Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sweet Tea with a Twist of Lemon

Yes, There's a  Great Southern Story Here!
 Dungeness Ruins on Cumberland Island, Georgia 2005

Job 13:17 NIV
"Listen carefully to my words; let your ears take in what I say."

Adjusting to life in the South was not easy at first. Like any cultural change, I had to become flexible to new customs and traditions. However, once I embraced these, I learned to appreciate Southern charm.

Life moves at a slower pace here compared to the Midwest where I grew up and where everyone wants to skip the narratives of life to just get to the "bottom line." 

The Southern storyteller tradition has long been an admired literary art.  I've found storytellers everywhere I roam: in the bank, the grocery store, the hospital.  

The hospital waiting room was hardest for me.  I heard grim story after story in the Intensive Care Unit last summer.  As I nursed a friend back to health, I met wives and husbands nervously pacing the floor or rocking in their seats waiting for word on their loved ones.

One man conducted business on his phone and laptop in the waiting room. He held a conference call among strangers. How awkward for him. He negotiated a business deal in the midst of a personal crisis. Life goes on in spite of our problems.

A woman who lived over an hour away from the hospital slept in the waiting room. Her husband's heart was bad. And his lungs. And other parts of his body.  He was barely going to make it. They didn't have much money. She didn't have a place to stay. He was all she had in the world. She didn't know what she was going to do. She was living one hour at a time.

The narratives of life define the South. The more I listen to people, the more I can pray for them. They look for a kind ear to talk to, not someone to solve their problems. They want someone who cares enough to give them the time to listen to their story.

Life in the South isn't any easier than it is anywhere else in the United States. 

The difference is, in the South, people allow the narratives of life to pour out of their souls as freely as sweet tea with a twist of lemon.

We spend time chatting over a glass of tea not to get to the bottom line, but to get to know each other.
Lord, help me listen better to those who tell their story. Let me lift them up to you in prayer as their needs are unveiled.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An Ancient Endeavor

Setting Moon in the Western Sky
April Morning 2011

Genesis 1:14-19 NIV
And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. God made two great lights--the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the fourth day.

I've followed NASA's space program since childhood in the early 1960s. This week marks the end of a milestone: the final liftoff of a space shuttle.
Space Shuttle Endeavour makes her final voyage to the International Space Station before she is retired to Los Angeles' California Science Center.
Perhaps Endeavour is appropriate for the final named shuttle to orbit the Earth, as the space shuttle program was a massive endeavor as Columbia lifted off April 12, 1981, twenty years after Yuri Gagarin orbited Earth in his Soviet Vostok 1 spacecraft.
Gagarin's launch accelerated the space race between Russia and the United States to determine which nation would control the heavens and perhaps the moon first.
America "won" the space race, but soon discovered the cost of the race in terms of lives lost and money spent. Over time, they discovered the need to cooperate with other nations, even Russia, rather than compete against them if humankind were to make gains in space exploration.
Now, as federal funds dry up, NASA is once again at a crossroads. Their purpose and goals are questioned by politicians and the nation.
Although NASA administrators would like to establish a colony on the moon and visit Mars, these ambitious projects are costly.  Private investors in space travel and colonization may prove to be the next avenue for space exploration.
What drives men and women to the stars? To borrow Sir George Mallory's response for climbing Mt. Everest, simply, "Because it's there."
Since God first flung stars into the heavens, men and women have looked upon them in amazement and for inspiration. The desire to break free of the bonds of Earth and to explore God's universe has been an ancient desire. 
However, as one of God's most beautiful and miraculous creations, space is not easily in our reach.  Perhaps one day people will figure out a way to traverse the stars, but not before much pain and sacrifice have been endured by the men and women determined to explore God's wonders in space.
In the meantime, poets have written about the stars and enjoyed them for the beauty they provide.
Below is a poem by Walt Whitman that expresses the poet's admiration for a star-filled night versus an astronomer's lecture.

When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;  
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;  
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;  
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,  
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;         
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,  
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,  
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
Lord, thank you for your amazing and perfect sky filled with beauty beyond description.

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Olympic Marathon

My Pride and Joy
April 2011

Psalm 108:4 NIV
"For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies."

The 1996 Atlanta Olympics was marked by tragedy after a bomb exploded in Centennial Park.

John, Russell, my brother, Rob, and his wife, Jeannie, and I arrived the day after the explosion. Security was tight and slowed us down as we tried to enter the venues. We were disappointed we would be unable to enjoy Centennial Park, but despite the drama of the aftermath of the tragedy, we enjoyed the sporting events we witnessed.

