WHERE’S THAT AGAIN?

I am thankful for the five senses God gave me: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

I am envious, though, of those lucky people who possess a sixth sense.

I am not referring to ESP, but to a different, equally inexplicable sense some people demonstrate: a sense of direction.

I do not possess that sense.

In fact, I am probably the most directionally challenged person you will ever meet.

I never know exactly where I am in relation to other people, places, or things. I am not even confident of my location when I stand in front of one of those mall signs that read: You are here.

I attribute my lack of navigational skill outdoors to the fact that I grew up in rural Arkansas where every highway eventually became an unpaved road which eventually became a rutted, grassy lane which eventually ended at some creek.

We had no house numbers, no street signs, no traffic lights, and nothing we referred to as an “intersection,” although we did have several places where two roads met up with each other.

When people asked directions to someone’s house, we said something like, “Drive past the cemetery until you see the shot-up, cardboard deer that is used for target practice. Veer left there and drive until you get to the house where all the dogs run out and bark at your car. Then turn right and drive over the cattle grid, The first house you see is the one you want.”

Now that I live in a town, people expect me to find my way around using street signs.

Street signs, as a rule, are not helpful to me. Often the sign is missing when I really need it, or else the sign post has become twisted, making it impossible for me to tell which street is called what. Such signs only confuse me and make me suspect that what I originally thought was correct is probably wrong.

My lack of a sense of direction inside buildings may be even worse. When I leave an exam room at my doctor’s office, I see exit signs  all over the place. But these signs lie. Every exit sign I follow leads me to a new hallway with an exit sign at the end of it. I can exit all day long and never leave the building.

I hate big arenas that have gates, levels, doors, and rows labeled A, B, C,  or 1, 2, 3, etc. Sometimes words like north and south get thrown into the mix, making finding the place I am looking for even harder to locate.

An usher says to me, “Go to Gate C-16 on Level B-4,” as if she thinks those words mean something to me. When she sees my confusion she adds, “Just take elevator 9 on the north side of the building.”

My lack of a sense of direction does not mean I am mentally deficient.

I can work long division problems and convert the remainders to fractions or decimals.

I have won spelling bees.

And I would be a tough competitor in a game of Jeopardy if the categories were Nursery Rhymes, English Grammar, The Bible, Columbo Episodes, The 60s, and Neil Diamond song lyrics.

But unless that Jeopardy contest is held somewhere within sight of my house, someone else will have to drive me there.

I won’t find it on my own.

 

A follower provided some of the visual imagery for this piece.   Thank you, Jane C.!

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SNAP!

My mother was a woman of many talents. When I was a kid, she always knew where to find any item I had lost. She remembered the words to almost every poem or song she had ever heard. She warmed up to even the coolest personalities in our little community.

She also raised four children in a house that relied upon a dug well, not a drilled one, for its water supply. This meant we had to treat water as the precious resource it really was. As kids, my siblings and I joked about having to take our baths in teacups.

Our family conserved water as if the next day we might be without it, which was sometimes the case.

Mom grew beautiful flowers inside and outside. We lived on a stretch of land my grandpa called “glade rock.” By this he meant its soil was essentially dust scattered across stone slabs. A horticulturist’s paradise it was not.

But my mother planted a vegetable garden each year. Often it withered up and died for lack of rain, but optimistically she planted one every spring.

She was tenacious

In the yard she grew irises, peonies, lilies, daffodils, tulips, and crocuses that she watered with used rinse water from her weekly washing. She grew lovely lilacs, white ones and, well, lilac ones.

Inside the house she grew ferns, vining plants, and African violets. Her violets, though never entered in a contest, were prizewinners. She had pink ones, white ones, and purple ones; white ones with purple edges, pink ones with ruffled edges, and purple ones variegated with white.

As any grower of these delicate plants knows, violets demand tender care. They require access to good sunlight and need just enough, but not too much, water. Withered blossoms must be plucked so new ones can grow. Dead leaves must also be removed.

But removing any part of an African violet requires the dexterity of a microsurgeon. If during the process a healthy leaf is accidentally tapped or bumped, even slightly, it breaks.

The snapping of a healthy African violet leaf comes as unexpectedly and unwelcomely as a paper cut. The sound it makes is one-of-a-kind, unmistakable.

  My mother lived by the motto: If you think you may have broken an African violet leaf, you have.

 She applied this proverb to more than the tending of her houseplants.

Her goal was to hurt no one, not her friends, her sisters, or her children. Her ears were ever cocked, listening for the snap indicating harm had been done.

If she suspected she might have wounded one of the people she loved, she reacted as if she indeed had. She couldn’t run fast enough to make an apology and restore kinship.

