Autumn, finally

It’s been summer hot for so long fall colors completely surprised me this week. We went for our usual walk in the woods, rescue dogs Lily, Lulu and I. Foggy morning, but we came to the millpond…

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Eerily still, drops of mist plinking into the pond, no crickets, no birds, no frogs.

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Lily, always looking for something of interest

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Lulu quite ready to move us along

So still, as though waiting for something. The autumn, a flash of brightness, the days grow shorter with brilliant reds, yellows, orange to show for it in maples, sweetgum, dogwood, cypress. Lighting our way through the onset of the dimmer winter, such as it is here, before they fall, those leaves, to carpet the forest floor. Then sleep. Dying to rest, waking in a few brief weeks to bring newness of life again.

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Enshrouded like this almost ashamed they’ve lost their summer’s glory, giving way, saying goodbye to this year’s offering of shade, food, nesting homes, the grace of the air we breathe. Cleansing our atmosphere for us, now losing their power to begin the long sleep.

Yet still, life emerges, continues amid the preparation for rest….

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barely visible on the leafy ground a turtle looking for a safe spot to dig its winter haven.

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no, Lily, don’t think he needs our help.

Summer, 2017, signing off….

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interludes

I have lived with daylight savings time all my life and have never gotten used to it. By the time it goes back to standard time I have simply learned to go from day to day with one less hours’ sleep.

I really don’t like it.

I can remember my father returning home Fridays after his week’s commute to New York setting his watch because the time was different there in summer. You’d have thought I’d have more interesting memories than watching my father set his watch, but I doted on him. Since he was gone every week he was the magic parent. He was not home enough to be ordinary so I’d carefully watch and listen to everything about him.

Except when I had ponies.

I never caught the tennis bug or the golf bug or the tanning bug. So summers, except when I had a good book to read or went to a friends’ house or a movie, weren’t too exciting. Oh, I loved the freedom like any kid. No school, no early mornings, I went barefoot and wore shorts and t-shirts every day. But the summers of the ponies were transportive.

I learned about these ponies from a neighborhood friend. Mr. Robinson had all these ponies and he rented them, if a family had an appropriate place to care for them, enough yard, a place for shelter. Our house where I grew up had a detached 2-car garage. We only used one side for a car, the other side housed the lawn mower and various other dusty items that kind of blended into the grey-brown of the inside of the garage. Next to that was an old but sturdy chicken coop, complete with surrounding small fence. It was fine, Mr. Robinson said. So he brought  my first rented pony named Claudia, a couple of bales of hay and a bridle. No saddle, just bareback.

I found some other neighborhood girls who rented ponies at the same time and we rode all over the place. These ponies weren’t shod so we were careful to keep them on the grass. This was true freedom.

So every summer for I guess 5 or 6 years one or two weeks I rented one of these ponies. I never met one I didn’t like, or more to the point, that did not like me. Ponies can be mean little creatures if they take a dislike to you. My brother came to the elementary school playground across from our house where we all mostly rode. It was about 4 acres of wide open space. He wanted to try riding, he said. I slid off and handed him the reins. He looked at me. So we walked the pony over to the concrete picnic tables where he could give himself a leg up. On he went. Something about this the pony did not like.

Off went the pony. Fast. And off went my brother, right in the dirt. I probably should have given him a few tips on how to ride but I figured he’d watched us enough and figured it out. He hadn’t, on top of which he’d had the wind knocked out of him. So I had to stop first and make sure he’d be ok.

The thing about ponies is when they start running if nobody’s riding they don’t stop. So having the assurance my brother would live and somehow not find a way to get Mom after me for his injuries, gritting my teeth I took off. Last I’d seen she rounded the side of the school to the front of the building. Right after that would be a street. Not a highly traveled one, but still.

I pumped around to the front of the school to find her there on the lawn, calmly grazing. So relieved I nearly cried, I slowly walked up so as not to spook her off again and gently picked up her reins. Crisis averted.

There were 4 or 5 of those ponies that were my favorites… Claudia was the first, Vera (she shared more than one summer with us), a little strawberry roan named Peaches… Peaches I got two weeks one year, for the price of one. Mr. Robinson liked the way we cared for those ponies, and she’d gained a little weight…

Fun times.

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Salty fall morning

I’m blaming the “active hurricane season” for the hot weather we had, up until last Tuesday when the morning greeted us in the upper 40s. The crispness of fall makes for nostalgia thoughts and the promise of smoky cold nights, clear sparkling  starry night skies. Fall and winter are sleepy months, softly darker, shorter days, a time to recollect and stop. To rest.

It is also when doggies can go back to the beach. I think rescue dogs Lily and Lulu tolerate the sand and salt for me. And I don’t go on the beach when they are not allowed. Because this is a touristy area dogs are forbidden from April 1 to September 30.  So we relish the 6 months we can play in the sand. Or I do.

Picture1022171442_1.jpgLily enjoying the cool sand

There are fewer people on the beaches now as the days get shorter and the water is cooler. Though we did see another sunrise wedding last week. Two weddings actually. And birthday parties.

