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From the Pit

We had been stuck in this hell hole for what seemed an eternity.

My family, my friends and I huddled together in the damp darkness. We breathed in the putrid odor of the place and shifted our positions, hoping to find more comfortable ones.

We tried to encourage each other. A hand stroked a beloved cheek and whispered, “I love you. I will always love you.”

The recipient of the kind words managed a semi-smile and then wiped more tears from her face. We were doomed, and we all knew it.

A heavy door on the other side of the room scraped open and the ugly keeper stepped inside. He snarled at us and said, “Time for the next one.” Then he pointed a contemptuous finger and singled out one upon whose shoulder I had been leaning. “Come on!” he ordered.

I screamed. We all screamed in protest. We couldn’t bear to see this one go, as we had not been able to bear seeing the many others who had preceded her go. We knew their fate but could do nothing to prevent it. Each of us would eventually be pointed out and dragged off to receive the penalty due us for our wrongdoing.

We weren’t bad people. We had tried to obey the rules. Not one of us had set out to deserve condemnation. Our hopes of success had been high, but one by one each of us had missed the mark, stepped over the line, and committed the offense that caused us to be flung into this awful place of misery. Our sentences had been pronounced. Now we waited for them to be carried out.

I willed myself to sleep for a few seconds, to clear my mind of the horror of my situation, to find some hope, but I failed to accomplish any of those things. Again I determined to resign myself to the fate that awaited me.


Then the door scraped open once again and the keeper’s eyes rested on me.

I was pulled from the arms that tried to hold me back. Not an ounce of courage or dignity remained in me. I could do nothing but answer the call of the evil one. He took hold of my arm and dragged me from the pit, away from the powerless people who cried and called after me.

Down a long, dark corridor we went until another door was opened and I laid eyes upon the punishment that had been assigned to me. It was death, as I had known it would be, but a more horrible, more painful, more humiliating death than I could ever have imagined.

A rusty metal sign was hung upon me, suspended by a heavy chain that pulled against my neck and made walking upright impossible. On the sign was printed the word GUILTY. On every side of me, horrid fiends reached out, scowling and hissing and delighting in the carnage that was to come.

I started to close my eyes. Then, from the edge of my vision, I noted an unexpected, different kind of movement. A horribly mutilated man was rising with difficulty from the ground upon which he lay. His body was bloodied and lacerated, cut open to an extent that defied description.

“Stop,” he whispered in a voice weakened by unspeakable suffering.

The man reached his hand toward me and lifted the GUILTY sign off my chest, pulling the chain over my head and placing it around his own neck.

“I’m taking her place,” he said, looking out through tortured eyes. “Let her go.”

Immediately the focus of the angry mob moved from me to the man. As he was dragged along the stony ground to receive the punishment prepared for me, I was pushed away from the scene.


When I raised my head, I couldn’t believe what I saw. In front of me were the faces of the people who had preceded me out of the dungeon. They were living faces, smiling faces, and their voices rang out with welcome and love.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “You should be dead. I should be dead. At the last minute, a man took my place and set me free.”

“We know,” my loving friends and family members said. “He did the same thing for each of us.”

Get Off My Back

If I wanted to, I could write my name in the dust on my fireplace mantle. In fact, by utilizing all the dusty surfaces in my living room, I could probably write the entire Gettysburg Address, if I could remember what comes after “Four score and seven years ago.”

Admittedly, my house is dusty. But it doesn’t stop there. My car needs to be vacuumed. My rose beds need to be weeded. My office clutter needs to be organized, and I haven’t swept my patio in weeks.

I am never caught up. Like a racecar driver who is twelve laps down, I keep going in circles, with no hope of winning.

Sometimes my unaccomplished to-do list overwhelms me. It starts to represent who I am: a failure. Worse, it robs me of the joy and peace I should feel as an abundantly blessed child of God.

When I decried my situation to a close friend, she told me I need to “get off my own back.” Despite the fact that this statement presents a ridiculous oxymoron, it was advice that warranted consideration.

Admittedly, I do berate myself for my shortcomings and perceived failures. Doesn’t everyone? Am I wrong to want to do better and accomplish more?

