Thanks for stopping by, whether you got here by a link or hitting "next blog" -- I am glad you are here. I've also done some writing on homeschooling, and what I learned thinking I was teaching.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Coffee and Conflict

Last night I ground some special Christmas coffee, which Doug gave me, prepared and loaded the coffee maker, anticipating a flavorful start to the morning. Today, I pushed the “on” button and went about my business – only to hear an odd gurgling. The good news is I caught the disaster before it spilled down the bottom cabinets; the not so good news is something got plugged up – even though I washed all parts the night before. Somehow, something clogged the valve into the thermos – and my fancy coffee went everywhere but its intended destination!

It was a three-towel mop-up.

Settling down now with coffee in hand, I wonder what the lesson was in the mess?

Soon, I saw an implicit comparison: Thinking I am doing everything “right” doesn’t mean, in fact, I am. Nor does doing my things “right” mean I can control other things – or people. Last night I inadvertently did, or did not do, something that caused the hot coffee to overflow the pot this morning. Maybe, I added a bit too much finely ground coffee? Or, perhaps I did not tighten the thermos lid thoroughly, or I misaligned it? It’s easy to see who ultimately caused the overflow this morning – even though making a mess was not my aim. It was also easy to see that the only choice I had was cleaning up the mess and starting over.

But suppose I had ignored the coffee spill until a more convenient time – or expected Doug to deal with the mess? Really crazy, huh?

Nope – that’s how most of us often deal with conflict if we aren’t blowing our stacks! (And I include Christians!)

Dissension between family and friends is often a little like my coffee debacle – surprising, painful and messy. But, instead of quickly addressing the mess, we try to ignore a conflict – until a more convenient time. Or, we pass the problem off to someone else to solve. Yet the pain of unresolved conflict is just as messy and dangerous as an overflowing pot of hot coffee – and might take more than three towels to clean up!

So, if you suspect something isn’t perking as intended, consider whether you're making peace quickly is as necessary as the need for me stop a hot coffee spill. Peacemaking can be messy. We might get burned. And we may need help doing it. Here’s some help from Scripture:

  • Have you fallen out with someone – because they seem like a jerk? (See Matthew 18:15)
  • Has a relationship cooled for no apparent reason? (See Matthew 5:23-25)
  • Are you convinced you are faultless in a disagreement? (See Luke 21:31-32)
  • Are you a Christian, wanting to reflect Him?   See Matthew 5:9 in the following translations:
  • "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (ESV)
  • “Happy are those who strive for peace-they shall be called the sons of God.” (TLB)
  • "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.” (THE MESSAGE)
When conflict next erupts, I hope I remember pretending the mess is not my problem is as unwise as letting a coffee maker continue to flood the counter.
Remedy it, or welcome it: a wise man's only two choices. ~The Quote Garden

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Snap Out of It!

I met one of my favorite Mary Englebreit characters in the mid 1990's, when prozac and psycho-babble ruled.

 She has MOVED -- please drop on by: https://autumns-garden.com/snap-out-of-it/

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Carol: Have you read it?

Mr. Dickens’ tells  a tale that has  endured 168 years.  It is  an ever fresh analysis about how even the worst of us  can be all be made better with a little supernatural help and our own determination to be and do good.

I first heard it read by Lionel Barrymore on Christmas day, 1956. Settling myself in a comfy chair I put the records on a phonograph just below the 21-inch Philco televison screen. It was late afternoon, and the Christmas tree lights were quite cheery while I listened to a story I didn’t quite grasp.

I grasp it now, forty-three years later, having seen many different productions. And the story never disappoints me; its theme is always a tonic: even the worst of the lot can change in time to do some good for the human race  – whether Scrooge is played by Alastair Sim, Jack Palance, Scrooge McDuck, or, Vanessa Williams.  That was the intention: In his own words, Mr. Dickens
“ . . . endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me.” He wanted it to “. . . haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”

Wherever it is set, and whenever the story unfolds, the theme is the same: a supernatural intervention in an ornery old person’s life: Ebenezer Scrooge’s.  He – or she, depending on the production – is headed for eternal torment, condemned to wander the earth unable to do the good he or she once might have done – never resting, weighed down by the chains their sins forged in life. A departed associate has been  dispatched to warn the greedy man of affairs; three spirits arrive successively – all knowing a great deal about  Scrooge’s life – former and current. Memories long suppressed confront the Scrooge, forcing him  to judge what he has become. And, then, Scrooge is shown his end – the grave –  unless – he repents; he does. The supernatural intruders succeeded! Scrooge does a one-eighty, and becomes a keeper of Christmas year-round,  helping and serving mankind, who should have been his business his whole life. Death for now is thwarted.

Now, Mr. Dickens doesn’t say exactly who sends the spirits, though he is plain on the purpose of their mission: Scrooge’s welfare, his reclamation on Christmas Eve – the day the church celebrates the birth of Jesus the Christ. Yet, Mr. Dickens did not link  Christ Jesus  to the Scrooge’s transformation. (1 Timothy 1:15) Baptized in the  Anglican church, Mr. Dickens was averse to evangelicalism –  and, alas, apparently aligned himself with Unitarianism for the remainder of his life. (Dickens, Christianity and the Life of our Lord: Humble Veneration, Profound Conviction, By Gary Colledge,  link)

Is Scrooge’s change therefore a humbug? For the Cratchits, his nephew Fred, and 19th century London, surely not! Mr. Dickens stated Scrooge put his life and money where his mouth was:
     “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world . . .  He had no further intercourse with Spirits, . . . and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge . . .”

And England in the mid-19th century needed many charitable hearts and hands – just we do in 21st century America today. (Mark 14:7)

So what am I confessing this Christmas with deeds? (James 2:26)

Maybe that is why A Christmas Carol remains a beloved goad – one I understand more deeply each year as memories of Christmases past haunt me. I confess with my mouth Jesus is Lord; He reclaimed my sin-laden soul.

  •     You intervened in my life though I had not asked – (Ephesians 1:4)
  •     You invited me to a splendid feast, one that destroys the grave! (Isaiah 25:6-8)
  •     And you gave me lavish robes – to cover my wretched rags. (Zachariah 3:4)
  •     In You, I have a hope and a future – far brighter than the Christmas lights in big -D and more real. (Jeremiah 29:11)

What have I done with so great a salvation?

Oh! This season may no one miss the real supernatural power in Christmas because of my deeds. May I be “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a [woman], as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. . .”
God help me to be a woman who walks straight, acts right, and tells the truth.
May I never hurt my friend, or  blame my neighbor.
May I despise the despicable.
May I keep my word even when it costs me, and may I make an honest living, never taking a bribe. (Psalms 15 from THE MESSAGE)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nothing Like Sunshine . . .

When James Thurber described two kinds of light, he described morning at my desk: “There are two kinds of light - the glow that illumines, and the glare that obscures.” Until recently, the Bradford pears outside our window formed a weathered canopy of golden leaves. Though their mellow  hue was one more reminder of the difference between Dallas and Maryland it has been a pleasure writing at my desk, drinking coffee, and plotting my day. (What a difference a little longitude and latitude makes, huh?)  Within the past few days, however, the remaining leaves cannot shield me from the morning sun. 

The winter light pouring through the  window unsettles  my thought process, such as it is. Squinting, I must shift the position of the computer screen – sometimes losing track of an idea that just emerged! Clearly, I’ll need an earlier start, or a different location.

Nothing like sunshine to rearrange one’s thoughts.

So before  the winter sun disrupts me again – let me commend a verse that warmed my heart last night – especially if the bright lights of Christmas are obscuring your path:

    “Stay always within the boundaries where God's love can reach and bless you. Wait patiently for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you. Try to help those who argue against you. Be merciful to those who doubt.” ( Jude 21-22 TLB)

In all the gifts we give this year, mercy is perhaps the finest – and most costly.  It may mean overlooking some offenses,  giving up a deep hurt, or embracing a discipline we hoped to avoid; being merciful to those who do not deserve out mercy is the best gift we can give – for such was God’s gift to us in His Son.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Painful Memory –

 Comes back this time of year -- It happened over a decade ago.

“If you don’t leave me alone,” the woman snapped at me, “I will report you to the manager!”

My breath lodged in my throat while my soul recoiled from the slap of her angry words. A few minutes before, the woman’s coughing spasms interrupted my shopping, so, I  offered her a cough drop. When she curtly refused with anger, and I mumbled  an explanation: “I thought you were in distress. . .” And so she spoke sharply to me.

I stood for only a moment before quickly replacing the items I was considering, and fled the store.  Silent judgment overcame compassion and I headed for the door. Silent  indignation fueled my flight. “How dare she speak to me like that!” I fumed. I was vexed, offended, and resented her disdain. She treated me like I was . . . like I was some pestering vagrant!