She knew that, unlike leaves on violets, relationships can be mended if addressed quickly and with love.

Never doubt that she pruned her kids. She diligently plucked from us any hint of disrespect, disobedience, and every other ugly thing.

But as she removed what was bad in us, she meticulously protected what was good.

And she never broke us, emotionally or any other way.

At a restaurant recently, I watched a bully who was masquerading as a dad. He snapped at his young son, “I’ll beat that kind of attitude right out of you.”

This man needed the lesson of the violet leaf.

We all do.

PECKED TO DEATH

So far today I have spilled a full glass of water on the paper calendar on my kitchen island, washed a Kleenex with a load of dark-colored clothes, and broken a leaf on my African violet, and it isn’t yet noon.

An occasional clogged toilet or chipped windshield can be tolerated. But having to endure a long stretch of such aggravations can cause even the most stalwart person to crack.

According to https://definithing.com, experiencing this steady stream of small, seemingly inconsequential or minor nuisances which build up over a prolonged time and which, eventually, take their toll and exact a heavy price is like being pecked to death by a chicken.

Continuing the chicken analogy and assuming the instigators of such mischief are indeed barnyard fowl, allow me to describe some of their characteristics.

First, their number is legion and their singular goal in life is to frustrate. Often their assaults are launched in secret, which means sometimes I am unaware I have even been pecked.

For example, everyone in the restaurant except me knows I am dragging toilet paper from the sole of one shoe, or everyone at church except me is aware that I entered the sanctuary carrying under my arm, not my Bible, but a giant book of wallpaper samples.

One morning I discovered a leftover lemon pie weeping pitifully on my kitchen cabinet top, when I know I put the pie into the refrigerator the night before. A box of my husband’s favorite cereal mysteriously disappeared from the pantry.

Of course I believe these chicken-launched attacks happen more often to me than to anyone else, but my friends assure me that is not so.

Recently a good friend searched for hours for her missing TV remote control. Finally she found it inside a desk drawer where she never puts anything except her address book.

Other friends have mentioned finding car keys, phones, and garage door openers in places where no sane person would ever put them.

You must admit you have also been a victim of these birds’ antics. Haven’t you noticed that your windshield wipers break only during rainstorms, your flashlight batteries die just as the power goes out, and your missing electric bill turns up on the day after it was due to be paid?

Chickens, I tell you.

Realizing these pesky birds consider nothing off limits, I am now afraid to post this piece on my website. Will it appear riddled with misspelled words and run-on sentences? Will commas have been replaced with exclamation marks? Will my readers shockingly find the word panty in the paragraph where I typed pantry?

Growing up, when my friends and I played tag and one of us wanted temporary immunity (to go to the bathroom, for instance, or more often to set some kid straight on the rules of the game), that child called out, “Tick-a-lock, tick-a-lock all the way around!” This expression was accompanied by a circular motion of the arms and was recognized as the official symbol for “Stop! You can’t tag me!”

If you encounter me one day mumbling nonsense syllables and making circular motions with my arms, don’t overreact. Know that I am merely declaring myself off limits to chicken attacks.

Don’t laugh. Do you have a better idea for stopping the madness?

 

DAILY

I try every day to spend some time in the Word.

Typing that sentence makes me feel like a lame believer, a lazy Christian.

Why would one of God’s elect have to “try to spend some time in the Word” everyday? Why isn’t that priority number one?

Because we are busy. We are pulled in many different directions at once by people and situations.

We are distracted. Books, newspapers, television shows, newsfeeds, etc. are all vying for our attention.

We have legitimate obligations like going to work and taking care of our kids.

We are caught up in the trivial. Today I absolutely must do A, B, and C. Tomorrow I will read my Bible.

We follow the course of least resistance. It is easier to do a thousand other things than it is to sit down with a Bible. Studying the Word requires our minds to engage. It is intentional. We won’t stumble into reading Scripture the way we stumble into a casual phone conversation.

We know the goal, daily Bible study, and we know the hinderances to achieving that goal.

We’ve done the head work needed to reach our goal. We need now to do the legwork.

The legwork for me looks like this.

  • I choose my study materials.
  • I select a place to do my study.
  • I dedicate time to spend in the study.

I know myself well and have been at this Bible study thing long enough to know what doesn’t work for me.

Dutifully reading one chapter of the Bible per day does not work for me (Acts, chapter one today; Acts, chapter two tomorrow, etc.). There is little continuity of thought from one day to the next. I read that chapter mostly because I feel that as a Christian, it is my duty.

