe quite strongly that God is caring for me despite myself...

This morning I spent quite a while trying to find my keys. My frustration grew to dismay as I suddenly thought where they might be. One quick look, and my fear was confirmed.

I had left my keys in the front door all night!

Seriously, how in the world do I still have a car!?!

I fell to my knees in wonder at how God keeps me safe, from filling the house with gas, to leaving the stove burning all night long, to leaving my keys in the front door.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Apparently, I am not skilled at making pizza.

Note to self: When the instructions say to use just half the dough, do not ignore them just because you think the portion does not look big enough to cover the pan. A little dough goes a long way...if prepared properly.

Wishing that culinary Twilight Zone would return...

Monday, May 04, 2009

I was supposed to have Friday off, but there is still too much work to be done. Today, however, I insisted on using some of my comp time.

Yesterday morning, I drove all the way out to my father's house and then on over to Pastor D's church. Dad was coming over for a movie fest and I figured since I had to do the driving, I ought to pop on over to church.

Since we were essentially driving in a huge triangle, I did not use any of the roads I normally take with Dad. As he was went we went to Gettysburg, Dad was anxious and nervous until we pulled up into the church parking lot.

The liturgical service was confusing for him, but it was interesting sitting next to him in God's house. I have not done so since my parent's divorce in 1974. I am fairly sure both he and my step-mother do not have a saving knowledge of Christ, but they do attend church regularly. In fact, they go to one of the ones that originally started the organization where I work.

Dad would sing the first verse of the hymns, but then would just listen. He read some of the common texts, but not much of them. I am not sure, however, if his reticence was from any beliefs he may have had about the service or if it was merely a matter of being lost. Seeing him that way is so difficult.

Afterward, we managed to get 5 movies in before going to bed. I feel that is a fairly good showing!

The next morning, Dad actually slept past me. I awoke at 11:15, but he slept until nearly 12:30. I would have plopped back into bed, but I was worried how he would be if he awoke and was "alone" in the house.

Trouble happened just an hour later when we pulled up to Dad's favorite breakfast dive. It was closed. Permanently.

Dad's agitation lasted nearly until we were safely on the way back to his home. Partly that was because we opted to go over to Chili's as an alternative eating place. Even though the restaurant is one of the newest ones on the "block," the service was simply horrible. Dad's hamburger came promptly, but my fajitas were first served with steak instead of chicken and then the chicken ones were served with guacamole, to which I am allergic and had specifically asked to have left off the meal. Dad was nearly finished by the time my food arrived.

I did enjoy having a respite from work and spending time with my father, whom I have not seen in a few months.

It's back to the grindstone now!