The December night’s air smacked my flushed cheeks, shaking me lose from my gripe. That’s how I had sounded, not twenty minutes before, when I flounced myself out of the house for one last errand before Christmas: buying a gift in Christ’s name  for some poor child.

Now able to breathe, I was still  unable to pray whole-heartedly for that hostile woman. Our words were different, but our attitudes were too similar:  “Don’t mess with me! I got all this extra work because of this lousy season.”     

Peace on earth – Good will to men upon God’s favor rests.

O Lord! I whispered. You asked me to go a little further, work a bit longer, and then endure a simple insult. I don’t have to die for anyone’s selfishness; I must die to my own. And I can’t master my emotions when You give me an opportunity to sip from the cup Jesus took. (Hebrews 12:1-6)

O Lord, I am a beast! When I remember what You have promised, I am ashamed I dropped Your standards, first to my family and then to a stranger whose hurting heart ruined her poise. (Psalm 73)

Merry Christmas, to those who know not the One who can release them from the chains that stumble them. He is come!

And to the Christian troops, who are weary, bearing many insults, trials and tribulations  – Merry Christmas!

God is keeping a list; whether He checks it twice, I do not know. And we don’t want anyone, even our worst enemy to be on that list! However,  HE knows who’s been naughty and nice. He of whom the angels proclaimed is come and is coming again. (Matthew 25) He promises a crown to those who overcome – May we overcome our momentary afflictions,  for HIS glory and enjoy the great reward He plans for us.

Love in Christ,

A PS from this year: Thank you God for our armed forces who serve so I might worship and serve you.

Reconnecting to My Childhood.

Because of the internet I found a friend, one with whom I played as a little girl. We played with our dolls, we invented games about being mommies, teachers – and Dale Evans – Roy Rogers’ faithful friend; we shared meals, birthday parties, neighbors, games, dolls . . . she knew people who are now just blessed memories to me. Somewhere along the line, though, we went different ways and lost track of each other – almost fifty years ago!

A lot of water goes under a bridge in that amount of time. A lot of buried treasure, too. But with a few clicks of a mouse, I can go back and think about people and places that all contributed a bit to who I am today. Imprecise recollections surfaced these past few days – stirring memories, creating questions about  “what if . . .?

Born to parents who lived through the depression and several wars, I grew up with an older brother in a modestly prosperous community, Stoneleigh, adjacent to a bustling city, Baltimore. Neighbors, playmates, teachers, aunts, uncles, cousins, lifeguards, shopkeepers, crushes: How did these dear people, whose stories I will never fully know, influence me? Or, I, them?  I never stopped to think as I rushed ahead toward the life I have now, not mindful of how lovely parts of  each day was.

Oh! How I understand Emily Gibb’s aching question to the Stage Manager in Our Town: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”

For all the better choices I might have made, I am glad to be where I am just now – humbled that I am where I am – just for today – free to enjoy what I never deserved. And could never had earned even if I never made a bad decision.

. . . GOD is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he's rich in love.
He doesn't endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever.

He doesn't treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.

As high as heaven is over the earth, so strong is his love to those who fear him.

 And as far as sunrise is from sunset, he has separated us from our sins. . .
(Ps 103:8-12 from THE MESSAGE)

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Faulty Faucet

Eleven o’clock on a Saturday night  is not the easiest time to find a willing, competent plumber – but we tried a referral, one whose recorded message promised a call-back in a few minutes.   

The hot water in our shower would not shut off last night – in a newly remodeled bathroom. We had installed new fixtures, but some of the stems upon which the bright and shiny brass and porcelain knobs rested were old – indeed, worn out.  The stems were not visible. A crack caused a screw to slip, and a washer fell off, meaning no matter which direction I turned the knob, hot water pulsed through. And no turn-off was readily apparent – meaning the only cut off was in the adjacent alley, under a manhole, close to the fence. Douglas bundled up, for the temperature had dropped to 27 degrees, and valiantly stopped the flow of water.

While he struggled to cut off the water, I quickly filled up a water jug, prepared the morning  coffee, and filled the bathtub so we might flush the toilets. And we settled down awaiting a jingle on the phone. By 12:45 A.M., we gave up and went to bed. At 8:00 A.M. the plumber called, set an appointment, and came, discovering the problem, and fixing it with some new stems and washers.

The simple motion, turning off a faucet, was thwarted. A good thing, hot water, became scalding and harmful because of an aging piece of hardware, hidden from view finally wore out. And one faulty faucet meant shutting down all running water. No running water changes a lot -- stopping many things, anything that I had not made provision for before the water ceased to flow. 

Christ said water was to flow out of me – living water. (John 7:38-39) But sometimes, what comes out of my heart and mouth is as unsafe as that scalding hot water, and the cause may be as  unanticipated as that corroded faucet stem – that cracked under heat and persistent turning. Intemperate speech can also shut down all kinds of things as surely as Doug shut off the water to the house. Unfortunately there is no advance preparation for such a debacle the way I provided for the inconvenience of no running water.  I have scalded other people with my tongue. The only provision I have is that there is a Balm. (Jeremiah 8:22)

The plumber replaced the damaged pieces, turned the water back on, and now the shower turns on and off again – the water’s temperature easily moderated because he reset the temperature on the water heater. What comes from me also can be moderated, though I can’t see or know the stuff in my heart. My heart “. . .  is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out.” ( Jeremiah 17:9  from THE MESSAGE )

Grace rests the gauge on my emotions when I remember these things and act:
    God did not die and leave me in charge. “You grab a mad dog by the ears when you butt into a quarrel that's none of your business.” (Proverbs 26:17 from THE MESSAGE )

    God gave me Scripture to get at the corroded corners in my heart and soul. “Who can discern his lapses and errors? Clear me from hidden [and unconscious] faults.” (Psalm 19:12 AMP)

    God has a purpose in my speech. “ When she speaks she has something worthwhile to     say, and she always says it kindly.( Proverbs 31:26 from THE MESSAGE )
"[S]he who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From [her] innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'"  (John 7:38-39)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cold Water In Loving Cups:

A Ministry?

Cable news succeeds in outlining, describing and reiterating what Paul observed: the days are evil  – These are desperate times! (Ephesians 5:16) And the times affect the very people who create them. (John 13:34, Matthew 5:44) Paul saw his generation and described ours:

        . . . People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn't treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life . . .   Refusing to know God, they soon didn't know how to be human either — women didn't know how to be women, men didn't know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men — all lust, no love . . .  And it's not as if they don't know better. They know perfectly well they're spitting in God's face. And they don't care — worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best! (Romans 1:18-32 from THE MESSAGE )

People who believe God live in the midst of people who do not believe in Him, and our charge is to love each other and nonbelievers with love. How do I do I do this?

First, remember that but for God’s grace – and the loving forbearance of several Christians – I might be far worse than the Romans Paul described. Second, ask for a heart that loves – and a will that serves; neither one is second-nature to me. Third, put away the fire hose. I am learning offering cold water in loving cups is one way  –  though I used to think a fire hose of hot water was one way to quench the "opposition." Fourth pray for Christians who are visible – that they are transparent and effective witnesses of Jesus the Christ.

Finally, I found this e-mail from Peacemaker Ministries quite helpful on how to reconcile, live at peace, among and with “enemies.”

    Don't Drop Your Weapons!

    Paul also understood that God has given us divine weapons to use in our quest for peace. These weapons include Scripture, prayer, truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Eph. 6:10-18; Gal. 5:22-23). To many people, these resources and qualities seem feeble and useless when dealing with "real" problems. Yet these are the very weapons Jesus used to defeat Satan and to conquer the world (e.g., Matt. 4:1-11; 11:28-30; John 14:15-17). Since Jesus chose to use these weapons instead of resorting to worldly weapons, we should do the same.

    (Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 248)

    Food for Thought

    What weapons do you tend to use when you are in a conflict?

    When we finally decide to reconcile with an enemy, we sometimes approach them with an attitude of "dropping our weapons.” But Jesus never calls us to be unarmed or passive among our enemies. To the contrary, he calls us to lay down our ineffective worldly weapons (like defensiveness, anger, self-justification, and gossip) in order to take up the truly heavy artillery (like love, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control). Take time today to read Romans 12:14-21 and resolve to take up again the weapons for which the Lord sacrificed so much to equip you.

Romans 12:14-21

    Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.

    Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

    Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

    Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.

    If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

    Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.

     "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head."

    Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (NASB)

Friday, November 13, 2009

An`Estate Sale --

My friend spied an estate sale and passed on the address.  Estate sales are always on my way; so, I stopped; I parked on the same street that had obliged me a few Saturdays previously when another estate sale loomed. Approaching the house, I saw through large windows many good, but gently worn treasures in with everyday stuff – and so it was in each room. Alas, nothing for me.