No, I am not wrong in seeking to improve. But continual self-scolding never leads to improvement. It leads to misery, disappointment, and despair. What kind of witness for Christ is a miserable, disappointed, and despairing disciple?

The Scriptures admonish me to be kindhearted, generous, longsuffering, and patient. I try to be all those things in my relationships with other people. But possibly God wants me to extend those same loving courtesies to myself. After all, how can I obey His command to “love my neighbor as myself” when I am self-condemning?

Life experiences have taught me that criticizing other people is not an effective way to bring about good changes in them. Yet, I continue to aim criticism at myself, hoping it will motivate me to do better.

“Getting off my own back” requires me to look at my life from a different viewpoint. It prompts me to consider the possibility that my dusty shelves and neglected rose beds are not necessarily proof that I am lazy or inefficient. Maybe they simply indicate that I am choosing to devote my time to other matters.

If I spend several hours writing a Christ-centered article or a whole day nurturing my grandchildren, I inevitably leave other tasks undone. But possibly it is when I am writing or nurturing that God does His best work in me. He uses me to produce more substantial results than a dust-free house or a weed-free garden.

Today, instead of being on my own back, I will try being on my own side (another oxymoron, I admit). I will cheer for me, celebrate my victories, and forgive my failures. Today, I will choose to treat myself not as an enemy but as a friend. Today, I will love myself as I love my neighbor.


For six years I have been at war with my window blinds.

Our house has nine windows, all of which are outfitted with horizontal, two-inch-wide, wooden blinds. These are good quality blinds. They’re not flimsy, splintered, or warped. The pulls work smoothly to raise or lower the blinds or to flip the individual slats from venting upwardly to venting downwardly. They keep out blazing sunlight by day and glaring street lights at night. They allow my husband and me to dress and undress without exposing ourselves to the neighbors.

But these blinds are always coated with dust. They hold onto dust with the same resolve that Velcro sticks to pantyhose. Their flat surfaces, intended to be smooth, have the complexion of a kiwi.

If on Monday I meticulously wipe away the dust from both sides of a set of blinds, come Tuesday the blinds sport a whole new batch of fur. It’s as if their survival is dependent upon wearing that gray fuzzy armor.

Even as I am removing the specks of dust that have settled like squatters on a particular window blind, tiny fuzzy particles are dancing in the air, migrating to nest on the newly cleaned surface. As if they own the place. As if they pay the mortgage. Arrogant, despicable crumbs of worthless matter!

Dusty blinds are the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I see before I go to sleep at night. Worse, the dust also assaults my sense of hearing. Day and night the tiny particles can be heard monotonously muttering an edited version of the old 60’s chant. “Heck, no. We won’t go,” they swear.

More and more my gaze is glued to the blinds covering our windows. I eyeball each speck of dust as it sticks its tiny tongue out at me and eases itself down on a freshly wiped blind.  There it performs the only biological function of which it is capable: making dust babies. In the reproductive process of dust, it takes only one to tango.

My husband catches me now and again wiping futilely at the furry coat worn by those blinds summer and winter. “Come away from the window,” he urges me gently. “Don’t torture yourself. Remember what the psychiatrist told you.”

I refuse to concede defeat. I called a blind cleaning company in our area and got a quote on their services. I have calculated that if my husband and I stop eating out, quit taking vacations, cease buying birthday gifts for our grandkids, and pull a thousand dollars a month from our retirement savings, we can afford to have our blinds cleaned once a week.

I pitched the idea to my husband.

He thinks I should go away for a while, take in some new scenery. He suggested I spend a month in a rain forest where daily showers would remove all dust from my tree house dwelling. Does he think I’m crazy? I can’t go away and allow dust to accumulate to a depth of three inches on each window blind.

Sometimes I wonder if that man is playing with a full deck.



It was a mess.

And, as messes often do, it presented itself in front of witnesses. My daughter-in-law Jenny and I were in my kitchen, preparing food for a cookout. I opened my refrigerator door to retrieve a jar of pickles and noticed a bright red, wet line oozing down the back wall of the refrigerator. It was blood.

