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…..

 

 

 

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simple gifts

As I began the slow climb up the mountain Aaron Copland’s “Simple Gifts” played on the car radio. Appalachian Spring is a favorite composition of mine. . .  “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free, ’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, and when we find ourselves in the place just right, ”twill be in the valley of love and delight… ”

I thought of a favorite author, Ann Voskamp’s book “1,000 Gifts” where she found herself at a place I reach occasionally… I can no longer see beauty for the mundane I have built in my own presupposition. So in her book Ann seeks to find gratitude in the hard, unpleasant times in her life. She finds beauty in the angry, strength in the weak. She finds God in her gratitude when she would perhaps find discouragement, instead finds courage.

So I became overwhelmed by that which I had lost sight of, what I failed to notice… rescue dog Lulu tickling me with her whiskers when she hopes to be noticed. Rescue dog Lily slathering my face with a slobbery kiss. Birdsong echoing in the pine thicket where my dogs and I walk at sunrise during summer. Tiny frogs in the eave of my house croaking loudly after a rainstorm. Puddle shimmers on the walkway reflecting under the porch ceiling. The sun gleaming on pine needles. Water droplets edged on grape leaves like tiny crystals.

During my time away I relished the sound of lively conversation and laughter among random small groups chatting happily on the lodge veranda. The gentle creak of rocking chairs as I watched a deer delicately pick her way along the edge of the woods munching leaves. The soft hum of crickets outside my open window where rainwashed, cool fresh air gently blew over my toes. Up the mountain the clouds hovered just below the peaks, hugging the light mist that floated below them. Plodding up each switchback I offered to God my challenges, cares, fears, and a few  tears. I thanked Him as I walked down the mountain, for the answers He would bring, for the comfort I already knew, for the peace over that which I cannot control.

Hope is a simple gift of the heart. It grows through faith and through my answered prayer. When allowed its freedom hope is indomitable, strengthening, comforting, and offers freedom from whatever tries to contain me. I can overcome it, whatever it is.

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Thank You God.

— Shaker lyrics, “Simple Gifts” written by Elder Joseph Brackett, 1848

newness of life

I loved the prayers of the Episcopal church, when I finally listened. My family started in the Presbyterian church, my mom’s church, until the minister left and one replaced him that my dad did not like. So we went to “his” church.

I sang in the choir there, fortunately had a director who was very good at teaching her choir members to read music although I could never look at a note on the scale and know what it should sound like. I always sang soprano. Melody is easier to sing than harmony.

So as I grew up things changed as they are inclined to do, and the church began to fray from its biblical strength. Those beautiful prayers were rewritten so as not to offend or call to responsibility those things we have done, or ought not to have done, where we saw there was “no health in us” and we needed God.

And my life changed, too. I became a single parent, learned to deal with an ex-family, keep a home, find a job (with my dad- challenge), groceries, cook, car maintenance, bills, the whole life bit. So I needed a church where I felt the solid strength of God again. Around then interdenominational churches were becoming popular but they were a far cry from the church I knew as a child. No order of worship, praise songs before the offering, no prayers of humility, thanksgiving, petition, confession. There was a sermon, communion usually once or twice a month. But they did (mostly) center themselves on the Bible. So I went to one for several years, until I stopped hearing what I needed to hear.

I needed and wanted more.

So I found an Anglican church. They use the same prayer book I grew up with so I have those prayers to strengthen me again. And a favorite the priest reads, inviting us before we take the sacraments to intend to lead a new life. And sometimes I need to start over. Find my newness. Like in Romans chapter 6, “newness of life”.

I have a place I go in the mountains. Even in summer there is a freshness, a crispness there. It’s a different place, different air, different people. It is away from everything so nights, even warm nights, the stars are clear and sparkling bright. The crickets and owls are all I can hear.

And if I climb the summit which though it isn’t dramatic it is a workout, I might see a few deer, some bluebirds, butterflies in the wildflowers. Sometimes there is a bear or two though I have not ever seen any. They are shy, I am told if you speak to them or sing or clap your hands they run away. And I ask God to help me cleanse myself of my burdensome preconceptions, misconceptions, anger, dullness, impatience… by the time my newness is restored, it is time to go home.

And any separation anxiety from rescue dogs Lily and Lulu has disappeared as I begin wending my way back home.