 Leaving the house, a guard greeted me – testifying to the remaining valuables: sterling silver, a full length mink, rugs, books on collecting porcelain and silver, amongst costume jewelry, old appliances  – and half full bottles of cleaning and yard sprays, marked fifty cents. I looked up and saw a broken window pane in a dormer; the paint was pealing; looking around, I saw the yard was overgrown. In the driveway, people had removed the seats in their van to accommodate their find: a sofa with good bones and timeworn upholstery

Because of the economy, her home may be remodeled instead of demolished – and all her things, the care of which surely occupied a large portion of her resources – time, money, and thoughts – will have new homes – or molder landfills. What we work so hard for, becomes another’s property – for a season or two; where is that from in  Ecclesiastes?

A woman’s life sorted, tagged and on sale – not a thing that bore witness to a man’s presence. Who was she? Where is she? Did she have people to love, and love her? Did someone help her at the end of her stay in home?

Well, dear anonymous and elegant lady – thank you for letting me see your treasures. I hope for all the pleasure they gave you, loving hearts gave you more – and that you were loved and that you loved.

A Familiar Lonesome Wail

I remember the first time I heard the sound of a train – I was a small child visiting my grandmother in Jonesville, South Carolina. The tracks were several miles from her home.  Though trains ran throughout the day, I only heard them in the morning and evening. But, that wail intrigued me – I had seen pictures of passenger trains, and distant sounds kindled day dreams. My grandmother’s house still stands – does a child dream when she or he hears a distant wail?

The next time I heard a train’s horn, I was a junior at the University of Maryland – our apartment was literally right by the tracks. The landlord said we’d get used to it; he was  right. After the first couple of days I rarely heard it. I had no time for dreams.

But now, that distant wail – haunting and familiar – is clearly discernible at our new house! As I sat down with coffee, it greeted me – having said a goodnight before I retired. I have time for  musing – Does  that train wend its way east and north through South Carolina, and Jonesville, onto College Park, perhaps then chugging into Grand Central?  Another train now passes.  This is no way to get a morning’s housework done!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Coming to Terms with Time

Some birthdays are difficult to celebrate, for they bring an awareness of aging – a daunting prospect with all that attends!  I heartily concur with another woman’s thoughts:
    Come, thieving time, take what you must,
    Quickness to move, to hear, to see,
    When dust gathers near to dust,
    Such diminutions need must be,
    But leave, O leave, exempt from plunder,
    My sense of humor, curiosity, and wonder.
(An anonymous poem, from a 93-year-old  lady, given to her pastor in Washington DC church)

But a sense of humor, curiosity, and wonder aren’t always enough if facing  infirmity, loneliness  and death.

The first time I ever thought much about how old I was getting, I was staring at my reflection in a mirror - in Quito Ecuador - on my 23rd birthday; it dawned on me (finally) I was an adult – but the choices I had been making were not so wise. I had some decisions  to make, not fully realizing that growing up meant growing old.  That was the only birthday that literally troubled  me. Plenty of other times have given me pause to reflect on how quickly my life was passing – but not another birthday – so far.

About twenty-three years later, was one such time as I stood in the autumn sunlight of our dressing area, stunned by the realization that  “middle aged” was no longer an apt description of my age and stage. How it came to me was doing the math . . . doubling my age that afternoon I figured that put me well beyond what even Moses said was a reasonable  prospect of longevity. (Psalm 90:10) 

Another twenty years, or so, has passed since that epiphany – decades that brought all kinds of changes – the least of which has been aging: people whose lives I often took for granted died; new relationships have been forged – I have another “son” and “daughter” – gifts of grandchildren who will outlive me, God willing. Changes that seemed unthinkable have come to pass – wars, uncertainty, and a “normlessness”– anomie – that I thought only described post World War I; “unshakeable” foundations shook.  

When I first thought about growing older, I assumed I had time, time to dream and live those dreams out – time to make a difference  – I would make a major contribution to my world. And I would be very different from other women I knew! Twenty three years passed and  my ideas about what to contribute had changed; my desire to be so different has mellowed. Another couple of decades zipped by, and imagining the future is not as pleasurable as remembering how far God has brought me; I miss the women, my mother, family and friends, all from whom I wanted to be so different. And that sense of humor, curiosity, and wonder doesn’t overcome pain, loneliness and fear.

I read Isaiah 46:3-5 and am comforted by God, who is the God of my gray hairs – an important promise for one who decided to retire Miss Clairol.
“When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, GOD is rock-firm and faithful.”(Psalm 73:26 from THE MESSAGE ) 

Grateful for each day, then – even as my get up and go . . . diminishes . . . even with increasing limitations, I can with laughter, curiosity and wonder, pray: 
    . . . And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me,
    Until I declare Thy strength to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come.

    (Psalm 71:18)

    . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. . .  (
Psalm 51:10-15)

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Window Now Faces South . . .

In our new home, because of my desk’s situation, the morning sky’s light is different – I face south. The light is gentler – in our former home, I faced east in the morning — but I rarely sat at my desk; I enjoyed reading and writing on the screened porch, (weather permitting) an exposure also protected from the sun. So, the light feels somewhat familiar.  

On either side of the desk are books, photos and tiny treasures, some that chronicle thirty-seven years together: some wedding gifts, many we collected. I added to the collection a Maryland memento. Saturday, while yard-sailing, (or, in Dallas, estate-yachting) I found a small Delft ginger jar, inscribed  Maryland – interesting to speculate what the connection was.

Were they transplants, too?

Texas is full of transplants! Business people whose companies relocated; Latin American and African immigrants, university and medical students – quadruple the mix since Douglas left in the 1960's. Many folks here, when asked if they are natives, reply, “No, but I got here as quick as I could.”  I genuinely like Texans – natives and transplants – everybody who have so graciously opened their hearts to us.  But I have never been more aware of being a Marylander – even a Baltimorean, though most of my life I’ve spent in the Annapolis area! What’s that about? I wasn’t so conscious of that when I lived in DC. 

Of course, this surprising tie to my provenance is like Doug’s. One evening as we walked, he remarked on the sunset – brilliant blue melting into orangery-purples – and I realized maybe he’d been missing the memory of how the sun looks – rising or setting.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Yesterday and today have been glorious, cool and sunny in Dallas – after days of   showers and storms – downpours that have replenished water supplies.

Last Monday, as we readied boxes and bags for the Tuesday move, we worried about the weather – the clouds parted and the movers from Maryland and Texas converged –depositing the bits and pieces of our lives: the living room rug that I saw first in my husband’s bachelor pad was unrolled,  and the memories of our children playing, crawling and toddling spilled out.

Many open-hearted friends and family pitched in – with concrete, kind help – bringing food, muscle power and encouragement. By Thursday night – because of all their help – we could find our way around the house, and our son and his wife flew in – through the crazy weather – and we had a fun time – content to leave the chaos. Friday night the Texas family and friends entertained them and us.

Saying good-bye after breakfast this morning was hard – the feelings  reminded me of the Sunday we left our son at his college: for years I knew the day was coming – yet was somehow surprised that time did not simply stop.

. . . Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day . . . 

But just for today I remember the kindness of so many and the love of the best kids a mom and dad could have, and God who made such a wideness in His mercy it found out me.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Another move looms . . . Less than forty-eight hours until we settle in to our next home . . . Boxes, empty cabinets, empty walls – and rooms that echo slightly because the curtains are at the cleaners. Yep, I've moved a bunch . . .

My first move -- just a couple of suitcases: I left  Baltimore for Ocean City – to work for the summer before moving to a college dorm, then, into two different apartments in the same building, before I moved two more times around the College Park area – acquiring stuff, discarding stuff –  never having enough of what the next living space required.

Next, I moved into an apartment near the zoo in DC; within a year I moved onto Capitol Hill, NE. From there I moved to Ecuador for a year – moving around the country, twice.  Illness and revolution sent me back to South Carolina, with little more than what I had in a suitcase to recover before returning to DC – the outskirts of Capitol Hill, this time in SE. Then I moved to Georgetown . . . from whence I married and moved to Annapolis. I left most all my stuff for others to use.

In Annapolis, we moved seven times in twenty-four years; we accumulated stuff.  Lots of it was other people’s downsizing. God gave us children, and our stuff really multiplied! The moves became more complicated – and we needed storage lockers.

