23 December 2014

Six Years into a Great Idea

Somehow it got to be almost the end of December--two days before Christmas, no less--and I haven't been around these parts for a long time.  

Can I just say I'm a music teacher and so is my husband and one pre-Thanksgiving program and five Christmas programs and another Christmas play later I'm still thinking maybe one of these days I'll get out our own Christmas music to listen to some quiet evening?  Whew!  What a month!

But I can't let today go by without checking in here for two reasons:  One, I am low energy after donating a substantial amount of blood to the science of my own health care (don't worry about me--I'm on a great track right now to getting some things figured out, and I'm really excited about it), and therefore have a sweet excuse not to be up and around trying to accomplish my usual whirlwind of life I call my to-do list.

And two?

While I was sitting in the lab waiting, I realized that six eventful years ago today my husband and I had our very first date.

Have I told that story here before?  I don't think I have...maybe today should be the day.  So sit back and relax, because if there's something I'm not good at, it's making this love story of mine short.  Sweet, yes, but not short!


I had these classmates in my music classes in college.  Well, it started out that I just had one classmate, and he had a twin brother who was in a different sequence of music classes.  Of course it took me forever to figure out which was which, and so I simply never called them by their names, offering my cheerful nameless greetings whenever I saw whichever one.  

But since I had classes with one and not the other, AND the one in my class had a girlfriend, it got easier over that first year of college. 

These twin brothers had a reputation.  They were always singing, they were always having wholesome fun, and if either of them were in the cafeteria, theirs was the table with two or three times as many chairs crowded around it--all the fun people loved being around them, and they could never leave a person out.  The more the merrier.

And a couple of years into college the twins' younger brother arrived on campus full of just as much energy and fun as the other two.  He soon gained a reputation as well:  plastic-bag-and-straws bagpipe builder, four-person bike fabricator, the guy who dressed like Martin Luther for some Theology exam or another, the guy who dressed in a toga for his Greek final.

Somehow this younger brother and I ended up in basic conducting class together, and occasionally used our batons as swords against each other as we "studied" for our final conducting exam.  

And then one day in the spring I ran into said younger brother and a friend of his, and when I wanted to know what they were up to, I got the most exciting answer:  They were on their way to the pi contest (where you have to recite as many digits of pi as you can from memory to win a prize), where they were not only going to recite, but SING the digits of pi.

Something I had always wanted to do, as it turns out, and in a rare outburst of extroversion, I asked if I could join them.  I only knew about fifty digits, but we found a good place with a 5-8 sequence for a finishing point (don't worry if that's as clear as mud to you), I taught them how to sing in perfect parallel organum, and we were off to steal the show.  Which of course we did.


So.  If you've been following my potentially confusing story, you've figured out that I had become fairly well acquainted with two of the three brothers via taking the same classes, and knew the other one a bit more casually at a distance.

Over the course of time, the two brothers (one twin and the younger one) got married, and I got acquainted with their wives as well.  These two brothers also both did their pastoral internships at a little church I called my home church for five years or so.

Eventually, I graduated and stayed in town, these twin brothers graduated and moved out of town, and that's when younger brother began his internship at my little church.  And that's when his wife and I sat down one day after the service and the potluck and figured out we hit it off really well and in our several years of acquaintance just hadn't had a chance to discover each other yet.

I didn't know this until later, of course, but she got in the car afterwards and said, "I feel like we could be sisters!  WAIT!  We COULD be sisters!"

There was one un-married twin left, after all, and she figured she knew exactly who he needed to marry.

She didn't lose any time getting to work.  Her sister-in-law, who by then had moved away from our college town and was working in the same office as my parents, quickly agreed to the plan and began doing her research into my family, you know, to see if we were decent people or not.

Check.

The wives schemed with their husbands.  They thought it was a great idea.  (I still wonder sometimes if they ever have any second thoughts now that they know me better!)  They ran it all by the sets of parents--theirs and mine, too, I think.  Everybody seemed to think it was an idea worth pursuing a little further.

Like by informing one of the parties in question that an arranged marriage was in the works.

For whatever reason, they decided I should be the first (out of the last two, anyway) to know.


We girls were out dumpster diving the weekend of college graduation, because people used to leave great stuff out to be thrown away on graduation weekend, and we were looking for a sewing machine.  We didn't find one, but she used the time to her advantage.

"We've been talking," she said, "and we think you should be our next sister-in-law."

I had to work a little to get out of that awkward moment.  I thought maybe it was behind me when the other one stopped by my house to pick up something to send to my parents (with whom, you might recall, she worked every day).

She complimented my multi-colored dining room chairs, and by way of explanation, I said all my friends encouraged me to try out my crazy decorating scheme before I had a husband to tell me I couldn't.

"Marry a S---," she said, not missing a beat.  "They'd let you do it."