The surf is still roiling, frothy, staunchly angry from those tropical disturbances I guess. Enough so Lulu is not at all happy about getting her paws wet so she stays up on dry sand. That’s where any passerby might stop to speak, or offer a gentle pet while she demurely wags her tail grateful for the kindness.

Picture1022171441_1.jpgLulu leading the way

And we pick up the odd shell, smoothed and shined up by the churning sea.Picture1022171439_1.jpg

 

Offerings

This is awkward, because I am not often asked to help with things. Maybe people can just tell I am a klutz by nature, or shy, or I am just that good at not being visible. Whatever, somehow I was noticed and asked to help at my church altar guild.

There is an abbey near Charleston that offers silent prayer retreats where I have gone a few times to regroup my life. I love going there, it is in a beautiful setting on the Cooper River, it is actually the former plantation where Clare Boothe Luce lived as a married woman. Her library is still there. So each morning there is a mass and different retreatants are asked to bring the gifts. This one time I was given the carafe of wine. Terrified, I gingerly carried this beautiful symbol, slowly and thankfully without incident.

So this  should encourage me, and when the chair of the guild told me to decant the pitchers of water and wine I did so, she was at the moment out of the building discussing I supposed something with the priest, I chose a bottle she had been given by a member of the congregation, not the usual label.

Upon her return she exclaimed and laughed uncomfortably, explaining she had not intended it to be used this Sunday, how so many would complain, and had I tasted it? No, I hadn’t, so she poured off some in an empty plastic water bottle, drank a little and made a face like someone who ate a lemon. She shoved the bottle at me, “Here, you try this,” so I did.

It burned like fire.

Now understand no one ever gets more than a taste of wine at the communion rail, but with this wine that’s more than enough. Holy Spirit’s fire is rivaled by this wine. I understood why Native Americans called whiskey fire water. So I offered to pour it back. She totally ignored me! Chattering away, clearly to herself about looking forward to the expressions of everyone as they drank this wine, what the priest would think… and she told me to put the water and wine decanters by the altar.

She showed me how to dress the altar table for the service, how to prepare the chalices, how to fill the candles with oil and the sanctuary lamp and check the wicks. We put the host wafers in the paten, the priest’s wafer in the larger chalice one, placed everything on the altar.

And then we were finished. She collected her things, directed me to the fellowship hall to help her fill the coffee maker tanks with water for after service. Looking at me pointedly as we prepared to leave she mentioned she also had another lady in mind to help with the altar guild.

I think I might have been fired on my first day!

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earthly good

Several years ago I had the privilege of visiting Israel with an Israeli-based organization. I was there 10 days and the tour guide soaked us in Jewish history as well as showing us holy sites where Jesus lived and taught like the church at Cana, Church of the Beatitudes, Galilee, Jerusalem and Golgotha. At times overwhelming, the people in my group and I shared this experience with awe, reverence and humble hearts.

But there was one traveler who seemed to be most interested in attracting the attention of a female traveler. No particular one, just a female.

He seemed a pleasant enough sort, persistent but nice. He was from Colorado and insinuated himself gently but intentionally enough as to remind me of a movie I’d seen a while before, “Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels” with Michael Caine and Steve Martin. It’s a funny film about a couple of con men, I recommend it. (Sigourney Weaver had a movie about two women cons, “Heartbreakers”, also funny).

Anyway, on the flight back to New York I was walking the kinks out of my legs and he offered a cup of coffee. We chatted a short while and he asked which church I attended. At the time I thought it an odd question so I replied I wasn’t really consistently attending and he thought that was ok, most people were too religious to be of any earthly good.

I paused a moment. I’d heard this expression all my life, basically from ne’er-do-wells trying to convince nice people to let their hair down (also heard Luke 12:19 used this way, to which I’d respond with Luke 12:20!).

Proverbs 16:3-9 basically gives advice on living in a way that is pleasing to God. That if you “commit your work to the Lord, your plans will be established”. I’d always heard “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” I’d also heard that we can control our thoughts and thus control our attitudes not just in ourselves and what we do but toward others. The first commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, spirit and soul” and the second: “Love your neighbor…” So what we do really needs to include mindfulness of God, and being considerate, thoughtful and loving of our neighbor who, for a literal person like myself I have to remind me that this is not whomever lives next door or down the street, but anyone. God created each of us, everywhere. So this means any and everyone.

So I wonder when I do or say things, and I have always had an unbridled tongue and an undisciplined mind to my occasional deep regret, the impression or ripples they make. I can’t dwell on this, my little brain hasn’t the capacity. But I offer a prayer asking forgiveness where I have offended, asking encouragement where I have actually done some good. I say done some good because I know there is “no one good but God alone.”

In many cases we’ll never know what kind of mark we have left. I just remember to use my powers for good, or ask God if He will. This doesn’t give me license to do as I please and just assume God will fix everything, clean up my mess. This makes me ultimately responsible for everything I do or say and to remember that no matter how awful the memory or the feeling brought by that memory or the lack of forgiveness from or for whomever, I am forgiven.