We’ve moved three times so far in Texas, each time acquiring stuff – and now we are fixing to move the fourth time. We have let go of a great deal of stuff; photographs remind of us of our real treasures: people and places.  An assortment of images, freezing in time people, who are no longer precious babies, toddlers – or teens; of people who now know what is on the other side of this life; rooms we loved in, argued and cried in; holidays, vacations – I see the colors, smell the smells and hear their voices. They all go with me -- 

So, I am  used to moving . . . and the sadness and excitement that fill the minutes and hours of moving day.   Forty-eight hours until we settle into our next home . . . Boxes, empty cabinets, empty walls – and rooms that echo slightly because the curtains are at the cleaners. And in the upcoming abode – the scenario is the same . . . packing up, sorting, tossing, saving for another time to dispose of, . . . my life is still in moving boxes?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Social Justice

Tonight we had dinner with some interesting folks – about 500! WORLD Magazine held a  dinner honoring Christians who are offering hope and compassion to hurting hearts without government help. They spotlighted three groups, from among many:
Crossover Ministry (www.crossoverministry.org) – Clinics offering healthcare, education and medicine to poor people in Richmond Virginia.
Snappin’ Ministries (www.snappin.org) – ministering to families with special needs children.
Forgiven Ministry (www.forgivenministry.org) helping reconcile children with their parents who are incarcerated.

Prior to the dinner we attended one of three seminars: Offering Hope to the Poor through Social Justice, with Marvin Olasky (editor of WORLD) and Stephen Tavani (Founder of WOW International – http://www.wowjam.com ). Both men are deeply committed to social justice – but not the way contemporary politicians and social engineers promote it.

The political left thinks social justice must needs not simply level all playing fields – they want  "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his need." The political right too often stumbles into social Darwinism – let the poor die off. The Bible teaches that justice separate the guilty from the innocent; (social) justice is always accompanied with righteousness – these are the foundation of God’s throne – and must be the core of how we serve the poor and hopeless.

Mr. Tavani believes if the Gospel is true and works in the worst places, it is true and works anywhere. To that end, he and enormous corps of volunteers go into tough communities with everything from free cold water, bicycle repair, hair cuts, manicures, food, family photographs, games and shoes. He and his volunteers escort a small number of folk at a time into a tent, and fit each with  free name-brand athletic shoes – after bathing the feet of those they serve.  Is it any wonder they draw crowds?   And to those crowds, he offers the Gospel of salvation, as he and his volunteers meet real needs. They believe doing is more important than saying. 

Mr. Olasky believes this as well, citing the difference between the ancient Romans and Christians hospitality. The Romans were hospitable to those who could do them some good; the Christians entertained those who could never repay. (Luke 14:12-14) He speculated that one reason Christianity may have caught on was not so much the teaching, but the practice by which Christians shared and risked their lives to serve.

It was quite an evening! 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cause of Damage: Unidentifiable?

Moisture has been a problem in our little house, especially since it was vacant for almost two years.  We can see these problems because of the unusually rainy fall.  So, we’ve replaced the gutters and down spouts and we’ve installed a French drain whose conduit to the curb seems to be working. But we found old damage – damage that had been covered up by carpet for over twenty years.  Our contractor  noticed a little rotted wood under a window.

Fearing more moisture problems  or termites we asked the floor refinisher to investigate, and we called in the pest control folks, in an abundance of caution. The workman thought it was just old moisture damage; but, the manager of the pest control company came himself to ensure they had not overlooked anything in the initial inspection and treatment. He clambered around the crawl space and pronounced it free of termite damage. Then, he recommended an extra treatment, no charge, in case the culprits were carpenter ants, who eat damp wood.

Sin remains a problem in my life, though I confess Christ has paid my debt in full; I take steps to battle it – winning many battles, and losing some painful ones. Sometimes “religion”  gets laid over the losses, covering old wounds, the way that carpet covered rotted wood.

My Carpenter, Christ, (Mark 6:3) is in the business of removing covering – especially “religious”  coverings.  What we are discovering is the vestige of sin’s damage; like those floor planks that need ripping out and replacing – the damage needs replacing. But, with what?

I still have the memories, fears, and faithlessness. Frankly, it’s easier to replace rotten wood than live with the fallout of  rebellion – mine and others.    

Though the world has seeped into my heart as relentlessly as moisture accumulates under a pier and beam home and its passions gnaw at me as determinedly as termites or carpenter ants, yet I hesitate to act; I won’t act out of the same abundance of caution I did for our home. Too often I am embarrassed to call out for help, anticipating other Christians’ rejection or derision. Worse, I doubt God cares, or, can help.

Is that what I would tell someone, though, who asked me for spiritual aid and comfort? “ Don’t bother me – or God; I don’t care and neither will He?”

No! I’d urge you to pray – I’d read you Scripture – I’d pray for you! Why is it easier, then, to tell you what to do, than to hear the Gospel for myself?

Maybe because asking God to help me shows just how feeble I am. Asking God shows me Who really is in charge; Confessing His Sovereign rule is one thing; living it is quite another. I don’t mind asking for help I can pay for – I resist anything that underscores how poor  I am.

Today, Mr. Spurgeon commented on Lamentations 3:41, "Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens." He zapped me – identifying the cause of damage:

    The act of prayer teaches us our unworthiness, which is a very salutary lesson for such proud beings as we are. If God gave us favours without constraining us to pray for them we should never know how poor we are, but a true prayer is an inventory of wants, a catalogue of necessities, a revelation of hidden poverty. While it is an application to divine wealth, it is a confession of human emptiness. The most healthy state of a Christian is to be always empty in self and constantly depending upon the Lord for supplies; to be always poor in self and rich in Jesus; weak as water personally, but mighty through God to do great exploits; and hence the use of prayer, because, while it adores God, it lays the creature where it should be, in the very dust.

And there’s always so much dust during any worthwhile remodeling! (Romans 8:29-31)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Eve’s Problem – and Mine

When the woman saw that the tree was good for power, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)

Eve was created to be in the very place I would enjoy: the delight of her husband, living in a glorious garden with no pests, and no laundry. Yet, when offered a taste of something God proscribed, that’s the very thing she went for – fruit from the tree of knowledge because it looked tasty –  and would make her wise. In fairness to Eve, the serpent deceived her, challenging her to question what God said. (1 Timothy 2:14)

Where I live isn’t excellent in every way – as was the garden where Eve first lived. (Genesis 1:31) I live in the aftermath of their free choice. But, it’s way more pleasant than what Eve encountered when she and her husband were driven from the Garden.  In fact, I enjoy many of its fruits; I am grateful for its bounty. But, too often I can be as complacent as Eve was, not stretching, as she might have, for the fruit from the tree of life. (Genesis 2:9) And so when I hear the question, “Did God say  . . . ?” I can slide into doubt if God really said what He said. If He didn’t, then maybe I can be in charge and do what pleases me?

At the root of my doubt is disobedience – mine or someone else’s. I will not do what I should do, and I embrace what I should not. Or, I stumble into doubt because another Christian sinned. The thought, “God can’t be real if He let’s this go on,” flits by, and sometimes I invite it in for a chat, plunging myself into dark waters. 

Though presented with a powerful deception, could not Eve have asked Adam about challenge, or, God? My question goes beyond what Scripture teaches – but it is a life line in the watery darkness of doubts. But, I must look away from the temptation and search for God. Longing to enjoy pleasure, and to be wise, I am so like Eve, unless I look beyond my sin, or the sin of someone else. And when all I can see is failure – it’s hard!

The tree of life was not hidden from Eve and Adam – nor, is it hidden from me because of the Scriptures.
    Wisdom . . . a tree of life to those who take hold of her,
    And happy are all who hold her fast.
(Proverbs 3:18) 
Christ is not hiding from me. He is as close as I permit; like Peter, though,  I can’t always handle the closeness.   . . .  "Master, leave. I'm a sinner and can't handle this holiness. Leave me to myself." (Luke 5:8   THE MESSAGE ) And left to myself, I am hopeless! (Romans 7:24) Fortunately Christ never left Peter, nor forsook him, and so I have hope. (Romans 7:25- 8: 39)  
    God, God, save me! I'm in over my head,
    Quicksand under me, swamp water over me; I'm going down for the third time.
    I'm hoarse from calling for help, Bleary-eyed from searching the sky for God.

    (Psalm 69:1-3 from THE MESSAGE )
My hope: 
I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. (Philipian 3:12 from THE MESSAGE )

Now, let me get on with the laundry.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Follow-up on Granite Countertops

I have enjoyed the fall out conversations from my discovery that granite countertops may pose health risks. Some  granites have been reported to have higher radioactivity – perhaps creating a link to cancers. But, lo, and behold, I learned the science is not so definite and the warning may be tied to advertising wars: the countertop competitors may have magnified the scientific details. And this from the man who gave me the great deal.

One says there is a threat; another says the threat is without proof; which do I believe? If death, even a terrible death like cancer, is the result of acting on a seemingly innocent decision, what then?