I looked at the floor, speechless.

"There's one left!" she said, as if her little reminder would remove my speechlessness and prompt me to pick up the phone and order a wedding cake.

I knew she was right, though.  I knew him well enough to know he would let me paint my chairs whatever color I wanted, and I knew there was indeed "one left".

They dropped it for a while, but it wasn't too long before the subject came up again and I had to choose, on the spot, whether it was ok for them to give this brother-in-law of hers my phone number.  She presented me with an impressive resume of charms, values, and character traits, and I relented.

But hesitatingly, because if we had known each other for so long already and no sparks had flown why would we think they would now?  

Still, I spent quite a bit of time mulling things over.  Did he have similar values?  Would he manage himself well among the variety of family and friends who made up my world?  Would I lose my friends (his sisters-in-law) if it didn't work out?

I talked it over with my mom.

"You don't have to know if you would marry him.  You just have to know if you would go to dinner.  If you'd go to dinner with him, don't worry about the rest."

I talked it over with my dad.

"Well," he said, "you do have a lot in common.  His brother treats his wife really well, and the apple doesn't usually fall too far from the tree."

And months went by.  I felt more confident that I would indeed go to dinner with him if he asked, but the phone call never came. 

Summer turned to fall, fall to winter.  Winter brought a tremendous snow storm, big enough for my parents to cancel Christmas and let me know they didn't think I should come to visit them until the New Year. 

Conveniently, a certain someone was in the next town over visiting his brother and sister-in-law, who immediately set about getting the two of us in the same room for a couple of hours.  Unbeknownst to me, they hadn't said a word to him about their plans for his future marriage (except a comment by his twin brother that went right over his head).  Unbeknownst to him, they were planning his life and finding his bride.

And you know what?  The snowstorm worked--God's way of getting everybody in the right place at the right time, you might say.

They unveiled the plan to my Mr. Right, who thought about it for several days before agreeing to go to dinner with me.  But that moment they had his approval?  They called me right away, set up a double date, and risked the snowy roads for the 45-minute drive to my office to pick me up and take me out to dinner little knowing from that moment forward they really would be stuck with me.

And a little double date in a little Thai restaurant became the launching pad for our "arranged marriage", as they like to call it, six years ago today.

23 November 2014

Prayer in the Face of Discouragement


I don't know about you, but I've faced lots of times and circumstances when I didn't know how to pray for a situation or a person.  It's hard to know what the best outcome would be, or to even begin to imagine how even the Lord could work out a solution to the tangle we get ourselves into.

But I learned something from Samuel the other day.

He judged Israel for many years, but because the people couldn't see a good successor coming along behind him for the position of judge, they begged for a king.

Two things:  God had told the people not to set a king over themselves like other countries; and if they couldn't think of a good person to be judge, who did they think would be a good king over them?

Yet beg for a king they did.

Eventually, God relented and gave them a king.  As Samuel sets a king over them, he also takes the opportunity to remind them he has judged righteously, and to exhort them to renew their commitment to the Lord.  

This done, God sends thunder and rain to convict the people of their sin in begging for a king, and now instead of begging for a king they're begging Samuel to pray for them, that their sin might be covered.

They've been blatantly rebellious, they've put themselves in a mess, and now they're beginning to see it.

Instead of giving up on them, Samuel's heart still cares for the people he has led for many years, and he replies simply,

"...Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart...For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name's sake: because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people...
 
"...Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you..."  1 Samuel 12:20-24 (excerpts)

Perhaps more than knowing what to pray or how to pray, what we really need to do is just pray anyway.  Samuel had a job to do, to stand and plead for the people before the Lord.  

And you know what?  We have a job to do, too.  There are people we love--more importantly, people who Jesus loves--and it's part of our job as subjects of heaven to keep them in prayer before our Savior.

When we don't know how to pray, maybe it's enough to simply say to Jesus, "Please do something.  I don't know the needs and I certainly don't know the solution...just please do something for this person you and I both love."

19 November 2014

Thai Purple Long Beans


When they first began blooming, I counted the blossoms every day, picturing my plate full of these beautiful Thai Purple Long Beans (we got ours from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds here).  As they grew, I measured that first bean every day for a week or so, and had way too much fun realizing it grew between an inch and two inches per day.  At harvest, it was about nineteen inches.  

Woohoo!  What a great bean!

While we've had several meals with these delicious beans as a side dish, I do have to tell you I've been a little disappointed in our harvest.  As we've talked with other gardeners in the area, read articles, and listened to several talks from the first ever conference of the Adventist Agricultural Association, I think I've identified a couple of things (in addition to a constant focus on composting and soil quality) to work on for my next legume crop.

Spacing

While we put down a sack of beautiful compost from our local municipality, I crammed the entire package of seeds into a relatively small area.  My logic was that all the compost would support a larger number of plants.  