I have said this before but I need to know it again. God sent a Savior, His Son. For me, for you, forever.

I pray to be used for His good, His glory.

 

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Prov. 16:3, 23:7; Luke 10:27, 18:19

shadows under the door

So… family vacations. As my brother said, he couldn’t have planned it better if he’d tried.

Day 4 of our week my brother was not feeling well. And this is someone who never feels something to the point of concern. He forges ahead and gets through it.

We drove to a small emergency room not far from where his family and I were enjoying our annual beach week. After a ct-scan he was rushed to emergency at the larger hospital. Two a.m. he was put in a hospital room waiting for surgery.

Irony: They wake you about every half-hour through the night for something. As soon as daylight touches the edge of that windowsill they leave you alone.

So he dozed, on and off. I watched the shadows of medical people’s feet walking past his door. Waiting for those that would stop and take him to surgery. To healing.

Me: “Do you have any Bibles?”

Gift shop person: “No, sorry.”

Me: “Is there a chapel?”

Pink Lady: “I don’t know of one.”

Me: “Are there Bibles, anywhere?”

Pink Lady: “Not that I know of.

I remembered my Bible in the glove compartment in my car, reluctant to leave my brother should those shadows stop for him I ran outside to get it.

He kept dozing. Shadows kept walking. He woke.

Me: “Can I read you a psalm?’

Him: “Sure.”

Me: Psalm 91… basically assuring anyone frightened beyond their wits that God will keep you under His wings, under His feathers.

Comfort.

The shadow stopped. A strong, young man opened the door, asked my brother to give his name, birthdate. Correct patient. My brother heroically gets up out of the bed.

Orderly: “Uh, nope, not having you flashing people down in surgery. Get back in the bed.”

My brother: Laughter.

So he goes. I breathe a prayer to follow him, through pre-op, anesthesia, the cutting, post-op, recovery.

God heard me.

I walk down the hallway toward where the same strong, young man is bringing my brother back to his family, back to consciousness, back to life. I follow them to his room where his wife, daughter, my son are waiting.

Groggily my brother says, “Did he…” can’t finish.

Understanding, I respond: “Laparoscopy.”

Repeat: “Open cut?”

Me: “No. Laparoscopy.”

Brother: “Guy’s a genius.”

My brother is there, he can hear us, he responds, slowly as one coming out of deep sleep would. I joke that I have never in my life seen him inebriated. His wife, “Oh, he’s a happy drunk!”

My brother: “I drive better, too.”

Laughter.

We stay to visit as his nurses check his oxygen saturation which rises and falls like my emotions.

“I’m not going to code,” he says.

We laugh, but cautiously.

He needs sleep. We exit for the night hugging as best we can through tubes and wires promising to return in the morning.

“Love you.”

“Love you.”

Goodnight.

family vacations

Every summer my family went to the same inn at the beach, usually the same week and generally with the same group of people. My brother and I looked forward to this almost like Christmas. It was basically the one week we saw both our parents consistently, unrushed, relaxed.

It was great.

Eight or nine years ago my brother decided to restart this tradition with his family, inviting me to join them. There is only one inn left at this beach, the one where we always stayed blew down in a hurricane about 30 years ago. We still look forward to this.

So I decided I’d show off some North Carolina wines this time. Aside from communion wine on Sunday I don’t drink much but maybe someone will. I had taken my son to a local vineyard for lunch on one of his visits a year or so ago and he enjoyed it. Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu and I piled in the car late Tuesday morning after a heavy rainstorm. I figured it was over.

I figured wrong.

It’s about an hour’s drive to this winery and I could barely see as I drove. Thankfully not many people were taking their chances so we arrived unscathed. I bought some wine, got back in my car galvanized for the return trip though at this point it had stopped raining.

Picture0810171645_1.jpg* one of the recommended wines *

On my drive home I realized how much I will miss Lily and Lulu. This is not a pet friendly place and I kept telling myself it’s only one week, if I leave late enough and come home early enough it’s really only 6 days. I know one year a lady whose family had been going to this inn for years convinced the proprietors to allow her to bring her ancient chihuahua that she was giving fluids to each day. They allowed it but others at the inn were not so happy complaining it would set a precedent, whatever. Personally I thought it was wonderful that they allowed her to do this. I saw this little dog. Unless you knew she had him you’d never even know he was there.

Some friends tried to convince me to get therapy dog vests. That way my dogs could go with me everywhere. They’d love it! Apparently you don’t have to train your dog, you don’t even need to have a condition that warrants a therapy dog. Not even a doctor’s explanation. You can just buy these vests online. This is something I could not do though. I couldn’t live with myself, not just myself being a fraud, but dragging my dogs into the deception?

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Nope. Couldn’t do it.

So I will wait until the last possible moment to take them to their vacation spot before I go to mine. My brother and his family are driving from Texas. About 18 hours compared to my 2-hour drive. Then my son plans to join us on Tuesday. Though predicted to stay offshore, that’s also just about the same time the tropical storm is scheduled to arrive.

Maybe I will have some of that wine…..