Surprisingly, I had an additional event on my list of venues I had not planned for. Once we arrived in Atlanta, I discovered I was enrolled in the port-a-potty marathon. Every port-a-potty in town became my personal destination. I also added public bathrooms to the list. As my family searched for  stadiums and arenas, I hunted bathrooms.

John guarded many port-a-potty doors for me as I dashed into at least a hundred of them.  I missed most of the events we came to see because I searched for the bathrooms while the competition took place. 

When we returned to Brunswick that night, I talked to my mom, a retired registered nurse, about my problem in Atlanta. She said it sounded like a kidney infection and advised me to seek medical attention.

John and I went to the local walk-in clinic the next day and saw a doctor who talked to me at length. He was not convinced I had a bladder or kidney infection. In fact, he suspected I was pregnant.

I looked at John, who looked at me. We both laughed. I was 36 years old. We'd been married five years, and at this point, people had stopped asking us when we were going to have children.

No, we told the doctor. There's no way I'm pregnant. Not a chance. Impossible.

Still, the doctor said, he wanted to draw blood to be sure and then the office would call me at home to let me know.

Tonight, the kidney infection named Allison is cooking her first meal on her own. She is 14 years old and the joy of our lives.

God showed us what we thought was impossible is truly possible with His vast and mighty love.
Thank you Lord for sending us Allison, who you knew we needed even before we did.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Taste of Home

He Lives!

Hebrews 11:1
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

John and I sat down at the table last week to discuss our Easter menu. We'd already had an early Easter celebration with his side of the family at his mother's house last week because she left this week to be with her daughter in St.  Louis. Last Sunday we feasted on ham, fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and more desserts than I could "shake a stick at".

Since we celebrated our early Easter with foods John had grown up with in the south, I knew I had to have at least one dish on Easter day that would remind me of my home.

As we discussed the menu, we decided to prepare a turkey dinner. We aren't going overboard with the side dishes since there are only four of us here at the house, but we will have scalloped potatoes, peas, corn, a macaroni salad, and crescent rolls.

The macaroni salad is a nod to my parents in Cincinnati. Mom and dad would make it, and then it would often be a part of picnic meals at Winton Woods near our house.  It's easy to prepare, and every time I do, I think of my parents. When I taste it, I think of home and the summer days of my youth when I ran barefoot through the hills of the park on a family picnic laughing, playing, and enjoying time with my brother, sister and parents.

When I mix the ingredients together, I often worry about the proportions, or if I am doing it right. However, when I finish, the final product always tastes like home.

I just finished tomorrow's macaroni salad, and it's resting in the refrigerator. As it chills overnight and the flavors blend together, it will be just perfect on the table when we're ready to place it next to the turkey.

Tastes, flavors, smells, sounds are etched in my brain. They transport me to other places in an instant. A train whistle takes me to Farmersburg, Indiana. A certain perfume makes me think of my grandmother. Chicklets gum puts me in church next to mom when I was squirmy during the sermon and she tried to keep me quiet. Same with figs. The first fig I tasted was at Sunday School maybe in the 3-4 year old class when the teacher brought them in to let us taste them.

My senses can take me places I haven't been to in years.

Therefore, how ironic that it is the leap of faith --that which I can not use my five senses for--that will lead me to heaven. 

I am so used to defining the world around me in terms of sensory perceptions. However, faith requires me to trust God and let go of sensory perceptions. 

How do I know God exists? How do I know Christ rose from the grave? How do I know there is life after death?

My physical senses can not answer these questions. Only my faith can.

As my faith in God grows, it becomes stronger and more beautiful. It leads me to a Home that should seem as familiar as the one where I was a little girl running in the woods on a picnic day with a family who loved her.
Thank you, Lord, for helping my faith grow stronger in you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

An Easter Parable

The Old Church on the Hill
The Former 2nd Prairie Creek Baptist Church
Near Terre Haute, Indiana

Matthew 28:6 NIV
"He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay."

It's THE teacher phone call. The one no parent wants to receive and no teacher wants to make.

Hello? This is Mrs. Durham.

I'm your child's English teacher. Yes. English. I'm calling to follow-up on the progress report s/he brought home from school today.  Yes, ma'am.  Today. Maybe it's in her/his book bag. You might ask her/him to look. Yes, ma'am. S/He received it in Homeroom today.  Yes ma'am I'll wait.