A day earlier, I had used half a package of ground beef, covered the remaining half with plastic wrap, and stuck it into the refrigerator. The plastic wrap undid itself, blood oozed from the raw meat, and now Jenny and I were witnessing the result of the whole nasty process.

Everything else I had planned to do in preparation for the cookout was put on hold. First, I removed the sloppy meat mess and carried it to the sink. Then I wiped away the blood that was running down the refrigerator’s wall. Ultimately I unloaded every shelf and both crisper drawers, washed, dried, and replaced them, and cleaned up the mess that had pooled on the floor of the refrigerator.

Nobody enjoys cleaning up a mess but all of us run headlong into one occasionally. Usually, the quicker a mess is addressed, the easier it is to clean up. And some messes can teach you useful lessons, once you get past the initial fury you feel when you come upon one. I won’t place plastic-wrapped ground beef directly onto a refrigerator shelf again.

An observant person may learn lessons by witnessing messes other people make. I am sure my daughter-in-law is more careful when storing raw meat now than she was before she observed my mess.

Once a friend of mine, intending to shorten a pair of pants by two inches, cut two inches off the same pants leg twice. Another friend received minor burns when she tossed an empty aerosol can into a barrel of burning trash. I neither hem pants nor burn trash but if I ever do, I will be extra careful because of experiences my friends had.

I wish there were a book entitled Every Mistake that Has Ever Been Made and How to Avoid Making the Same Mistake Yourself. Reading that book would save people a lot of grief. Or would it?

A certain Book with which I am familiar urges me to avoid comparing myself to others, rushing to judgment, flying off the handle, and putting my own desires above the desires of others. It even cites examples of messes created by people who failed to adhere to those guidelines. Yet, I continue to make those same messes myself.

Fortunately, most messes can be cleaned up. Icky refrigerators can be made clean. Ruined pants can be replaced. Minor burns eventually heal. And best of all, there is a remedy for the messes I make when I disregard instructions given in that Book I mentioned.

I will be eternally thankful for that remedy. It is called grace.

The Humble Geranium

Every spring I plant colorful annuals in pots and set them on my patio. I usually choose marigolds, pansies, begonias, petunias, and impatiens, with some coleus, ivy, and sweet potato vines put in for foliage.

One spring, responding probably to laziness, I planted only geraniums. Red geraniums in clay pots, ceramic pots, plastic pots, and hanging baskets. A porch full of geraniums.

My geranium summer taught me that these plants like sunny areas and attract bees and butterflies. I have read that both their flowers and their roots are used in the preparation of medicines, and their leaves can be used in making tea. I availed myself of none of those secondary uses. My geraniums simply sat and bloomed.

There is no pretense with a geranium. It has a dusty, earthy aroma, not a strong, perfume-like fragrance. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, like showy pansies and petunias. The geranium is a gentle smile, not an open-mouthed laugh. It is a modest ginger snap, not a flamboyant soufflé.

The most amazing discovery I made the summer I grew geraniums was that these plants made no mess. I wasn’t constantly sweeping away dropped petals as I was when I grew begonias. Nor did I need to pinch off sagging, spent blossoms, as I had done with petunias. My geraniums needed no greenery added to their container, for they provided plenty of their own.

In contrast to the geranium, the gardenia is surely the molten chocolate soufflé of all flowers. Its delicate, creamy blossom emits a rich, enticing scent that delights the very soul of the one who inhales it. It is the very definition of fragility and elegance.

On Mother’s Day, my husband often pins a fragrant gardenia to the bodice of my Sunday dress. Its beauty and aroma attract many admirers.

Every year before ordering my Mother’s Day gardenia, my husband asks me, “What is the name of that white flower you love?” I remind him that it is the gardenia. He says, “I always remember that it starts with the letter G, but the only G-letter flower I can ever think of is a geranium. One of these days, that’s probably what I’ll order for your corsage.”

It makes me smile to think of walking into church with a leafy, many blossomed geranium fastened to the front of my dress.

The geranium is not the flower of choice for corsages, wedding bouquets, or banquet centerpieces. Its presence is subdued, not flashy.

