hidden blessings in lessons

My father, though generous and kind was a perfectionist. No one is really perfect, but he wanted us to believe he was and he expected it of others. Hard to please. He was in his late 80s before he told me he was proud of me which came as a complete and utter surprise. So much that all I could say in response was that I was proud of him, too.

So for many years this high bar was the source of a lot of frustration.

My ex-father-in-law I can recall often said, “don’t do as I do, do as I say do.” Though he was one of the most humble men I have ever met.

I have learned many things. Just watch as a dog struggles to dislodge a rawhide chip or some other much-wanted morsel from under something. Until all efforts are exhausted they will go at this with persistence showing no anger or impatience.

So this week my two rescue dogs, Lily and Lulu and I were finishing our long walk when I threw a stick for Lily, a favorite game of hers. As she turned to go after it she yelped and came limping back, her left hind leg dangling uselessly. Not far from the car I helped Lily into the backseat praying the whole way home it was not her ACL.

It was.

Her vet scheduled her surgery for January 8 and sent us home with two prescriptions for pain.

She occasionally looks up at me with her “Walkies?” face and I sit by her and pet her soft fur and explain we can go for walkies but not today. In nature the injured, sick and aging are often left behind their pack. I reassure her that she is still loved and she will be ok.

When we go outside I have learned to walk more slowly so as not to rush Lily. I notice things. I can feel tension drain away. I feel more rested. I am more present with Lily, with myself, the air.

IMG_0810.JPGMarquise Amaryllis that I noticed blooming this week

I am realizing that even though I have been retired for over 10 years I need to slow down more. Like Lily I can no longer push myself as I once did, or I shouldn’t.

I have 4 steps onto my front porch. Lily can manage getting down much better than she can climb. So I help her as she steps up each step one at a time. How many times I have cried out to God when I find myself in a mess or situation that leaves me helpless.

And each time He has shown me the way.

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 Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.”  –Isaiah 30:21 NASB

 

forest bathing

or…. nice, long walk in the woods

This is a thing. Who knew? Asian countries have been doing this for years. It calms and soothes. Gives peace and balance to your mind. Some walk leisurely through, others find a spot to stop, absorb the fulness of the forest.

My mother discovered summer camps were an easy way to get us out from underfoot as children. I learned my favorite aspect of this childhood torture was the hikes they took us on and so I have loved the outdoors. I guess our counselors thought this was a great way to push us past the point of exhaustion so we’d sleep (wrong). I loved those walks.

When my dad moved our family from the south to New Jersey in a corporate transfer he and my mom found a house in a rural area (now Johnson & Johnson headquarters) with five wooded acres and a rambling stony brook. In hot summers I’d find a spot under the leafy shade, watch fish swim in the cool, clear water of the stream.

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But forest bathing. I never connected why I was so drawn to walks in the woods. There is something safe about being dwarfed by tall trees, leafy or stark. The theory is the leaves in summer emit moisture with their shade enhancing the cooling effect. For me I am happiest to be in a place where life exists mostly in and of itself. The toxic carbon dioxide humans exhale trees and plants thrive on. In exchange they return the favor with a clean supply of oxygen. Well, clean I suppose is relative to where you live. It seems a privilege to hear the private songs of birds, watch squirrels scramble for acorns. Something transportive yet so simple.

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Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu and I drive in early morning and arrive before dawn so we see and hear the waking of the day. Seems such a small thing, but pure in its moment-to-moment changing. We can barely see, then gradually colors appear. The green grasses and pines, the browns and greys of dormancy, the few bright-colored leaves that have not yet fallen. And in its stillness like a conductor raising his baton, the orchestra poised to begin yet another beautiful symphony.

And we get to be a part of this.

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wreaths

I had never done this before. Wreaths Across America is an organization that allows ordinary people like me to sponsor wreaths that are placed on graves of soldiers at national cemeteries. They do this in one day (today this year), at all national cemeteries all over America.

So I signed up in October to volunteer to place the wreaths. At the time there were 11 others who had volunteered. The cemetery here has 5,200 gravesites so I guessed we’d be pretty busy for most of the day.

I guessed wrong.

They’ve done this for about 10 years. Each year more people become involved, both donating wreaths as well as volunteering to place them. There were hundreds this year.

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Despite flooding rains, mud, Christmas shopper traffic all these people came. Not just military people, there were Gold Star Moms, families, college students, plain people like me and veterans.

With military precision the ceremony began at 12:00pm sharp with an invocation, presentation of the colors, the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. If that wasn’t enough to get someone choked up, the flags of each branch of the military, including Civil Air Corps and Rough Riders with a representative of the branch all laid a wreath for their branch of service.

Taps was played. Slowly and with dignity. Those who made public comments reminded us that each grave represented an individual whose life is celebrated because they fought to keep America free. No, they do not give us our freedom. God has given us that but these people we remember for ensuring our freedom is still honored and lived.