Thankful.

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Ps. 121

Skateboards and snapping turtles

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So there’s this great park near where I live. It’s got a huge skateboard ramp, a little pond with a couple of fountains and lots of benches around the pond. Rescue dogs Lily, Lulu and I enjoy late afternoon walks around the pond, stopping at the odd bench to sit and feel the cool breeze. As we walk often a skateboarder will stop to pet Lily and Lulu, which they absolutely love, each pushing the other to glean the most pets.

As we were driving out of the parking lot recently I noticed a guy standing by the curb across the street, an odd, dark lump at his feet. So I asked, “What is that?”

“Turtle,” he said.

Me: “Is it dead?”

Guy: “No, I’m kicking it to try to get it to go off in the drain ditch.”

So I get out of the car, walk over. Kicking turtle man has dirty tissues gingerly held in his fingers where clearly he unsuccessfully tried to pick up this pretty large turtle.

“You can’t pick it up,” he says. “It jerks its head around and bites.”

So I bent down, picked the now really angry turtle up by the back edges of its carapace and, sure enough that head stuck way out and swung around to try to bite me. Not having any luck with biting me it seemed to consider its plight, now 3-4 feet floating above ground as I quickly walked it across the street to the pond.

I placed it in the fringed cattail edge and waited. And waited. I don’t know if it needed a moment to recollect itself, having been mortified at actually being touched by humans or it wanted to see if I had other plans. So I stepped toward it. >>Plop!<<

Off it swam, many stories to tell.

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Murray’s pokeweed

So this master gardener class, I actually finished the classroom work last May but you don’t get to graduate until the following winter after you complete 25 hours of volunteering and 25 hours of plant clinic  where actual people come in with limbs, roots, desiccated leaves, berries, and various other garden/ weed items to have you either help them identify it, tell them how to get rid of it or tell them how to cure whatever may be wrong with it. That is a lot of anxiety for me. There could be any number of things that look similar. What if I recommend the wrong treatment? I’m telling you, I began to understand how doctors feel. Some of these plants are heirlooms or were someone’s great-great Aunt Martha’s plant and Must.Not.Die.

So I did manage to get through the plant clinic work. The volunteering was a lot of fun because it is nearly all outside, either pulling weeds, planting new seasonal plants or pruning, dead-heading. I did enjoy the weed pulling. It’s very therapeutic. Until one day.

I was under a canopy of shrubbery pulling out chamber bitter and various other noxious weeds when I spotted a poke weed. Unless you are from somewhere in the South you probably will not know what this is. Every part of this plant is toxic once it sets flower buds until the berries (juicy purple things that birds love and stain everything) are gone and the plant dies. Even then you should never try to eat it.

Called poke salad (pronounced poke salit, a song made famous by Tony Joe White, “Poke Salad Annie” written and recorded 1968 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qz4DvG4bQ2o), humans sometimes eat the tender leaves in spring but must be very careful that no evidence of a flower stalk has begun to grow. I do not recommend this with or without flower stalks. Ever.

images.jpgpoke weed plant

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So this plant had been there for a while. A few years maybe. It was doing no harm under this canopy.  No one could even see it, not unless they crawled under to where I was which wasn’t likely. I was surprised it had even survived because these things take full sun, happily. And heat. No problem. So here is this plant and I had a time cutting through its stem but finally did and proudly emerged with it, casually tossing it onto the growing pile of weeds and debris to be discarded.

Silence descended on our little group. Figuring everybody was just too hot to talk I went back to my weeding.

Murray, an older gentleman whom everyone knows and loves wandered up. Suspendered, a sheen of perspiration across his brow he walked over to peruse the results of the work we’d done. I barely heard him, but did for sure hear, “I figured somebody’d pull out that pokeweed one day.”

I was mortified. Were it in my yard it would have been permitted to stay since it does attract any number of songbirds. But this was a public garden, highly manicured. And I was a novice. Unseasoned as to the particulars of what others’ preferences and habits are. Still, I learned a very important lesson that day. Sometimes a weed, especially one that shows grace in humility among refined, well-bred flora, are encouraged to stay.

download.jpgDo Not Eat

darkness

I don’t remember being afraid of the dark when I was little. I do remember knowing without doubt that there were alligators under my bed and I had magic, invisible stepping stones from my bed to the bathroom if I had to get up in the night.