Uh-huh.  I thought s/he might find it there. Yes, ma'am. I'm calling to tell you I updated some grades today, and her/his grade has increased to a 40%.  Yes. I'll wait.

Yes, ma'am, I'm still here. Yes, that's correct. S/He is writing an essay for me tonight, and s/he should be studying for a test over the novel we just read. There are handouts for the novel that are due as well. 

As I was trying to say, with the four-day weekend coming up for Good Friday, I'll be happy to give her/him a printout of all her/his missing work, so s/he can make up the work over the long weekend and turn it into me on Tuesday.

Yes, ma'am. I thought you'd like that idea. Move her/him from her/his friends and assign extra homework, too?  Yes, ma'am that is certainly an interesting thought.

I just wanted to let you know there is still a chance s/he can pass the class even though her/his grade is so low.  S/He is too bright to have not completed her/his work this semester.

I'll even stay after school to help her/him finish the work if s/he will meet with me. I'll do everything I can to help her/him pass.

Yes, ma'am. You're welcome because I am also calling to give YOU hope.

After all, this is Easter Weekend: a time of REDEMPTION and HOPE for ALL of us-- even wayward students.
Praise our Risen Lord!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What was I Doing?

Thankfully Our Lunch Crowd is not this Large!
Savannah College of Arts and Design International Students Festival
2 April 2011

1 Samuel 9:27 NIV
"As they were going down to the edge of the town, Samuel said to Saul, "Tell the servant to go on ahead of us"--and the servant did so--"but you stay here awhile, so that I may give you a message from God."

Lunch duty is a daily chore I endure each day with two compatriots. We protect the lunch staff from stampeding teenagers eager to storm the buffet lines.

My job is to work logistics inside the lunchroom as my fellow teachers hold back the impatient, hungry students at the door. 

The teacher inside the room with me waits for me to give permission to send small groups of kids to my lines. We have to control the crowd or else we will have "line jumpers," and then two hundred hungry teens will not be happy with us.

I'm in charge of two fast food lines. Every other day chicken sandwiches or hamburgers and cheeseburgers are served on a rotating basis. Cheese pizza is a daily staple as well as fruit and veggies. Fries are also offered on this line.

The students I supervise are to split into two neat lines--a front line and a back line. Two lines. Very simple.

However, what ends up happening is groups of students meander slowly toward me as they socialize with their friends. They ignore my outstreched arm directing them into the line moving forward the fastest, and instead, they bunch up like rafters on the lazy river at the water park at a fork in the road.

I holler over the thunder of their yells, clattering trays, and clanging cash registers, "Move up, others are waiting to eat." They ignore me. 

I try again. "MOVE UP!"  A girl flips her hair off her eyes, so I can see her roll them at me. She fixes her gaze upon me as she announces,  "You don't have to yell!" 


Eight minutes is all we need to efficiently move these kids along, but they are not to be rushed. Then they complain they don't have enough time to eat. Go figure.

I'm sure God has never felt that way about me before. I'm sure He has never had to raise His voice at me to get my attention to move me forward in life.

As a matter of fact. I know better. 

He has such a sense of humor about it, too.

I'll complain to Him about something (just like a teenager) and then I'll see a car with a smiley face on its window drive by me as if He's telling me, "Yeah, so what--deal with it. I have faith in you. Now stop whining."

I've seen versions of my name on trucks and bumper stickers at just the appropriate moments, and of course, I see rainbows when I need them most.

God does what He can to move me forward. Otherwise, I easily get distracted and unfocused like those teens around food and their friends.

They forget their goal is to eat lunch. 

Sometimes I forget what my goals are, too. God reminds me.
Thank you Lord for helping me move forward in life.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Beautiful Successes

A Life of Integrity is like a Spring Blossom

Proverbs 10:9 NIV
"The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out."

I studied the college application and considered the question posed before me: "Describe this candidate in one word."

I paused. Smiled. Easy answer.

I remembered a year ago when she first entered my American literature classroom. She had an engaging smile and pleasant demeanor. She confidently carried herself with graceful poise as she found the desk I had selected for her along the side wall.

She was quietly thoughtful and reflective. As I worked with her during the semester, I discovered her compassionate heart and concern for her fellow classmates.

She also expressed concern for me. She always smiled and asked how my day had been.

She turned her work in on time, her grades were fine, she was not a discipline concern, and her personal conduct was impeccable. If she said she were going to do something, she did it.

She began to stop by to visit me before and after school to talk. She made sure I was all right. She talked about her classwork and other activities she was involved in.