“Read through the Bible in one year” programs do not work for me. Like determining to read one chapter of the Bible each night before going to bed, reading the assigned passages each day becomes just one more thing on my to-do list.

Attacking a portion of Scripture as if I am writing a doctoral thesis on it also does not work. I have begun Bible studies equipped with several different versions of the Word, a concordance, a Bible dictionary, several commentaries, and a determination to complete a world-class study worthy of the topic at hand. But I soon wear out and wish I had not been quite so ambitious.

Currently, I read each day from a book of devotions. Each devotion includes a passage of Scripture. It focuses upon that scripture and is one-page long. Every devotion is well written and encouraging. This is what I call my “light” reading.

I read one selection from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. If you are familiar with this scholar, you already know his writings are anything but light. Chambers’ pieces are Scripture-based and challenging.

I then write in a notebook one thought from my day’s reading. Somehow, I don’t feel I’ve really studied if I don’t write anything down.

Is this the best way to spend time in the Word each day? Probably not. Could I do more? Probably.

But this study is doable, and it helps me in my daily walk.

Do you want to develop a daily Bible study habit?

You can accomplish that goal. Design a plan that works for you and then make it happen.

 

Thank you to Jan Thompson for buying this devotional book for me. Consider buying something similar for you and one for a friend.

P.S. It is okay to begin reading mid-year.

 

 

STILL HANDS

What are your hands doing right now?

They’re probably not folded peacefully in your lap. My hands are rarely at rest.

Even if I sit down to take a break, my hands reach for something to do.

I pick up and reread a piece of mail. I tidy the table beside my recliner. I search some topic on Google.

“Keep my hands still” never appears on my to-do list, but maybe it should.

Hands accomplish wonderful things. They stroke the heads of our children and place checks into the offering plate. They nurture plants and cuddle pets. They distribute groceries to hungry people at the food pantry. They fold in prayer, and they squeeze our mate’s hand before we go to sleep.

They also accomplish necessary things like steering cars, pouring cereal, changing sheets, and paying bills.

But some things are more enjoyable when performed with quiet, still hands. Listening to relaxing music. Watching a baby sleep. Reflecting upon the goodness of God. Feasting our eyes on beautiful landscapes. Pondering the infinite majesty of God while looking at a full moon or a sky full of stars.

In an email conversation with a friend recently, I commented that when Mary of Bethany sat down with Jesus, her hands were probably folded peacefully in her lap. They were not mending socks or composing a grocery list.

And Scripture tells us that Mary “chose the better thing.”

Notice that in this story recorded in Luke 10:38-42, Jesus did not follow Martha into the noisy kitchen to chat with her while she prepared a meal.

Why do you suppose he conversed with the woman with still, quiet hands rather than the woman with the busy, soapy, sauce-splattered hands?

Was it because he loved Mary more than he loved her sister? Or was it because Mary chose to give Jesus her full attention?

Mary didn’t ask Jesus to follow her into the garden and visit with her while she picked lettuce. She didn’t talk to Jesus with clothespins in her mouth while she hung out the family’s laundry. She didn’t catch up on her dusting while she talked with Jesus.

Mary didn’t multitask on that day at that time.

While Mary spoke alone with Jesus, she did nothing else. Nothing.

Try to picture her serene face as she converses privately with her Lord.

The Bible doesn’t record the conversation Mary and Jesus had, but we can speculate.

I doubt Jesus shouted accusations at her as he shouted them at the hard-hearted spiritual leaders of the day. He certainly didn’t scold her for not helping Martha in the kitchen. I doubt He scolded her for anything.

People who choose to be still and listen to Jesus receive not a scolding, but an outpouring of love and acceptance. Possibly, they receive blessings those of us with busy hands miss.

That was certainly the case with the sisters in Bethany.

Is it possible that Jesus waits for you and me to slow down, rest our hands, and listen to Him?

What are your hands doing right now?

A COMEDY OF ERRORS

It had been a frustrating few days

They weren’t bad days because I have few days that can be legitimately cataloged as bad, and I am thankful.

On Monday I wrote a check for the wrong amount of money and had to straighten out that mess.

On Tuesday I caught my foot in the strap of my purse and fell out of my car right onto the Kroger parking lot.

Then yesterday I prepared to mail four stacks of paper to four family members.

I separated the papers, folded them, and placed them inside four 6” x 9” envelopes.

These envelopes had metal fasteners. Since I know the Postal Service does not like those closures, I placed wide packing tape over the backs to seal the envelopes and cover up the metal brads.

As I picked up the four envelopes, I discovered one was lighter than the other three. This meant I had accidentally left something out of that envelope.