My religion teaches that my days are numbered and known by my Creator; my Savior comforts me, assuring me worry will not add a thing to my life. (Psalm 139:16; Matthew 6:27) My Redeemer promises I will see Him, even after my skin is destroyed. (Job 19:25-27; John 11:25)

But,  my Friend asks me, as He asked Martha: “Do you believe this? " (John 11: 26) 

Martha confessed her faith, called her sister, and finally let the burial stone be rolled away, demonstrating her belief. (John 11:27-41)  My circumstances are not so dramatic as Martha’s, but, the Lord Jesus’ question remains. He wants to know if I believe He is the Life, the Conqueror of death and my Deliverer from its snares? Alas, it is a question I struggle with, even as I answer “Yes!”

We are remodeling a house that may well be around after we are not; we made improvements – granite countertops – which were formed and will endure after we die. Until Christ returns, this material world will outlast us. Yet, the life God promises me is more real than the granite, and will endure His fire –

My flesh argues; my heart replies – my hope defends and delivers me:
     "LORD, make me to know my end, And what is the extent of my days, Let me know how transient I am.

     "Behold, Thou hast made my days as hand breadths, And my lifetime as nothing in Thy sight, Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Selah.

    "Surely every man walks about as a phantom; Surely they make an uproar for nothing; He amasses riches, and does not know who will gather them.

    "And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in Thee.

    "Deliver me from all my transgressions; Make me not the reproach of the foolish.
    (Psalm 39:4-8)

And deliver me from my own foolishness – please.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Should I Start Smoking Again?

I quit my three-pack a day smoking habit thirty-nine years ago this Labor Day. This morning I discovered I may have introduced a potential carcinogen into our lives that is almost as deadly as smoking.

So, what have I done?  I put granite counter tops in our kitchen and bath.

The voguish folk tell me granite is good choice; science, though, has issued  a warning. Today, surfing the net,  I discovered that my economical, valuable solution  may pose a health risk comparable to smoking! Wikipedia says:
    “. . . Granite is a natural source of radiation, like most natural stones. However, some granites have been reported to have higher radioactivity thereby raising some concerns about their safety . . .     Radon gas poses significant health concerns, and is the #2 cause of lung cancer in the US behind smoking . . . ” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granite)
Something “natural” might be deadly?

Do we have, courtesy of Wikipedia, unexpected support for statements in Genesis 3 that the Fall was deeper and wider than we can imagine? That it distorted nature?  Builders, salesmen and scientists may disagree. But, I believe Scripture is right in saying that what God created as good, now groans under His curse. (Genesis 1:10, 3:17; Romans 8:22)   And what we promote as not just OK, but useful and cost-effective – see cigarette advertising before the Surgeon General’s report – may not be so fashionable, or wise. “. . .  What the world calls smart, God calls stupid. It's written in Scripture, He exposes the chicanery of the chic.” (1 Corinthians 3:19 from THE MESSAGE )

So when I am in my refurbished kitchen, preparing meals on a “natural” surface, I will be slightly disquieted, wondering if my penny-wise trendiness was so smart. I just hope they give me as much pleasure as the long pull on a Benson & Hedges I still dream about taking.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Remodeling This Far

Getting situated in our “new” home has been a series of starts, stops, and holding patterns. Buying our bungalow took almost three months of negotiations, and this in a down real estate market! Though the little house presented well, we understood it needed some repairs just to maintain its charm. So, we decided to address the problems before moving in. 

Planning and pricing  the remodeling work took another six weeks. The contractor kept saying he likes getting the work figured out beforehand as much as possible, so the sure-to-come glitches will be less likely to derail us.

The remodeling started slowly after Labor Day, picked up steam and last week roared along with roofers, foundation workers, carpenters, electricians, and painters. Promptly, they tore out rotting wood, redirected water from the foundation, upgraded wiring and discovered gas leaks. One of the genuine delights of the remodeling has been seeing so many craftsmen, whose full names I don’t know, who are equally thoughtful, careful, diligent and creative.  Even so, we have had those glitches: a sub measured the kitchen and bath counter tops incorrectly.

At first, I thought it might not matter, but waiting an extra ten days to two weeks for the new counter tops didn’t set well with the contractor who had scheduled the remaining work for back splashes, appliance installation, attic insulation, and floor refinishing.  His careful preplanning kept me from accepting a delay, and he directed me to a faster and more cost-efficient alternative.

Do  any of these daily adventures compare to remodeling of my heart without over spiritualizing the analogies? Just as remodeling sites are usually  messy, even when the workmen daily tidy up, I seem messy, even as I confess and repent. There have been spiritual fits and starts right along with real changes. I have misunderstood, miscalculated and misconceived God’s resources and my need. Worse, I have dallied on my inner remodeling site, putting off what I was supposed to be doing, preferring other work. And I have tripped up others by my faults.

While I am a new creature – by grace through faith – I remain a work in progress. God, the Builder has worked a unique plan, one that overcomes “glitches.”

    When someone becomes a Christian, [s]he becomes a brand-new person inside. [S]he is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17 TLB)

    . . .  For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants. (Philippians 2:12-13 TLB)
    'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD,' plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11  NASB)

Lord, I believe; Help Thou my unbelief!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Painful Ebenezer: Talking to a Computer

This week the pressures of overseeing our humble  remodeling effort have kept me moving, and in the past two days anger has swept over me, almost drowning me in emotional “in-bursts” and out bursts. What robbed me of my composure is one too many conversations with a mechanical voice.  Before I could speak to a person, I had to answer a computer’s questions; sometimes I lost track of the choices and had to start over; sometimes I heard way too much elevator music; once the computer hung up on me, and then my cell phone started ringing with a computer-generated notification of an appointment. Surely, I could maintain my composure simply conveying information to a machine?

Alas, not.

What I have thought and what I have said this week has been neither wise nor kind.  (Proverbs 31:26) And this week we began a study of Dr. Paul Tripp’s book, War of Words. Does God have a sense of humor or what?

Dr. Tripp described the purpose of words, using Proverbs 18:21 in a pointed paraphrase: Words kill, words give life; they're either poison or fruit — you choose. (From THE MESSAGE ) God gave us words so we could, among other things, solve problems. (Can you imagine ordering phone service without using words?)

I had several problems this week – arranging work, ordering services and getting information – but how I chose to use my words, spoken and unvoiced, brought a bitter harvest. No computer held a gun to my head, demanding I think or speak rudely; I chose, either to think, or to say unkind, unwise words. More than once, I yelled  – at  a computer – to make a point; worse, I used words as if no one else could hear, souring my tone when a real, live person finally came on line.

So, how far have I come this week? (1 Samuel 7:12) I am learning again, Someone listens, and He hears even my unspoken words.

“May my spoken words and unspoken thoughts be pleasing even to you, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer  ” – even when I am answering a computer’s questions. Let me use Your gift of  words so I might be prepared to speak with wisdom and winsomeness to the next person you place in my path. (Psalm 19:14 TLB)

All rather ironic given my comments on Rep. Wilson , huh?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

So Far Around the Bend, I Missed the Curve.

Coming into the house, chatting on my cell, I dump my purse on the steps, and start searching for my cell phone so I can be sure and plug it in. I mean for almost two minutes I searched those pockets madly while keeping up a conversation on the missing phone.

What does this mean?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Current Events – Saying You Are Sorry to All the People You Offended.

When Representative  Joe Wilson  responded to the President’s assertion that illegal aliens would not be entitled to health care, he shouted, “You lie!” This assertion offended the President, the Congress, his South Carolinian constituents, and me. He apologized to President Obama who graciously accepted it. However on a news program Representative Wilson declared his refusal to apologize to anyone else and cited his civility.

The U.S. House of Representatives sit because of the shed blood of millions of Americans. I hope Rep Wilson will take the next step and apologize setting a concrete example of civility

Christ warned his followers that if you even suspect someone has something against you, make it right. (Matthew 5:23-25) It’s good advice for all of us – regardless of religion.

If I blow it, onlookers are sometimes as wounded as the person who was the brunt of my frustration. Taking the time to think about what I said and whom I may have harmed is time well spent; and having the courage to ask forgiveness from all whom I offend  – without inserting excuses – is part and parcel of being blessed by God. (Matthew 5:9)
Seven A's of Confession (From Peacemaker Ministries)
As God opens your eyes to see how you have sinned against others, he simultaneously offers you a way to find freedom from your past wrongs. It is called confession. Many people have never experienced this freedom because they have never learned how to confess their wrongs honestly and unconditionally. Instead, they use words like these: "I'm sorry if I hurt you." "Let's just forget the past." "I suppose I could have done a better job." "I guess it's not all your fault." These token statements rarely trigger genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. If you really want to make peace, ask God to help you breathe grace by humbly and thoroughly admitting your wrongs. One way to do this is to use the Seven A's.