If I were a flower, I think I would choose to be a geranium: humble, reliable, requiring little upkeep, content to play second fiddle to other flowers, and making no mess. Being described in those terms would be an honor for me.

Every flower in God’s worldwide garden came about by divine plan. So did every person. Not all of us are showpieces. Most of us are not noticed for the tantalizing aura that surrounds us. But not one of us came about by accident.

Like the geranium, each of us was intentionally made by our Creator. Honor Him by celebrating the magnificient privilege of being uniquely you.



I struggle with discontentment. Why is that? I have everything I need to live not only a good life but a rich, full life. What’s more, I always have had.

People who operate from a posture of contentment intrigue me. They are busy people, but not too busy. They don’t have every skill and talent in the world, but they put to good use the gifts they have been given. They smile and show a genuine interest in other people’s welfare. Their countenances glow with satisfaction.

Have these people worked harder than I have to reach that state? Do they enjoy contentment because they are better people than I am and thus deserve it? Are they faking the positive attitudes they display? Have they made no mistakes that they regret and taken no missteps that veered them off course?


Then how do they do it?

Maybe if I asked them, they would give varying answers. I suspect, though, they all share some common qualities.

First, they have rejected the idea of needing to be perfect. They are good parents, good Christians, and good friends. But they are not perfect in any of those categories. They are imperfect employees and employers, imperfect housekeepers, imperfect money managers, and imperfect workers at the tasks they undertake. They know and accept their fallibility.

Second, they have learned to accept forgiveness. They rest in the assurance of God’s grace. They don’t obsess over their sins and ongoing weaknesses. They confess these failings to God and trust Him to forgive. Then, they do an amazing thing. They “grace” themselves with their own forgiveness. What an idea!

Thirdly, these people choose to be content. This doesn’t mean they repress their feelings of disappointment and sadness. It means that when they experience loss or grief, they do not respond by becoming bitter or angry. They bend, but they do not break emotionally or spiritually. They respond this way because they choose to do so and because they trust in God’s promises.

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:6 True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. (NLT)

Contentment does not come to people who chase perfection, refuse to accept grace, and allow misfortune to defeat them. For these people, contentment is as elusive as a handful of fog. What great wealth they forfeit.

Can I stop demanding perfection of myself? Can I accept the grace God offers and then offer grace to myself? Can I make the choice to be content?

Yes. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13 NLT).

A Great Conspiracy

Clothing designers do not consider my preferences when they decide which styles to offer to summer shoppers. They play to another group of women entirely: the young and thin. Since I am neither young nor thin, I have trouble finding suitable clothes to purchase.

For example, I search in vain for summer shirts, blouses, and dresses that have sleeves. By sleeve I mean the part of a garment that covers all or part of the arm.

Designers offer garments that are sleeveless and garments that have so-called “cap sleeves.” The cap sleeve consists of a little half-moon-shaped piece of fabric that covers the very tip of the shoulder blade and, in my book, has no business being called a sleeve.

Sleeves that are viable options for me, such as shirtsleeves, three-quarter-length sleeves, and long sleeves, have vanished from clothing store racks. I think they departed on the same train with rotary phones.

I also look for specific features when I shop for pants. I want the waist of my pants to circle my middle, the area of my body where the belly button is located. Pants whose waist is intended to sit on the hipbone are objects of torture. I also have no use for jeans that consist of two stovepipe-shaped pieces of denim joined directly to the waistband at the top. These garments have no seat. Since I do have one, such jeans do not work for me.

When I sit down, I want a good portion of my pants to accompany me into the chair. The person sitting behind me should see no skin between the bottom of my shirt and the top of my pants.

I would also appreciate consideration from shoe manufacturers. I don’t want shoes with six-inch-thick soles made of cork. Neither do I want sandals that have leather straps that tie at the ankle, or worse, make several circles around the lower leg and tie just below the knee.

When shopping for dress shoes, I value my health and safety too much to buy stilettos. However, I do not consider boat shoes, clogs, or oxfords to be dressy. Something in between a boat shoe and a stiletto would be nice. I am not in the market for flashy shoes that cry “Look at me!” What I am looking for is a sweet, stylish little number that whispers “Comfort.”