The disciples of Jesus knew a darkness none of us has to know. From about 3 in the afternoon of Good Friday until Easter morning. Jesus had told them He would leave them. He had told them He would be betrayed. They did not understand what He was saying. So when Judas brought the soldiers to arrest Jesus in the garden the disciples fled. All but two– Peter and John. And Peter denied ever knowing Him.

They watched Him painfully dragging the crossbeam upon which He would die. Those who were with Him at His crucifixion saw the nails driven through His battered flesh and watched, waiting, until He cried out and died.

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They left Him. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, two men known to have secretly visited Jesus with Pilate’s permission took Him down from the cross and buried Him in a tomb. The priests, afraid His disciples would play some trick and steal his body out of the tomb asked Pilate to set a watchman. Pilate told the priests to seal the tomb and watch for themselves. Which they did.

Jesus was dead. He was in hell. He was separated from God the Father. None of His followers knew what would happen. None knew what to believe. I know that I would not have known either.

Even the women who stayed by Him on the cross, Mary Magdalene, Mary His mother and Mary, wife of Cleopas did not know. Because Easter morning two of them went to see what they could do for Jesus in His burial but when they arrived the stone was rolled away. The tomb was open. An angel sitting there inside the tomb said to them “He is not here, He has risen, as He said.”

And then He began to appear to others– these women, frightened, alone, then His disciples, then about 500 other believers. He spoke and ate with them. They saw His body again. With pierced hands, feet, side. And they began to understand exactly Who He was. What He did.

The unimaginable pain of scourging. The suffocation on the cross. The humiliation of punishment for sins He did not commit. All for love of us. Then nothing. Darkness. His spirit in hell, separated from His eternal relationship with God, the Father.

He suffered all of this, even hell, so we won’t ever have to.

Only if we believe. And follow.

Love and serve.

It isn’t magic. It’s holy. And I am only human but I go to Him often. I tell Him my heart and plead that He will help me keep a soft heart. For Him. For you. For me. Forever.

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holy week

This is a week in the calendar year like any other. Same days, same hours. Only what is remembered makes it different. Sets it apart. Passover. The remembrance of what God did for His people. Easter. The remembrance of what Jesus Christ did, for all people.

Irrespective of any religion. Or political position. Or persona.

Think about Adam and Eve. God created them after He had created everything else. They were not of any faith. God created them out of His love. And they were not created with strings or pre-programming. They had freedom. To enjoy, to choose, to be obedient. The serpent did not force them into a decision. He made a case for disobedience, presented it and Eve bought it. She chose to disobey God. Then she presented a case to Adam. He chose to disobey, too.

They did this out of their freedom. And subsequently the rest of us have been born into what they did, their failure in obedience to God.

So Jesus. He came, God in flesh. A Man with physical, temporal and spatial limitations yet God. He lived with us, ate, laughed, talked with us. He healed, performed miracles. Yet He had chosen to do something else even we could not do for ourselves. Take our sins, our sinfulness of then, now and future to Himself, a sinless, perfect God-in-flesh man. He was not a victim of the hatred for Him among the Priests and the indifference of Rome. He knew what would be because God’s love offered Him for this. And He chose to obey God, out of His own love for us.

Nothing we can do or offer or say can achieve what Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from that death does.

So we, too have a choice. We can choose to live our lives on our own sufficiency, without acknowledging Him, our need for Him which each of us has and we exhibit this need by attempting to fill it with many other earthly things… achievement, drugs, athletic prowess, friendships, status, name it, if it’s there and we think it’s important, we use it and it becomes an idol.

Because we, like it or not, believe it or not, were created by a loving God with a need for connection to Him. And Jesus is this connection for us. For all of us.

We can never, even if we don’t do anything wrong by human standards, become truly connected with God, our Creator. Not on our own. We need Jesus, who He is, what He did for us out of love and because we can’t.

And so each of us has to make a decision. Beyond what we believe is moral or right or truth. There is a truth beyond our laws, our beliefs, ourselves and we need Him. If we don’t choose Him we have still made a choice. Maybe we don’t make a choice today but we will have to someday and the sooner the better because none of us knows when our last moment, our last breath, the end of ourselves will be.

So this is what this week is about. Whether we choose to remember or not.

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