   1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
   2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
   3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
   4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
   5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
   6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
   7. Ask for forgiveness

See Matthew 7:3-5; 1 John 1:8-9; Proverbs 28:13.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Cost of Ownership

Time lost is too rarely realized as an irreplaceable gem until it is long gone from its setting.  A downside of our recent yard sale was the growing awareness that managing my stuff foreclosed being with people: no time to dally over coffee, take a long walk, shoot the breeze, or ask a question. No, I had to be about hauling, sorting, discarding, keeping, selling repositories of my memories, while the most valuable commodity I had – time with folks I love – slid away.  A hidden price of my treasures cost me time with my husband, a conversation with my daughter; the cost kept me from listening to my son, watching my grandchildren, and calling a friend. If I had known this unseen but real cost of all the possessions –  slated for disposal – would I have been so ready to buy? 

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Yard Sale Ebenezer

This time last week we faced an enormous task: emptying a 10x10 storage locker, moving it to our former home, sorting, pricing and preparing for a yard sale, scheduled for the same day a hurricane was due to visit Maryland. Now, the day before, when flying up from TX, we enjoyed a smooth flight – with an empty seat on our row! Then we relaxed with kids and grand-kids, girding our loins so to speak for the “reveal” day.

So, Thursday a week ago, we rented a truck, and began unpacking the contents of the storage locker; what did not go home, went into a locker one-fourth the size.  Two friends pitched in; our daughter-in-law gave up her last days of summer vacation before beginning a new academic semester and joined the insanity wholeheartedly: loading, moving, unloading. Then, our daughter and son-in-law’s living room and porch became a mountain of Smith clutter. And the sorting began: this stays, this goes, this is trash; the “this” was a pile of priceless pieces of a long and happy marriage.

Friday dawned – the sorting continued while the pricing began. What’s realistic? What’s not? We had some help from an antique dealer who gave us a few bottom lines, and educated us: some stuff we thought was valuable were just decorator pieces; some stuff we thought was knock-offs were the real deal. Throughout the run-up to the sale, we tended a busy three-year-old and eighteen months-old who doesn’t know how to walk; he runs! Our daughter-in-law brought crafts and kept some semblance of quiet.  We worked until 10:30 P.M.; my daughter, taking the occasion to purge her “collection” worked until midnight! Projections of bad weather the day of sale slowly became firmer.  Did we have a fall-back plan if rain was a reality on Saturday? No.

Saturday, the big day began at 6:00 A.M. We awoke to a  humid morning, hints of sun shining through clouds; our son-in–law had secured tables for us, so we  quickly began transferring the inside on my daughter’s home to the front lawn. Buyers showed up at 7:15 – before we finished unpacking. The cloudy skies were a mercy; the humidity was not.  Sell, sell, sell – you offer, we deal – that was my mind set, closing my mind to the memories. That is, until one yard-sailor demanded how badly I wanted to get rid of a carpenter’s chest? I preferred consigning it. By one we had loaded up the truck and deposited what was not sold to the Salvation Army. Our unsold books went to the A.A.U.W.  And nary a rain shower!

Then,  we collapsed – taking a long nap!

Was such an effort worth it? Money -wise, we made some. But it wasn’t the money that made Thursday, Friday and Saturday worth it. (Next time I have the urge to purge, my “junque” goes to Salvation Army directly!)  What made these three days great for me was the people who helped and those who came to the sale – the helpers’ time, kindness and strength were invaluable. And those who came to sale, some shared genuine compassion, understanding what it means to “downsize.”  We also got to see friends we hadn’t seen in many years, who promised to give our stuff good homes.

Some of the lessons of the last week  are still percolating – but, given all the possible problems, I know God heard the  prayers for us – His kindness was overwhelming! From giving us many loving, helping hands, re-routing the rain, to having a good time with kids and grand kids – to getting rid of stuff we can no longer use, God is surely kind.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Taking Our Kids to College

Three of my friends dropped their daughters off at college last week; each one fared well through the attending emotional turmoil. Now that the first full academic week begins, I am thinking about them, and remembering the waves of emotion that crashed over me when I turned that corner with my kids. Nothing prepared me for the intensity of those emotions when the apron strings were snipped, though many friends had tried.

When I turned from waving farewell to our son, 800 hundred miles from home, that August morning fourteen years ago I stared into a black pit swirling with sadness, joy, and relief: Sadness that the door on his childhood really was shut tight; joy that one was opening on his future; relief that homeschooling had not hobbled him in the academic race. Our daughter finished college near home and drove herself to her first academic week; the black pit emotions over her didn’t overwhelm me until she invited me to come along on a local photo shoot as she completed a homework assignment for her photography class – I saw the door to childhood firmly shut, and the one opening on her future was not off kilter because of homeschooling her.

College presented as much of a parental challenge as watching our kids walk, talk or feed themselves – or assume control over their little bodies; hovering didn’t make them walk or talk faster. They needed our protection for some things, our provision for others. Protecting and providing made me feel great – the challenge when they went to college, and as they have grown up, is redefining my protection and provision. And the hardest part of the challenge may loom: accepting their protection and provision for us.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Words as Puzzle Pieces

Growing up, I was easily defeated by jigsaw puzzles; usually because I never understood how to begin. And if I managed to assemble one, I came up short, missing one or two key pieces – usually because I dumped the box out. So, until God gave me a daughter who loved them, I avoided jigsaw puzzles.

Now, writing this blog calls to mind piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. Over the past few weeks, finding the words to write this blog has been like finding the right pieces of a jigsaw. I know what I want to represent, the puzzle of an autumn garden – but I am missing the lid and straight edges.
What does an autumn garden look like anyway?
Is it a flower garden, or vegetable?
Nurtured or neglected?
And when I am churned up, words spill out, like pieces from a jigsaw puzzle box, carelessly upended

I think back to the puzzle-piecing lessons my daughter gave me. She taught me to start jigsaw puzzles by studying the cover, and keeping it close at hand when getting the straight edges together. She also taught me not to upend the box, spilling, and losing puzzle pieces that fit only when the puzzle comes together.

Describing things I deeply care about takes me places I don’t want to go, like contemporary author Kathleen Norris warned:
“When we write about what matters to us most, words will take us places we don’t want to go. You begin to see you will have to say things you don’t want to say, that even may be dangerous to say, but are absolutely necessary.”
And at times, the words I write express ideas that aren’t fitting easily together. Forcing them to fit seems as unwise as forcing mismatched puzzles pieces. Ignoring them also is unwise.

So, I am glad for another day in which I may keep sifting through the puzzle pieces for my blog, remembering God is good – though life is hard. Even if I don’t have a clear picture of my own autumn garden, I can refer back to what Scripture says God looks like. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13;1 John 3:2) I will collect as many straight edges as I can to frame my developing puzzle. (Hebrews 12:12-13) Also, I will avoid dumping pieces all over the place: “Smart people know how to hold their tongue; . . .” (Proverbs 19:11 from THE MESSAGE )

Friday, August 21, 2009

Getting Out of Life Alive

Many have said death is not what scares them – it is what leads to it. Older women and men I have known are quick to affirm, old age is not for sissies – and the golden years come replete with much brass. If our minds stay clear, our bodies may not cooperate; if our minds fail, our bodies may survive.

Mrs. Palfrey, who took up residence at the Claremont, in the novel and movie bearing her name, did so to minimize the burden her aging and decline would cost her family – robbing them of an opportunity to come to terms with death. She confronted the end of her life in surroundings she chose, with strangers who became comrades. Some simply helped her manage the details of daily living, like sorting out appropriate dress. Others enabled her to reflect on all her life’s blessings. Yet, none could keep her from her final appointment.

Mrs. Palfrey’s winsome spryness, regret and loneliness engaged me – perhaps because if God permits I will be facing what she faced. Maybe you will, too? But God, who lent her life, was not her final comfort; William Wordsworth was – especially his thoughts from “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” Facing death, she remembered creation’s infinite delight – “. . . a host of golden daffodils . . . flash[ed] upon that inward eye . . .” filling her heart with pleasure.

If only the end of one’s life were so serene, albeit solitary. Is there not a comrade for this time for me and thee – a group of sympathetic companions whose words will fill our hearts – with more than memories of golden flowers that are here today, and gone tomorrow?

Surely, thinking on creation’s beauty is a tonic. Springtime – the daffodils – heralds hope; as Martin Luther observed, “Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection not in words alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” But what of autumn? Is there a helper here?

Isaiah spoke of One who knew us before our birth:
“. . . I will be your God through all your lifetime, yes, even when your hair is white with age. I made you and I will care for you. I will carry you along and be your Savior.” (Isaiah 46:3-4 TLB)
And the psalmist, a son of Asaph, knew Him, too.
“. . . When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, GOD is rock-firm and faithful . . . ”(Psalm 73:23-28 from THE MESSAGE )

Mrs. Palfrey, nearing the end of her life, sought solace in solitude; she found serendipitous companionship and poetry. She believed that she would never get out of life alive, and wanted to control her end. Approaching the home stretch of my life, I believe I will get out of it alive. I also believe that yielding control to Someone greater than I is how I will live.
"And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes shall see and not another . . . ( Job 19:25-27)

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Blog Neigbors

Moving into a new blog is a lot like moving into a new (old) house – which is what I am doing.
Though now I am very much alone in the house, we hope to make it a home, nestled on a charming street of equally attractive cottages; the street one of several in an attractive community – which is a part of growing metroplex, linked in expanding ways to the wider world. For now, though, as I walk through our house’s comfortably proportioned rooms my flip-flops echo – that’s empty they are!