She continued to stop by to see me throughout her senior year. She excelled in her classes. She looked more mature as the year progressed. She was no longer on the brink of beginning her new life, she was actively seeking it.

She approached me this month for the recommendation letters for three colleges. I was honored to write them. She will succeed at any school which accepts her.

I knew the word to describe this beautiful young woman I have watched blossom over the last two years. However, it's a word I rarely use with teenagers.

I took pen to paper and wrote:  INTEGRITY.

The integrity of a person's life shines brightly. Her family raised her with strong religious and moral values, and because she lives these, she stands out among her peers.

As long as she holds onto her life of integrity, doors will open for her as people take notice of her.

I wasn't surprised when she told me less than a week after she sent off her papers, she was offered a scholarship for the college she wanted to attend.

God blesses those whose lives are full of integrity.
Lord, thank you for letting me be a part of this young woman's life as well as the countless others whom I have taught through the years.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beautiful Failures

Live Oak with Spanish Moss
Honeycreek, Georgia
March 2011
Psalm 44:26 NIV
"Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love."

I sat at the table as my classmates played outside during recess. Tears trickled down my cheeks as I folded and refolded the woodpecker so he would bend and move on the tree to strike it.  My friends already had finished at least fifteen minutes ago.

Mrs. Rothert, my Kindergarten teacher, had already asked me several times to stop working and go outside to play, but I was too stubborn. I didn't want to fail. I didn't budge from my chair.

Even when I was four years old, I was driven to succeed. I didn't want to give up until I fixed the problem.

In third grade we went to the chalkboard by rows to solve long-division math equations. My group was given a difficult problem. The students in the other rows gave up and went back to their seats. I remained at the board until I got the correct answer. I don't like to lose.

The high school debate team I coached for seven years was quite successful for our size and limitations. I had several national qualifiers and one student who placed in a nationally ranked round.

I have a friend, a debate coach, who took his students on trips for "the fun of it."  I told him I didn't understand that concept.  I don't have fun if we don't win. If we don't bring home a trophy, what's the point of competing? 

It's a family joke about my competitive nature. However, the other side of the coin is, when I fail to achieve a goal, it hurts.  I don't like to fail, so when I do, I mope. I become gloomy. I don't handle failure well. 

I never finished the woodpecker in the tree in Kindergarten. I could never make it bend and hit the tree like it was supposed to. Forty-six years later, I still remember sitting at the table, lost in frustration, trying to glue and fold colored paper, while feeling like a failure.

Thankfully, God redeems the failures of my life--all of them--from the trivial to the serious.  If only folding a woodpecker into a tree were the worst failure I've had! But no--there are bigger ones than that. 

God has taken them all into account, redeemed them, and through His grace, turned my failures into victories.

When I look back over the course of my life, I can see where my "failures" (or "mistakes") actually turned into beautiful blessings because God's hand touched my life.

Whatever God touches is perfect. He doesn't fail at anything.  
Dear Lord, Thank you for redeeming my failures and blessing my life. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Little Blue Bird Told Me

I Would Have Found this Blue Bird!
Peacock, Cincinnati Zoo 2007

1 John 4:7 NIV
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God."

I looked around my backyard for that blue bird but couldn't find her. She had to be flying over the house somewhere, hovering, spying, listening to my conversations with my brother and sister. 

I tried to stay out of trouble before we went to Farmersburg, Indiana, but it's hard for a six year old to be good. No matter what I did, that doggone, rotten, blue bird would beat me there every time and tell Grandpa everything I had done.

I loved Grandpa. He was a kind man, strong-shouldered and big-hearted. He dropped out of school in third grade and worked the coal mines in Dugger to help support his family when his father died of cancer in 1910.

Grandpa spent years in the mines. He worked alongside his older brothers. He was the youngest son of thirteen children.

Grandpa lied about his age to fight in WWI with the 1st Division, 18th Infantry of the U.S. Army for General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing. 

Grandpa was a doughboy. Fought in every major battle and was reported "Missing in Action, presumed dead" in the telegram that arrived home on the farm in Dugger.

Instead, he had a pistol in his hand and just enough life in his wounded body that lay in a crater shell with other injured American soldiers to order the Germans searching for the dead and dying to carry them to the nearest Red Cross station.

He went through surgeries and leaches until his wounded leg healed, and he rejoined his company in time to fight some more and to march across enemy lines into Germany.

He returned home at the end of the war having earned the Purple Heart, the Occupation of Germany medal, and the Silver Star.