I learned from one of the lectures during the Adventist Agricultural Association, however, that with proper spacing, a plant's yield increases dramatically.  Definitely something to pay more attention to next time!

Inoculation


I've known before that legumes are nitrogen fixing crops--in other words, crops that take nitrogen from the air and make it available to the plants in the soil.

I didn't know, though, that if there aren't certain bacteria in the soil when you plant the bean, it has a hard time doing its job of fixing the nitrogen.  Once the bacteria are in the soil, they'll stick around for a few years as long as you give them some legumes to work with every few years.

Some varieties, depending on your area, may need to be inoculated with the bacteria at planting to make sure the right things are in place to get that precious nitrogen into your soil both for the bean crop and the crops that follow it.

I read about the process at a delightful corner of the web called Tropical Permaculture.

27 October 2014

Can't Fall Asleep? 5 Things You Can Do


Over the last few months, I've had trouble sleeping sometimes.  It's a long story, and I'm still working on finding a solution for the benign heart rhythm issue that keeps me awake from time to time, but I'm beginning to realize that sleepless nights don't have to be wasted.

Normally, I'd spend the time on worry and frustration, or generally trying to solve the world's problems without success.

But thank God for being in the business of helping us form new habits, right?  Because now, rather than facing my bedtime with uncertainty, I'm learning to leave even the amount of sleep I get to Jesus.  (You saw that, right?  The word learning?)

Here are the five most helpful things I've found over the last few months to reduce my worries and fears, and to help me rest in mind and body.  I hope they help you, too.

Read

In particular, I've begun reading the Psalms when I can't sleep.  I read them on my phone, so that I don't have to get up, go in the other room, turn on lights, and therefore wake myself up even more than I already am.  And you know what? 

I've been amazed at how many of the Psalms have to do with sleep, or with resting in God alone.  I've actually chosen to highlight all these kinds of verses in purple (you know, a purple heart message from God when my heart isn't quite beating in its normal rhythm), and now if you were to open the Psalms on my phone you would see purple scattered through almost every chapter.

What a huge encouragement when you can't predict when sleep will finally take over and you'll drift off into dreamland!

Pray

Sometimes when I'm lying awake at night, it's my prime time to worry.  Since I'm lying in bed trying to sleep, there's nothing I can do about any of the things I'm worrying about, either.  

Prayer is a great way to turn our worries, one by one, over to Someone who can act on them, night or day.  Whether I'm worried about situations, people, natural disasters...you name it...Jesus is always there to listen and strengthen.

I've had many friends say that when they're awake at night, God will bring a specific person to mind to pray for.  If that doesn't happen, it never hurts to lift up family and friends one by one, committing them to the Lord's care.

Think Thankful Thoughts

Forcing myself to remember all the things God has been doing in my life puts my mind and body at rest like nothing else can.  The more I think of that I'm thankful for, the more thoughts of gratitude come to my mind.  

It's like one thankful prayer, however simple, plants the seed for another one, until I have a whole garden full of beautiful, restful thoughts.  

Seize the Day

Many times there are things we're doing during the day to contribute to our wakefulness at night.  Consistent problems falling asleep may be coming from our daytime habits, and it's always a good idea to evaluate where we are with our health practices by asking some simple questions. Our answers can tell us a lot--if we're honest!

Here are some things I'm trying to ask myself consistently.

Am I getting good nutrition, in proper amounts?  Am I avoiding things that aren't good for me (whether junk food or other even worse substances)?  Am I eating at ideal times of the day, or do my meals leave my stomach working too hard at night when it's time to sleep?

Am I exercising consistently?  Am I drinking enough water to stay hydrated?  Am I getting sunlight (to help with melatonin and vitamin D production)?  Am I breathing fresh air?


And of course when I look at rest, sleep is not the only thing to consider.  If I'm filling the day to the max (way too easy for me to do), and not giving myself margins and breathing room, it's no wonder that my mind would keep me awake at night.

Sometimes, though, there are things happening in our bodies and minds that need more evaluation.  If that's the case, we can use the daylight hours to keep moving forward, a step at a time, toward finding a solution to whatever might be ailing us. 

Trust in Jesus

Perhaps the most important thing we can do when we can't sleep is simply to trust in Jesus.  

Indeed, all our Psalm reading, praying, and thinking thankful thoughts are designed to re-establish and strengthen our trust in Him, and everything we do to seize the day will fall flat unless it's directed by our trust in Him.

Something I've done a few times recently, when I'm not sure how bedtime will go for me, is to just tell God, ahead of time, that I trust Him with my life and health.

Even if I end up awake longer than I'd like.
Even if there's no instant cure.

I'm simply inviting Him to be in charge of my health, my sleep, and my life in every way.  If that means I read a lot of Psalms one night, I know I'll be blessed.  If that means I go to sleep right away and enjoy the rest I'm hoping for, I know I'll be blessed by that, too.