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We take this for granted. We shouldn’t.

When the ceremony concluded we made our way to the crates of wreaths. The heady scent of Fraser fir drifted on the light breeze. I had sponsored 5 wreaths so I took those to a stark row of white marble headstones. We had been asked, when laying the wreath, to speak aloud the name of the soldier honored and for a few moments pause out of respect and gratitude.

This brought more than a few tears for me. Nationalism is not a bad thing. Having respect for what one’s country represents is important. I don’t mean to the point where it is an end in itself. This country was founded by those who wanted to live God-given lives of freedom and order, not under tyranny or political strife. America is not in a good place today and I cannot for the life of me figure out why there are those who hate America, the Constitution and our laws created to protect this country. The founders fought and worked hard to establish America to provide good life for people who also want to work hard. The generosity of Americans is staggering. Yet that generosity ought to be honored, not abused.

The soldiers buried in that cemetery believed in this country and believed in fighting for those beliefs. I’m glad to have been a part of showing them we respect that.

And still remember.

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“and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  –John 8:32 NASB

 

winter sleep

It makes sense, the days are shorter, it’s colder (in most places), plants go dormant. So there’s more inclination to sleep, or to want to sleep.

Not for me this week. Hurricane Florence took out a couple of fence panels that I had to replace. The installer guys said the wood had to cure for 6-8 weeks before I could paint so I did that this week. I forgot how long it takes to paint a fence!

I thought I’d get a jump on Christmas card and package mailing. Everybody had the same idea. Probably a good idea to avoid the post office from Thanksgiving till New Year’s.

An email this week had one of the coolest (no pun meant) pictures I have ever seen. There are many places I want to see before I can either no longer get around or see in general. I have been to some, the Grand Canyon was the top of the list, and another isn’t really a place so much as a thing. I would love to see auroras. So this picture is a phoenix aurora–

unnamed.jpg The picture was taken someplace over Norway recently, the photographer is Adrien Mauduit. Auroras are ephemeral, they shimmer and move with beauty. If you visit this photographer’s twitter page there are nothing but auroras, some in motion.

So though plants and most of nature sleeps, geomagnetic storms (coronal mass emissions from our sun) do not. And every summer throws its tantrums in the form of thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and all seasons have something to keep us awake. Right now it’s a winter storm making its way across the midwest to the NC mountains. At least I sure hope it stops there.

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When I took rescue dogs Lily and Lulu to their favorite walking park today, a nature preserve about 15 miles north, I noticed the overpasses and bridges have all been salted but not the roads. Which usually means not much in the way of icy is expected.

I hope this is true. Anyway, staying home sounds like a good idea this weekend.

He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Psalm 121

she thinks the car is that way

Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu and I have several parks where we like to walk. Lily is a great walking companion and can manage 2 or 3 miles. Lulu, being smaller therefore having much shorter legs is not. So sometimes we drive to wherever we are going for a walk.

This particular day Lulu was dragging her feet. Even squirrels did not interest her. We had come to this park but came in through an entrance we don’t normally use. So the only shortcut is a path through the woods. When we come out on the other side if we go in a certain direction we will have to walk the trail that goes completely around the park again.

A couple of ladies walking the opposite direction noted Lulu’s reluctance to keep pace with Lily and smiled, “she doesn’t seem too happy about her walk today,” one commented.

“She thinks the car is this way,” I replied. “It isn’t.”

So we went on.

To distract Lulu I headed for another pathway entrance into the woods again. She was having none of it and found a bench.

IMG_0747.JPGSo Lily and I stood by waiting for her to rest until she was ready to walk again. We ducked into the woods and came out nearer where the car was, and made it back home.

Another morning we walked along the now-deserted beach, since summer people have gone. Lulu is not happy at all about the sand that gets between her toe pads. So this walk did not take very long. Not even a  large collection of shorebirds, mainly gulls and pelicans interested her.

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Which got me thinking… I know a group of finches is a charm, it’s a murder of crows, a wake of vultures, a banditry of chickadees, and a dance of herons. So I looked up pelicans, which are a pod, scoop or squadron. I like their being called a squadron because they fly just like fighter jets, in a v-formation, low over the surface of the water and dive sharply to go after their prey.

Even so, Lulu was not impressed as I was and soon a few other beach walkers disturbed the birds enough to set them back into flight.

It’s funny how we tend to personify dogs as though  we know what they are thinking. We love them, and want them to be comfortable and happy. I know their companionship for me has been one of warmth and ease. I have never been without a dog in my life. And each dog is different. But one characteristic is profoundly evident in each one: they love. As utterly dependent they are on their person, there is a sense of comfort and freedom about them that gives me peace.

Even when Lily makes her silent demand for “walkies”

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No spoken word could be quite so insistent.

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