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Now Hear This!

When I taught first grade many years ago, I looked for opportunities to praise my little students. Every day I awarded a “Best Rester” ribbon to the child who was quietest and most compliant during our rest period after lunch. I also gave “Best Listener” awards to those who paid careful attention to what I said.

I want to be a good listener, but lately I realize I am deserving of no award in that area.

Since my husband and I have been together forty-plus years, I think I can anticipate what he is about to say. Thus, I often cut him off in mid-statement. For example, the other day while Dan and I were relaxing in the hammock, he said to me, “I am thinking ….” I interrupted and said, “I know. You are thinking we should have made this screened-in porch bigger.”

“Well, I do wish that,” he said, “but I was going to say I am thinking I might be more comfortable if you shifted a bit to the left.”

Listening Rule #1: Allow the speaker to finish what he/she is saying instead of interrupting and finishing the speaker’s sentence yourself.

One day last week I offered to fill a little wading pool with water for our four-year-old granddaughter to play in. As I hooked up the hose, she said to me, “Don’t put yucky water in it, Grandma.”

I was surprised. “I won’t put yucky water in the pool,” I assured her.

Within a few minutes she repeated her request. “Don’t put yucky water in the pool, Grandma,” she said.

I said to my little granddaughter, “I would never put yucky water in your pool, Sweetheart.”

“This morning you did,” she said.

I barely stopped myself from snapping, “No, I didn’t!”

Then I remembered that earlier in the day she had asked to play in the little pool. But the pool contained water (along with grass clippings, dead insects, etc.) from the previous day. Therefore, I had told her she couldn’t play in it because, in my exact words, the water was yucky. I understood then that she, with her four-year-old power of reasoning, thought I had intentionally filled the pool with yucky water that morning.

Listening Rule #2: When people say things that sound outlandish, pause and consider all the possible meanings of the statement before you shoot them that Are you crazy? look.

The other day my husband was scrolling through ads on the Internet. He called me into the room and said, “Look at these nice blouses, Deb. Do you want to order some?”

That is honestly what he said, but because I must have been in a snarky mood, this is what I heard: “Deb, you buy the wrong clothes. You should let me shop for you.”

Listening Rule #3: Resist assigning unkind meanings to the things people say. Be gracious enough to assume the person means what he/she says, and nothing more.

I am not likely to qualify as a finalist for the “Best Listener” Award. However, give me a soft, comfortable recliner and a light quilt; open the window and let a sweet breeze blow into the room, and I’ll be a shoo-in for the Best Rester Award.

Zzzzzzz

 

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Deflection

Our little four-year-old granddaughter, whom I call Twinkle, began talking in sentences at about the age of two and hasn’t stopped talking since. I know all children go through a stage of asking lots of questions, but this child surely out-asks all others. I try my best to give her good answers, but occasionally I must resort to the old art of deflection.

“Grandma,” she unexpectedly asked the other day, “why did Jesus have to die on the cross for our sins?”

I did my best to explain in words she could understand that Jesus loves us very much and wants all of us to be in Heaven with him. God’s plan was for Jesus to die so we could live with both of them in Heaven forever.”

“Why do people drink Jesus’ blood in that little cup at church?”

Again, in my handicapped way, I tried to explain a bit about the Lord’s Supper, emphasizing that no one actually drinks Jesus’ blood.

“Will I drink out of that cup when I’m a grown-up?”

“Yes, Sweetie.”

“Why can’t I drink out of that little cup now?”

“Hey, I’ve got an idea,” I said. “Let’s sing the Arky-Arky song together.”

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Later, in the car, we had this conversation.

“Why can’t I play on your tablet in the car, Grandma?”

“Because you’ll use up all my data minutes.”

“What are data minutes.”

“Data minutes let me use the Internet.”

“What is the Internet?”

“The Internet is what I use when I send emails and pictures to you and your mommy and when you play games on my tablet.”

“You let me use your tablet at your house, Grandma. Why can’t I use it in the car?”

“I let you use the tablet at my house because my house has Wi-Fi. My car doesn’t have Wi-Fi.”

“What’s Wi-Fi, Grandma?”

“Hey, I’ve got an idea,” I said. “Let’s drive through Dairy Queen and get some ice cream.”

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Still later in the day, her Grandpa and I decided to take Twinkle and her sister to a saddle club to ride ponies. This decision generated the following conversation.

“Grandma, will you wear your high heels when we go ride the ponies today?”

“No, Sweetheart, I won’t wear my high heels to the horse barn.”

“Can I wear your high heels?”

“No, not today.”

“Why can’t I wear your high heels to ride the pony?”

“High heels are not the right kind of shoes to have on when you’re riding a pony.”

“Why are high heels not the right kind of shoes to have on when I’m riding a pony, Grandma?”

“Hey, I’ve got an idea,” I said. “How about letting me help you finish your sticker book?”

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On the way home from the saddle club, Twinkle stated. “We get milk from cows, Grandma.”