Because either way, Jesus is still the One holding my breath in His nail-pierced hands, and I can't think of a better place for my life to be.

24 October 2014

I Will Restore, Saith Our God

  
"That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; 
and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten..."


"...and that which the cankerworm hath left 
hath the caterpiller eaten."  Joel 1:4


"Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:  And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.  Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the Lord your God?"  Joel 2:12-14


"Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things.  Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength.  Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month.  And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil."  Joel 2:21-24


"And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.  And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.  And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed."  Joel 2:25-27

22 October 2014

Home-made Applesauce


There's nothing like a few jars steaming on the counter, their lids popping, sealing shut, to make me feel all cozy, homey, and well established.  

I love it when company comes over, and I can pull out a jar of home-made applesauce, and make them feel pampered.  

I love coming to those two perfectly round jars in my collection, the ones my mom gave me, which she had in her collection because they somehow came from her parents.  They are my two favorite jars, hands down.

I love putting in a few hours' hard yet simple work, with a good sermon on in the background, or a delightful husband to talk with while the chore gets done.

I love counting how many jars I've filled so far, and figuring out how many I get to enjoy every month for the next year.

I love washing everything up and getting beyond the mess when I know I'm done.

Maybe God smiled, then, knowing how much I love all these things, when He knew apples would be on sale at the grocery store the same week I would feel especially transplanted in this place where it's October and eighty degrees.  Maybe it was simply His plan to give me rooted feelings, reminding me He's a good Gardener still, ready, able, willing, delighted, not only to give me a home, but also to be my home.

{If you've never made applesauce or done any of your own canning before, applesauce is a great and easy place to start.  I'd recommend simply visiting the Ball Canning web site for recipes, recommended supplies, and more.}

20 October 2014

When Earth Looks too Dry


Studying the Sabbath school lesson a couple of weeks ago, these words jumped out at me:

"Our world bombards us with doubt and skepticism; no one is immune. All we can do is pray our way through it, remembering God's faithfulness in the past and trusting Him for our future."  (You can find that week's lesson here.)

Actually, those words didn't jump out at me precisely, because I was studying in Spanish.  Nonetheless, since that was the week full of extra craziness in the U.S. and world news, that day's lesson was particularly encouraging for me.  

Because when it feels like the world is falling apart around me and drying up so much that no life could possibly continue to flourish here, I really can look at what God has done for me before, go to Him in prayer with my concerns, and via the memories and the prayers commit to trusting Him afresh for my future.

You know what I see when I pray that way?


New life springing up in the least expected places.  Courage in my own heart where before there was none before.  Renewed perspective.  Readjusted priorities.

That day in the Sabbath school lesson, we were studying what James says about those who ask in doubt--you know, when he gives us that age-old, beloved promise that God will give wisdom to all who ask in faith without finding fault (see James 1:5, 6) but follows it up by warning us not to doubt the promise.

If we do doubt, he says, we'll just be tossed by every wave in the sea, and on top of that we won't obtain the promise.

And so I renewed my commitment to live in faith instead of doubt, whether the world around me is bleak or bright, looking ahead to that city with foundations where all is life and light.

I know several of you have commented here recently about studying the Sabbath school lesson.  What days or lessons have stood out to you lately?  I'd love to hear about them!

06 October 2014

Happy Songs of the Birds


It had been a while.  

Sure, we found ways to survive the heat-laden days of summer, getting fresh air in shorter stints closer to home.  We took delight in our garden, marveling day by day at its nourishment for body and soul.

We just hadn't gotten out.


You know, out where you can't hear city noises, out where you might not see another human except each other but even if you do they're out for the same reason you are, out where the birds don't have to compete with car alarms for the air waves.

This Sabbath, we simply did it.  Gathered up our water, bug spray, camera, and reading materials for the car ride, and got out there. 


Something somewhere was blooming full and free, spreading its sweet scent over the whole earth, it seemed.  I couldn't breathe in enough of it.

I couldn't capture any of the thousands of butterflies at a resting place, either, but that's a different thing altogether.

Those words we read in the car echoed through my mind in the quiet by the lake side as we walked its entire perimeter.  Words of hope, encouragement, admonition--stay strong in the Lord, don't worry, go straight to Him for direction, and He'll give it to you every time.  (Very loose paraphrasing, of course.)

By the end of the loop, I was more refreshed and ready for renewed service than I'd been in a long time.



"The things of nature are God's blessings, provided to give health to body, mind, and soul.  They are given to the well to keep them well, and to the sick to make them well....Nature is God's physician."  White, Ellen G.  Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p. 77.