He was a brave man. I didn't know about his war heroics. He didn't speak of his war experiences to his family.  He was just Grandpa to me. The scar on his leg was obvious, and he had to tell us about how he got that, but otherwise, his previous life before we were born did not matter.

However, I didn't want to disappoint him, so when he pulled me up onto his lap and told me what the blue bird had whispered to him about my antics, I was incredulous.

How could that bird know so much about me?  If I could only have a talk with it! I would straighten it out!

Grandpa chuckled at my amazement, then hugged, and kissed me. His cotton t-shirt smelled like a mixture of sweat and sweet tobacco. He wasn't supposed to smoke (Granny didn't like it), but whenever he went into his workshop, he filled up his pipe, lit it, and puffed away.

When we'd head back home to Cincinnati, I'd look for that crazy blue bird following us. I never saw it. 

Maybe Grandpa had a direct line to God instead. I'm sure God kept a good eye on me, too, in those days. 

In fact, I know Grandpa was on good terms with God. He read the Bible every morning when he woke up--the first thing he did. He may have only had a third grade education, but he had read the Bible from front to back more times than I have with my Masters in English.

I'm certain Grandpa still watches over me, and he doesn't need blue birds any more to tell him what I'm up to. 

But whenever I see blue birds, I think of my Grandpa, Cecil Raymond Butler.
Lord, thank you for watching over my life and for blessing me with people who have watched over me and loved me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Refuge

Garden Maze
Wainwright House
Rye, New York
October 2010
Psalm 62:8 NIV
"Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge."

I watched The Secret Garden when I was young.  Mary Lennox was a spoiled girl who grew up in India. When her parents unexpectedly died of cholera, she was shipped back to England to live in her mysterious uncle's gloomy 100-room mansion.

Her aloof uncle didn't want to interact with her, so she was left on her own to roam the mansion's grounds. She discovered a stone wall, covered in ivy, with no door. The brother of the house maid told her about a secret garden on the other side of the wall.

The two of them discovered the key to a door in the wall.  They found the door, opened it, and walked in.  In the meantime, Mary located her crippled cousin, Colin, in one of the rooms of the mansion. He was also a spoiled brat.

She wheeled him into the garden, and they began to restore the garden to its former beauty.

As the children brought new life to the garden, the pain of their bodies and souls began to heal, and they grew as beautiful as the garden.

As I watched the movie, I thought how wonderful it would be to have a secret hide-away, a refuge from the world.

As an adult, I hide, in a sense, from the world when I come home.

Unless I have to go out, I don't. I spend time with my family, or I write or read. I'm so busy at work, I need to refresh myself each day. 

I need time to meditate and be with God. 

I don't have a secret garden like Mary and Colin, but I do everything in my power at home to spend time with God and to ward off the worries of work and the world.
Lord, thank you for the refuge and peace you bring me each day.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Walk Through the Door

Mr. Jade--He Looks Innocent, but He Started it All

Revelation 3:20 NIV
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."

Bandit is sleek. Black with white markings. Thin and fast. She's smarter than all of us put together and doesn't trust us any further than she can see us. She wears a white mask to conceal her identity, but we can see her hiding from us as she shakes in her corner. She wants to be with us but stays on the outskirts of our life.

Tonight's challenge is to catch her. So far, we have lost.

I spotted fleas on Mr. Jade, so he received the first flea treatment. His little sister, Precious, the gullible one, was easy to sweet-talk to her treatment. 

We put the two cats in the garage and then tried to corral Bandit. Allison is the only one who has luck with her. Poor cat had some kind of trauma the first few months of her life before we found her at the vet's, and she has never taken to being touched by people. 

She will sit near us, but she won't interact with us. She just wants to observe us and feel like a part of us. She is a cat's cat and enjoys socializing with the others who look out for their psychotic sister.

Now we try to lure her with her favorite beverage--tuna juice. The other cats are confused about why she gets all the juice. They don't understand the trick. Unfortunately, she does. She doesn't take the bait. Another victory for Bandit. 

If we don't catch her tonight, she may inherit all the fleas from her brother and sister. An old cartoon from my childhood flashes across my mind: Flea families pack their bags, hop off one animal one-by-one and look for a more suitable animal to move to.

Poor Bandit. She's about to become Daytona Beach during Bikers Week or the French Riviera in June for refugee flea families.

It's official.  She defeated us. Day One, all Five Rounds went to her. She gets the Green Jacket for the Brunswick Masters of Alluding Flea Treatments Tournament.