I reopened it and found I had indeed failed to include two papers. Using my keen sense of deduction, I concluded one of the other envelopes contained two extra papers.

Using great care, I tore open the other envelopes, messing up the packing tape and damaging the flaps in several places. I found the two papers I needed, corrected my error, and resealed the envelopes, trying to patch the torn spots.

Then I added stick-on return address labels and postage stamps. (I keep on hand the special 68-cent stamps I routinely use for these mailings.) Finally, I wrote addresses on each envelope.

As I headed out the door to take the envelopes to the mailbox, I realized I had written each address upside down, so when the mailing address was readable, the postage stamp was affixed to the lower left corner of the envelope and the return address label was in the lower right corner.

The driver of the mail truck waved at me as she drove past my house.

In a wretched mood, I drove to the post office and mailed my mutilated envelopes. Then I swung by the store to pick up mint chocolate chip ice cream, the one thing guaranteed to make me feel better.

I brooded over my growing list of mess-ups as I roamed the ice cream aisle. By the time I got home from the store, I was in a major funk.

I put my ice cream in the freezer and lay down on my bed, not to pout or to have a pity party really, but just to decompress. My thoughts ran along these lines.

This constant flow of stupid mistakes is killing me. I am a beaten woman and can’t take it anymore. I’m never getting out of this bed.

Of course, I knew I would get out of bed because I refuse to spend the remainder of my life lying on sheets that never get washed. Not to mention with teeth that never get brushed or hair roots that never get touched up.

And then, of course, there were other reasons to get up: the grandchildren and brownies and springtime and another season of Victoria to watch on Netflix and an Easter dress someone would have to wear.

From my bed, I called out to Dan in a weak, mournful voice.

“If you will bring me a dish of the mint chocolate chip ice cream I bought today, I think I might be able to get up and face the world again.”

I heard Dan open the freezer door.

Then I heard him laugh.

“You just think you bought mint chocolate chip ice cream,” he said.

“The only thing in the freezer is a box of rum raisin ice cream. How many scoops do you want?”

MOVE THE POTS

As my grandchildren often remind me, I am not a good backer-upper. I proved this last summer when I backed over a decorative pot at the edge of our driveway.

Last night my husband said, “The way your car is parked, you could easily back over the pots by the driveway again.”

“I promise you I will not hit those pots,” I said, heading out the front door.

He laughed.

“You’re going to move the pots, aren’t you?” he asked.

“You bet I am,” I said.

Sometimes it is safer to remove an obstacle than try to avoid it.

A friend of mine, a very responsible Christian man, began visiting a gambling casino. At first, he wagered only small sums of money, but the habit grew on him. Eventually he realized he had a big problem.

He tried taking less money with him to the casino and tried limiting himself to staying only one hour at each visit. But he easily overcame those restrictions and continued betting as heartily as before.

Finally, he went to the casino manager’s office and asked to have himself restricted from entering the casino. Security team members would thereafter remove him from the premises if he came through the door.

Figuratively, he moved the pots.

Another friend obtained a high interest rate credit card. She planned to use the card only occasionally and to keep the amount she charged on it low.

Gradually, however, she bought several items of expensive clothing and jewelry and charged those purchases to the card.

When she realized she had run up a large debt, she determined to use willpower to pay off the credit card debt and stop charging purchases on the card. She failed.

Finally, she cut up the card, and as soon as her debt was paid, she closed her account.

This woman also, in a manner of speaking, moved the pots.

Sometimes we have too much confidence in ourselves. If I am careful and diligent, I can avoid those pots, get control of my gambling, or change my expensive buying habits.

 It is important to know when we can trust ourselves and when we cannot.

 Life usually teaches us this lesson by allowing us to fail a few times.

A married woman wishes she had changed jobs when she realized she was sexually attracted to a coworker. She did change jobs later, after the affair, and after the damage had been done.

A teacher wishes he had stopped eating lunch in the staff lounge when he realized it was a hotbed of gossip. He did stop eating there after another teacher, tainted by baseless rumors, lost her job.

A former heavy drinker wishes he had avoided restaurants that served alcohol. He did avoid those restaurants after receiving a DUI conviction and having his driver’s license suspended.

The decorative pots beside our driveway are inexpensive and easily replaced. But marriages, sobriety, integrity, financial stability and the like deserve protection at any cost.

If you suspect you are heading for a collision that could destroy one of those treasures, don’t trust too much in your own ability to avoid it. Move the pots.

These look much prettier in the spring with flowers in them.

For friends who share common interests with me and enjoy reading lighthearted, inspirational, and entertaining articles, many with spiritual applications.