"Seeing the flowers, plucking the ripe fruit, listening to the happy songs of the birds, has a peculiarly exhilarating effect on the nervous system.  From outdoor life, men, women, and children gain a desire to be pure an guileless."  Ibid, p. 86

01 October 2014

What We Ate: September Edition


We've got a lot going in the garden right now.  September is our rainiest month, and this September has seen even more rain than usual, with more than eleven inches. 


You can see some of our starts ride around on my sled on wheels for now, because that makes it easier to quickly get them out of the hard rain, which could flatten them in no time if given the chance.

See the basil hedge (next photo)?  It's well above knee high now, and we can harvest at least once per week.  In my September report on what we ate from the garden, you'll see basil is a frequent feature.  You can look at the actual list of what we ate each day at the end of this post, but for now I'll just tell you some of the ways we enjoyed the produce.

Basil

We have three main ways of eating basil:  as pesto (vegan and delicious!), as part of a chunky fresh pasta sauce or salad (tomatoes, roasted garlic and onion, olive oil, lemon juice, and avocado being several of the other main ingredients), and dried as a seasoning.  But this month?  We even got creative and experimented with an orange, pineapple, basil smoothie.  Which wasn't terrible, but not our favorite!  We've also had plenty of extra basil to make pesto ahead and tuck away in the freezer.

Parsley

We use parsley in everything from stir fry to tofu to its own "parsley cilantro salad", as we call it, but originally developed by a friend as a gluten-free tabouli salad.  I haven't managed to have enough left over from all these favorite meals to dry yet, but there are several plants growing nicely, so I'm sure I'll have enough to dry soon.

You can find my favorite ideas for using eggplant here.
 



Eating something from the garden every day was just one of our fall garden goals.  We've also been working on adding nutrients to the soil everywhere we can, as well as getting flower seeds and starts ready to put in for the bees.

Right now we're adding grass clippings to the soil as a mulch every time we mow the lawn.  When we spread the clippings around the eggplant bushes, we noticed an improvement in the plants within two days.  The grass clippings are a good quick source of nutrition for the soil, since they don't take very long to decompose.  That in addition to a few bags of manure here and there is making a big difference for our dense, clay-filled soil.


We had so much fun eating the produce from our garden every day, and we'll be keeping that up during October.  There's just no delight like the delight of picking leaves and fruits from your own plants, and bringing them in to make a meal, even if your garden produce is only a small percentage of the meal.

Want to see what we ate day by day?

1.  Guajillo pepper.  2.  Basil, parsley.  3.  Basil, parsley.  4.  Parsley.  5.  Basil.  6.  Basil.  7.  Basil.  8.  Basil.  9.  Basil, okra, eggplant.  10.  Basil.  11.  Basil.  12.  Guajillo peppers.  13.  Basil, guajillo peppers.  14.  Parsley.  15.  Basil, parsley.  16.  Parsley.  17.  Parsley.  18.  Basil, oregano, thyme.  19.  Basil.  20.  Cayenne, basil.  21.  Basil.  22.  Basil.  23.  Basil.  24.  Basil, parsley, okra, eggplant.  25.  Parsley.  26.  Parsley.  27.  Parsley, guajillo peppers.  28.  Guajillo peppers.  29.  Guajillo peppers.  30.  Basil, parsley, eggplant, okra.

29 September 2014

Every Small Creature Pointing to our Immense Creator


We've lived here more than a year now, but we're still seeing new and exciting things right outside our front door.  Or at least within a couple miles of it, which is usually how far our feet will take us on a given walk.

These little sand buildings often wander horizontally across the ground's surface, but they also ascend vertically, whether on the dirt walking path or sometimes even on a parking lot.  This one was three or four inches high.

I don't know what kind of bug makes them, but I'm always careful to watch out, lest I should step on one and break up somebody's home.

When I take time to notice nature's small details, I can't help but think of how great our God is, for creating all these creatures.  Think, even for just a moment, about what kind of mind can not only grasp and understand every detail in the universe, but also make every detail of the universe out of nothing.

This belief, too, is an act of faith.

Paul knew we'd be challenged to believe in a Creator God, so he wrote you and me right into the faith hall of fame, just as a reminder:  "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear."  Hebrews 11:2

Jesus Himself knew we'd lose the fervor of our faith as soon as we forgot that He--the Word, who was with God from the beginning, who was God, by whom all things were made (see John 1)--created all things, so He told John to give that last-in-the-list lukewarm church His Creator credentials:

"And unto the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God..."

He goes on to tell His church how to turn their lives around, how to have open eyes, how to have true riches in Him, how simple it is to just open the door and invite the God of the universe inside the heart, to fellowship with and be changed by this God who made us all in the first place.

As I began refocusing my prayer life, I started seeing some other areas that need refocusing in my heart.  This week, I'll be especially intentional about opening the door and spending suppers, so to speak, with the One who created everything and who can keep creating good things even in me.

Anyone with me?