Allison says she has a plan for tomorrow. I like her positive thinking. I have to reach down deep into the inner recesses of my brain to remember what it's like to be fourteen and that optimistic.

I feel sorry for Bandit. She needs a hug, but of course that's the last thing she wants. She's so vulnerable.

At times she stands at the garage door and scratches for minutes to be let in, but when we open the door, she flies away in a shadowy flash.

Sometimes she'll dart like a bullet into the house and dive under our bed where she can't be touched. She'll hide there until she's ready to bolt back into her sanctuary, the garage.

As I consider my timid feline, I wonder how many opportunities would have opened to me when I were younger, if I had turned the door knob?

Or, how many times did I turn away from an opportunity because I didn't recognize what I saw across the threshhold?

I wish I could communicate to Bandit like I do my students that it's okay to trust people.  Not everyone will hurt you. Make the most of your opportunities. Walk through an open door.

I hope as my students (and Bandit) age they will trust others more and walk optimistically across the threshhold of life because there are treasures waiting to be discovered on the other side of a door.
Lord, Let us bravely answer the knock at the door to receive the blessings you have in store for our lives.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

My Hope and Treasure Lie Above

A Path Home?

Luke 15:18 NIV
"I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you"

Much literature I read with my students deals with characters who are lost and struggling to return home. The Odyssey from the Greeks, Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, and The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway are all thematically wrapped around the need for the protagonist to return home.

When I teach students the difference between the words denotation and connotation, I usually refer to the word "home" as an example because of its connotative value. Everyone has strong emotions wrapped around the word. 

Robert Frost wrote in his poem, "Home Burial,"  "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in." Christian Morgenstern added, "Home is not where you live but where they understand you." Finally, Emily Dickinson believed, "Where thou art-that-is Home."

Home is a powerful influence on people's lives. When I talk to my students, they often tell me about their home life and how they intend to create their own homes once they are on their own.

They watch their parents constantly. The adults would be surprised to hear how observant their children are. 

My students hope and dream about making homes for themselves. Their lives will reflect their own passions and interests.

The Prodigal Son tried to leave home too soon so had to return in humiliation to his father's house. My students may also fail and have to return to their parents' homes.

However, I hope they soar. The Bible doesn't tell the rest of the Prodigal Son's story. Perhaps he lived near his father the rest of his life and patched up his relationship with his elder brother.

Or, maybe he tried again, older and wiser, to make a life of his own elsewhere.  It's not easy to leave the sanctuary of home and all a person is familiar with.  No wonder his head was so easily turned by those who took advantage of him in his youth.

When he hit rock bottom in life, he sought HOME: the place that had once sheltered him, protected him, loved him, understood him and where now, when he arrived, he hoped they would take him in.

It took Odysseus ten years after the Trojan war to arrive home. Gulliver seven. The Old Man was away from home four days during his ordeal with the marlin.

Sometimes the trip home is impossible. Science fiction literature, for example, is filled with characters who never return home, and as a result, readers are left in a state of sorrow and anxiety for their plight.

Anne Bradstreet, the Puritan poet, used the metaphor of home to connect to her Heavenly home in her poem, "Here followes some verses upon the burning of our house, July 10th, 1666." 

After Bradstreet described the terror she felt upon hearing the words, "fire" called out in the middle of the night, she discussed walking through the ruins of her home the next day. She remembered where all her possessions had been placed. Then she rebuked herself and reminded herself where her real "home" is.

What follows are the last three stanzas of her poem.

Then streight I gin my heart to chide,
And didst thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the skye
That dunghill mists away may flie.

Thou hast an house on high erect
Fram'd by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent tho' this bee fled.
It's purchased, and paid for too
By him who hath enough to doe.

A Prise so vast as is unknown,
Yet, by his Gift, is made thine own.
Ther's wealth enough, I need no more;
Farewell my Pelf, farewell my Store.
The world no longer let me Love,
My hope and Treasure lyes Above.

Lord, Help me remember you have prepared a Home for me and my hope and treasure lie with you

Thursday, April 7, 2011

His Heart is Steadfast

Tree in River

Psalm 112:7 NIV
"He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD."

The seniors and I discussed an excerpt from Book I of John Milton's Paradise Lost today. Two quotes interested them. They are:

1)  "The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n."

2)  "Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n."

We discussed these ideas. They all knew people dissatisfied with their lives no matter how good or bad they have it. The students talked about the importance of positive attitudes for getting by in life.