“Yes, that’s right,”  I said.

“We get eggs from chickens.”

“Yes, we do.”

“My daddy says we get bacon from pigs.”

“Yes.”

“How do we get bacon from pigs, Grandma?”

“Hey, I’ve got an idea,” I said. “Let’s sing Old McDonald Had a Farm.”

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Before she went home, she asked, “When will I be as old as my big sister?”

“Your sister is seven. In three years you will be seven and she will be ten. You and your sister will never be the same age at the same time.”

“Why, Grandma?”

“Because your sister was born before you were born.”

“When was I born, Grandma?”

“You were born in 2012.”

“Where was I before that?”

“You weren’t really anywhere before that, Sweetheart.”

“Was I in Heaven with Jesus?”

“Maybe so, Darling.”

“Why did Jesus have to die on the cross for our sins?”

 

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This is my book recommendation for the little question-askers in  your world.

Jesus Storybook Bible

The Moonbeam Award Gold Medal Winner in the religion category, The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the Story beneath all the stories in the Bible. At the center of the Story is a baby, the child upon whom everything will depend. Every story whispers his name. From Noah to Moses to the great King David—every story points to him. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, as the Story unfolds, children will pick up the clues and piece together the puzzle. A Bible like no other, The Jesus Storybook Bible invites children to join in the greatest of all adventures, to discover for themselves that Jesus is at the center of God’s great story of salvation—and at the center of their Story too.

This book by Sally Lloyd-Jones is available in hardback from Amazon for $9.99. Makes a wonderful gift!

Who Are You?

My sister Joni is Queen of the Three-Quarter-Length Sleeve. In addition, she is a busy homemaker, enthusiastic grandmother, active church worker, and friend of children in Haiti. The sleeve thing is just one minor little attribute of Joni’s that sets her apart from others.  Like all of us, she is a composite of many different qualities.

In the following paragraphs, I will identify some characteristics that help to distinguish me from others.

I am a woman who loves God, family, and country. I do my best to obey the laws of the land and I practice, to the best of my ability, the Golden Rule. I brush and floss religiously, go for yearly mammograms, practice thorough hand washing, and take a multivitamin.

I drive responsibly, keep my checkbook balanced, show up on time for appointments, and strictly avoid standing in the 20 items or fewer check-out line when my shopping cart contains more than 20 items. (I know the signs always say 20 items or less, but such signs demonstrate incorrect word usage and drive me nuts.) Because I cannot bear to see suffering, I sometimes rescue pitiful, semi-dried red worms off the driveway and return them to their source of water. (I pick them up with sticks.) Those are some of my finer traits.

On the flip side of the coin, I admit to possessing these less-desirable qualities. I am a so-so housekeeper and a lazy cook. I binge on ice cream, overindulge my grandchildren, and am lousy at backing a vehicle.

I eat raw cake batter and stand by my conviction that the best chocolate chip cookie is one that has never seen the inside of an oven. I recklessly cut off those pillow tags that warn: Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law, and I may be just a bit persnickety in the area of grammar and word usage.

I procrastinate, overanalyze, make to-do lists and ignore them, leave coupons at home when I go shopping, yo-yo diet, drink diet soda, watch too many crime-solving shows on TV (Dateline, 48 Hours, etc.), search endlessly for books of crossword puzzles that are not too hard and not too easy, pluck out eyebrows compulsively when I am nervous, obsess over having just the right ink pen, and occasionally compose paragraphs containing only one long, run-on sentence, like this one.

I detest clutter, dust, weeds, and clothes that need to be ironed. I also hate crude language and gestures, running late, clothes shopping, and searching for my phone fifteen times a day. I look in the windows of parked cars to see if they are more cluttered than mine, and I occasionally scrutinize the junk food items in other people’s shopping carts and make unkind judgments. (Never mind the two quarts of mint chocolate chip ice cream in mine.)

I cry over spilled milk, make mountains out of molehills, cross bridges before I come to them, and beat dead horses. All of those are characteristics, good and bad, of the person I am, but they do not define me, just as Queen of the Three-Quarter Length Sleeve does not define Joni.

This is who I am: I am a mortal, plagued like all mortals, by imperfections. I am blessed beyond what I deserve and am awaiting a reward which I haven’t earned. I have been called, cleansed, and claimed as God’s child.

Who are you?

 

A Tribute

I am in love with a white-haired man.

This man has been at my side for over 43 years. In that time he has chalked up some noteworthy accomplishments. For over 35 years, he worked as a pharmacist five to six days (nights) a week. His job was both physically and mentally exhausting. In all those years, I estimate that he missed work no more than five days. Through his job, he gained the respect of thousands of people who relied on him to fill their prescriptions accurately and to give them reliable advice regarding the medications they took.

This man is a faithful Christian and has served in various capacities at church. He has taught literally hundreds of Bible classes to both children and adults. His knowledge of the Bible and his love for God and His people are widely known. Though he is a patient and kind man, he possesses the strength and courage of a leader.