24 September 2014

When it Rains


The streets here are designed to handle a good storm.  Little ditches everywhere direct the water exactly where it needs to go, so that it drains into a canal that has depth to hold a lot more water than usual.

Of course when the flash flood warning hit, we made sure to go out in it to see how bad it would really get.  The car made a few interesting noises, but otherwise enjoyed the adventure as much as we did.


None of the peppers in their pots were actually floating away, so we weren't to worried about them.  But that floating idea sounded like fun, so we decided our inner tubes were a better vehicle for the streets that day than our car.


The neighborhood children were all out on their bikes, a few parents were out taking photos, and there we were.  Mature, educated adults, wading down the river-street to where it was just deep enough to go floating.

Which was great fun, by the way.  Never waste a good flash flood warning, you know.

22 September 2014

Refocusing my Prayer Life


The beginning of the school year tends to be one of my favorite times to evaluate my routines, tossing out the ones that don't work so well, re-establishing the ones that do, and generally tweaking my life to be ready for the year ahead.

I guess you could call it my New Year's resolution season.  I know for normal people that comes in January, but by then I feel like I had better be in a good working system or the whole first semester might be a disaster

This fall, which feels suspiciously like a hot northwest July to me, my schedule has filled out nicely, and while I'm loving my growing family of piano students, I needed to refine how I do mornings.  

In particular I wanted to find a way to make sure my morning devotional time would neither be too delayed (as I rush around to help my husband get out the door) or rushed (as I realize what time it is after I've gotten him out the door).

My prayer time especially took the brunt of the rushing-through-this-so-I-could-move-on.

For years, I wrote my prayers down in a prayer journal.  I've gotten away from that, partly because it takes so much time to get through everything I'd like to say, and partly because it started to feel strange to have such intimate, just-between-me-and-Jesus thoughts written out on paper, where someone could find them and read them sometime.

This fall as I evaluated why I was so often trying to make such an important part of my day go by as quickly as possible, I knew journaling wasn't the answer, so as I thought and prayed about it, I made myself a couple of new rules to slow myself down and drink in more of the blessings of an active prayer life.

Rule 1:  Fold my hands, close my eyes, and actually pray on my knees.

I understand that God hears and answers prayer no matter where we are, and no matter what position we choose.  However, I too often found an excuse to pray while I was doing some kind of chore, and my brain refused to focus on either the chore or the praying in a meaningful way.  So I've been getting back to early childhood, forcing myself to still, and praying the old fashioned way.

And you know what?

It has helped tremendously.  Closed eyes don't notice the stack of paperwork on the table.  Folded hands don't itch to start putting seedlings in new pots.  Bended knees don't trot over to the kitchen sink to take care of a few dishes.

In the focused quiet, my soul finds more rest in God, greater peace in trusting to Him the things on my heart.

Rule 2:  If I'm not on my knees, I am allowed to pray while I go for a walk in the fresh air.

My husband does this on a regular basis.  He'll go for an extra long walk sometimes, just taking the time to breathe the fresh air and talk to the Lord about everything.  I'm learning to follow that example.

That fifty-minute walking route proves a great chunk of time to talk to Jesus more in depth about things.  Seeing flowers blooming, hearing birds singing, and soaking in the sunlight remind me how He's in control of everything, and how I can trust Him with the things on my heart.

What are your favorite ways to focus your prayer life?

19 September 2014

Boundless Love

White, Ellen G.  Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p.225

15 September 2014

What Physical Healing has to do with the Gospel

My thoughts followed the disciples through their preaching journeys, when Jesus sent them out two by two with power.  Power to preach.  Power to heal.  Power to cast out devils.

I wondered why power to heal physical diseases needed to go along with the preaching.  

Casting out demons seemed an obvious necessity, to make room for Jesus and the Holy Spirit, of course.  But physical healing?

Healthy people think more clearly, so perhaps the gift of health would clear the way for people to understand the gospel.

The sick made well would perhaps feel so grateful that they would respond to the gospel call.

Sick people made instantly healthy people would recognize the hand of power, and exercise faith in God's power to restore them spiritually, too.

All those seemed like good reasons, but I couldn't shake the thought that there might be a reason even more foundational than those.  As I thought some more, and asked God to give me wisdom to understand His Word, something more did indeed return to my mind--something I remembered reading years ago.

"Satan has the power of disease and death, and in every age the curse has been more visible, and the power of Satan more plainly seen."  White, Ellen G.  Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, p. 69.

Clearly Satan had power over demons, which needed to be cast out.  But if he also exercised power over disease?  Ah, here was a hint.

I thought about another story I'd been studying and typing earlier in the day.  People were accusing Jesus of being possessed with the devil, and exercising Satan's authority.  

I'd been struck by that story for several days, actually, thinking about the underlying assumptions of such an accusation.  If they really believed he was casting out devils by Beelzebub, I thought, they could truly only believe one of two things.  