In someways that sound is how this new blog adventure feels. When I check it through the day, as I do the house, it seems lonely – though I am grateful for those who stop by. When I click on my interests, favorite movies, music and books, though, I see I am often in the company of an astonishing number of souls. For example, I am one of 14,600 bloggers who enjoy needlepoint; one of 139,000,000 who love reading – and almost as many who enjoy painting: 137,000,000. Trying to meet the neighbor in these communities seems as daunting as trying to meet individuals in the DFW Metroplex.

I can knock on the doors of some bloggers who enjoy _The Prodigal God_; there are, as of today, fourteen in this community. And I find only three neighbors enjoy the Brentwood Jazz Quartet. Alas, for now, this blogasphere doesn’t know of Joni Eareckson Tada – a fellow former Marylander; she has persevered and blessed millions – with her writing, painting and music. Here’s an introduction from YouTube: here's Joni!
I hope many will want to be her neighbor in this amazing community!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Coping with Pain -- two views:

In 1895  Andrew Murray was in England suffering from a terribly painful back, the result of an injury incurred years before. One morning while eating breakfast in his room, his hostess told him of a woman downstairs who was in great trouble and wanted to know if he had any advice for her. He handed her a paper he had been writing on and said, “Give her this advice I am writing down for myself. It may be that she’ll find it helpful.”

This is what he wrote:
“In time of trouble, say, ‘First he brought me here. If it is by his will I am in this strait place, in that place I will rest.” Next, say, “He will keep me here in his love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as his child.’ Then, say, ‘He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons he intends me to learn, and working in me the grace he means to bestow.’ And last, say, ‘I am here by God’s appointment, in his keeping, under his training, for his time.’”

(Quoted in _Calm My Anxious Heart_ by Linda Dillow, p. 171)

And from a one who also knows pain, this reflection:

anything but that

“Send anything but that,” I cried,
and still the thing I feared did come;
I watched its shadow rise
and shrank in terror from the blow:
“Oh, Lord, this thing I cannot bear!”

And yet Thy tender love did send it me
in answer to my prayer.

My prayer! My cry Thou heedest not
and leav’st me sick, in pain.

And still Thy presence sears and binds –
is all my praying vain?

And still it comes, this fearful dark;
I cannot stem the tide.

“No more,” I cry, “I know my strength!”

And then, Thou, God replied,
“Thy frenzied strength thou knowest, ah
but thou dost not know Mine.”

Barbara Black 1991 (Taken from her poetry, In Affliction)

Renovation Lessons

Renovating an older house goes better with input from people who have done this before – folks who can predict problems. So too, the psalmists helps me renovate my broken places.

Yesterday I had the chimney cleaned; when finished the technician spotted a problem: holes in the smoke shelf. The reason this is bad is that the smoke is not drawn up through the flue but flows into the attic, creating all kinds of problems. Correcting it costs money – an unanticipated expense – but it is a safety issue. Then, I learned that new housing codes require smoke detectors in the bedrooms and not just in the hall: more money.

Nobody would know if we did not correct these problems – that is, until the emergencies ensued –such as carbon monoxide poisoning or a fire. Suddenly I am in peril, but worse, I may have put other people at risk because of my unwise thrift.

Dealing with some of my character defects is similar. Having been cleansed and forgiven by God’s grace in Christ, I daily learn of spiritual holes – habits, hang-ups and hurts – some that persist below the level of consciousness; they are as pernicious as those in smoke shelf, and as threatening as insufficient smoke alarms. Yet, if no one knows about them by me, and if I am only hurting myself, what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that neglecting the hidden stuff does hurt other people, whether I it or not. My attitude, my anxiety, causes pain, and it leads to death: a formidable assertion, but one in which the psalmist concurs (See Proverbs 14:12)

Repairing the smoke shelf will cost $700.00, and direct the fumes and smoke outside the house, out of the chimney; installing extra detectors will cost several hundred more dollars, and cut the risk of a catastrophe should a fire started behind a closed door. I will not be willfully putting myself, loved ones, or firemen at risk.

Asking God to shine His light on my heart may cost the sacrifice of ingrained habits. However, by His words, then “. . . I can see where I'm going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path.” (Psalm 119:105 from THE MESSAGE )

By those same words, He disarms me from hurting you. (Psalm 139:23-24)

The blessing is my repairs are wholly free – enabled by His grace, if I am willing.

God's Word is better than a diamond, better than a diamond set between emeralds. You'll like it better than strawberries in spring, better than red, ripe strawberries.

There's more: God's Word warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure.

Otherwise how will we find our way? Or know when we play the fool?

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work; Then I can start this day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.

These are the words in my mouth; these are what I chew on and pray. Accept them when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Altar-Rock, God, Priest-of-My-Altar.
(Psalm 19:10-14 from THE MESSAGE)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Not Mantra, but Marrow!

To embrace is to draw close, so close that the fragrance and warmth of the person enfolded fills the senses on of the one who embraces. We enjoy embracing our loved ones, feeling their embrace and savoring their closeness. An embrace confirms our affection and reassures our hearts.

As Mary Magdela reached out the first Easter to touch the risen Savior, we, too, long to feel His touch. (John 20:17) If you could embrace the Lord Jesus today — feel the strength of His arms, the warmth of His love, and savor His closeness, would this “hug” build your faith?

When I think of what the Lord smells like, I think of fresh linen, and wood – rough hewn. But there is another smell – disturbing and frightening. It is the smell of death: His, and, as His follower, my own. Sheep have an excellent sense of smell – maybe that is why I am so prone to wander from Christ – I can smell the necessary death of something I cherish – my own way.

“I am crucified with Christ, and I no longer live . . .” isn’t just a mantra. It is marrow:Christ's life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 from THE MESSAGE )

So, taking up my cross doesn’t mean sighing deeply and living with disappointment; it means putting to death, as on a cross, all my little passions: An ancient Roman cross where Jesus suffered and died was rough-hewn, splintering shards of wood into His back. When I embrace the Cross, it will cost all I claim is mine -- not just the "good things" that I enjoy toting around, like my husband, kids, education, work, etc. -- but it means letting go of resentments, disappointments, bitterness and frustrations, all of which have become such familiar traveling companions in my life's journey. It means letting go for it is not ultimately me who has been sinned against.

Maybe that’s why the Cross is such foolishness to people who don’t think our little indulgences are so bad? We don’t like smelling death. So, it’s easier to debate if Christ really lived; if God really is.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Blessed Be the Tie That Binds – Even those that Chafe

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?” (“Our Town” by Thornton Wilder)

We are removing the carpet and appliances and window coverings in our new home today. Twenty-one years ago, they were brand-spanking new – and top of the line. Ah – the best of the ‘80's. The carpet is wool, and a shade of green I have always loved; the drapes are clearly custom made from fabric whose patterns and colors I also like – but they are “dated.” Even without the furniture which the carpet and drapes set off, I can see the little home was more than cozy. The home was lovingly remodeled for an older woman – a widow; now she lives in a nursing home.

Twenty-one years ago, we were about to begin homeschooling our children who were in fifth and first grade with the Calvert School curriculum. Our home was not so color-coordinated – but it was comfy – and way nosier/messier and chaotic than this cottage for a single mature woman.

Perhaps, the former owner of our new home would agree with Mr. Wilder, the playwright: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?” (Our Town) If, twenty-one years ago, she looked with delight on her newly re-furbished home, did she ever anticipate a day when another woman would sweep away all her carefully designed choices?

Twenty-one years ago, I was able to have so many conversations with so many people: my mother was still alive, and so was Doug’s dad, and his mom and her husband; his brother was also still alive; my aunt and her daughter were still living; our kids were always about. Every once in a while I still catch myself thinking, “Oh, Mom would think this is crazy,” – or “I need to tell Virginia or Karen about this.” Death ended so many conversations – and distance now impedes others. When I surveyed the boxes of curriculum from Calvert I couldn’t imagine the time when no confluence of lesson plans and housekeeping and tending family would exhaust me. I told myself I would think about all the problems tomorrow, and sort them out. So focused on what I thought the prize is would be – a first rate education for our kids – I didn’t understand many parts of the advantages of simply being home with the world’s best kids.

Throughout the three-act play, Mr. Wilder, who embraced his Puritan heritage, inserted the hymn, “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.” (By John Fawcett) I urge you gentle reader to review its words, especially if some of your biding ties chafe.