At the start of class, I asked, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"  Many students believed we go through tough times as an opportunity to learn in order to grow and become better people. 

They didn't perceive negative experiences as necessarily bad, but instead saw them as a path to a higher level of existence we all have to travel.

I explained Milton wrote Paradise Lost as a vehicle to explain to the English why the last two decades of their society had been so tumultuous.  He perceived horrible social events the people had endured as spiritual warfare between Satan and God, while humans were caught in the middle. Satan tormented God's creation in order to get back at God, according to Milton. 

He saw the battle between Good and Evil as the answer to why bad things happened in the world.

We examined Satan as a character in the epic poem. This was a new experience for the students. It's difficult for me to think of Satan as a literary character, so I know it was hard for the kids.

It stretches my imagination to picture Satan and Beelzebub lying on the fiery floor of hell (after being thrown there nine days earlier) as they plot their revenge on God. To listen to their twisted conversation and perceive Satan's arrogance and desire for dominance and power over God and all his creation causes my skin to crawl with goosebumps.

Yet according to the text, Satan acknowledged God's supremecy to Beelzebub when he told him, "But what if he our Conquerour, (whom I now/ Of force believe Almighty, since no less /Then such could hav orepow'rd such force as ours)."

In other words, Satan understood as soon as he and his army were tossed out of Heaven they were no match for the power of God and His army of angels, and he never will be. God will always be the victor over the Evil One because He is mightier.

Both the Bible and Book I of Paradise Lost remind me, I have free will to follow God or to follow Satan.

I have the opportunity each day to improve the quality of my life through positive thinking or not. As Milton wrote, I can create my own Heaven or Hell on Earth by my thoughts.

Which way do I go? Each day the battle begins again. I must remain steadfast in the Lord.
Thank you Lord for your faithfulness and power over the Evil One. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seventy Times Seven

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Matthew 18: 21-22 NIV
"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'"

Six at-risk students stood around my Smartboard studying literary terms preparing for a graduation test. In the process, I learned more about the holes in their hearts than I think they learned from me that afternoon.

One senior boy had so much pain inside him he couldn't focus on the literary terms we were working on.  His friends consoled him by adding fuel to his hatred.

"He had no right to do you like he did." 

"Don't you talk to him if he calls you."

It's tough to know how far to go into the lives of students and their personal problems, but as I observed the hard lines on this boy's face and the girls who were advising him, I realized they had all been hurt by adults.

Finally, I could hold my tongue no longer.

"You know. Until you forgive him, you won't have any peace inside you," I spoke quietly, uninvited. I was the adult in the room. The outsider.

The students turned on me. They glared at me assuming I didn't understand pain, betrayal, rejection, abandonment, a knife in my back.

"You don't understand the problems our generation faces.
We have serious problems. We can't just forgive. We have to get even."

I held my ground.

"If you don't forgive, you will only make yourself a bitter person. Over time, the hatred you possess for that person will taint your life. You must let go of the hurt and the hate and forgive. It's the only way you will be free to live your own life. Everyone in the world has a broken heart. You are not alone."

The boy listened quietly to me. I think he was almost convinced in the truth of my words. The girls refused to pay attention to me.

The boy spoke quietly when the girls moved away from us.
"It's too soon. The hurt is too great. I don't know how to forgive him."

I whispered to him. He looked me in the eyes for the first time that hour. "I don't know what he did to you, but I'll pray you'll be able to forgive him one day for your peace of mind."

The bell rang. They left for their next class.
Lord, help these children learn to forgive the ones who have hurt them, so they can be free of the pain and move forward with their lives.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Letting Go Is Hard to Do

Indiana Woods
April 2010

John 14:27 NIV
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.


Real or imagined fear paralyzes me.  I have a friend who reminds me to live the words I write. Life is such a work in progress. I try so hard to live my words.

I think after the kidnapping and divorce, in 1988, when I emotionally broke down, I discovered how fragile I was. John helped heal so much of my emotional pain when I met him, and I leaned on God, too, but in the early 1990s, I still was weak in my walk with the Lord.

It wasn't until April 2, 2005, when John, Allison, and I were hit head-on in an automobile collision, that I faced a new level of fear.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and I became acquainted with each other.

Although I went to excellent psychologists, I couldn't even follow through with that process. I learned how to treat the symptoms of my fears when they overwhelmed me--drink more water, exercise, breathe DEEPLY, but I just didn't have it in me to talk to a psychologist.