On the one hand, they might have believed that the devil was indeed more powerful than anyone or anything else in the universe; without his permission no one could tell the demons what to do.  It's a sobering thought, yet sometimes I think we fall prey to it just like they may have.

On the other hand, even if they really did believe God had power over Satan, they certainly didn't believe Jesus came from God.

Either way, Jesus answered their murmurings in parables.  Can a kingdom or a house stand if it is divided against itself?  Of course not.  Furthermore,

"No man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his goods."  Mark 3:27

I can't help but think Jesus is talking about Himself here.  It's as if He's saying, Sure, Satan has some measure of strength.  But I am here to bind him up, and spoil his goods.  Trust in Me.  I Am not only strong.  I Am strongest.

Therefore, because of that power Satan had over disease and death, part of binding up Satan and spoiling his goods needed to be physical healing.  

Then the difficult question remains:  If Jesus bound up Satan, why do [I, my loved ones, my friends], as Christians, still suffer diseases?

I'm not talking about the common cold.  I'm talking about serious, life-altering (if not life-threatening) illnesses. Illnesses that bring untold daily suffering in the lives of dedicated Christian people.

Shouldn't they experience healing like whole towns did in Jesus' day?

I don't know the answer to the question.

I do know I can trust Jesus, who through His victory on the cross bought back power over death and disease.

I do know the devil knows he couldn't prevail against Jesus in the war in heaven, and he knows he only has a short time left before his final end.  (See Revelation 12.)

Thus while even I myself still suffer things I don't have answers for, I am the more resolved to turn my health, and the health of my friends and family, over to Jesus.  I invite Him to bind up Satan's power over my life, and spoil that old serpent's power over disease.

And after I've done that?

I can rest in the arms of my Savior, who I've chosen to be the chairman of the board of my health.  Whether I or friends or family experience immediate healing or not, I can trust Him to work out everything for His glory and my salvation. 

I know He's gaining the victory in this whole huge war against evil, and I can trust Him to prevail in the battlefield of my own life.  Spiritually, physically, mentally, in every way imaginable.

10 September 2014

Customer Service


Dear Sibelius Support Techs,

Thanks to you both, from the bottom of my heart, for spending nearly an hour each on my problem yesterday.  I know it's your job, and you probably get paid by the hour, but still.  Thanks. 

You didn't have to be nice about it, but you were.  It didn't turn out to be an easy fix, and I'm sure you could have chosen to be frustrated instead.

Thanks for trying everything until it worked.  Thanks, first guy, for trying to call back when we got cut off.  Thanks, second guy, for picking up seamlessly from where the first guy left off, and carrying it through to completion.

When my husband came home?  And found out you were at that very moment putting the finishing touches on his most beloved and necessary specialized computer program?  And he realized he'd be able to use it again right away?

He was overwhelmed by a flood of relief.

I know I said thanks on the phone, but since we all call you when we're already frustrated, maybe you don't hear it often enough.  I just wanted you to know, on the day after when everything is working well and we're up and running again, I haven't forgotten.  

I'm still grateful for everything you've done.

Sincerely,
That Lady who Took up a Ton of Your Time Yesterday

08 September 2014

Another Black Swallowtail Butterfly


All summer long, we've left three or four little green chrysalises in a big glass jar on the back patio.  On the first day of school, a butterfly came out of one of them!  She was a little camera shy, but another butterfly emerged yesterday, and I was able to capture him while his wings were still a bit ruffled, before they were even ready for flight.


Four months ago, our caterpillars made their first chrysalises.  We had read that sometimes the butterflies will "overwinter" for sometimes several months, we thought we'd see just how long that would take.  In our case, it would really be "oversummering", since I suppose the butterflies wait to emerge until the heat has passed.

Two chrysalises remain--I'll have to let you know when they hatch!

04 September 2014

Eggplants, Tomatoes, and Sunrises


Almost exactly a year ago, I dropped my husband off at his new job and went straight down to the car repair shop.  During the next week or so, I took him to school in a rental car, and spent the day looking at rental ads (for houses, not other cars), trying to find a place to live.

One of the things I remember distinctly from those early-morning drives were the breathtaking sunrises I enjoyed out my rental car window.  

Since we get more rain this month than most other months of the year here, there are often dramatic cloud formations on the eastern horizon, and the light has a new show every morning.  I'm loving the chance to enjoy them again, this year from my back yard or my morning walk.


We've had quite a few more pollinators in our garden lately; however, I still pollinate the eggplant flowers every day, just to be sure.  We wouldn't want to miss out on any of our promised fruits if the pollinators happen to take a day off.  And as you know, we have several ways we love to eat eggplant (which don't include eggplant Parmesan!).

We've been eating Japanese White Eggs in relative abundance.  We've had one Rosa Bianca so far, with more blossoms on the way, and our first Aswad Eggplant flower bloomed today.