If I could go back to August 14, 1988 – and just enjoy that day again – what would I have done? Like Emily in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” I am coming to see that the tragedy of death is not greater than the tragedy of living carelessly - assuming that tomorrow will be time enough to do and say all the little kindness we imagine we might do. When Emily Webb, after her death, steps into the past, revisiting the morning of her twelfth birthday - she sees how incredibly wonder-full that morning was – though it was not extraordinary – and how insensitive both she and her family were to its beauty.

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one
Our comforts and our cares.

We share each other’s woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.

This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.

From sorrow, toil and pain,
And sin, we shall be free,
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How Do You Like Your Coffee?

Joe Fox in “You’ve Got Mail,” remarks:
“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know what [ . . . ] they're doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”

What does it say about me that I can’t handle that number of choices?

I take a small coffee black unless I am with my daughter, or someone who knows how to order. I let them go first, making me look polite; I smile and agree, “That sounds good, I’ll have one too,” faking decisiveness. I don’t always know what I am getting, but their company makes it all worth it.

I wonder if church looks like a confusing array of choices to seekers – people looking for answers or companionship?
  • Do you want early, 9:30 or 11:00 A.M. worship? Or, do you prefer an evening service?
  • Contemporary or tradition worship?
  • Where do you park?
  • Do you need child care? Sunday school . . . for teens or adult?
  • During the week, do you want Bible studies, discussion groups, church suppers, or recovery groups?
  • Do you want to help in the inner city?
Or, were you just wondering who Jesus is – and if anybody here knows how to ease the ache that is driving you crazy?

The church may seem like a fancy coffee shop – and we may seem like busy baristas trying get everybody’s order right – and we may be so comfortable in our little hang-out that we forget those who wander in may not know how to read the menu – because they don’t know what we really are serving – and don’t know how to ask for what they want. Sometimes even us regulars lose sight of what to ask for.

John the Baptist lost that sight – and I am greatly comforted that when he was facing a bad end, he sent to the Lord, asking if He was who John thought He was. And Christ sent back word – "Go back and tell John what's going on: The blind see, The lame walk, Lepers are cleansed, The deaf hear, The dead are raised, The wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side. Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves most blessed!" (Matthew 11:1-6 from THE MESSAGE )

Are we offering anything that smells good and delights those who wait for it? We get so busy serving – the church forgets we aren’t offering a menu of God, nor an array of choices of how to fit Him into your take-away container. Maybe we need to lay aside our questions about what you want, and tell you what’s going on with us, because of Him – believing He will help you and me know what we are doing with our lives in ways that mastering the choices at Starbucks never will!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Too Much Salt!

Every time I write this humble rumination in my head, I come off sounding insufferable – So let me just jump in. I did not like the book that birthed a brilliant movie I did love, Julie & Julia . She relied on one too many “F”- bombs to convey how she felt. The recovering English major in me wished she had tried a bit harder to describe her emotions – experiences – exuberance – without lapsing into so many expletives. For in her exuberance to define herself Julie Powell uncovered other people’s secrets – her parents, for example. I learned more about her (and her family) in her book than I needed to know – she might have taken a cue from Noah’s son, Ham, who shamelessly broadcast his dad’s nakedness. (Genesis 9:20-25)

An alternative comes to mind: Shakespeare’s portrayal of Hamlet’s mom. We get the drift of some of Gertrude’s issues, without so much detail. We learn about some pressures on Hamlet without profanity repeatedly used as verbs and adjectives. Of course, we should give credit where credit is due and note that the Bard was one of the first to use crude language to highlight a character’s character, or their state of mind.

Writing about why we think we are the people we've become is hard work. So is having a conversation that communicates ideas. Occasionally profanity makes a point that no other word can in writing about pain or evil – and perhaps frustration. Profanity and gossip (a.k.a. throwing up on your audience) may make getting words on paper easier, but neither edifies nor encourages readers – much less the writer. Its shock value is arresting in speech or writing. Ms. Powell’s choices stopped my reading her material.

In the movie, the character “Julie” asks if her repeated use of a particular profanity may have offended Julia Child. Who knows? It wasn’t as if either Julia Child or I have never heard crude language or blasphemy. In my teens, I slipped into swearing, the way I slipped into smoking and drinking. I thought that’s what grown-ups did coming in the 1960's. Movies, music and literature strongly suggested potty mouths were cool – and that’s what I wanted to be, cool, unencumbered by the heat of social conventions.

I rarely thought of how I sounded to others, so impressed I was with how I sounded to me until a woman I worked with graciously told me how I sounded when I took the Lord’s name in vain: “You know, Barbara, one day you might be in trouble and pray; God won’t know if you mean it or are just cursing.” Its theology is a topic for another day, perhaps. However, with that reproof she held up a mirror – well, maybe a set of earphones. She didn’t want to listen to what I said because of how I chose to season my message. And Ms Powell unwisely spiced up a warm story with words that stopped this reader. That’s a shame; Julie Powell did stick to a regime that was daunting – with a tenacity that was formidable and winsome – but she over salted her fare.

Wow how sour are my grapes, anyway?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Julie & Julia

We just returned from seeing “Julie & Julia” – time well-spent! The screen play was delightful – intertwining lives of two women, from different generations, who never met; I want to read more about Julia Child, her husband, Paul and the McCarthy era, and (maybe) even how to cook French food. It’s also clearly time for a field trip to the Smithsonian to see Julia’s kitchen. The actors were flat-out super.

Good stuff!

I loved it because it was about two separate women, and the men who loved them; women who followed their dreams and did well. Following their dreams was hard work for each woman - long work – all amidst other responsibilities – and neither woman's work was whole-heartedly accepted the first time around. But they kept at it, making their dreams come true:
* to learn (something difficult, French cooking)
* to create (something difficult – French food ) and
* to communicate (something difficult – how to learn and how to do).

Another theme I loved was how Julie and Julia’s husbands inspired and supported them, establishing a new proverb: Behind every great woman there is (often) a great man. It’s refreshing seeing marriages portrayed as vital relationships mutually supportive, delightful – able to weather storms – low self-esteem, financial squeezes, infertility, job uncertainty and persecution. The Childs made it – and the Powells seem off to a good start.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hey Hon! We're gonna live in a tear down!

So here we are – undertaking our seventh house renovation in thirty-seven years. (We have also lived in four rental units.) Our newest spot is a home that was built the year my husband was born, and he is not a boomer baby.

When I went to city hall to inquire about permits for this house, the lady smiled and said, “A tear-down.” It was not a question. I said “No, I am from Maryland. We renovate houses like this one.” What I didn’t add was nobody I knew in Maryland ever had the money or the inclination to level a house that had suited two or three generations of families. Or maybe we didn’t know better?

The home we now own is the kind of home that two years ago a builder would have torn down to build a “spec” house – an anomaly that has defined the Dallas building market for several decades. We get a buzz out of Dallas homes built in the 1930's. And we found one: a house that has good bones, spiffy woodwork, and well-proportioned, compact rooms; situated on a modest lot, carefully landscaped but not so carefully groomed for the past few years. (A Garden!) Alas this charmer also has minimal closet spaces, and is one bath short of our desires – true to the M.O. of all the homes we’ve enjoyed in Maryland.

Dallas is a builder’s city – even in down markets. Until recently developers paid good money for homes built in the ‘20's and ‘30's and later: houses with gracious proportions, wrap-around porches, big windows – but plumbing problems – electrical problems – rot problems. Overnight, it seemed, they leveled a grand house, into a spacious lot, and erected structures that dominate the lots from front to back, and side to side. Clearly no guidelines of restrictions on conspicuous consumption – French chateau Texas I have sniffed. Even my mother-in-law, a true lover of all things Dallas, agreed.

In Maryland, Annapolis specifically, we preserve houses – yes, indeedy – as well as all the problems that go with living in an old house! And we don’t drive so much as a nail without the permission of a commission whose ambition is make the town a living museum. They keep all who want to live in homes within their jurisdiction historical and perhaps a wee bit more elegant than the original owners would have been. They then rewarded each renovator with colored plaques, an unspoken testimony to how much money they probably blew bringing even a modest, but old, house up to code. We have rules back east that most of Dallas hasn’t had – but precious few of our finely restored homes have more than one walk-in closet, large laundry rooms above ground, and bathrooms for every bedroom, plus two or three ½ baths for good measure.

So we bought a house in Dallas that any Marylander would be proud to fix up – and the best aspect is the covered porch that sports two fans (in need of cleaning) and enough room for a couple of picnic tables where I might lay out a few bushels of crabs – there’s even a sink in the garage to wash up. Alas, this little jewel of a house is far, far away from the Chesapeake Bay. But it’s good to know I have the outdoor space for hosting a chili party – when the weather cools.