This man was at my side during the births of our two children and he has stood faithfully as the head of his family throughout our marriage. Never have my children or I been abandoned or had to provide for ourselves. Our bills were paid, our home was kept in good repair, our cars ran well, our landscaping was neat, and every physical need was met by this man.

This man is God’s man. He has studied faithfully and lived out the principles of the Good Book. He has been 100% faithful to me, has loved and guided our children, has honored his parents, has served his church, and has set an example worthy of imitation.

This man is a spent man. His body is not as strong as it once was, his mind is not quite as sharp, his heart bears the scars of disappointments, but his spirit thrives. He is fighting the good fight. He will finish the course.

This man has a wife who feels blessed and honored to be making this life journey with him. He has children who respect him, grandchildren who have him wrapped around their little fingers, and friends who esteem him highly.

I am in love with a white-haired man.

Why Is it so Hard?

For the past three days, I have resolved to dust the bookshelves in my living room, but I have not yet completed this simple action.

Dusting my shelves is only one in a long list of simple tasks I avoid. Why do I find it so hard to do easy things?

One reason I avoid tackling a job is because I overestimate the time it will require for completion. In the case of the bookshelves, I calculate that it will take me all day to remove the items from the shelves and dust thoroughly both the items and the shelves. I don’t have a full day to devote to dusting shelves.

Of course, I could do a less thorough but still reasonably good job in much less time. If I dusted only the exposed part of each shelf and the exposed sides of each item on the shelf, I could probably finish the job in thirty minutes. I won’t do that, though, because I have convinced myself that the task “will take too long”

A second reason I find it hard to do an easy thing is that I over-analyze the job. For example, if my kitchen floor needs to be mopped, I put too much forethought into the act of mopping. First, I chastise myself for letting the floor get so dirty. Then I resolve never to let it become so dirty again.

This requires me to decide upon an exact number of days between which I should let my kitchen floor go between moppings. If I decide the floor should be mopped every third day, I need to mark on my calendar each day that I should mop the floor so I won’t miss a mopping.

Also, I need to decide if mopping the kitchen floor should include mopping the floor of the kitchen’s adjoining hallway. I decide that it should not. The hallway should more logically be mopped on the day that I mop that hallway’s adjoining bathroom. I now need to mark the hallway/bathroom mopping schedule on my calendar, in addition to the kitchen mopping schedule.

The problem with this excuse is that in the time it took me to think through a plan and reject it, I could have mopped the floor twice. The floor hasn’t been mopped, though, and it won’t be mopped today because the task has now become too daunting.

A third excuse I use for not performing household tasks is my conviction that I was meant for more intellectually stimulating work. I was made to write. Writing is certainly more important than dusting and mopping. Surely I should pursue this higher calling.

The problem with this reasoning is that I can’t write worth a lick when I know I need to be doing something else. With each sentence I try to compose, I am distracted by thoughts of the dust on my living room shelves and the grime on my kitchen floor.

These excuses are not working very well for me. Obviously, I need some help. I don’t mean I need help getting my work done. I need help finding better excuses for not getting it done.

Life Lessons

My husband and I recently watched The Intern, starring Robert De Niro. In the movie, De Niro plays a retired professional who, out of boredom, agrees to work as an intern with an up-and-coming company.

The show confirmed my belief that our most important lessons are learned, not through classroom instruction or on-the-job training, but through the process of living life.

Life has taught me the following truths that were never presented to me by a teacher or professional.

  1. No matter how good or bad your situation is, your attitude will determine your level of happiness.
  1. The faults in other people that bother you most are probably the ones you yourself possess.
  1. Guilt may prompt you to do better for a while, but for the long haul, it is a poor motivator.
  1. You are likely to pass along to your kids some traits you would not wish them to have. I’m not just talking about high blood pressure and diabetes.
  1. If you carry inside a secret that is eating you alive, sharing it with a trusted friend will lessen its power over you.
  1. You are not the worst person who ever lived.
  1. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. When you are tempted to indulge in self-pity, find someone who has a bigger problem and offer a helping hand.
  1. If you rely on ice cream to make you happy, you will never manage to get enough of it. The same thing goes for approval and money.
  1. Your house is probably no messier than your friends’ houses. Just like you, they clean when they know someone is coming over.
  1. You will never run out of good books to read. You will have trouble finding good things to watch on TV.
  1. Your grandkids don’t care what you look like. Most other people don’t either.
  1. Not every woman who wears a size 8 is happy.
  1. Husbands who annoyed their wives when they were alive are sorely missed after they are dead.
  1. You need a friend who will tell you what you need to hear even when you don’t want to hear it.
  1. You never gain anything by skipping church.
  1. Cleaning your plate and keeping scraps of leftover food will not benefit starving children in other countries.
  1. Sometimes the best words you can give or receive are spoken in the language of a hug.

Surprisingly, I learned these lessons in only the first 60 years of my life. I wonder what I will learn in the next 60.

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.”