I can't say how nice it was to come home after summer breaks to a few established plants like these, especially in comparison to starting everything in the garden from scratch when we moved in last fall.


We were perhaps inordinately pleased with ourselves to have started our tomato seeds a full six weeks before we did last year.  Oh, how high our hopes for them have been climbing!  

This time, we've transplanted them up to three-inch pots to help them get a bit bigger and more prepared for life in the garden plot before putting them out permanently.  It won't be long now before they'll be ready to venture out into the wide world.

We've planted three plants each of four varieties:  Amish Paste, Bonny Best, Ingegnoli Gigante Liscio, and Big Yellow Zebra.  Our seeds are a couple of years old, and the last two varieties I don't see available through Baker Creek anymore.  Nonetheless, we'll grow them while our seeds last, and perhaps attempt to save some (even though they might cross pollinate a little in our small space).



(I'm not compensated at all for these links to seeds--just thought you might enjoy knowing which varieties we're growing right now.)

01 September 2014

Onward, No Matter How Dark the Path


I'm not one to sit down at the piano to learn a new piece and get downright angry at a composer.

No, not even when it's hard, or when I can't seem to find a good fingering, or when I mess it up ten times in a row.

Oh, but that day, I could hardly take it, and I was boiling mad at Marilyn Ham (a composer and arranger whose sacred music for piano, by the way, is some of my absolute favorite to play).


Mind you, I loved the idea of combining "The Battle Belongs to the Lord", which talks about the how our battles are really the Lord's battles to fight, with "Onward, Christian Soldiers".  I loved the switch from the intensely anxious minor-key verse when the heavenly army enters the land to the full and triumphant major-key chorus when we soldiers glorify the Lord of our army.

I just couldn't handle the transition to "Onward, Christian Soldiers" that kept it in a sad, mournful, plodding minor key.

And I won't lie, I was downright angry.  

Who puts this triumphant hymn of faith in a sad, despondent key?  If not even THIS hymn can be an encouraging battle cry anymore, what else is really left?  Where is hope if it can't be here?

Why I didn't just stop right there and choose a new piece to learn instead, I'm really not sure.  But I kept playing, plodding through this mournful Christian soldier's march until the tears flowed.




Because wasn't I on that very day feeling the weight and weariness of how sometimes the Christian walk just isn't easy, and feels the farthest thing from victorious?  Hadn't I just been wondering what in the world I was doing where I was, discouraged yet knowing somehow I was exactly where I should be, unable to discern a purpose in it all?

Somehow, though, even in my own life that didn't seem very glorious right then, by God's grace, I hadn't given up on the march.  I was still putting one foot in front of the other, hoping, praying, asking God to strengthen my faith until the light could shine just a bit brighter.

That minor key hung on in the music longer than I thought I could bear, but when that major key finish finally arrived for the very last verse, in fullest chords across the entire keyboard, my hope revived and the tears kept flowing for a new reason.  

I felt encouraged, strengthened, knowing the composer who at first made me so mad I could scream knew how to paint a sound scape of my life, with the promise of a brighter day ahead just beyond the next page.

I didn't have to pretend everything was glorious when it wasn't.  I just had to keep going.

My day of anger at the piano was a long time ago.  When I got that piece out again this fall, to freshen it up in my fingers, I was in a different place, a brighter place.

Still, I couldn't help but get a little teary eyed at the thought of how many people around me face those minor-key, discouraging marches right now.  And I whisper it softly, as if they could hear--

You're not alone.  It doesn't have to be a bright path to be the right path.  Victories won through hard battle are sweetest.  There's light up ahead.  Just hold tight to Jesus' hand, and keep walking, just keep walking through your dark valley.  We're almost home now.  He's coming soon for you and me, but meanwhile?  If you keep your eyes open, you'll often see a little bright flower beside your path to cheer your weary heart. 

27 August 2014

Goals for the Fall Garden


It's easy for me to get carried away with setting goals.  I set too many, reaching for an ideal-world future, and forget to set and celebrate smaller goals along the way.  Thus for this fall's garden, I simply have three goals in mind.

I recently listened to a talk by a lady who produces 50% of her own food.  Isn't that incredible?  I would love for that to be true of me someday, but for now? 

I'd be utterly delighted to simply eat something from the garden once a day.  Every day.


To do its job in keeping me happy, I think our soil would love to be enriched with more aged compost to give it the energy it needs to produce abundantly.  We'll use some of our own, and find some other sources of good composted materials.


Of course we can't forget the bees.  We've been overjoyed with having several kinds of bees buzzing back and forth around the pepper flowers out front and the basil flowers out back.

We're planning to plant more flowers like bee balm to attract these little friends to the garden.  And let's face it, we love the flowers as much as they do, so it's a win-win.