I suspect that clothing and shoe designers are engaged in a conspiracy to make me look hideous. I don’t need their help; time and gravity are working hard to do that for me. I do not aim to look young, nor is it my goal to look sexy. I don’t wish to look hip, or to expose portions of my hips. I want to feel comfortable, to appear neat and coordinated, and to be able to buy clothing and shoes that allow me to meet those goals.

I must say, that tirade against designers of women’s summer clothes and shoes felt good. Tomorrow I may take aim at a different target: tailgaters, litterers, people who talk during church, store owners who sell trashy magazines, telemarketers, people who do not clean up after their pets … the list of people deserving of a good rant is endless.

Confessions of a Slob

I am a slob. Not the sickening kind of slob who has dirty fingernails and drives a car littered with trash. I am the nicest and best kind of slob. The kind of slob who follows the rules of good grooming and whose life-space has enough order not to be uninhabitable. But I am, nonetheless, a slob. Here is proof.

I rarely put items back where they belong after I finish using them. This bad habit accounts for the frustrating hours I spend looking for something I had in my hand two minutes ago but can’t find right now. In particular, this is true of my phone, my keys, and the TV remote control.

After deciding which shoes I want to wear, I sometimes can find only one of them. Who besides a slob can say that?

I eat popcorn sitting in my recliner and have made peace with the fact that unpopped kernels are hiding beneath the cushion. Papers I know I want to look at later are never where I think I left them. In fact, the more important a paper is, the more likely it is to be lost.

My glove box is full of CD’s and CD cases, but not CD’s inside CD cases.

I am a selective organizer. My return address labels are organized so I can retrieve a seasonally-appropriate one without pause. (I refuse to put a Thanksgiving-themed label on a birthday card I mail in April.) I can put my hands on a Sharpie, a postage stamp, or a needle threader in an instant. Ask me where my vacuum cleaner is, though, and I’ll have to ponder the question.

I leave drawers and doors open, to my husband’s consternation. I fail to finish one task before embarking on another one. This explains my half-made bed and the bottle of Windex sitting on my kitchen window sill because I still need to clean the top half of the window.

I forget to put caps back on toothpaste tubes and lids back on paint cans. When I put away an electrical appliance, I don’t rewind the cord neatly but shove it inside the cabinet and slam the door before the cord can escape.

On the brighter side, my house doesn’t stink and I make it a habit to clean up spills quickly and thoroughly. My toilets are scrubbed regularly and my sheets are changed weekly. No vermin live in my house.

If you drop in for a visit though, expect to see jackets draped over chairs and kids’ jigsaw puzzle pieces on the floor. My kitchen won’t be immaculate. Recipe books may be lying about with utility bills stuck between pages for bookmarks, which means I will spend time looking for those bills later when they are due to be paid.

I prefer slobs over neatniks when it comes to friends. I don’t have to explain anything to my slob friends. They already understand. Neatniks wouldn’t understand if I explained all day.

Extreme orderliness makes me nervous, so I have learned to live with imperfection. My friends, who are also the nicest kind of slobs, have too. They prove it by hanging around with me.

Skipping Through Life

People who appear to be driven by one powerful passion such as money, sports, or Facebook are said to have one-track minds. Oh, that my mind ran on only one track! Instead, my mind skips back and forth among seven or eight tracks, like the needle of an old hi-fi on a scratched record album.  Let me illustrate.

I begin the day by showering, drying off, wrapping towels around my wet body and wet hair, and going to the closet to get a pair of jeans. The jeans I want to wear are not in the closet because they have been sitting in the clothes dryer since yesterday. I put on my stained and ratty old housecoat and head for the laundry room.

My trip to the laundry room to remove the jeans from the dryer takes me through the kitchen. In the kitchen, I stand for 20 minutes in front of my freezer trying to decide what kind of meat to thaw for dinner. (This is Skip #1.)  Settling on pork chops, I search for the “Pork Chops from Heaven” recipe my friend gave me last month.