I talked to trusted friends, and at a church retreat I gave many burdens I carried to the Lord.  However, I still occasionally find when I am blindsided at work or home with unexpected stress, I melt down.

I mentally kick myself, and then the negative self-talk starts, but I try to pick myself up. "You just need to give it over to God, Lori!  You've been in worse spots than this before!"

Even though I know Satan is behind the seed of fear planted in me, I have the hardest time on my own fighting him off, which is when I shoot off a quick email to those I know will pray for me. 

I request prayers, and they help!  I am a firm believer in the power of prayer.

I hope with time I will find a way to cope with fears. Eventually I want to just hand them over to God once I feel them overwhelming me. It's so much easier to give God my worries than to hoard them.

What did FDR say? "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself?"  There is so much truth in his statement. I spend so much time being afraid of what I am afraid of, that when the moment arrives, it is anticlimactic compared to my fear of it.

I am a work in progress. I turn to God more and more each day. I need Him so much. I am trying to give Him all my fears, real and imagined.
Thank you, Lord, for helping me get through frightening times in life.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

2011 Spring Break

Turkmenistan Booth
SCAD International Students Festival
April 2, 2011

Genesis 2:2 NIV
"By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work."

Spring Break ended tonight.

While I enjoyed the fleeting sense of living for myself for a week, it's time to face the world of work and bosses, parents and students again. 

With roughly six weeks of classes left, my seniors will be more focused on grades and passing my class, while the sophomores may decide they want to make it out of 10th grade English the first time they take it.

Crunch time. I feel the stress of it already as I sit here contemplating the week. It stands in stark contrast to the lazy days of Spring Break.

What did I do? Nothing of significance. I wrote a little. I rested a lot. I enjoyed naps during the refreshing rains we received in South Georgia. Wildfires raged a couple weeks ago, so rain was desperately needed to get those under control.

Yesterday my family and I played "dress up" to help my friend, Akmyrat, at the Savannah College of Art and Design for the International Students Festival. Akmyrat is the only student at SCAD from Turkmenistan, so we dressed up to help him in his booth. 

I took several items I had brought back with me from my trips to decorate his booth, and we educated tourists and locals about Turkmenistan.

Ah--Spring Break. Nice rest.

Even God took time to rest after making the world. It's interesting Genesis mentions God rested after all the stress of his work week.  Nothing like a day or week to recover lost energy and motivation.  

And now--it's back to work.
Help me, Lord, as I reenter the workforce. Let my mind and spirit be strong and sharp.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Spring Color Pollinators

Spring Colors in Brunswick, Georgia
March 2011

Genesis 8:17 NIV
"Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you--the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground--so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it."

Honeybees mesmerize me.

After the initial shock of their buzzing and flying fast and furiously overhead, around, and what seems like through me, I realize they don't see me. They are after the hunt of pollen or the return to the hive. The girls work themselves to death for the sake of the colony, and I am not a part of their world.

The production of honey is all the bees think about. The queen bee lays eggs to keep the workforce plentiful as the life span of the average worker bee ranges from a few weeks to a couple months. Drones usually die once they mate or when they are expelled by the girls when winter arrives.

They coordinate their efforts inside and outside the hive to protect the queen and to raise their young.

Scouts use sophisticated communication systems to inform the colony where to search for more pollen to produce honey. Bees can travel over miles of territory in a day to reach their destinations.

I admire the hard work of bees and their dedication to each other and the colony. When the colony is attacked, they all try to protect the hive and defend their precious larvae and honey reserves.

Honey bees around the world are struggling to survive due to natural predators and chemicals in the environment. The University of Minnesota Extension Office reported in February 2011 that in the Sichuan Province in China, villagers have to hand pollinate apple and pear trees since bees and other pollinaters have disappeared in the region. (1) 

How horrible if the world had to hand pollinate crops and backyard gardens if honey bees were eradicated!

Everyone I know has a bee story. Most are scary, and, yes, I have been stung myself. But since 2007, I have learned to appreciate the joys of beekeeping.

I am not a beekeeper. I am a "wannabee." 

However, two friends in my life tend bees. One lives in the states, and the other in Turkmenistan. They both are doing their part to keep bees alive.

God placed all creatures on Earth for a reason.

Honey bees pollinate plants, and in spring, the world awakens to the multi-colors of a rainbow in part to the handiwork of bees. 
Lord,  thank you for the honey bee and all your creatures, even the ones I haven't figured out a practical use for yet.  :)
  (1)  Hand Pollination of Apple Trees?