My search for the recipe takes me through the grandkids’ play area where I step with bare feet onto Legos, shriveled grapes, doll clothes, and plastic game pieces. This motivates me to try to bring some order to the play area. (Skip #2)

I spend the next hour putting crayons back into boxes, digging Play-Doh out of the carpet, reassembling seven jigsaw puzzles whose pieces have been mixed together, and separating Legos from Lincoln Logs. I discover that the box containing the checker board has only black checkers in it, and I recall having earlier seen a stack of red checkers sitting inexplicably on a dresser in the guest bedroom.

On my way to the guest bedroom to get the red checkers, (Skip #3) I pass through the guest bathroom. There I recognize that the toilet needs to be cleaned. (Skip #4)

I clean the toilet, glance into the bathroom mirror, and see the reflection of a mad woman wearing a turban and a sad-looking, old housecoat, holding a toilet scrubber. I remember that this is the woman I promised myself I would never become.

I gather used towels and washcloths from the bathroom (Skip #5) and head for the laundry area to start a load of laundry. When I reach the laundry area, I recognize that my husband’s wet dress shirts are sitting in the washer, waiting to be loaded into the dryer. I open the dryer door to put in the shirts but discover that the dryer still contains the jeans I dried yesterday.

It was to remove those jeans from the dryer that I started this ill-fated trek through the house in the first place. By this time it is almost noon and I remember I am supposed to meet a friend at Panera Bread for lunch at 12:30.

The only intentional task I have successfully completed is the removal of a pair of jeans from the dryer, and that little undertaking took three hours to pull off.

I haven’t accomplished much in my journey through life, but I have learned a few things. Never reply to an email suggesting you may have inherited a million dollars from a relative in Spain. Never put on pantyhose with reinforced heels and toes when you plan to wear sandals. And never buy a house with a circular floor plan. It’s the quickest way in the world to get nowhere fast.

Recharge Your Battery

Twice within the past week I have failed to completely close the big side door of our van when I parked it in our driveway. One of the van’s interior lights stayed on, the car’s battery ran down, and my husband had to jump start the vehicle.

Sometimes I feel like that van. My light has burned itself out. My battery is dead, and I need a jump start.

This condition strikes most often in the morning. Nothing and no one demands my attention. Numerous activities are options for me, but not one of them calls my name. I am completely unmotivated.

If this ever happens to you, please heed my advice. Do not reach for the TV remote control. Do not lie back down in your bed, or stretch out on the couch, or curl up in the recliner. Do not pick up your phone and consider all the opportunities for entertainment it offers. Do not stand in front of a mirror and berate yourself. Do not take ice cream from the freezer and start eating it straight from the box.

I am speaking from experience. None of these things will make you feel better. Try one of these activities instead.

Sit on the floor or on a hard-surfaced chair and put on your shoes. If the clothes you have on are not appropriate for wearing outside the house, put on some that are. Open a door and walk outside. Breathe deeply. Speak to someone, or at least wave at a driver who passes by. Pet a dog. Stroke a cat. Pick some flowers. Your blood will start flowing again and you just may think of something you want to do.

Or, try this some morning when you can’t get moving. Go into the bathroom, and without delay, turn on the shower. You will hear water running and feel steam starting to form. Undress without any thought of what clothes to wear that day, what to eat for breakfast, where you may go or what you may do later. Think no further than the shower.

After your shower, you will be compelled to do other things like drying off and combing your wet hair. Accomplishing those tasks may motivate you to brush your teeth. Before you know it, you are ready to face your closet and choose something to wear.

Here is another idea. Open a drawer, cabinet or closet at random. Look at something you haven’t looked at for months. Gather the socks you put away for future darning and throw them in the trash. Do the same with the broken trinket you intended to glue back together, as well as the craft project you abandoned eight years ago. Purging is very satisfying.

My point is this. When you can’t decide what to do first, do something. Take one step and then another, followed by a few more. Movement stimulates movement. You may soon find yourself in the kitchen pouring yourself a glass of orange juice. You’re over the hurdle.

If all else fails, you can do what I just did. Sit down at your computer and compose an article in which you tell people what to do when they don’t want to do anything. You may convince yourself to get out of your pajamas.